At five hundred and thirty hours, the pilots were suited up and standing at attention on the bridge of the AAA Wunder, the massive battleship of the Anti NERV Organization WILLE. The ship now boasted the combined might of seven cores - one in either of its turrets, the four it had absorbed from its previous fights, plus it's own original core. By itself, the Wunder was a match for seven Evas at once now, and that was not including the two cores that Unit 08+02 had, as well as a third contained in the Magorox Type-2 Sword.
Rei's warning rang ominously in their memories, however. The Eva Series numbered in the thousands. At least two thousand of them were on the ground as of now, and there was no telling how many of them were concentrated around the remains of the Geo-Front.
But that number would only increase if they waited. The time to strike was now.
The rest of the bridge crew, along with Dr. Akagi, watched as Misato Katsuragi walked out onto the command platform above them all. She wore her captain's uniform, cap, and a somber looks in her eyes.
"We all knew this day would come," she enunciated without preamble. "We all fought for this. Bled for this. Many of us even died for this."
Second Lieutenant Sakura Suzuhara stood alongside the pilots, and suppressed a shiver as the Captain's words hit her.
"Make no mistake," Misato said forbiddingly. "This is the moment, people. This is the moment where we find out if it was all worth it. Every battle we've fought…every tear we've shed…every friend we've lost…every sacrifice we've made…it all comes down to this moment before us."
Misato clenched her hand into a fist.
"I intend to make NERV answer for the hell they've put us through!" she declared in a loud, determined voice. "I intend to make them answer for the destruction they've brought down upon humanity! I intend to make them answer for every single life they took!"
Hyuga, Shigeru, Nagara, Tama, Takao and Kitakami all stood up from their seats and shouted in a unified voice.
Misato gritted her teeth, a determined glare appearing on her face.
"You all know why we're here, people!" Misato bellowed. "Let's show them that humanity hasn't given up yet! Let's show them that NERV doesn't get to make the decisions for the rest of us! Let's show them that we won't be pawns in their little game anymore!"
The pilots all cheered together with the crowd.
Misato pumped her fist into the air. "LET'S MAKE THESE FUCKERS PAY!"
The responding shout was a unanimous one.
By the break of dawn, the Wunder was airborne, and within moments of clearing Outpost Zion, control was transferred to Rei and Shinji to activate the Wunder's S2 drive, kicking the ship to supersonic speeds.
They were within striking distance of Tokyo-3 within half an hour, when Misato ordered them to come to a halt and take up a holding position under further instructions.
Rei and Shinji transferred control back to Lieutenant Commander Nagara, before settling back into their seats, contemplating the calm before the storm.
"What did Captain Shikinami need to discuss with you?" Rei asked, breaking the silence.
Shinji blinked for a moment, before suddenly remembering the state he had left things in with her.
"Oh!" he blurted, red faced. "Oh, gosh, I'm so sorry! I meant to come and find you afterward, but we were called to the briefing, and…"
"I know, Shinji," Rei said with an amused smile. "I was there."
"Oh," he muttered, feeling even more foolish. Rei could certainly remain unnoticed when she wished it.
"So what did Captain Shikinami need?" Rei repeated her question.
Shinji blushed even more, as he looked away, scratching his nose. He didn't feel comfortable revealing just how heated things had gotten between them.
"Um…she just wanted to get some stuff off her chest, I guess," he said. "I mean, most of it was kind of personal…"
"I see," Rei said.
Shinji was sure that she did. Given Rei's latest development, he would not have been surprised to find out that the girl could now read minds.
"I…regret that we did not have more time before the final battle," she said, mournfully.
Shinji chewed on his lip, nodding. "Yeah, well…hey, we're going to come back from this! I know it!"
Rei shook her head, smiling sadly back at him.
"No, you do not, Shinji."
He shrugged and shook his head. "Well, okay, no. I don't. But I believe."
Rei's eyebrow rose. "You believe?"
Shinji nodded. "I believe in you, Rei. I believe in Asuka. I believe in Misato. I believe in Ritsuko and Sakura and everyone else here fighting with us. If every one of you here has my back…then I believe we'll make it through this. That's what I've decided."
Rei shook her head. "That is foolishness, you are aware. No amount of belief will see us through."
"Maybe," Shinji admitted. "But it's all I've got."
"Untrue," Rei noted pointedly. "You have the skills and abilities you have gained from months of fighting and training."
"Alright," Shinji admitted. "But I've also got the best people I could ask for backing me up."
"Very well then," Rei allowed. "Even so, we may not live to see this war come to an end."
Shinji just looked at her, sadly. "Don't think about it like that, Rei."
"I am afraid that I cannot help but think this way, Shinji," she said, rising from her seat. "And if I am to disappear from this world, there is one more thing I wish to do before I vanish."
Shinji had half a second to ask what that was, but ended up swallowing the question as Rei turned around to crawl nimbly up to his seat and plant a deliberate and insistent kiss on his lips.
Shinji blinked, not quite understanding what was happening. Rei had him pressed all the way into the back of his pilot's seat, and was covering his mouth with her own. His eyes widened for a moment as realization dawned on him, and his hands shot up, as if unsure of whether to push her away or put his arms around her. But then his will to resist seemed to drift away as she held him there, and he felt his muscles relax and his eyes close as he tried to take in the feeling while it lasted.
He had never been kissed before.
Far sooner than his curiosity would have liked, she pulled away, looking somewhat bashful all of the sudden.
"Should I…not have done that?" she asked, sounding fearful of the answer.
"I, uh…" Shinji stammered, completely at a loss for words.
That's when Misato chose the most opportune moment to chime in.
"Hey, you two," she said blandly. "Suck face on your own time. We're ready to begin our approach."
"Captain!" Shinji shot upright, completely red in the face. "I mean, uh…y-yes ma'am!"
Rei's face colored as well as she slid shyly back down her seat.
"Ready to take control on your signal…" she said hesitantly, before adding, "…Ma'am."
The Captain nodded. "Prepare to transfer control of the Wunder."
Then as an aside, she smiled wryly.
"And don't worry - I won't say a word to Asuka."
As the Wunder hovered just out of Tokyo-3 airspace, Unit 08+02 had taken the opportunity to, rather than await deployment from the launch bay, to instead climb out the Wunder's dorsal hatch, and stand atop the floating airship, its arms crossed, the Magovox Type-2 Sword affixed to its back.
Mari thought the pose made for a formidable appearance. Asuka thought it was just dumb.
"We look ridiculous," Asuka complained.
"We look awesome!" Mari retorted.
"What's the point of putting on a show, exactly?" Asuka asked. "It's not like the Eva Series can even register an emotion as complex as intimidation."
"We don't know that," Mari pointed out. "But we're not doing this for them. We're doing this for us! You've studied the psychology of positioning and proxemics. You know that holding your body in a posture of power and authority improves your own mental state. It's puts you in the right frame of mind - sort of like tricking your brain into being happy by smiling all the time."
"And what makes you think this applies to an Evangelion?" Asuka asked, bluntly.
Mari pursed her lips. "Well, it'll improve the morale of our crew to be sure! So there!"
Asuka was about to roll her eyes in dismissal, but something caught her attention out of the corner of her good eye. She turned Unit 08+02's head around to face behind them, to fixate on the disturbance on the ground far below them. Something was moving towards them, giving away their position by the trail of dust rising off the ground behind it.
"What is it?" Mari asked. "What do you see?"
Asuka answered by zooming in on the object headed their way. The image resolved into a vaguely pyramid shape, clearly man-made, floating well above the ground, and bristling with turrets and heavy weaponry, moving at a steady clip towards the remains of Tokyo-3.
Mari squinted as she tried to figure out just what she was looking at. "What the…?"
That's when Asuka inhaled sharply, her good eye widening in recognition.
"That's…" she stammered in disbelief. "That's Outpost Naraka!"
"An outpost?" Mari's jaw dropped. "Wait a minute…since when could Outpost Naraka fly?"
"It…it can't!" Asuka blurted, thumbing her radio on. "Can it?"
Asuka knew Kaji's radio transponder frequency by heart, not that she would admit that to anyone. So it was not long before Kaji's face appeared on her view screen, and when it did, her face lit up with a brilliant smile.
"Kaji!?" she demanded, half in surprise, half in delight.
"Guess the jig is up," Warrant Officer Kaji smiled mischievously, before offering a friendly salute. "Mobile Battle Platform AAA Naraka, standing by and awaiting orders."
"AAA Naraka…?" Asuka breathed in disbelief.
In the background, Lieutenant Commander Maya Ibuki's voice could be heard.
"I don't recall authorizing any kind of name change like that, Warrant Officer."
Kaji rolled his eyes in amusement. "Don't ruin this, Ibuki."
Asuka was aghast. The entire outpost was flying! It wasn't moving all that fast, and didn't seem capable of flying more than a hundred feet off the ground, but the entire battle station was mobile!
While Asuka simply blinked in astonishment, Mari called up Misato's radio transponder.
"Would this be phase two of your operation, Captain?" she asked, rhetorically.
Misato just grinned back at them, unapologetically.
"Hey, two autonomous assault arks are better than one," she rationalized. "Dr. Akagi wouldn't allow all those cores we salvaged to go to waste, so we've been been installing them one by one at Outpost Naraka right under NERV's nose."
Mari blinked in surprise. "Cores? As in Eva cores?"
"Mm-hm," Misato nodded, smugly.
"Just how many are we talking here?" Mari demanded.
Misato's smile widened. "Thirteen, to be exact."
Mari blanched. So did Asuka.
"Th-thirteen!?" the redhead gasped, tearing her attention away from the spectacle before them. "Did she say thirteen cores!?"
Misato just continued to grin. "The Naraka has joined the main aerial battalion and we are now clear to proceed to our main target. Hold on tight up there, pilots - we're going in."
Misato swept her arm forward.
"Begin Operation Kanazuchi!"
Unit 08+02 remained firmly on its two feet as the Wunder began to move forward towards their targets. Far below them, the Naraka continued onward at ground level.
As they moved, Asuka sat back in her seat as the implications sunk in. The Wunder itself only had seven cores, and their own Eva had three if you counted the Magorox sword. With the Naraka at their back, their fighting power had more than doubled!
Her mouth curved into a smile.
They might just have a chance!
Misato didn't need to see the navigation screen to know when they had reached their target. Off in the distance, the looming shape of the Black Moon lay uneven and menacing, marring the already decrepit landscape. The massive obelisk lay on its side like an overturned goblet that had been carved from the Earth's moon.
The ground far beneath them turned from barren wasteland of rock and dust to a barren wasteland of rubble and debris. Everywhere, the remains of Tokyo-3 littered the ground, from the ruins of housing, vehicles, construction equipment, and military hardware, most of it bathed in a sickening red, the red LCL leeched into everything as far as the eye could see.
And if the sudden change in topography hadn't been enough indication of their proximity, the masses of the gray-green Eva Series wandering the Earth like zombies would have left no alternative conclusion.
No sooner had the Wunder entered Tokyo-3 airspace when the nearest Evas turned their guns to the sky and opened fire with, strangely enough, handheld pallet rifles.
The Wunder's AT Fields absorbed the fire with ease, passing over the Eva Series without a second's hesitation.
"Rei was right," Ritsuko remarked idly behind Misato from her workstation. "The Dummy Plugs' connection to the Eva Series is deteriorating the more of them there are. Their sync ration seems to have fallen so low, they can no longer access their optic beams, and instead rely on man-made weaponry."
Misato grunted in disinterest. "If it means they're easier to kill, I'll count it as a blessing."
Ritsuko frowned, as if there was some piece of the puzzle that she was missing.
The Black Moon still loomed off in the distance, a broken remnant of the failed impact from months ago. As the Wunder made its way over the parched landscape, the Naraka hovered over the shambling Eva Series at a much more sedate pace. The Wunder was higher in the sky, so the Naraka would have appeared much larger and much easier a target. Still, for some reason, the Eva Series did not seem to register the Naraka as a threat.
"Permission to engage?" Kaji asked over the radio.
Misato shook her head. "Hold fire for now. Let's see how far they'll let us get before they really hit us."
Kaji nodded, and frowned. He had the same uneasy feeling Misato had right at that moment. This was all going down way too easily.
That's when they came across the remnants of the Geo-Front, and all their hopes were dashed.
Below the Wunder, where the vast chasm of the Geo-Front should have been, was instead a super-massive AT Field that stretched out for miles across. And as the Wunder peered over the rim of the crater, the AT Field extended out towards the horizon, with no end in sight. And standing beneath the hexagonal mesh-work of AT Fields were more gray-green Eva Series.
Thousands upon thousands of them.
"How in the world…" Ritsuko breathed in disbelief, "…are we supposed to get through that?"
Misato sat back in her chair, crossing her arms as her lips pursed in concentration.
Ritsuko threw her a questioning look. "Captain?"
Misato sat still for a moment longer, before sitting up once again, and moving to her com terminal.
"Asuka, Mari," she said to the two Eva pilots. "How do you feel about testing the waters with that new sword?"
Both girls' faces appeared on screen.
"Ready and willing, Captain!" Mari piped.
"Itching for the chance!" Asuka added.
Ritsuko's eyes widened. "Captain! We need a strategy here! We can't just charge in without a plan!"
Misato closed the channel and frowned, closing her eyes. "We don't have enough intel our enemy's defenses yet, Ritsuko. I'm sending Unit 08+02 out to gauge the target for any weaknesses. In the meantime, I want you to give me anything you can get on that shield."
Ritsuko chewed on her lip, but eventually nodded. She knew they were running low on options at this point, so all she could do was make herself as useful to her Captain as she could be, and provide as much information as possible.
"Yes Ma'am," she said.
"Alright," Misato shouted. "Unit 08+02 - launch!"
Unit 08+02 placed its hand on the hilt of the Magorox Type-2 sword, took two steps backward until it reached the ledge of the Wunder's deck. It leaned backward until its center of mass went over the rim, and then gravity did the rest of the work and carried it off the edge.
The mighty war machine flipped over backward through the air to plummet headfirst towards the Earth, hand on its weapon, amidst a hail of gunfire still peppering the Wunder's AT Field to no avail. As the ground approached, the Eva spread its arm and legs to level its descent before swinging its legs back towards the ground and landing hard, carving a deep trench in the ground as its momentum carried it to a halt, knocking several Eva Series away in the impact.
"Ok, I admit," Asuka wrinkled her nose, and looking away. "That was pretty cool."
Mari grinned. "See what I mean, Princess? It's all about putting yourself in the right mindset."
"Let's just test out our new sword, alright?" she smirked, sending the command for Unit 08+02 to draw its weapon. Enemies were all around them, and Asuka's blood was pumping too fast to worry about such trivial concerns anymore.
The Magorox Type-2 sword glinted in the morning sunlight, its steel blade vibrating as the micro-core contained in the golden hilt and pommel hummed to life.
The proximity of three cores seemed to attract the attention of the Eva Series, as every mech for a mile around sudden ceased their relentless fire of the Wunder, turned their red visors onto the interloper, and began to began to rush the red and pink Eva in their midst.
Asuka and Mari were only too happy to receive them. The first of the Eva Series that got within range fell into two lopsided pieces with a single strike, its remnants deteriorating into reddish core material.
"First blood!" Asuka crowed sadistically.
Mari hummed in amazement. "Wow…this thing is incredible!"
Asuka smirked. "I don't know, Four-Eyes…I think we still need to test it some more. For science."
Mari grinned. "I couldn't agree more."
With that, Unit 08+02 charged forward, cutting through the Eva Series with reckless abandon. The gray-green mechs came at them from all sides, but it just didn't matter - the two of them carved a swathe through the bodies blocking their path like they were paper dolls.
"HYAAAAAAGH!" Asuka shouted in fervor, as one Eva tried to grab them, to which she responded by executing a judo throw, before slipping almost seamlessly back into a run as more and more of the Eva Series came their way.
"What's the distance to the target?" Mari asked, concentrating on the battle. "There are so many of them, I can't even see the crater!"
"Just keep going!" Asuka growled as she leaped over a towering pile of rubble that must have once been some kind of building. As more and more Evas fell to their sword, their bodies continued to litter the ground already littered with the twisted remains of Tokyo-3 - cars, railroads, scaffolding and power stations, the remnants of a lost civilization that had yet to fade from memory.
Unit 08+02 charged through it all, barreling past enemy after enemy, its path gradually taking it uphill towards the lip of the crater.
Mari grit her teeth as she parried one last Eva Series, before Asuka sent their Eva into a bounding leap off the ledge and sailing over the super-massive AT Field, a thousand and one hexagons of light merged together by innumerable Eva units, all gathered just below the barrier, an army of mechanical guardians devoted to the singular task of erecting an impenetrable barrier around Terminal Dogma, the Black Moon looming off on the other side.
"Wow…" Mari breathed as they descended. "That is way more than just a few thousand. We're going to have our hands full."
"Let's just concentrate on getting through that barrier," Asuka said as their Eva plummeted downward.
Unit 08+02 landed with an audible clang, as if the AT Field was a solid piece of glass. The field did not give an inch at their impact, so the Eva had to brace itself on one arm from the landing, skidding to a halt, and sending up sparks as its armor ground against the surface. Below the super-massive AT Field, the thousand, thousand faces of a horde of angry war machines growled and savaged just beneath their feet, like an army of demons trying to claw their way out of hell.
Asuka would have spat if she wasn't breathing LCL.
"Eat this!" she said, shoving the point of the Magorox Type-2 sword into the AT Field upon which they stood.
The tip did not so much as scratch the surface.
"HRRRAAAGH!" Asuka and Mari both bellowed as they forced the sword down with all their might.
The surface of the super-massive AT Field was shaking at their attack, hexagonal waves expanding from the point in which the sword was aimed like ripples in a pond. The tip of the Magorox sword hovered inches above the surface of the AT Field, but even with three cores, it was apparent that nothing the Eva could do would penetrate that field.
"Captain, this isn't working!" Mari called up to the Wunder hovering high overhead as their sword skidded off at an angle. "This AT Field is just too strong."
Misato's face appeared on their screens.
"There are close to six thousand Evas down there, and all of them are combining their AT Fields into one," she explained. "At least, that's what Ritsuko has found."
"So how do we get through it?" Asuka demanded.
Misato chewed on her lip, and the pilots could tell they were in dire straits. Because the Captain only made that face when she was about to do something crazy.
Misato's face appeared on Unit 01's view-screens.
"Shinji, Rei," she said. "We're beginning phase three of Operation Kanazuchi."
The girl with navy blue hair nodded. "Understood."
Shinji just blinked. "Phase three?"
As Rei began turning the Wunder around in the other direction, Shinji gave her a peculiar look. He had only heard mention of two phases so far.
"Where are we going?" he asked, somewhat hesitantly. "What's phase three?"
Rei's expression did not change as she spoke.
"We drop the hammer."
Shinji blinked in confusion as the Wunder began to descend towards land. Had Rei just made a joke?
If she had been, it wasn't a very funny one. Because it was at that moment that Shinji saw Rei's destination: The AAA Naraka.
"Rei…?" Shinji muttered warily. "What are we doing?"
"Phase three, Shinji," she explained, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "Can you operate the Wunder's claws? I need to concentrate on flying."
"You heard her, Shinji," Misato said with a resigned smile. "The Wunder is a lot bigger than the Naraka. Dr. Akagi calculates that we should be able to lift it. But we're going to need each of the Wunder's AT Fields if we expect to even make a dent in that thing."
Shinji watched with growing trepidation as the Naraka grew nearer. He flexed his grip, and almost without realizing it, felt the shuddering as the Wunder's own claws flexed in response.
"Wh-what about Kaji and his men?" he asked, as his brain cycled through all the myriad ways in which this plan could go horribly wrong.
"The Naraka's as well-contained as the Wunder," she said. "They're as safe as we are. They all know the risks, Shinji. As do you. Now pick it up."
Shinji looked down at the metallic, pyramid shape of the Naraka as Rei held the Wunder aloft, just within reach. All around them, the Eva Series loomed ever closer, but the Naraka's multitude of weaponry kept them at bay. With all the turrets and launch bays protruding from its sides, there were plenty of sturdy hand-holds from the Wunder to grab hold of. He could easily see how this plan was supposed to work.
The question was, would it? And how many people would die in the process?
As if he could tell what the problem was, Kaji's face appeared on Shinji's screen. The bearded man still reminded Shinji of his father, but at that moment, he wore a smile that could only belong to the roguish playboy he knew him to be.
"Do it, Shinji," he said simply.
Shinji ground his teeth together and nodded.
He'd sworn an oath. It was time to uphold it.
The Wunder's two bird-like talons reached down and sank into the special armor of the Naraka like tinfoil, digging its claws deep into its superstructure. Shinji tried not to damage anything that looked important, but it was impossible not to rip into the craft as the Wunder slowly began to rise back into the air, taking the shuddering Naraka with it.
Shinji winced as he concentrated all his effort on not crushing the ship in the Wunder's claws.
"Sorry!" he cried out instinctively.
Kaji's face appeared on his screen. He appeared to be bracing himself in his chair, but otherwise was in good spirits.
"We're fine!" he said enthusiastically. "Just keep going!"
Shinji nodded, but could feel himself sweating as the Wunder rose ever higher to clear the lip of the crater.
As the Wunder passed over the precipice, Unit 08+02 could be seen, fighting off more of the Eva Series. As The Wunder passed by overhead, the Eva holstered its weapon and leaped into the air to grab hold of the Naraka, yanking it precariously off balance, and letting it carry them off with it.
"Gah!" Shinji yelped, as he struggled to maintain his hold. "Asuka!?"
"Sorry!" Mari replied for her, holding up one hand. "Just catching a ride!"
Shinji replied with a sour look as Unit 08+02 used its grip to climb to the top of the outpost-turned-battleship, and then back onto the Wunder's back. The humanoid mech perched on the Wunder's shoulders, holding onto the ship's armor plating for stability with one hand, drawing its sword with the other.
"Hang on!" Shinji grunted, helplessly, feeling as if the Naraka would slip from his claws at any moment.
Rei gritted her teeth as she moved the Wunder farther out over the crater, brow furrowing in concentration as she kept the craft as smooth and steady as she could while maintaining speed.
"Almost there!" Ritsuko's voice assured over the comm. "Just another few klicks to the center of the crater!"
"Alright," Misato responded, sitting back in her seat and straightening her hat. "Rei, begin your descent. Ritsuko, arm all Cassius weapons. Asuka, Mari, Maya, you do the same. All hands, brace for impact."
It took Shinji a moment to realize what was happening. It suddenly occurred to him that he hadn't seen Lieutenant Commander Ibuki at the briefing that morning, or much at all lately, and he realized that she must have been aboard the Naraka with Kaji! She must have been the one overseeing all those cores! But this is the first he'd heard of an Eva being able to use its AT Field as a Cassius weapon, but he supposed if any AT Field could be used, it would have probably been possible.
Misato had said all Cassius weapons. Which could only mean that she meant to use every single core at their disposal.
All twenty-three of them.
His heart suddenly leaped into his throat as Rei took the Wunder into a dive, a reticle appearing on the surface of the super-massive AT Field where she was aiming. As their speed increased, and the surface of the hexagonal super-shield grew ever closer, Shinji felt a familiar feeling of illness overtake him, and he nearly buckled over in nausea. The world around him felt like it was spinning, and he couldn't keep track of which way was up.
But it wasn't just Rei's flying this time.
It was the fact that the Wunder and Unit 08+02 were using the Naraka as an enormous Eva-powered battering ram.
The enormous explosion of light was enough to blind almost everyone foolish enough to be looking at it. It also managed to knock out most of their sensors, though miraculously, the Wunder still seemed to be intact even after it fell to the ground below, but as to its exact state, no one could be sure. Inside the bridge, most of the crew (at least those who had the presence of mind to employ their safety harnesses) were still winded from the impact, and were very slowly coming to their senses.
The Naraka was in much the similar state, Kaji and Maya thrown awkwardly across each other on the floor of the Operation's Center turned Command Bridge.
"Hi," he smiled, sheepishly.
Maya grunted and shoved him away to get to her feet.
Unit 08+02 had been thrown from the impact, landing some distance from either battleship, and Mari and Asuka were the first to regain their composure.
They had penetrated the super-massive AT Field. A small part of it, but they were through. The impact seemed to have knocked back and even destroyed a good portion of the Eva Series who had been projecting the shield in that particular area. But even if they had taken out a hundred Eva Series in the explosion, that still left at least five thousand more that they had to contend with.
And they were all converging on them. While the super-massive AT Field stretched overhead and out of sight, every speck of land beneath was completely covered by the writhing mass of mass produced Evangelions.
"Captain!" Asuka shouted as she saw the oncoming tidal wave of machinery coming at them. "Enemies incoming! You need to get the Wunder up and running!"
The lot of them seem to have landed awkwardly on the floor of what had once been the Geo-Front, which was now as indistinguishable a wasteland as the world above. The Wunder was splayed out, its wings at an odd angle, but was still clearly intact. The Naraka, despite the significant damage it had sustained from the Wunder's claws, also miraculously looked like it was still functional.
"Kaji!" Asuka tried reaching her old mentor. "Come in!"
"It's no good," Mari commented, tapping every button at her console. "Communications are down."
Asuka looked back at the Wunder, which seemed to be stirring, like a beast waking from a deep slumber.
"Not all communications…" Asuka muttered, bringing Unit 08+02 to its feet and lopping over to the massive battleship, standing in front of where it's head lay on the ground.
"Hey, Shinji!" she hollered over the unit's loudspeakers. "I don't know if you can here me, but we've got to move. Now!"
The Wunder made no visible reaction, as Asuka cast another wary glance at their oncoming opponents. They had ten seconds, tops!
"Shinji! Lobotomy Girl! Wake up!" Asuka hollered, as Mari urged the Eva to draw its Magorox sword. "You need to get airborne!"
"It's too late, Princess!" Mari hollered. "Here they come!"
The ground beneath their feet literally shook as the Eva Series swarmed them from three sides. Unit 08+02 stood its ground between the Wunder and the coming storm of Evangelions, and moved like a whirlwind, cutting down one Eva after another. But they were not the target. And for every unit it took down, ten more simply rushed past it towards their real goal.
"Shinji!" Asuka shouted in desperation as she hacked her way through the wall of flesh and metal that was forming between her Eva and the Wunder.
Very quickly, Unit 08+02 had no room in which to even swing its sword anymore, and had to resort to bashing its opponents with pommel strikes. It made little difference, as the mass of Evas did not seem to be in the least bit interested in the red and pink bio-mech.
Then a low, emanating growl sounded from beneath the veritable dog-pile of gray-green Evas. Asuka and Mari could only watch as the beast that was the Wunder suddenly erupted from the mass of mechanical flesh, its teeth and claws ripping into anything it could find.
Unit 08+02 was knocked back in the ensuing chaos, tumbling and springing back to its feet some distance away.
When the two girls laid eyes on the Wunder, the beast had already begun to eat.
All was chaos on the bridge of the AAA Wunder. Visual feeds were down, displaying nothing apart from bright red warning signs. Communication was down. And all of the sudden, the entire hull began to rock and buck around them, throwing everything into disarray.
"I need an update, people!" Misato demanded, clutching the arms of her seat for dear life as she was flung this way and that. "We're flying blind here!"
"All sensors are still down!" Hyuga responded as he fought to stay in one place. "Circuits are fried! I'm rerouting the feed through our auxiliary channels!"
"Systems unresponsive!" Shigeru shouted, recoiling as his entire control panel sparked and sizzled, before going right back to wrestling with the controls. "All our power systems are going haywire!"
"What the hell is happening out there!?" Tama shouted, clinging to the railing for support.
"Who's idea was this!?" Kitakami cried.
"Quit your bellyaching!" Takao growled back at her.
"Damn it!" Misato grunted as another impact slammed her back into her chair. "Give me a hard reset! At this rate, we'll…"
Then, as if my magic, the main displays all suddenly kicked back on, and began cycling through their start-up sequences.
"Massive power fluctuations in the core area!" Ritsuko reported with growing alarm. "Misato! The core is spiking! This has only ever happened when-"
"Captain!" a familiar voice sounded. "Do you read me!? Please come in!"
Shinji's panicked face appeared in a box on the screen as the main feed still displayed a blank screen filled with scrolling start-up code.
"Shinji!" Misato cried. "What's happening!?"
"Captain!" Shinji shouted in desperation. "I-I…I don't know what's going on! I don't have a visual! But Rei is…Rei is…!"
Shinji's voice was cut off as the ship rocked again, and the audio feed was filled with the sound of Rei's tormented scream.
"Rei!" Misato said, as she tried patching in directly to the other pilot's feed. "Do you read me!?"
The girl in the black plug suit couldn't respond. She convulsing in pain, arms clenched around her body as unnatural looking veins throbbed up her neck and up into her face. Her hair was already as dark as the night sky, as color seamed to be draining from her face.
Then, the primary display finally began to receive a visual feed. And what they could see was a red, bloody mess as the bodies of hundreds of Evas lay strew across the landscape, with many, many more charging towards them. Most of the dead were decomposing into bright red core matter, killed by the Magorox sword. But quite a few had simply been gutted, their rib-cages splayed open, as if something had eaten their innards.
"Captain!" Ritsuko shouted. "The Wunder has consumed multiple cores! I'm detecting fifteen…no, sixteen unique spikes in power!
Misato blanched as she realized what was happening.
"Sever the pilots' link!" Misato blared instantly.
Nagara had already thrown the switch by the time Misato had given the order.
"It's not working!" Nagara said through gritted teeth as she was rocked in her seat. "My override is unresponsive!"
Another impact rocked their hull - the bridge was affixed to the Wunder's skull, which shook as it devoured another victim - and Rei screamed again as Shinji climbed down to take hold of her, fear in his eyes.
"Rei!" he cried, wincing in shared pain.
"Sever the God-damned link!" Misato shouted angrily. "Disconnect Unit 01 completely if you have to!"
"Nothing's working!" Ritsuko hollered back, typing furiously at her console. "All disconnect commands are being rejected! The Wunder is flying itself now!"
The display suddenly went red as another Eva Series burst in the Wunder's mouth, splashing LCL across the Wunder's optics.
"AUGHHHH!" Rei wailed in pain as a thick, black substance began to drain from her eyes and nose.
"Rei!" Shinji screamed in terror.
Misato slammed her fist on the console and turned to Ritsuko.
"Purge the core!" she ordered.
Ritsuko went rigid as her eyes widened with shock. "What!? Purge the-?"
"Do it now, Ritsuko!" Misato commanded, interrupting her. "That's an order!"
Ritsuko hesitated for a half a second longer, before breaking the plastic seal on a bright red button, and then slamming the heel of her hand against it.
At first nothing seemed to happen. Then, both Shinji and Rei were thrown back into their seats as the world around them spun.
And then the entire ship powered down as Unit 01 was ejected from the Wunder completely.
Asuka and Mari watched in horror as the spindly skeletal structure surrounding the Wunder's underbelly systematically unwound, before dropping Unit 01 out its hull to tumble unceremoniously to the messy ground below.
"What is the Captain doing!?" Asuka blurted in disbelief. "She's handing Unit 01 to NERV on a silver platter!"
"Better that than risk letting Miss Ayanami succumb to the Dummy Plugs while she's in control of the Wunder," Mari said, grunting in exertion as Unit 08+02 continued to fight its way through the crowd of gray-green bodies.
"But now we've lost the Wunder anyway!" Asuka retorted, gesturing to the Wunder as it fell out of the sky.
"They'll survive," Mari assured her. "And it'll be easier for us to protect a smaller target like Unit 01. But only if we get to it first!"
Asuka nodded and threw her control yokes forward.
Unit 08+02 vaulted over the crowd separating them from the violet Eva that lay steaming and dripping on the rocky terrain ahead of them. Already, a number of the Eva Series were approaching the fallen unit, as fixated on it as a pack of wild dogs would fixate on a scrap of meat, grabbing at its arms and legs.
"Oh no you don't!" Asuka shouted, as Unit 08+02 performed a flying kick that sent one of the Eva Series around their fallen comrade flying.
The pink and red Eva drew its Magorox Type-2 sword and struck down unit after unit, but they just kept coming. The walls of the crater around them were all but completely covered in the beasts, like ants encircling a hill, converging on an attacker to protect its queen.
"Shinji!" Asuka cried over the intercom as the two units were slowly surrounded. "Wake up!"
The violet Eva remained motionless, heedless of the onslaught of mindless automatons coming from all sides.
"Come on, Shinji!" Asuka urged as Unit 08+02 sliced its way through wave after wave of Evangelions.
Asuka and Mari were both gasping from breath. They had lost count of the number of enemies they had destroyed. Two hundred? Three?
"We're not going to last at this point, Princess!" Mari cautioned. "This isn't a sound strategy! We need to get Unit 01 to a defensible position!"
"I know that, damn it!" Asuka shouted in anger, as she sliced another Eva in half. "These Dummy Plugs aren't giving us a second to regroup!"
Then one of the Eva Series finally got the jump on them, and managed to tackle Unit 08+02 to the ground.
"Bastard!" Asuka growled in frustration. "Get off!"
The bi-chromatic Eva kicked the other unit off of it, but by then, three others had latched onto Unit 01, with more following suit.
"Don't you touch him!" Asuka screamed in rage, hacking and slashing at every unit standing in her path.
But then they were tackled again as the mass of Eva Series seemed to swallow them both up in a sea of armor and flesh.
"Shinji!" Asuka screamed at the top of her lungs as the sheer volume of bodies between them and their target increased. "Shinji!"
As the Eva Series began biting and clawing at Unit 01, however, the purple beast finally opened its eyes.
And they were a terrifying, vibrant blood red.
To be continued…