Disclaimer: I do not own Evangelion, or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.

Disclaimer: I do not own anything belonging to Marvel Comics or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.

Chapter 4: Transitions Over Time

As Mari looked about the expansive chamber she and her father were being escorted through, she shuddered slightly before wrapping her arms about herself. "How are you holding up?" Katsuo wondered, taking note of her discomfort.

"I'm okay," Mari returned instantly, once again shivering. "Except that somebody's got the AC cranked."

Managing a mild chuckle, Katsuo continued to watch as Mari shivered. Chilled by both the cool air of the room, and that she was naked save for her glasses and a skimpy medical gown that was loosely knotted up in back. Even her feet were bare, leaving her that much more chilled with step she took on the cold metal floor.

But as Mari wanted to deny it, the cool air within this facility wasn't the only thing giving her the chills. For the day she had been anticipating and dreading all at once had finally come.

She was about to be subjected to the first in a series of treatments that were part of Project: Rebirth.

In the weeks that had passed since Mari had been exposed to the biomechanical clone of Adam that was known as Unit 03, one of the monsters that was under NERV's command. In those weeks, she had done her best to keep up a brave front, to not give away any hint that she knew secrets that none of her friends were privy to. to try and distract herself from the fact that she would be eventually put through the Rebirth process, which would effectively spell the end of her normal life even if it didn't drive her to madness. Something that had not been helped by her father's constant worrying and blaming himself for her predicament, or by Coulson dropping by every now and again to surreptitiously spirit her away for yet another medical examination.

Ugh...I still can't believe those doctors...! Mari grumbled inwardly, thinking back to her most recent examination. How she had been forced to strip down to the buff with an entire team of doctors poking and prodding at her for over an hour, as well as running her through several fancy machines that she barely even recognized. MRIs, EKGs, and a whole host of other examinations that she couldn't even remember the names of had all been used to map out her precise physical condition. The doctors determined to make certain that not even the slightest detail was overlooked. Because the slightest detail could be the difference between success...and me going completely crazy...

Trying not to shudder at this horrendous thought, at the terrifying possibilities that were a part of this procedure, her fears and worries were mounting up, eroding Mari's self-control and prompting her to warily look about her surroundings, a familiar voice snapped her from her grim thoughts. "Hello, there. Mari, Mr. Makinami," came a crisp, Irish-accented voice, causing a sigh of relief to escape the girl's lips. "I hope the trip here wasn't too rough on ye."

"Dum Dum!" Mari grinned, gratified beyond her ability to speak to see the voice's owner approaching. The only familiar face, save for her father's, to be found in this ominous facility.

"Sorry I wasn't able to greet you when you first got here, lass," Dugan told her with sincere apologies. "Things have been pretty hectic here, what with making sure that everything was in readiness." Glancing between the two Makinamis, the Irishman then asked, "Any problems getting here?"

Some of the tension washing away from her, Mari sighed and irreverently replied, "Well, the trip here could have been better." Then she frowned slightly and asked, "By the way, why didn't you send Coulson to pick us up like you usually do?"

Smiling in his typically good-natured manner, Dugan replied, "Sorry about that, Mari. I had to pull Coulson for the security detail here. We might not be expecting any shenanigans here, but it never hurts to cover all your bases. And while he might be the quiet type, he's still one of the best agents I've got," Then he frowned and asked, "Why? Was there a problem with Agent Richter?"

"You mean, aside from him being an asshole who seems to think that a red light means 'hit the accelerator and the horn'?" Katsuo muttered sourly.

Dugan grimaced sympathetically. "Ach, sorry about that one. I instructed him to bring you here as quickly as possible, and to give you a comfortable ride," the Irishman said by way of explanation. "Looks like he only managed one of the two, though."

"Yeah. You could definitely say that," Mari muttered sourly. Then she again looked about her surroundings, at the doctors and technicians that were visibly moving about, checking and doublechecking clipboards and equipment, speaking in hushed voices. All of them preparing for what was about to happen. "So...this is it, huh?"

Nodding sadly, Dugan replied, "Yes, I'm afraid so, Mari." As bespectacled girl lowered her eyes, her feet shifting nervously on the metal floor. "Scared?"

Meeting the Irishman's gaze, Mari forced a weak smile onto her face. "Dum Dum, I'm about to be turned into a living guinea pig for a serum that could drive me insane, all so I can spy on a secret organization and pilot a death machine that was cloned from the thing that caused Second Impact. So no, I'm not scared." With a sigh, she wrapped her arms about herself and added, "I'm so terrified I feel like I'm about to pass out...!"

"Huh. Well, I can't say I blame you for that," Dugan assured her. "The truth is, I can't imagine any sane man, woman, or child wouldn't be the least bit frightened right about now." Then the Irishman bent down a bit so as to look Mari in the face. "But before we get started, Mari, I...I'd like for you to talk to the people who will actually be running this show. The doctors in charge of the Rebirth process."

"Why?" Katsuo wondered, giving the Irishman a look.

"I figured that she has the right to know exactly what we're going to be doing here today. As well as the precautions we're going to be taking," Dugan explained as he stood up straight, still focused on Mari. "I want you to know beyond any shadow of a doubt that we're going to do everything in our power to make certain you come out of this alright."

Nodding, Mari then glanced up at her father, half-expecting for him to ridicule this statement in some way. Remind Dugan once again just how much he disapproved of what they were doing. But to her surprise, Katsuo grimly nodded. "Alright," he muttered warily. Then he shrugged unhappily and admitted, "I have to admit, I wouldn't mind a little reassurance right now myself."

"Fair enough," Dugan replied with a nod of his own. "This way, then." Gesturing for them to follow him, the Major turned and started along the length of the complex. Allowing Mari the chance to better survey her surroundings.

The chamber they were in was basically a large, circular space, with several layers of people, computers, and other equipment surrounding a central area. The design was a sparse and utilitarian in the extreme, as if the bare minimum in terms of resources had been used in the creation of this place. Even the catwalks that made up the second floor rattled somewhat, having been made of metal grating. And in the center of it all, in the very direction they were heading, was a large, transparent cylinder raised up above the floor. Surrounding this object was an awesome array of computers and doctors on both the first and second floors, and held within it…was a raised, angled table.

Already getting a very bad feeling as to the purpose of this chamber, Mari once again forced aside all her fears and trepidations as best as she could. Though she shifted a bit closer to her father as they approached a man and woman dressed in labcoats, much like the rest of the people there.

"Sallis, Ross!" Dugan announced, prompting the two to turn about and face him. "I've got some folks you'd want to meet." As the two scientists looked at the Makinamis, the Irishman handled the introductions proper. "Mari, Mr. Makinami, I'd like to introduce you to the people who'll be running the Rebirth Process. This is Dr. Theodore Sallis, a meta-physiologist, and the man personally responsible for recreating the Super Soldier serum."

"So...you're Mari, huh?" Dr. Sallis started before breaking out in a broad smile. "I have to admit, I've been looking forward to this. Meeting you, that is." As Katsuo gave the somewhat worn-looking brunette a look, he shrugged and explained, "What I mean is...I've been working with blood samples and medical examinations and so on, and...well, after two years of that, I've been...wanting to meet the girl that was making this all possible, I..."

"That's enough, Ted. I'm sure they all get the idea," the other scientist assured him before focusing on the Makinamis. "I'm Dr. Elizabeth Ross."

"Dr. Ross is our head of biochemistry, and an expert in controlled mutation within human tissue," Dugan explained, gesturing at the attractive blonde.

"I will admit to having some experience in the matter," Dr. Ross commented with good humor. Then she focused on the girl that was the focus of that day's events. "How are you doing, Mari?"

"Me? I'm okay…except for a slight case of the chills," Mari commented, once again wrapping her arms about herself, giving a slight shake for added effect. When both scientists tittered, the bespectacled girl felt a bit more comforted. "So…can we get this over with already?" she asked, glancing about her surroundings once again. Getting a bad case of butterflies in her stomach as she did so. "Because the longer I stand around waiting...the more freaked out I get about what we're about to do!"

"I understand," Dr. Ross assured her with a broad smile. "But don't you worry. Everything is going to be just fine, you'll see!"

"And how do you know that?" Katsuo demanded, an edge of irritation showing in his voice. "Do you have a crystal ball, showing you for sure that nothing is going to go wrong here?"

There was a dangerous pause as Dugan and the two doctors looked at Katsuo. A pause that was broken when Ross smiled broadly and held up her finger. "Oh, wait. Don't tell me. Let me guess. You're the father, right?"

"You figured that out all on your own, huh?" Katsuo muttered in return, shaking his head despondently. "You really are a genius."

"Mr. Makinami, please. I understand that you're concerned about all this. Believe me, I do," Dr. Ross broke in, looking comfortingly at the both of them. "But you have to understand. Every possible precaution has been taken, regarding Mari's wellbeing."

"That's right. In fact, that's why Betty here was brought on board to begin with," Dr. Sallis informed them. "She's the leading expert on human mutations, and is well-versed in the negative side-effects that can result from them. Of all the people in the world, she's the best equipped to make sure they don't happen to begin with, and to head them off if they do." Then he gave the two of them a cocky look and added, "Of course, there really isn't that much that can go wrong to begin with."

"Now, Ted…" Dr. Ross started, looking somewhat aggrieved.

"No, really!" Dr. Sallis countered with a bit more force. "I'm sure you've been told about all the problems we've have with the serum so far, but that can't happen here! This serum was created from Mari's own blood! So when you think about it, it's already a part of her!"

"Somehow, I'm not reassured," Katsuo muttered grumpily.

"I understand. But you have to believe me, we've already conducted several tests with tissue samples we've taken from Mari during her examinations," Dr. Ross explained. "We've already exposed them to the Rebirth process - on a small scale, of course - and we've seen no signs of the incompatibility issues we've had in our other tests subjects." With a self-assured smile, the blonde added, "And with all due respect, I do have quite a bit of experience in this matter. I'd know if there were any problems in those tests."

"That's correct, you two," Dugan assured them. "Dr. Ross has made a complete study of Mari's physiology, our serums, and all our previous experiments. And while we might not know how to correct our compatibility issues just yet, she's seen more than her share of experiments gone bad, and knows the risks. And she knows what to look for here." Giving the blonde doctor a playful look, the Irishman added. "If anything looks even slightly out of kilter, she's the one to spot it, and figure out how to get around it."

"He's right, you know," Dr. Sallis concurred. "I've worked with Betty here for quite some time. I'd stake my life on her good judgment."

If anything, Katsuo was even less impressed by this statement. "But it's not your life that's at stake here. Is it?"

"Dad, please..." Mari groaned, knowing full well where this was going.

"That's alright, Mari. And you are correct, Mr. Makinami. It isn't our lives at stake here," Dr. Ross admitted. "But...here. Let us explain how the Rebirth process will proceed."

"Okay," Mari nodded shakily. The cold of the floor and her nerves not doing her any favors.

Nodding to this, Dr. Sallis cleared his throat before speaking. "First of all, the treatment we're giving you will be administered in three parts. The first part will be a primer you will be taking orally. It consists of a combination of nutrient concentrates, among other things. This is essentially to prime your body for the process, so there's no chance of injury or trauma," Then he pointed up at the chamber at the center, along with the angled table. "It will also help the body to catalyze and metabolize the Super Soldier serum itself, which will be administered via a series of injections into your major muscle groups, causing immediate cellular change and development. And finally, to stimulate and fuel that development, your body will be saturated with Vita-Rays."

"Vita-Rays?" Katsuo repeated blankly. "That sounds like something out of a bad comic book."

Chuckling at this, Dr. Sallis admitted, "I suppose you're right. But that's what Dr. Erskine called them. And it's basically what they are; a form of biological nutrient that can be broadcast as a form of energy."

"It's not unheard of," Dr. Ross pointed out. "For example, our bodies produce Vitamin D as a result of absorbing sunlight."

"Yes, except that Vita-Rays produce a much more pronounced affect," Dr. Sallis continued. "They stabilize the serum in the body, fueling the Rebirth process and allowing the serum to do its job properly."

"Okay," Mari frowned, again glancing at the chamber and the table within. Deciding that it looked like something Dr. Frankenstein would be comfortable working with, she suppressed a shudder and asked, "And...just how much am I gonna...change from this? I mean..."

As Mari trailed off uncertainly, Dr. Ross knelt down to look her in the eyes. "Don't worry. We're going to be giving you a very low dosage to start out with," she reassured the girl. "And as soon as this over, we'll examine you for any possible side effects."

"That's right, Mari. We're not going to leave anything to chance," Dugan vowed. "It's like I told you; we're going to be putting you through the Rebirth process a bit at a time. And we're going to take plenty of time between treatments to check you out and make sure that nothing's gone screwy." Then he gave her a knowing look and added, "And that's not the only reason. We're also going to be comparing the results we get with you with our other test subjects."

"We're hoping that, by comparing how your body reacts to the Rebirth process to the other subjects, it'll show us exactly how to adapt the formula to make it compatible with other people," Dr. Ross said by way of explanation.

"So with any luck, by the time comes when we need to send you out on your assignment, we'll be able to provide you some extra backup," Dugan added with a reassuring curl of his lip and mustache. "The kind packing superhuman muscle."

Blinking in surprise as she considered this, the possibility that she wouldn't have to beard the lion in its den alone, Mari was brought back to the moment when Dr. Sallis chimed in with, "Besides, it would be pretty hard to keep this all a secret if we put you through the full treatment in one day."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Katsuo wondered with a frown.

"Just what he said, Mr. Makinami." As both Makinamis gave Dugan a querying look, the Irishman went on to explain, "On the day Steve Rogers was to be put through the Rebirth process, he came into the lab standing at five feet, two inches, and weighed about ninety pounds." Giving them a chance to process this bit of information, the Irishman leaned in towards Mari and added, "By the time they were done with him, he had grown a foot taller, and was up to 240 pounds. With most of it being solid muscle."

Her eyes bulging as she processed this, Mari breathed, "Holy shit...!"

"That...would be pretty noticeable," Katsuo admitted with a strange look on his face.

"Precisely. By giving her smaller doses over a long period of a time, we're hoping what we're doing to Mari won't be too noticeable," Dugan told them. "With any luck, all anybody will think is that she's going through a growth spurt."

Pressing her lips together, Mari considered what was being said, and found that she couldn't argue against the logic being presented to her. But as she did so, she found herself picturing the Rebirth process in action, trying to imagine such a frail specimen of a man as was being described going through such a remarkable transformation. And then she tried to picture herself going that route as well. Of being utterly transformed by the process, taken and made into something amazing. Not driven to madness, but instead being given the kind of power that was the stuff of dreams. The kind of thing that professional athletes and bodybuilders trained for a lifetime to achieve.

Deciding that this didn't sound so bad, Mari was snapped from such thoughts when Dr. Sallis asked, "So...are we ready to proceed?"

A fresh rush of fear running down her spine, Mari was spared from having to respond when Dugan replied, "Uh, not just yet, Doctors. There are a couple other matters I'd like to discuss with them before we go ahead with this." Both Sallis and Ross nodded, and were about to turn away when the Major held out his hand to them. "Wait. Didn't you tell me that that - primer of yours - that we'd have to wait a bit after Mari took before you could start?"

"That's right," Dr. Sallis nodded. "We'd need to wait half an hour for it to fully circulate through her system and be absorbed."

"Half an hour, uh?" Giving a lopsided frown as he considered the matter, Dugan eventually nodded. "That should be more than enough time for us to cover everything." Turning towards the Makinami girl, he curled the corner of his lip and asked, "What do you say, Mari? We could give you the primer now, and while we're waiting for it to do its thing, we can go over a few matters before give you the rest of the treatment. Sound like a plan to you?"

A beat passed before Mari shrugged. "Sure. Sounds good, I guess." Then she made a face and added, "And like I said; the longer I stand around here, thinking about it, the more freaked I get!"

"Then let's get going then, and give you something to distract you from your worries." Turning towards the two scientists, he said, "Fetch that primer of yours, Sallis. Ross, see to it that the Rebirth chamber is fully prepped and ready for action."

"On it," Dr. Ross replied as Dr. Sallis nodded, both of them setting about their duties.

As soon as the two scientists were going about their appointed tasks, Dugan said, "And while they're busy, there's someone else I'm gonna have come down here." When Mari made a quizzical sound in her throat, the Irishman added, "Coulson asked me to call him down here before they started the process. He wanted to be here...to wish you luck." With a shrug, Dugan added, "And all things considered...having another friendly face around couldn't hurt."

Pausing at this, Mari blinked a few times before smiling. "You won't get any arguments from me about that."

To say that the next few minutes were less than fun for Mari would have been a gross understatement. As soon as Dr. Sallis arrived with the primer, she somehow forced herself to gag down the muddy concoction. Once she was done making faces and commenting that the foul elixir would not be finding its way into a vitamin shop anytime soon, she was escorted into the Rebirth chamber. And while her father stood by her side, continuing to hold her hand, she waited and watched the people around her going about their duties, until at last another familiar face appeared.

"Hey, Coulson!" Mari beamed as the bland-looking agent made his way into the Rebirth chamber.

"Hello, Mari. Mr. Makinami," Coulson replied as he came to stand in the chamber with them. Then he focused on Dugan and reported, "Sorry to take so long, sir. I had get another agent to relieve me."

"That's alright, man. It's only been a few minutes," Dugan assured him with a nod. Then he turned towards Mari, "Now, like I said before, there are a few things I'd like to tell you while we're waiting." When Mari nodded to this, the Irishman proceeded. "First of all, I've got some news for you."

"Good news, or bad?" Mari wondered with a narrowed eye. "Because I think now would be a really bad time for some bad news."

"Well, the nature of the news depends entirely on your own perspective," Dugan confessed. "As for what the news is...we've just managed to get hold of your ticket into NERV Central."

"Then it is bad news," Katsuo muttered in a snarky manner.

"What ticket are you talking about?" Mari wondered, ignoring her father's commentary.

"I'm talking about an Evangelion, lass," Dugan informed her with the look of a professional prankster. "I won't be boring you with the exact details, as it would take pretty much all day to explain it all, but the bottom line is that SHIELD has managed to get its hands on an Evangelion for you to pilot."

"Really?!" Mari started, her mouth and eyes popping open in astonishment. "But - just like that?!"

"It actually wasn't all that hard, surprisingly enough," Dugan admitted with a self-depreciating shrug. "The Eva in question, Unit 05, was all set to be scrapped after plans for a NERV installation to be run as a joint operation by Europe and Russia fell through." As Mari frowned her confusion, the Irishman went on to explain. "The installation was intended to be a research center. The plan was, in case we were ever able to capture an Angel, that Angel would be shipped to this place for study, analysis, and probably dissection. But in the event that such a captive Angel ever got loose, they'd need something to keep it from getting out of the base. And that was to be Unit 05."

"Okay, so they scrapped the base," Mari nodded, not quite understanding what was being told. "But why scrap the Eva as well?"

"Because Unit 05 isn't a production model like Units 02, 03, and 04," Dugan explained. "It was designed expressly to function within the confines of the base. As it is now, it'd be completely useless anywhere else." Her mouth falling open in horrified astonishment, Mari was about to protest when the Irishman held up his hand to her. "I stress, as it is now. We're going to be doing some significant remodeling to that particular beast. By the time we're done with it, the folks over at NERV Central will be drooling pretty heavily over it, not to mention pulling a heck of a lot of strings in order to have it and its pilot transferred over to Japan."

"That pilot will be you, of course," Coulson noted.

"Of course," Mari wryly replied. "So...is there anything else?"

"Just a few other matters," Dugan informed her. "After we're done with this treatment - once the eggheads give you the all clear, mind you - we're going to start in with your training." As Mari nodded to this, the Irishman went on to say, "We've worked out proper covers for most of it; martial arts classes, summer school courses. And then there will be the actual training to pilot an Eva...shouldn't be too hard to arrange."

"You will have to keep it all secret. Including that you're training with an Eva," Coulson pointed out. "We can't let anybody know what's going on."

"I know, I know, I've seen enough spy movies," Mari replied with a wry look. One that didn't quite cover up how she actually felt about this. About the idea of having to lie to the few friends she had...

As Mari considered this, pictured herself having an entire portion of her life that she would have to keep a secret from Lizzie and Alice, as well as her aunt and uncle, Dr. Ross made her way up into the Rebirth chamber, carrying a black case. "Excuse me," she murmured gently. As the Makinamis eyed the blonde doctor, she smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry, but we have to get Mari ready for the procedure. It won't be much longer before the primer has been fully absorbed. If we wait too long..."

"We get the idea, Doctor. Thanks for the warning." Turning towards the bespectacled girl, Dugan bent down and gave her an affectionate pat on the shoulder. "It's time."

"Okay," Mari nodded nervously. Then she looked back at the angle table that was just behind her. "So, I...I just get on that thing, huh?"

"That's right," Dr. Ross confirmed.

With a heavy sigh of resignation, Mari made her way up to the table, which looked even more ominous up close than it had from a distance. A series of clamps and straps lined the edges of the table, adding to the air that it belonged in a mad scientist movie, with her being the specimen for experimentation. As this image made her insides twist about, the girl forced herself to lie down upon the table, her feet braced against footrests on the bottom.

"Here we go," Dr. Ross intoned, smiling as she went to work. "The straps are here to secure you, to keep you from harming yourself in case you have a strong reaction to the serum."

"Thanks. I feel a lot better now," Mari intoned with a bit of sarcasm as Dr. Ross proceeded to strap her in place.

"Is everything in readiness, Dr. Ross?" Dugan wondered as the blonde went about her work.

"We're as ready as we'll ever be," Dr. Ross reported as she secured the first strap. "As for Dr. Sallis...well, he has every confidence that this will work."

Now if only I could say the same! Mari thought as the doctor secured the second strap. For a moment, she considered asking Dr. Ross if she truly was certain that this would work as planned, but ultimately, she decided against it. She had already told them that she felt they were as ready as possible, which was likely the best answer she could give. Rehashing those answers or dwelling on the questions wasn't going to make Mari feel any better about this.

She honestly doubted anything could at this point.

A short time later, Dr. Ross had finished strapping Mari in place, and began working with all the clamps the lined the table. "These are the injection units," the blonde explained as she placed one of the clamps about the girl's upper arms. "When the process starts, these will inject the Super Soldier serum into all your major muscle groups."

"Annnd hurt like crazy, I'll bet," Mari frowned unhappily.

"I can't say that it won't," Dr. Ross conceded as she continued to work. Before long, there were clamps applied to Mari's arms, legs, abdomen, and chest. "Just you know, there are injectors built into the padding on your back."

"Oh. Great," Mari groaned, looking back as best as she could. "So...where's this famous serum you went to all this trouble for?"

With a smile, Dr. Ross bent down and picked up the case she had come in with. "Right here," she replied, popping the case open, revealing several test tubes filled with a blue liquid.

As Mari looked on, watching as the doctor went to work, sliding the tubes into different receptacles on the table, Dugan made a noise in his throat. "There's one more thing I should tell you about this serum, Mari. Something I understand was once said by Dr. Erskine himself." Starting at the mention of the scientist for whom the serum was his legacy, she looked squarely at the Irishman. "The way I heard it said, this formula amplifies everything within you, girl. Both the good...and the bad," Dugan sagely intoned. "So whatever happens, Mari, no matter what strength you get or anything else, promise me that you'll never lose respect for power. How it can help people...and how it can hurt them, too. And that you'll always remember something I learned as a young man."

"What's that?" Mari wondered.

"That it's all too easy for someone, particularly in a high position of power, to view war as little more than ratios and results. To throw as many people into the meat grinder as they have to in order to win," Dugan explained to her. "But the truth is, lass, in war, we all lose. We lose loved ones, friends, families. And that those numbers that some people don't care about aren't just numbers. They're people, each with their own hopes and dreams."

"I...okay. I...I promise, but...Dum Dum, I...I don't understand," Mari replied, her brows furrowed in confusion. "I mean...I know soldiers are people, and..."

"I know you do. What I'm asking...is that you not forget." As Mari continued to frown her confusion, he gave her a lopsided smile. "Don't worry about it now; someday...I'm sure you'll understand." Then Dugan looked over at Dr. Ross. "Well, Doctor...is it time?"

"Almost. I suggest that you all clear out of here." As Mari looked about, she saw Dr. Ross sliding the last ampoule of the serum into place. "The primer should almost be at full effect now. We need to begin the treatment soon."

"Right then. Best be going now, lads." With this, Dugan stood up straight and gave Mari a proper military salute. "Be seeing you in a minute, lass. Bet on it."

"Best of luck to you, Mari," Coulson chimed in, smiling broadly.

As Mari nodded, she felt someone's hand about her own. Looking about, she saw her father standing next to her, worlds of fear and concern hovering within his eyes. "How're you holding up?"

Heaving a deep breath, Mari gave serious consideration to telling him that, aside from her insides shifting about and the fact that she felt like the guinea pig in a mad scientist movie, she was just fine. But the expression her father wore made it clear that this wasn't the time for levity. So she settled for telling him, "I've been better."

Snorting somewhat, Katsuo shook his head wearily. "You're amazing, you know that?" he told her earnestly. "My little girl…you're a lot braver than I am. Putting up with this madness…I'm sure your great-grandfather would be proud of you."

"Yeah, well..." Mari muttered, her insides' reaction to the primer growing more pronounced. "If this what he went through to become Captain America, then he deserved a medal just for putting up with this crap…"

Even as Katsuo gave a muted chuckle to this, Dr. Ross approached the two of them. "Excuse me," she murmured gently. As the Makinamis eyed the blonde doctor, she smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry, but we have to begin the treatment now. If we wait too much longer, the primer will begin to lose potency."

"I see," Katsuo muttered tersely, his lips pressed tightly together. "Mari…"

"It's okay, Dad," Mari assured him. "Besides...we'll have plenty of time to talk...when this is over..."

A beat passed before Katsuo managed a nod and a sniffle. "Come on. You can't stay with her for this," Dr. Ross informed Katsuo. "I can't be sure what effect the Vita-Rays will have on anybody without the serum in their system, but I don't think I want to know."

Sighing reluctantly, Katsuo finally nodded his understanding. He then looked Mari directly in the eyes, tightening his grip on her hand. "I'll be right outside, you hear me?" he told her firmly. "If you…I mean…"

"I know, Dad. Thanks," Mari smiled weakly, tightening her own grip on his hand.

"You better take her glasses off," Dr. Ross informed them gingerly. When Katsuo looked questioningly at the doctor, she added, "Just to be on the safe side."

Frowning intently, knowing there was a lot that the scientist left unsaid, Katsuo eventually nodded before looking at his daughter. Mari just smiled and nodded her compliance. "Sorry," the elder Makinami finally said before carefully reaching for her glasses. As he slowly lifted them from her face, the world around Mari blurred, preventing her from making out her father's fearful expression as the insistent Dr. Ross led him out of the Rebirth chamber. Then there was mechanical hiss as the door slid closed, sealing Mari within the chamber.


Somewhat blearily, Mari looked about the transparent chamber, her nearsighted eyes vaguely processing what was going on outside, her father taking up station just outside the chamber. She couldn't hear much aside from her own breathing, her own heart pounding within her chest. "Testing, testing," came Dr. Sallis' voice echoing in the chamber. "Mari, can you hear me?"

"Uh, yeah," Mari returned, looking blindly about.

"We're about to begin serum infusion," Dr. Sallis announced, prompting Mari to suck in a breath as she quickly braced herself. "In five, four, three, two, one...now!"

An instant later, Mari let out a hushed gasp as she felt several needles penetrating her skin, drilling into her muscles. Before she could do so much as try to squirm, there was a muted rush of liquid, prompting her to look about just in time for her nearsighted eyes to take in one of the ampoule's cargo of blue liquid being drained away to be pumped inside of her.

Oh...oh crap...! Mari thought, closing her eyes automatically as she felt her heart pounding that much more. Her very flesh and blood shifting about in response to the serum being pumped inside of her.

"Prepare for Vita-Ray bombardment!" Dr. Sallis announced, snapping Mari's mind back to the present. "Raising reflector!"

Unable to make sense of what was being said, Mari looked towards the blur she knew to be her father. Only for her mouth to pop open in shock when she saw something sliding up before the transparent material enclosing her. She could no longer see her father or anything else; all she could see was some kind of strange distortion her nearsighted eyes couldn't even begin to interpret. Then she heard a mechanical whirring accompanied by metal sliding against metal. Looking about, she could see just well enough to discover that something was emerging from the floor and ceiling.

"Commencing bombardment!" Dr. Sallis declared. And instant later...Mari's entire world went completely white.

"Ahhhhhhh!" Mari cried out, instinctively closing her eyes as they were seared by the intense light. But even that wasn't enough to blot out the overwhelming brilliance that surrounded her.

Nor could it shield her from the way her body reacted to the Vita-Rays.

Mari let out a sharp gasp as she realized something else was happening. That as she had been told, the Vita-Rays that were now saturating her body were interacting with both the primer and the Super Soldier serum. The three parts of the Rebirth process were combining together, and Mari felt like her entire body was exploding. It was as if someone had shoved a lightning rod into her mouth just in time for a bolt to strike. Her nerves felt like they were on fire, her skin felt like it was being rubbed raw, her blood churned and boiled, her muscles swelled and felt like they were about to pop right out of her body. Everything from her head down to the tips of her toes was suddenly wracked with convulsions, shaking wildly as sheer power crackled through her veins. Her lungs heaved breath after desperate breath, all the while her heart thundered in her chest like an out-of-control freight train.

And to her astonishment, Mari found herself crying out in both agony...and ecstasy.

She felt as if every nerve, every blood vessel, every section of living tissue within her was now swollen with power. Her heart going from being so docile to thudding tremendously in her ears, the girl felt every muscle she possessed throbbing with energy, as if they were growing with every single convulsion that wracked her slender frame. Sweat poured forth from her body, soaking her gown as she writhed as a result of the forces being unleashed within her.

It was a total rush, beyond anything Mari had ever experienced before. It was as if she had only been half alive up until this point, and was only now waking up. Her hands automatically balled into fists, her nails digging into her own flesh as her convulsions causing her to fly up off the table and against the straps that held her in place.

Even as she reveled in what was happening to her, Mari heard a dull pounding somewhere off in the distance. Heard her father shrieking her name, even as Dugan shouted at him, tried to restrain him.

Then another wave of power shot through her entire frame, hammering through her muscles like a dynamo, and Mari forgot all about her father. She forgot about everything. All she cared about, all she really knew, was that she was truly being reborn in this place. That she was losing control of herself, and she was loving every moment of it. It was an experience that any thrill-seeker would have killed for. Her body wasn't responding to her commands, and she didn't care. Her father and a few scientists were completely freaking out, and she didn't care. All she knew was the moment, and she didn't want it to end.

Her mind was so utterly inundated with sensory overload, Mari had no real sense of time passing, or what was happening to her. At some point, she was vaguely aware of her body convulsing so forcefully that she tore free of the straps holding her down, and catapulted herself down to the floor. And a short time later, she became aware of the light fading away, at which the convulsions quickly faded, and her mind slowly began to clear.

Oh, man… Mari thought as she continued to lay there, her body strangely numbed, tired and energized at the same time. Every nerve crackling with excitement and power as she heaved breath after wearied breath.

While she continued to shift about on her back, slowly recovering from what she had been subjected to, she heard a hiss of air. "Mari!" came the voice of her father. She groggily turned her head in the voice's direction, and saw her father rushing in alongside Dugan, Coulson, Dr. Sallis and Dr. Ross. Katsuo basically shoving his way to his daughter, who looked dazedly at her father. Seeing so clearly the fear and concern he wore as he fell to his knees beside her.

Wait a minute…what the…? Mari wondered dazedly as she looked up at her father. Blinking rapidly as every detail of his face came in clearly to her, without even the slightest amount of the distortion she had grown accustomed to over her life. Her mouth popping open, Mari swiveled her eyes and took in the other people who were hovering around her. And though she didn't see them quite as clearly as she did her father, their images were far clearer than they had any right to be without her glasses.

My…my eyes…! Mari thought in amazement, a ragged chuckle escaping her lips. The process…oh, wow…!

Even as this realization hit home, someone grabbed Mari by the shoulders and lifted her partly off the floor. "Mari!" her father's familiar voice cried out, a voice that made it clear that he was better than halfway to full-blown hysteria. "Mari!" he tried again, punctuating his words by giving his daughter a firm shaking. "Mari! Are you alright?! Are you -?!"

"Hey, Dad…" Mari gasped out, a giddy smile plastering itself on her face as she sat somewhat unbalanced in his hands.

Katsuo looked ready to say something else, but before he could, another face shoved its way into Mari's own. "How do you feel, Mari?" Dr. Sallis wondered as the subject of his attention turned dazedly towards him. "What was it like in there? Do you feel any different? Anything at all?"

Vaguely aware of her father saying something completely unrepeatable to the inquisitive scientist, Mari just grinned and laughed before grabbing hold of Katsuo's forearm. The elder Makinami gasped in pain while his daughter leaned into Dr. Sallis' face. "I feel...awesome," she grinned wickedly, punctuating this statement with a giddy, almost drunken laugh. She released another burst of laughter, blatantly unaware of the looks being leveled at her as she looked into the faces of everyone there and asked, "So…when do I get the next round?"

Several seconds passed as the people arrayed before her looked questioningly at Mari. Katsuo sucked in a fearful breath while Dugan frowned grimly. The medics accompanying them exchanged puzzled looks while Dr. Sallis grinned in celebration. As for Dr. Ross, she bit down on her lip, as if to stop herself from saying whatever it was she was thinking. After several moments, she managed a smile and answered, "Not just yet. We have all those tests to run first. Remember?"

Groaning in dismay, Mari gave the blonde doctor an unhappy look. "Spoilsport," was all she would say as the people around her helped her back to her feet.

Two years later, in Japan…

As Misato Katsuragi sat with her head in her hands, chewing on a straw, the only thing she could think was that she would rather be just about anyplace but where she was. Would rather be wearing anything than the itchy, overly-starched formal uniform she was stuck wearing. And would certainly rather do just about anything but listening to Ritsuko Akagi and some stuffed-shirt engage in a glorified pissing contest.

"The robot is equipped with a nuclear reactor," Ritsuko asked, microphone in hand as she stared daggers at the speaker on stage. "Is that right?"

"Correct," the speaker agreed cheerfully. "This is Jet Alone's most distinguished feature. It guarantees 150 days of continuous operating power."

"I see," Ritsuko returned. "Speaking from a safety perspective, isn't it dangerous to incorporate a nuclear reactor in a land-based weapon designed for hand-to-hand combat?"

"We think it's more practical than a weapon that won't work for more than five minutes," the speaker countered smugly.

Chewing her straw more forcefully, Misato took a moment to curse Commander Ikari and Sub Commander Fuyutsuki for doing this to her. For deciding that they couldn't be bothered to accompany Ritsuko to the debut of NERV's only potential competition in terms of destroying Angels and gobbling up government money. And deciding that they would rather foist this duty off on Misato, so she could be the one to have bored to tears with it so they wouldn't be dragged away from doing whatever the heck they did on their off hours.

Wincing internally at another exchange between the two of them, Misato found herself wishing she could bash their heads together and settle their dispute that way. "Could you cut it out?" she wondered, chewing the straw with greater force. "I've seen children more mature than you two."

Oblivious to Misato's words and the irony to them, the speaker smirked at the NERV representatives. "Say whatever you will, Dr. Akagi, but the fact remains that NERV has taken a bad situation and made it even worse. The UN has already had to approve an enormous supplement to your existing budget, and because of that, 20,000 people in a dozen countries are starving to death. How ironic, when you consider that Evas are supposed to be protecting humanity." Listening to the guffaws of the other people there, the speaker leaned in and smirked. "It must be so nice your organization, being so completely above the law."

"I'm well aware of the financial difficulties posed by the war with the Angels," Ritsuko muttered, a vein bulging from her forehead. "But the fact remains that the Evas possess the only power capable of defeating them."

The speaker nodded in a knowing fashion. "Ah, of course. You mean the AT-Field." Jolted by these words, Misato looked up in astonishment at the speaker. "Well, that is simply a matter of time and research."

What the hell?! Misato shrieked inwardly even as NERV's hecklers laughed and a few more veins appeared on Ritsuko's forehead. How…how the hell did they…just what is Section 2 doing?! Taking remedial classes on how to breathe?! Looking away and grinding the straw in her teeth, Misato watched as her friend trembled with rage even as the speaker informed them that their days were numbered.

I swear, the Commander's gonna pay for sticking me with this! Just after I get through with this asshole! Misato growled, certain that this day couldn't possibly get any worse…

Later, in America…

"C'mon, Mari! You can do it!" Lizzie shouted, hands cupped around her mouth as she stood from the bleachers. Somehow managing to make the rest of the crowd and their various cheers and curses seem rather quiet by comparison. "Get in there and blast that sucker clear outta here! Whoo!"

Grinning at her one-girl cheering squad, Mari took a moment to look out at the crowd, giving them and Lizzie a thumbs-up before approaching the plate. There she was, decked out in her baseball uniform, ready to go to bat for the honor of her school.

Ah, baseball. Gotta love it, Mari thought, taking a deep, heady sniff. The grass, the dirt, the sweat hanging in the air, the fear, anticipation and excitement flowing freely off of every player there, all of it blended together into an intoxicating bouquet that had the fourteen-year-old's heart pounding that much more eagerly. Adding to the fact that the pitcher looked like she was silently praying for mercy, and the moment was complete.

This wasn't the big game. It wasn't a major event by school standards; just a friendly little game of baseball between their middle school and another. But that didn't mean that Mari had any intention of giving the opposition any mercy. At least, no more than she absolutely had to.

Especially when the score was ten to seven in the other team's favor, and the bases were loaded. And especially considering the fact that Mari hated to lose.

Slowly waving her bat over her shoulder in anticipation, Mari narrowed her eyes behind her glasses, scrutinizing every movement the pitcher made. The entire field seeming to grow just a bit hushed as the seconds crawled by, everybody on and off the field waiting and wondering when the ball would be thrown, whether Mari would be able to hit it, and what would happen after that.

Of course, the waiting part was the one part that Mari couldn't stand. C'mon, hurry up! she hissed inwardly, never once looking away from the pitcher. Just pitch the ball already! I've already smashed every pitch you've sent my way, and this one won't be any different!

As if in response to this thought, the pitcher gave one last look about the field, then snapped into position. Mari just grinned that much more fiercely; to her eyes, the entire world seemed to slow to a crawl. The pitcher, the spectators, and most importantly, the ball, all these things seemed to be barely moving at all as she tensed for the moment of truth. Her grip almost crushing the bat, Mari drew it back just a bit further even as she watched the ball approach. It was a perfect pitch, right within the strike zone, and was moving at such a speed that it should have been a nearly perfect strike.

Mari just smiled. Nearly perfect didn't win the ball game. As soon as the target moved into just the right position, she lashed out with her bat and was rewarded with the sharp crack of impact. She let out a triumphant cry as she watched the ball fly up into the sky like it had been launched on a rocket. Shouts of glee and dismay erupted from the crowds even as Mari began running the bases, her teammates already in motion while the opposition's outfielders scrambled about, trying to catch the ball before it gravity did.

But Mari wasn't watching that. She had basically forgotten about the ball as soon as it had left her bat. Now her focus was on her feet pounding on the ground, then first base, then more ground. On the air trembling with the excitement and action of everyone around. And more than anything else, the exultation of the moment, like sweet nectar dripping into her lips. Until at last she came along the home stretch, the rest of her team having already paid their own tribute to home plate. Leaving Mari nothing to do but jump slightly into the air, and come back down squarely upon her goal.

"Safe! Safe!" the umpire cried out even as Mari stumbled off of the plate, the rest of the girls already jumping up and down, pumping their fists and grabbing hold of each other. The rest of the team came down to join them, all of them losing themselves in the thrill of victory. In the rush that Mari herself was enjoying.

"You did it!" came another voice, just before a set of arms wrapped themselves about Mari's shoulders. Hissing surprise, she looked over her shoulder and saw Lizzie firmly glomping onto her person. "Wow, that was amazing!"

"Well, it's nice to see you, too!" Mari returned, not at all minding her friend's enthusiasm, or her embrace.

"I mean, wow! Seriously, Mari! Did you see the look on the pitcher's face when you smashed that sucker?!" Lizzie grinned. She then pulled away from her friend and moved like she was swinging a bat herself. "One shot and bam! It's outta here! Just like that!" A vicious grin practically splitting her face, the blonde added, "When the pitcher saw that thing flying up, up, and away, I thought she was going to crawl under the pitching mound and die!"

Mari laughed giddily at this. Until she saw something that cut her laughter short. "Yeah, well, she might get some help with that one," she noted as she looked over at the pitcher's mound and saw the pitcher that had tried in vain to shut Mari down. A girl that was now being made to suffer for her inability to do so by her coach, who was giving her a royal chewing out from her coach that basically consisted of telling her how worthless she was around a barrage of curses, swears, and insults regarding her lineage, skills as a player, and breeding habits.

"Whew. That's harsh!" Lizzie grumbled, shaking her head in dismay. The coach in question was a heavyset jerk with mounds of flab sagging about his face and extremities, and a gut that was about the size of a beach ball. And his face was currently burning an angry red that caused the pitcher to flinch back just a bit more with every caustic word he spoke. "Seriously! You'd think it was the end of the world with the way he was going on!"

Mari didn't say anything to this. She just stood there, taking in the abusiveness being showered up the girl she had just taken such pleasure in outperforming. "Yeah," she finally muttered, unable to come up with anything clever or funny to say to this, her stomach slowly knotting itself up. "I'm glad Mr. Kowalsky isn't like that."

Lizzie bobbed her head in agreement. "I swear, jerks like him probably pop out of the scum on the shower room floor," she decided. The blonde shifted her eyes towards Mari, who was frowning unhappily. "What is it?"

"Hmm?" Mari started, whipping about as if just becoming aware of Lizzie's presence. As soon as she confronted with the blonde's concerned expression, she quickly put on a nonchalant smile and shrugged. "Oh, nothing. Just…y'know…"

"Hey, come on, Mari! Don't tell me you're letting yourself get down about something like that!" Lizzie protested. The both of them once again glanced at the pitcher, who was currently staring at her own feet while her coach moved on to tell the rest of his team just how useless they were as well. "I mean, okay! The guy is being an absolute jerk, but it's not your fault he's a sore loser! You won fair 'n' square!" Then the blonde tossed her friend a cocky grin and added, "What, you think you should have tossed the game so you wouldn't bruise his precious ego? You win some, you lose some, right? And if you can't handle that…!"

"I know that, Liz, okay?" Mari protested, rolling her eyes for good measure. Then she gave another glance at the coach in question before adding, "But that doesn't change the fact that I'd like to help him lose his nuts!"

Snickering at this declaration, Lizzie gave her friend a healthy pat on the back. "Now that's the Mari I know and love," she declared, shoving her back to the rest of her team. "Now, c'mon! We gotta go celebrate your sending that ball into orbit!"

Mari managed a chuckle at this, though her heart wasn't really in it. Not only had the thrill of victory been sent down the tubes by what had just happened, not only had the rush that had resulted from the way she had won the game fizzled, but the fact was that Lizzie was wrong.

They hadn't won the game fairly.

While Mari's mood was lost in her own thoughts, as well as a rapidly growing sense of guilt, she had no idea that she was being watched. That two sets were on her, looking at her through night vision lenses.

"Target has been located," came the voice of one her watchers. "When do we move in?"

"When we have a clear target. Remember, we can't risk detection," came the other watcher. He then tweaked the device on his head, so that he was talking to the rest of his unit. "Everyone! Target has been sighted! Hone in on my signal, and be ready to engage!"

"Yes, sir!" a chorus of voices answered.

Pleased by the quickness of the response, the second watcher grinned as Mari started away from the baseball field. Flicking off the safety on his machine gun, his anticipation clear even beneath his helmet, he muttered eagerly, "It's time we shut this bitch down."

As Mari made her way home that night, she couldn't help but think of all the things that had changed for her over the past two years. At one point, she found herself staring down at her hand, clenching and unclenching it, feeling the ready power that was now hers.

Since she had begun the Rebirth process, Mari's body had been honed into a fighting machine beyond even her wildest beliefs. She had been granted strength, speed, endurance, enhanced sensory perception and increased resistance to injury and sickness. And more. Even more than she could have even imagined. The version of the Super Soldier serum she had been exposed to proving to be even more potent than the one that had transformed her great-grandfather into the human fighting machine that was known as Captain America.

And even as the scientists of the project had worked to remake her into the ultimate fighting machine, she had been honing the skills that she would need in order to be an effective spy and soldier. And while Mari didn't mind these changes to her lifestyle, actually enjoying her more physical or extraordinary forms of training, there was no doubt that her transformation had impacted her life. Sometimes in ways that were extremely difficult to deal with, not to mention cover up.

With each treatment Mari had been subjected to, her musculature had became a good deal more pronounced. To the point that her body was now well toned and the envy of all the girls on her team. She was taller than most of the kids at school, and even though she wasn't sure if was a side effect of the process or not, her breasts had also begun to bulge, until they had caught the eyes of just about every boy she knew. Her senses had also been substantially augmented; her vision was now keen to the point that she could read a road sign that was five miles away. She could pick out a single conversation in a crowded restaurant filled with chatty customers, and her sense of smell was so sharp that she could even track a person by their scent alone.

But the more her abilities grew, the more important it had become for Mari to be able to conceal them. She now wore special glasses that were designed to reduce her visual acuity to that of normal people. And while she certainly enjoyed her new figure and the attention it garnered her, there was another downside to her transformation. One that left her wrestling with guilt as she walked home that night.

Mari had always been a very physical person. Every time her gym coach would present his class with some challenge, like the rope climb or dodge ball, Mari would grin eagerly. Even things that made her peers groan in dismay had her overjoyed at the prospect of a new challenge. At her heart pounding in excitement, at feeling so totally alive.

But just as the Rebirth process had taken away her normal life, it had also taken much of the joy she had once taken out of these things. The rope climb was no longer a challenge; it was a pathetic joke that was about as simple as crossing the street. Dodge ball posed all the difficulty of adding two plus two. Even sports such a baseball, which she once lived for, lacked any amount of real challenge.

I can't even really cut loose when I'm playing! If I ever did that, I'd blow my cover in a second! Mari grumbled inwardly, thinking about the orders handed down to her. To not do anything while living her civilian life to betray her transformation, and that meant concealing her full strength. Added to this was the fact that, when you got right down to it, she was playing with an unfair advantage, and her enjoyment of the great American pastime, along with every sport, took a major hit.

Of course, if I really had such a strict moral code, then I'd have stopped playing a long time ago, Mari thought bitterly, already knowing that she wouldn't do something like that. Not only would such a deviation from her normal way of life draw the kind of attention her superiors frowned upon, but even with all the changes she had been through, she still loved the event, the competition, the thrill of victory and the roar of the crowd. It was such a part of her normal life that, even after the changes, the training and everything she had been through, she couldn't imagine giving it up.

Heaving a deep sigh, Mari shook her head sourly as she looked down to watch her feet take her along her aimless trek. The guilt she felt after watching the losing team's coach ream them out for being completely worthless still with her.

Until she heard something from behind. A sound so soft that no normal human could detect it.

Pausing, Mari pricked her ears. She didn't turn to look around, she didn't move. She just stood there, eyes narrowed, waiting for the sound to repeat. A sound like sudden movement.

Several seconds went by, but there was no repetition of that sound, or any other, for that matter. C'mon, Mari, get a grip, she told herself, shaking her head. Not every sound in the world means there's someone following you.

With that admonition, Mari started forward again. This time, however, she kept herself on full alert. The training she had been put through combining with senses that had been honed to perfection. Until her ears pricked again, the sound of air rushing causing her heart to start pounding that much harder. There it is again, Mari thought, her breath quickening. Deciding not to waste any time, she lifted her glasses away from her face, and moved like she was cleaning off some manner of debris. As she did so, she moved the special glasses off to the side, just enough so that the reflective coating to their sides would give her the equivalent of eyes in the back of her head.

She didn't have to fuss with her glasses for long. Within seconds of taking them off, Mari saw a dark figure moving behind her. The motion was furtive, difficult to see in the reflection, but definite proof that, not only was someone following her, but that someone didn't want to be seen.

Well, I'll be, Mari grinned dangerously. Her dour mood form before already forgotten. Looks like I'm going to have a chance to bust this funk I'm in!

Doing her best to appear casual, Mari replaced her glasses and started forward again, carefully looking for the perfect place to take this. If her pursuer was what she thought it was, then he or she wouldn't do anything until they had some privacy. Someplace nice, dark, and most importantly, isolated from outside interference.

Discretely quickening her pace, Mari soon found a suitably isolated alley that would suit the needs of the situation perfectly. With a hopeful smile, she turned down the dark, dank space between two large buildings. To her immense gratification, there was no one else there. No one to see her, no one to help her. And most importantly, no one to get in her way.

Unable to help herself, Mari started humming beneath her breath as she continued forward. An aimless little tune she didn't remember the words to, she continued down the alley. Wondering when her little shadow would make his move. If ever.

That was when Mari received her second surprise of the evening; a short distance ahead, where the alley broke into a cross street, at least half a dozen figures in black body armor and helmets appeared before her. Figures that were already drawing automatic weapons. While she was taking this in, a series of footsteps sounded from behind her. A glance over her shoulder was all she needed to find out that a similar contingent was situated behind her.

As she returned her attention to the group in front of her, Mari grinned infectiously. YES! she thought, lifting her glasses off her face. The instant she did so, the world around her fell into greater focus, becoming that much brighter. Not only could she see her aggressors perfectly, but she could them despite the dark. Someone out there loves me!

Grinning so broadly she almost split her face in half, Mari hesitated just long enough to stuff her glasses into her pockets before leaping off to the side. An instant later, a barrage of gunfire was heard, followed by the sound of expended ammunition hitting concrete. But not even a single round connected with Mari, who had leapt at one of the buildings. Angling herself so as to hit her target feet first, she then rebounded even higher into the air.

"Let's kick this up a notch!" she cried out in delight, already anticipating what was about to happen. Her heart pounding more and more, Mari focused on the power that was inside of her. She concentrated on it, calling to it, telling it to tear through the restraints that she was forced to keep on it in order to keep it and herself in check. Allowed it to come forth, and remake her as it would.

And remake her, it did.

In an instant, her heart began pounding so hard, so furiously, that Mari could scarcely hear anything over it. Blood began racing through her veins, forcing them to expand as the power granted her came forth, her muscles throbbing and pulsating beneath her baseball uniform, growing larger with each hurried pulsation of her heart. In the span of moments, the power within caused her burgeoning form to press hard against her uniform before the simple fabric gave way before her. Her shoulders and biceps tore free of the cloth, her pants split along the legs, and her already ample chest exploded the front of her shirt, just barely contained by her bra.

"Oh, fuck! I love this part!" Mari cried out, exulting in the power that was now freely flowing through her. Her transformation had required mere moments, but in those moments she had begun her descent, and was now coming back down to the ground, landing nimbly and flinging herself towards the first group of assailants, all the while both groups continued to fire.

Not even a single shot landed. Moving at a speed that not even the finest Olympic sprinter could hope to match, Mari zigged and zagged like a madwoman, her enhanced senses making it child's play to see the way the barrage of ammunition was moving towards her, and her augmented body allowed her to bob and weave just enough to avoid every single shot. But she knew that she couldn't avoid every single round forever, especially since she wasn't as capable of tracking the firepower being levied against her from behind. Which meant that she would have to take out the first attackers quickly before someone got lucky.

Coiling her legs beneath her, Mari grinned as she split her pants a bit more and leapt into skyward. Her jump carrying her over ten feet up, the fledgling Super Soldier did a flip in mid-air, the entire world around her seeming to move in slow motion as she brought her legs together just in time to aim them straight at the chest of one of her foes.

Coming down on her adversary, Mari grinned at the solid impact. Body armor or not, that simply had to have cracked a few ribs at least. And the solid think of her victim crashing to the ground placed her right in the middle of this group of attackers. Not losing momentum, Mari took note of the people to her sides. Looking to her right, she instantly fired off a punch to the next creep's jaw. He cried out in agony as he was sent flying into the wall beyond, his impact leaving a crater before he crumpled to the ground, out cold.

Before she could even think of celebrating, Mari felt an arm snake around her neck, just as another hand holding a knife appeared in her peripheral vision. Big mistake. Ignoring the arm restraining her, she grabbed hold of the knife arm with all her strength. Her attacker groaned in pain, his grip on her immediately slacking as his buddies decided to pitch in and help. The three other members of this group raised their weapons, their fingers tensed upon the triggers.

Even as her eyes locked on the stubby machine guns were raised up against her, Mari grabbed hold of the arm that still held her prisoner. Her body tensing with superhuman strength, she used her grip on her assailant to lift him up and sent him flying into the remaining members of this group. She threw with such force that all four of them skidded across the ground, tumbling about until they finally lay still.

"Yes!" Mari hissed out. Tempted to pump her arms in victory. But she hadn't forgotten about the other group present, or their own weapons. She knew the battle wasn't over just yet.

Just as this thought registered, a hailstorm of gunfire echoed through the alley. Grinning wildly as the beating of her heart sounded in her ears, Mari dashed to the side, snatching up one of the machine guns as she dashed towards the shelter of the nearest dumpster. Leaping into its shadow, the fledging superwoman tumbled to the ground, where she quickly took stock of her situation. A few seconds was all it took for her to be satisfied that not a single round of fire had succeeded in connecting with her, something that had her smiling.

So far, it's six down, six to go! Mari thought jubilantly even as she cocked her pilfered weapon. Looking from the safety of her improvised shelter, she spied where five of those six still lay. Now all I have to do is make sure that none of those creeps catch a second wind!

Without hesitation, Mari took aim at her downed victims, and pulled the trigger. The machine shook in her grip as it peppered the downed attackers, gouts of red spurting up with each impact. As soon as she was done, she considered the situation. It was pretty safe to say that those goons wouldn't be a problem, and the other one she hadn't been able to target had hit the wall pretty hard. Between that and the fact that she couldn't make sure he was out of the running without exposing herself to further gunfire made her decide to focus on dealing with the others before anything else.

Which leaves me with one little problem, Mari knew, the silence that now held sway within in the alley deceptive in the extreme. How do I get to those creeps without getting all shot up in the process?

Deciding to get a better idea of what she was up against, Mari quickly brought forth her glasses and held them out just past the protection offered by the dumpster. Looking into the reflective surface, she watched as the remainder of her opponents carefully approached, weapons held at the ready. Let's see now… Mari muttered inwardly, counting off the number of figures to be seen, until she tallied off a grand total of seven. Hmm. More than I thought…or maybe I didn't beat that one creep down hard enough, she decided, thinking of their body armor. Now…how do I kick their asses?

Mari quickly decided against another frontal charge. She had gotten lucky when she had surprised that first bunch, and she knew that part of the reason for her foes' lack of good aim was the fact that her attackers didn't want to wind up shooting themselves in the process. And just sitting around, waiting for them to get into position would not only give them the advantage, but wouldn't be nearly as much fun for her.

So…what to do…? Mari wondered as she replaced her glasses. Leaning back against the dumpster as she put them back on her face, she frowned in thought…just before grinning in feral delight.

Leaping to her feet, Mari edged to the corner of the dumpster. "Hey, boys!" she called out as she grabbed hold of the dumpster, the metal groaning in protest as her fingers dug into the side. "Get ready for a surprise!" And with those words, Mari started pushing the dumpster down the alley, hugging the left wall. Soon she had built up to a steady run, her trigger finger itching with anticipation.

As Mari had expected, her assailants jumped to the other side of the alley in order to avoid the approaching dumpster. And the instant they did, she pelted them with gunfire, crying out in delight as her shots resulted in spurts of red billowing up from all over the forms of her enemies. Cries of delight that were cut short when the machine gun finally clicked on empty.

Startled by this development, Mari lost control of the dumpster just long enough for it to veer to her left, crashing into the wall. She then to slammed headfirst into the dumpster itself, and was momentarily stunned by the impact. As she tried to clear her head, she spotted another of her attackers coming around the dumpster. Not sparing a moment, she swung the gun in her hand, catching her enemy on the chin, driving him back just a step or two. But it was enough as she tossed away the now useless weapon.

"You're nuts, bitch!" the staggered gunman cried out in pain even as another one appeared.

"Wrong, pal! Your nuts!" Mari declared, leaping in at her attacker, grabbing right for the aforementioned part of his anatomy. Squeezing hard enough so as her grip was felt even through the attacker's protective armor, Mari heard him cry out in pain as she twisted him about as the other creep brought his gun to bear. She was just in time, for the instant her current dance partner was between the two of them, she felt his body shaking beneath a shower of gunfire. Which left Mari with just one thing to do. Grabbing hold of her human shield's gun hand, she brought up his machine gun and pulled the trigger. A burst of gunfire exploded across her target, who staggered backwards beneath the barrage. Then she wrenched the gun from her victim's hand, and ended the battle.

Giggling in satisfaction, Mari stood aside and let him fall to the ground. Only to be brought to her senses as another round of gunfire cracked the air, followed by a sharp pain in her front. With a surprised gasp, Mari looked down at her chest, where half a dozen streaks of red were running down her body. Her triumph turning to irritation, she looked up at the armored creep who was still standing in front of her. Paying no heed to the greater number of red stains on his own body.

Grunting her annoyance, Mari placed her free hand on her hip as she eyed the person who had pelted her bare chest with paintball rounds. "You do realize you're supposed to be dead, shithead?"

"So are you, bitch," the gunner retorted. A nasty grin on his voice.

Snorting her disdain, Mari rolled her eyes. "Oh, please!" she sneered, raising her gun…just before pointing it over her shoulder and firing. The instant it discharged, she heard it connect with something behind her. Her grin returning as her attacker hissed in defeat, Mari turned and looked to see the goon she had heard trying to sneak up behind her. Who was even now looking down in dismay at the five red paint marks staining marking him as dead.

"Nice try, pal. I totally have to give you an 'A' for effort," Mari smiled before jerking her thumb at the other gunman. "But I'm pretty sure that using a dead man as a decoy counts as a foul."

"Hmph! You're the idiot who let herself be decoyed," came the disgusted voice of the so-called dead man. "Goddamn bitch..."

"Hmph. And people call me a potty mouth," Mari grumbled with a roll of her eyes and a shake of her head. "Alright. Since nobody else is shooting at me, I'm going to assume we're done trying to beat the crap outta each other for the day," she started playfully. "So how long until somebody comes to pick up you graduates from the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy and tell me what I did wrong this time?"

Even as she spoke these words, Mari heard the engine of some large vehicle moving closer. She then smiled as a large shipping truck complete with trailer rolled up to the entrance to the alley. And grinned even more when one of the doors opened, and revealed a portly figure on the other side.

"Alright, men. Good job here," Dugan muttered, jerking his thumb at the truck. "Now why don't you all do a better job by pulling yourself together and getting yerselves inside? We're on a schedule, you know!"

"Dum Dum!" Mari grinned in delight even as her defeated opponents dragged themselves up to their feet and started towards the truck.

Slowly shaking his head as he watched the troops slowly stagger to the truck, some of them requiring aide just to walk, Dugan commented, "Well, Problem Child...it looks like you haven't lost your touch, now has it?"

"Sure haven't. By the way, thanks for the workout. I needed a distraction," Mari told the Irishman, smiling at the nickname she had picked up during her time in training. "And one of these days, you're gonna have to tell me how you manage to pull off these sneak attacks without the police showing up to bust them up. I mean, just how many surprise drills have you pulled on me this year? Ten? Twelve? And not even a security guard shows up to check and see why all these automatic weapons and missiles are going off in his neighborhood?"

"Oh, there's no big secret to that, Mari. Just a matter of friends in high places and state-of-the-art technology keeping the lid on things. That's all," Dugan smiled, tipping his hat to her. "But enough of that, lass. Any trouble with this lot?"

"Well, they put a good fight, that's for sure," Mari told him before giving him a mock pout. "Just one question; why didn't you send some more? You know my record is forty guys, including snipers and a helicopter!"

"I'm sorry about that, Mari. But in case you haven't noticed, you aren't exactly gentle with your playmates, now are you?" Dugan noted, watching as his troops staggered towards the truck. "And I see we're gonna have to get you a new baseball outfit. Again."

Grinning wickedly, Mari paused to strike a pose and flex her biceps, her grin broadening as her outfit tore a bit more before the lumps of steel that popped out to say hello. "Hey, I've tried holding back in the past, Dum Dum! And all that got me was a paintball to my butt!" Pausing at this, she then retrieved her glasses and put them back in place. "Still, I wish I knew...how the heck is this even possible? How can I go from...well, sorta normal to totally ripped like that?"

"It's like I told you before, Mari. You'd have to ask Dr. Sallis about that, and even then, I'm not sure he's capable of putting the answer into something resembling the King's English," Dugan admitted. "All I can tell you is that one of the things he and the rest of his crew was working on was a way for someone to hide the gains they got from the process so they could pass themselves off as your average person." Shaking his head in amazement, the Irishman added, "And while I can't understand a word of the techno babble he spouts...I certainly can't argue against the results."

"Neither can I," Mari grinned, admiring her figure that much more. "Makes me wish I could go around like this all the time. There are all kinds of jerks I'd like to show off this body to!"

His smile fading at this, Dugan gave the girl a stern look. "Now, Mari..."

"I know, I know, I'm not supposed to blow my cover!" Mari replied, waving her arms in surrender. "Still...it's pretty fun to think about." As Dugan gave a shake of his head and looked up at the sky, as if asking 'why me?', the fledgling superwoman realized that it might be a good idea to cut the comedy. "So, uh...what brings you out here this time? Usually, you just send Coulson to oversee this little tests of yours."

"Coulson's presently rounding up your father, Mari," Dugan announced, causing her to let out a gasp of surprise. "And as for tonight...this wasn't just another test."

"You're...picking up Dad?!" Mari got out, taking a step back. Already knowing that this did not imply good things. "Why? Is something wrong?"

"You could definitely say that," Dugan nodded, a world of meaning in those words. "C'mon. I've got a van coming for us."

"On the way? On the way where?" Mari demanded. When Dugan frowned even more deeply, the magenta-haired girl began getting worried. "Dugan, what is it? Did something happen?"

"Yeah, something happened, all right," Dugan agreed. "Mari…it looks like you'll have to leave for Japan sooner than we expected."

As these words were struck home, Mari's face slowly sagged with confusion. "Leave?" she repeated, staring incredulously at this man she considered as her mentor. "Wh-what do you mean? Leave when?!"

"Within a month's time, at the latest," Dugan told her flatly, sending Mari's jaw plummeting. While she was struggling to comprehend this, the Major went on, "It seems NERV's upped the stakes. And in a big way."

As much as Katsuo hated the situation he and his daughter had been forced to endure since they had become embroiled in SHIELD's machinations, the one thing that made it even remotely tolerable was Dugan's openness. The Irishman had promised to give both him and Mari as fair a shake as he could, and he had been true to his word. To Katsuo's knowledge, Dugan had done his best to be open with them both, involving the elder Makinami in briefings, keeping him updated in her training, and always making sure that he could be there when it was time for Mari's treatments.

And while Katsuo had been displeased to once again have Coulson appearing at his front door, he did appreciate the fact that Dugan was again making the effort to make sure nothing was kept from either Makinami as he explained the situation that had gone down in Japan.

"This is Jet Alone, the test prototype for a fully mechanical combat robot," Dugan spoke gruffly as he sat at a meeting table, not unlike the one where the Makinamis had first met him. The Irishman and Coulson were seated on side of the table, with Mari and Katsuo seated opposite. And at the far end of the table was a large television screen built into the wall, which was presently displaying the image of an immense metal figure. "It was designed and built by Japan Heavy Chemical Cooperative."

"It looks more like a mechanical Hunchback of Notre Dame," Mari commented, something that Katsuo privately agreed with. Unlike the monstrous Unit 03 he had seen, the metal titan on the screen looked positively ridiculous. The head was built into the body itself, its arms hung like limp streamers from its sides, and the legs were out of proportion to its body.

"Perhaps, but it's not as pricy as an Eva, and was built as a proof of concept, more than for its practicality in battle," Dugan informed them. He then went on to describe the particulars of Jet Alone's design, including its AI controls and nuclear reactor. "The UN has had its eye on the Jet Alone project ever since the Angels showed up again…and NERV's coffers became bottomless."

"Yeah, I'll bet," Katsuo grumbled, thinking of the changes that had happened in recent times. Word of the Angels and their ferocity had reached America's shores, though the truth behind Second Impact had not been made public. But with NERV entering the limelight of the world, so had the reality of the taxes that were being funneled into their accounts, something that did not make many people happy. Especially those who weren't too concerned about monsters that were attacking a country on the other side of the planet.

"In any case, the first test of Jet Alone occurred today. With the promise that, if it was successful, the Japanese government and perhaps even the UN would invest in it as a viable alternative to the Evangelions," Dugan went on.

"Uh-oh," Mari grimaced. "And that's just the sort of thing NERV wouldn't like. Why do I get the feeling that things didn't exactly go according to plan?"

Nodding grimly, Dugan motioned the remote control in his hand. "You're right. As soon as Jet Alone started up, the blasted thing went crazy," he announced as the image on the screen changed to a video that looked like it had been taken from up in the sky. It showed the huge robot running in such a fashion that it looked even more ridiculous, especially with the huge cooling rods sticking up and out from its back. "Now, the press hasn't gotten wind of this just yet, but here's the gist. The damned thing had only taken a couple steps when its computer began refusing all commands from base. It stepped on the bunker where the demonstration was being observed, and started rushing towards Atsugi City with its power plant building up towards critical mass."

His eyes and mouth popping wide open, Katsuo gasped, "Omigod…you're saying that thing was gonna nuke an entire city?!"

"It sure came damned close to it," Dugan confirmed unhappily. "However, someone at NERV didn't let it get that far."

"NERV?" Mari repeated blankly as Dugan pressed another button on his remote. The recording advance, now showing a massive, purple figure rushing across the desert, apparently holding something in its hand.

"NERV's Operations Director, a Captain Misato Katsuragi, ordered Unit 01 to be deployed to intercept and stop Jet Alone before it reached civilization," Dugan explained tersely. "She then went inside the damned thing herself…and somehow managed to stop the reactor before it reached terminal."

It took a moment for Katsuo to grasp the meaning behind Dugan's words. "So...you think NERV sabotaged Jet Alone, then?"

"Well, we don't know much in the way of details right now, but it's certainly makes sense," Dugan growled beneath his breath. "Not only does NERV's only competition go down the drain, but they even have one of their officers risking life and limb to save the day. Quite the opportunity to look saintly, wouldn't you agree?" As both Makinamis nodded their understanding, the Irishman continued. "Well, in any case, when the big boys in Washington heard about this little stunt, they decided that it was time to put a bug up NERV's rear. And in a big hurry."

"So…that's why they're sending me in early?" Mari squeaked out. "But Dum Dum, I…!"

"Mari, I know! We were hoping for a bit more time to get your prepped before we sent you in, but we just don't have the time anymore," Dugan told her, his eyes lowering to the floor of the van. "Now, look. The head of NERV Central has already expressed interest in having Unit 05 and it's pilot brought over there. They've had some close calls over there, so it's safe to assume that they want all the firepower they can get over there. And while we've been making a show of resisting it...well, we're going to be making arrangements for you to be transferred over to Japan. And while we're doing that, we're going to be getting you up to speed, and ready to ship out."

As soon as these words were said, Mari looked as if several slabs of concrete had come to settle squarely on her shoulders. As Katsuo looked at his daughter, clad now in a jumpsuit, he saw not the muscle-bound Super Soldier that he knew she could become at will. He didn't see the great-granddaughter of Captain America.

He saw his little girl. The same little girl that his departed wife had been holding the day she had been brought into this world. A little girl that Katsuo had tried and failed to protect from being exploited.

"Tell me something," Katsuo demanded, giving Dugan a look. "Once Mari gets to Japan...what will happen to her?"

"What do you mean?" Coulson wondered.

"Where will she stay?" Katsuo elaborated, giving the SHIELD men a pointed look. "Who's going to take care of her?"

"Dad...!" Mari began, giving him a look of protest.

"Now, now, Mari, relax. It's a fair question," Dugan assured her. "The fact is, that's part of the reason I wanted your father here for this. I figured he'd have some questions he'd like answered before we moved ahead with this."

"You figured right," Katsuo informed him. "Now then, what will happen to Mari once she reaches Japan?"

"Well...once Mari's on her way, I'll be heading to Japan as well. To make arrangements for proper living quarters, as well as a guardian to keep an eye on her," Dugan explained. "And if you're wondering about security, we're already setting up a support team to ship out with her."

"A support team?" Mari repeated quizzically.

"Aye, lass. You'll be needing some backup there. And while we haven't had any luck in adapting the serum to other people just yet, you still won't be going it alone," Dugan assured her. "You'll have a security team and maintenance crew to take care of your equipment, as well as keep an eye out for you, in case you wind up in a spot of trouble."

"Equip-? Oh, of course. I'm going in as a spy, right?" Mari asked, smiling sardonically. "And what self-respecting spy doesn't have spy gadgets?"

"None that I'm aware of," Coulson remarked, looking a bit smug. "And spy gadgets won't be the only thing we'll be giving you."

"Aye, but that can wait for the moment." Then Dugan focused on Katsuo and continued. "So to answer your question, we will be seeing to Mari's daily needs."

While he appreciated this answer, Katsuo wasn't entirely convinced or satisfied. "And just how long will Mari be in Japan?"

A beat passed as Dugan considered this matter. "That's...harder to answer, I'm afraid," he admitted. "While we've seen three Angels so far, there's no telling how many more are on the way. And then there's the matter of finding out if NERV's up to something they shouldn't be." After a moment of considering the matter, Dugan finally shrugged. "The bottom line is...I don't know. Why?"

It was an honest answer, and a fair one. At least as close to one as Katsuo could expect under the circumstances. And it also caused him to make a decision. A difficult decision, but ultimately, it was the only one he could make. "Then...you won't need to get Mari a guardian," he told the SHIELD agents in a resolute manner. "Because I'm going with her."

The only expression of surprise this got from Dugan or Coulson was slightly widened eyes. But Mari, who had the worst poker face since her mother, reacted much more strongly. "Wha- no, Dad!" she protested, rising from her seat. "Y-you don't have to do that!"

"Yes. Yes, I do," Katsuo sternly responded. "You might be a Super Soldier now, Mari, but you're still my daughter. And there might not be a lot I can do to help you...but I can at least be there for you when you need me."

"But...Dad, please!" Mari pleaded to him. "You've got a life here in America, and -!"

"And so do you, Mari!" Katsuo retorted. "Your school, your friends, everything you have here…you shouldn't have to leave it all behind!"

"Yeah, I know that! But that doesn't mean you have to do it as well!" Pausing for a quick breather, Mari hesitated before trying again. "Look…Dad…I appreciate what you're trying to do here. I really do," she told him earnestly, taking a few ginger steps closer. "But…Dad…if you did go…what could you do? You can't do my job for me, and…if NERV ever found out what I was doing, it wouldn't just be my ass on the line out there! They could come after you as well!"

"I'm perfectly aware of that, Mari," Katsuo assured her.

"Are you?!" Mari tried again, spreading her hands out to her sides. "What's to stop NERV from sending a platoon of goons after you and putting a gun to your head to get at me?! You might as well step into NERV HQ and say, 'Hi! Please use me as bait in your traps'!" Katsuo didn't say anything to this. He just stood there, watching as his daughter started looking more and more annoyed. Something that only served to spur her ire onwards. "Dad, please! I don't want you getting hurt because of me!"

"And I don't want to get hurt either, Mari. Don't forget that I'm the coward in this family," Katsuo reminded her. Then he frowned, his expression stern and caring at the same time. "But you know something? There's something that scares me more than all the thugs NERV could ever send at me. And you know what that is?" When Mari didn't answer right away, he thought back to a day years ago, when his heart had all but completely shattered. "The thought of living alone for months, knowing my little girl was off facing something I couldn't protect her from. Waiting day after day for a messenger or a letter in the mail, telling me that you were gone."

As the two Makinamis glared at each other, with Katsuo certain that his daughter was already trying to come up with a new argument to dissuade him, an unexpected voice chimed in. "You know, Mari," Dugan sounded, drawing both their attentions, "I think your father has the right idea here."

Struck speechless by this statement, Katsuo could look in astonishment at the Irishman. But as was usual, Mari was not so easily silenced. "What?! Dum Dum, have you lost it?!" she demanded incredulously. "My dad wants to with me to Japan! To a warzone with monsters that would make Godzilla run home to his mommy! And you're not even going to try and talk him out of it?!"

"I'm afraid not, Mari. And do you want to know why?" When Mari didn't immediately respond, Dugan gave her a forceful look. "Because I think your father coming along with you might be the best possible situation for everyone involved."

"And how the heck do you figure that?!" Mari countered. "How could having a potential hostage with me be a good idea?"

"For starters, girl, it'll help you avoid suspicion." When Mari raised a questioning eyebrow, Dugan elaborated with, "Think about it. You get sent off to Japan while your father just sits around here, doing nothing but twiddling his thumbs? Maybe it's just me, but that strikes me as the kind of thing that would raise a few eyebrows. Especially given that he does all his work online, and can do that anywhere."

For a moment, Katsuo frowned, a bit surprised that Dugan knew about how he worked. But then he remembered the kind of people he was dealing with, and decided that he should be more surprised if the Irishman wasn't aware of how he earned his living. "And having him stay here wouldn't be enough to protect him if NERV got wind of what you're doing," Dugan continued in all seriousness. "Take it from me, lass; with the kind of resources NERV has access to, just sticking around here wouldn't be enough to keep him safe from them."

As both Makinamis processed this, Katsuo found himself thinking of the NERV installations that were located in America, the resources they had access to. As well as the fact that they had sabotaged a nuclear death machine just to get what they wanted. "Nice, Dum Dum. Way to make a girl feel better," Mari grumbled sourly, sounding much like Katsuo felt about this. "Remind me never to ask you for sympathy if I ever get my arm blown off."

"Now, now, Mari! Don't be so snippy! When you think about it, you couldn't ask for a better arrangement!" Dugan told in her a mock-scolding voice. "Don't be forgetting that we're sending a support team with you, lass. We'll have everything in place so that they'll be close to where you'll be living. At least with you father along, they'll be able to keep a close eye on him as well."

"It makes sense," Coulson admitted. "Having your father nearby would add to your cover, and make it easier for us to keep people nearby for his protection."

"Besides...I think it would be a good idea to have family with you, lass," Dugan stated emphatically, much to both Makinamis' surprise. "Mari...it's criminal enough what we're doing to you here. At least this way you won't be without your father." Grunting her frustration, Mari was surprised when the Irishman spoke in a more solemn. "And in the times to come, I'd be willing to bet that you'll be needing his support more than you realize. And that kind of support is best conveyed in person, not over a phone or by webcam or any of that malarkey." Giving a soft, sad smile, Dugan gave her a coy look. "After all...it's not like you can hug someone online. Or brush away their tears, or check in on them when they're asleep at night."

Her features hardening at this, Mari gave Dugan a hard, long look. "And if something does happen...?"

"Then we'll just have to make certain that it doesn't come to that," Dugan responded earnestly. A heavy silence fell on them, one that lasted until the Irishman briskly clapped his hands together. "And now that that's settled...there's something I'd like to show you, Mari."

"Huh - wha-?!" Mari sputtered out, thrown by the sudden shift in topic. "What do you mean? What -?!"

"As you said, what kind of spy doesn't have spy gadgets?" Coulson reminded her, already rising to his feet. "As it happens, we have some equipment we want you to start practicing with before you head out to Japan."

"Right. Coulson, be a good man and take Mari to the hanger. Show her some of the stuff we've been working on for her," Dugan instructed him. "I'll be along just as soon as I have a word with her father. There are a few things I want to make clear to him, that's all."

"Of course," Coulson nodded before making his way to the door. "This way, Mari," he told her, waving for her to follow. "I'm sure whatever it Dugan has to say won't take long."

Mari was hesitant at first, looking from Coulson to Katsuo to Dugan, then back to Katsuo once again, a heavy frown tugging her lips. But eventually, reluctance marking her entire body, the young Super Soldier turned and made her way over to the bland SHIELD agent, who opened the door for her.

Once both of them had left, with Coulson closing the door behind him, Katsuo turned towards the SHIELD Major. "You look surprised, man."

Slowly nodding to this, Katsuo replied, "I guess I am. I'd...I'd have thought that you wouldn't want me to go with her."

"Yeah, well...don't be so surprised," Dugan told him even as he rose from his seat. "The reasons I've gave for supporting you going along, they were all true enough. I think it would be better for everybody involved if you were to head out with Mari." The Irishman made his way over towards Katsuo, coming to stand before the elder Makinami. "She did have point, though. Tokyo-3 isn't a very safe place these days."

"Hmph. Neither is anywhere else, according to you," Katsuo reminded him. "Just one of the reasons I didn't want Mari to have anything to do with you people."

A beat passed before Dugan nodded. "That's fair enough," he was forced to concede. "But...well, those weren't the only reasons why I agreed to your decision." A bit surprised by this, Katsuo eyed the Irishman for a time, who gave a sad little smile. "You're not the only family man here, Mr. Makinami. And you're certainly not the only one here...who's lost somebody they loved."

Taken aback by both Dugan's words and the emotion which they carried, Katsuo just stood there for a time, looking at him, before finally sighing. "I see."

"Yeah...I think you do." After a brief time, Dugan took the emotion that he was wearing on his face and shoved it behind a mask of Irish toughness. "But I warn you, this will be a rough road for the both of you."

"I knew that the instant you had us both dragged in here in the first place," Katsuo shot back.

"And then there's the matter of your house," Dugan reminded him. "What do you intend to do? Sell it?"

"Not. On. Your. Life," Katsuo shot back, shuddering at the thought of giving up his home permanently. "I'll probably just...rent it out while we're gone. Or something like that."

"You don't have a lot of time before you two will have to head out," Dugan pointed out. "Telling your neighbors about your moving and why you're doing it, getting everything all packed up...that's going to take time."

Giving Dugan a nasty look, Katsuo retorted, "You're the one with all the big-time SHIELD connections. Why don't you help out?"

"Me?!" Dugan exclaimed in mock horror. "Do you have any idea just how much paperwork it's gonna take to authorize all of that?!"

"No. But I do know that it's not going to be you out there on the front line, risking her neck against giant monsters and a top secret organization. It's not you who's being pulled from his home and everything else he knows," Katsuo countered. "If you're not the one doing the job, then you might as well do something to make doing that job easier." Then he gave a light snort. "Besides...how bad can a little paperwork be?"

"You haven't seen the mountains they breed here at SHIELD, man," Dugan replied, making a face as he led the way out of the meeting room. "All that red tape and trying to navigate it...given the choice, I'd rather be out in the field again!"

"Given the choice, I'd rather you were out in the field again, too," Katsuo declared as the two of them moved to follow Mari and Coulson. With the elder Makinami already wondering what kind of equipment they had prepared for his daughter.

Author's Notes: Well, I'm not too sure about this chapter. To be honest, I think I put too much in too little space. Still, I thought it would be a good idea to try picking up the pace a little, especially in light of people's comments of late. Still, I hope you'll read and review. And maybe check out my other stories as well?

Some of you might be wondering about my plans to overhaul Unit 05 for additional combat power. That comes from (finally!) having access to the English Dub for that scene from Rebuild in which they discuss how quickly Unit 05 was completed, and that it hadn't been properly synched and so on. Furthermore, it was only designed to function within Bethany Base. So since I intend for it to be used a bit more prominently in this story, it only makes sense that it get a serious upgrade to rid it of its Crippling Overspecialization.

In regards to Mari's transformation, it occurred to me that it might be easier for her to keep her cover if she and her Captain America persona had different builds. I know, it's kind of a cheap way out, but I was kind of inspired by Black Cat in "Spider-Man: The Animated Series", whose powers were derived from an updated Super Soldier formula, and could transform in such a way.

Besides, clothing damage makes for fun fan service. And who doesn't love that?

I'd also like to take a moment to thank Archdruid-Sephiroth for allowing me to use the idea of having Mari's glasses limit her visual acuity to normal levels. It's one of those ideas I wish I had thought of myself.

Ryousanki, I have got some very much major plans in store for this story. Including some extra special tweaks involving a big idea I recently had. Hope you enjoy.

Arthur Hanson, yeah, I know what you mean about how different Rebuild is going to be. I've even heard some theories about Mari's true identity that's got me totally bugged. But that's one of the beauties of fanfiction; the ability to rewrite reality, so to speak.

Mike313, I wasn't trying to have Mari keep her head too well. I was trying to portray her as coping with humor. Besides, I've seen some people cope with some pretty bizarre things. Still, I am trying to keep things in perspective, so to speak.

Okay, that's done. Time for some fun!

Omake 1

"Ah...that's a bit better," Orion groaned as he sat back at his desk, a heating pad lining the back of his chair, soothing the multitude of bruises and other injuries he was still suffering from. "Glad to see you all again, Superwomen fans. And I'm proud to present the third and final round of superhero possibilities I considered for Mari, only to subsequently discard them."

"No offense, but am I ever glad this is the last of these things for me," Mari remarked. "It might be fun for the viewers, but it's no fun for me!"

"Ignoring that..." Orion grumbled, clearing his throat. "Anyway, let's look at some other possibilities that I might have gone with for Mari. Starting with...the Sentry."

A moment later, Mari was garbed in a gold costume with a black cape and belt. Upon the belt was a golden letter 'S'. "Um..." the bespectacled girl muttered, looking at herself. "This looks kinda familiar..."

"The Sentry gained his powers from a more advanced version of the Super Soldier serum, and as a result has powers well beyond the human norm," Orion explained. "He can fly to the sun and back in minutes, he can also fly through the sun without any ill-effect. He can trade blows with the Hulk, he can project energy blasts from his hands and eyes, and has superhuman senses."

"Seriously, this costume looks really familiar," Mari remarked with some biting sarcasm. "Doesn't DC already have somebody with an 'S' on his suit?"

"Which brings me to one of the reasons why Sentry was out," Orion continued, not missing a beat. "Sentry's abilities and his costume are so close to Superman's that it's ridiculous. I really didn't like the idea of employing a copy of Superman for the Marvel-based Superwomen of Eva stories. And that's the least of my reasons for not going with that power set."

"You mean there's another reason?!" Mari demanded.

"Yes, and it's a really nasty one, and it's name is the Void," Orion explained in a grim voice. "The Void is basically a projection of all the evil in the Sentry, and for every act of good done by the Sentry, the Void will do something equally evil. For example, if Sentry saves a million lives, Void will then take a million lives."

"Ouch. Talk about being blessed with some major league suck," Mari groaned as the costume she wore faded away.

"Exactly. Not the kind of thing that would lend itself well to the world of Evangelion." Then Orion made a face and added, "Well, it would, but not in a good way."

"Translation, it would be the end of the world before Gendo could even start Third Impact," Mari muttered sourly.

"Pretty much. So let's move on to our next possibility." With that, Mari found herself clad in a green-and-yellow bodysuit, as well as a brown jacket. "And that would be Rogue of the X-Men."

"Hmm..." Mari remarked, considering herself. "Well, as costume's go, this is a pretty good fit. I can't say much for the colors, but...huh?" Looking up at her hair, she added, "What's with this patch of white?"

"That's just Rogue's natural color scheme. Go with it," Orion instructed her. "Rogue is a mutant with the ability to absorb energy from any living thing she touches. So naturally, the powers she has vary, depending on what she's touched in the past, the permanence of the absorption, that sort of thing. But not only can she absorb energy; she can also absorb the knowledge, skills, and even specific anatomical features from her victims. For example, if she draws power from a human with natural wings, Rogue will sprout wings of her own."

"Which must be pretty harsh on her wardrobe," Mari noted.

"But that's not the only problem Rogue tends to have," Orion pointed out. "In most cases, Rogue's energy absorbing powers have no off switch. Meaning that she has to avoid skin contact with the rest of the world unless she wants to risk putting everyone she touches into a coma!"

"Ugh...!" Mari groaned unhappily. "That'll kill a girl's love life in a real hurry...!"

"Exactly. The potential for disaster was way too high for me to go that route. And I don't want to even think about what would happen if you were to make skin contact with an Eva or an Angel under those circumstances," Orion shuddered. "So Rogue was out. Leaving us with one final possibility I'd like to cover."

"And that would be...?" Mari wondered as Rogue's costume faded away.

"Thundra, warrior woman from an alternate future!" Orion declared as Mari's body swelled up, becoming taller and more muscular. Becoming garbed in a rather revealing outfit of red with gold trim. Golden lightning bolts lined her pants, leading into golden boots, and a large chain was wrapped about her right forearm.

"Hmm...not a bad look!" Mari decided, flexing her biceps and smiling appreciatively.

"Thundra is a Femizon from a future dominated by women, and has the muscle needed to go toe-to-toe with heavyweights like the Thing, She-Hulk, and Titania," Orion explained. "A natural warrior and a strong ally to those she considered a friend, she's also a skilled combatant with extensive fighting training."

"Sounds cool," Mari nodded before narrowing her eyes. "And, of course, I'm sure you had a perfectly good reason for not giving me this role."

"Indeed, I did. And that reason is Misato/She-Hulk," Orion explained. "We already have a super strong, super indestructible female on the team, and I really didn't see the need to replicate that power set with another lady."

"That makes sense, I suppose," Mari shrugged.

"And then there's...Thundra's attitude," Orion explained enigmatically. "Thundra is from a time and world in which females are considered utterly and thoroughly superior to men, and she has little use for males. Now this, coupled with some of the views regarding Mari and Asuka..."

"Hey! Are you talking about me?" came Asuka's voice. Looking over towards the door of Orion's office, both Mari and Orion watched as she poked her head in. "I swear, if you're scheming another one of those humiliating omakes -!"

"No, no! Nothing of the sort! But...to be honest, I'm glad to see you, Asuka!" Orion grinned wickedly before reaching into his desk and pulling out a remote control. Pointing it at that redhead, he pressed a button. "Ha! Take that!"

"Take what? What are you -?!" Asuka started, only to gasp in surprise as she looked down at herself. "Hey - what the - I can't power up! I can't turn into Ghost Rider!"

"I know. What, you think I wouldn't have learned my lesson after that last beating you gave me?" Orion asked mockingly. "Besides...I think you have more important things to worry about...right, Mari?"

"Ohhh...aren't you a cute little thing...!" Mari in Thundra's guise purred, her eyes twinkling as she looked at Asuka.

"What are you -?!" Asuka started, only to freeze in horror as the transformed Mari rose from her seat, grinning lustfully. "Oh...oh, no...you stay the hell away from me!"

"Aw, don't be so shy!" Mari grinned as she started towards the panic-stricken redhead. "I wanna party! And you look like the perfect girl to party down with!" With that, the futuristic Amazon darted towards Asuka with her hands outstretched. Prompting the redhead to gasp and flee as quickly as her feet could carry her.

As the two girls departed, Orion just sat there, grinning evilly. "Yeah, I know what you're all thinking out there. I truly am a sadistic bastard for doing something like this." Then he shrugged and smiled, "Well...either that, or you're thanking me for providing some serious fuel for your imaginations!"

Omake 2

Unable to make sense of what was being said, Mari looked towards the blur she knew to be her father. Only for her mouth to pop open in shock when she saw something sliding up before the transparent material enclosing her. She could no longer see her father or anything else; all she could see was some kind of strange distortion her nearsighted eyes couldn't even begin to interpret. Then she heard a mechanical whirring accompanied by metal sliding against metal. Looking about, she could see just well enough to discover that something was emerging from the floor and ceiling.

"Commencing bombardment!" Dr. Sallis declared. And instant later...Mari's entire world went completely white.

"Ahhhhhhh!" Mari cried out, instinctively closing her eyes as they were seared by the intense light. But even that wasn't enough to blot out the overwhelming brilliance that surrounded her.

Nor could it shield her from the way her body reacted to the Vita-Rays.

Mari let out a sharp gasp as she realized something else was happening. That as she had been told, the Vita-Rays that were now saturating her body were interacting with both the primer and the Super Soldier serum. The three parts of the Rebirth process were combining together, and Mari felt like her entire body was exploding. It was as if someone had shoved a lightning rod into her mouth just in time for a bolt to strike. Her nerves felt like they were on fire, her skin felt like it was being rubbed raw, her blood churned and boiled, her muscles swelled and felt like they were about to pop right out of her body. Everything from her head down to the tips of her toes was suddenly wracked with convulsions, shaking wildly as sheer power crackled through her veins. Her lungs heaved breath after desperate breath, all the while her heart thundered in her chest like an out-of-control freight train.

"So far, so good," Dr. Ross muttered as she observed the readings coming in from the Rebirth chamber. "Vital signs are looking normal."

"Well, of course they're normal," Dr. Sallis gently chided her. "Mari's cellular structure and this new serum go together perfectly! They were made for each other!"

"It certainly looks that way. I -" Then Dr. Ross paused as she considered her colleague's words. "Wait a minute...new serum?! What new serum?! I thought we were using Formula CA-78!"

"Well...that was the original plan," Dr. Sallis admitted. "But...well, we never going to get anywhere with all these worrywarts holding us back. So I decided to implement my newest formula; Formula TA-90!"

Her mouth popping open in horror, Dr. Ross shrilled, "You gave her an unauthorized, experimental formula?! Are you -?!"

Before she could finish her question, an alarm began to blare. "Oh, no...!" Dr. Ross gasped as she returned her focus to her console, her eyes widening at the sight of Mari's vital signs skyrocketing uncontrollably. "Abort the procedure! Emergency abort! Shut down everything befo-!"

A loud, crashing sound cut Dr. Ross off before she could finish her alarmed outburst. Looking about, she and everyone else saw Mari smashing her way through the plexiglass surrounding the Rebirth chamber. As they looked on in horror, the saw the girl fly through the air before landing a short distance away from where Dr. Ross stood.

"Mari?" Dr. Ross gasped out, too afraid to move. Something that became more pronounced when Mari looked up, a twisted, bestial smile on her face, with her eyes glowing green.

"RRRAAARRGGHH!" Mari roared before the girl began to change. Her skin shifted to a grey-green, her bones cracking violently as her muscled swelled horrifically beneath skin that was becoming more like scales. Swelling up horrendously, the girl quickly burst out of the medical gown she had been wearing, her legs shifting about dramatically. Her feet became somewhat reptilian as spurs of bone jutted out of her heels and elbows, and her back became heavily over-muscled, spikes erupting from her spinal column and poking through her skin.

"Omigod!" Katsuo shrieked in consummate horror. "My little girl...y-you turned her into...an Abomination!"

"Damn right, they did!" Mari agreed with a monstrous grin of pure malevolence. "Now...give me something to fight!"

As virtually everyone else in the complex ran in pure horror from their creation, Dr. Ross simply groaned in weary resignation. "Oh, no. Not again...!"

(Author's Note: This omake will make a good deal more sense for those of you who have seen the 2008 film, "The Incredible Hulk")