"Tell me about yourself."

Teagan thought for a moment, searching the ceiling as if it would tell her what to say. The four security cameras put her off, as well as the mirrored windows and steel table. She felt more like she sat in an interrogation room than an interview. Teagan played with her ponytail. The interviewer broke the silence.

"Seems like you don't know how an interview works. Your name is Teagan Ariana Hill. You are twenty three years old, born March twenty fourth, 1986 – happy birthday, by the way – in a little place called Santa Fe, New Mexico to a loving set of parents with good credit history and no shameful secrets. Except for that one time your mom got a little crazy at a strip joint when she was seventeen. Your favorite vacationing spot is Angel Fire, because you think the name is amusing and because you like the solitude.

"You graduated high school as valedictorian with exactly one friend to call your own, only to watch her future get ripped out from underneath her in a car accident with your parents, tragically killing all three of them in one fell swoop. Heart broken, you disappeared off the face of the planet for a few years. Saw the world. Hated the world. Came back home. Drove all the way down interstate 25 to find yourself a new life. Wound up getting a free ride with your tragic hero backstory right down to New Mexico State University. You are currently working on a Bachelor's in Applied Sciences. You have not yet made any plans to go into any particular branch, nor have you showed interest in clubs, sports, arts, or even continuing on past your two-year. With your scores, I'm almost taken aback that you haven't applied to Yale, Harvard, not even Culver.

"Your favorite hobbies include sitting in on assorted theology classes and rousing the students with a bit of 'friendly banter' with their professors. I'm sure they all enjoy having a student sit in and do nothing but smack down all of their lessons."

Teagan stared at him challengingly, despite her surprise. How did he know all of this?

"What I want to know, Miss Hill," the man continued, smiling, "is how you managed to go from a normal, incredibly smart little girl, to a woman hell-bent on showing up every religion in existence for the sake of disproving them. What caused that switch? Was it the monotony of high school life? The loss of everyone you loved? An ex-boyfriend?"

"Okay, one thing – sir – I'm not really sure how you found all that out, considering only my identification information is on there. And I don't take kindly to snooping, I hope you understand."

"Snooping, no, no. I was just doing a standard background check." Teagan nodded, still suspicious. The man rubbed his chin. "You know you sound like you're one broken crayon away from becoming an evil villain, right?"

Teagan scoffed, amused. "Well, with the way you put it, anybody could be an evil villain."

There was a beat. She took a deep breath and sobered herself.

"Impeccable timing. That's why it sounds so misconstrued. I've always been one to doubt, to search for the truth. When I was young, I could never figure it out. I didn't have the resources available to me like I do now, to be able to use science to test my theories. I'm not a pessimist, I'm a realist. If I can't see it, if I can't prove it, I don't waste my time. I don't believe in false hopes. I want good, solid evidence or it's wrong. And it's not just about faith. It's about anything. I want to be the kind of person who makes amazing discoveries because I don't have beliefs. Because I don't have anything hindering me. But I think a lot of scientists –" she corrected herself "– A lot of scientists have the idea that they don't hold a faith, but lack the means to act on it. I say so what if you don't believe in a theory, or an equation, or a god. If you're afraid to push forward with your research because it'll hurt someone else, then what good are you, as a discoverer, as a seeker of truth?"

"Even if you make that ground breaking discovery that shatters the world as we know it, what then? What about the people who have spent their whole lives believing one thing, only to be told flat out that they're wrong?"

Teagan almost smirked. "How did the world handle it when they found out the Earth was round?"

The man laughed. Teagan felt good about herself, like she beat his game. He stood, tucking a tablet under his arm. "Let's go for a walk," he said.

She stood and followed him out of the dark little box. "Where to?"

"You'll see," he said. Teagan strolled in silence through the office building. The man talked a bit about himself, his life experiences, his job, his favorite superheroes. Teagan felt like his only genuine words were that of his ultimate boy-crush, Captain America. Teagan did not know much about the hero. She thought he sounded a bit tacky. Her mind wandered a bit as the man chattered beside her, looking around the office building. It was surprising to Teagan that the campus held this many assistants, all busy, all working toward one common goal. 'Like ants,' she couldn't help but think. They wandered farther and farther back, through mazes of cubicles. Teagan could swear she felt the floor starting to slope downward. Was the job center really this large, to have a basement?

The man held her back. Teagan looked up, confused. He winked at her before thumbing in a six digit code into a sealed door. She suddenly felt very uncomfortable with the situation. But the keycode was rejected. He typed in an eight digit code. Rejected. For a third time, he typed in a four digit code. Green. A little lockbox opened up and did a retinal scan.

"Technology these days," she breathed.

"You're telling me. Some of the things Stark puts out, I need him to hand me a thirty two page manual just to turn it on," he chuckled.

Teagan blinked. "Stark. Like, 'Stark Industries', Stark? Weapons master? I didn't know he did anything other than harbor death –"

"Agent Hill," the man said, nodding to an approaching woman.

"'Agent'? Getting a little fancy, aren't we?" Teagan said.

"Sir," Agent Hill nodded, staring curiously at the young woman at her superior's side. Teagan pointed at her.

"You look exactly like me," Teagan said. "Like. Exactly. Why."

The man quirked a grin. "Miss Hill, this is Agent Hill. Agent Hill, Miss Hill. Agent Hill is going to show you around, Miss Hill."

"You're having way too much fun with this," Agent Hill squinted. She turned her attention back to the young woman in front of her, holding out a hand while remaining cautious of appearances. "Please, call me Maria. I think it'll save at least some confusion."

"Likewise," Teagan said. "The name is Teagan. Please don't shorten it or make up a nickname, they drive me crazy."

"Right," Maria nodded. They looked up at the man as if to say, 'what, now?'

He flicked his wrist. "Go, give Miss Hill a tour. I'm going to go get these papers signed by the director and she's good to go." And with that, the man left. Teagan realized as he darted away that she did not know his name.

"Right." Maria cleared her throat and turned on her heel. "This is the first time we've given a tour to civilians. Though, I think you won't be a civilian for much longer." She ignored Teagan's sharp quizzical look. "We call this the ground floor of our sciences unit. Basically, everyone down here who needs a real office gets one. Those cubicles you passed upstairs were just the people who catalogue and sort our productivity. You don't really need to know much about them, they're our pencil-pushers. If you'll follow me, I'll take you downstairs and show you around the techies' work floors. You don't seem like a gears-and-gadgets junkie, but we have some really neat things you might enjoy. . ."

"Are you sure about this?"

The man was silent.

"Agent Coulson, are you sure about this?" the director repeated, enunciating.

Coulson straightened up and nodded. "I know it seems like a lost cause, sir, but she has perfect marks in everything we tested her for, skill-wise. She's just going to be another kid on our science team. She's got some trust issues and a couple of fierce beliefs that can piss off a lot of people, but I think we could use someone like that."

"Sounds to me like you either want to babysit or make a scapegoat."

Coulson paused. "They'll all hate her. She'll make sure of that on her own. But it'll push a lot of them forward, and strive to be better. Trust me on this."

"You didn't correct me on the babysitting," the director said tersely, staring Coulson down with his one good eye.

Coulson gave a flicker of a grin. "I figure she and Maria will have a lot of fun together."

Director Fury rolled his eye and jotted down his signature. The pad of paper was thick, but just a few strokes and one girl's life was suddenly in Coulson's hands. "Don't let her let me down," he warned. "I don't need S.H.I.E.L.D. producing super-villains, too. This is not a supply-and-demand circus show."

"Yes, sir," Coulson nodded, grinning to himself. He at least accomplished something today. He thumbed through the packet. It was silent for a moment. "How close are we to completing the project?" he asked curiously.

Director Fury pursed his lips. "No closer than we were twenty minutes ago. Get your new kid on it tomorrow. Don't even give her time to rethink her life goals. Basics, then she hits the ground running. Got it?"

Coulson could not help but think of the unfairness, pushing this new addition into the heavy work so suddenly. He did not question it, however. Fury always had his reasons.

Teagan returned to her apartment that evening with a head full of questions and no answers. As she soon discovered, her "work-study" application was little more than a cover for something much, much more serious. Maria explained it to her as gently as she could, but the end result was still the same. Teagan signed off her life to an undercover government agency by the name of S.H.I.E.L.D. She could not remember what the acronym stood for; she only knew it was ridiculously long and potentially created only for its abbreviation. They owned her like a pet. They paid well. And she could still continue her hobby on the side while working for them. Perhaps S.H.I.E.L.D. was not all bad. She opened her laptop to do some research of her own. Unfortunately, her only results were found on extremely unreliable sources and contained information likely ripped from a science fiction novel or superhero comic. Displeased with her findings, she went to bed. Tomorrow, personal research would work more thoroughly on the scene.

Morning came, and Teagan was back at the job center. She briefly wondered if the entire building was a cover-up for these S.H.I.E.L.D. people. She never had time to ask. Maria joined her at the door and ushered her through the cubicles. Six digits. Eight digits. Four digits. Retinal scan. That was too much of a coincidence for Teagan. She made a mental note to test the three codes next time she passed through by herself. Maria offered her a lab coat.

"You were placed on a team of six," Maria explained. They arrived at the first room on the sixth underground floor. "You'll each be in charge of something else, so no one is working on the same task, but you'll all have the same project. They've already been informed. You, Teagan, are going to be head of research. You'll cover the theoretical proofing and testing. A lot of work won't get past you. Anything your colleague Ryan imagines up, you'll shoot him down or prove him right. Anything that has the potential to work, you'll send the files to Roman. He'll do the number crunching, figuring out what it'll take. After that, it'll filter through engineers and techies. Any questions?"

"Yeah," Teagan said, looking around the room. "What's the project?"

Maria quirked a thin smile. "Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S.: Potential Energy Group, Alternate Sources, United States. Discovering and harnessing endless energy from space."

"Well, you're already bound to fail," Teagan shrugged. "Endless energy is impossible. There is nothing in this universe that can sustain itself for an infinite amount of time. However, if you mean 'endless energy' in the sense that we can feed off of something for as long as the human race survives, I can help with that."

Maria made a mental note to guard her words around this strange and potentially aggravating new agent. "And this is exactly why you're here," she nodded.

Teagan only smiled.

҉

"You called for us, Father?" Thor said curiously. Loki kept his pace. They strode together into the throne room. Frigga joined them, placing herself between her two sons. She held her head high; her eyes glowed with pride. Thor felt his chest tighten with anticipation. Was this the day that the All-Father named his successor? (It was obviously going to be him.) Odin sat stiffly upon his throne. His stature, his eyes, his face held no expression. Ah, this was the stoic presentation he offered at formal events. This was the day. Thor could not help but grin.

"It has come down to my final decision," he voiced. This was unlike Odin. There was no flowery speech preceding this. Brevity was most unlike him.

"The last thousand years, you both have been preparing your lives for this moment. You have both shown overwhelming promise as princes. I hope that lasts as King. I have not overlooked obvious flaws; there will always be things you need to work on about yourself and how you care for your kingdom. Thor, Loki, there is no harder decision for a king. . . for a father to make."

Odin looked to his wife. Frigga smiled at him reassuringly. He clenched his jaw. Loki was surprised; it had been some time since Odin showed a sign of weakness in his formalities.

"I expect you to rejoice, but remember your brother beside you. He has been with you all your life. He will continue to be beside you if you allow him to be. Do not be selfish. Do not be a fool. This is the most crucial time, between all of us and with the rest of the nine realms."

Odin closed his eyes.

The brothers stared intently, each clinging desperately to their hopes.

Odin opened his mouth.

Thor beamed.

Loki nodded.

҉

"King Laufey."

"Traitor," the king murmured in his hoarse chuckle.

A handful of foot soldiers accompanied the traitor. He was no longer bound and dragged, though they brandished their ice weapons openly. The traitor looked around the fallen fortress. How did they continue to live like this, after an entire millennium? Was it an ever-present reminder of their hatred for the Asgardians? Of course it was. But they would not have to wait much longer. Soon, they would have what they desired. The traitor quirked a grin.

"The time has come on Asgard. Odin has held council with his sons."

The Jotun King leaned forward on his knees, interest piqued. "So soon? And yet it is not soon enough."

The traitor grinned, white teeth gleaming in the bitter darkness. "Indeed. And you may delight in hearing that the brash prince will be the one to take the throne."

A deep rumble crept through the soldiers, sweeping over them like an infectious wave until Laufey himself erupted with the eerie racket. It sent chills down the traitor's spine. The laughter rose until the whole of Jotunheim reverberated with shrill howls of laughter. They banded for the promise of war, of bloodshed, of glory. They knew the brash prince was nothing but a foolhardy boy. He was a warrior born and bathed in blood. The Jotuns had only to wait for the word. They could repossess their weapon of winter, and thus reclaim their prize.

Midgard.

King Laufey stood and went to the traitor. The foot soldiers gave their ruler a wide berth. Despite being surrounded by enemies, the traitor suddenly felt very alone. Vulnerable.

"Disperse," he ordered.

The foot soldiers dispersed.

The traitor felt very alone.

"Tell me," Laufey murmured. Sending his warriors away was hardly to keep from eavesdropping. Laufey's horrid voice carried no matter how quietly he spoke. "This time, Traitor, you must tell me. Who are you? What sort of man are you? What are you after?"

The traitor thought quietly, a smirk playing about his lips. "There is no benefit in revealing myself. There is only benefit in ruining the brash prince's future. Cast him from his perch like a dog. Let him crawl out of the mud with his cape over his head. Odin has birthed no worthy sons. Befitting."

Laufey let out a quick laugh. "Such harsh words, Traitor. You have no respect for the realm you hail from. What brought about this hatred for your king and prince?"

The traitor shook his head. "The All-Father is nothing but a liar and a thief. His treasure room is full of his trophies of ruining the lives of others. Is it not fair that he receives the same punishment? That his son feels shame for the first time in his life?"

Laufey hardened. "We were the most majestic of the races, when we wielded the Casket. The most feared. The most respected. The Aesir dreaded us; we aimed to take Midgard for ourselves, and they initiated war. Odin was a mess. His wife was on Asgard birthing his son. He feared us only for his child's sake. He stripped us of our power. Humiliated me. The Jotun race. And then, to pry at a gaping wound, he stole a child. A child left for Death, small and unable to carry on the Jotun name. I wonder how that child, left in the ice to die easily, without pain, was tortured and murdered. The Aesir King likely ruined it for the sake of his own stress relief. What do you make of that, Traitor? How do you feel about that?"

"I feel nothing, glorious king. Jotuns are not revered for their sentiment."

The Jotun King was silent. Thoughtful. "If the brash prince is removed, what of the Queen? And the other prince?"

"You fear a woman and her weak son?"

King Laufey flashed a dangerous smile. "If you say this, you are as brash and blind as Thor."

The traitor curled his upper lip in disgust.

23:04

10.3.14