Now, in all fairness, I had known Gaghiel was coming. I knew he was coming today because Adam was here, Kaji transporting him and all. I knew it would almost certainly target Unit 02 and 05 after it had made it's first move.
OH FUCK RIGHT OFF!
What I had not expected was it sinking Unit 02's carrier instantly. While we were not on it.
"UNIT 02!" Asuka screamed beside us, sounding genuinely terrified. It was dreadful contrast to her previous bravado, and it did a good job of making both of us realize how bad the situation was.
Speaking of which, a massive shadow and accompanying streak of waves was now visible just beneath the water's surface and heading straight for us. Asuka was out of it, so I just looked at Shinji with an expression he returned, somewhere on the pants shitting scale. However, before we could descend into probably full scale panic, Misato's voice blared over the speakers of the Olethros:
"What the Hell are you doing just sitting around?! That thing is heading straight for you!"
"But Misato-" I tried to blurt out, not really knowing what I was even going to say. Or what I was rebutting exactly. Shit was being a bit too crazy for me to think completely coherently.
"Get in the Eva immediately! Basic preparations have been made for premature activation!" as if on queue, the Eva's head and body spun just enough for the Entry Plug to rise. Suddenly I found myself inexplicably wondering how that could functionally be inserted without disrupting the entire spine as well as central nervous system.
"WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?! MOVE IT!"
That snapped me out of it at least and I began running towards the biomechanical titan. My tunnel vision being broken, I saw Shinji making a dash for it as well. But something wasn't quite right.
I looked back to see the redhead standing still as a statue, staring at our impeding doom as it speed toward us without budging an inch. I couldn't see her face, so I just assumed that was what she was doing. Maybe she was staring at the depth where Unit 02 had sunk. Who knew?
Either way, against my better judgement and mortal terror, I ran back to her, all the while screaming expletives and whatever else I could think of to get her to move. But she didn't respond. It wasn't until I grabbed her that she had any sort of reaction.
Her face was one of pure shock and fear. The loss of her prized possession must've already been sinking in. I tried dragging her, but that was going poorly considering she wasn't cooperating at all. In desperation, I was reminded of a particular..."quirk" of hers that I could maybe use to ensure we didn't meet our immediate end.
So I stopped dead in my tracks and yelled at her at the top of my lungs:
"GOD FUCKING DAMN IT, DO YOU WANT TO DIE SO FUCKING BAD?! DO YOU?! IF NOT THEN FUCKING MOVE YOUR ASS!"
In hindsight that was probably not the best idea, as both my conscious and throat would complain about it afterwards. But to be fair to myself, I was kinda running out of time.
Surprisingly enough that did make Asuka come to her senses. Or at the very least, jolted her out of her funk enough to actually drag herself alongside me.
Barely thinking, breathing heavily and with our hearts pounding in our ears we jumped as fast as we could onto the access ladder of the plug, finding Shinji already inside. The Plug shut behind us, and began spinning into place. Not one of us said a word.
That is until the interior became lit up by emergency red lighting. How would I describe it? It wasn't an exact replica of the Evangelion from the Rebuild movies, but what it did have plenty of was extra insertions grafted into the walls, culminating in two big cylindrical open tubes with what looked like the control yokes on the end, replacing those that should've been on either side of the seat.
"How the Hell are we supposed to operate this?" I asked to no one in particular. But the plug was already filling up with LCL and none of my compatriots seemed keen on answering even without the blood of God in their throats.
Thankfully an image of Misato popped up on our screens just as I was beginning to get desperate again.
"Sorry for not giving you a crash course Kano, but as you might know this Eva is not like the others. Asuka should know enough about it to allow you three to pilot it though. By the way, we have confirmed the status of Unit 02. It has not been destroyed," she said rather calmly, before switching to a terse voice again. "Now hurry up, that thing is almost on you!"
As soon as the information settled in, we all rushed near the seat, Asuka exhaling a long sigh despite herself. We couldn't afford to relax though, as soon a problem I would've considered before became apparent.
"Uh, how are going to..." Shinji let it hang.
"In order of size," I said bluntly. "Asuka, on my lap. Shinji, on Asuka's."
"What the Hell do you take us, a bunch of toddlers?!" Asuka complained. While it was good she wasn't as incredulous as I thought she might've been, it really didn't help matters right now.
"For fuck's sake, we've got no time for this bull-"
A massive shudder engulfed everything around us, and would've probably knocked us all down were we not all holding on to some part of the plug already, being so cramped up. Shinji ended up saying what all three of us were thinking.
Either the planets must've aligned, our situation had just been that dire, or Asuka was just that out of it, but she finally nodded, albeit reluctantly. We all took the seats I had haphazardly assigned on the lone chair.
"If either of you tell anyone about this-"
"You'll cut our balls off and spank us with 'em, got it. Now please just activate the Eva!"
"Fine! This stuff is already in motion by Misato anyway," she said. We were all gripping the control yokes together, and in that moment I felt her hands tense. Another artificial earthquake was felt all around us, and we hurried along with the activation sequence.
What should've been seconds felt like hours, as one thing remained a plague in my mind: compatibility. We didn't even know the temperament of the Eva, and we were trying to shove three different, conflicting personalities into it. This was a recipe for disaster if I'd ever seen it. But on the other hand was certain death, so our options were slightly limited.
As the familiar flashing of colors showed before me, things felt...off. I couldn't see Shinji and Asuka very well, even though they were sitting practically on top of me. Which is when I realized I couldn't see anything.
That was before the smell hit. The smell of salty water, natural putrefaction taking place in the deep blue. Then the sounds, the voice of waves crashing against shorelines. Then the sight, that of a vibrant sun, so bright in it's midday apex it turned the blue endless expanse of the sky into pure white.
But I never saw the waves.
With the sound of crashing thunder I was brought back into the confines of the plug, the smell and taste of blood clouding my mind and making me gag. I looked around frantically, only to see my fellow pilots completely unperturbed. They didn't seem to notice my little freak out, as their eyes were set dead ahead towards the now clear Eva screen.
Now that the cover had been blown off, we could see the absolutely massive Angel was crawling on top of the cargo hauler, tilting it sideways as it rested a part of it's enormous body on it. This time, all three pairs of hands were clenched tight, and I was certain all of us were going to have red marks on our fingers after this was done.
"Evangelion Unit 05, launch!" we all said, not in perfect unison, though I could still feel my fellow pilots through the neural link. Shinji was a tempered yet reluctant caution, determined but scared, like he always was. Asuka on the other hand seemed like she had flame wrapped around her aura. She was out to prove herself in her first ever fight, perhaps even more so now that it wasn't in her own Eva.
I didn't know if that was a good or bad thing.
The behemoth we were riding launched itself with power nothing of even it's size should've had, jumping from ship to ship until it landed on the aircraft carrier. I could definitely feel myself relinquishing some control to Asuka, and I would imagine Shinji was doing the same. Her presence was straight up more assertive than either of us, and it was mostly for the better anyway. We didn't need three clashing minds trying to scramble for control.
With a yank, the Umbilical Cable was pulled from it's holding on the carrier's deck, and inserted onto the Eva's back. We saw the timer shift from a running countdown to indefinite, and that's when Asuka got a wild grin on her face.
"Alright, now that that annoying thing is out of the way, time to sink this Schwein!"
"Asuka!" Misato's voice came from a feed on the left. "Don't forget you only have B-type equipment! If you fall into the water-"
"It'll be the end of us, blah blah, I know. Engaging!" she yelled as she tightened her fingers around the control yokes, and the Eva launched itself again.
"Y'know there's three of us riding this thing," I managed to get out despite having my eyes glued onto the front of the screen. The sight of hundreds of meters being crossed like they were a light hope was still disorienting.
"And I'm the only one qualified to pilot it, so watch and learn Fourth!"
"Why are you running towards the water?!" Shinji yelled.
And with that what I can only describe as the simultaneously most terrifying and awesome thing I'd ever seen occurred. Asuka launched the Eva into the air again, this time aiming for open ocean, tracing the shadow underneath the waves. A thousand tonne war machine fell like a stone and both me and Shinji were paralyzed into watching our imminent demise.
That is until Asuka clutched the control yokes, turning them from horizontal to vertical. Without either of us being able to ask, we saw practically in slow motion the reinforced shin armor of the the Eva flicker to life, as red streaks of power took hold of them in tree root formation.
The surface of the ocean flickered, before being disrupted violently as two opposing forces clashed. Through the displaced water we saw the body of the leviathan that was the Sixth Angel, it's flesh being pressured by an invisible agent, before the source of the clash was made evident. Two A.T. Fields were pushing against each-other, suspending our Eva in mid-air while freezing our gigantic target in it's tracks.
And that's when I learned exactly what was so special about Unit 05.
"This is for my Unit 02, you worthless monster!" Asuka bellowed, as I could feel her clicking something within the control "pylons". Immediately, the A.T. Field of the Evangelion shifted, going from it's regular hexagonal wall pattern into something entirely alien to me.
The closest I could describe it as was Unit 01's..."creative" use of it's A.T. Field during it's confrontation with Zeruel, which I didn't know if it boded unwell for the Angel or us. The field shaped itself into a sharp pyramid in front of us, with it's apex aiming straight for the Angel, digging into it's own field.
Eventually, with surface tension on our side, which apparently worked even on metaphysical barriers, the Eva plunged through the Angel's field. That was about when I noticed a second set of hands being clenched tightly, and for the first time in a while tore my eyes away from the sight of the Eva to the sight right in front of me.
Asuka was getting into the attack, and her mouth was open in a battle cry. What surprised most though was the way Shinji was carrying himself, hesitant yet at the same time defiant, his face steeled in grim determination. That convinced me.
I didn't know how we'd gotten to this point really, with far less agreement and talking than the original series. Maybe it was Asuka's wounded pride, having lost her Eva at the very start of the battle, and now pushing aside her ego just to get revenge.
Maybe it was the extra bit of confidence and bravery Shinji had by this point as compared to the original series. Instead of questioning everything he seemed far quieter and bolder, hardly having spoken a word since we entered the plug, or wasting time bickering with the Second Child.
Maybe I played a part in it. Maybe. Probably not. What I realized in that moment though, was that those two, despite being as diametrically opposed to each-other as when they first met in canon, were playing in concert towards a single goal, and I was being the drag-on. What little I knew of the Eva's psychology, I could tell that three pilots were infinitely more thought noise than two.
So by standing as I was, I was only harming the pair who despite being as opposite on the surface as ever, were nonetheless doing their best to work together. So with that realization, I grit my teeth, clenched my hands, and added every ounce of will I could to the action of killing that bastard Angel!
Time resumed it's normal flow, the Eva tore through the Angel's field and sunk it's massive generated weapon straight into the flesh of the leviathan. A deep gash was torn into the Angel's back, blood flying like pressurized water jets of red. But just as we had struck, it began to move again.
"Scheiße, we need to get out of here before the field dissipates completely!"
"What?!" both of us responded in turn.
"Dummkopf, we need to jump back to a ship befo-"
And that was just about the time the field did dissipate and dump us into the sea, where the Eva soon became paralyzed.
"You were more useful when you weren't doing anything!"
"I did help back there!"
"And look where that got us, you and the idiot Third! You don't even know how to use your own Evangelion!"
"Uh can we please stop fighting? That thing is still out there."
"And whose fault is that, huh?!"
I took a deep breath. Okay, so maybe arguing at this point was not the best idea.
"Nobody's. That blow wouldn't kill it, it's too tough. It's probably already regenerated. We need to hit the Core."
"And where do you suppose we find that, Fourth?"
"Simple really. It wasn't anywhere on the outside, so it has to be on the inside."
"But we don't know that," Shinji chimed in. "The Angels...they're all so different..."
"But they've all had a few common characteristics. Without them they wouldn't be Angels. And one of those is the Core. I'm sure it has one as well."
"Well that's great and all Fourth, but how do you suppose we do that when we're stuck a thousand meters below sea level without the capacity to move?"
"Hellooooo," a voice rang out from one of the nearby consoles. "Do you kids need a lift home?"
"We're pulling you up as we speak."
"That still leaves that giant ugly lump of a thing prowling around," Asuka said, crossing her arms.
"I trust you'll be capable of holding out for a while longer. And when you get to the surface, well...leave that to me."
"What are you planning?" Asuka asked, her eyes narrowing.
"This is the stupidest idea I've ever heard," Asuka repeated for the umpteenth time.
"That's Misato alright, but you can't fault her. What she does works," I swiftly reminded her.
"Hmm. Whatever gets me out of this Plug, and away from you," she said, while paradoxically leaning back into me more, just to stretch out.
"Hey I'm the one carrying both of you. My legs are starting to feel numb. And stop doing that," I said, moving my body to get her off me. The response was a pulled cheek.
"Oh? And I was of the thought gentlemen were supposed to hold their promises."
"It's here!" Shinji exclaimed.
Both of us immediately stopped what we were doing to gaze into the screen. The darkness beyond was barely see-through, but sure enough, the massive shadow of a gigantic creature moved in and out of our visual range.
"We're still ascending. What are we supposed to do?" I could feel Shinji clenching his hands tighter.
"What do you think stupid?" Asuka said, clenching her hands as well. "A.T. Field at max power!"
"Oh OKAY THEN!"
The field expanded, the water around boiling in troves even as we were still a few Evangelion heights under the water. The massive shadow seemed to notice this shift, and changed direction rapidly. It had converted from scouting to attack, and as it barreled towards us a shimmer in the depths became more and more prevalent. It had maxed out it's field as well.
The clash was hard, and I could feel the strain across the Eva as it's muscles were pulled and shaken unnaturally. A gigantic cavitation bubble, the size of an Eva's chest, was formed in front of us for a brief instant, before collapsing into a shockwave. But once more, we were in a stalemate.
"Damn it, I know Fourth!"
Again, she did what I could imagine she'd been taught to do since early childhood, somehow knowing how this thing operated on top of a normal Production Model, and the Eva's field shifted again. Though instead of becoming jagged, it instead smoothed out into a narrow ellipsoid.
It's field grinding against us, Gaghiel's momentum carried it away from us, as the smoothed out shape of our own field deflected the leviathan.
"Yes! Get fucked you shitass fish!"
"We're almost to the surface!" Shinji said. And true enough, the light level very swiftly shifted from almost pitch blackness to the recognizable blue of a relatively shallow depth dive.
"Asuka! Kano! Shinji!"
"Right!" we said in unison. Several more seconds passed before the Eva's torso poked out of the water, and the Umbilical Cable stalled as it didn't have the horsepower necessary to pull the titan over on the aircraft carrier.
With a singular thought we moved the Eva's arms backwards, grabbing onto the carrier's deck. With an almighty pull the gigantic biomachine did what the laws of physics should've forbidden and threw itself into the air, back flipping as it landed on it's feet in an impact that shook the ship.
Immediately we started sprinting, building up what momentum we could get from the pitifully small runway, at least by our perspective. We jumped, landing from ship to ship until settling on one of the fleet's Iowa class.
This was our final play. Close to canon really, but this one had a marginally increased chance of survival, and also significantly decreased property damage. Now it was just a matter of waiting, and not dying.
Which turned out to not be a matter at all, at least on the waiting part, as the same shadow from the depths grew larger and larger and closer and closer. It was going faster than I'd ever seen it. I gulped. If it weren't for the warm liquid of the Entry Plug I'd probably be sweating too.
It actively learnt to get smarter as it fought. This just brought on a whole slew of other questions on the Angel's exact capabilities.
"This is it!" I said more to myself than the other two. I didn't register a response, if there even was one. I couldn't even see them well, my eyes glued on the screen, completely tunnel visioned.
The Eva tensed. The entire ship seemed to as well. Gaghiel came closer...closer...closer...
It jumped. A being so vast it blocked out the Sun hung over us for a split second. We launched.
The Eva grabbed the Sixth Angel by the jaws as it impacted it's mass on the deck, and with herculean effort, gradually pried them open. I could feel every muscle in my chest, back and arms being strained to it's absolute limit, bones being bent and tendons being pulled like they were never supposed to.
The ship shuddered underneath the massive weight. It started to tip forward. We would fall into the water again at this point, but none of us cared. In that moment, we were all so synced to the Eva I could grasp their emotions like straws. The rage, the hurt, the fear. But most of all, the will to survive, the dogged perseverance that had let them make it here.
And I joined them in that will. With one last almighty pull, the Angel's gargantuan maw was exposed, and at it's deepest point the telltale shimmer of a blood red crystal showed our target.
Who gave the word I still can't recall. Maybe it was me, or Asuka, or even Shinji. Or maybe someone had just seen us accomplish our goal, and relayed the visual. Either way, the ships weaponry engaged, and for a longer period of time than I could process hellfire clouded our vision.
When it concluded after what felt like an eternity, we saw Gaghiel's burning corpse sinking into the depths, the telltale shimmer of imminent imploding Core, heralding a final annihilation and plunge into the depths for us.
And then there was silence, as we drifted downwards. Waiting to be collected, we did not say a word. But I could still feel their hands, grasping mine, ever so gently.