Hawaii

The Valkyrie shuttle is flying above the ocean, piloted by a duplicate of Kari Zel, while the original purple haired girl is talking to Noriko Null. She didn’t like the idea of leaving Voron behind with little to no explanation, but she just had to talk to Kari in private.

-You’re getting married!? – Noriko asks her friend, going directly to the point.

-Yes! If I have your permission, of course.

-I have SO many questions. Who are you marrying and why are you asking my permission?

-His name is Kiros Mas. He’s a Προδρομοι in the Republican Army and he’s been dating one of my duplicates for over a year; I’m sure I’ve told you about him once or twice.

-You date so many people that even I can’t keep track. So you want to be “Kari Mas” now?

-You’re confusing Myridian and Earth customs: he’s going to change his name to Kiros Zel. And you’re exaggerating, I date about a hundred people per week but each duplicate only dates one person… maybe two or three occasionally, but most Earth people are too uptight for that.

-And you’re okay with stopping this to be with just one man? You don’t seem the type, Kari.

-Gods, Noriko, I’m just marrying the guy, it’s not like our duplicates are going to stop having fun.

-Why marry then? It doesn’t sound like you love him.

-Of course I love him! What does that have to do with sex?

-You know what, it’s none of my business. I don’t even know why you’re asking for my permission in the first place – Noriko admits, raising her hands in frustration to surrender.

-Myridian tradition. The marriage has to be approved by the bride’s mother… or in her absence, by her nearest female relative. And you’re the closest thing I have to a sister – Kari explains, sounding a little more emotional than her usual. And her words a little closer to Noriko than they normally would, considering all the recent turmoil in her real family.

-You really want to do this, Kari? There’s no turning back: if I remember correctly, there’s no equivalent to divorce in Myridian laws.

-Yes, I really do. And don’t worry, it won’t affect my duties as a member of the Vanguard: after all, I can live on multiple planets at once.

-You didn’t need to specify that to have my blessing, but that’s a ooph – Noriko is caught off guard by Kari jumping to hug her so quickly and so tightly that she’s left completely out of breath.

-Thank you! Thank you thank you thank you! – the Myridian repeats.

-Pretty sure I need to breathe to be your maid of honor – Noriko says with what little air she still has. Kari lets her go, but seems slightly embarrassed to clarify things with her:

-Uhm, actually, I was going to ask Vesta to be my maid of honor, since I know how much you hate being the center of attention when wearing a dress.

-I have to wear a dress? – Noriko complains, beginning to dread the occasion.

-But don’t worry, you don’t have to participate in the pre-nuptial orgy if you don’t want to. I’ll get you up to speed about the ceremony.

-Speaking of which, when exactly are you getting married? – Noriko asks, deliberately ignoring the first part of Kari’s answer.

-Next Veneris, Thargelion 38th.

-That’s… – Noriko pauses, mentally converting from the Myridian calendar – That’s next week!

-You think we can anticipate it? – Kari asks excitedly.

-I’m going to regret agreeing to this, aren’t I? – Noriko asks, already knowing the answer.

 

Thrake, 53.000 light-years from Earth

Nobody on the planet knows how many gods have ruled it over the course of the last fifty thousand years: when Ares and Apollo began contesting the ownership of this part of the galaxy, the current Thrakian civilization didn’t even exist yet. Castle Thrake is undoubtedly the oldest building on this world: built on top of a dormant volcano, it’s been selected as the headquarters of the latest divine government. The statues depicting Enyo raising her hands in triumph have been replaced by the impaled corpses of the Thrakians foolish enough to revolt against Ilithyia.

Tyche is thinking this because she’d rather look at the rotting corpses outside the castle than at the spectacle that is being thrown to celebrate her visit. Ilithyia is next to her, mesmerized by the sight of the twelve women that are giving birth right before her eyes. The white-haired goddess notices how uncomfortable this is for Tyche and asks to her smugly:

-Is something wrong, my dear? Surely the Goddess of Destiny can’t be disturbed by something so innocent, can’t she?

-Only you would enjoy this. Do they have to scream so much? Are they too primitive for medicine?

-Oh they have painkillers, yes. I have decreed using them outside of battle is a capital offense.

-And they went along with it?

-They resisted at first. Just like they resisted my ban of contraceptives. If you have trouble keeping the law in your realm, Tyche, I suggest using castration and infibulation as punishment for all crimes: it truly works miracles.

“First Enyo, now this. Are all of Hera’s children sadists?” Tyche wonders, not daring speaking out loud. Especially since the first few births are now completed, with the children crying.

-I am delighted that you decided to visit me, Tyche. We have so much to discuss, and I suspect that your first concern is my mother’s decree about our marriages.

-Can we talk about this alone? Please? – Tyche pleads; she’s never witnessed birth and it’s not a sight she enjoys. Ilithyia’s general creepiness doesn’t make things easier.

-As you wish. Begone, mortals – Ilithyia orders, rapidly clapping her hands twice. Her subjects obey, with the new mothers being escorted out of the room with their newborns… except for the only one still in labor. She’s breathing more and more rapidly, and she looks in terror as Ilithyia as the goddess stands up from her throne.

-Is there a problem?

-Please forgive me… my lady… I need more… time – the woman pleads.

-Excuse me for a moment, Tyche. I have take care of something – Ilithyia says, adjusting the pink evening glove on her right hand and walking closer to the woman.

-Hm, I see. The umbilical cord is around the baby’s neck. I’ll have to rip it out of the womb – she says with all the calm in the world. Tyche feels like throwing up but gathers the courage to say:

-Wait! Can’t you do this in a way that doesn’t kill the mother?

-I suppose – Ilithyia concedes, gathering pink energy between her hands. It grows rapidly, and in a matter of seconds it’s replaced by the baby she teleported out of the mother’s womb. The baby floats before her, already clean and with the umbilical cord already cut; miraculously, the mother is completely fine, extending her arms to hold the baby.

-Thank you! Thank you, my goddess, for your AAAHH! – the mother screams: Ilithyia has grabbed her arm and she’s broken it with her divine strength.

-Painless childbirth is illegal in my sector. Return in nine months to do this properly or I will sterilize your whole family. Are we clear, my dear? Good. And congratulations, it’s a boy – Ilithyia calmly explains, giving the baby to her mother. Tyche watches the mortals get away in shame, contrasted with the serene calmness in Ilithyia’s face. No wonder Hebe is terrorized by her.

-You seem awfully pale, Tyche. Would you like some tea?

 

Honolulu, Hawaii

Noriko Null is sitting on the couch next to Torn; she’s busy texting on her N-Phone, while he’s watching the other guests interact with each other like it’s a documentary. Kari, Vesta and Dr. Kalama first share a laugh, then a giggle, prompting his question:

-Why do human females make these strange noises when they gather?

-Beats me. All this hype about a stupid ceremony makes no sense to me – she answers, not bothering looking up from her phone.

-Does that mean you have no interest in marriage?

-Hell no! How stupid do you have to be to worry about… – she starts to answer, before realizing who she’s talking to: it’s easy to forget, but Torn is already married.

-Sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that…

-Just because you don’t see value in sharing your soul with a companion doesn’t make it meaningless, Null – Torn chastises her.

-That’s… surprisingly profound. And something tells me it’s not coming from nothing, right?

-Ending your relationship with Todd Slate was a mistake. Your pride makes you weaker.

-No offense, Torn, but I don’t need advice about my love life from you. I mean, I know you have a wife and all, but you don’t even live on the same planet – she says, immediately regretting the offhand remark the second Torn’s red eyes are looking at her.

-Oh God, I’m… I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said that…

-It’s not easy being your friend – Torn replies, standing up: he doesn’t even look at her, he just walks away to leave the house. He passes next to Vesta, who is holding Noriko’s newborn half-sister in her arms; she immediately picks up that something is wrong.

-What happened? Is everything alright? – she asks, sitting next to Noriko.

-No. I’m an a##hole, but that’s nothing new.

-Don’t use that kind of language near Nalani – Vesta reprimands her, shushing the baby.

-She’s asleep. And she can’t understand a single word I’m saying.

-Hey, have you guys seen Torn? – Max asks, carrying a couple of beers with him. Noriko takes one of the bottles and takes a sip… stopping when she realizes Max and Vesta are staring at her.

-What? I’m legally twenty-one and my friend is getting married, I can celebrate.

-Are you girls planning the bachelorette party? – one of Kari’s duplicates asks, materializing between the rest of the team.

-Didn’t you say you don’t have them on Myridia? – Vesta recalls.

-I like taking the best from every planet. Speaking of which, we haven’t even talked about who you will bring to the wedding!

-What do you mean? – Noriko asks, happy that the topic of the bachelorette party is already over.

-I thought you learned everything about Myridia. How come you know so little? – Kari asks.

-I helped rebuild the infrastructure and wrote a new constitution. Social etiquette was a low priority.

-It’s bad luck to have single guests at a wedding. I’ll ask Torn to bring his wife, but you guys just have to bring your own date – Kari reveals.

-I can bring Kristen. She’s never been off-planet – Max proposes.

-That’s a terrible idea – Noriko comments, at exactly the same moment when Kari says:

-That’s a great idea!

-Who else are you inviting? – Vesta asks, trying to somehow change the topic.

-From Earth? I asked Bob and Catherine but they had to decline, since they can’t leave Nalani alone and I wouldn’t ask them to take her with them. I thought asking your sister Kayla, Max, but to be honest I’m still kind of mad at her for siding with Leiko before the whole invasion thing.

-So basically you’re just inviting the Vanguard – Noriko summarizes, taking another sip.

-Yeah. And Todd, of course – Kari adds.

Noriko almost does a spit take, coughing loudly as she nearly chokes on her beer; loud enough to wake up Nalani, who starts crying.

-What!? Why would you invite Todd!? – Noriko manages to ask.

-Because he’s my friend and I want him at my wedding – Kari replies, surprised at the outburst.

-Lower your voice – Vesta tells them, trying to make Nalani stop crying.

-You think I’m that stupid? You’re just trying to play matchmaker again!!! – Noriko shouts.

-Why are you yelling? And I was serious: the galaxy doesn’t always revolve around you, Nori!

-I said lower. Your. Voice – Vesta orders. Spoken like a goddess, it makes the girls shut up. Even Nalani immediately stops crying. Then Vesta tells Noriko, softly yet sternly:

-Talk with him like a reasonable adult. You’re a genius, you can survive talking to your ex.

“I’m not so sure about that anymore” Noriko thinks, keeping the thought to herself.