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 1: Thunderstruck

"All systems are go for the activation test," came a voice over the intercom system, followed the appearance of a holographic window within the Entry Plug. "Pilot Vincennes, do you copy?"

"I read you loud and clear, Captain Sanchez," replied the girl within the Entry Plug as she looked at the holographic face before her, the face of a well-worn military man.

"Glad to hear it," Captain Sanchez replied evenly as he studied the pilot who was currently at the heart of one of humanity's ultimate weapons."Everything's set on our end for the activation test. "What about you, Prodigy?"

Maria Vincennes allowed herself a tiny smile at the use of the nickname, most particularly at how well-deserved it was. "All systems check out on my end," she soon replied, quickly glancing over her controls one more time, just to be certain. "And as for me, well…I'm as ready as I'll ever be, sir."

Nodding, Captain Sanchez turned to someone offscreen. "Alright. Commence activation," he ordered. At this, someone offscreen began, with other voices soon following. The various technicians that Maria knew to be present working to make the Captain's orders a reality. "Brace yourself, Prodigy. Unit 04 might be a Production Model, but the first activation can be pretty nasty. Especially if we managed to mess up getting all the bugs out of the system."

Maria was perfectly aware of this. She had read the reports from NERV Central regarding the disastrous activation tests involving the Prototype, Evangelion Unit 00, as well as the resulting mutilation of its pilot, Rei Ayanami. But the white-armored Unit 04 was a Production Model, vastly superior to the outdated Prototype and Test Type Evangelions. It didn't suffer from the same limitations as they did. And even if they did…I've trained too long and too hard to be a pilot to back down now…

Listening as the technicians went about their work, Maria narrowed her eyes in concentration, focusing on the biomechanical titan she was at the helm of. Waiting for the moment when the A-10 nerve clips would be activated, linking her mind to the body of a being of pure power. A weapon unlike anything ever dreamt of in the past, conceived for a war that was beyond anything ever fought before.

This is going to be amazing…! Maria couldn't help but think as the people running the activation experiment moved up to the third stage activation. Already imaging what it would be like to be linked to the Evangelion in that way. To actually feel as if you were dozens of stories tall, a colossus capable of wiping out an entire city on a whim. To have all that power at your command. I've spent years dreaming of it, working for this, and now…!

"Approaching critical stage!" came another voice over the intercom. "2.4…1.5….09….05….02…!"

An instant later, Maria felt it happen. It wasn't much; a pricking in her mind, as if she had developed a brand new sense that she had never had before. An awareness of something outside of herself.

An awareness that quickly became larger. And stronger.

"Sir! She's cleared the borderline!" came another voice from offscreen. "Unit 04 has been activated!"

Smiling at this, Captain Sanchez returned his focus to the teen girl. "You hear that, Maria? A successful synchronization."

I already know that! Maria thought eagerly as she felt her awareness of the biomechanical titan's mighty form grow. More and more, she felt as if Unit 04 was a part of her, and she, a part of it. She could almost feel the white armored plating it wore, feel as if it were her standing in the testing area of NERV's Second Branch, held in place by as series of restraints that felt like nothing to her. I bet I could pop free of these things like they were toilet paper!

But Maria said none of this. She was smarter than that. All she said in response was a subdued, "Looks like it, sir."

"Everything looks good so far," Captain Sanchez reported, studying the readouts. "Looks like an initial synch of…25.8!"

What?! That's all?! was Maria's annoyed response. For as much as she knew that it took time and training to build a synch value with an Evangelion, she had already been training. She had worked for almost a decade for this moment, and she had expected better.

When Maria failed to issue a verbal response, Captain Sanchez mustered a sympathetic smile. "Hey, don't look so down!" he told her in what was intended to be a soothing voice. "We've all heard about the famous 3rd Child and how he got over 40% in his very first battle, but c'mon! 25.8 on your first try is a good score!"

Not good enough, Maria thought. What she actually said was, "Sorry, Captain. It's just…I was hoping I could do a bit better. That's all."

Captain Sanchez's expression became even more sympathetic. "Hey, you'll get better soon enough. I'd bet a month's salary on it," he assured her, smiling his confidence. "Now, what say we put Unit 04 through its first paces?"

I thought you'd never ask! Maria thought. What she actually said was, "Yes, sir."

A short while later, far too short for Maria's taste, the blonde Child was changing into her civilian garb after having shed her plug suit and washing the last of the LCL from her form. If there's one thing I don't like about being a designated Child, it has to be LCL, the child prodigy thought as she combed out her long, silky blonde hair. I know they say that the stuff improves synch ability and cushions impact, but can't they make the stuff smell like something other than blood?!

Giving a slight shake of her head, Maria took an experimental sniff of her hair, just to make sure that she rid herself of the last of the blood stench. Once that was done, she began dressing in her usual outfit. A short skirt and halter top that was suitably revealing of her fine figure, a long overcoat that was tasteful and attractive for a girl her age, a headband, and she finished it off with a collar-like necklace with a crucifix pendant at the front. Once this was down, she went to a full-length mirror and studied her reflection, making certain that she looked her best before exiting the women's changing room.

As soon as she entered one of the many hallways of NERV's Second Branch, the blonde Child noticed a familiar figure standing just to the side of the door, a cheerful expression on her face as she said, "Well, hey there, Maria!"

"Hi, Rebecca," Maria replied politely to her guardian.

"So, I hear congratulations are in order," Rebecca replied, a happy smile on her face. "A synch ratio of 25.8 on your first try. And during Unit 04's very first activation, to boot!"

Caught between pleasure at this reminder of her accomplishment and annoyance that it had fallen short of her expectations, Maria just nodded and replied, "Thanks. I...I did okay, I guess."

At this self-depreciating comment, Rebecca Carlson's smile faltered somewhat before she reinforced it. "Hey, c'mon! You did great today!" she assured her ward. "I mean, think about! This was Unit 04's first activation! That thing probably has several tons of bugs to work out before you can really synch with it!"

It certainly was a valid point, Maria was forced to admit, even if all was simply an effort to make her feel better about her somewhat disappointing performance. After a few moments considering this, she shrugged mildly and admitted, "I suppose so…"

"Suppose? Hey, don't be so down on yourself!" Rebecca told her in no uncertain terms. "You're off to a good start! And you're just going to get better! Just watch!"

You know I'm going to do better! Maria thought. What she actually said in response was, "I know…I just feel like I should have done better this time."

Rebecca pressed her lips together and studied her ward for a moment, shifting her attractive figure about for a bit before declaring, "Don't worry about, Maria. Like I said; you did fine this time. And you're just going to keep getting better." A knowing look curling about her face, she bent down to look her ward square in the eyes. "As a matter of fact, you should know that Captain Sanchez is already scheduling your first combat simulation!"

This certainly got the pilot's attention. "Really?! Already?!" Maria cried out, too excited to maintain the nominally polite air she normally upheld. "When?! When is it?!"

"I don't know yet. But he did say that he would let me know when he was ready," Rebecca assured her. "Which gives us plenty of time to relax, celebrate your big success today." Then she cocked her head to the side. "So what do you say, Maria? Does dinner at Santorini's sound like a good reward for your hard work today?"

"Santorini's?!" Maria got out, unable to keep the smile from her face as she thought about dinner at her favorite Italian restaurant, with the possibility of a desert of their famous cheesecake. "I…wow…thanks, I…!"

Chuckling lowly, Rebecca stood tall and smiled at her charge. "No need to thank me. You're the one who did all the hard work, remember," she assured Maria. "Besides, I'm getting something out of this as well. Remember, you're not the only one who loves Santorini's!"

Maria knew this perfectly well. After all, it had been her guardian Rebecca that had introduced her to the scrumptiously delectable array of dishes that were available at Santorini's in the first place. It was a tad on the pricy side, so they tended to only go there on special occasions, such as when Maria either wowed her supervisors at her progress, or needed some cheering up. Or in this case, both, she decided. Still…if it's Santorini's…

"So…when do we go?" Maria finally asked, her stomach issuing tiny hungry rumblings.

"No time like the present," Rebecca told her, giving Maria a gentle pat on her back to prompt her to start forward. Not needing much prompting beyond the prospect of a yummy Santorini's cheesecake as the two of them started towards the NERV parking garage.

As the woman sat at a table within Santorini's, unnoticed by any of the patrons or the staff, she was aware of the many scents and sensations that filled the restaurant. The food and service were certainly better than many other such businesses that she had been to before, but it was neither the food nor the service that had drawn her to this place.

It was the unlikely pair that she now watched in silence. One was a dark-skinned woman in her prime, who was only of marginal importance in her mission. It was the other, the younger blonde who was exchanging pleasantries with her companion, that was the real reason the woman was here.

Despite the fact that the woman thought this was an incredibly bad idea.

I still cannot bring myself to believe that I have been reduced to this, the woman thought vehemently as she watched the two of them relax, enjoying food, drink, and each other's company. A mere errand girl, an outcast trapped in this infernal place…and that this duty may well be my only salvation!

It was a nauseating thought for the woman to be forced to stomach, she who had once been rightfully so greatly revered for her power and beauty. For even though she still retained the latter, she had been all but completely stripped of the former. Putting her in the position where it would be only through the successful completion of her current mission that she could escape this dreadful land, and regain her former station.

No matter how important my task may be…to have fallen so low…! the woman thought scornfully. And all for the sake of that…that mewling little child?!

It was that part, more than anything, which made the woman's insides twist about in disgust. For while this task was essential, both on a personal level and to her homeland, being tasked with to cow-towing to such a pitiful little creature, playing the role of guide and guardian to something so utterly inferior was completely and thoroughly nauseating. Made even worse by the sheer arrogance the woman could see in the girl, despite her efforts to disguise it in meek behaviors and polite mannerisms.

I can see through you so clearly, you pretentious little cow, the woman thought scornfully. So proud, so smug, so utterly and thoroughly pathetic…how can so much depend upon something as pitiful as you?!

Shaking her head in disgust, still unnoticed by those around her, the woman sighed in low disgust. For even as irksome as her task was, the pact had still been made. She had no choice but to uphold her end of the bargain she had struck, not if she wanted to reclaim that which was rightfully hers. Besides, she thought, trying to find some measure of silver lining in the clouds that filled her situation, no one said that I couldn't…amuse myself somewhat while I fulfill my tasks…

With that in mind, the woman continued to study the unlikely pair. Already considering ways she might wring some enjoyment from this onerous duty, she rose up from her seat and prepared for the next stage. Still…to play nursemaid to such a lowly creature… she thought, unable to escape just how disdainful it was for her to have fallen so long. Volla has clearly gone mad…it is simply impossible for a pitiful child such as her to be the one…!

Later that evening, Maria was relaxing in the passenger's seat of Rebecca's car, content to do little more than to just sit back, already half-asleep from a stomach full of delicious Italian cooking. "Getting sleepy, my little genius?" Rebecca wondered as they navigated the lonely Nevada roads between Santorini's and their home.

"Kind of," Maria replied, sighing as she thought back to the yummy cheesecake dessert that had been the crowning glory to their celebratory meal.

"Well, do me a favor and try not to nod off until after we get back home!" Rebecca pleaded of her. "It's still a ten minute drive, and you're getting too heavy to carry inside!"

Managing a muffled laugh, Maria was unable to muffle the yawn that subsequently escaped her lips. There was nothing quite like a full stomach to put her to sleep, and their dinner and dessert had certainly been filling. At the same time, she doubted that she could stay awake that long; while Santorini's was relatively close to NERV's Second Branch, it was still far enough that it took a bit of driving to get there and back. This, coupled with the largely empty roads of the Nevada desert, made for a long, boring drive. And thus the perfect combination to quickly render Maria insensate in no time.

So if I want to stay awake, then I better keep myself occupied, Maria thought drowsily, shifting about in her seat. "Say, Rebecca," she began, focusing her mind on one of her many other concerns. "Do you think I'll ever get a chance to pilot?"

"Uh – what?!" Rebecca started, clearly surprised and confused by this query. "What do you mean, will you ever pilot?! You're already a pilot! You have your own Eva and everything!"

"But do you think I'll ever get to actually use it? In a real battle?" Maria wondered, this matter becoming clearer in her mind. "All the Angels that have shown up have gone straight to Japan. We haven't seen a single one in America."

"And some might call that a good thing, Maria," Rebecca reminded her. "You have heard about all the destruction the Angels have caused so far, right? Cities destroyed, thousands of people dead. Tokyo-3 has taken a lot of punishment, and we've only seen three Angels so far."

"I…I know that," Maria replied, cognizant enough to be careful in the way she expressed this concern. "But…I've been training to be an Eva pilot for so long, and…I really do want to help."

"And get a chance to show the Angels what you're made of," Rebecca remarking in a knowing fashion.

Not bothering to deny this, especially to someone who knew her so well, Maria continued. "All I'm saying is, what if the Angels never come here?" she asked, almost pleading. "Ten years training to be a pilot…and it might all be for nothing…"

"I doubt that," Rebecca quickly assured her. "I can't imagine NERV letting you sit this war out. After all, you're not the only one who's invested in training you up." A beat passed before she added, "That Ph.D. of yours wasn't exactly cheap, remember?" As Maria silently conceded this valid point, her guardian continued with, "Besides, NERV Central's already arranged for the 2nd Child to be sent to Japan, so –"

"Huh?! Asuka?!" Maria started, taken aback by this revelation. Asuka Langley-Sohryu was the 2nd Child of NERV, the darling of NERV Germany and the designated pilot of Evangelion Unit 02. Though not well acquainted with her German counterpart, Maria had met her some years back during a trip to see the first of the Production Model Evangelions, the forerunner of her own Unit 04. Like herself, Asuka had been training since the age of four, though she had been declared an official Evangelion pilot long before Maria herself had been.

And now, it seemed that Asuka would also be seeing battle long before Maria herself did. An annoyance she put into words by saying, "She's going to Japan?!"

"That's right. I hear she and Unit 02 are supposed to be sent out in about a week," Rebecca confirmed with a nod.

"They're…really sending her out? To Japan?" Maria gaped, her weariness forgotten for the moment in the wake of surprise and envy. Transporting an Evangelion was no small feat, given their immense size. Shipping Unit 02 from a landlocked nation such as Germany would be exceptionally difficult, even more so than it would be to transport Unit 04. "Oh…wow…"

As words failed Maria utterly, Rebecca smiled knowingly. "Now, there's no need to be jealous…"

Like hell there isn't! Maria thought. What she actually said was, "I…I'm not jealous. I…I just want to be out there. You know…doing what I'm trained to do."

"Namely, kicking butt and showing the Angels what's what?" Rebecca gathered. "Come on, Maria. I've been your guardian ever since NERV brought you in. You don't have to keep up the act around me." Allowing herself a smug look, she glanced over the girl at her side. "You don't just want to fight for the world. You also just want to fight."

Wincing at this declaration, Maria was caught between protesting this declaration and groaning in dismay at how well her guardian knew her. As she considered the situation, trying to think of the best way to respond to this allegation, all she could ultimately do was sit there as Rebecca went on to say, "Well, don't be so eager to dive headfirst into a war. Let Dr. Blaine and his people run their tests, get all the bugs out of Unit 04. That'll give you a chance to get some more training in, enjoy your life, and – what the -?!"

Starting at the way her guardian cut herself off, Maria frowned in confusion at the way her jaw fell and her eyes popped open. Then she followed Rebecca's gaze…and felt herself mirror Rebecca's expression.

A massive cloud of dark storm clouds was spilling forth from the horizon, obliterating the clear night sky they had been driving under mere moments ago. Cracks of thunder roared and jags of lightning leapt through the air high above them, the wind audibly sped up as waves of rain suddenly fell down upon them. In an instead, the peaceful Nevada night had been transformed into a massive thunderstorm the likes of which Maria had never once seen with her own eyes.

"Aw, shit!" Rebecca cried out, quickly slowing down and switching on the windshield wipers. "What the hell is this?! Where did this storm come from?!"

"This isn't right!" Maria cried out in protest, everything else forgotten as the sudden storm quickly went from bad to worse. "Storms don't just – they can't – this isn't possible!"

"Tell that to the storm!" Rebecca countered, swinging her wheel about.

"What are you doing?!" Maria demanded, shock and a bit of fear warring in her voice.

"Pulling over while I can still see where I'm driving!" Rebecca tersely responded even as she made her words a reality. "And as soon as I've done that, I'm contacting NERV! See if they have any idea what's going on here!"

Maria said nothing to this, mainly because she couldn't think of anything better at the moment. But Rebecca's words soon registered, prompting her eyes to widen. "Wait – you think this is -?!"

"I have no idea what to think!" Rebecca broke in as she pulled out her cell phone. "All I know is that something is wrong here, and I'm going to find out what!" Hurriedly dialing a number, she placed the phone to her ear. An instant later, annoyance flashed across her eyes as she held up the phone to her face. "Wha- no signal?!" Letting out a heavy groan, the dark-skinned woman let her cell phone flop down. "Great. Guess I won't be finding out what's going on, after all!"

Realizing that they were cut off from all outside assistance and were presently stuck in the absolute worst storm she had ever been in, Maria felt a chill of fear shoot up her spine. "So –what do we do now?!"

"As far as I can tell, there's only one thing we can do." With that, Rebecca turned the ignition key to off, and the car's engine suddenly fell silent. "Sit back, wait for this mess to clear up…and hope like crazy we don't get a tornado as well!"

It was a reasonable plan, Maria was forced to concede, but it was a plan that she did still did not like. Things had been going rather well that day for her, save for the setback of her lackluster initial synchronization, and now to be trapped in the middle of this unnatural storm and being completely unable to do anything about it did not sit well with her.

Damn…just how long are we going to be stuck in this?! Maria fumed inwardly. Stupid storm…why is this -?!

The rain stopped. Even as Maria had been in the midst of ranting about her unpleasant situation, the driving rain and howling winds dissipated as suddenly as they had manifested, leaving the air calm and still. In an instant, the night was exactly as it had been before, with only the water streaming down the sides of the car and saturating the desert soil to indicate it had been raining at all.

As Maria stared in befuddlement, her guardian also expressed her confusion. "O-kay…that was weird…" Rebecca intoned. "Any thoughts?"

Frowning in consideration, Maria's first impulse was to say that they should drive back home before the inexplicable storm decided to come back. The voluminous clouds still filled the skies, with thunder and lightning continuing their dance in the skies. But as she continued to study the massive thunderheads, something caught her attention, causing a surprised gasp to pop out of her lips. Without so much as a thought, the blonde girl unbuckled her safety belt and popped open her door. "Maria?! What are you -?!" Rebecca protested, cutting herself as the Eva pilot slowly walked away from the car. Grunting in confused frustration, she hurriedly got out and followed. "Get back in the car! That storm might kick back up again, and -!"

"Rebecca…" Maria started, pointing up into the sky. "…what is that?"

Now it was Rebecca who followed her ward's astonished gaze, and who mirrored her expression when she saw what Maria was pointing at. Far above them, wreathed in the dense storm clouds, was a dazzling array of brilliant colors. A veritable rainbow shaped as a nebula overlaying the stars far above, a sight more magnificent than anything that the blonde had ever seen before.

And in its own way…was a sight even more unsettling than the storm that had just passed.

"What in the…is that an aurora?" Rebecca wondered, only to shake her head at her own suggestion. "No way…it's too far south!"

Rebecca was correct in this. Even with the climatic disruptions that had been the result of Second Impact, certain environmental aspects had remained the same. Which meant that an aurora had no business showing up in Nevada. "It doesn't look like an aurora, anyway," Maria remarked, scrutinizing the bizarre event. "It's nothing like the pictures I've seen."

"So…what is it?" Rebecca wondered as she continued to study the incredible phenomenon above, eyes filled with wonder.

"What are we dealing with here, people?" Captain Sanchez demanded as he paced about the bridge of NERV's Second Branch. His focus always on the massive holographic display that hung before him and the rest of the bridge crew, displaying the inexplicable atmospheric anomalies that they had detected less than a minute before. "Talk to me! Is it an Angel?!"

"Unknown, sir! The MAGI cannot identify this phenomenon!" Dr. Blaine, the middle-aged scientist studying the readouts with eyes filled with fascination. "There's nothing to indicate an Angel, though. No AT-Field detected!"

This revelation did not make Sanchez happy. If anything, he was even more unsettled. He could deal with a situation when he knew the proper response to it. Natural disasters, terrorist bombings, even attacks by the Angels were documented situations, ones in which they had planned and prepared responses for. Even in the case of an Angel showing up when all he had to work with was an Eva that had only been recently activated and a pilot who had never seen actual combat and wasn't even on the base at the moment, he knew what had to be done.

But something unknown, that he couldn't even identify…that was an entirely different matter altogether.

"What about the 5th Child?!" Sanchez eventually demanded. "Have you managed to contact her yet?!"

"Negative, sir!" one of the technicians announced. "Whatever this thing is, it's completely trashing all satellite communications and GPS systems! We can't even lock onto her cell phone! Never mind calling her!"

So if it turns out that this thing is an Angel, we won't even be able to use Unit 04! Sanchez growled inwardly. "Get the last coordinates we have for her cell phone, then notify the Search and Rescue teams! We need to find the 5th Child and get her back here! Stat!"

"On it, sir!" replied one of the Lieutenants working nearby.

"Patch us in to NERV Central! I want all of our data sent their way immediately! Maybe they'll have a better chance of identifying this - whatever it is!" Captain Sanchez continued. "Notify Commander Fanning and -!"

"Sir!" came the voice of another technician. "We're detecting massive energy readings coming from the anomaly! Power levels spiking big time!"

Glancing in the direction of the technician, Sanchez scanned the technician's screen. Upon realizing that she had not been exaggerating matters, he growled in his throat and turned his focus to the holographic display. "What's happening out there?!"

What's happening now?! Maria demanded inwardly as she continued to look up into the dazzling display in the sky.

The longer she studied what was going on in the sky, the more certain Maria became that, whatever this, it was no natural phenomenon. While she was certainly no expect in astronomy, she was quite familiar with the night sky above Nevada, enough to realize that none of the stars she saw looked right to her. None of the constellations she knew were to be seen, and though it could have been a trick of the bizarre lightshow she was being treated, she could have sworn that she could see what looked like far-off galaxies. The majestic panorama of light continued to dance before her, becoming more intense with each passing second.

And now, something else could be seen.

At first, Maria had thought it to be another star, one of the many to be seen. But then it became brighter, more brilliant, one color splintering off into another brilliant rainbow. It also became noticeably larger, continuing to grow larger. Or...closer...! she soon realized, her eyes going wide with the realization. Oh, sh-!

"Get back!" Rebecca suddenly cried out even as Maria felt a pair of hands grabbing her by the shoulder and almost yanking her off her feet. The youthful blonde too enraptured by what she was watching, she soon found her body running of its own accord even as she looked back up at the brilliant display. Just in time to see a blinding shaft of rainbow light wreathed in storm clouds surge down to the Earth only a few meters away from where they had been, followed by a crashing din that put the thunder from above to shame.

An instant later, a massive shockwave churned through the air, slamming into both Maria and her guardian. The harsh impact drove the air from her lungs just before it sent them flying a few meters through the air before they unceremoniously came crashing back to the ground. From there they went rolling into damp earth until finally coming to a halt.

When the shockwave expended itself, the wind still blowing heavily, Maria knew that now would be a good idea to get up and get moving again. She was aware that something had just crashed down nearby, and while she had no idea as to what that something might be, she did know that it could well be something dangerous. But at the same, her body was battered and bruised, and while she knew it would be a good idea to get moving, neither body nor spirit were quite up to acting on that good idea.

Dammit…what did I do to deserve this crap…? Maria thought as she slowly recovered, at least enough to groan and begin dragging herself up to her feet. Rebecca…where's Rebecca…? Is she…?

A fit of coughing from a short distance away gave her a partial answer to her question. "M…Maria…?" came Rebecca's haggard voice. "Where…are you alright…?"

Orienting herself on the sound of her guardian's voice, Maria groaned with effort and slowly managed to prop herself up her elbows, allowing her to look and see a dark figure look up and peer at her. Well…she looks like crap…but at least she's…okay, the blonde thought with a weary smile. "Over…here," she called out aloud. "What about you? Are you…okay?"

A groan was Rebecca's initial response, followed shortly by a muted laugh and a cough. "Well…I'm probably gonna…be spending the next few days…at the spa. But…I'll live, I guess."

A few days at the spa. Now there's an idea! Maria thought, realizing that she was probably every bit as messed up as her guardian. "Well…we can make a trip of it…" she meekly suggested, something that garnered a mild laugh and a couple coughs from Rebecca. "What…what was that…anyway…?"

A beat pass before Rebecca answered. "I dunno, but – aw, shit!"

"What?!" Maria called out, looking about to see what threat prompted such a panicked reaction from her guardian. "What – do you see something?!"

"My car!" Rebecca wailed despondently. "That thing wrecked my damn car!"

It was then that Maria finally saw it. The shockwave that had sent them both flying had subjected their car to similarly harsh treatment. It was now lying on its side, and it was fairly obvious that it had acquired some new dents and scrapes as a result. Shit, and with the cell phones not working… she vehemently thought, knowing a bad situation when she saw one. Looks like we're in for one hell of a long walk home!

This revelation gave her the final spur she needed to force herself back up to her feet. Wincing in pain at every move she made, Maria looked over to see Rebecca stand as well, uttering a series of bungled curses and threats and vows that she would not be stuck with the bill for this. Standing up straight and stretching out, frowning at the sound and sensation of several vertebrae popping, the bedraggled blonde groaned as she again looked about. And once again found herself shocked.

The cosmic light show that had once thrilled and frightened her alike was gone. Vanished without so much as a trace, along with the all enshrouding storm clouds that had once framed it. The sky was once again normal, as if nothing happened.

But something else had happened, Maria realized as she scanned the area. "Rebecca," she began, bringing her hand to her mouth in astonishment, "look!"

"What is it, Maria?" Rebecca replied crossly, still focused on her car as she turned towards her ward. "Do you see…oh. Oh…shit!"

Definitely, Maria thought as she and Rebecca looked towards where they had seen something come crashing down to Earth. Now that she was standing straight and was somewhat recovered, she could make out the tremendous crater that had been left behind by the shaft of rainbow light. It looked to be several meters in radius, and while fairly shallow, the forces that had created it had scorched the earth and left it dark and ashen.

"What was that thing?!" Rebecca wondered aloud as Maria continued to study the crater. "I know it wasn't a meteorite, so what…what was all that?!"

That's what I want to know! Maria scowled, hating the fact that something so inexplicable had happened and had so thoroughly wrecked her otherwise pleasant evening. And hating even more the fact that she had absolutely no idea how or why any of these things had transpired in the first place. What was with that cosmic lightshow, and what was that thing that hit -?!

Something caught Maria's eye.

It wasn't much; little more than a shiny glint in the otherwise dark night. But it was very definitely real; a tiny spark of light, shining like a tiny beacon from the center of the crater. A glint of gold in the middle of ash and shadow.

Maria had no idea what it was. But she had just had her evening, her mood, and her car wrecked. She and her guardian could very well have been killed by what had happened, and if the thing that was now glinting at her was somehow responsible for all of this madness, then she wanted to know what it was. So without a thought to the potential danger, the blonde started towards the crater, a determined scowl on her face.

"Huh?! Maria, where are you – get back here!" cried out the older of the pair of females. Quickly starting after the younger of the two, the one that so much fuss was being made over. All the while the woman that had shadowed them from the restaurant watched with a sense of amusement over their plight.

That was enjoyable, she mused with a devious smirk on her face, surveying the carnage done to both them and their pitiful metal chariot. It's been all too long since I've been able to indulge in such fun. And no real harm done to Volla's precious child of destiny…!

Still, while the woman was completely unimpressed by the pitiful little waif she had been charged with watching over, she had to give her credit for having courage, if not intelligence. Most of her kind would have been cowed by the demonstration of divine might and would have kept their distance, if not flee into the night. Whereas this girl was marching towards the heavenly object that had been sent to this world, moving without fear.

Still, I wonder how long your courage will last, you little cow… the woman thought, smiling as her fun continued.

"What are you doing, Maria?!" Rebecca continued to protest even as the young blonde continued to march towards the center of the crater. "Get back here!"

Maria didn't respond at first. She kept marching forward, drawn by the light of the golden glint.

"Maria!" Rebecca tried again, this time with greater force in her voice. "What the -?!"

"There's something in here!" Maria broke in forcefully, not bothering with her usual polite mannerisms. "See? Right ahead! That golden thing!"

"I see it! But so what?!" Rebecca protested. "Maria, that – whatever-it-is – it almost hit us! We could have been killed by it! And we still might be if we hang around here!" A beat passed before she tried a different tact. "Who knows what that thing is! It might be poisonous, or radioactive!"

It was a valid point, Maria silently conceded. And she knew that Rebecca was concerned for her safety, and rightfully so after everything that had happened, but at the moment, she honestly didn't care. Something utterly and completely bizarre was happening to her, and she wanted to know what it was. And if there was any answer to the questions she had regarding this madness, then the object just ahead was her only chance at having them. And she wasn't in the mood to wait for some rescue that might or might not be coming, she didn't have the patience to sit through having NERV run test after test on the object ahead, only for them to possibly give her an unsatisfactory answer or to decide to classify everything.

She wanted to know now. And when Maria Vincennes wanted something, she was determined to get it by any means necessary.

"Maria Vincennes," Rebecca intoned in a low, silky manner that signified that she was rapidly running out of patience, "if you do not stop and turn around this instant, I swear I will grab you up by your ankles and – gyaaahhhh!"

Chilled to the core by her guardian's shriek, as well as a bizarre crackling sound that overlaid it, Maria whirled about, only for her face to fall in shock once again. A massive swath of what looked like ice crystals was springing up from ground, shattering earth and enveloping whatever was luckless enough to lay in its path. To the blonde's horror, Rebecca happened to have been that luckless. Before her eyes, her guardian was soon encased in the grotesque growth of frost, a look of pained horror frozen on her face.

"Rebecca?!" Maria shrieked, everything else forgotten as she shot towards the ice crystals. Without hesitation or care, she pressed herself up against the frozen mass, pounding on it as she stared at her guardian. "Oh, God…Rebecca!"

"The gods aren't listening, mortal," came a low, gruff voice from somewhere off to Maria's side. "But if you have sense about you, you will listen to me now!"

"Huh?!" Maria gasped as she whirled about, a fresh surge of horror running down her spine at the sight of the man speaking to her. He was huge, eight feet tall at least, garbed in leather and metal armor, like something she had seen at the Renaissance Festival. Beneath his skin bulged layer after layer of solid muscle, the kind that even the most hardcore of bodybuilders would be hard-pressed to achieve. He was bald with a goatee and mustache, and had a dangerous smirk playing about his lips. But what really caught her attention was the massive double-bladed battle-axe that he effortlessly carried as he marched towards her.

"Leave this place now, girl. Leave me to my prize," the man growled lowly, raising his axe in readiness. "Or I vow you will meet your gods this night!"

Author's Notes: Meet Maria Vincennes, the newest member in the ranks of the Superwomen of Eva. Can anybody guess which heroic mantle she will be taking up? Please, read and review! And maybe check out my other stories?

For those of you wondering, Maria is an extracanonical character created specifically for a Japanese card-based RPG, "NERV: The White Paper". As a result, she's basically a blank slate, and easy for me to shape in any way I want for the sake of this story.

Now I'm certain some of you out there are probably thinking I need to have my head examined for starting up another story right now, but the truth is, I was inspired by some new stories featuring this character, including Chuckman's Eva crossover works. And given the sheer number of possible stories that can be done in the SOE universe, all the possibilities Marvel has come up with over the years...well, you get the idea.

Let me know what you think, and if you want to see more. For now, I'll leave you with an omake, and as Stan Lee would say, Excelsior!


Later that evening, Maria was relaxing in the passenger's seat of Rebecca's car, content to do little more than to just sit back, already half-asleep from a stomach full of delicious Italian cooking. "Getting sleepy, my little genius?" Rebecca wondered as they navigated the lonely Nevada roads between Santorini's and their home.

"Kind of," Maria replied, sighing as she thought back to the yummy cheesecake dessert that had been the crowning glory to their celebratory meal.

"Well, do me a favor and try not to nod off until after we get back home!" Rebecca pleaded of her. "It's still a ten minute drive, and you're getting too heavy to carry inside!"

Managing a muffled laugh, Maria was unable to muffle the yawn that subsequently escaped her lips. "It sure...crowded there tonight...wasn't it?" she remarked, trying to keep sleep at bay. "I can't remember the last time we had to wait in line so long..."

"Neither can I," Rebecca agreed. Then she shot Maria a playful glance. "Santorini's has been pretty popular lately. I wonder how that happened..."

"You know something?" Anthony Santorini mused thoughtfully as he worked in his kitchen, overseeing the cleanup of his prized family restaurant after a long, hard day of earning a living. Staring out a nearby window at the Vegas strip, at the many bright lights and billboards that were to be seen. "When they put up that billboard, all I could think was that that was the biggest, gaudiest, tackiest piece of advertising I have ever seen in my entire life!"

"I know, Dad," chuckled Marco Santorini as he mopped the floor nearby. "I remember you ranting about it for days when they first put it up!"

Nodding at in memory of this, Anthony shrugged. "I thought for sure that thing would put us out of business!" he admitted, gesturing at the billboard in question. "I know that I would never go to a restaurant advertised by something like that!"

Chuckling once more, Marco replied, "Then I'm glad that most people aren't you, Dad." Then he paused to eye the billboard and added, "Just like I'm glad that girl managed to get that billboard up for us. I never imagined we'd have business this good!"

"Why do you think I always make certain that she gets a table whenever she comes by?" Anthony asked with a sense of amusement as he looked up at the billboard. It was huge, lined with all kinds of lights and fancy effects. It featured a picture of his prized restaurant, with an animated image of Maria Vincennes in the foreground saying, 'This is my favorite spot in Las Vegas! Santorini's; NERV approved, pilot endorsed!'. Shaking his head, the elder Santorini looked at his son and added, "Still, I wish I knew how she managed to arrange getting that thing up in place to begin with?"

"So, tell me something, Maria," Rebecca continued with a knowing smirk. "Just how long is that billboard going to be up there?"

Maria smirked back and answered, "As long as a certain Commander Nancy Lamberton wants to keep the Instrumentality Committee from finding out how she's really spending her time and NERV's money!"

Making a thoughtful noise at this, Rebecca nodded and decided, "In that case...Santorini's is going to be seeing some excellent business for a very, very long time...!"