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 3: The Power of a God

The antiseptic smell of NERV Medical was an odor Maria knew quite well. She had long since become acquainted with it over the course of the many checkups she had gotten there, as well as the rare occasions when she had needed to be patched up after a training session going a bit too far. But it had never been something that she had enjoyed.

Today, Maria enjoyed it a good deal less. Because on that day, she wasn't the patient, but rather someone trying to be patient and failing. She was drained and exhausted and overwhelmed by events so incredible and impossible that she still barely believe that they had actually happened, despite living through them herself. Her own overwrought imagination already hard at work, conjuring up every single worst-case scenario it could as she fretted over Rebecca's condition. An imagination that had plenty of fuel to work with, especially in the wake of that night's events.

I swear, if I ever run into that axe-happy freak again, I'll be the one executing him! Maria silently vowed even as she stood in wait, fingering her crucifix pendant, thinking of the power that now lay within. Power that she could still remember burning through her, infusing that mighty body that she could...

No. I...I can't think about that now! Maria thought, reluctantly forcing her hand away from her crucifix as she found herself fantasizing about tearing it off and striking it upon on the ground. Of returning to that glorious form of god-like power. Rebecca...I still have to find out how she's doing! Who knows what that damned witch did to her?! Then the youthful blonde frowned, narrowing her eyes in concentration. And that's not the only thing I have to think about...

Not even wanting to think about the enigmatic Amora and the role she played in whatever was happening, Maria furrowed her brows as she considered her more immediate concerns. She thought back to when she had been in the middle of the Nevada desert, the instant that the Search and Rescue helicopters had descended upon where she and Rebecca had been left stranded. Even as Maria's guardian had been loaded onto one of the helicopters and one of the people had promised to send a team with a tow truck to retrieve Rebecca's car, the 5th Child had been given a cursory examination by the medics while being bombarded by innumerable questions regarding what had happened, the cause of Rebecca's injuries. And even though Maria had been able to dodge them thus far, she knew that bluffing a rescue team while they were occupied was one thing. She still had to deal with Captain Sanchez, whom had greeted her the instant she and Rebecca had arrived.

Which means that it's a good thing I'm a Vegas girl, Maria thought even as she fought against the chaos miring her mind. Because if there was ever a time I needed to be able to play and bluff someone, now's that time!

NERV had detected the weather abnormalities that had heralded Storm Bringer's arrival. Sanchez had told Maria that much over the phone when she had called for help. He had also mentioned energy anomalies, ones that had left him concerned that an Angel might have shown up. And she had also witnessed the controlled fear and concern that had been shown by the rescue teams as they moved to get Rebecca and herself onto the helicopter, as well as the astonished confusion that was their reaction to the massive impact crater that marked where Storm Bringer had landed, as well as the damage done when she smashed the golden hammer against the earth. She would have to be a fool to think that they would not have reported these things to her Director of Operations. And even though she didn't doubt that Sanchez was concerned over the welfare of their one-and-only pilot, she also knew that he wanted some answers as to the events of that night. And at present, there was only one person that he could get said answers from.

So I better be careful about what I say to him, Maria concluded, doing her best to keep her thoughts ordered, despite her inner turmoil. Because if he ever found out -!

Before she could complete this troublesome thought, the sound of the door opening pricked Maria's ears. Quickly shoving her inner turmoil to the side and slipping on the expression of a little girl who was a nervous wreck, the blonde turned to see Captain Sanchez enter, his expression one of professional courtesy and concern. "Hello, there, Maria," he began, his voice controlled with little emotion showing. "How're you holding up?"

Focusing on the Captain, Maria took a deep breath and gave a shaky nod, acting every bit the bundle of nerves she was not all that far actually being. "I...I guess I'm okay." Then she glanced past Sanchez and asked, "How...how's Rebecca doing? Is she...?"

Giving Maria a wan smile of reassurance even as she trailed off, Sanchez assured her, "You don't have to worry about her, Prodigy; the doctors are all taking very good care of her."

Wincing somewhat at this non-answer, Maria bit back the urge to scowl. During that bleak period of her life when she had living in that overwhelmed, overcrowded orphanage, she had been just one of the many children who were in desperate need of a home, a family, of an actual life that they could live. And in the wake of Second Impact, the world struggling to recover on many different levels, she along with every other child there had been desperate to stand out, to do something that would attract the attention of a potential family. Of making themselves somehow better or more appealing than the others. And so Maria had quickly learned that, in order to get what she wanted inside, she had to show other people what they wanted to see on the outside.

Even after being recruited by NERV, these harsh lessons in life had proven invaluable, over and over again. After all, NERV was a military organization that thrived on obedient soldiers, so naturally they would want the pilots they were investing so much time and money in to fit that role to a tee. So again, Maria had learned to give them what they wanted on the outside, while practicing the skills that would allow her to subtly manipulate those around her when the need arose.

However, one of the unfortunate consequences of this was that people sometimes forgot that she was intelligent young woman with a Ph.D, not some little girl who needed to be coddled every time she bumped her knee or suffered some other problem. But instead of breaking character and calling Sanchez out on it directly, she went up to him and grabbed the sides of his NERV uniform jacket and looked at him imploringly before crying, "Tell me the truth!"

Momentarily stunned by this statement, Sanchez studied Maria for a time before reluctantly sighing. "Well, she's alive. Unconscious...but alive," he finally admitted to her. "She was a bit banged up - nothing too serious, mind you - but she hasn't regained consciousness yet." The blonde didn't bother trying to keep her displeasure at this equally uninformative response from her reaching her face, but this time, the Captain didn't rise to the bait. "I'm sorry, Maria, but that's it. The doctors made it clear that they'll continue to monitor her condition, and I'm sure they'll contact you if there's any changes. But for the moment, there's nothing that you or I can do to help her." Then he paused and, after glancing down at the crucifix pendant Maria wore, he gave a solemn smile before adding, "Well...unless you count prayer."

Not sure if this was intended as a jest or reassurance, Maria just sighed lowly and nodded. "Okay." Then she again focused on Sanchez and asked, "Can I at least see her?"

"Certainly!" Sanchez immediately confirmed. "But first...I need to talk to you. About what happened out there." Unsurprised by this shift in topic, Maria still watched the Captain attentively as he knelt down to look her squarely in the eye. "Now...I already told you about the anomalies we detected, right? The atmospheric disturbances and the strange energy readings?" The blonde gave a quick nod to this. "Dr. Blaine and his people are already studying the readings we recorded, and we've already sent all available data to NERV Central for further analysis. But so far, we haven't been able to make any headway on any of it." Giving this a moment to sink in, the Operations Director gave a weary sigh. "Now, you were out there. You actually saw what was happening. And I need you to tell me everything that happened out there. It doesn't matter how unimportant it might seem to you; even the slightest detail may be important. Do you understand?"

"Y-yes, sir," Maria nodded, going over the simple cover story Amora had concocted. For while the youthful pilot felt a great deal of disdain for the enigmatic witch, she also knew that she had been right when she had said that this story would be more convincing if it was mixed with a healthy dose of the truth. And so, she recounted much of what had happened with complete accuracy, and explained to Sanchez that she and Rebecca had been returning home from Santorini's when the sudden storm had hit. She also reported to him how Rebecca had pulled over and had tried to reach NERV, only to fail in her attempt, as well as the strange lights in the sky. "I...I don't know how long we were out there," she continued, doing her best to pad her performance with a slight exaggeration of her fears and concerns, "but...then we saw...something...falling out of the sky..."

"Something?" Sanchez repeated, frowning at this bit of uncertainty. "A meteor?"

"I...I guess so," Maria shrugged. "I...all I could see was light and smoke as it fell, and...then it just...exploded!" Shaking her head and putting as much fear and confusion into her words as possible, she gave a helpless sigh before continuing. "The next thing I know...Rebecca...she was hurt, and...the whole area was...flattened."

"And this...meteor or whatever hit?" Sanchez proceeded, his expression betraying his dissatisfaction. "You didn't see it after you woke up? Or anything else?"

"N-no, sir," Maria assured him. "I...I was just...worried about Rebecca, and..." Letting this sentence fall flat in her mouth as she saw the disbelief in his eyes, she decided to try a slightly different tact. "Sir, I'm sorry! But - I really didn't see anything!"

"Hey, hey, don't worry about it! I'm not accusing you of anything!" Sanchez assured her, guilt overshadowing his features. "I'm just trying to find out what's going on, that's all!"

Hesitating a brief moment, just long enough to be certain the Captain was genuinely wary of pushing her too hard, Maria then nodded. "I'm...sorry, sir. I just..."

"No need to apologize, Maria. I know you're under a lot of pressure right now," Sanchez quickly assured her. "Now...we've been scanning the area ever since this...event. However, there's been no sign of it reoccurring, let alone anything to indicate what caused it." Lowering his eyes somewhat, the Operations Director frowned and returned his focus to Maria. "So far, there's nothing to indicate the presence of an Angel, or any other form of hostile or danger, but at the same time, we can't take any chances. So...until we're certain that there's no danger, I want you to stay on base. Just in case we need you and Unit 04. Alright?"

Satisfied that Sanchez was done pressing the matter, at least for the moment, Maria gave a quick nod. "I understand, sir."

Heaving a deep breath, Sanchez gave Maria a playful tussle of her hair. "I knew you would, Prodigy." Managing a tiny smile, the Captain then rose to his full height. "Now, then...I'd like for you to get back home as soon as possible, but...well, I'm guessing you'd like to see how Rebecca's doing first, huh?"

Grateful that her performance had apparently gotten her past Sanchez's suspicions, Maria gave a genuine nod. "Yes, sir."

Returning her nod with one of his own, Sanchez extended his hand to her. "Alright, then, Prodigy...if you'll do me the honor of giving you a proper escort?"

Seeing no reason to refuse him, Maria took Sanchez's hand in her own. Giving her a friendly smile, the Operations Director pushed open the door, and began leading her through the hallways of NERV Medical.

Whew...I'm glad that's over, at least, Maria thought as Sanchez led her past the many doctors, nurses, and other staff members going about their business, as well as the rare patient being tended to. Still, I better be careful. I'd bet anything that he's already got people out there, going over where Storm Bringer came down...and if they look around really carefully, they might find traces of that fight I had with Skurge!

Frowning somewhat as she flashed back to that tremendous battle, to her first real taste of combat. And even though she still felt the thrill of battle in her mind, she knew that she and Skurge had left numerous footprints, not to mention all the damage caused by the Executioner's axe and her own Storm Bringer. Things that could possibly be discovered, and were not explained away by Maria's half-truthful story about the events that had taken place out there. And if Sanchez had any reason to suspect that she had lied to him...

I guess I better hope that...that Amora was telling the truth about helping and keeping this a secret... Maria scowled as she pictured the blonde Enchantress. And isn't that something to hope for...

Unable to keep herself from picturing all the many ways things could go badly for her if Sanchez or anyone else ever learned the truth, Maria was snapped out of her thoughts when the Captain came to a halt. "Here we are," he announced, prompting her to look him in the face. Then he gestured towards a nearby door, a gesture the pilot instinctively followed with her eyes, which was promptly followed by her mouth falling open.

"Rebecca!" Maria gasped, letting out her true feelings as she darted into the hospital room where the dark-skinned woman that was her guardian rested. Now clad in a medical gown, Rebecca lay completely still, hooked up to an IV, with only the pulsations of a heart monitor and the steady rising and falling of her chest indicating that she was still alive. Positioning herself by her guardian's side, Maria studied her for a time. The only family she had ever known. The only family she had ever needed. A victim of a sadistic, power-hungry monster.

Trembling as a series of brief but vivid rage fantasies flashed through her mind, images of all the horrible things she wished to do to Skurge if he still lived, Maria gulped down a lump of bile that had formed in her throat as she took her guardian's hand. "R-Rebecca?" she fumbled out, wincing at the cold in the woman's flesh. "I...can you...hear me?"

Even as scenarios that were right out of a pre-Impact movie flashed through Maria's mind, each of them portraying the gentle guardian that had cared for her stirring somewhat, her eyes flickering before opening, real life refused to conform. And so she remained completely unresponsive. Locked away in the land of dreams, outside of Maria's reach. "Rebecca...?" the blonde tried once more, tightening her grip on her guardian's hand. "I..."

Once again, Maria trailed off into confused uncertainty, for the sad reality was that she had no idea as to what she should do. Part of her was tempted to gently shake Rebecca, to try and urge into the waking world. But she had no idea as to how badly she had been hurt as a result of being frozen, and while she had tried her best not to think of it, she still remembered Amora and how she had claimed to have tampered with Rebecca's memories. Something that gave the young pilot plenty of fuel for her anxieties. And left her without any idea as to what to do.

As Maria studied this kindly woman that had given her so much, a person she was now powerless to help, she was marginally aware of Sanchez studying her. "Uh...listen, Prodigy...I know you're worried..." he began hesitantly, "...but...I'd like for you to get back home." Jolted by these words, Maria looked up in surprise at the Operations Director, who met her gaze with an even look. "You've been through the wringer tonight. You look like you haven't slept in days, and as you've already explained, you got pretty roughed up as well."

A beat passed before Maria got out, "But - I'm fine, sir! I was checked out when they picked us up, and -!"

"I know about that. I've already talked to the doctors," Sanchez interrupted, holding up his hand to her. "And while they might have given you a clean bill of health, that doesn't change the fact that you've had a long, exhausting day. And while I understand that you're concerned about your guardian, you also have your duty as an Evangelion pilot. Which means being rested and ready for immediate deployment if needed. You can't afford to be fighting an Angel and your own exhaustion at the same time."

Blinking several times at this, Maria countered, "But - sir! You said that there weren't any signs of an Angel, or -!"

"I said that there's currently nothing to indicate that what happened tonight was caused by an Angel or some other threat," Sanchez corrected her. "But that doesn't mean there isn't still a chance. And until we're certain there is no threat, we need you to be ready for action. And that means taking care of yourself, and getting a good night's sleep." As Maria stood there, trying to think of an effective protest, the Captain made his way up to her and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Look...I'll tell the doctors to monitor Rebecca's condition, and if there's any change, I'll make certain that you're notified. But the fact remains that there is nothing else you or I can do for her. Meaning that you can best take care of her - and everyone else here on base - by going back home and getting some rest."

Maria wanted to protest this. She wanted to fold her arms and tell the Captain that she wasn't going anywhere. She wanted to be with her guardian. She wanted to be there when Rebecca opened her eyes, not only so she could be with this precious person once more, but also so she could make certain that no lasting damage had been done to her as a result of Skurge's and Amora's actions.

But even as she felt this impulse, Maria frowned, for she realized that this would win her nothing. Sanchez was her superior officer; he had the authority to have her dragged home kicking and screaming. And while Maria knew that these events had nothing to do with the Angels, she had no way of proving it to him. Not without revealing the truth of what had gone on. As a result, his concerns, while misplaced, were understandable.

And as much as she hated to admit it, Sanchez was right about one thing. At the moment, there was nothing Maria could do for Rebecca. She couldn't even offer her comfort, let alone assess her condition, until she awoke from her slumber.

Returning home would be the logical thing to do. Especially in light of the fact that there were questions that Maria still needed answers to.

And yet...

"Please, sir? Can't I stay just a little while longer?" Maria pleaded, turning on the charm and giving him her best puppy-dog eyes. "Just ten more minutes?"

The instant Maria flashed the all-business Captain these weapons of doom, Sanchez's resistance visibly melted away. Letting out a groan of dismay, he averted his gaze and proceeded to massage his forehead as if he had just gotten a headache. A few seconds later, he again looked at Maria, who was still turning her puppy-dog eyes on him at full force, and ultimately sighed a sigh that might as well have been a white flag of surrender. "Well...alright then," he finally conceded with a measure of bad grace. As Maria flashed a smile of delight on the outside and a muted cheer of victory on the inside, the Captain added, "In the meantime, I'll round up someone to drive you home." Then he narrowed his eyes intently and added, "Just remember, Prodigy; ten minutes, and not a second longer. Starting now."

Deciding that this would be as good as she would get, Maria nodded. "Understood, sir."

Clearly satisfied that she was heeding his words, Sanchez returned her nod before departing. Leaving Maria to return her gaze to her fallen guardian, to gently cup Rebecca's hand in her own. Please be alright... she pleaded of the woman that had given her so much, including a place in her home and her heart. Please...open your eyes...

"Ugh...what a pathetic display..." Amora grumbled as she sat within the humble, yet moderately comfortable abode that presently served as her dwelling. Scowling disdainfully as she studied the ring of green fog she had conjured up, a ring that held the image of Maria holding her guardian's hand.

As was part of the pact she had made, Amora was monitoring the girl she had been charged with guiding and protecting. And so the Enchantress had seen virtually everything that had happened since she had left the little girl behind. Had watched as Maria and her guardian had been taken to the hospital, had witnessed the girl using the story they had hastily agreed upon, and to her considerable disgust, witnessed her debase herself so she could spend a few more moments in the presence of a woman who was dead to the world.

"How can anyone with even the slightest measure of pride demean herself thus?" Amora wondered, watching as Maria stood there, holding her guardian's hand. "Truly, what fools these mortals be..."

Sorely tempted to banish the magical window and find some means of distracting herself, Amora started at the sound of a sudden crackling of energy. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw a line of lightning appear in mid-air, one that soon extended down to the floor when a massive double-bladed axe emerged to part the very fabric of space. "Skurge," she oozed as her minion and unlikely companion emerged from the rift he had just created. "I was wondering when you would finally arrive."

Grunting lightly, Skurge made his way over to Amora's side even as the portal he had created disappeared. "The young thunderer's blow sent me a great distance. I had to wait until I had landed before I could return to you." Rolling her eyes at how her servant referred to the pathetic scrap of a mortal she was watching, the Enchantress glanced over at the Executioner as he took in the scene before them. "Has anything of importance happened during my absence?"

"No. Nothing of importance. Just a pathetic spectacle more tiresome than the so-called 'soap operas' these mortals enjoy," Amora muttered tiredly.

Narrowing his eyes slightly as he studied the magical window, Skurge wondered, "Is the girl's guardian ill?"

"No. She's merely sleeping," Amora returned in a bored manner. "The spell of sleep I've placed upon her will keep her dormant until I choose to awaken her."

Skurge said nothing to this at first. He simply stood there, an imposing figure to those unused to him, until at last he asked, "When do we go to meet with her?"

"In due time," Amora answered, not wanting to think of the pitiful girl she whose fate she had been charged with. "Thor had told me of someone whom he wished to have to teach this girl the way of the warrior. Learn her in the art of battle. And as such I feel it would be wise to...investigate this would-be teacher. Discover more about her so I can determine the best way to persuade her to do what is required of her." As Skurge considered this, soon nodding, the Enchantress gave a cold smirk and added, "And I think it would be...interesting to see what our mortal charge does for now. How she chooses to wield the power that she has been graced with."

Again, Skurge simply nodded, which suited Amora just fine, for the fact was that nothing else needed to be said. She had been tasked with guiding and dealing with Storm Bringer's chosen wielder. And while she detested being in the position she was in, with so much at stake, she had no intention of making any foolish mistakes.

"Come. There is much that needs to be done," Amora declared as she dismissed the magical window and rose from her perch. Already summoning forth the mystic fog that would conjure them to where they needed to go next...

When Maria finally arrived at the nice, comfortable apartment that was her home, she weakly closed the door behind her, almost forgetting to lock it before making her way over to the living room. Approaching the sofa, she automatically flopped down upon it, her body wanting nothing more than to surrender to unconsciousness, and let today pass on to tomorrow.

As much as she didn't want to admit it, Sanchez had been right in that this had been a very long day for her. So much had happened to Maria in one day, from her successful synching with Unit 04 to her battle with Skurge to her fretting about Rebecca and her questioning by the Captain. All the while coping with everything that had happened, with so many unanswered questions, as well as her fears regarding her guardian. And she had already been drowsy when Storm Bringer had appeared, with only the adrenaline brought on by that tremendous event giving her the energy to function.

But adrenaline, willpower, and whatever else that had been keeping Maria awake and alert all of this time had their limits. And as she had been driven home that evening, those things faded, allowing the exhaustion brought on by all these things to hit her all at once. As a result, it had been a struggle for her to reach her home, and as she lay back on the sofa, Maria felt as if it were only a matter of seconds before sleep claimed her.

But seconds soon turned to minutes, and Maria remained in the waking world. Her bleary eyes continued to study the darkened ceiling. Her ears pricked at the slightest noises coming from the neighboring apartments. And her mind still actively pursuing the many niggling details and unanswered questions that had been left in her lap.

Where did Storm Breaker come from? Maria asked herself, unconsciously fingering the crucifix pendant that housed the mighty hammer. How did Skurge find out about it? Who sent it to me, and why? And as these questions danced about in her mind, they gave way to other, more uncomfortable questions. That witch...did she really do something to Rebecca's mind? Does that mean that she -?

Sucking a breath at this, Maria found herself sitting up even as she shoved this question off to the side before it could be completed, simply because there were far too many other questions that it could and would give rise to. Questions that she was terrified to learn the answer to, questions she was too frightened to think of. Questions that would be quick to return to her if she tried once more to sleep.

Besides, there's a lot of other things that I need to think about right now. Starting with Storm Bringer, Maria thought, focusing on the things that didn't frighten. Things she knew she could think about. I don't want to have to wait for that witch to show up and explain everything to me...assuming she ever does! she decided, thinking evil thoughts about Amora. So if I want answers, I'd better start looking for them myself. Then she frowned as one nasty problem came to mind. But...where do I start?

Heaving a deep sigh, Maria again fingered the crucifix pendant that housed the mighty hammer at the heart of all of this. The magical hammer that had given her a new form, and great power. Wait...power...the power of Thor! the blonde exclaimed inwardly as her tired mind seized upon a critical kernel of information from her battle. The inscription on Storm Bringer! 'Whosoever holds this hammer, if ye be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor!' And Skurge - he mentioned the power of Asgard! Maybe -!

With that, Maria's exhaustion was momentarily forgotten as she made her way towards her room. Once she was there, she went to her computer and hurriedly switched it on. Drumming her fingers impatiently on her computer stand as the machine slowly booted up, she then lost no time in getting on the internet, and looking up a single word; 'Thor'.

A moment's searching was all that was required before several hits came up, including the Wikipedia. Deciding to start with this, Maria clicked on this, and was soon greeted by the usual encyclopedic entry, as well as the image of a painting depicting a muscular blonde wielding a hammer that was being struck by lightning.

Looks like I've already hit pay dirt! Maria grinned, her heart skipping a beat in her excitement even as she began to read. Let's see...according to Norse mythology, Thor is the god of thunder, lightning, storms, and... oak trees? Raising an eyebrow at this, the blonde frowned before shrugging and returning to her research. He is also associated with great strength, healing, fertility, and the protection of mankind... As these facts rang in her mind, she found herself thinking back to the battle with Skurge. That explains the lightning storm that hit me when I grabbed Storm Bringer. And why that thing is even called Storm Bringer in the first place! It has the power of a thunder god! Even as these words ran their course, they registered in Maria's mind. Prompting her to think back to when she had first taken Storm Bringer in her hand, of the new form it had given her. My god...I was a god! An actual god right out of ancient myth!

At this, Maria very nearly passed out from astonishment. She could still remember the unbridled might Storm Bringer had channeled through her veins, swelling her muscles, transforming her utterly. The sheer ecstasy of power she had felt, so incredible that she had thought she would swoon from it.

At that time, she could think of no words to describe what she had experienced. But as Maria looked at the information before her, she knew that there was a word. Only one word that could sum up the grandness of her experience.


The power of a god... Maria thought once more, her hand once again rising up towards the pendant as she thought about that magnificent goddess that Storm Bringer had remade her into. The being of peerless power that had brought down Skurge, a being with the power of an actual god of thunder and strength. And as she did, she thought about how all she would have to do to return to that pure rapture of might would be to pluck off her necklace and strike it against something.

She could be a goddess again. And as Maria tightened her grip on her crucifix, she knew that she wanted it. She wanted that power, that unconquerable might, that...

No, Maria suddenly thought, furrowing her brows as she forced herself to let go of her crucifix. I can't change. Not here. People would notice if a thunderbolt and a tornado hit here! Flashing back to her transformations to and from that mighty form, the blonde sighed, for while she didn't trust Amora in the least bit, she knew that the cruel Enchantress had been correct about one thing; if NERV or anyone else learned of Storm Bringer and its capabilities, there was a danger that they might want to take it from her. Whether they thought the hammer was too dangerous to leave in her possession or they wanted to try and find out how worked or some other reason, they might try and take it. And that was something that she wasn't willing to risk. Besides, there's still a lot more I need to learn, Maria thought as she leaned in closer to the screen and began studying the information.

Unfortunately, while there was a great deal of information, a good amount of it was contradictory. Depictions of Thor and his capabilities seemed to vary; sometimes he was portrayed as being blonde, while other depictions of him had him as a redhead. There were records of his many lovers and offspring, stories of his many exploits, as well as a prophesy pertaining to his killing Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, only to die from its venom.

One item that did attract Maria's attention were the references to Thor's hammer. Mjolnir...literally means 'Crusher'...was forged by the dwarves Brokkr and Eitri and - wait! Amora...she mentioned Eitri! Said he was the one who made Storm Bringer! Giving the screen a thoughtful look as another piece of the puzzle fell into place, she considered the information before her. That does it. A lot of this stuff might not go together, but these Norse myths fit in with what I know so far. Meaning that the more I learn about them, the more sense I can make out of what's going on here. Then she glanced at the clock on the computer screen, and winced when she saw how late it was. And maybe if I'm lucky...all this research will help me get some sleep...

"Whew! Looks like you and your team have had a long night, Captain Sanchez," Misato declared with a note of wry humor as she looked at her American counterpart who was standing straight and tall on his bridge. Or at least as straight and tall as one could look when you had bags under your eyes and your uniform was rumpled from having spent too many hours in it. "I guess you've been busy burning the midnight oil?"

"You could say that, Captain Katsuragi," Sanchez replied, his words being translated by the MAGI for those who couldn't speak English. "I just wish we hadn't burned it for nothing..."

As these words and their translation echoed upon her own bridge, Misato couldn't help but feel a great swell of pity for her American counterpart. For while it was late in the evening in Japan, it was early in the morning where he was. And from the look of him and everyone else on his bridge, it was obvious that they been working very hard throughout the night.

Thinking of the sleepless nights she herself had spent because of some disaster, Misato was about to give her counterpart her sympathies when when Ritsuko asked, "Then you haven't been able to determine the source of the anomalies you detected?"

"Not even close," Sanchez admitted with considerable disgust. "We've gone over the data again and again, ran numerous simulations through our MAGI, gathered readings taken from multiple observatories and meteorological centers. And the result is the same; we have no idea what caused those energy readings."

It was clear that this statement did not sit well with Ritsuko. The faux-blonde doctor stood there, staring at Sanchez in her lab coat, looking every bit the image of NERV Central's Head Scientist. "What about the 5th Child's report?" she asked in a deceptively mild voice. "The information you sent us indicated that she was at the site of a meteor impact at the epicenter of the anomaly. Did you investigate her report?"

"Of course we did," retorted Dr. Blaine, the American Head Scientist. "When Search and Rescue found the 5th Child and her guardian, they reported seeing an impact crater, and once they were clear of the area, we had a team of technicians and Section 2 go over the site with a fine tooth comb." The scientist then gave a sigh of patent disgust and scowled. "However, while they were able to determine that something did come down there, there was nothing to indicate what it was."

"That's impossible!" Ritsuko instantly protested. "Even assuming that this object destroyed itself in the impact, there should have been some form of debris! Particulate residue! Something to indicate what it was!"

"Agreed, Dr. Akagi," Dr. Blaine nodded. "But our people found nothing of the sort. No residue, no particulate matter. Nothing." Then he gave Ritsuko a look and added, "Furthermore, we've been going over the feeds from satellites observing our area. And we found nothing to indicate a meteor of any kind approaching the Earth."

A beat passed as Ritsuko stared incredulously at her American counterpart. "Are you trying to tell me," she began in a hard, disbelieving voice, "that something somehow managed to come out of thin air, nearly kill your only pilot, and disappear again?"

"No, I'm saying that we don't have enough information to understand what happened last night," Dr. Blaine countered. "Too many anomalies, not enough hard data." Then he lowered his eyes somewhat, his disgust visibly increasing. "And no idea where to go from here."

"Of course, we'll be sending you all of our available data," Sanchez assured them. "Hopefully, you'll have more luck with what we've found then we have."

"We will, of course, be continuing our analysis here," Dr. Blaine chimed in, giving Ritsuko a look.

"As will we," Ritsuko evenly countered.

Glancing between the two scientists and rolling his eyes in a way that made it clear that he was developing a very nasty migraine, Sanchez then returned his focus to Ritsuko. "Dr. Akagi, I'd like to cut to the chase right now. You have more hands-on experience with the Angels than pretty much anyone. You've seen these things in action, and have even dissected one." Casting an aside glance at his own Head Scientist, the American Operations Director then asked, "So tell me something; do you think there's any chance that the Angels have anything to do with what happened?"

A beat passed before Ritsuko replied, "In my opinion? I'd say it's very unlikely. There's been nothing to indicate the presence of an Angel. No blue pattern, no subsequent anomalies. Nothing." Then she gave the Captain a wry look and added, "Also, it's been my experience that, when an Angel manifests, they aren't shy about letting the world know about their arrival. And as you have already told us, there's been no sign of one. And given that all of the Angels we've seen so far have immediately set course for Tokyo-3..."

"Alright, Dr. Akagi, you've made your point," Sanchez informed her, holding up his hands in surrender. "You don't have to beat it into my head."

Allowing herself a tiny smile, Misato then took note of the grave expression on her counterpart's face. "What is it?" she wondered, cocking her head to the side. "I'd thought you'd be thrilled if you didn't have to deal with Angel!"

"I might be...if I didn't have to inform Commander Fanning that he gets to tell the Instrumentality Committee that our only pilot was nearly killed by a meteor that doesn't even exist that was conjured up by an atmospheric anomaly that we can't make heads or tails of!" Sanchez returned, his expression souring as if his face had been massaged with overripe lemons.

With this, Misato found herself imagining herself in a similar position, having to tell Commander Gendo Ikari of such a happening. And as she pictured herself standing in the middle of Gendo's lair, staring into the cold light reflected off of the Commander's glasses, his cold, heartless expression as she gave him the bad news, she couldn't help but shudder. "Ugh..." she groaned, wrapping an arm about herself. "Good point."

"Rest assured, Captain, we will continue working on this," Ritsuko promptly assured him. "Hopefully, we'll have something more for you to give Commander Fanning soon."

"I'd appreciate that, Dr. Akagi," Sanchez nodded. "Just be sure to let me know when - huh?"

Frowning slightly at the way Sanchez cut himself, Misato watched intently as someone else's voice was heard, prompting the American to look off to the side. "What is it?" she asked, keening her ears, only to frown when she couldn't make out what the other voice was saying. "Has something happened?"

"Yes. We just got some good news for a change," Sanchez reported, returning his gaze to Misato. "The 5th Child's guardian, Rebecca Carlson, was injured during the incident. We just got word that she's regained consciousness."

"That is good news," Misato returned, giving a soft smile of relief.

"Yes," Ritsuko nodded. "Perhaps she'll be able to give you some more information regarding what happened."

As Misato shot her friend a sideways glance, Sanchez shook his head ruefully. "I'm not about to hold my breath on that." A beat passed before he added, "Still...the way this mess has been going, I better take a moment to look this gift horse in the mouth. At least before we call the 5th Child and give her the news."

"Right, good idea," Misato nodded, wincing as she thought to the past of someone she knew. And what had happened when a young girl had gone to see her hospitalized mother, only to be horrified by what she found. "Well, best of luck to you, then."

"Thanks. I'll gladly take any and all good luck I can get my hands on." Heaving a deep sigh, Sanchez seemed to consider what to say next, only to finally say, "We'll keep you updated on the situation. Until then...NERV 2nd Branch, over and out."

As the holographic window that had held Sanchez's image winked out, Misato softly exhaled. "Whew...they've sure had a long night over there."

"No longer than a lot of the nights we've had over here," Ritsuko pointed out.

"True," Misato was quick to admit. Then she gave her friend a look and asked, "So what do you think they're dealing with over there? Any ideas?"

"None so far," Ritsuko quickly admitted. "These anomalies are completely without precedent; there's nothing that even comes close to matching them in the database." Then she gave her friend a tiny smile and added, "At the very least, it doesn't match any of the Angelic energy signatures we've seen so far."

"So it's probably not an Angel," Misato nodded. Then she gave Ritsuko a rueful look and admitted, "I have to admit, I'm not sure if I should be relieved or annoyed by that." The perplexed look the doctor gave her conveyed her unspoken question, which the Captain was quick to answer. "I wouldn't wish those monsters on anyone, Rits. But...with all the heat we've been taking lately, I wouldn't mind us getting a break from the action."

"Can't say I blame you for that," Ritsuko admitted. "Just be thankful we're getting another pilot soon. And a Production Model Evangelion to go with her."

"I know," Misato nodded as she again thought of the girl in question. "I just wish we didn't need her...or the others."

Ritsuko didn't say anything to this. Which was just as well as far as Misato was concerned. For while she knew that they needed to win this war against the Angels...she wished they had some other choice than to draft children that should be going to school, playing games, and enjoying their childhoods before the horrors of war ripped these things away.

With any luck, that girl will never see an Angel, let alone have to fight one, Misato decided with a heavy heart. The last thing I want is for more children to be tossed into this damned war...

The life of a NERV Operations Director was far from glamorous. Long hours, less-than-ideal pay, and paperwork that would make pretty much anybody's mind spin. There were plenty of responsibilities to handle, duties to uphold, and standards to be maintained, which wasn't exactly a recipe for a enjoyable life.

But as Sanchez stood in NERV Medical, watching as Rebecca sat in her hospital bed with Maria gleefully hugging her, he couldn't help but think that the job had the occasional perk. Such as facilitating family reunions, no matter how unlikely the family might be.

"Hey, be careful, Maria!" Rebecca protested in a voice that held no actual protest to it as her young charge clung tightly to her side, her head resting on Rebecca's shoulder. "I still need to breathe!"

"Sorry," Maria replied, her voice making it clear that she was not even remotely sorry. Something driven home by the fact that she continued to cling tightly to her guardian. "I just...I really..."

Rebecca continued to sit there for a time, studying her charge, before her smile became that much warmer, and she wrapped her arm about Maria's shoulder. She looked like she was about to say something, only to sigh, as if she could think of nothing that could capture what she wanted to express, and instead placed a tender kiss on the young pilot's head.

It was as heartwarming a scene as Sanchez could remember seeing, and it had all started with him going to the hospital to check on Rebecca after being notified that she had awakened. He had taken time to talk to the doctors, and spent a while speaking with the woman in question, asking her various questions and checking to see if she could shed any further light on what had taken place in the desert. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, Rebecca knew nothing of what happened out there. All she could remember was something crashing down from the sky before she had been rendered unconscious.

But even though Sanchez had been disappointed, he had been glad to see that Maria's guardian was perfectly cognizant. Having lived through Second Impact, he had seen plenty of good, intelligent people suffer as a result of even apparently minor injuries that had had the consequences of bruising their brains and worse. And like others in NERV, he had heard the horror stories regarding the fate of Kyoko Zeppelin-Sohryu, as well as the tragedy that befell her daughter as a result. And so, confident that Rebecca was alive, well, and would soon be fully recovered, he had decided that the time had come to call Maria and let her know that her guardian was awake.

However, when he had tried to reach Maria, all he got was Rebecca's answering machine. This hadn't been particularly surprising, off course; it had been well into the night when the 5th Child had gotten home yesterday, and as he could well testify, the events of that night would drain virtually anybody of their get up and go. And so, he had contented himself to leave a message alerting her that there had been a change in Rebecca's condition and that she was to call Sanchez back as soon as possible.

The result was that scarcely ten minutes had passed before his cell phone had rung, heralding a near-frantic Maria on the other end of the line, a dozen questions tumbling out of her mouth seemingly all at once. And it had taken somewhat longer than ten minutes for Sanchez to assure her that her guardian was perfectly fine, if a bit tired and sore from what had happened. And when the Captain had offered to come over to her apartment and give her a lift so she could be properly reunited with her guardian, Maria had set a world record in accepting.

The end result of all of this had been Sanchez being given a front row seat to a truly heartwarming moment as Maria had walked in to see Rebecca sitting up in bed, with the guardian holding out her arms to her charge in an unmistakable invitation for her to hug her.

Several minutes later, Maria was still clinging tightly to her guardian, as if afraid to let her go for even a second. "I...I didn't know what to do..." she admitted, looking into Rebecca's face, her eyes still moist with unspent tears. "You - you wouldn't wake up, and..."

"Shh, shhh, shhhhh...you don't have to worry," Rebecca gently assured her young charge. "Everything's going to be fine now, my little genius."

Sniffing lightly, Maria nodded, only to frown slightly. "Are - are you sure you're okay, Rebecca?" When the dark-skinned woman gave her ward a look, Maria seemed to shift about uneasily before explaining, "You - you looked really hurt out there. I - I thought that you might even..."

Comprehension lighting Rebecca's features, she then smiled even more deeply. "Now, now, you don't have to worry about that," she assured her charge even as she began running her hand through Maria's hair. "I know you must've been scared, but that's all in the past now. I'm just fine now. See?"

It was pretty obvious that Maria wasn't entirely reassured by this, and to be honest, Sanchez couldn't blame her after the night she had had. "That's right, Prodigy. The doctors have already given her a clean bill of health," he added, deciding that a professional medical opinion might go a long way to assuaging her. "She might have gotten a few bumps and bruises, but nothing that won't heal in good time."

A beat passed as Maria considered this. "Does that mean that...Rebecca can some home tonight?"

"Hmm...well, maybe not tonight..." Sanchez hesitantly answered. "I talked to the doctors earlier, and they made it pretty clear that they'd be happier if she stayed another day, just so they can be sure she's completely recovered." As Maria visibly tensed, the Captain added, "Personally, I just think they're trying to make it look like they're working harder than they actually are. And of course, if you tell anyone I said that, I'll deny it."

It was a bad joke, that was certain. Sanchez had never been particularly good with humor, something which had been made painfully clear by his colleagues whenever he had a round too many at the officer's club. But he hadn't been looking for a laugh. He had been hoping to distract the little girl that had been tasking with potentially fighting for the survival of the entire world from her fears, if only for a moment or so. And judging from the looks his remark got him, he felt that his effort had been a resounding success.

"Don't worry, Miguel. I'm sure Maria can keep her mouth shut," Rebecca informed him with a playful roll of her eyes. "So...tomorrow, huh?" When the Captain nodded, the gentle woman turned to her charge. "Do you think you can stay out of trouble until I get back home?"

"I'm...pretty sure I can do that," Maria assured her with a nod.

"Are you sure?" Rebecca wondered, a hint of tease in her words. "I'm serious. I want you sleeping in bed with a nice, soft pillow under your head." Then she pointed at Maria's cheek and added, "And I'm pretty sure that a keyboard doesn't qualify as being nice or soft. Or even as a pillow."

It took a fair amount of effort on Sanchez's part to keep from chortling at this, as well as the chagrined look on Maria's face. A face that still bore the impression of the keyboard that the 5th Child had fallen asleep on. "Uh..." she started, shifting about as she visibly tried to come up with an explanation for this. "I - didn't mean to - I just -!"

Unlike Sanchez, Rebecca didn't bother concealing the mirth she felt. "Just don't make a habit of it, young lady," she told Maria in a mock-scolding voice. "Please, don't make me worry about you more than I already do. Alright?"

A beat passed as Maria processed this, then she visibly shed the embarrassment she had worn moments ago and again smiled gratefully. "Okay."

Still warmed by this heartfelt moment, Sanchez then sighed and glanced down at his watch. Things such as arranging for reunions and reassuring their only pilot weren't excuse enough to keep him from performing his required duties as Director of Operations, even if he didn't have any real operations to direct. And as he took note of just how long he had been away from base, he sighed and looked over at Maria. "Listen, Prodigy. I have to get back to base now. I'm overdue as is." Giving this a moment to sink in, he then asked, "Would you like for me to give you a lift back home?"

Looking over at the NERV Captain, Maria smiled and returned, "Thanks, but...I'd like to stay here. For a while, anyway."

"Actually, I think that's a good idea, Miguel," Rebecca decided, a statement which drew a surprised look from her charge. "I would really appreciate that."

"What?!" Maria piped up, looking more surprised than Sanchez could ever remember seeing her. "But - I -!"

"I know, I know. You want to stay with me. And I really do appreciate that," Rebecca promptly assured her ward. "But I want you to take care of yourself for a while. Or do you think I've forgotten that I'm not the only one who nearly got blown up last night?"

Blinking a few times at this, Maria hesitantly protested, "But - I'm okay! The doctors, they said I was fine!"

"I know. Miguel told me that." Then Rebecca gave her charge a stern, yet caring look. "But they said the same about me, and they still want me to rest. Just to be certain." At this, Maria let out a weary sigh before lowering her eyes, clearly knowing where this was going. "Well, now I want you to go home and rest and relax. Just to be certain."

Several seconds passed as Maria looked at her guardian, caught between her own desires and Rebecca's logic. "But...I..."

"But you want to be with me. I understand. And believe me, right now, I want to be with you." When Maria lowered her eyes some more, Rebecca placed her hand beneath the blonde's chin and elevated her face so they were looking each other in the eyes. "But there's something I want even more than that, and that's for you to take care of yourself. To take it easy, and make sure that you're okay." Giving this a moment to sink in, the dark-skinned woman smiled kindly at her ward. "Believe me, we'll have plenty of time to spend with each other just as soon as I get home. But right now, I want you to focus on getting some rest. On recovering from everything that's happened."

"But..." Maria softly protested.

"Hey, listen to your guardian, Prodigy," Sanchez chimed in, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. "It's obvious you haven't gotten enough sleep after everything that went down. And I doubt that you've had anything decent to eat since last night, either."

The way Maria winced was all the confirmation that Sanchez needed. And it was all the opportunity Rebecca need to press forward with, "Well, in that case, you definitely should go back and take care of that." The blonde again focused on her guardian, looking as if she were thinking of protesting. But any protests she might have had were stopped before being uttered when her guardian added, "Or does Miguel have to order you to do it?"

A beat passed before the blonde let out a low, defeated sigh. "Oh...okay," she finally replied before again giving Rebecca a powerful hug. "Just...come home soon. Alright."

"As soon as I can, my little genius," Rebecca assured her, gladly returning the embrace.

When the two of them eventually reluctantly released each other, Maria looked at her guardian, issued a heavy sigh, and then turned towards Sanchez. "I'm...ready to go, sir."

"Then let's get moving," Sanchez nodded before turning to leave. After a short while, the unlikely twosome of them exited the hospital and piled into Sanchez's car, and before long, they were on their way.

When they were roughly halfway to Rebecca's apartment, Maria gave Sanchez a thoughtful look and asked, "Captain...has there been any sign of an Angel?" A bit surprised by this question, Sanchez glanced at their resident pilot. "Last night, you said that you wanted me to stay on base until you were sure that it wasn't an Angel. So..."

The silence that came after Maria's words trailed off drove home Maria's unspoken question. "Well, there's been no sign of an Angel. And the people over at NERV Central seem pretty sure that, if there was one in the area, it'd already be knocking on our doors." Then he narrowed his eyes and gave their only a pilot a formidable glare. "Why are you asking me this?"

"Well...I was just thinking...I'd like to...do something special for when Rebecca comes back tomorrow," Maria began in a somewhat anxious voice. "You know...pick up dinner...maybe get her something nice to...make up for everything, and..."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Sanchez broke in, temped to look away from the road to give the pilot a look. "Make up for what?! What happened out there wasn't your fault, Prodigy! You can't blame yourself for -!"

"I'm not blaming myself, sir!" Maria immediately protested. "But - well, with...what happened last night, I just...wanted to do something special for when Rebecca comes back. That's all."

Pressing his lips together, Sanchez considered this for a moment. "So - wait. Are you asking me if you can go into the city? Right now?"

"No! Not now, sir!" Maria hurriedly protested. "But...could I go tomorrow? I could have Lieutenant Smith drive me there."

At this, Sanchez felt heavily conflicted. On the one hand, there was nothing wrong with Maria's request in and of itself. Ever since Rebecca had become her guardian, the two of them had been as close as any real mother and daughter he had ever seen, if not closer. And after an event like this, it was only natural that she would want to do something for her, and perhaps speed the process of them returning to their normal lives. And it wouldn't be the first time that she had had gone somewhere with Lieutenant Smith for one reason or another.

But at the same time, he couldn't help but be concerned. Even if the events of last night had nothing to do with the Angels, Sanchez knew that something out of the ordinary was going on, and he didn't like it in the least. And if something did wind up going bad, he didn't like the idea of having to face it with an Evangelion he couldn't use if Maria happened to be off-base.

And then there was the matter of the proposed escort, Lieutenant Alexandra Smith. While competent enough to carry out her assigned duties, she was also something of a slacker, who did what she was ordered to do and not one whit more. And given her love for booze, gambling, and other things frowned upon in a military organization, Sanchez had found himself worrying on those occasions when she was driving Maria on errands that she was taking advantage of the blonde in order to blow off work and do something forbidden.

But...if she is, then I can't prove it. Goodness knows that Maria's never reported her doing anything out of sorts, Sanchez reminded himself. And it's not like I can keep her on base forever. She may be a pilot, but she's still a little girl. She be allowed to live her own life. Then the Captain glanced over at Maria, only to wince as he found himself by big, sad blue eyes that were looking pleadingly at him even as moisture built up in them. Aw, hell...she just wants to do something nice for Rebecca...where's the harm in that?

Knowing defeat when he saw it, Sanchez sighed. But even so, he refused to give in without at least making it sounding like he was caving in completely. "Well...how about this? We'll be monitoring the area for any signs of an Angel. And if we don't see anything within 24 hours, then...alright." Watching out of the corner of his eye as Maria's face broke out in glee, he then added, "Just do me a favor and try and keep Alex out of trouble? Letting that woman into a casino is like setting a fox loose in a henhouse!"

"I understand, sir!" Maria assured him, grinning broadly.

"And be sure to charge up your cell phone. If something goes down, I want to be able to call you in on a moment's notice." Then Sanchez allowed himself the luxury of smiling in a snarky fashion at his only pilot before asking, "And I'm pretty sure that you wouldn't want me to have to call the 1st Branch and ask them to send in the Problem Child if something did come up."

Despite the fact that he was being rather mean to his charge, Sanchez could barely stifle a chuckle at the way Maria's face soured like an overripe lemon. "Oh, please, sir! I don't even want to talk about that - that lunatic!"

"Neither do I. I had enough of her the one time she was here," Sanchez admitted, wincing as he recalled that particular fiasco. "So do me a favor and make certain I can contact you at all times. Is that understood?"

"Definitely, sir!" Maria nodded emphatically.

"Aw, damn! Thanks for getting me out of work today, kiddo!" Lieutenant Alexandra Smith crowed as she drove Maria down the crowded streets of Las Vegas, gambling capitol of the world. "I swear, it's been forever since I've been off that damn base!"

Actually, it's only been a month, Maria thought, suppressing the urge to roll her eyes at her companion's hyperbole. Though knowing you, it probably did feel like forever...

Ever since Maria had met Alexandra, the ambitious blonde had found herself wondering how in blazes she had wound up in any military capacity whatsoever, let alone a top-secret organization such as NERV. The only thing that kept the NERV Lieutenant from qualifying as the stereotypical big-busted, bleach-blonde braindead bimbo was the fact that she was a brunette; she seemed to be allergic to work in any way, shape, or form, preferred drinking and gambling to actually doing something to advance her station in life, excelled at finding ways of getting others to do her duties for her without losing her job, and according to scuttlebutt, had gotten to where she was by sleeping with people who could promote.

Despite the fact that she felt that such rumors were most likely accurate, Maria had discovered some time ago that, while Alexandra wasn't someone she would consider to be a friend, she was a useful person to have available. Always eager to get out of work so she could perform escort duty for their resident pilot, especially if said duty took them to the city, the voluptuous brunette was more than happy to ignore Maria's own activities during such trips. And that was extremely useful on those occasions when Maria wanted to do something without NERV or Rebecca finding out about it. Whether she wanted to pick up something she had purchased online without running the risk of Rebecca finding out about, set up a bank account or some other financial investment, or some other activity that fit into her long term plans for the future, she had an all-too cooperative accomplice in Alexandra, as long as the busty Lieutenant was allowed to have her fun along the way.

"Now, you're sure you don't need me to drive you to...wherever it is you're planning on heading?" Alexandra wondered, a trace of concern to her words.

"Not this time," Maria assured her. "Sorry, but...this is something I need to take care of myself. In private."

"Hey, you don't have to worry about that! You know me; I know how to keep my mouth shut!" Alexandra quickly assured her. "But this is Las Vegas, girl! It ain't a safe place to go off, strolling all by yourself! And if anything were to happen to you -!"

"Nothing's going to happen," Maria promptly assured her cohort.

"But if something did, it wouldn't take ol' Sanchez long to figure out who wasn't watching out for you!" Alexandra stated. "At which point, it'll be both our butts on the line!"

Maria groaned inwardly. It wasn't like Alexandra to be squeamish about these errands, but at the same time, she had to admit that her request for this trip was a bit unusual. On every other occasion, the brunette would drop the 5th Child off at wherever it was she needed to go, hit the casinos or wherever else she wanted to kill her time at, and then pick Maria up when she called. "Well, don't worry. I've already taken some precautions to make sure that I get where I need to go," she assured Alexandra, fingering her pendant. "There's not going to be any trouble. I'll call you when I need you to pick me up, same as always. Alright?"

A beat passed as Alexandra visibly considered this before shrugging. "Alright, just making sure. I don't want anybody finding out about our little arrangement, that's all."

"Neither do I," Maria returned, satisfied that the matter was settled. "So just go and do whatever you want. I'll call you when I need to be picked up."

If Alexandra had anything to say to this, it was likely stifled by the sight of one of her favorite places to gamble with her money and her body. The Colossus had risen up in the wake of Second Impact, drawing its fair share of people desperately hoping to strike it rich, those eager to bask in the many vices available in Las Vegas, and other activities. "Alright, then, kiddo," Alexandra spoke in a more serious tone than usual as she found a convenient parking spot. "Just let me know when you need me. And if you run into anything that looks like trouble -"

"I've already taken the appropriate precautions," Maria assured her once more. "You don't need to worry. I'll be perfectly fine."

"Alright, then. I'll hold you to - well, damn!" Starting at the sudden shift in her cohort's sentence and voice, as well as the way her face lit up in surprised delight, Maria followed her gaze...and was greeted by the sight of several handsome specimens of masculinity dressed in tank tops, shorts, and other rather revealing garments. "Looks like the local meat market is very well stocked today!" Practically seeing the drool dripping from Alexandra's words, Maria turned to watch as her cohort stepped out of her car, pausing just long enough to make sure it was securely locked before starting after them. "Eh...be sure to take your time, kiddo. I might...be a while..."

More like several hours if you have your way, Maria thought, rolling her eyes at the way Alexandra unzipped the top of her NERV uniform, just enough to show the world her cleavage. Starving wolves after a steak are more subtle than you are!

Wondering what it was about hormones that made people so stupid, Maria sighed before starting off. She already knew exactly where she needed to go; after a lifetime growing up near Las Vegas, she knew the city almost as well as anyone could. And after taking a moment to study the maps of the city, she knew the exact direction she needed to go in order to reach her current objective. Following a route she had carefully planned out beforehand that would take her safely past the seedier, less hospitable regions, the kind where vermin that moved on two legs were likely to hang out, she made her way towards her destination.

But as she drew closer, Maria quickly became aware of how she was leaving the glitz and glamour of the Vegas strip behind, and found herself in seedier surroundings. The buildings became more stained with dirt and disuse, and the people were dressed more poorly, were visibly dirtier and furtive. And while she didn't doubt that some of them were honest, there was a good chance that many were not. And wouldn't hesitate if presented with an opportunity.

Not that I can't handle them...now... Maria thought as she raised her hand to her crucifix pendant, ready to yank it off if the need arose. For while she didn't doubt her prowess when it came to martial arts, skill alone could only carry you so far against superior numbers. I just hope nobody's in the mood for trouble. The last thing I need is for people to go around, telling the world that the girl they tried to mug turned into a goddess and beat their asses in!

Not even wanting to think of the fallout that would result from something like that, Maria continued forward, always keeping aware of her surroundings and following the map she had memorized, until at last she reached her goal; an automotive junkyard. An older place, ringed by a wooden fence and lacking any security. An easy place to sneak in and out of, and the kind of place no one would pay any attention to.

Smiling in anticipation of what she had in mind, Maria paused to glance about her surroundings, scanning for any prying eyes before making her way to the entrance. There was no gate, no guards. Nothing but an open section in the perimeter wall, allowing her easy access to the many piles of rusted, broken cars that lay strewn within.

Perfect! Maria thought as she glanced about her surroundings. This is just perfect! As she continued to look around, seeing no one else, seeing nothing to indicate any prying eyes, her heartbeat quickened in anticipation. No...not just yet. Better look around a bit more. I have to be absolutely certain there's no one else here!

With this thought in mind, Maria continued to make her way through the towers of ruined vehicles and rusting metal. But even as she looked about, scrutinizing her surroundings and making certain of her privacy, her heartbeat continued to quicken. She was finally going to be able to do it. The thing that she had been thinking about on and off since that fateful night when her life had been turned upside-down.

In her mind, she kept reminding herself that she had to be careful. That while this was necessary, she had to be sure that no one else saw what she was about to do. But even as she tried to shove down her eagerness and anticipation, Maria's heart continued to thunder away.

Finally, after making her way deep into the scrap yard and having seen no one, Maria's cautiousness was satisfied even as her anticipation reached its peak. Casting one final glance at her surroundings to be certain as to her privacy, she grinned wildly as she took hold of her pendant and removed it from her neck. This is it! she thought, holding the pendant high above her head, sucking in a deep breath as she readied herself for what was about to happen...just before striking the pendant upon the ground.

As lightning leapt down from the sky and down upon her pendant, revealing Storm Bringer in its true form, Maria was ready for the ensuing windstorm that suddenly surrounded her. And more importantly, she was fully prepared for the incredible sensations that she knew would come with her shedding her mortal form.

As the power of the lightning surged through her body, it filled her muscles, causing them to swell mightily beneath her skin. As it flowed through her every nerve, it invigorated her, gave her new power, new courage. As it washed about her skin, it dissipated her human garments, and replaced them with the raiment of a goddess. And as it suffused her spirit, she felt herself overwhelmed with ecstasy, inundated with power far beyond her wildest dreams.

In fact, it was all too soon when the lightning faded away, its work done. But even though it had dissipated, the power it had instilled Maria with remained. And as she remained crouched on the ground, Storm Bringer once again in her hand, she paused to examine her transformed self, to truly see what she had become. And what she saw was nothing short of awe-inspiring in her eyes.

"Oh...my...god...!" Maria murmured as she raised her left arm and flexed, and was promptly greeted by a bulging mass of coiled steel that was her bicep. "This is...unbelievable!" Chuckling rapturously at the power that once again coursed through her very being, she did her best to take in her transformed self. Even the armor she now wore completely failed to hide the bulging masses of muscle that filled her legs, nor could it hide the ample feminine assets that now graced her. "Oh...I wish I had a mirror right now! I'd love to - ugh!"

The moment of wonder and ecstasy was broken when Maria attempted to rise to her feet, only to be hindered by Storm Bringer. Even as she attempted to lift it up off the ground, the mighty weapon pulled her off balance, causing her to fall back to her knees. "Aw...damn!" she cursed, glaring at the hammer even as she wrapped her free hand about its handle as well. With an irritated grunt, she used Storm Bringer to pushed herself up to her feet. Once she was standing, she again grunted with effort, using her considerable might to heft the hammer up. "Ugh...I'd almost forgotten just how heavy this thing is!"

As she studied the ridiculously heavy hammer she now held, Maria then sighed. I can find a mirror to strut for later. I came here for a reason; to figure out exactly what a goddess of thunder can do, she reminded herself, holding Storm Bringer up to her eyes. Might as well get started. I don't want Captain Sanchez or anyone else wondering what's taking me so long to get back.

With this in mind, Maria frowned in thought, considering the massive amounts of research she had done on the old Norse legends regarding Thor. Let's see...according to the legend, Mjolnir is capable of leveling mountains. And in the pictures I've seen of Thor, lightning is sometimes striking Mjolnir. Which probably means that Thor used Mjolnir to control thunder and storms. Pondering these things for a moment, she furrowed her brows slightly as she studied her own weapon. And when I smashed it into the ground after fighting Skurge, it sent a thunderbolt into the ground. So...if it can do that, then I should be able to use this thing to control lightning and storms as well. Then she frowned and tilted her head this way and that as she continued to study her hammer. So...how do I make it do all that?

Frowning as she continued to ponder this matter for a while, Maria thought back to that night, to what had happened when she had shattered the earth with Storm Bringer's might. Unfortunately, she couldn't remember what exactly she had done to trigger the blast of lighting. All she could remember when thinking back to that moment was the rage she had felt at Amora's revelation and her subsequent trickery. The fury she had...

Wait...I didn't actually do anything...so maybe Storm Bringer was responding to my anger. Maybe I'm somehow...synching with it! Like with Unit 04! Maria thought, the notion hitting her like a lightning bolt. And if that's true! Then I should be able to control this thing with my mind!

Electrified by this notion, Maria then set about testing it. Holding up Storm Bringer, she narrowed her eyes intently at a nearby pile of car wrecks. She then imagined a burst of lightning exploding from her hammer and smashed into the pile, utterly destroying it.

As she did so, Storm Bringer began to crackle with electrical power. Ripples of electricity flowed across it, quickly building in intensity before leaping from the hammer's head to the pile of cars she had targeted. The lightning bolt the hammer spat forth sent forth multiple jags of electric destruction that struck several of the car corpses, causing them to burn and explode just before the central bolt slammed into the center of the pile. The result of a monstrous explosion of lightning and molten that billowed up into the sky, sending forth a rain of shrapnel that pelted the thunderer.

"Whoa!" Maria gasped fearfully, instinctively raising her arms and hammer to shield her face from the flying debris. Screwing her eyes shut as the sound of metal striking earth and metal alike was heard, she braced herself for the agony she was certain to come. Of her flesh being perforated many times by superheated metal. Of being sliced open many times over in the span of seconds.

Several seconds passed as she awaited that agony, but as they did, Maria's overwhelmed mind began processing again, and as it did, she became aware that she could no longer hear metal raining down around her. And more importantly, she realized that she could feel none of the agony that she had anticipated. And with this realization, she slowly opened her eyes and lowered her weapon...only for her eyes to widen in shock and her heart to jump in astonishment.

All around Maria, there were malformed shards of still-sizzling metal lying in the dirt. All of them looked razor-sharp to her eye, and quite capable of rendering her little more than a human pincushion. But as she lifted her eyes from the aftermath of the destruction that she had unleashed and to her own arms, she gasped at the sight of her own skin, completely unblemished. There were no cuts or bruises, no shards sticking out of them. Nothing.

"This...is this possible...?" Maria gasped, fear quickly giving way to wonderment. Without even thinking about, she allowed Storm Bringer to slip from her grasp and began running her gloved hands about her bare arms. And she felt nothing. No pain from a cut, no protruding metal, and when she lifted up her hands, there wasn't even a trace of blood upon them. "But - does that mean -?!"

Too astonished by the possibility that was taking shape in her mind to actually give voice to it, Maria instead glanced about the shards of twisted metal scattered about her feet. Upon sighting one that looked especially sharp, even more than the rest, she crouched down on the ground and picked it up. Pausing to study the large, knife-like shard, her heart pounding furiously at what she was planning on doing, the young thunderer took firm hold of the shard in one hand, and held out her other arm before her. Heaving breath after breath, she brought the shard closer to her exposed flesh, her hand shaking badly until at last she felt the heated metal upon her skin. C'mon, do it! she told herself, scarcely able to believe what she was trying to do to herself. You have to know what this body can do! You have to know how powerful you are now! That's why you came out here in the first place! So do it! Just do it! Just -!

Overwrought by her need to test what she thought, Maria gritted her teeth, and pressed the shard down upon her bare skin as hard as she could. And gasped in astonishment when the metal gave before her own flesh, bending like putty before her powerful musculature.

Several seconds passed as Maria remained crouched there, still unable to fathom what had just happened. That metal had gone against her own tender flesh, and had ultimately lost. That her blood was not spilling all over the ground. "Oh, wow. I...this is..." she breathed, letting go of the shard and holding up her hands. Clenching them into fists, savoring the power that coursed through them.

"...so goddamned amazing!" she finally squealed in delight. Then Maria grabbed Storm Bringer, and for once, did nothing to complain about its weight as she hefted it up before her face. "So this is what it's like, being an actual goddess, huh? Well, I can definitely get used it!" Chuckling deliriously at the power that was now hers, she found herself glancing down at her powerful arms, at the mighty frame she had that not even her current garments could conceal. "Say...I wonder how strong I am now?"

All it took was a moment for Maria to decide that this was the next thing she would test. Once again relinquishing Storm Bringer, she rose to her feet and looked over at one of the many car corpses littered about the scrap yard. It was decent-sized, four door station wagon, and looked like it would make for a good test her strength. Smiling in anticipation, she made her way over to the wreck and crouched down next to it. Placing her hands beneath the rear, she made certain that she had a good, solid grip on it. Once she was sure of this, she then pushed up with her legs and put all of her strength into lifting the car up.

Less than a second later, the ruined car shot up and away from her. Gasping in shock, Maria looked up into the sky, watching in astonishment as who knew how many tons of metal and glass tumbled through the air. "Wha...?!" she gasped out, stumbling backwards as she watched it continue to spin uncontrollably before finally disappearing from sight. "But - I just -!"

Blinking several times in rapid succession, Maria felt her mouth opening and closing without any sounds coming out. There was just nothing she could say that could express her what she felt. She just stood there, gasping over and over, looking into the sky where the car had disappeared, until she let her eyes fall to the ground. Her body numb with astonishment, she placed her hands on her knees in order to brace herself up, trying to recover from her shock. Taking one deep breath after another, she continued to crouch there, until her breathes slowly changed, giving way to chuckles. Until at last they gave way as well to outright laughter.

"No...no way!" Maria cried out, scarcely able to wrap her mind around what she had just done. "Are you kidding me?! Is this even possible?!"

As few more barking laughs tumbled free of her lips even as she stood straight and started looking about the scrap yard once more. Without so much as a thought, Maria went up to another wrecked car and grabbed it by the rear. This time, she didn't bother bracing herself as she would normally while trying to lift something heavy. She simply pulled up...and the rear of the car rose up instantly.

"This...this is incredible!" Maria cried out, delight spreading about her features as she just stood there, bracing up the back of a car with all the effortlessness of holding up a feather. She could feel the weight of the car, all the thousands of pounds she was currently supporting, and her body had no difficulty in keeping it up. If anything, it was easy. So ridiculously easy.

Becoming more and more intoxicated by the strength her new form obviously possessed, Maria shifted her grip, grabbing the car by the undercarriage, and as easily as holding up a cardboard box, lifted the entire thing over her head. "Oh, yes! I bet I'm even stronger than an Evangelion now!" she cried out in absolute delight. "I feel like I can bench-press an aircraft carrier! I could -!"

The sound of a metal striking the earth stilled Maria's tongue in her mouth. Gasping in surprise, she started to turn in the direction the noise had come from...only for her field of vision to fill with roaring fiery destruction...

Author's Notes: Well, here's the next chapter of this SOE story. I hope everybody's enjoying it so far. So please, read and review! And maybe check out my other works while you're at it?

I was hoping to get some exposition as to what's going in Asgard, as well as why Storm Bringer was created and so on, but there was a lot that I had to deal with in regards to Maria's reactions and so on. Still, all things considered, I think this chapter came out fairly well.

Now, in other news, I'm going through a bad time right now, so it might take a while before I'm able to post another chapter of one of my stories. My mother recently passed away, and I'm going to have to move very soon. So it's likely going to take me awhile to take care of things, get settled into a new place, and so on. I hope everyone understands.

Also, the Superwomen of Eva stories have their own pages at TV Tropes. So I hope that all of you out there who are members of that site will give those pages your input!

1337, I am familiar with Beta Ray Bill and his hammer. And I will consider that possibility.

Mabra46268, I agree that Amora isn't interested in destroying the world. Even Thor once said that, evil or not, she believes in life. But she is still acting primarily out of self-interest at this point. Again, I am quite aware of Beta Ray Bill and how he proved himself. As for Thor's plan and the situation in Asgard, I'll be going into that next chapter.

Twilight Nexus, yup, Thor still exists in the SOE universe. Unfortunately, he's got some major problems that require help from people on Earth. In defense of Maria, it would be kind of hard to wrap one's mind around the idea of hiding a massive hammer in a pendant that's less than a tenth its size.

Well, that's it for now. Time for some omakes!

Omake 1

"How can anyone with even the slightest measure of pride demean herself thus?" Amora wondered, watching as Maria stood there, holding her guardian's hand. "Truly, what fools these mortals be..."

Sorely tempted to banish the magical window and find some means of distracting herself, Amora started at the sound of a sudden crackling of energy. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw a line of lightning appear in mid-air, one that soon extended down to the floor when a massive double-bladed axe emerged to part the very fabric of space. "Skurge. I was wondering when you would - what in the name of Asgard?!"

As Amora's eyes went wide with astonishment, a hulking, brutish figure of a woman strode into her current abode. Her entire body seemed to be wrought of steely muscles that even Thor himself would even, as well as a set of ample breasts that were far larger than the Enchantress's own head. Her skin and eyes were an unnatural green, while dark purple hair cascaded down from her head. In one hand she brandished Skurge's mighty Bloodaxe, and she was dragging Skurge himself by the back of his shirt.

"So, you must be Amora," the green woman snarled dangerously as she dropped Skurge and scowled at the Enchantress.

"Aye," Amora returned, furrowing her brows. "And what business is that of yours?"

"Bottom line, this moron crushed my car!" the green woman declared, jerking her thumb at the prone form of Skurge. "And now I want three things! One, I want a new car! Two, I want the money to pay the rest of what I owe on the car he destroyed! And three, I want some new clothes to replace the ones that got trashed when I smashed this jerk!" Giving a derisive snort, she then shot a deadly glare at Amora. "And since he mentioned that you're his boss before he passed out, you can guess who's gonna give me all three!"

Blinking a few times at the unmitigated arrogance being displayed by the green creature before her, Amora then gave haughty sneer. "And you think you force me, the Enchantress, to give you these things?" Sniffing her disdain, she held up one of her hands, sorcerous energies emanating from it. "You pitiful mortal. With but one hand, I can take your freakish form and break it effortlessly!"

"Go ahead and try it, bitch!" the green woman declared as she charged in at Amora, lashing out with Bloodaxe.

Omake 2

Knowing defeat when he saw it, Sanchez sighed. But even so, he refused to give in without at least making it sounding like he was caving in completely. "Well...how about this? We'll be monitoring the area for any signs of an Angel. And if we don't see anything within 24 hours, then...alright." Watching out of the corner of his eye as Maria's face broke out in glee, he then added, "Just do me a favor and try and keep Alex out of trouble? Letting that woman into a casino is like setting a fox loose in a henhouse!"

"I understand, sir!" Maria assured him, grinning broadly.

"And be sure to charge up your cell phone. If something goes down, I want to be able to call you in on a moment's notice." Then Sanchez allowed himself the luxury of smiling in a snarky fashion at his only pilot before asking, "And I'm pretty sure that you wouldn't want me to have to call the 1st Branch and ask them to send in the Problem Child if something did come up."

Despite the fact that he was being rather mean to his charge, Sanchez could barely stifle a chuckle at the way Maria's face soured like an overripe lemon. "Oh, please, sir! I don't even want to talk about that - that lunatic!"

"Neither do I. I had enough of her the one time she was here," Sanchez admitted, wincing as he recalled that particular fiasco. "So do me a favor and make certain I can contact you at all times. Is that understood?"

"Definitely, sir!" Maria nodded emphatically.

"Are you serious?!" Alexandra demanded as she stood next to Maria. "Captain Sanchez was complaining about me going wild at a casino?!"

"That's right," Maria nodded, not even looking at her unlikely cohort. "Said having you in a casino was like letting a fox into a henhouse."

"For real?!" Alexandra tried again. "Oh, please! How can he say something like that?!"

"Well, you do spend a lot of time at them when you're in town," Maria remarked as she studied the other people at the table.

"Yeah, enjoying the bar, and the scenery!" Alexandra declared, glancing over at one a nearby specimen of manliness that boasted both a fine physique and a wardrobe that screamed money. "What, he thinks I'm going to go gambling on my payroll?!"

"NERV is definitely full of cheapskate bastards," Maria conceded in a carefree fashion.

"Exactly!" Then Alexandra folded her arms before her chest and glared at her companion. "If there's anybody Sanchez shouldn't want near a casino, it's you!"

"Yeah, and so do I!" grumbled one of others seated at the table. "In fact, I'm wishing she wasn't near a casino right now!"

"So do I!" muttered a woman in a fine, sequined dress. "That little tramp has already taken me for a couple thousand!"

"Same here!" a man muttered sourly as he glared at the cards in his hand. "I'm starting to think I should just fold and get out of here!"

"That would have been a good idea...if you'd thought of it five minutes ago!" Maria grinned wickedly before throwing down the cards in her hand for everyone to see. "Read it and weep, boys and girls!"

"A Royal Flush?!" another casino patron cried out even as the rest of the people at the table groaned in absolute defeat, throwing their own hands down disgustedly. "Dammit!"

"I don't believe this!" another woman grumbled sourly even as Maria gleefully wrapped her arms about the enormous piles of casino chips that decorated the table and pulled them towards her. "We've played over a dozen hands and she hasn't lost once!"

"How does she do it?!" a man demanded, shaking his head in disbelief as Maria grinned in a gloating manner. "How the hell does she keep doing it?!"

"It's what is known as skill! You might trying picking some up sometime...losers!" Maria chuckled triumphantly. "So...are any of you up for another hand?"

"After what just happened? No, thank you!" one of the poker players declared sourly, rising up from his seat and turning on his heel.

"Same here!" a woman snorted gruffly as she rose up to leave. The other players made similar noises of disgust and disdain, and one by one, rose and left the poker table.

"Hmph! Sore losers!" Maria snickered even as she studied the huge pile of poker chips she had laid claim to. "Oh, well. Guess I'll just have to find another batch of chickens to pluck!"

"I still don't believe this," Alexandra muttered, shaking her head as she surveyed the enormous pile of chips. "How do you get the people here to let you play?! You're fourteen!"

Turning to give Alexandra a look, Maria raised an eyebrow and replied, "What, you think the people here are going to turn down somebody who had money they can lose?" When Alexandra failed to respond to this, the blonde pilot stood and started shoving the pile of chips onto a tray with the rest of her winnings. "Now c'mon! I think I'll give the craps tables a go next!"

"What?!" Alexandra spat out, gazing at the enormous number of chips she had already gathered. "Maria, are you serious?! Don't you think you've won enough already?!"

"Hardly! I'm just getting warmed up!" Maria retorted. "A girl's got to think of her future, after all! And it's not like I can expect the Angel War to go on forever!"

Unable to argue with this, Alexandra still couldn't help but groan, "I don't believe this..."

"Hey, don't be such spoilsport!" Maria chided her. "How do you think I paid for college?"