Warship Ragnarok, Earth orbit
Max Black a.k.a. Quantum materializes on the bridge, feeling excited; he’ll never get over the idea of traveling on a real spaceship. This is the first time he’s carrying a suitcase, however.
-You’re just in time, we’re about to start the meeting – Kari Zel greets him, creating a duplicate to carry his luggage to his quarters.
-You know, I really envy your power, Kari. You’re never missing anything, while I have to leave my girlfriend back on Earth.
-Girlfriend, uh? So things are getting serious with Kristen?
-Maybe. I know Noriko doesn’t trust her, but I think she’s awesome. Also, having friends in the press will help us a lot, especially now that Keen is president.
-I’m sure the fact that she’s a smokin’ hot blonde helps – Kari winks at him, showing him the way to the meeting room. It’s right next to the bridge; Noriko Null is already there, and surprisingly enough her boyfriend Todd Slate is with her.
-No offense Todd, but what are you doing here? – Max asks him.
-He’s coming with us. Sit down, we have a lot to cover – Noriko says, prompting Max and Kari to exchange a perplexed look. The lights dim, and over the meeting table the holographic projectors show a map of the so-called Olympian Galaxy.
-This is where we are. And this is where we’re going to find the Dragon Tomb – Noriko says, highlighting two red dots: all recognize the first as Earth’s location in the galaxy, but the second point is very far away. It’s located near the border between the Enyo, Apollo and Ares sectors.
-This is the Omoroca star system, 65.000 light-years away, in the Ares sector.
-I suppose it was too much to ask for the Aphrodite sector – Kari comments.
-Sorry Kari, no such luck. The problem is that I don’t have any other information about that system, other that the Dragon Tomb’s coordinates lead us there.
-Big deal. Just fire up the Negative Drive, we get what we want and we’ll be back in no time. I mean, that thing’s insanely fast, isn’t it? – Max asks.
-The Negative Drive could take us there in 1 hour and 25 minutes, yes, but there are problems with it. One, there’s no way to keep the ship cloaked when using it, so everyone will see us while we travel through hostile sectors. Two, I’ve run some tests and there’s a very, very high possibility that the drive will explode if we use it for more than 24 minutes. So we’re stuck using the Star Drive the whole time – Null explains.
-Can’t we alternate between the two drives? – Todd asks.
-No, the Negative Drive works by drawing power from a parallel dimension; if we keep switching it on and off, it loses the connection. We can only use it as a last resort. The Star Drive can accelerate up to two million times the speed of light; even with all the deviations, it’ll take us a month.
-Wait, what deviations? I thought this was just a search for the Dragon Tomb!
-It’s always more complicated, Kari. This is our flight plan – Noriko explains, and a segmented line appears on the map. It includes three stops before the destination.
-First we’re going to Kythera, where we’ll pick up Ulysses and Vesta. Then we’ll cross the Artemis border and stop at Arcadia. Then it’s Labya in the Aphrodite Sector, Gordium in the Enyo sector, and finally we reach Omoroca. That’s 13 days of travel to get there; after we get the Dragon Tomb, we can flight straight to Earth for another 12 days.
-I get why we need to fly through Artemis space, but why do we have to stop there? – Max asks.
-We need to get star charts of the Enyo sector, and there’s a good chance to get them from some of the space pirates that operate there. But I want to stay there as little as possible, which is why we’re immediately going back to Aphrodite space before continuing through Enyo. Questions?
-Yes. Be honest, how insane is this whole plan? – Todd asks, raising his hand.
-We’re about to fly to the other side of the Galaxy into enemy territory to recover a lost superweapon that could have any shape or form. We’ve done crazier things – Noriko minimizes.
Boreas, 3.000 light-years from Earth
The spaceship Talaria enters orbit; its rightful owner, the young goddess Tyche, looks at the planet through the viewscreen. Illuminated by the faint glow of a distant blue star, it reflects most of its light thanks to the white clouds and continent-sized glaciers.
When Vesta enters the bridge, the guards bow down to her. She used to like this sort of thing, before her exile, but now she feels uncomfortable being worshipped.
-What are we doing here, Tyche? We’re supposed to be on Kythera.
-Relax, aunt Vesta, we’ll get there in time: the Talaria is faster than the Ragnarok, remember. And we’re here because I’ve been formally invited by the Winter King; you wouldn’t want to miss it.
-Why, so that you can send him to fight your enemies like you did with the Talos?
-Leave politics to me, Vesta. If you’re worried about potential loss of life, Hekate’s sector is mostly uninhabited at this point. I’d rather deal with the Talos than with the Triple Goddess.
-I’m not exactly Hekate’s biggest fan, but I still don’t like it. Now, about this mission, what do you know about the Winter King?
-Same as you. That he wears the Winter Armor designed by Hephaestus, giving him immense power. He’s the last surviving member of the Guild, which he left in protest of the Scribe’s plan to attack Null. Many worlds turned to his protection when the Alliance fell apart, and as far as I know he’s kept his promise to leave each world independent. But I’ve never met him… can we trust him?
-That remains to be seen. He’s a wildcard obsessed with his own form of honor.
-Sounds intriguing. Come on, I don’t want to keep the king waiting – Tyche says, standing up from her throne and grabbing Vesta by her arm.
-Where are we going? Shouldn’t we land the ship?
-And have the crew freeze to death? I’m not that kind of goddess, aunt Vesta – Tyche explains, dragging Vesta towards the nearest airlock.
The two goddesses don’t waste any time, flying directly to the planet. Vesta wonders if Tyche is trying to impress her. She’s extremely young: seven thousand years, barely out of her adolescence.
She struggles to navigate through the strong currents of the high atmosphere; she probably noticed that Vesta has slowed down to give her the chance to keep up with her.
Their destination is a castle. Its architecture reminds Vesta of Windsor Castle on Earth, but it’s completely covered by snow. Immediately after landing, Tyche covers herself with her blue cloak; the flaming halo above her head becomes much, much hotter.
-Let’s get inside, I’m freezing. Aren’t you cold? – she asks; Vesta is only wearing an orange toga which leaves one shoulder and most of her legs exposed to the bitter cold.
-I’m never cold. How could you be? We were in space a minute ago!
-I wasn’t thinking about it – Tyche admits, shivering.
-You really are young. Did nobody ever teach you how to keep your invulnerability?
-All my mother Aphrodite ever wants to talk about is sex, and my father Hermes said I’m too weak to fight anyway, so he never taught me anything.
-I really should speak with your parents. C’mon, let’s get you inside – Vesta says, putting her hand on her grand-niece’s back and increasing the temperature of the air around her. She sees a little of herself in Tyche now, figuring that maybe her ambition is her way to mask her insecurities.
-Thank you aunt Vesta – Tyche tells her, trying her best to hide her smile while she thinks:
“Yes, think of me as the daughter you never had. That’ll make you easier to manipulate you”.
Inside the Winter Castle
Much to Vesta’s surprise, the castle’s servants aren’t human. There are a few Lampyrian handmaidens, but everybody else has grey skin and speaks a completely unintelligible language; they look like the Grey Lady, according to Noriko’s description. As they lead the two goddesses towards the throne room, Vesta studies the rich tapestry that adorns the hallways: they all depict the Winter King himself.
When they finally reach the throne room, the Winter King is talking to his officials; since she can’t understand a word, Vesta looks at the centerpiece of the room: the throne made of pure diamonds.
–Please forgive the delay, Your Divinities. I had important matters of state to attend to – he says, turning towards them. His voice is heavily distorted by his helmet, which completely covers his face. It’s an impressive suit of knight armor, with blue circuitry shining through. He takes Tyche’s hand and kisses it (or rather pretends to, due to the helmet).
-It is a pleasure to meet you, Your Majesty. I believe you already know my great-aunt Vesta?
-We’ve met – Vesta says, taking a step back to get some distance from the Winter King.
–Indeed we have, as enemies and allies. Honor dictates that I apologize for the inconsiderate actions of my former associate, the Scribe. Had I known he would try to harm you and your friends, fair Vesta, honor would have dictated me to come to your rescue.
-I’m sure it would have. As you see we are natural allies, Your Majesty. Now, where does the Winter Kingdom stand in regards to my kingdom and to the Mortal Republic? – Tyche asks.
–I firmly believe the galaxy would benefit greatly having me as its undisputed ruler; one day, the Winter King shall rule Olympus. But for now, we have common enemies and honor dictates that we fight together against them.
-Before we get to politics, I just have to ask you something. You’re not human, right? – Vesta asks.
–I am not sure what you mean by that term. Perhaps my esteemed guest can provide more insight to that – he says, pointing at the other side of the room.
Vesta’s jaw drops when she sees an Asian woman approaching. She’s wearing a red evening gown with thick white fur trimmings and a diamond necklace.
-What is she doing here!? – Vesta shouts; when she closes her fists, they’re surrounded by flames.
–I have chosen Baroness Leiko as my ambassador to the Mortal Republic.
-You’ve got to be kidding me!!! And since when is she a Baroness!?
-Since His Majesty granted me the honor to serve him. And to answer your question, Vesta: I’m the only human on this planet, as far as I know. The people of Boreas consider themselves the descendants of the oldest known humanoid aliens, which predate my own kind by millions if not billions of years. They called themselves the Lar.
-Winter King, Null will never work with you if you keep her around, believe me – Vesta tells him.
–That is unfortunate, because the Baroness has my trust.
-Perhaps it would be better to continue this conversation alone, Your Majesty. My ship can take Vesta to her destination and pick me up later – Tyche suggests.
-Fine by me. I don’t intend to stay any second longer – Vesta protests, walking past Leiko to reach the exit. The mortal stops her, handing to the goddess a sealed envelope.
-Please deliver this to my daughter. And give my best regards to the people of Earth.
Leiko and Vesta exchange looks, making it clear how much they despise each other. Vesta doesn’t answer her, taking the envelope and leaving the castle.
Hell, 163.000 light-years away
Thousands of Demons have gathered in front of an altar made of skulls, where an old man with red skin and white hair is about to announce the new Lord Of All Demons. Torn is in the crowd, holding his youngest daughter Lesion on his shoulders to give her a better view.
-Who did you vote for, Dad? I voted Lady Vice because I want to see the Olympian Galaxy!
-It’s overrated – her older sister Laceration tells her.
-You are old enough to kill and therefore to vote, Lesion, but not to see the problem with Vice’s proposal to abolish Hell’s isolationism. Lord Carnage is the best choice to keep Hell conservative.
-I thought we agreed to keep politics out of family time, my love – Torn’s wife Agony reminds him.
-Indeed. Perhaps I have been on Earth too much – he ponders, just when the old man announces:
-Demons of Hell, we have a new leader! Out of the 295,408,296 living Demons, 290,681,763 are old enough to kill. Of these 81,390,894 have voted for Lord Carnage, while 209,290,869 Demons have voted for Lady Vice. All hail Vice, Lady Of All Demons!
-All hail the Lady Of All Demons – the crowd repeats. It’s nearly impossible to get Demons to cheer, but this was more than a landslide. Torn holds his wife’s hand, foreseeing this will be a disaster for the rest of the universe.