My name is Noriko Null and I’ve never met my mother before.

There was never a picture of her in the house. Dad never mentioned her unless I asked first, and he always seemed very careful to say as little as possible. All he ever said was that my mother had to go back to Japan when I was very young.

I always asked him why, and the answer was always the same: she was a very busy woman and he’d explain when I was older. I’m eighteen and I still don’t have the answer.

This week I received a letter from Tokyo…an actual paper letter inside an envelope, with a hundred-dollar bill.

“Meet me at the Empire State Building, 87th floor, next Friday at eight PM. Don’t tell anyone. Leiko Tanaka, your mother”.

Every fantasy I’ve ever had about my mother flared up when I received that letter. I still have it in my pocket, together with the hundred dollar bill.

Sneaking out of the house, catching a cab to the other side of the city, taking the longest elevator ride of my life, my heart feels like it’s going to explode.

An Asian man in a business suit is waiting for me, quickly showing me his card.

-Miss Null, I presume. I represent Miss Tanaka; follow me, please.

I mumble something and follow him. Before you know it we’re in some kind of brand new conference room. I couldn’t miss the Scion Corporation logo if I wanted to.

There’s a woman in front of the window overlooking the city. She’s wearing a stark white office suit, in contrast with the very dark hair reaching her shoulders.

She turns and walks towards the table. I don’t know why I’m surprised by the resemblance: I knew I’d look more like my mother. My father’s Caucasian. Still, I can’t help staring at her, probably looking like an idiot.

-Sit down. Don’t just stand there looking at me like an idiot – she says.

-Miss Null, as you may know, as daughter of a Japanese citizen born in the United States, you currently have both citizenships. However Japanese law does not recognize dual citizenship: before you reach age 22 you are required to choose one of the two nationalities.

-What? I’m sorry, but…this is the first time I see my mother…what’s this got to do with anything?

-Miss Tanaka wishes you to renounce Japanese citizenship, never visit Japan, never acknowledge your mother’s identity and sign a nondisclosure agreement. In exchange, miss Tanaka agrees to pay you one hundred thousand American dollars.

-Wait wait wait. You’re showing up after all this time to give me hush money!?

-Miss Tanaka is a very important person, miss Null. News of a secret teenage pregnancy could damage her image – the lawyer explains very calmly.

-That’s what you care about? Your image? Is it more important than me?

-Yes.

The black hair slips in front of her left eye, but she doesn’t even blink as she looks at me and explains:

-Life is full of disappointments. You are one of them, just like your father. Your name suits you well: you are nothing and will always be nothing. If it had been up to me, you wouldn’t even exist. Take the money, it’s probably the best thing that will ever happen to you.

-Miss Tanaka, please, is this really the best way to handle the situation? – asks the lawyer, his voice a mix of embarrassment and fear.

She answers something in Japanese. I don’t understand a word. All I understand is that I’ve never felt this insulted and betrayed in my life.

I reach for the letter in my pocket and throw it at her. It’s still got the hundred dollar bill inside.

-Don’t worry. You don’t have a daughter.

 

I manage to hold the tears until I’ve stormed out of that horrible place. There’s no way to explain what’s going on inside my head right now, but as soon as I reach the elevator I hear it:

-Your mother’s quite something, isn’t she?

She startles me: I have no idea how I missed her. Long blond hair, easily seven feet tall, built like a swimsuit model, yellow office suit. Pretty hard to miss.

-You have no idea.

-Maybe I do. I’ve never met my mother, actually, she was eaten by my father before I was born.

-…

-It’s not as bad as it sounds, he turned her into a fly first. He doesn’t like eating people. Family issue.

-O-okay. Nice meeting you.

The elevator door opens, but on the other side there’s no elevator: just a grass field. I turn around and all of a sudden I’m no longer in the building.

-Central Park, in case you’re wondering – the woman clarifies.

For some reason I’m not freaking out. Part of me wants to run away, sure, but a much bigger part wants to understand what the heck is going on.

-You didn’t scream. I’m not easily surprised, but I didn’t expect that.

-Why am I here?

-I like the place and I didn’t want to blow up the building. Listen, this is awkward enough, so I’ll get to the point: I am Athena, goddess of wisdom and war. I want to offer you a job.

-What… what kind of job?

-The universe is far stranger than you know. Things you thought fictional like gods, aliens and monsters are real. Humanity is ridiculously unprepared and I can’t shield you forever.

-I don’t understand.

-You will – she answers, reaching inside her jacket. She shows me something fitting in the palm of her hand: a swirling path of energy, shaped like the symbol for infinity.

-This is human knowledge. All of it, throughout the ages of mankind. It will make you the most intelligent being native to this planet. The vanguard of Earth’s defense against the impossible.

-And you’re giving this to me?

-You have determination, you don’t scare easily, and I have a thing for heroes with family issues. Heroes have been chosen on far shakier grounds.

She leaves the energy glow floating, right in front of me. I stare into her silver eyes, my mother’s voice still echoing in my mind.

-What does this have to do with my mother?

-Let’s just say that your family makes mine look normal, and my uncle is the Lord of the Dead.

-Where’s the catch?

-The catch is you’ll have to live with the darkest part of humanity crawling inside your head. If you can live with that and with the responsibility of my gift, just touch the energy.

I hesitate. This is too crazy to be true. But it would be crazier to throw away something like this.

-Will it hurt?

-Immensely. But it’s worth it.

-This is probably a bad idea – I say, touching the energy.

 

The energy flows from my hand to the rest of my body. All my pain receptors go into overdrive; I can’t move a finger. This is the easy part.

Then the process reaches my head; I feel like somebody’s peeling off my brain with a rake and pouring acid into it. Making new space.

Every man, woman and child feels something at the exact same moment, like they’ve heard a distant sound they don’t recognize. They don’t know their mind is being linked to mine.

As this happens, the sky over New York is lit by a lighting storm the likes of which has never been seen, mostly because there’s almost no cloud. It’s literally a storm of knowledge, as the information is reaching it from all over the world.

As I look up to watch it, the download starts. No wonder Athena didn’t want to do this indoors: a massive bolt of lightning strikes me.

It takes seventeen seconds. You think it’s not much? Try squeezing ten thousand years of civilization into it, in a continuous stream of data. Think of every book and magazine ever written, every song and speech ever recorded, every theory and fantasy and nightmare and hope ever passed to future generation.

I fall on my knees. The grass has been burned to ashes but there’s not even a scratch on my clothes. My brain is still stitching together neural pathways to process the new information. I will probably need to rewrite neuroscience from scratch to understand what’s going on inside my head. Suddenly I realize two things: I can do it, and it will be easy.

I stand up. I can see Athena as the ancient Greeks saw her, with her golden helmet and majestic shield. I also see my reflection in the shield. My eyes are now bright silver.

-How do you feel? – Athena asks.

“You are nothing and will always be nothing” – says my mother’s voice.

I feel like I can do anything. I feel like showing my mother what I have become.

But I am not the sweet innocent Noriko anymore. I am something more, something born out of every battle that’s ever been fought, every mystery that’s ever been solved, every threshold that’s ever been shattered.

I am a single mind backed by seven billion souls, and there’s only one thing that I can answer, the one thought that keeps the other seven billions in check.

-I am Null. I feel like I could take over the world.



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