Neptune, 3 billion miles from Earth

The blue planet is a beautiful and majestic sight rarely witnessed by mortals, almost four times larger than Earth yet seventeen times more massive. Leiko Tanaka never imagined that she would see it with her own eyes, or that it would be from the bridge of an alien ship.

-I suggest we disengage the main engines, my lord. We risk burning them if we attempt to travel faster than light in this solar system – she calmly explains, her breath visible in the icy room.

She’s wearing thermal clothes beneath the heavy fur cloak, and still the proximity to the Winter King is enough to make her bones ache.

Your assistance is appreciated, Leiko. Without your help, we would have sustained heavy damages upon our arrival – the Winter King thanks her.

-I live to serve, my lord – she answers, bowing her head.

Perhaps.

Still keeping her head down, Leiko looks up at the monarch. His throne is in the middle of the bridge, slightly raised above everybody else. It’s made of something that looks like steel, much like his armor; the cold blue light that creeps from the crevices between the armor plates is reflected by the shining silver walls.

You were born in this system, Leiko. This was your home, not long ago.

-The Winter Kingdom is my home now, my lord. And I have sworn allegiance to you.

Indeed you have. And before we journey any further, the Winter King wishes to know why.

-My ancestral home is an island called Japan, my lord. Centuries ago, my people adopted a policy called sakoku: complete isolation from the outsiders. It lasted for more than two hundred years, until ships from a land called America arrived… we called them Black Ships. Far more advanced than anything they had ever seen. Soon, the island would be forced to join the rest of the world.

You are telling me this because you wish me to force Earth to join the rest of the Galaxy?

-Because I know strength when I see it, my lord. And the people of Earth must be awaken from their isolation, just like Japan was.

I shall consider your proposal, Leiko. Once Noriko Null agrees to marry me, the future of Earth will surely be of the utmost importance to us both.

-I am delighted to hear that. Shall we proceed now? With the Drylon device in Null’s possession slowing us down to lightspeed, we will need over four hours to reach my ancestral home.

Indeed. Order the fleet to move towards Earth – the Winter King orders, raising his hand dramatically. His officers obey without question, and the monarch seems too preoccupied watching the dozens of ships fly before Neptune to observe his human counselor.

“This time, I will own the Black Ships” Leiko thinks, keeping her cold demeanor.

 

Saqqara, Egypt

The ruins of the ancient civilization that ruled over this land attracts tourists from all over the world, so the locals are used to seeing all sort of people and events surrounding the pyramids.

Today’s event is quite an exception: something massive appears on Djoser’s Pyramid, dwarfing the two hundred feet tomb. A cylindrical structure seemingly made of black and red circuitry, glowing in and out of reality as it slowly materializes.

With the attention that the reappearance of a Lar outpost attracts, nobody pays attention to the three people that are running out of the pyramid: a red-haired goddess, an unconscious half-Japanese girl and a Korean man holding her in his arms. They reach the African-American man wearing a superhero mask, who comments looking at the alien building:

-Okay. I definitely didn’t see that coming.

-We should take Noriko to a hospital – Yong-Su suggests.

-She’s fine. Come on, we don’t have much time before the authorities show up and start asking questions we don’t want to answer – Vesta replies.

-“Fine”? She touched an alien device and collapsed! – he protests.

-She does it all the time. She’ll be more upset if she wakes up in a hospital – she insists, floating towards the Valkyrie shuttle that’s still parked a few hundred feet away.

Yong-Su Kim turns to have another look at the alien structure, now completely solid, and then looks down at the unconscious girl in his arms.

-What have I gotten myself into? – he wonders.

 

Megalopolis, 52.000 light-years from Earth

It’s a beautiful day in the garden of the Holy Palace, as it’s divinely required. The weather in the rest of the planet doesn’t really matter: there could be a hurricane in every city for all that matters to Hera, the queen of this world and this entire sector.

But today it’s not the blue-haired Queen of Olympus that wanders between the bushes of blue roses, it’s her white-haired daughter Ilithyia wearing a pink dress with evening gloves.

-What a lovely sight. A beauty that treacherously covers all the thorns that make her so dangerous, and she’s next to the roses – a man behind her back comments, appearing in the blink of an eye.

-Hermes – Ilithyia identifies him, without turning to look at him but instead picking up a rose and smelling it before she continues.

-You know why this planet boasts the highest number of mortals in all of my father’s galaxy? Not only I have blessed the capital of my mother’s realm with unprecedented fertility, but the mortals are required to breed. If they refuse, or if they don’t breed enough, they are sentenced to die.

-I know. Is there a reason for sharing this unnecessarily creepy fact, sister?

Half-sister. Yes, it shows that power alone can only do so much: divine law is the foundation upon which our realms are built. So you don’t need to impress me with your power of infinite speed, Hermes, because your disrespect of the law of the gods weakens your importance.

-Big words for a small goddess. What’s your plan, Ilithyia? Conquering the galaxy by political marriage? It’s quite a long shot.

-Then why is the Winter King traveling to Earth to force Noriko Null to marry him?

There’s a pause. Ilithyia disintegrates the rose into electrons and turns towards Hermes, smiling.

-A speechless Hermes. I must be one of the few beings in the universe to witness this.

-Null beat you to it. How do you know about this? You don’t even know where Earth is.

-Don’t I? – she asks deviously.

-You’re the goddess of childbirth; you have no business in schemes of this caliber. Who’s your informant? Eris? Artemis? It can’t be Athena.

-You made your empire acting outside the law, Hermes. I am building mine by knowing the rules and how to operate within them.

-And by following your mother’s rules, you’ve managed to get on the wrong side of every major god. Let’s count your allies, Ilithyia, shall we? Artemis has lost her sector, Demeter is dead, Phobos is dead and… well that’s about it, isn’t it? I guess you have your sister Hebe, but she relies entirely on Hera to retain her sector. Seriously, nobody likes you: even the mortals who like children don’t like childbirth. What do you plan to do at the first sign of trouble, run to mommy?

-Not quite. You’re not the only one who’s good at manipulating others – she boasts, enjoying the fact that Hermes suddenly has to shield his eyes from the sun.

Not from the star of this solar system: the object that is outshining it, descending from the sky and taking a human form.

-Aren’t you going to introduce me, soon-to-be wife? – the sun asks, decreasing his luminosity hundreds of thousands of times until it takes the shape of a bare-chested man with well developed muscles and golden skin, holding Ilithyia’s hand.

-Hermes, this is my fiancée: Lord Helios, Prince of the House of Kronos.

-Pleased to meet you – Hermes blatantly lies.

 

Inside the mind of Noriko Null

Noriko is still amazed at the level of details of her vision; the Black Box has recorded events so meticulously that she can even feel the coldness of the air inside her bones. She’s walking next to two men who she recognizes as Lar by their grey skin, although they’re different from the ones she saw before: their skin is much more scaly and alien.

-I advise against this decision, my lord. These barbarians can’t be trusted – one of them says.

-How long have you been leading our war against them, Malakim? – the other asks.

-The full lifespan of twelve clones, my lord. Fifty thousand years.

-During which we have lost control of three entire galaxies. If we don’t change our tactics, we are bound to lose the last one – the Lar in charge explains, reaching doors that open automatically.

On the other side, the room is dominated by a transparent wall that presents the magnificent view of Saturn and its rings. There’s a person standing in front of it. Noriko can see him from behind; nearly twice her height, he’s wearing an elaborate leather armor and his entire hair is on fire.

Despite the off view, that’s not the detail that surprises her the most: it’s seeing Vesta floating above the round table. She almost calls our her name before she notices her eyes are red.

-Finally! I swear to Mom, these mortals are sooo boring – she whines. The voice is slightly different from Vesta’s, but the resemblance is truly uncanny. She’s also wearing clothes that leave her midriff exposed, only she doesn’t have a navel. Her top is a brass breastplate, and instead of skinny jeans she’s wearing a long skirt with a dangerously high split to show off one thigh.

-Thank you for agreeing to this meeting, Lady Rhea. This is Malakim, first Nexus of the Lar, and he will assist us to arrange a peaceful resolution to our war.

-War? Didja hear that, honey? That’s so cute! They think they’re people! – the woman giggles. She floats towards the Lar, explaining cheerfully:

-You know I’m the Queen Of The Universe, right? I have more power in my pinky than you have in your entire arsenal, cutie! Now, will you quit being silly and submit to my hubby?

“So this is Vesta’s mother” – Noriko realizes, finding her both surprising and somehow expected.

-The Lar will never submit. We are the rightful heirs of the Drylon Empire – the leader boasts.

This is enough to make the other god turn his attention away from Saturn. Noriko catches a glimpse of his eyes, shining with power even beneath the wild flames that cover his entire head.

The Drylon – he repeats. Noriko was already feeling cold, but his voice makes her skin crawl.

The Laestrygon and the Ishim made a similar claim. They are now dust in the cosmic wind.

-And yet, you have not destroyed this galaxy. It stands to reason that the Lar still hold something that has value for you – Malakim deduces. His silver eyes shine a familiar light.

That is not something for the likes of you… Null – the god says, turning his head towards Noriko.

Everybody else freezes in place while she takes a step back, flabbergasted.

-You… you can see me!?

I am Kronos, Emperor Of The Universe and Supreme Lord of Time. Did you think I would not recognize a spy, even if she lives 250 million years in the future?

-I have to get out of here – she realizes, trying to leave the room. Not only the doors won’t open, but Kronos is coming so close that the heat his body produces makes it difficult to breathe.

The Lar are about to fall, buried in the graveyard of destiny. I reign supreme above all gods, and yet, a tiny speck of chemicals like you lives beyond my understanding. You will tell me why.

-Go to Hell – she insults him, trying to sneak away. Kronos grabs her by holding her entire head in his massive hand, squeezing just enough to make her scream.

I already have. I seek a more rewarding challenge – he declares, pressing even harder.

 

Four Seasons Hotel, Cairo

Noriko wakes up screaming, jumping out of the bed quickly; her legs are too weak to support her and she falls on the floor. She crawls towards the bed: getting up is made even harder because the prosthesis of her left arm has been removed, leaving only the stump at the elbow’s height.

-Easy. Easy. Do you know who I am? – a woman kneeling next to her asks with a calming voice.

-Doctor… Doctor Kalama. Where am I? Did they bring me back to New York?

-No, I took a flight on a Valkyrie shuttle. Your friends were worried about you… you were knocked out cold and your heartbeat was very weak. What happened?

-I think I made a terrible mistake, doctor.