Unit 08+02 descended from the launch bay doors of the Wunder and set upon its hapless prey like an enraged tiger, grabbing the mass produced gray-green Eva Series by the throat and driving it into the ground. The surrounding biomechs had about an eighth of a second to react to their brethren's plight, before the mighty red and pink Eva took down a second target with a spinning kick, sending it toppling over, neck bent at an odd angle.
The remaining Eva Series hunched over and snarled at their attacker, bearing their teeth, their fingers curled like claws. Unit 08+02 responded by drawing both progressive knives from its shoulder pauldrons, holding them at the ready in a reverse style, lowering its stance to prepare for the coming counterattack.
"Who's next!?" Asuka crowed, her voice triumphant and taunting.
Mari, from her position in front of the redhead, just sighed. "So scary! And you wonder why no one wants to date you…"
This was the third Eva Series attack that WILLE had intercepted, this one taking place outside their outpost in Beijing. There were many such outposts scattered across the globe, several in areas of strategic important, but the majority at the mouths of the great rivers of the world so that any surviving refugees could follow the river and find their way to safety. There were outposts stationed in what remained of Cairo, Sao Paolo, New Orleans, the Congo, Rotterdam, and here at the mouth of the Yellow River.
Thus far, Rei had successfully predicted the last three attacks, allowing the Wunder to be dispatched to intercept and neutralize the threat before they neared any human settlements. This latest mission had been off by several hours, however, and the Wunder had only just mobilized before Outpost Beijing had sent out the distress signal. Misato had ordered the Wunder's S2 drive activated, allowing the ship to travel at super-sonic speeds in order to reach the outpost before the Eva Series had been able to wipe out the last remnants of the population of China.
Misato stood on the bridge of the Wunder, arms crossed, as she observed the battle taking place just outside the flimsy artificial AT barrier surrounding the outpost. Such barriers had proven sufficient at repelling the Nemesis Series, but the Eva Series had naturally occurring AT of their own, which could easily overcome those of that WILLE could manufacture.
"Remember," Ritsuko's voice sounded over the Captain's radio transponder sounded as the Doctor chimed in. "Try to take them alive. We can make use of their cores."
Misato frowned. "Right now, our top priority is ensuring the safety of Outpost Beijing. If we can recover anything from the targets, we will do so. But not at the expense of human lives."
There was a pause, before Ritsuko responded.
Misato took a breath as she watched the pilots drive the Eva Series back from the outpost. The last two battles had taken place far from any of NERV's intended targets, giving them the luxury of time to pick them off one by one with the Cassius weapon while Unit 08+02 kept the targets occupied. As the Eva Series had been neutralized in the fights previous, not only had their parts been salvaged, but their cores as well. The cores salvaged from the kills, not to mention all the spare parts, had gone a long way towards aiding WILLE in its efforts. Nine such cores had been recovered since Shinji's initiation, plus the three that he had helped bring down himself, and each core represented a source of self-sustaining energy. Dr. Akagi had been hard at work to put them into use in everything from Outpost Zion's defense array to that of the AAA Wunder.
Thus far, however, she had refused to integrate them into the Wunder's main drive, given what had happened to Rei the last time that had happened.
WILLE had recovered enough special armor to completely refurbish Unit 08+02's appearance. Neither Asuka nor Mari had been willing to cede to the other's design, so the compromise had been a bi-chromatic Eva, split right down the middle, it's right half clad in Unit 08's pink armor, it's left in Unit 02's red. In spite of its patchwork appearance, the Eva boasted two cores - one of which was a fully formed S2 engine - allowing the Eva to forgo external power, its own power source an infinitely recycling super solenoid device. These two cores - combined with the collective fighting ability of two pilots - made Unit 08+02 a formidable mech indeed.
"Hey Colonel!" Asuka hollered in a jovial tone. "Go long!"
Misato sighed. As skilled as the pilots were, sometimes it was easy to forget that they were still children after all these years, sentenced to an eternity of youth, unable to mature past the age of fourteen. It seemed to defy all logic - she would have thought that at very least, their minds would mature where their bodies did not - but Ritsuko had explained to her that due to the pilots' stagnant age, their body chemistry released a constant stream of hormones, subjecting their brains to an eternity of pubescence. For all their hard earned battle skills and experience, they were still teenagers in both body and mind, and would be until the day they stopped piloting.
An unfair price for any pilot to pay, Misato thought. So she did not begrudge them the little games they would occasionally play.
"Lieutenant," she called out to Hyuga by way of response. "Lock onto Unit 08+02's current target. Ritsuko, how's the Cassius weapon?"
"Ready to fire on your command," the Doctor confirmed over the comm.
Without even waiting for a confirmation, Unit 08+02 grabbed its latest victim by an arm and a leg, spinning it around once, before hurling it into the air with a grunt.
"Hyah!" Asuka and Mari shouted in unison.
"Lieutenant!" Misato hollered.
Hyuga tacked on his keyboard at an accelerated rate, his screen displaying the airborne Eva Series as it tossed and turned in mid-air.
"Calculating parabolic arc, tracking trajectory, and..." he gritted his teeth as the targeting reticule before him blinked from red to yellow and finally to green. "Locked!"
"Fire!" Misato slammed down on the master switch.
A lance of pure red AT energy shot forward from the nose of the Wunder, skewering the unfortunate Eva Series in mid-flight, knocking it off its original trajectory and shutting it down before it even hit the earth some half a kilometer away.
"Nice shot, Colonel!" Mari hollered from the battlefield.
Misato just snorted. "Give us a tough one next time."
Unit 08+02 turned to the remainder of the Eva Series, a bloodthirsty expression in its eyes.
The battle ended shortly after that. Unit 08+02 had neutralized all but one of the Eva Series, the last of which had been shut down by the Wunder's Cassius weapon, giving WILLE another empty Eva shell to bolster their reserves. Though Misato predicted that after this latest brouhaha, the warrant officer in charge of Outpost Beijing would be demanding that a core be delivered to bolster the base's AT defenses. Ritsuko had been loathe to turn their winnings over to their outpost's reserves, but Misato had insisted, stating that while the Wunder was fast, it still couldn't be in two places at once, and that it was only a matter of time before the Eva Series hit two targets simultaneously.
To this, Ritsuko usually responded that this only meant that WILLE needed to get back on the offensive, and take the fight back to NERV, but Misato still did not feel confident in committing all their forces into another attack just yet, particularly since it had only been a month since the last time the Wunder had hit NERV HQ, and that had not exactly gone well for them. There were still many variables to consider, not the least of which being Rei and the Wunder's inexplicable transformations, and Misato had spent many sleepless nights pondering the implications of every single one of them.
This latest attack concerned her greatly. Not only had it been holding true with the steady pattern of slow and gradual increase of one unit per attack, but their predictions had been off by more than three hours, which had nearly cost them an entire outpost. If the next attack came when they were not prepared, the results would be disastrous.
Which is why she and the Doctor had been grilling Rei every single day since her latest transformation. Her link with the Dummy Plugs was the only advantage that was keeping WILLE in the fight right now.
This also meant that Rei spent almost no time with her fellow pilots during downtime.
"Was the hammer throw really necessary?" Mari asked out loud as she walked.
Shinji watched Rei disappear down the hallways as Mari and Asuka prattled on behind him as the three of them made their way to the mess hall. The Wunder had docked with Outpost Zion, and Shinji and Rei had been let out of Unit 01 for a break, along with the other pilots. This had become the standard formula for them all lately - after a battle, or a particularly hard day's training, the pilots would meet for some celebratory imitation ice cream - and Shinji would watch helplessly as Rei left the three of them behind.
"Absolutely!" Asuka declared jokingly. "Best way to separate one target from the pack! Besides, the bridge crew could always use the opportunity to work on their aim. Hell, the way we've been cleaning up out there, Pipsqueak and Lobotomy Girl have got to be getting pretty bored with nothing to do!"
Shinji didn't rise to the bait, and Asuka frowned a bit as she watched his gaze trailing off down the hallway where the First Child had gone.
As one who thrived on drama and perceived sexual tension, Mari noticed as well.
"Well, if you're worried about Puppy-Boy, then maybe you and I could find something to occupy his time," Mari suggested with a wink.
Shinji did color a bit at that implication, as did Asuka.
"Eww! Gross!" Asuka wrinkled her nose. "You've got a really perverted imagination, Four-Eyes!"
"What are you talking about, Princess?" Mari smiled innocently. "I was going to suggest that we help him with training. Why, what were you thinking?"
Asuka pouted a looked away. "Nothing!"
Mari grinned. "No way! You totally had something juicy in mind! Spill it!"
"Like hell!" Asuka growled, crossing her arms.
Mari let out a laugh as they continued onwards towards the mess hall, with Shinji walking dejectedly behind them.
"And you say I'm the one with the perverted imagination!"
"Shut up, Four-Eyes!" Asuka blared.
Shinji just continued walking, trying to remain as unobtrusive as possible. Perhaps Rei had the right idea, making herself scarce the way she did. The way Asuka and Mari bickered after a battle, he wondered how long until he became the unfortunate target of their next hair-brained scheme. The way the conversation was headed, his future prospects were looking pretty bleak.
Rei sat across from Captain Katsuragi and Doctor Akagi, a simple fold-out table between them. The three of them were sitting in a plain, white briefing room within Outpost Zion, just beyond Dr. Akagi's lab. Rei's eyes were closed in concentration as the two women stared at her, expectantly.
Finally, the blue haired girl's eyes opened and she released a breath the other two had not known she had been holding.
"I am afraid my connection to the Dummy Plug has diminished beyond usefulness, Captain," she said, regret evident on her face. "I am sorry."
Misato chewed on her lip, arms crossed and head lowered in thought. Ritsuko, for her part, looked flabbergasted.
"What do you mean, 'diminished?'" she demanded. "There's one of them in you right now, isn't there!?"
Rei slowly shook her head.
"My dominant persona retained its hold over this body," she explained. "All that was the Dummy Plug within me has slowly been fading since the day it occurred. And even then, what I perceived was not truly a connection to the collective unconscious of the Ayanami Types, but rather an afterimage left over from the now dead Dummy Plug consumed by the Wunder. After the moment it occurred, the image was fresh and vivid - a moment burned into my memory, like a flashbulb or a single sonar ping. I could get a sense of every Ayanami Type that had been deployed at that moment. Since then, however, I have been extrapolating from incomplete data, estimating each unit's probable position based on their previous heading, speed and destination. But with each passing day, the accuracy of that information decreases as courses deviate and other units are launched or recalled. I am afraid I have only outdated intelligence to offer now."
Rei hesitated, before looking up at her two interrogators, a somewhat hopeful expression on her face.
"I would…most likely gain a fresh viewpoint were we to repeat the process by which I came by this intelligence to begin with."
Misato and Ritsuko both inhaled with undisguised trepidation. Both of them knew that they would be fools not to capitalize on what she was offering them, but neither could help but associate the girl before them with the enemy. Even after everything she had done for WILLE, she had yet to be given the blue armband. And here she was, asking them to allow her to merge her consciousness with that the very beasts that had been trying to destroy them. It had worked once before…but that was no guarantee that it would work again.
"You said that your dominant persona maintained its hold over your body," Misato asked, pronouncing the words with awkward uneasiness. "How are we to guarantee that any future attempts will follow in kind?"
Rei looked away.
"Right now, the potency of three Ayanami Types resides within this vessel," she elaborated, describing the layout of her body and soul as if she were describing the living arrangements of a pair of roommates. "The first and the second share a common ideal, and thus possess a stronger persona. As the persona of the Dummy Plug fades, its essence feeds into that of the first two, making them - me - stronger. I do not know if the addition of another Dummy Plug within this amalgamation will somehow revive the carapace of its predecessor, but even if it does, I will still have the advantage. In any case, I should be able to maintain my hold over this vessel given one or perhaps even two such conjoinings at present."
"I don't like this," Ritsuko pursed her lips and shook her head. "This still sounds way too risky to me. Even if we didn't risk losing you entirely - and with you, any ability to power the Wunder - but you're asking us to play God here, Rei."
She paused to light a cigarette, taking an agitated drag from the tiny white cylinder.
"Shinji said it best - we've toyed with your life far too much already," she said darkly. "The last time it happened, it was an accident. But to deliberately repeat the process…"
Rei lowered her eyes. She did not look disheartened exactly, but she certainly looked disappointed. It was hard for the two women to tell what exactly her motivations were - whether she was suggesting this out of a desire for WILLE to succeed, or our of a desire to reunite with her brethren.
She seemed to detect their suspicion and took a breath before speaking.
"You do not trust me."
Misato let out an exasperated sigh and got to her feet, pacing the room impatiently.
"We can't help but not trust you, Rei!" she explained. "Only two months ago, you attacked our flagship and captured a key prisoner for NERV. Then you come back and merge with Unit 01, and the next thing we know, the Wunder starts evolving right under our feet! And then you start merging with Dummy Plugs and go spouting off intel that you couldn't possibly know! You're a colossal X-factor, Rei! And the more you change, the harder it gets for us to predict the outcome of any scenario with you in it!"
Rei nodded, seeming to have completely understood all of what the Captain had said.
"Your mistrust is understandable, Captain," she acknowledged. "But you have nothing to fear. The collective consciousness of the Dummy Plugs is not complex enough for fabrications and subterfuge. Were the Dummy Plug to take hold of me, I would not be able to lie about it, nor would I be in any way able to conceal it from you."
Ritsuko pursed her lips.
"And how is that?"
Rei looked away.
"Because I would be trying to kill you."
There was an uncomfortable silence between them that lasted a few moments.
"You're really not doing much for your case here, Rei," the Captain said.
"It is simple fact, Captain," she replied. "Nothing more, nothing less."
Ritsuko shook her head. "Even if you're in a stable state now, and even if we could tell if a Dummy Plug were to seize control of your body, we still come back to the issue of losing you as a pilot if it does. Never mind the fact that the last time this happened, you were out of commission for a whole day - during which the Wunder would be dead in the water and useless during an attack. But as far as I can tell, Rei, there's no way to undo these conjoinings. Once you've joined with another Ayanami Type, the ego border between you would fall, and the two of you would become one. Permanently. If you conjoin with a Dummy Plug and lose control, you would be dead to us. We would have no choice but to terminate you. And we would completely lose the use of the Wunder in the process."
She shook her head again and stood up, placing her hand on the table to indicate that the meeting was over.
"No," she said simply. "It's too big of a risk. The Wunder's S2 Drive will simply have to compensate for any lack of advance warning in the future."
Misato nodded, and the two women began to file out of the room.
"Continue to make your predictions to the best of your ability, Rei," Misato ordered as she left. "We won't hold it against you if your predictions are off. We'll work with what we have."
Rei nodded her head, somberly.
The Black Moon lay like an upended monument to all the sins of humanity, marring the already scarred and desert terrain that had once been Tokyo-3. Even toppled over, its sheer sized dwarfed the mountain range beneath it by several orders of magnitude. Beneath it, the red earth lay drenched and soaked with LCL, the primordial essence of humanity and life itself. And farther down still, barely a speck by comparison, was the last vestige of NERV HQ.
Of course, NERV HQ was no more. What structures remained lay barren and abandoned long ago. Life no longer pervaded here.
At least, not human life.
Upon each ring of the Black Moon, a depression lay, seemingly at random, as if the entire surface had been pock-marked by craters. At the very epicenter of each of these inverted domes, however, lay an opening that lead deeper into the Black Moon. It was tiny by comparison, but still massive enough that an aircraft carrier could fit through it with room to spare.
What emerged from this tunnel, however, was no craft of any human origin.
A massive gray-green Eva Series, physically and genetically identical to every one of its predecessors, stepped through the opening and out into the world. It scarlet visor hid little of the rage in its eyes as it strode, its mind and soul bent on destruction and death. As it plodded onward to descend down the slow of the inverted dome, sliding down towards the red earth below, another Eva Series just like it emerged from behind it, following after.
Down the dark passageway from whence it came, a mindless, soulless platoon of Evangelions, over a hundred strong, strode in formation. The gloomy overcast daylight offering little illumination as the mechanized army of automatons marched, descending heartlessly down the slope of the Black Moon and off the edge to the red soaked Earth below.
The Eva Series had now truly been set upon the world.
A/N: Sorry it's taken me so long to update again. I should be back on schedule for part three though, starting now. This will be the final part of the story.Stay tuned.