New York City may be “the city that never sleeps”, but the last few hours have been noticeably busy. The entire world is still frozen at -22°F, making airline traffic essentially impossible since there is no airport for safe landing, but the New York sky is far from empty: over the past two hours, multiple Valkyrie shuttles have been flying towards the United Nations Headquarters.

The last Valkyrie carries two passengers, Noriko Null and Dmitry Voron, but neither is piloting it.

<We have arrived, mistress Null> – O.D.I.N. informs her.

-How many heads of state did we manage to get? – she asks.

<Fifty-two. Forty-six are unreachable and ninety-five have declined to participate, for a variety of reasons: they are too busy dealing with their country, they don’t accept the terms of the meeting, or they don’t believe they have much to contribute during the current crisis.>

-Great. We have to discuss the future of the planet, and only 27% of the UN members bothers to show up even when I pay for everything – she sighs.

-Is Russia one of the countries that accepted? – Voron asks to the artificial intelligence.

<Yes. The President of Russia arrived seventeen minutes ago.>

-You should go alone. I’m still wanted as a traitor in Russia – Voron tells Null.

-It’s the UN, and he’s alone. It was part of the agreement – she replies.

-I know. But it’s a distraction that you don’t need right now; I don’t even know why you wanted me to be here in the first place.

-I like being with someone who understands what I’m talking about, for a change. It’s… nice.

-If you wanted to impress me, you don’t have to. You’re Noriko Null: you’re impressive enough.

-Right. This is, uhm, this is when I’m supposed to…

-Yes, of course. Please proceed to get it off.

-Ah, I’m pretty sure you mean “get off”, Dmitry. As in, “get off the shuttle”? – she corrects him.

-Yes. And cover up, the cold is making your face turn red – he replies, helping her to zip up her green leather jacket. They remain stuck like that for an embarrassingly long time, staring at each other’s eyes. Until O.D.I.N. suddenly reminds her:

<Mistress, you are three minutes late to your own international summit.>

-I should get going – she excuses herself, practically launching herself at the shuttle’s door.

 

United Nations General Assembly

Predictably, it’s a mess. The fifty-two heads of state in the room are not happy: they had to come on a short notice, with no preparation and no assistants. For some of them, it’s also because this is happening during the worst crisis to hit their country since they took office; for others, it’s because it’s the middle of the night in their original time zone.

Noriko Null walks past them, ignoring the questions that they are asking her in various languages; she focuses on her N-Phone as she steps towards the podium, taking great care not to look directly at the President of the United States.

She takes a moment to appreciate the occasion: she knew she’d talk from this podium, but she never imagined it would be in such circumstances. Her daydream is interrupted by a beep from her phone.

-Okay. If you don’t speak English, pick up your personal cellphone and you’ll hear an instantaneous translation – she says, mimicking speaking into an invisible phone.

There’s something comical watching these statesmen slowly understand what she wants from them and awkwardly reaching for their phones. Then she begins:

-Thank you for coming on such a short notice. I have some ideas on how we can fix the current crisis and thaw the planet, but I’m going to need your full cooperation.

-Why should we trust you? – the President of Russia immediately interrupts her.

-‘Cause I’m the only one here who’s saved the planet on multiple occasions?

-You’ve also put us all in danger more than once! You almost blew up this entire city! – President Keen shouts, making her roll her eyes.

-You’re still going up about that!? That was years ago!

-She proved her worth saving us from Artemis. Let her speak – the President of China backs her up.

-You say that because of the money she gave you! My country is a frozen wasteland because she picked Egypt for her latest project! – another President comments.

-First the Scribe, now the Winter King, how many alien invasions should we have before- President Keen continues, before Noriko activates the Sound Nullifier to make the room silent.

-Listen to yourselves! Am I the only one who understands that none of this, none of this, really matters anymore!? The only one who gets the big picture!? While you squabble to fix the problems of a single planet, and failing at it, do you know what I have to deal with!? – Noriko shouts, slamming her fist on the podium. Her silver eyes shine in anger, with a single red sparkle.

-I will show you – she says, switching the Sound Nullifier for the holographic projector.

It’s a map of the Milky Way, divided into twelve sectors and filled with hundreds of red dots.

This is the real deal. Over 11 trillion people, 6949 inhabited planets! You think the Winter King is the worst thing out there? I’ve seen beings that could wipe out the entire Earth in an instant, I’m the closest thing to a fighting chance Earth has, and I’m getting tired of dealing with your s#it! – she continues, raising her voice and feeling the urge to scream.

Her right eye twitches visibly, and a vein on her forehead seems ready to pop. Then the light in her eyes dims, and she realizes they’re looking at her like she’s a crazy person.

-I’m… I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me – she admits sincerely.

By now, several heads of state have put away they phones and are starting to leave. But that’s not what Noriko is seeing right now. She sees the flesh melt off their bones, snakes slithering out of their eyes and scorpions crawling out of their mouths.

-Not now, dammit, not now – she says to herself, closing her eyes as hard as she can.

“Things have been so chaotic I haven’t had the chance to meditate or do a Soul Resonance in ages” she thinks, hearing a familiar voice whisper to her ear.

They are not worthy to worship you. Kill them now and reclaim their land.

<DEMETER IS RIGHT, FOR ONCE. YOU DON’T NEED THEM TO RULE THIS WORLD. YOU DON’T NEED ANYONE> – the voice of Hephaestus adds.

“You gods don’t shut up even when you’re dead, don’t you?” – Noriko asks, then opens her eyes.

The ghastly visions are gone, but now every single head of state has been replaced with one of the gods she’s killed so far: Demeter, Hephaestus, Selene, Phobos, and Tiamat who speaks with her thunderous voice.

Null? Are you going to answer the question? – the Celestial Dragon asks.

Noriko rubs her eyes, feeling like they’re burning. When she’s done, she recognizes that the question was asked by President Keen, and that the other leaders are looking at her.

She turns to see the holographic map, only it’s not there. And her phone is still in her pocket.

“Did I hallucinate all of that!? It can’t be good” – she thinks.

-She doesn’t have to answer, she has saved us from Artemis and the Scribe before: that’s reason enough to trust her – the President of China comes to her rescue, of all people.

-Yes. Thank you. I recognize that my relationship with the international community has been, let’s say, problematic in the past. And I believe that all of you also recognize that the current system isn’t good enough to deal with problems that affect the entire world – she continues.

-What do you propose, exactly? – the Prime Minister of Japan asks her.

-A new international organization, parallel to the United Nations, to provide defense against alien threats and natural disasters. With my financial and technological assistance.

She can practically see the leaders salivate at those words: she knows that they’ve been keeping an eye on her inventions.

-To prevent this Global Defense Organization from following a single county’s interests, its leadership would have to be shared between members, for example by… – she continues.

-Russia would never agree to something like this – its President interrupts her.

-Neither would the United States – President Keen immediately adds.

-I have to agree. The United Nations and the international community would have been able to stop the Winter King’s invasion, if given the necessary technology – the President of China says, proving to Noriko that she can’t take for granted any government’s personal loyalty to her.

-Think carefully before you squander this opportunity to… – Noriko begins to respond, but she stops when the room is filled by white light, so shining she has to close her eyes.

 

240 miles above the Earth

The planet is clearly visible from the panoramic windows, separated from each other by large marble columns. It’s a very, very large room, enough to host the entire summit and leaving much space. And at the center of it, something almost as unexpected as being teleported into orbit.

A golden throne, slightly elevated above the floor, where a woman is sitting elegantly crossing her legs. She seems to be a living anachronism: a black and yellow pantsuit, golden high heeled boots, with an owl perched on her right shoulder and a holographic earpiece floating next to her left ear. She’s holding a spear in her hand, using it as a sort of scepter. There’s a golden helmet resting on her head, above her luscious and very long blond hair.

She’s not alone: standing next to her, and taking notes on a tablet, there’s a woman wearing an elegant peplos and who has large white wings coming out of her back. She says:

-Welcome aboard the Aegis. You stand in the presence of Lady Athena, God-President of the Athenian Federation; you will be returned to your planet once this audience has ended.

-Athena. Nike. It’s been a while – Noriko politely waves at them.

Several jaws have dropped. Many of the leaders are in shock, both for being teleported to a spaceship and for meeting an actual goddess. President Keen is slightly less surprised, having some knowledge about the existence of Greek gods, and breaks the silence.

-It is a honor to meet you, Athena. There are many…

Lady Athena. You are the current President of the United States, is that correct?

-Y-yes, I am – Keen answers. Her tone is cordial, but something about her remains imposing.

-Your government is in possession of the bodies of two Guild operatives, Naiad and Scarab, as well as the latter’s Drylon weapon. I am taking them back.

-With all due respect, Lady Athena…

-It was not a request – she clarifies: suddenly she’s holding pure light in her hand, and when it disappears she’s handing to Nike the device taken from Scarab months ago.

-I am also sequestering the last remnants of Talos robots on the planet and the Lar building that appeared in the southern continent. I think we can all agree that Earth is not a safe place for them.

-Shouldn’t this be discussed with the Earth’s governments? – the Russian President asks.

-If you saw a child playing with a bomb, would you debate the merits of her decision or would you take unilateral action? – she asks rhetorically, with the same tone of a mother scolding her son.

-If you’re done showing off, why don’t you get to the point? – Noriko asks, crossing her arms.

-Indeed – Athena nods, standing up from her throne. She towers above everyone: even without her heels she’d be at least 6”1’ tall. She walks towards the window, facing the Earth, and hold out her hand as if she’s trying to grab something invisible. She looks like she’s straining herself.

The mortals don’t understand what she’s doing until they look at the planet.

-Jesus Christ – Keen exclaims, watching the ice covering Greece disappear. In a matter of seconds, the effect spreads to all of Europe, then it proceeds through Asia, restoring the climate to what it was before the Endless Winter. In the 3 minutes it takes for the effect to cover Earth, nobody talks.

Now I’m done showing off. Normally, interaction with a primitive planet would be against Federation law. However, given the damage caused by my people to this world, I am willing to make an exception: to prevent future invasions, I will station one of my ships at the edge of your solar system. Noriko, please consider this gift as a reward from saving me from Tiamat.

-Much appreciated, Athena.

-I want Earth to consider the Athenian Federation as a friend. And, while that friendship is not predicated on the continuation of your de facto role of Earth’s representative… – she pauses, looking at the leaders and taking a much stricter tone –… it is preferred.

-Lady Athena. We need to leave soon, or you will miss your next appointment – Nike reminds her.

-Ah, yes. Noriko, I would like a word in private. As for your friends… have a nice day.

She waves her hand dismissively, and the room is once again filled with blinding light.

 

United Nations General Assembly

President Keen almost faints when the teleportation effect fades: he can feel his heart racing faster than ever. His counterparts are not faring much better: most of them are quite advanced in age, and even in their wildest dreams none of them would never have imagined a day like this.

It feels like an eternity before someone has something to say. And just to make Keen’s day even worse, it just has to be the President of Russia.

-I think I have reconsidered my position on the Global Defense Organization – he says.

-I have as well – the President of China says, in unison with the Prime Minister of Japan. And followed by more and more leaders.

The United Nations is not in the shape to have any sort of official vote, but one thing is clear.

Everything they knew about geopolitics became obsolete in the last five minutes.

 

Throne room of the Aegis ship

Athena places a medallion with her symbol, a cog with a lightning bolt inside, around Noriko’s neck. Then she expertly fixes her hair with just a few touches.

-You’re growing into a lovely maiden and a capable leader. I’m proud of you, my child.

-Since when can you control the weather? – Noriko asks, moving Athena’s hands away from her.

-Since before your ancestors learned how to use fire. Just remember that even I can’t erase all the damage done: you have a monumental struggle in front of you, but I’m confident in your abilities.

-Uh-uh. Will the Mortal Republic really allow a ship from the Athenian Federation permanently stationed to guard Earth’s solar system? We are nominally in their space, after all.

-I will ask Tyche to formally recognize Earth as a native reservation, free from direct control from the Republic; Syzar will be forced to do the same.

-Why Tyche? Can’t you do it yourself?

-It’s better if I distance myself from a direct involvement. Otherwise Ares or Apollo might destroy Earth out of spite, especially now that so many beings know its location.

-Which reminds me, thanks for leaving the Palladium and the Heaven-Slayer under my protection.

-Like I said, I trust your abilities. Now, before Nike reminds me again, I have a wedding to attend; I will need to borrow the Ragnarok to be there in time.

-Ilithyia’s wedding to Helios. I almost forgot about that – Noriko admits.

-Relationships are the bane of my family. I see you have abstained from sexual intercourse since our last encounter; I strongly encourage you to keep things this way.

-I think you should be on your way. Say hello to your family for me – Noriko changes the subject.

-It’s better if I don’t: most of them want to kill you – Athena answers, teleporting her protégé away.