A battle raged outside the AT barriers of Lilin Outpost Zion.
An army of JA Heavy Armor units, three hundred strong, had been reduced by half, taking the dozen Nemesis Series with them. The surrounding terrain, mostly a rocky tundra lined with spruce trees, had been largely reduced to rubble in a last ditch kamikaze attack.
And standing defiantly, growling in rage, was the first of the Eva Series, the mass produced Evangelion type that resembled a green and brown Mark.06. After years of fending off attacks from the Mark.04 Nemesis Series, it appeared that NERV had decided to take off the kid gloves.
On the ground, between the Eva, and the outpost, was a single JA Heavy Armor unii, piloted by Makinami Mari, still wearing her WILLE uniform, with a DSS shock collar around her neck.
The AAA Wunder hovered defensively overhead. Shinji was firing the Wunder's optical cannon as much as he could, but each blast kicked up enough dust and debris that the Eva Series was obscured for a brief period after each blast, and each time it revealed itself, it was a few steps closer to the base.
On the ground, Mari was harassing the Eva as much as she could with her unit's pallet rifle, but her JA unit might as well have been a mosquito by comparison, but at least she was keeping the Eva from firing back at the Wunder.
"Cease fire, Shinji," Misato's face appeared on his screen. "We're not making enough of a dent in that thing. We need to try something else."
Shinji halted his barrage with a certain amount of relief, but also trepidation. Had he not been doing a good enough job?
"What do you want us to do then?" he asked.
Misato pursed her lip, before turning her eyes towards another corner of the screen, evidently to look at Rei's radio feed.
"Rei, can you maneuver the Wunder so that we're positioned directly in front of the Eva and pointed directly at it?"
Shinji could see Rei nodded in the seat below him. "Yes ma'am."
"Good," Misato said brusquely. "Then do it. Shinji, keep firing. Keep the pressure on. Slow it down as much as we can."
Both Shinji and Rei responded in unison.
Misato nodded, and the feed switched off, but Shinji could still hear her voice over the intercom as he went back to the task of hitting the Eva with everything he had.
"Ritsuko," Misato's voice sounded. "Remember that experiment you were working on to weaponize the base's AT barrier?"
There was a pause as Shinji continued firing, with Mari's JA unit still dancing around the Eva with a surprising amount of dexterity.
"Captain, I don't think that's a good idea," Ritsuko voice sounded, distorted by transmitting through the radio on the bridge to Shinji's radio. "In order to do it, the entire base's AT barrier will need to come down."
"But it does work?" Misato confirmed.
"Technically, but the entire base would be exposed in the process!"
"If this works, then it won't matter," Misato said simply.
"And if it doesn't?" Ritsuko demanded.
"Ritsuko, that AT barrier won't hold up against an Eva for long, and you know it," Misato said plainly. "Not even the Wunder's S2 cannons are making a dent in this thing. This is our last shot."
Shinji could imagine Ritsuko's expression on the other line as he continued to pummel the Eva, the Wunder descending to less than a hundred meters off the ground, facing the approaching Eva and slowly moving backwards as the Eva approached. But despite the situation, Shinji felt a strange feeling in his stomach that he hadn't felt for a while. A tingly sort of anticipation. This was starting to sound more like the Misato he knew!
"Fine," Ritsuko said finally. "I'll set it up. Give me five minutes to reorient the transistors."
"Five minutes?" Shinji thought out loud. "Captain, we don't have five minutes!"
At the rate the Eva was advancing, with the Wunder's tail fast approaching the AT barrier, it felt like they barely had five seconds!
"We'll just have to make time then," Misato's face reappeared on the screen. "Rei? Ram the Eva."
"Yes ma'am" Rei replied, shoving her control yokes forward.
The good feeling in Shinji's stomach promptly vanished.
Mari had done a lot of crazy things in her life, she thought upon reflection. Since becoming an Eva pilot, she had found herself in a number of impossible situations, and yet still somehow managed to live to tell about it. So, in the grand scheme of things, she should have been rather unimpressed to find herself piloting an old, clunky piece of pre-Impact machinery while fighting a man-made monstrosity distilled from the DNA of an ancient alien beast, while standing on the back of another, much more massive ancient alien beast that had been cobbled into a warship.
She should have been unimpressed. But she was, in fact, giddy with excitement.
"Yeee-hawww!" she shouted in elation, as she Wunder kicked beneath her like a bucking bronco, the Eva Series growling at her on all fours for stability.
If Mari had to say one thing about Miss Ayanami, it was that she flew like a bat out of hell! There she had been, Mari thought, engrossed in a rock 'em, sock 'em tousle with the first of what promised to be a multitude of Eva Series, when the Wunder itself had struck the Eva head on, much like it had done with Unit 13 not so long ago. Not wanting to be left out of the fight, Mari had quickly fired off one of the JA unit's grappling lines to grab the Wunder's underside, and had simply let the warship carry her unit up into the sky.
The Eva had been stunned by the initial impact, but had recovered quickly and had lept into the air over the Wunder to attack the beast from above. By then, however, Mari had managed to reel herself onto the ship and climb to the top, and had fired off her grappling line again, this time at the Eva. Her aim had struck home, and instead of landing a fearsome kick that may well have gouged a hole in the ship's hull, the Eva had tumbled haphazardly onto the Wunder's top deck, the JA's grappling line still wrapped around its waist.
What had followed was a series of ferocious bobs and weaves, whereupon neither the Eva nor the JA could focus much attention on battling each other in favor of not being swept off the ship's deck! The Eva had managed little more than menacing growls in the ordeal. Mari wasn't sure what Rei was trying to do, but if her intention was to keep the Eva occupied, she was doing a good job of it. And Mari was certainly happy to help by keeping the Evas attention focused on her, and not the ship itself, or worse, the base.
"I think I'm going to be sick…" Shinji bellyached over the radio.
Mari rolled her JA unit backwards, dodging a wild swing of the Evas arms as she propped herself on all fours while the Eva was cast to the side as the Wunder came about yet again.
"Alright, you pansy!" Mari crowed haughtily as her JA got to its feet, though she knew of course the Eva could neither hear nor comprehend her. "Let's dance!"
There would be no dancing for them that day, however, as Rei's face appeared on Mari's viewscreen.
"Pilot Makinami," she said militantly. "I regret to inform you that, per the Captain's orders, it is now time for the two of you to disembark. Please brace for impact."
Mari's expression fell. She did not like the sound of that.
She liked it even less when the Wunder simply flipped upside down, dumping both the Eva and Mari's JA unit over the side, sending them tumbling down to the ground.
The JA hit the charred ground hard and rolled and tumbled roughly. Inside the cockpit, Mari was tossed back and forth in her restraining harness. Though her harness had kept her safe from severe injury, she had managed to get a nasty cut on her face with blood trickling down over one eye behind her glasses.
"Jeez…" she muttered, grumpily. "A little more warning next time?"
As she slowly got her JA unit to its feet, a process that took a lot more time than usual, considering how beat up her JA unit was, the Operations Director's face appeared on her screen.
"Mari, the base is about to open fire with an experimental weapon," Maya said sternly. "I suggest you get clear."
As the Eva slowly climbed to its feet with a growl, Mari turned to see that Outpost Zion was just behind her. The AT barrier around the compound had begun to glow even brighter than it usually was, as its color began to slowly shift from yellow to orange to red. As its color shifted, she began to notice that parts of the barrier on the opposite side began to dissipate into hexagonal gaps, a gap on the opposite side slowly forming as more hexagonal pieces flitted out of existence. Soon, the gap had expanded to the circumference of the entire dome, which was now more of a hemisphere, and still falling away as the energy going into all the separate panels were being transferred one by one into a single, solitary panel facing the enemy.
The Eva Series, seeming to recognize the threat, let out a roar as its wide visor began to glow as it prepared an optic blast.
"Oh, no you don't!" Mari shouted and mirrored Asuka's attack, lunging for the Eva, whose blast was once again sent skyward from the bull rush.
She tackled the Eva to the ground, planting her unit's arms and legs firmly to the ground on all sides of it.
"You stay right here!" Mari smirked.
The Eva growled in frustration, biting into the JA unit to corrode its armor into core material, as all the while, the AT barrier surrounding Outpost Zion began to condense even further, its colors shimmering in a prismatic array of luminescence.
"Get out of there, Four-Eyes!" Asuka shouted over her intercom.
"Not yet!" Mari shouted back, gritting her teeth as the controls in front of her began to spark as her unit's systems began failing. "I've got to keep the Eva from getting a shot in!"
"Mari!" Maya's voice sounded over the comm. "Your unit's been compromised, and you're right in the line of fire! Eject, now!"
"Just a little bit longer…" Mari breathed, glancing between the angry Eva sinking its teeth into her unit's metal chassis, her JA slowly turning red all over, and the AT barrier behind her that was down to five panels.
"Now!" Mari shouted, pulling her ejection handle.
Just at that moment, the Eva managed to force the JA unit off of it, sending her unit sprawling. Her escape capsule didn't so much jet away as tumble and careen out of control, bouncing off of rocky and forested terrain, tossing and jostling its occupant like a hamster in a hamster ball.
"Mari!" Asuka shouted in alarm.
There was no response.
The Eva got to its feet and roared with triumph.
And before it knew what hit it, the AT field in front of it lanced out - literally, extending from the middle into a thin, red lance - to pierce the Eva through the chest. The beast did not even get a chance to roar in pain. It was simply thrown backwards, almost half a kilometer, before impacting with the terrain, the lance pinning it to the ground with a sudden but definite twang.
The Eva let out a single, desperate groan before shutting down, utterly paralyzed, just as Unit 01 had been once upon a time.
"What…" Misato demanded over the radio. "What the hell was that!?"
There was a pause as the dust settled, leaving the view of the carnage for all to see.
"That," Ritsuko said, in a mixture of disbelief and elation, "Was WILLE's first attempt at creating an artificial Spear of Cassius."
Shinji stared at the aftermath, his spirits somewhat dampened. True, they had won the battle. But he had contributed very little to their victory. It had mostly been the other pilots' doing. He felt rather extraneous in all this. And looking at the damage caused, he had to wonder…if this was what a single one of Eva Series could do, how were they to be a match for when the others came?
And something about that lance that had come from the base's AT barrier made him feel especially nervous.
"I hope Miss Makinami is alright," Shinji thought out loud as he inspected the spent husk that was the lone Eva Series.
Rei must have assumed he was speaking to her, for she responded.
"She has likely sustained whiplash from her escape pod's less than ideal launch conditions," she said simply. "But assuming her restraining harnesses were in place and her inertial dampeners still functioned, then she will most likely survive."
Shinji did not reply, but he did try to smile. He couldn't tell if Rei had been trying to alleviate his fears, or was simply being honest. But either way, he was just glad that she had considered his feelings at all.
"Should I transfer control now, Captain?" Shinji radioed into the bridge.
Misato's face appeared on his screen. "Just as soon as we make one last sweep of the area. In all that chaos, we could have easily-"
The shout had come from someone in the bridge - it sounded like Nagara - and had sounded loud even from through Shinji's display.
"What?" he tensed, heart in his throat. "What is it?"
Misato's face vanished from the screen as she moved away, as the sound of clamoring bridge bunnies congealed into white noise.
"What is it!?" Shinji demanded, even louder.
Finally, Misato's face returned to the screen.
"Another one of the Eva Series!" Misato shouted, her voice in a panic. "Dropping in from directly overhead! It's aimed right at Zion!"
Shinji's heart sank. A second Eva Series!? They had barely managed to stop the first of them!
In the background, he heard several discernible cries from the bridge crew.
"The outpost's barrier is still down!"
"It's aimed right at the civilian center!"
"At that speed, it's break right through the secondary barrier!"
"It must have just been waiting for the moment to strike!"
Shinji could see the inevitable before it happened. The Eva was plunging towards the base's secondary AT barrier, which lined the top of the deep well of civilian housing like a thin sheet of yellow saran wrap. It's AT would neutralize that of the base, its momentum would carry it through, and the Eva would crash all the way to the bottom of the pit, doing incalculable damage as it fell to almost five hundred thousand men, women and children. The death toll would be catastrophic!
He clenched his teeth. With each passing moment, Shinji felt himself beginning to panic. NERV wasn't pulling any punches. The Eva Series was going to destroy the last vestiges of humanity if they couldn't find a way to stop it.
"Captain!" Shinji cried. "What are your orders!?"
Misato looked utterly taken aback. "I…I don't…move to intercept!"
Rei obeyed immediately, pointing the Wunder's nose skyward as she thrust forward on the controls, kicking the S2 drive into gear and sending the ship rocketing upward in the direction of the descending Eva.
"Open fire, Shinji!" Misato cried, as she braced herself in her seat. "Hit it with everything you've got! We have to stop it, or every survivor in Zion is dead!"
Shinji gritted his teeth. He still couldn't see the oncoming Eva, though his head's up display showed the approximate position, and he began to fire.
"Keep firing!" Misato ordered, desperation in her voice. "That thing can't be allowed to strike the base!"
Shinji didn't even register the breakneck speed at which Rei was flying, or how much his display shook and threw off his aim. As the tiny dot in the sky resolved into another gray-green Eva series plummeting from above, all thoughts turned to one thing, and one thing only:
"Enemy…" Rei whispered through a clenched jaw, as if reading his thoughts.
The oddity of the situation didn't even register in Shinji's mind. He simply repeated that word.
"Enemy…" he breathed.
"Enemy…" Rei repeated.
He could hear Misato shouting desperate orders to keep firing, and a myriad of other things being shouted all across the bridge, but at that moment, all he and Rei could do was repeat that word over and over again.
And when the two bodies collided in mid-air, that's when everything erupted into chaos.
The ridge arching the length of the Wunder's nose beneath the very tip of its snout began to widen and stretch, as though the muscles underneath were straining after an eternity of inactivity. The Wunder's eyes had stopped firing as the long, pointed head began to twist and struggle, the ridge beneath its nose continuing to stretch.
Until the moment before it collided with the Eva, the ridge finally ripped open, like a pair of lips that had been stitched together, revealing a mouthful of several rows of wicked and deadly looking teeth, its jaw practically unhinging to open wide enough to catch the Eva whole, like a fish between its teeth.
Shinji could barely register the confusion that ensued. The impact had sent the ship hurdling out of control, twisting and turning as the Wunder flapped its wings to regain balance. The Eva Series was roaring and thrashing between the Wunder's teeth. Misato was shouting something at him through the screen, but the sound of alarms and creaking, groaning metal was drowning out all other noise.
He could practically feel the world around him, like the Wunder was an extension of his body. He could feel himself falling, the wind buffeting his body. It was almost a calming sensation, proof that the world was still alive. He felt enormous, as if the fall were scarcely a threat at all. The ship's wings were his arms. It's eyes were his eyes, it's face his face, and it's mouth his mouth.
And between his teeth…was his prey.
And he was feeling mighty hungry after having been asleep for so long.
He bit down.
"Shinji! What the hell is happening up there!?"
Asuka's voice finally registered in the back of Shinji's mind, and he blinked away his reverie.
"Asuka?" he said, looking around in confusion.
He was still in his entry plug. The world around him was still spinning out of control as the ship tumbled towards the ground. He may have been imagining things, but he could vaguely recall the sensation of hunger bubbling in his stomach. He felt nothing aside from the gut wrenching experience of falling, and he could not see anything other than the spinning world from his current position.
He became aware of alarm bells beeping all around him, and Misato shouting something in a panicked voice through the intercom. Her face was a desperate mask of fear and confusion, and she looked utterly terrified. But he still couldn't make out her voice over all this noise and confusion and turbulence.
They needed to get the ship under control.
"Ayanami?" he croaked, fighting a wave of dizziness. If anyone could keep this ship from crashing, it would be her.
But there was no answer.
He threw himself forward to peer down at her seat, fearing that she had somehow been sucked back into the Eva, but he found her sitting where she always had been.
But something was wrong.
She was seated in a very awkward position, clutching the control yokes with a kind of quiet desperation he was not used to seeing. Her feet were digging into the footrests, and her mouth was hanging open and her eyes were clenched as her body contorted in pain.
"Ayanami!?" he shouted in panic, fear pounding in his chest.
Rei didn't seem to register his voice. She couldn't hear him at all.
All she could do was convulse in pain, as she threw her head back to release a terrifying, earsplitting scream.
To be continued…