~'/|\'~it hurts so much. pain is her existence, now. for a subjective eternity. Twinkle, twinkle, little star she floats, in darkness. How I wonder what you are. they reach out and touch her but they don't touch her.Up above the world so high they shouldn't touch her.Like a diamond in the sky not like that.Twinkle, twinkle, little star not ever.How I wonder what you are! she screams as it happens, water and fire and pain and death and abomination and horror and fear and terror and panic and screaming and confusion and agony and cessation all brushing against her mind, and she feels it all. When the blazing sun is gone that was a long time ago.When he nothing shines upon she screams as it happens, fire and death and pain and horror and flesh and nightmares and dead mothers and decay and tearing and tiny things that crawl inside the lungs and the eyes and eat them and she feels it all.Then you show your little light this is now.Twinkle, twinkle, all the night. she stirs.Twinkle, twinkle, little star, she wakes from her slumber, eternally lying dead but dreaming.How I wonder what you are!
The sky was on fire.
Well, technically that wasn't true. But night had already fallen again, the day this far north in winter only a few short hours which had already passed, and the smoke from the Reykjavik pseudo-arcology, which the Dagonites had called Cthulhu'ybeq Ahefrel
, were lit from below, to create a crimson sky. From the exterior feed from the outside of the Ranger AFV, the damage which the invasion had done was evident. No building was left untouched; even the least damaged had holes through their façade, punched through by plasma beams, railgun slugs or necklaces of bullet scars.
The camera panned to a ruined fountain, high pressure water jetting out of the ruptured mains pipes only to fall back to earth as a cold mist, freezing solid on the ground. There were the remnants of a statue at the peak, carved out of some black stone. One wing remained intact; the other, along with the head and the parts of the torso that had connected the two were gone, shattered upon the ground.
“You got that?” muttered Antonio.
“Yeah,” replied his cameraman, hands dancing over the controls as he coordinated the suite of LAI-assisted drones that flocked around the Ranger, filming the environment. “It'll make a great 'defining image' for the package. 'Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair', and all that.”
“Uh... we're coming up to an intersection. Try to see if you can get a full shot of that spire... no,” he said, highlighting a tall building backlit by the fires and the remaining Dagonite searchlights, leaning over at almost thirty degrees, the slanted outside plagued with scars, “that one.”
“On it.” Varuata said. “What do you think did that? How's it still standing?”
One of the troops escorting them leaned over; the AR projection against their contacts (only soft contacts, not the permanent hard contacts or the optical nerve jacks that were starting to enter the market) tagged him as Sergeant A. Richards. “The slanting one? Yeah. If it's one of those cabletowers, then the cables on one side got hit, and then something hit the building, too.”
“They're a real bugger,” added one of the soldiers. “They're easy to build; you anchor the rods with cables, like a tent, and then you build around the inside, but they fall apart. And the fish-fuckers love their coilsnipers.”
“And those harangy
CW2 gyrojets,” added another solider. “So damn crude that they sometimes work even through the emfog. Launch from cover, then home in on the spotter's target.”
“Are... there are coilsnipers up there?” asked Antonio, concern in his voice.
Sergeant Richards shrugged. “Not on that tower. You'd have to be an idiot to stay up there. It's going to fall any minute.”
There was a pause, as the two journalists shared a look.
“I'll keep a drone on it,” said Varuata.
“Good idea.” Antonio turned to face the soldiers again. “So, how long until we get to the site?”
“Ten minutes out, assuming the area remained clear.”
There was a jolt, as the AFV pulled behind an abandoned barricade and opened fire, the snap of superheated air audible through the hull as the laser pulsed its way along the front of a ruined tenement. An explosion sounded nearby and bullets pinged off the armoured vehicle.
“Well, mostly clear,” added the sergeant, clutching his rifle closer in the somewhat cramped cabin, the mass of the empty powered armour taking up space for two men. To Antonio, the way the armour's LAI set the soldier's combat armour eyeholes to opaque removed all humanity from the already skull-like face. “What've we got?”
“Squad of tangos, hostile heavy weapon is down,” yelled back the gunner, targeting the general area of the fire and letting the LAI do the fine work before firing. “Look like militia... that's one of the CW2 one-twenty mike-mikes they give to the goons. We're just mopping up. No real threat.”
Sergeant Richards looked back to the journalists, and relaxed. “Acknowledged. Yeah,” he continued. “The armour and the Papa-Alphas have already been through, and the Echo-9s have the place covered, so... yeah,” he summarised.
“Bit pathetic, really,” added another one of the identical looking soldiers, her voice the only indicator of her gender. “The militia are just brainwashed cultists, mostly.”
“Yeah, well,” said the sergeant, “we're off to see one of the romeo-camps with the journos. Once you've seen one... the fish-fuckers don't get any sympathy from me. Wish we could use some bee-cee-nam, like we did in Santander, but that'd remove the point of rescuing the poor buggers. Hells, en-bee-cee-nam would be better, but...” He shrugged, and glanced up at Antonio, no flesh at all visible under the almost skull-like visage of the infantry combat armour. “You covered what the fish-fuckers do before?”
Varuata shook his head. “Yes. We were in Santander, too. R&R, actually, bad luck that they showed up. Closest ones to the place. You know those videos of Valkyrie coming in?”
“No way! That was you?”
“Yeah.” He raised his hands. “Wasn't even using drones for that; didn't get them until after they'd mostly been driven off. Old fashioned shoulder-cam and exosuit for that.”
“Wow,” said the female soldier who'd spoken before. “Those were awesome. And those helljumping nutters are fucking badass.”
“I interviewed a few of them afterwards,” added Antonio. “They are completely,” he raised a finger, “and I mean, completely
and utterly bugshit insane, but, yes, they are awesome.”
“We've been on the Eastern Front since then,” continued Varuata.
“That's a cold fast one, isn't it? What do they call it? “Time and Tide”, isn't it?”
The Nazzadi nodded. “Yeah. Hideous jamming; you can't use drones in most places, so you have to go in on foot. Both us and them are all about the attack, counter-attack. 'Cept when a cap-ship shows up; then they completely dominate the area, until the others can pull back to static defences. It's like some weird kind of trench warfare, 'cept instead of trenches, you have stuff that can hurt cap-ships. It's almost luck if you can get footage there... more like bad luck, almost, 'cause it means the bugs are hitting the sector you're in, and they'll pull back before reinforcements arrive..”
“Four minutes out,” called the gunner from the front, over the intercom.
“But... yeah,” said the sergeant, a morose tone creeping into his voice, as he returned to the original topic, “if you haven't seen what the romeo-camps are like, you should turn around and leave now. I just hope the killing hasn't started yet.”
“What killing? By who?” asked Antonio, paling slightly.
“By the people we rescue,” said the solider, who refused to say any more.
Misato took it surprisingly well, all in all.
“I see,” said the Major slowly, as she broke the link to her comms implants. “Information distribution authorised,” she told the branch of the Total Information Tactical Analysis Network LAI that was handling the Nero operations.
There was a generalised commotion from the rest of the room, as the rest of the operations room responded in a less calm manner.
“Captain Martello,” she said, turning to the NEG military liaison, “I want as much air cover as you can get me. Get Marcellus to send everything they can spare and then some. I don't care if that means that the other Task Forces have to take losses. Pull in any capital ships you can, too. We need to slow down the orbital forces enough to complete the ritual, and then take down the Herald.”
The square-jawed man stared at her, jaw slightly open. “Are you insane?” he finally managed. “The entire naval assets used in CATO are smaller than the incoming Migou forces, even before the hostile warships and the losses we took from the Dagonite nuclear weapons are included. There's no way we can win.”
“I know,” said the Major, the glimmer in her eyes belying her calm expression. “That's why I clearly remember saying that we needed to slow them down.”
He only worked his jaw a few times.
“The entire point of Operation CATO was the success of Nero,” she continued. “If this fails, then we have damaged the entire strategic position of humanity for no gain, even if we don't take any losses from the Migou. Agent Tome,” she continued, turning to the albino, “how long does the Solomon Throne
“To complete the ritual?” He checked his book-shaped PCPU, making a few quick adjustments. “Assuming we accept a 50% fatality rate among the sorcerers, and... fifty-three minutes. Plus an unknown period of time for the Herald to surface.”
“Too long. Can you speed it up?”
Agent Tome stared back, impassively. “There is another way, but it will raise fatality rates further, and risk burning out the survivors, as well as possibly drawing extranormal attention. From a entity that is not Moloch. We can employ the Patrone System to its theoretical maximum.”
“Do it. Your superior told me hold important Nero is to you, so you can risk it to ensure that the mission is completed. How long would that take, then?”
He blinked, twice. “Including the necessity to get authorisation? Seventeen minutes, plus or minus six minutes. That's assuming that our estimates for the entity's current wakefulness are accurate, of course. There's a very large margin of error here; possibly several hours.”
“Can you be more precise?”
“No. We haven't exactly
done this before,” the agent said, a hint of sarcasm creeping into his voice.
“Have you done something similar
?” the Major snapped, aiming for the weak spot in his sentence.
Agent Tome licked his lips once, an unconscious gesture. “There exist other magma-dwelling creatures, although they were Knights, rather than Heralds, at most, and in almost all cases lesser threats than even that. However, none of the trials were anywhere near this deep. I cannot help you. It might teleport up instantly, it might swim up. We weren't exactly expecting the Migou to show up now.”
“Wait? What trials?” interjected Captain Martello.
“That's classified. You did not hear that,” said the albino, deadpan.
The Major tilted her head slightly. “Go! Get me everything, Captain. And, Agent, will your sorcerers accept those kind of losses?”
A faint smile crept over the albino's lips. “Oh, yes. They agreed to do this, understanding that they could die. They're aware of the need to do this.”
“Then go do it. And then use your Special Services pull to get me even more forces. Go drag in Director Khoury; she made it clear that this is necessary.”
The Captain saluted, the OSS agent merely nodded. “Understood.”
Misato turned, and headed down to the main workstations, hands balled into fists, internally swearing with exceptional virulence in all the languages she knew.Migou. Why now! They want it too?
She noticed the way that the operators and technicians were staring at her; with a degree of fear and what almost looked like concern. They hadn't heard the conversion; the noise cancellers around the command point should have seen to that, but the combination of the news and the body language was more than enough to set everyone on edge.
Misato leant over to Makota. “Open a channel to the Evas.”
He continued to stare at her. “Major Katsuragi... it looks like you're keeping the Evas there. Under the biggest single fleet ever.”
She stared at him. “Yes.”
“They won't stand a chance! They're just children.”
“No. They stopped being just children the day that each of them became one of the Children.” The Major stared blankly up the main screen, tracking the projected landing area of the incoming Migou fleet. “And if we don't managed to eliminate that Herald, one way or another, we won't stand a chance either. Do you want it in the Migou's hands?” She paused. “Now, open a channel to all three Evangelion Units.”
All across the ruins of the city, where the NEG had mostly gained control, the surviving gaggles of scattered troops, both Elect and Blooded among them, moved from building to building as best they could, ducking away from the searchlights from above when they swept over head. Each group was trying to get back to Dagonite-controlled areas, or were, desperately, trying to continue the fight.
“Come on, come on,” said Sv'fuzna-obff
Guh'maena, striding at the front of the group, reduced to three after they'd made the mistake of poking their heads out when an armoured column, hover-tanks and mecha alike, were passing. He was bare chested, crude bandages wrapped over the morass of cuts that covered his chest from when a close-proximity blast had crushed his armour. “We can still smash them! We're not going to cower down below in the tunnels. We have faith in Lord Dagon, and he, in turn has faith in us! We shall not disappoint him. Have faith in yourself.”
Yuh-kho'ui, anti-armour coilgun and what ammo she could carry after the death of her spotter slung over her shoulder, elbowed him. The male Blooded grunted in pain. “Keep it down, you p'erg-va
,” she hissed, feeling her nascent gills, still not permitting air across them, open and close in anger. “Look up!”
The brightness of a searchlight shone through the ruins of the roof, through the holes that shrapnel had torn in it. That wasn't the most worrying bit. The heretical forces of the New Earth Government didn't rely on visible light, especially when operating at night. There could be those spy drones up there, scanning the majority of the EM spectrum, and the first thing they'd know was when a missile got lobbed in through the roof, or those wasp-like gunships did a strafing run.
She looked back. “How are you holding up, Shem'oan?” she asked the operator of the exosuit behind them. It was crudely armoured up into a power armour, but its true purpose as a tool for digging tunnels like the ones which connected the underground shelters was clear, from its bulbous front profile and ornate frontal decorations. It wasn't even a militia vehicle, and the pilot was just a construction worker.
“Not too good,” Shem'oan sniffed. “It doesn't matter. We're all going to die, anyway.”
“Don't be a fool!” said Guh'maena loudly, turning around to face the other two. Stepping back, he grabbed the mining exosuit's hand, which could have crushed him with almost no effort, and stared at the eye-sensors on the front of the construct. “Listen to me. Survival isn't winning! Winning is winning! Listen! Er-wrp'g p'bz-zba fraf'r 'gb z-nxr gur v'zcbf'f-voyr cbf'f-voyr! Vfa'g gung gur 'j-nl gung s'n-vgu e'by'yf?
” He paused. “You understand what we will achieve, because we have faith in Dagon and in ourselves?”
Shem'oan nodded within the exosuit, then realised that the honoured sv'fuzna-obff
could not see that. “Yes, my Sv'fuzna-obff
,” he said out loud, over the speakers.
“Good!” Guh'maena paused. “So, where are we?”
Yuh-kho'ui sighed. “We're in Yr-neavat-v'fsha
Primary,” she said softly, dropping down below the window, staring out past the broken glass to the darkness outside. “We just need to make our way through the rest of S'n-gny'evat-v'at
, and we can get to the fallback position.”
“We shouldn't be falling back!” said Guh'maena, the sound of outraged faith in his voice. “We should be proud to give our lives in service to Dagon-anzr
. One of the true faithful does not die even when they are killed!”
Slowly, the female Blooded drew her coilgun, deploying the bipod, and resting it on the broken window. “Don't say another word,” she said, barely breathing. “I thought I saw a flash of movement through there... and get low!” she added, realising that she was dealing with a Sv'fuzna-obff
; the kind of religious fanatic who wouldn't know the least about duties as a markswoman. She was going to really miss this, when her blood showed fully; the deterioration in vision was not going to be pleasant. Breathing slowly, she scanned the buildings across the street, over from the playground, looking for any movement.
There was the hypersonic crack of a railgun, which was deafening even with the ear protections in the masks that the Order infantry wore, and Yuh-kho'ui felt a spray of something warm (too warm in the cold night air) spray across her back. Reflexively she span, dropping the coilgun and drawing her pistol. In the strange-slowed time that an adrenaline-filled brain produced, she saw the mining exosuit take one step back towards the window and her, the other side of the room visible through the hole blown through the domed cockpit. The fluid sprayed across from the hole was dark, the colour unknown in this darkness. There was a bulky figure standing on the other side of the room, something wrong-looking about its face.
Impossibly, the mining exo-suit pulled itself from the fall, and took step forwards, its drill spinning up. A second step.
A second crack of the railgun, which tore the right leg of the suit clean off, sprayed the rest of the room with shrapnel and concrete splinters when the hypersonic slug tore into the floor. The exosuit began to fall, as did Guh'maena, his unarmoured torso torn apart by the shrapnel, that hyperedged sword he'd been so proud of clattering to the floor undrawn.
The Blooded woman had her pistol out and levelled by now, though, and she squeezed the trigger, the nine-millimetre bullets (a product, like so much of the Order's weapons, of the Second Cold War; that pistol calibre no longer saw use in the forces of heretical humanity) impacting against the figure, which twisted and ducked back behind the cover of the wall. She couldn't see that it'd had any effect. That was something they'd found with these NEG forces; even the infantry, when they weren't using those power armours or those odd heavy armoured suits, took multiple shots to take down, even if you could get through their armour. Resin casings clacked to the ground, as she kept shooting, through the thin walls of the school.
Yuh-kho'ui felt the pistol click empty, and scrabbled on the ground, trying to pull the coilgun back around, up from its position at the window. It'd be worthy shattering her shoulder if she could take this monster down. Lift and... up... and around.
The figure already had its rifle levelled at her even as she started turning back. A burst of three bullets danced its way up her chest; one through the sternum, one through a lung, and one shattering her right shoulder, like a trio of knives punching through the light armour issued to the marksmen of the Dagonite forces. She fell to the ground, her spasmodic trigger squeezing tearing holes in the ceiling before the coilgun fell from her hands.
Through darkening eyes, she saw Guh'maena twitch. In an odd clarity, the finger-long pieces of concrete protruding from his chest were clear, even through the fog that gathered in front of her vision. She knew what she had to do; the grenades were at her belt.
Her right shoulder was a mess of pulped meat and bone. She didn't have the strength.
One poster, drawn crudely by childish hands in paint, on the opposite wall became clear, as she gazed helplessly, unable to even move her head. The bright blue was so... pretty. Like the sky. And the mass of stars everywhere were just... right.
And then there was nothing.
Foxtrot 813 scanned the room for any other threats. A single bullet was spared for the one cultist that twitched on the floor, ensuring the elimination of the threat. When the inside of the exosuit was checked, the Replica found that the pilot had been pulped by the first shot. Evidently, the LAI control systems had merely been doing their best to keep the suit upright, and the second shot had been wasted on a threat which had been neutralised.
The fact that the movement had not matched how a LAI system would have moved was considered and noted.
The Replica shifted inside his armour. The pistol, light and obsolete though it had been, had hurt; not in the same sense as it would have hurt a human, but the existence of pain was acknowledged in the pseudo-sapience of the organism, the shard of soul behind its eyes moaning. According to the armour smart systems, two bullets had penetrated the hardplate, before being stopped by the mesh underneath. His armour integrity was severely compromised; more care would have to be taken against any hostiles engaged from now on.
The ammunition counter on his HUD was checked.
Standard – 3/8, /|\ 8
EMP – 0/8 /|\ 3
DU – 23/40 /|\ 40
FMJ – 0/40 /|\ 0
15mm Automatic Pistol
DU – 18/18 /|\ 18
L7A2 Fragmentation – 2
UT-42 Flash – 1
FFB-1 Incendiary – 0
CW-4 NECW - 0
He was starting to get worryingly low on ammunition for the assault rifle component of the IMFW-3; less than two full magazines remained. Before that, it would be worth acquiring weapons from enemies, even if there would be a loss in efficiency due to the fact that the weapons would not be designed for integrated use with his armour system.
There was an odd crackling in his radio system. User ID only displayed UNKNOWN CONTACT
. Foxtrot 813 slapped the side of his helmet; nothing happened, apart from his HUD flickering slightly.
There was an odd noise at the edge of hearing... a simple tune, chiming in the distance, from the outside of the school building. The Replica, weapon raised, made his way to the window, stepping over the corpse of the female coilsniper.
Nothing. It was coming from one of the buildings on the other side of the street, one of the few without any signs of burning; the red glow of flames could be seen from inside many of the others. There was a dead tree on the pockmarked lawn outside, what had been one of the few, non-rooftop patches of green in this densely packed city. A lone swing hung from it, limply.
Foxtrot 813 levered himself over the ledge, and headed through the outside. The music was growing stronger. He had to find the source!
Something knocked against his shin. The Replica jumped back, weapon lowered. The Dagonites had been using large numbers of mines, and rollers were not unknown. The fact that he remained intact suggested that it was not an active threat, if he'd actually touched it, but...
It was an basketball, orange even in the night's darkness to the enhanced night vision systems of the Replica. The construct froze in place, while the LAI in his helmet tagged that it could not detect any traces of explosives. Slowly, 813 squatted down, and rubbed one armoured hand over its surface. His pseudo-sapient mind could not work out why it had suddenly moved like that.
“Unrecognised unit; IFF reads positive,” came a voice over his communications system, loud, crisp and clear; the first such that he had heard since the destruction of his REV-8. “Possibly the source of the unknown transmissions.” The voice was one he was programmed to recognise, one of the Replica variants, though not the same model as he was. “Identify yourself!”
He lowered himself into the crater, squatting next to the basketball. “Eidelon Combat Unit ORPH-PN1-012 Foxtrot-813.”
“ORPH-PN1-012 Foxtrot-813,” repeated the voice. There was a pause. “That unit was recorded as MIA.”
“Correct. The assigned REV-8 Eidelon Powered Armour was mission-killed, and self-destruct protocols were carried out as usual, to deny asset to enemy forces.”
His HUD picked up a flicker of movement, tagging a friendly unit; just there for a second before it was gone again.
“Foxtrot 813, a location is transmitted to your HUD. Regroup with forces there.”
“Understood,” answered the Replica, with a feeling of relief more intense than most humans would experience. It was back in contact with friendly forces, so the success of its mission would be increased.
There were four Replicas in the wet basement, clad in greyish-white semi-powered ultraheavy combat armour. Twenty-four yellow optical sensors were turned his way.
“Eidelon Elite Combat Units ORPH-ORPH-03 Kantya-12, Kantya-13, Kantya-14, and Kantya-15,” stated one of the figures, only distinguishable by the fact that the HUD highlighted which one was communicating and their different armaments. “ ORPH-PN1-012 Foxtrot-813, your current orders are now over-written. Synchronise orders with ORPH-OPRH-03.”
Foxtrot 813 nodded. The Replica Elite had such an authority. Produced in much smaller batch sizes than the mainstream Type VIIs, they were also much more heavily enhanced. Although there were multiple genotypes among all the Replicas, even within a Type, the Elites were, without exception, based off a female template; further modified for endurance, strength, and lightning fast reflexes, and with added aggressiveness and cunning embedded into their pseudo-sapient psyches. Add that to superior armaments and armour, and the fact that they were directly under the control of Orpheus Command, and it could be seen how, if the Assassins were the knife of Project Eidelon, the Elite were the lance. The main limit was how much more difficult they were to handle, assigned to Orpheus Command exactly because only it had the spare capacity to sustain multiple Elite activations as well as keeping the rest of the forces active.
“Threat classified “Migou” has entered combat zone,” stated Kantya-12. “Unlock combat library “Migou”. Orders are to engage Migou and residual Dagonite forces which attempt to prevent evacuation of all assets in Task Force Nero. Destruction of all enemies forces is instructed as a secondary priority; they are to be eliminated. They all are to be eliminated.”
“Understood,” said Foxtrot 813.fire
With the window to Command closed, the three pilots stared at each other.
“And now the Migou are showing up,” said Asuka, flatly. She smirked. “Well, I've killed Swarm Ships before. Just follow my lead, and you'll be fine.”
“Certainly,” said Rei. She paused. “Where is the nearest high object to jump off?”
Asuka narrowed her eyes. “You're trying to make fun of me,” she stated. “And, no, don't pretend to be innocent. You know exactly what you are saying.”
“You were not referring you your past experience with the Migou?” Rei frowned. “Oh. I see. But after the previous Herald, we were told by Dr Akagi to try to avoid ripping holes in the fabric of space to create a Zone-like environment of infinite dimensions overwriting the standard 5+n. That may pose a problem, if we are to follow your example.”
“What?” Asuka glared at Rei. “Oh, ha ha. Anyway, I'm pretty sure she was only joking. Or at least,” the girl corrected herself, “being gratuitously sarcastic. Because, obviously, we should avoid blowing up the universe. And I'd like to note that I'm the only one who's fought the Migou befo...”
“Could we try to avoid the catfi... uh, I mean, the argument,” interjected Shinji, hastily correcting himself after a piercing blue and a cold grey gaze locked onto him, “and maybe consider the fact that we're now going to be attacked by the Migou, while we're trying to protect a ship that's trying to summon a Herald, which we then need to capture, and then get away from here?” Shinji paused. “There may also be attacks from remaining fish-men forces,” he added, as the sheer ridiculousness of the situation began to get to him. “I just hope the Yellow Storm doesn't decide to show up as well.”
“Oh, it gets better,” said Asuka, an almost identical tone in her voice. Shinji may have been prone to useless passive-aggressiveness, but, much as she was loathe to admit it, he was right. In that they needed to focus, of course, not that it was a catfight or anything like that. “Unit 01 is the only one with a properly-working long-range set of sensors. Because that blast managed to damage mine, and Unit 00's just got slagged by it. And Migou standard operations is to drop in from high orbit, if they're in an area where we don't have capital-grade defences; we certainly won't have the E-9 coverage once they arrive.”
“Really?” asked Shinji, face turning a paler shade underneath the LCL.
“Yes. It's basic knowledge.” Asuka growled. “And I'm armed completely wrong for this kind of thing. And you, you're not exactly doing too well, either. That thing you have is for shredding vehicles, not going against Swarm Ships.”
“The most commonly encountered model of the class of xenotechnological vessel assigned the name “Swarm Ship” mounts, as its major armaments, one ventral plasma weapon and two nose-mounted weapons of the technological basis that have been deemed “null” weaponry. Despite the extreme inaccuracy of such a term,” Rei added.
“They possess three weapons which are capable of threatening an Evangelion with a single shot,” explained Rei, tilting her head slightly. “There are thirty six of them. Moreover, the 45 “Drone Ships” mount an laser attuned to the near-mid ultraviolet of a similar, though lesser, threat level.” She paused. “By my understanding, the warships will mount such armaments as to make...”
“Please, no more, Rei,” said Shinji, weakly. “I get the picture. We'll all die if they attack us.” He shivered, suddenly aware of the slimy feel of the LCL that surrounded him. “I never ever, ever thought it would end like this,” he said, in full honesty.
“That is not necessarily true,” she said, clinically. “And what I told you before Operation Ishtar still holds true. You will not die, because I will protect you. I can be replaced.”
“Look, uh, I said you shouldn't say that kind of thing...” began Shinji, before Asuka, who had been sitting, listening to the conversation with growing rage as Rei enumerated exactly the trouble they were in, finally exploded.
“What the hell did the GIA, the OSS... just everyone think that they were doing!” she shouted. “Why didn't they foresee something like this happening! Argh! So obvious
that of course the bugs were going to do something like this!”
There was silence.
“Actually, when you say 'foresee'...” said Shinji, slowly.
“No,” said Rei, her voice level.
“Uh... what exactly you mean?” he asked
“I mean, 'No'. I do not know.” She squinted, eyes darting from side to side, in what looked like worry, gazing from the cluttered cockpit of Unit 00. “Everything is strange
,” she said slowly, a uncharacteristic tone of both fear and wonder in her voice.
“What are you talking about?” snapped Asuka.
“I cannot explain. You lack the context.”
Back in her plug, the red-head fumed. The shear arrogance. Going around seeing the future and locking people into the actions that she sees, and acting like that when anyone questions her. She never explains herself. She's so damn quixotic. And she's always been like that.
She stared up at the skies, shifting her position to get her stupid broken sensors to work consistently. Stupid sensors. Stupid OSS. Stupid Rei.
In Unit 00, Rei stared at the morass of projections and displays that smeared the insides of the entry plug, many of them warning diminished functionality due to the damage from the blast.It was not meant to be like this. I do not understand.fire
, this is Goetia Control.”
There was a pause, as the link protocols ran. Then;
“Acknowledged, Goetia Control. Uplink is secure.”
The albino sorcerer nodded, despite the fact that this was a [VOICE ONLY]
connection. He made a few movements across the AR display, dragging new options together.
“Be aware, Solomon Throne
, there are multiple hostile Migou capital ships, converging on your location.”
“We are aware, Goetia Control; we have access to NEG military channels.”
“Understood.” Agent Tome paused. “Task Force Nero has chosen not to abort the operation. Repeat, operation is continuing. You are hereby instructed to move to Variant Three.” He fell silent again, taking several deep breaths. Oh, sure, he might pretend
to the military and the Evangelion people that such orders didn't affect him, but that was a lie, to create a public persona for the OSS. “The fatality rate of Variant Three has been deemed acceptable. Moreover, you are instructed to employ the Patrone System to its maximum capacity, in a simultaneous dump.”
“You are aware that this will add ten-to-fifteen percent to the fatality rate? And induce orgonic burnout in the survivors?”
The albino closed his eyes. “Yes,” he said. “I am aware.”
“I am afraid that you lack the authorisation to command this. We require authorisation from a Genesis-level authority.”
“Patching you through to Director Khoury,” Tome answered, making a series of complex movements in the AR array. There was silence for a minute. Then;
“Authorisation has been given, Goetia Command. After ritual is complete, we will engage stealth and evac as fast as possible, assuming success and no destructive backlash from use of Patrone.”
“Acknowledged. Goetia Command out, Solomon Throne
The three hundred metre ship, which stood upright in the excavated hole which the Order had dug, was now covered with a vast dome, memoform materials only enough to seal off the area and prevent undue influences from entering. The Solomon Throne
had seeded the area with nanites, and sped their operations up with broadcast power, relaxing the thermodynamic problems that such free-roaming nano-and-microagents had; the same ones which made the “grey goo” nanoweapons an impossibility. The area was now a black hollow, surface like black glass, with symbols and figures carved into it by the finely controlled lasers mounted on the outside of the ship. The Evangelions had been moved outside the crater, and were being kept away from the dome, standing unmoving vigil over the target location, sensors and eyes to the sky. They should have had nothing to do until the ritual had been completed; now, of course, things had taken a notable turn for the worse, from the viewpoint of the Office of Special Services and those pieces of the New Earth Government that knew about Nero's role.
Inside, the rows and rows of Special Services sorcerers, sat in acceleration couches that bound their limbs, wires threaded into their bodies and into the ports that connected directly into their cerebral implants, twitched. They were not really there, not mentally. Their consciousnesses were in a simulation, a fake world built in the dreams and soul of a preprepared subject, their psyche parapsychically reconstructed to make it an ideal site for such a ritual. After all, by conducting it in a dream, they were in fact conducting it in a location with the same location in the three dimensions of space and one of time that humanity was familiar with. It was merely the fifth coordinate which varied. And due to the fact that it was occurring in one soul, rather than many, metaphysically the ritual resembled one cast by a single, much more powerful lifeform, rather than many weak and flawed humans. It was an ingenious merger of the arcane and the technological; an exploit in the “laws” of sorcery which the mystics of earlier generations had held to. And a work-around the fact that, individually, humanity was fairly terrible at sorcery, the hard-wired limits on understanding as well as their individually rather pathetic reserves of ruach crippling any more intuitive, less ritualistic understanding of the subject.
So very human.
The dream-selves of the sorcerers stood on a vast white plane, no walls in sight, under a void-black sky. Across the featureless plane, vast markings were placed with perfect precision, carved into the server-mind through mental sculpting. Anchored by the identical, though much smaller carvings outside, they stretched into immensity. Each mental-projection was in place somewhere on the diagram, although their eyes could not resolve the nearest compatriot in the procedure.
They were not chanting. They were not praying. Within the sculpted mind which was the ritual site, they were in turn turned inwards, silent, as the equations flowed through their minds, each one solved in turn and in the correct order, describing precisely the flow of orgone through the host-psyche and downwards, into the Earth.
Down to Moloch.
There were three major schools of sorcerous practice in the New Earth Government, with a fourth arguably deserving inclusion. The Cassandran Practices were perhaps the simplest, and closest to how they had been before their public revelation. In a sense, they were not so much a unified school, as a collection of sorcerous procedures that much more accurately required the name “rites” or “ceremonies”. Most spells which would be classified under the Practices were illegal, deemed too dangerous compared to the sterilised and tested versions of the Schools. The few which remained legal were the most basic ones, circles of Warding and Protection, or cruder, less effective (but easier to learn) versions of modern arcanotherapeutic procedures. Where they came into their own was on the summoning and binding of creatures; not through any particular innate brilliance (indeed, they were often horribly flawed, traps left by cultists and long-dead sorcerers as revenge to permit extra-normal entities access to the world), but simply because the practices of summoning and binding had been heavily restricted if not entirely illegal for all of modern times. Those who went into such fields, either through necessity (such as NEG-trained exorcists, working with the OIS and FSB), or through curiosity (a path which led so often to the consumption of the practitioner), were often forced into using the Cassandran Practices.
By far the most widely used was the Horakian School, and, arguably, the Lorenzian School. Both these systems were modern ones; devised and revised by old-school sorcerers who had gone legal, and used the desperation of pre-NEG governments to investigate this new science to secure massive grants, funding, and teams of highly trained scientists all looking for instruction. Officially, Horaki had won out over Lorenz, to a large extent because the former had the advantage of good relations with the nascent Ashcroft Foundation rather than because his version was better, but in practice the two, somewhat similar already, had syncretised in modern universities, the hybrid version taking on the traits of the school that Lorenz had devised. There still existed hard-school supporters of both, but the two were, fundamentally, similar. They were both devised from the older styles, but heavily modified by the systematic application of the scientific method to the old rites, flagging ones which failed or had unintended consequences, comparing those broken ones to ones which worked to find the elements that differed, and generally doing the same thing to sorcery that medicine had done to folk remedies.
But the final, and most esoteric of the methods, was the Salaamian School, named after Christopher Salaam, an early-twenty-first century archaeologist and linguistic theorist who had, if his story was to be believed, stumbled across the principles of sorcery from almost first principles, aided only by some clay tablets of unknown providence in the British Museum. Certainly, the Salaamian School had very little in common with any of the others; it treated sorcerous procedures as something more akin to pure information, a careful balance of mnemonics and exceedingly complex mental calculations that effectively programmed the effect into being. Although the theoretical basis was sound, and the effects that could be generated in it were typically more... elegant, in a mathematical sense, than those produced by other methods, the problem was that it was beyond the human intellect to perform anything but the most basic of procedures, which even then took far longer than any other method would have taken. Christopher Salaam had gone crazy at the end, become convinced that the entire universe was a localised bubble in a vast churning sea of infinite possibilities, and was fundamentally unstable, rebuilt afresh every time a sorcerous procedure was performed; that, literally, sorcery did not break the laws of physics, but instead shifted the practitioner into a point in phase-space where the initial conditions were such that the effects desired happen. The school was an almost purely theoretical one, due to its complexity and negative effects on practitioners' sanity. It was used to check the procedures of other schools, not actually performed.
And yet all the sorcerers upon the Solomon Throne
were all trained in the Salaamian School, and, indeed, the OSS made up the majroity of its practical users. The reason for this was simple. Despite the risks and the complexity, it was the only known human-codified system for practice of sorcery which had any capacity for building new procedures without extended experimentation; the only one which allowed true workings from first principles. And, unlike all other systems, the limit was in the rate at which the exceptionally complex n-dimensional calculations and lengthy mnemonic devices (themselves only abbreviated versions of other calculations; given results, so to speak) could be performed, given a sufficient flow of orgone.
The Trintignant-Patjug-003 cyberbrains, Achtzig-made implants that wrapped around their brains, coolant pipes flowing from the ceramic skull-replacement, were woven into the unmyelinated fibres that made up the cerebral cortex, and solved the issues of computation, linked as they were into the trio of Mobad supercomputers within the centre of the ship. And, as for the supplies of ruach, well...
Out in the real-ship, down in what, in the original design, would have been the chamber for an additional D-Engine, to power the ventral laser, but in the Solomon Throne
now housed a new power source, a team stood, all clad in full biohazard exosuits. They were clustered together in the middle of the hollow space, keeping far away from the Patrone capsules.
“We have authorisation for full use of the Patrone system,” said Dr Childe, over the comms system of the suits. His tone was confident, veiling any nervousness he may have had. “Ready to authorise?”
Each individual Patrone was a cylinder, whitish-grey, with cables flowing from its side, slightly wider and about a head taller than a man's torso. They were wrapped, six to a level, around a central pole, from ceiling to floor. The room was filled with these poles, . There were hundreds in this room alone; there were more spaces such as this, in whatever room could have been found. A single green light blinked on each one; of course, in Augmented Reality, flowing entopics and projections gave the full status of each Patrone at just a glance. But the green light told all; that the Patrone was ready for use.
The lights flashed blue on the inside of Dr Childe's exosuit, as the other operators across the ship acknowledged him. He reached out, servos on the outside of the void-proofed exosuit humming, and made a complex gesture in the AR display that hung before him.
The results were rather prosaic, after all this melodrama.
One by one, cascading down from the ceiling, the lights on the Patrone cylinders flashed to yellow, and then to red, the flow through the pipes into them ceasing with the red light. It was over in a few seconds.
Inside the simulated space, where an infinite black void which hung above the infinite white plane, the effects were much more dramatic. The entire world began to warp, vast flowing ripples which pulsed through the floor, avoiding the sorcerous markings. In the sky above, novae flared, burning brightness which left harsh shadows scorched behind the standing figures of the sorcerers. They left a pattern in the sky, from where they have so briefly been; the dead stars creating a ritualised marker identical to the one down below, on the whiteness.
Back on the Solomon Throne
, the lifesign monitors on the sorcerers began to scream, as the cyberbrains were pushed beyond their safe-operational limits, frying the organic tissue as the waste heat produced from their operations overcame the capacity of the coolant systems.
A plume of liquid shadow erupted from the plane, as the whiteness tore, split like a discarded skin. Vast and roiling, it spread out, a cloud of impossible darkness obtenerating the sorcerers and almost obfuscating the novae, already dying out. It was only possible to see by its absence, but it seemed to be coalescing into some kind of shape above them, up in the void, some vast sphere.
“ENE breach!” warned monitoring systems, back in the real world, sirens blazing throughout the ship. “Sever-soul compromised!”
“Yank them! Get the sorcerers out of there!” yelled Dr Childe. “Ignore the AN damage!”
There was a moment of terrible movement, as the last of the novae died and the white plain ceased to be, consumed by the growing shadow.
All at once, all the other vital signs failed, the other sorcerers snuffed out in an instance like candles dropped in the ocean. The server-soul's host began to thrash and scream blasphemies, mad words pouring from her mouth in a roaring torrent, before the LAI systems engaged and triggered the containment protocols, flooding the room with plasma. There was no-one else left to order it. Everyone else on board, within the warding circles carved into the rocks around the ship, and which had been in the sever-soul, had dropped to the floor like puppets with their strings cut, minds and souls snuffed out in an instant.
Nevertheless, they had, in those last moments, succeeded.
It was done.
[The camera pans over the wreckage of the Reykjavik pseudo-arcology]
Antonio de Nebrija :“The fighting still rages in Reykjavik, the cultist forces of the Order of Dagon being slowly pushed back by fierce house-to-house fighting...”
[A soldier in Centurion powered armour blows down the door to a building with a single plasma cannon shot. A grenade is thrown in, then foot soldiers, clad in the heavy combat armour of the standard infantryman, head through in pairs, rifles raised]
ADN: “... and despite minor friendly losses, victory looks to be certain.”
[The wreckage of an Esoteric Order of Dagon Leviathan-type mecha lies sprawled on the ground. The unit is blown clean in half at the waist. A Seraph Engel looms over it, bearing proud and regal. Notably, none of the organic components are showing; from this perspective, it could just be a very large conventional mecha]
ADN: “This is aided by the reports of the success in the diversionary assault to the north, which, contrary to even the most optimistic expectations, has actually succeeded in breaking through the lines...”
[A graphic displays an arrow, the green of unified humanity, punching through the blue of the Order forces over the urban area to the north as well as into the Reykjavik pseudo-arcology.]
ADN: “... no doubt aided by the fact that they have been assisted by the brand new Evangelion-class mecha, capital-grade units recently unveiled and seeing their first major deployment; one which has been exceptionally successful.”
[Still pictures of Unit 02, in the old Type-C armour, from its public unveiling in Chicago-2, shortly before the attack by the Seventh Herald, Yam. Notably, it's still in the red of its test colours, rather than the camouflage scheme that it used when actually deployed, let alone the Type-D it is currently in]
ADN: “However, it is not enough to merely win the war. We must also win the peace.”
[The camera moves to a dusk shot of a sealed camouflaged dome, made of memoform plastics; it's large, covering multiple clusters of buildings. The Atlantic oscean can be seen behind it; there are docking points, where A-Pod ships (not military troopships) hover. Large airlocks can be seen at the base, surrounded by military forces]
ADN: “Even though this is still an active war zone, the humanitarian effort to rescue the slave workers and victims in the Dagonite camps has already begun. The first, and most important thing, is to get the victims to a place of safety, and prevent their officially sanctioned killing by enemy forces, in an attempt to prevent their liberation.”
[The shot changes to one inside the dome; it's well lit, with strips of light running along the curved ceiling. Multi-story tent-like structures have been set up, packed very tight, connected together.]
ADN: “Once rescued...”
[NEG soldiers, notably not wearing the standard combat helmet, but instead a less armoured variant which covers the face with a nanofactory diamond transparent front, removing the inhumanity of the standard, skull-like appearance, can be seen, waving columns of people in cheap-looking, undyed clothing along. The hair of the rescued people has been shaved off, leaving only a stubble. The clothing is obviously far too cold to survive for long outside in the temperatures in Iceland at this time of year]
ADN: “... and the obvious Dagonite infiltrators removed...”
[More NEG soldiers, a Crusader powered armour standing next to them, HMG in hand, have hand-held metal detectors and stun batons, scanning the people at a checkpoint for weapons, before herding them into another, larger scanner. One person is pulled out of the crowd, and bundled to the ground, before being clubbed into unconsciousness with stun-batons.]
ADN: “... then the humanitarian work can begin. These poor people have been through so much.”
[The camera jumps from tear-stained face to tear-stained face]
ADN: “Those liberated from the work camps have been used as slave labour, given the bare minimum of food. Some cannot be saved; the... well, the evil, there's no other word, really, of the Order is such that it lobotomises them, making them into nothing more than fleshy automata to use as workers. Others were pumped full of combat drugs when the NEG assault was detected, and set loose into our path, mindlessly killing anything that got in their way. Only those who were in tasks which required some intelligence...”
[Images of the things described above. The blankness in the eyes of the lobotomised workers, sitting like cattle in the pens that the Order kept them in, not even moving when the powered armour claws off the locks, is more disturbing than the madman with a knife being gunned down by infantry]
ADN: “... can be saved. And as for the people in the forced breeding camps, almost exclusively women, to the trauma of their repeated rape by the bestial Deep Ones, and highly transformed Hybrids, can be added the effects of the hallucinogenic and euphoric drugs used to keep them docile. Perhaps worse is the way that the highly addictive drugs are withdrawn during any pregnancy that results, all in a too-often-successful at brainwashing and thought control.”
[Still shots of the living conditions in the rape camps. They are spartan, rather than the squalor of the work camps, with a slightly medicinal appearance to them; only slightly, because the pictures on the walls are disturbing in the extreme, to the extent that the autocensor blocks them out.]
[A woman of Asian decent, face puffy, eyes red-rimmed, a badly healed scar just under the barcode emblazoned on her forehead, appears on camera. The LAI automatically subtitles her dialogue. She begins talking in one of the Malay languages.]
SUBTITLES: “You're getting me out of here, please! I'm begging you, tell me you're getting me out of here!”
[She begins to shake]
SUBTITLES: “They... oh.... oh... they...”
[She bursts into tears.]
[The camera focusses on Antonio de Nebrija, he's standing on top of one of the multi-story prefabricated structures established in the NEG holding centre. He's wearing the light armour that is issued to journalists, the red “PRESS” emblem clearly obvious, with the same, PR-friendly helmet that the soldiers here were wearing.]
ADN: “I'm here inside one of the many rescue centres that the NEG forces have set up, as we advance across the formerly-Order controlled island. They contain top of the line medical facilities, including access to arcanotherapy, to treat injuries and malnourishment, as well as to counteract exposure to biological, chemical, nanological and micrological agents. This way, the rescued prisoners can be stabalised, before they are loaded onto ships, to get them to safe, NEG-controlled territory.”
[The camera pans sideways, to show a male Nazzadi in a white biohazard suit, anti-stab plating evident on the chest, marking him as part of one of the Army Medical Corps. From behind the clear faceplate, he looks old enough to be a first generation, who possibly even fought in the First Arcanotech War. The camera LAI tags him as “Deputy Assistant Director of Medical Services, Dr Rera]
ADN: “So, doctor. Exposure to battlefield bee-cee-nam? That sounds unpleasant.”
[The doctor nods]
Rera: “It's true, it is unpleasant. Control of the modern battlefield requires the use of emfog, a cloud of nano-and-microparticles which interfere with most kinds of communication, and, sadly, it is toxic when breathed in in large amounts. Luckily, with proper medical care and the use of counter-agents, it can be neutralised.”
ADN: “And the biological and chemical weapons?”
[The doctor shakes his head.]
Rera: “Let me be clear. It has long been a policy of the New Earth Government that we do not use biological weapons that could infect any non-Tainted member of the four recognised Homo sapiens
subspecies. The risk of military grade bioweapons infecting real people would be too great. And on the subject of chemical weapons, likewise, I can guarantee that the only weapons used by the NEGA or NEGN here have been designed to be less-than-lethal to the purebred Homo sapiens
subspecies. So, yes, we do have to remedy the effects of knockout gas on many of the victims here, but if it's a choice between letting the Dagonites kill them, or knocking the entire work camp out, I know which one I'd chose.”
[Antonio nods to the doctor's explanation.]
ADN: “I see. But...”
Rera: “That's not what I really want to talk about, though. The important thing is the good we're doing here. Once the Hybrid infiltrators have been weeded out... it's the matter of a simple gene check, the markers are unmistakable if you know what you're looking for, we tag each of the rescued people, ready to get them off this island. Already, we're setting up proper settlement camps back in friendly territory. Hopefully, one day we'll be able to set up proper housing here again, but for now, Iceland will be a military territory.
Rera: It's probably for the best, considering how close we are to Migou territory.
ADN: “So... this entire structure... it's the size of an arcology dome...”
Rera: “Well, a slightly-smaller-than average one, to be accurate.”
ADN: “Yes, okay, true. But, still. This entire thing, you've set it up in hours, and from the flow of people...”
[The camera pans down, to show the column being herded along the temporary streets, shaven-headed figures in loose, undyed clothing, like that might which be given by a hospital, shuffling along. The NEG guards around them have their stun-batons drawn, and are carrying riot shields.]
ADN: “... it's already well under way in its task. How do you manage it so quickly?”
Rera: “That has to go down to the bravery and efficiency of the men I have the honour of serving with... the soldiers who freed these people, the engineers who set this place up, and my fellow doctors and medics who are working non-stop to get these people processed, ready for evacuation.”
[The camera pans again, so Antonio is the only one in shot.]
ADN: “So, there we have it. A sight into one of the areas of the Aeon War which we hear less about, and which many people would like to pretend doesn't exist. But we can all sleep better, and feel better about ourselves, in the knowledge that Operation CATO, with its aim to stop the Dagonites from doing things like this, has succeeded. This is Antonio de Nebrija, for WBO News.”