Neon Genesis Evangelion Fan Fiction ❯ Hidden Virtues ❯ Section 1 ( Chapter 1 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Hidden Virtues of EVANGELION: The Daughter
by Greg Smith

-When used, the most important key is the spirit of vitality. When the spirit of vitality is bright and luminous, the ears and eyes are real. It does not matter if my opponent's hands are as fast as a flying swallow, an ant's shouting to my listening is like a tiger's roaring.-

from Baguazhang 36 songs, song 36
Emei Baguazhang -Liang, Yang and Wu

--------------------------------------------------------------- ------

"Here!? That's not possible!"

"I repeat," Lt. Avery shouted, glancing over his shoulder in panic, "pattern test is blue! It's an Angel! Should I inform General Teneyl?"

"He's out there in it, he already knows."

Major Belmont stared at the screen, loath streaking her fair complexion. Usually inexpressive, she now looked both angry and confused.

Circled by a plethora of small fighter aircraft, the advancing entity seemed totally untroubled by the steady hail of flak. Teneyl was a smart soldier; he had wasted no time toying around, skipping instead straight to an attack with N2 mines. A cheer went up when the detonation flash cleared, revealing the Target broken into pieces. That is, until the pieces began to move, each one growing to a full sized version of the lopsided original. When General Teneyl's forces attacked again, they learned to their dismay that each replica was as lethal as the parent. Following a second N2 attack, Belmont's group confirmed the enemy's identity.

"You're saying the N2 mines didn't even scratch it?!" Belmont asked, flicking a strand of short blond hair back behind an ear.

"No sir," Lt. Avery replied, "the target count has increased from eight to twelve after the second attack. Damned N2 mines are definitely not doing us any good. There was a strong non-transient energy spike in the Target's radiant output following both N2 attacks. Almost like it's using thermal induction to reproduce itself. Like the hotter the weapon we hit it with, the happier it's gonna be. If the defense force uses any more N2s, we'll be overwhelmed."

"Teneyl may be good, but he's obviously outclassed. We're going to need more serious aid than either the U.S. or Canada can give," Major Belmont concluded, shaking her head. "Let's make a plea for help. Lt. Wise, call NERV HQ. Give me immediate high level

Lieutenant Wise nodded, his military cut brown hair gleaming in the command center's dim light. Fingers pounding the keyboard, he rapidly rerouted comm traffic and accessed the NERV hot line. In moments, he was connected with a Japanese internal net that lead
straight into the final objective. When his NERV HQ counterpart finally appeared on the screen, they spent several moments conversing in Japanese. He looked back toward Belmont when he finished and told her professionally, "It'll be a little bit... sir. They need to find their duty command officer."

Belmont nodded coldly without making eye contact, "Shit. It figures. Right when we need them most..."

Silence on the other end of the line lasted barely half a minute before a raven haired woman with a red striped uniform appeared. Belmont was surprised by the lines under the woman's eyes and the rumpled state of her dress. She spoke in a bleary voice, "I'm Major

"Major," Belmont greeted her, "I'm Major Belmont of U.S. Division One, Evangelion construction brigade, Fort Tenacity. We require immediate assistance; our defense force is engaged with an entity we identified as an Angel. We are not adequately armed to
repel such an enemy, and the Construction Brigade in serious danger."

Immediately awake, Katsuragi looked off screen, "" she cried in Japanese, ""

"" someone off screen said.

"" Katsuragi practically screamed, "" with a pause she composed herself, and switched back to English, "um... What is your state of affairs?"

Fluent in Japanese, Belmont gave no sign of understanding the outburst, "We're a construction center only. The U.S. government put us out in Middle of Nowhere, North Dakota, because they were worried about construction problems. Damned pencil-pushers
didn't want a repeat of the Unit-04 scenario. This facility was constructed too quickly for more than minimal defensive arrangements. The plan was to build Unit-06, then mothball the lab."

"The sixth Evangelion? And you have no defense perimeter?" Katsuragi asked, trying not to appear ruffled.

"We have a small defense force, with a mechanized ground brigade, a fighter wing and a complement of N2 mines, all commanded by a fairly experienced general. In addition, local
governments are scrambling to divert forces to help us. But it's going to be too little too late. Our data shows that this Angel seems to feed off of powerful thermal emissions. It actually reproduced itself when we hit it with N2 mines! This leaves us without our most powerful defense. We can't fight it off or immobilize it on our own."

Katsuragi looked away from the screen again for a moment, then turned back, "My chief of engineering says that this thermal effect could be a possible manifestation of AT field usage."

"Thanks for the news flash," Avery whispered too low for Katsuragi to hear him on the link. Belmont waved him quiet behind her back.

"Is Unit-06 operable?" Katsuragi continued.

Major Belmont shook her head, "Not totally; construction hasn't been completed on the auxiliary controlling systems or on much of the final subsidiary bio-structure. It was just this week that the musculature reached the minimal density for self articulation. Also the armor integrated restraints are only 57% intact. We haven't yet entered the testing phase on most of what is complete. Even if the Eva were finished right this minute, we'd still have several months of tests and fine tuning ahead of us."

Katsuragi again looked away from the screen then looked back, "Dr. Akagi informs me that an Eva can be run under the conditions you've described... if you can hold your ground, we'll take a shot at aiding you." She glanced away, " Major, we'll bring you an Eva pilot, First Child Rei Ayanami. On a hypersonic transport, we can be there in an hour. If you install the rest of its armor and rig a power system, we can bring the Beta-2 type quick deploy field gear."

Then a second carrier broke into the communiqué, showing a bespectacled, black haired man around Belmont's age who held his hands steepled before his mouth. He spoke pointedly in unaccented english, "This is Commander Ikari. You are hereby ordered not to
attempt activation of the unfinished Unit. Major Katsuragi..."

"S- sir?" Katsuragi looked thunderstruck. Belmont swallowed hard, she had hoped nothing like this would happen, but come to expect it during long years of dealing with Gendo Ikari.

"After the danger to Tokyo-3 has been verified as negligible, it may be possible to load Gamma type power supplies on a transport and bring Unit -00 onto station."

"But Sir, that will take 20 hours at least... including the flight." Katsuragi was practically sputtering.

"You will not activate the untested Unit outside of Magi supervision here at headquarters. Do you understand me Major Katsuragi?" his gaze shifted, seeming to search Belmont out, "Do you read that Major Belmont? Defend, but do NOT activate!"

Major Katsuragi nodded after a moment of hesitation, her eyes furious. Belmont bit her lip before nodding as well.

"In addition, Major Katsuragi," he continued nonplused, "you will not leave headquarters exposed for something as worthless as an incomplete Unit; this may be a lure by the Angel. Since Unit-01 is in Stasis lock-down and the pilot of Unit-02 has demonstrated an increasing unreliability, Unit-00 must remain on site at Tokyo-3 as a backup. Until the danger to NERV command can be verified one way or another, we cannot afford to transfer resources overseas. Finally, I repeat to you, do not attempt to bring the incomplete Unit on line."

"Yes Sir," Katsuragi responded coldly. Still, Ikari had a point; why would an Angel attack a nearly useless target in the U.S.? Visibly taking a breath to put down her anger, Katsuragi turned her attention back to Belmont, "Major Belmont, we will make an effort
to move on station as soon as possible. Do your best to deter the Angel. Katsuragi out..." the communication went dead.

"We're in deep ca-ca," Belmont hissed to herself. Crossing her arms in exasperation, she turned and leaned against a console in order to see her full duty staff, "at this rate, we won't last twenty hours. Hell, it'll be a miracle if we last forty minutes."

Everyone in the small command suite was very quiet. Ikari had just signed their collective death warrant, and they knew it. Belmont glanced around the small room, looking into the eyes of her friends and subordinates, all of whom she'd grown close to in
the past years of constant work. They' d all served together in the Gehirn development teams, then on Units -03 and -04, and finally on Unit-06. -How ironic- Belmont thought -not one of our Evas has made it to the battle line in one piece.- She looked at them all,
Avery, McClellan, Dr. Valentine, Wise. There was homely comfort among these people born from an inextricable interlinking of lives. They were all reminders, recollections of darkness from the career she had chosen. Rather, facets of the hated duty that managed
somehow to entangle her.

"Do we have any other options?" she asked, "it's obvious NERV wants us to stay here and defend our toy, even if we die trying. So what do we do?"

Nobody said anything until Valentine stepped forward, his usually dignified appearance tousled, "The way I see it, there's only one possible option."

They all turned toward him.

"We're being attacked by an Angel. The only way to repel an Angel is with an Eva... we all know this. We have an Eva." Sweat streaming down his face, he spelled it out in soft, concise tones, "I say, screw that prig Ikari! We're idiots if we don't try to use Unit-06!"

Everyone looked at everyone else. For a moment nobody thought to reply. In the distance the Angel solidified an unspoken agreement by rattling the shelves of the command suite.

"You heard what Major Katsuragi said," continuing his argument, Valentine's hands ran nervously through his hair of their own accord, "Unit-06 is usable -even if it is just half complete. All we have to do is get the last primary components connected in time."

"The doc's right," Avery put in, his face ashen, "Teneyl can't hold an angel off, even if he is one of the best Generals in the U.S.. We need the Eva."

Belmont thought for a moment, wondering whether or not it was the better part of wisdom to tempt fate by defying Gendo Ikari, "Supposing we manage to get the Unit ready in time, which is going to take a miracle, what do you suggest we use for a pilot?
We have no able bodied 14 year olds around here."

"I'd sit in the thing if it would help," McClellan said, scratching at his shaggy beard, "supposedly, some adults can pilot Evas..."

"...childish in mind..."

"...just like your ass, huh?"

"Not to burst your bubble," Lt. Wise interrupted coolly, his eyes directed at the floor, "but no adult has ever walked away from the synchronization process in one piece."

"He would know," Belmont added, half to herself.

"Only one possibility," Valentine announced.

Heads turned toward him again.

"We could use Jane Wise," he declared with a constricted voice.

Trying to hide her shock, Belmont exclaimed, "You're nuts!" Shifting her gaze toward Lt. Wise, she expected similar surprise but found only brooding ambivalence. Jane was Lt. Wise's only daughter.

Finally managing to collect her thoughts, Belmont clutched her hands behind her back so that no one would see how white they had become. "In her state?! She's a complete invalid. If we put her into the damn thing and it goes nuts because of her health issues, we
might as well be fighting two Angels."

"You mean as opposed to the eight individual targets running around out there as we speak?" Valentine demanded.

"Twelve," Avery corrected him, moving to check his console.

"Eight, twelve. It doesn't much matter. When that thing gets here in the next thirty, thirty-five minutes, it's probably going to leave behind a pothole that'll cover half of North Dakota. We all know what the Angels are capable of. We might as well die trying to defend ourselves, instead of waiting for it to dig us out of the hillside. Need I remind you it's in the process of tearing our defensive force to pieces as we speak."

Weighing the words very carefully as he spoke, Lt. Wise barely opened his mouth, "Will.. will the Eva go berserk if you put my daughter into it?" He paused, everyone watching him count his breaths, "Will she come back to me?" He looked like he wanted to
say something else, but his courage failed him.

"Hard to say," Valentine replied, fumbling nervously with a calculator he'd produced from his sleeve. Normally doctor's sleight of hand was an amusement, but became an annoyance when he did it unintentionally. "If we go by the information collected in concert
with other testing, particularly on Unit-00, we might be facing a huge problem. But... there have been small structural refinements between Unit-00 and Unit-06. I can think of several reasons why Jane has a better than average chance at synchronizing."

"But, it might explode and kill us all. Or it might just steal the girl away forever," someone else put in quietly, Belmont uncertain as to who.

"We don't know. The bottom line is, we just don't know enough."

"And," Belmont added, closing her eyes in an attempt to push away her own bias on the subject, searching for a way to shoot the idea down, "The girl has only partial use of a small portion of her body. Even if she does synchronize, how will she use the equipment? She can't even blink her eyes. I will not see another innocent destroyed by this project... especially a helpless one," ...especially that one.

Valentine fumed at her silently for a second, as if angry that she would bring up the subject of control, "She's not gone from her body. She's lost physical control, but her mind is still provably intact. If we can just use her to make the Eva active, we can cross the next bridge once we get there. Remote servos on the controls or something."

Belmont bit her lip, Lt. Wise glanced away.

"With all the incomplete systems," McClellan was saying as he turned to Belmont, "there's not much we can do with Unit-06 if we do get it active. Not even any Dummy plug avionics installed in it yet."

"That Angel is going to kill us," Valentine's voice held an a-matter-of-fact calm that did not match the twitching of his face. "The Eva might kill us, but it might not. Way I see it, we haven't got much of a choice."

-He's right,- Major Belmont sighed, realizing she was out of options, -forgive me, Jane,- "If we survive this, NERV will not be happy. Most likely, we'll all be facing court-martials for insubordination. Well then, are we agreed?"

"Damned if we do, damned if we don't," Avery did not smile as he slipped out of his seat.

There were nods around the room. Lt. Wise hesitated for a moment, then nodded. He had his reasons for hesitation. As did Belmont, if she were able to play favorites.

"Okay, there we have it. We're going to try to fight, whether Ikari likes it or not. Valentine, you take Keets and Melborne, go down to the construction hall, drain the tank and ready Unit-06."

"We might have some production grade equipment in storage," Valentine told her, "I'll have someone check."

"That works. Avery, you take a maintenance team to set plastique explosives on the gates of the holding cage and on the primary cargo egress. There are no exit ports in this base for an active Eva, so we'll have to make do. Also, gather the manpower necessary to
release the restraints manually. Use explosives if you must. Lt. Wise," the eternal shadow passed between them, "go wake your daughter and see if you can't convince her to pilot the Eva..." she stopped for a moment.

Clicking a button on the communications panel, "General Teneyl, this is Major Belmont."

"I hear you Major," replied the general gruffly, "make it fast, I'm busy at the moment."

"General, we've got an all or nothing ploy in mind that might keep us alive. We need you to stall the Angel as long as you can."

The general sighed, "I think I can guess what you're playing at. We'll stall, but I can't guarantee more than maybe thirty minutes."

"I hope that'll be enough. Thank you, sir, Belmont out," she turned off the communications and looked back to her group, "We're committed. McClellan and I will hunt up the computers necessary to monitor activation. Let's build ourselves a weapon. Godspeed to us..." And God forgive....


"Well, screw the idea of bugging out after we get the base evacuated. Damn it! Putting the fulcrum of the battle in the hands of a military incompetent..." Teneyl grumbled to himself as he sorted through the incredible mess of comm traffic.

"I hope she knows what she's doing," Major Elston, had to shout to make himself heard over another set of explosions.

"So do I," Teneyl acknowledged shortly.

Teneyl's trained eye glanced momentarily from global data display toward the battle raging beyond the open window of the smelly, cramped C&C Humvee. A moment later, he was screamed into his headset, "Armored Platoons one through nine, circle north west and re-engage the enemy. Platoons 11 and 12, deploy to a covering formation and focus fire on the wide ends of the enemy echelon. Artillery divisions one through three deploy to the west end of the runway, and four through six to that bit of high ground we talked about to the south east, two kilometers south of the lab complex. We have to keep Them diverting away from the lab and toward the air base!"

"All due respect, Sir, but using a battle force to play bait isn't my idea of good doctrine."

Teneyl's face softened as he shook his head, "I would agree, but without N2s, this battle is a rout. As long we can keep these creatures veering away from their primary target to take pot shots at us, that's what we do. Otherwise, there's nothing else to fight

The twelve angels shambling along in an amorphous column, their slouching, eerily humanoid forms with backward knees cut black silhouettes against the low hanging overcast. They moved as a school of zombies, all of their gangly arms swaying in unison while they churned across the frozen winter prairie lands. So huge were they that full sized fighter planes buzzed around them like luna moths. Fighting an inevitably losing battle, Teneyl knew full well that normal tactical doctrine had long flown out the window.

"10-13, back the hell out of there!" His warning came too late as he watched yet another M1A4 Abrams battle tank get squashed into a muddy, burning print by a disproportionately huge Angelic foot.

"Goddamn it!" Teneyl swiveled to his display. Flicking his glance briefly to Elston he demanded, "Where's my Canadian air support -they were supposed to be here two minutes ago."

"Don't know, no further information." Elston paused, "Sir, spotters!" He pointed to another light on his display.

Teneyl nodded, flipping on the appropriate comm, "Yeah, spotters go!"

"Spotter 3, Sir," came the reply, "We've got more electromagnetic echoes. AT fields again, Sir."

The general swore, "$#!T....!" Flicking on the universal comm, "Station keeping scramble! Now, Now, NOW!"

Visible fighter craft kicked in their glowing afterburners, pulling a Chinese fire drill that sent them all scattering every which way, many of them standing on tail and disappearing up through the cloud cover. One Angel opened a hand, fanning its numerous digits out to form a monstrous paddle. With a single swat the monster transformed one sleek, expensive F-22 into a billion sparks with the serrated edge connecting its lengthy fingers. Other fighters managed to climb out untouched. On the ground, tanks and self propelled artillery also went in all directions, kicking up shadows of dust with the rapidity of their movements.

These Angels not only walked and maneuvered in harmony, they also stood and presented like a firing line of old age British musket men. In a halting stop, they all turned outward as one, each standing abruptly still as though posing for some weird photographer. Pitched to match a winking flashbulb, all the angels discharged explosively at the same time. Twelve sizzling shots rippled into the ground and through the sky, sending up pillars of fire that changed the overcast painfully to noon for the space of a
moment. Echoes of thunder rattled in repercussion across the vast, rolling plains.

"Damage?!" Teneyl immediately ordered the instant his vision cleared. Beyond his window, the Angels were on the move again, swaying nonchalantly forward.

"Not as bad as last time. Looks like the scramble tactic messed up their targeting. Three fatalities and varying damage to ten tanks. No fighters hit in the shooting."

"Finally, looks like we're doing something right," flicking on the comm, he continued with a furrowed brow, "Excellent, execution! All groups return to attack posture."

"Sir," Elston glanced up, "News from Ellsworth Air Force Base. Two flights of B-1Bs have been diverted from live fire exercises. They'll be here in fifteen minutes."

"Fifteen minutes?!" The general groused, "in fifteen minutes we could be road pastry. Find me those Canadian Rafales..!"


"A7?" McClellan flipped through the notebook, his fingers running down the pages as he checked operation specs. Looking up, he said, "Yeah. That one should be powerful enough to form a stable gateway interface with the Eva."

"Good." Belmont turned to the techs, "Rip it out. We'll take it up to the cage."

The two techs nodded, immediately going to work on the cover consoles hiding the computer with the hooks of their red firemen's axes. In a flurry of bashing and prying that lasted less than a minute, they had most of the paneling stripped away.

"Careful, careful," McClellan cautioned as the three of them lifted the carriage of the machine out of its recess. Fortunately, the delicate micro-mainframe core came out in something resembling one piece. Using his trusty Leatherman Tool, McClellan had the
computer totally disconnected seconds later.

"That gives us five lap-tops and one big processor."

McClellan shook his head, "I might be able to put together a network of three machines in twenty minutes, but seven is pushing it."

"Give me four or five and I'll be happy," Belmont replied, cocking an eyebrow.

With a wince, McClellan turned away, "Major, I'll do my best. Okay, guys, cart this thing up to the cage."

Heaving the boxy computer off the ground, the two techs acknowledged and started toward the door. At the door, they almost bumped into Lt. Toho who was on her way in. Shuffling sideways, they enabled the Lieutenant to pass, then strained through the doorway themselves. Petite Toho approached Belmont, a piece of bulky electronic equipment toted behind her on a two-wheeled dolly.

"Is this what you had in mind, Major?" She asked in her usual crisp tones, moving her payload so that Belmont could take a look at it.

Belmont shrugged, "I don't know. McClellan?"

McClellan was there in a second, checking the device over, "Pre-second impact, circuitry diagnostics computer... Yeah. Avery or I could probably program the Oscilloscope to act like a Synchrograph. That's what you wanted Major."

"Sounds good. Go ahead and take it to the cage, Toho."

"Yes Sir." Toho nodded, quickly retreating the way she had come with the oscilloscope-computer in tow.

"Mac," Belmont said as she turned to leave also, "I've got some other things to take care of." Tapping her headset with a finger, "Call me if you need me."

"Sir," McClellan stopped Belmont for a moment with a raised hand, "If you're going up to the cage now, let Stormcloud know that I'm still down here. I've got to scare up some code from my machine. I'll be up to help her with the linkage software in a few

"Not that she's ever on time herself," Belmont grumbled on her way out the door. "Going to have to order her again to wear a headset. I'll tell her if I see her."

"Thanks Major!" McClellan called after her.

The clock was ticking with only a few minutes lost. So far, Belmont was relieved that the rapid preparations were proceeding so smoothly. She dodged people on the way down the hall who were in the process of moving modules of essential hardware. Sheets of falling metal crashing down in the distance, the air reeked of smoke from exposed wiring and warm welding torches. Staff members were busy everywhere, scavenging power cables, stray pieces of hardware and software as well as running errands to get things to their proper places. Squeezing her way through the bustle, Belmont knew that they were all doing their best.

That is, everything seemed to be going smoothly until Belmont turned a corner and bumped into Dr. Valentine.

"Alexandra, I have to speak to you."

"What are you doing down here? Why the hell aren't you at the Cage?!" She asked, instantly angry at the impertinent scientist.

"This is very important," he insisted, pushing his glasses up his nose.

"As if getting an incomplete Eva ready for battle wasn't important enough!" Belmont bit sarcastically, pushing past him in the direction she was headed.

Valentine groused visibly as he moved to catch up, "I have some free time, at least until they get the armor segments transferred from the ASM suite to the Cage. Either way, you have to know this."

"Okay, you have as long as I'm walking. What is it?"

Matching her stride, Valentine's voice dropped to a low timbre, "I didn't want to get into this when everybody was around in the command center, but you should know."

"So, out with it!"

"Uh..," he stammered, "Major, have you ever considered what would happen if we put a mind like Jane's into a functional Evangelion?"

Giving Valentine a seething sideways look, Belmont continued walking, "I hope you're not having second thoughts about putting that poor girl into an entry plug."

"No Ma'am!" he said quickly, "I'm just trying to find a way to put this delicately."

"Just say it, would you," Belmont told him in exasperation, "I don't have time to play twenty questions."

He thought a moment, "I'll start again. Major, why is the girl on this military base?"

This stopped Belmont short. She turned to look squarely at Valentine, "I don't need to tell you that. You know it as well as I do. If this is why you're wasting my time..."

"No Sir," Valentine squawked, practically waving his arms to keep from shouting in apprehension, "-Just humor me for a moment, okay?"

"Okay," Belmont started walking again, not checking to see if Valentine was keeping up, "It was a trade. The girl needed some very expensive medical attention, while NERV needed someone like her for Evangelion development."


Belmont harhumphed before answering, "Matrix form buffer."

"And why else?"

"There was no 'why else'." She answered.

"Come on Major, you have to have considered what would happen putting someone with Jane's abilities into an Eva."

"Quite honestly, I try very hard not to think about it."

"And you believe that the top military interests have the same moral fibers?"

Spinning around, Belmont faced him again. Now she wasn't just angry, she was furious, "If this is some fucking political editorial, Doctor, I'll have your ass in a sling so fast..."

"No Alex!" she grimaced when he used that name. "Just listen; that's only one part of what I have to say."

"Then stop tap-dancing around the point!"

At that, Valentine swallowed, "Well, to start with, there isn't going to be any remote system to control the Eva if it does activate. I didn't want to say so when we decided to use It to fight the Angel because I didn't want the rest of command staff to realize it. The Eva's controls can't be operated by a machine. Of course, I don't understand why the hell you almost made me say it in front of the entire command staff."

"We can still cover it with the remote control lie. 'Sides, it got you thinking. Maybe it even pointed out a way to kill this stupid plan before it went too far." Her last few words were distant, "I hoped to let us find another way."

"But there isn't one and you know it!" he accused venomously to her back, "You know the damn systems as well as I do... You just didn't want to think about it! The controls only help the typical fourteen year old pilot visualize the movements of the Eva."

"Yeah, yeah, I don't need a complete breakdown of the system."

"Jane isn't like everybody else."

"Of course not! She can't lift an arm or blink an eye. So you're telling me we've got a pilot who might be able to activate the Eva, but couldn't control the thing if she wanted to?"

"Okay, so she's slightly hampered when it comes to visualizing a movement by using her hands," he sputtered. "Maybe she can do it, maybe not. The major trick is that Jane's already been used as a matrix form buffer. What happens when she's the pilot? It was one
scenario of Astra's theory."

Alexandra Belmont stopped dead cold, instantly seeing where the doctor was headed. She turned toward him, her expression silent, "You can't mean..."

"Yes. It's exactly the same situation as way back when, except Jane's playing a mixture of roles. If we complete the trinity by accident..."

"Then..." she froze, her mind racing, a series of horrifying memories rising from the shadows. The very guts of the Eva project itself. -All my fault.-

"If Jane synchronizes with Unit-06, causing it to activate, god only knows what's going to happen. We could get Jane as the pilot, or... well... you know it the same as I do. And you know damned well I'm not talking about the thing going berserk." Then he hastily added, "I still think her talents are half the reason that NERV brought her in on this, no matter what all the reports say. 'Matrix Buffer' my ass; it's just too hokey. Astra's theories were pretty clear on these possibilities."

"Does Lt. Wise know?" She asked, ignoring the second thing Valentine had said. She managed to erase her expression of shock, "Can he handle it?"

"He doesn't know. NERV never told him all the details of his wife's death. He doesn't know exactly how Astra died. If you ever bothered to ask him, you'd realize that." He paused, "The valid question is, can YOU handle it?"

Backed into a corner, Belmont could do nothing but shrug, "Do I have a choice?"

"That's only one side of the argument. Now, as I keep trying to say, imagine if Jane -of all the people on this planet- manages to synchronize successfully with the Eva." He scoffed, "Things like that must give military men wet dreams."

"Jesus..." At once, the busy hallway gathered an unseemly chill.


Harrison Wise's heart went out for his little daughter when he saw her pathetically skinny body sprawled across the bed, half in and half out of the Plexiglas lung. Sometimes he was happy that his wife, the girl's mother, had not lived long enough to witness the horrifying misfortune that befell their beautiful and talented daughter.

Once coursing in a lovely cascade to the middle of her back, the little girl's ash blond hair was cropped short for healthcare convenience. Permanently framed by gray hospital scrubs, unending medical attention had left his beautiful daughter's dainty features sallow and worn. Beneath the loose gown, her arms and legs were perforated with purple needle marks and taped full of electronic monitor leads. Every shallow breath she made was accompanied by a little electronic beep, while each thump of her heart echoed in syncopated rhythm.

Whenever a resounding rumble produced by the distant Angel carried through the ground into the base, causing the sterile white room to quiver, the little girl's blue eyes made a horrified circle of her immediate space. Her physical condition left her cut off, secluded by a wall of silence from nurses and orderlies who rushed past in the hall. People could not assuage her fears because she could not voice them. As a result, she was totally, agonizingly in the dark. The instant she saw her father, her eyes fixed on him in relief, imploring him desperately to tell her what was happening.

He sat down next to her on the bed, being certain not to disturb the clunky breathing apparatus. With his hand, he gently stroked her forehead, looking into her eyes... her only remaining sentient feature.

"I'm so sorry I couldn't be here earlier," he began, "Fort Tenacity is under attack."

She glanced up and down in an emphatic -yes-, then looked in a circle that he had come to interpret as -maybe- or -why-. With the prospect of custom made communications implants still months away, they had to rely on other means. First a subvocal sensor had spoken for her, reading the motions of her larynx, until that stopped moving. Then she'd had an optically keyed synthesizer, which worked marvelously until she was robbed of the ability to blink, and could no longer tell the computer when she made selections. Now her eyes always remained half open, a pair of tubes touching their corners to keep them moist. Unable to blink, she was forced to communicate exclusively through eye movements until she and her father devised another way.

"It's an Angel. You know what that is, right?"

Again a -yes-, -maybe-. Her face paling noticeably, her most graphic show of emotion was a swirl of the eyes.

"We don't know why. They never tell us why they attack. But, this one is probably after the Eva." He held his breath.

Although she'd never seen one before, the girl knew distantly what an Eva was. Of course, having taken part with the development process, the girl had long learned to detest the name Eva. From what Harry could tell, her part in the project had been something other than pleasant. Upon hearing a word 'Eva,' her eyes flitted to the far corner of the room, patently attempting to ignore him. Usually this gesture meant she was either angry or afraid. Or both.

Seeing fear in her eyes, he immediately tried to switch pace, "Hey, hey. Don't be like that... the Evas are on our side." Saying something to his daughter that he did not himself sincerely believe was one of the hardest things he had ever done. He was thankful that she continued to glance the other way.

"So you can read me like a book," he responded aloud. "Okay, so I've got my reservations too. I know you hated that other time more than you'll ever be able to tell me, probably as more than I hated watching. But Major Belmont has me between a rock and a
hard place at the moment."

Slowly, she returned her gaze to him.

"This is really hard, you know. After, well, you know, it's hard to deal with this whole project. If I could get us away from it, I would in a second."

She looked away from his face at the mention of Eva again. Not quickly this time, but thoughtfully.

"This is really hard," he swallowed. "The main reason I've come here has to do with you and our Eva."

She immediately focused on him, her eyes clear and sharp. Surprised perhaps?

"It's because of the Angel. This Angel is on its way to kill us all, and we can't fight it using normal weapons. Not even N2 mines. That means that the Evas at NERV HQ are our only hope against it. Except that NERV command decided not to send us help for at
least twenty hours. If we survive the next half hour we'll be lucky. Anyway, the Major won't let us go down without a fight. I think she's right. But, well... since only an Eva can fight an Angel, and we have no pilot, the Major wanted me to ask you if you'd be willing to do it."

The little girl's eyes danced around in a flurry, panicked, excited and unsure all at once. She gazed up at him for a long moment, before again looking away.

"Piloting the Eva isn't a quick decision, a hundred things could go wrong...." He paused to keep his voice from shaking, struggling to control his own fear. "I can't choose for you on this. Pending some miracle, the angel will probably kill us all. If you try to pilot the Eva, it may give us a fighting chance. You're the only one who might be able."

It was a hard decision. Harry held his breath, hoping against hope that she would turn it down. After glancing around a few moments longer, the girl's eyes moved in the up-down pattern, giving a tentative -yes-.

He brushed his daughter's hair and gave her a kiss on the forehead saying, "I'll let the major know. At the very least, you'll get the chance to look at a different ceiling for once..."

-Yes- Emphatic.


Dr. Louis Valentine, Director of Evangelion fabrication for Fort Tenacity, stormed into the holding cage in a huff.

"Yo Doc!" Keets shouted, jogging along a gantry to meet him. His perpetually beaming face was flushed from sweat and exertion. Squeezing between a couple of technicians who were working a pulley that was lifting an armored plate, he still wore a smile, despite the current air of stress.

Before Keets reached him, Valentine caught hold of a ladder and hoisted himself up onto a gantry toward the massive Evangelion. "Beast!" he shouted, shaking his fist in the direction of his principle charge as he approached. Throwing himself unexpectedly out of
balance, Valentine slipped abruptly on a nearly invisible sheen of wetness that coated the grated walkway. A moment before his rump struck the metal, he narrowly managed to catch hold of the railing. "GOD dammit! Why's this catwalk wet."

"Dude, postal aerial display! Watch yer step, though." Keets told him, "We didn't want to wait for the cage to drain, so we dropped the gantry in the moment we opened the valves. That's what'cha get for running out on staff meetings to live it up with brass."

Eyeing the few people who had decided to take notice of his outburst, Valentine dragged himself to his feet, "God, how I miss the Nevada facilities. We never had to wait for the cages to empty there."

"Place is closed, Doc." Keets answered with a laugh, "Division One got mothed, and Division Two got wacked thanks to whatever dumbasses put Unit-04 together wrong. Pretty cool lookin' pot-hole though."

"Need I remind you that WE were those 'dumbasses' as you so quaintly put it."

"Yeah, I know," Keets chided, "We musta been trippin' to come out here to Nowhere North Dakota to finish putting Unit-06 together. After -03 and -04 got fucked, maybe they figure third time's a charm."

"I never will understand how you manage to keep so calm at a time like this."

"Just do, y'know?" Keets shrugged, flipping his pony-tail, "We all die; just a matter of when. Say -from your acrobatic trick- you and Belmont must be rumbling again."

"Let's not go there. As Belmont would say, I haven't got the time. Just tell me where you are with the Unit." Valentine dusted at his white lab coat with a grungy hand, probably getting more dirt on than off.

"Oh, dude, take a look," Keets pointed at the Unit.

Valentine had never before seen so many people working on an Evangelion. Ten times the typical number were gathered in the enormous bay, lending their additional strength to an extraordinary number of tasks. The gantries, usually inhabited by a handful of dour engineers and technicians, were now crammed with bustling crews. In addition to the trained supervisors and production assistants, numerous non-construction personnel could be seen hastily completing miscellaneous chores. Even a few stray medical orderlies from the base infirmary worked laying out components that were then fastened into place by more experienced hands.

"The whole base must be here," Valentine exclaimed quietly.

"Not quite. The power plant guys are still over there, and the most of the infirmary is gearing up to take casualties. Still, I think the medical docs are throwing out their extras, 'cause more and more keep showing up down here."

Amid the ambient drone of human voices and the clatter of equipment, Unit-06 stood quietly. With its arms held akimbo by large mechanical restraining bolts secured through its wrists into the giant scaffold, shoulder clamps were being lowered into place.
Stripped of most of its armor, it looked pathetically emaciated. More even than another Evas might, since Unit-06 still lacked much of the physical bulk of its fully matured cousins. With its nearly faceless head slouched minutely forward, its gray flesh was half
exposed beneath the meshwork of inlaid avionics boxes and controlling electronics. In the cavity of its abdomen, the large dull red orb lay exposed to the world. This Eva was nothing but a skeleton with a potbelly.

"To think the United State of America is wasting its money building THIS." Valentine said half to himself. His views weren't exactly secret.

Hanging from cranes and lying on gigantic pallets down below, large sections of the Evangelion's exterior armor were being readied for attachment. Completed only recently themselves, the orange and yellow primer paint of each piece still glittered with wet newness over exposed polycarbon gray. Black painted schematic patterns lined the curves, delineating locations of various structural hard points and access ports along the armor's surface.

"I thought Major Belmont ordered you to have the ASM crews paint over the graffiti," Valentine commented from the corner of his mouth.

"Goddamn, dude, she only ordered it yesterday." Keets drawled, "We didn't get around to it yet."

Along with the schematics and the bright color scheme, the armor segments were littered with elaborately painted decorations depicting popular tattoo patterns and various aesthetic designs. Among the lines of functional script, punctuated by scrawled curses, the art work left the armor with a strangely surrealist appearance, as if the entire manufacture had burst from the mind of Salvador Dali himself.

"I don't know what Belmont's going to say," Valentine cautioned.

"You can't blame the crewers, man, they're just blowin' off steam. Kinda like nose art on fighters in World War II. After we screwed the pooch with Units -03 and -04, having a little fun on fucked-up project like Eva just barely keeps everybody's shit together. Morale, man. 'Sides, if the Boss bitches at us today, then she's a worse commander than we all thought. Even a cast iron ass like her's gotta respect karma."

"Whatever the case may be, she's under as much stress as everyone else. More, if I know her right." Shaking himself off the train of thought, he turned to Keets, "We've got about fifteen minutes left, what's the status?"

"Well, several things. Follow me, Doc." Keets gestured him to follow across the gantry, "Power source is jacking us around in more ways than one. We found external batteries on a piece of experimental gear which juiced up just fine. They took 'bout 90% nominal charge, so they'll be worth a couple a minutes in a good frisky furball. We got Unit-06's internal batteries to hold about 50% even with the leakage in the core. But... we're having electrical supply problems for our gear and the dudes at the power plant keeps radioing that they're having generator trouble because the Angel keeps knocking out subgrids in the whole complex. If the reactor scrams over there for any reason, we're left high and dry. We set up the auxiliary diesel generators, but I need your approval to cut us off from the power plant to use 'em."

"Don't hesitate," Valentine answered, "we can't really afford taking those sorts of chances."

Keets nodded, "Cool, hang a sec', okay?" walking to the side of the gantry, he cupped his hands at his mouth and shouted down toward the floor of the cage, "Yo, Melborne-babe, crank up the juice!"

"You got it!" Melborne shouted back. A moment later, several diesel engines revved to life, sending vibrations across the gantry. Lighting throughout the vast cage seemed to brighten.

Keets turned back to Valentine, the two of them continuing to walk along the gantry way, "In the good news department, we're getting the armor hooked up faster than expected."

Valentine nodded, glancing through the gantry at his feet.

"Also, we found a real entry plug stashed in storage, along with some plug suits. I sent someone to the infirmary with a plug suit for our pilot. You may wanna take a look at the plug, just to see what you think. Crews are hoisting it up as we speak."

"That's good, anything else?"

Keets thought for a second, "Oh yeah, one real bad trip. Unit-06's internal power relays are incomplete." They had come to the end of the gantry. Leaning over the railing, Keets lifted his arm and pointed toward the floor, "Check it out."

Valentine's eyes followed his hand. He gasped when he saw what was nestled on a pallet below, "Christ. you've got to be kidding."

"No way, dude. Here's the shit. The RP-2 interlock node went back to Germany a couple days ago for adjustments. That," he said, gesturing again, "is the only thing we got with the specs necessary to close the circuitry. We have batteries, but that's the only thing
that'll connect 'em with the core."

"This situation just keeps getting worse."

"Yeah, dude," Keets responded with a laugh, "Only piece of equipment we've got could blow us off the map. Bummer, huh?"


Eyes fixed on a clean white hospital ceiling, a young girl began to steel herself for she knew not what.

-Don't worry,- she assured herself, -they'll come for you soon enough. But, what do I do if the plug is like that other place? What will I have left?-

There was liquid there, she remembered of that distant place. Darkness, silence mixed with a tasteless fluid that was neither warm nor cold. There was no feeling, not even the slightest. For a moment, the walls had seemed close, until her eyes lost their frame of reference in the emptiness. Her motionless arms were suspended at her sides. Fingers and toes that obeyed no commands were far away, as if disconnected from the trunk of her immobile body.

-Focus,- she had told herself, a Call to Arms that had long maintained her tatter of life. -Focus-
As the shadows crept in, her senses fleeing, she turned for shelter inward. -Focus, focus, focus.- The throbbing of her heart, the only beacon of her continued existence, sent little pulses of strength through vessels twining the length of her domain. With each beat, she could feel the warmth of her internal flow, verifying where her boundaries were, learning with each pulse that she had not yet departed. It was the one companion that kept her sane. The one friend that could still answer her cries for help.
She pooled all her awareness to the middle of her being, forming a sense of existence at one point in the core of her body. At that single point, she was separated from the shadows. Shielded from fate. Shrouded in the last threads of comfort. Insulated, safe.
Safe, for a time.
In the depths of nothing, robbed of sense, she dropped below the passage of time. Each heart beat stretched out. Each rhythm of her focus drew taut. Each fiber of her being begged for attention. Still, she persevered, knowing that the instant she did not, nothing
would be left to save.
The gaps in continuity growing longer and longer, her focus of self wavered but slightly. -Must stay focused- she told herself, thinking back to an age old promise made more than once. Amid the pauses in the ticking of her internal clock, darkness began to impinge. It forced its way through the holes, widening them toward gulfs, despite all her best resistance.
Slowing. A beat every twenty count. Slowing far too far. Until at last all that endured was a tiny bauble of awareness suspended somewhere in an impregnable void. No light, no sense, no pulse.
-I'm alone.- she had finally known. In the end, everything had withered away, leaving nothing but an insensate limbo. There was nothing, no doctors, no friends, no father, no comforting love, not even promise of a sad tear or hint of a heart beat. Forced to retreat out of whatever light there might have been, she could never move from this tiny point again. Existence had dissolved from around her, leaving a world of absolute void.
No movement. Only Emptiness.
-Am I finally dead?-
A shadow of something, just beyond her ability to sense, whisked past her. A tiny delicate touch, so insubstantial as to not be there, brushed against her for just a moment. Dancing toward her, then away again, it was gone. There was no answer to her wondering, no concern, just a hint that there was something hidden beyond the veil of dark. She could feel that notion of presence, leering out at her across the gulf, in the core of her cognizance. A shadow that she couldn't pierce, something waited. Waiting, just beyond where she could reach, knowing that she was still fading. It dallied there, watching her motionless, insensate, dissolving being, knowing that she could never flee.
Reflected back at her in the pool of nothing, it was all that was left.
-Jane Wise slips toward the abyss,- she felt her shadow say, -no one to remember, or believe that she ever existed.-
-NO!- she had wanted to scream, denying the inevitable truth.
-Robbed of her glimmering movement, she is nothing. Disconnected from the whole, she means nothing. Why fight when there is nothing left to defend. No ground is left to give.-
....i promised...
but she was still fading.

Then, Mercifully, the bubble had ruptured, hands of medical technicians and engineers fishing her from the emptiness back to her lonely room. Forcing the nightmare to end. Pushing it into memory. Her father was waiting there to comfort her, in her little world
without movement. Waiting there to hold her in his arms and warm away the chill with a long hug. He had waited for her in that cheerless lab place, all those months ago.

Yet, in the intervening time, she had slipped closer to the darkness.

Lying immobile in her bed, Jane Wise dreaded that the waking dream told nothing but the truth.


"Yes Sir, It definitely wobbled that time!" Elston reported, looking up from his display. Whenever they were hit by low fire, the Angels stumbled slightly, as if kicked lightly in their backward knees. No harm done by the defenders, but the Angels did pause.

Teneyl wiped cold sweat from his eyes, the frigid wind hitting him through his open window, "Finally, some sort of a weakness." Clicking on the general comm, he said, "All fighters, all artillery target the legs. We've got to knock 'em down if we can."

"Yes, sir!" came the harried reply.

Teneyl watched and cringed as another fighter was knocked from the air by those gigantic whirling hands, "Any survivors?" He asked.

"Spotters say no parachutes. That's another Rafale to add to those two Eagles twenty seconds ago." Then Elston stopped, listening intently to his radio, "Sir, we've got the B-1B flights coming in."

"It's about goddamned time!" switching over to the flight comm, "B-1 commander, this is General Teneyl, Military commander of Ft. Tenacity. What's your position?"

The radio link crackled, then spoke in a clear female voice, "Major Treshkova. We are 90 seconds south west, cruising five hundred knots at two thousand feet -just above cloud cover."

"Perfect positioning!" the general exclaimed to himself.

"Sir?" The B-1 flight commander was uncertain.

"You're already on line for the attack I had in mind. What are you armed with?"

"Eight planes, fully loaded with 500 lb. iron bombs."

"Good, stay on your heading! I want you and your flight to attack these coordinates," he then recited a GPS position that was roughly in the midst of the cluster of Angels. "Use only one bomb apiece, and do not drop below cloud cover. They don't seem to attack stuff hidden above the clouds. I'll get back to you as soon as we see if his works."

"They, sir?"

"Yes... the Angels! Now please attack the damn target, Teneyl out!"

"Yes Sir!" responded the B-1 commander.

Teneyl gazed intently at the enemy, holding his breath as he watched another tank get squashed. So unstoppable was this juggernaut that he was rapidly running out of time and ammunition to accomplish his mission. His casualty rate continued to escalate despite the best tactics he could invent. In his heart, he wanted to ask the remainder of his troops to flee, except for the feelings of cowardice and betrayal such thoughts elicited. -We have to defend that blasted toy. No matter what the circumstances,- Teneyl told himself, he would finish his mission, even if he had to die trying. Watching his enemies like a hawk, Teneyl prayed frantically that this ploy would work.

"Sir," Elston said, tapping his arm, "Spotters are detecting more Electromagnetic fluctuations."

Clicking on the general comm, Teneyl shouted, "Fire in the hole!"

A moment later, the B-1Bs roared past, invisible above the cover of dense clouds. Blossoming like fiery flowers, explosions erupted at the Angels' feet. Visible shock waves thundered through the surrounding ground like tidal ripples in the prairie scrub. Teneyl felt a surge of heat lick his face as he closed his eyes against the moderate flash of the five hundred pound bombs.

Fortuitously, the Angels picked the same moment to fire. Their own shots flying wide, Teneyl saw at least five of the Angels stumble in the blast. To his dismay, not one of the towering monsters lost its footing.

"Damn! Goddammit!!" Teneyl cursed. "What's the damage?"

Listening to his headset, Elston shook his head, "At least their shots went wild when the bombs hit. Only two tanks lost that time. Spotters two and three say the Angels barely staggered. I don't think that blast was focused enough."

"That shoots the effectiveness of a carpet bombing to hell."

"Yes, sir. Unfortunately."

"At least now we know 500 lb. bombs won't cause them to pull their reproduction trick again. I wish someone would hurry the fuck up and invent an N3 mine!" Catching himself, Teneyl exclaimed, "Well then, we'll just have to up the ante one more time."

Gathering his breath, the general spoke to the B-1 flight again, "Major Treshkova, You almost got 'em... it's just that your bombs aren't quite powerful enough. There is one final tactic I can use you for. Bad news is it's a one shot deal and it'll be a little hairy for
you bomber jocks."

"We're in the military," the B-1 commander replied, "tell us what you want and we'll deliver."

"First, those planes have terrain following options, right?"

"Yes, sir: Mach 1.5 on the deck." Treshkova's voice crackled back.

"How high is the 'deck'?"

"'Bout 50 feet over this terrain," she responded with pride.

"All right major," he said grimacing to himself, "I was hoping you'd say that. Here's what I want: Turn around, wherever you are... drop down onto the deck and accelerate to your maximum speed. Set all of your detonators at their touchiest setting -you know the kind, hit it with a hammer and it goes off- then, I want you to steer your bombers into the legs of the targets. Please, please, eject before you reach terminal point. Since there are eight
of you, and twelve targets, I want each of you to number off against every other Angel accept the last four. They're arrayed like a big V... as you can see on your Tac displays. You're north-east of 'em, so if you nail 'em from the front straight to the knees you should be able to take down one Angel per plane. Make sure your planes hit low, the lower the better."

There was silence from the B-1 commander for a moment, "You DO want us to eject, right.?"

"Yeah, I think I said so! I know this is an unusual order, but you just got done telling me how ready to serve you are. I'm running out of time and ideas, so if you know anything else, say it now or forever hold your peace."

"No, sir!" the B-1 pilot returned, "we're damned proud to show how good we are! Your wish is my personal pleasure!"

"Thank you major... this may be our last chance at slowing them down, so make it good."

"You got it." She responded, ending with a snappy, "Treshkova out, Sir!"

General Teneyl strained his eyes trying to see the direction from which the bombers would be coming. It was a futile thought; he hadn't seen where the bombers were when they dropped their first volley. Additionally, they would be coming on at better than the speed of sound, which meant they would probably have completed their attack before he ever even heard them, depending on their direction of approach.

"All air support," Teneyl said through the flight comm, "we have eight B-1Bs coming in at Mach 1+ from the north-east; clear that corridor so that we don't get anyone tangled up in the blow through.

"Artillery," he continued, "The B-1Bs will be passing right over your heads, so silence your fire until we see what happens."

There was no response from the Artillery commander, but the cannon shots went quiet ten seconds later. A cold breeze prevailing from the north west brushed through Teneyl's window, causing him to shiver despite the warmth of the C&C Humvee and his field issue parka. Slipping his gloves on, he rubbed his hands together in an attempt to ward off the anxious chill. Every time he exhaled, he could feel a touch of frost on his breath as a cloud of steam rose before his face. Teneyl crossed his fingers.

Another fighter was smacked from the sky in the lull, its burning fragments strewn almost to the horizon.

"Another F-22 down," glancing toward Teneyl, Elston continued, "Do you think this will work, General?"

"I really don't know," Teneyl answered in a gruff voice, trying to minimize his uncertainty.

Issuing not the slightest noise during their passage, the B-1Bs flew like ghosts. At least, that was the point of a super-sonic attack: flying faster than the speed of sound, a bomber could reach its target before the pent-up sound waves of its shrieking jet did. Teneyl had met a grunt once who literally pissed his pants in joint service combat drills when a pair of F-22's, approaching from his blind side, had screamed over his head at an altitude of twenty feet doing Mach 1.3. Even though it made for a lot of laughs, everybody in the brigade was looking over their shoulders for the next week. A B-1B could do the same thing, except that it might also drop twenty or thirty 500 pound bombs in the process.

Tracing the line of the horizon, Teneyl thought he saw a dust plume rising in the north. It might have been a B-1, since the planes sometimes kicked up dust in their ground effect shock waves during low level flight. Teneyl, certain from experience that his eyes were playing tricks, dismissed the vague sign as a figment of his imagination. In one of his first war games as a commander, Teneyl had made the disastrous mistake of believing he could see B-1s approaching. Spending that distant evening jumping at shadows, he long promised himself not to associate errant winds with ethereal fighters, nor to shoot down flocks of geese thinking he was firing on B-1Bs or stealthier B-2s.

"There!" Elston pointed.

Suddenly, the dull sky turned brilliant white. The first angel at the far west end of the advancing enemy line went head over heels, feet flying straight up into the air in a shower of dirt. Multiple bursts of fire rose up around the fallen Angel, fragments of flaming debris streaking on their original southwesterly course through the air at several hundred miles per hour. A half second later, the impact reached Teneyl, causing the ground to reverberate like the face of a drum. The powerful concussion blast arrived almost a heartbeat later through the air, accompanied by the shriek of the jet's supersonic wake. A thunderous crescendo of further sonic booms rose in percussive accompaniment, leading the earth to jiggle like pudding. Several more Angels, roughly every other in the line, were
upended by the same sort of mysterious force, each with a spectacular commotion of fireworks and flying fragments. One of the overturned Angels even managed to snag a compatriot on the way down, tripping that Angel as well. Each Angel hit the ground with impressive force, causing debris to toss high into the air along each and every ridge line visible.

Moments later, while he massaged his aching ears, Teneyl could still feel the Humvee's shocks absorbers bouncing. A wall of black smoke now rose to cover the entire western sky. Mingling with the drab clouds, the smoke added an acrid hint to the dirty gray day.

Clicking on the general comm, Teneyl spoke madly into his headset, "Spotters, are there any parachutes?! Did the crews make it out?!"

"Sir, we count 29, no 30 'chutes. There might've been an 31st, but we lost visual on it when the fireball came up. Rescue choppers are on their way in now."

"Yes!" Elston cheered; probably all eight of the B-1 crews had survived, "That was great! Well done!"

Teneyl gave him a weary smile, and the driver, Sgt. Engels, made a thumbs up.

"Targets have gone silent!" a spotter called.

With nine lying on the ground, none of the targets moved. Instead the three standing Angels stood by dumbly as their compatriots began to sort themselves out.

"That should buy us a minute or two," Elston commented happily.

"Not long enough to figure out what to do next," Teneyl replied, his dark attitude not displaced by the minor victory. "Belmont is running out of time."

Copyright 1999 Gregory P. Smith