Null Tower, New York City

The morning starts as usual: Noriko Null is sitting on the couch of the Operation Center, drinking a cup of espresso and working through a couple dozen holographic screens of charts, mathematical formulas and blueprints. What’s new is that Todd Slate is waking up next to her, rubbing his eyes.

-‘Morning – she greets him, keeping her eyes on the holograms.

-What time is it? – he mumbles, trying to focus his eyes on his watch.

-Four thirty-seven AM.

-That’s not “morning”. We should really get to bed – he yawns.

-You can go if you’re tired. I already had a couple of hours of sleep.

-Here? You were already working when I brought dinner… you didn’t leave the room the whole day? – he asks, knowing the answer. The robots haven’t picked up the leftovers yet.

-I went to the bathroom a couple of times.

-You know, Noriko…

-If you tell me I should get out more, I will fire you.

-I was just going to say this is the first time we’ve slept in the same room since we got together.

She pauses and adjusts her hair behind her right ear. He noticed she does it when she’s nervous.

-Am I taking things too slowly? I know it’s been twelve days…

-Oh so you’re counting, that’s very sweet – he teases her.

-Okay that’s it, you’re fired – she retorts jokingly, throwing a pillow at him; it passes through the holograms, and he pretends to have been hurt.

-But seriously, I’m… trying to be… closer. Just give me some time – she blushes.

-Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere – he reassures her, getting close enough to kiss her on the neck. She doesn’t shy away, even though she still feels awkward.

-A-anyway, you should have a look at this – she immediately changes the subject, pointing at one of the holograms. It shows different charts, showing the percentage of seven projects.

-The reconstruction of Beijing is at 75%, we will meet the deadline without problem. The planetary defense and the vaccine distribution are around 60% each, meaning we might actually finish ahead of schedule… which I didn’t know was possible.

-You can thank Japan for most of it. Believe it or not, Leiko Tanaka becoming Minister of Defense is the best thing that could happen to… what’s wrong?

-Nothing – she lies, even though she was clearly upset when he mentioned that name.

-Look, I know you think she’s the Empress of Shadows, but some of her actions have benefitted us.

-We’ll see – she says. Todd doesn’t know that Leiko is her mother, and Noriko is still not sure whether she should tell him. She quickly changes the subject:

-I’m more worried about the fusion project, we’re falling behind. I may have to take a trip to Saudi Arabia to push things a little. At least the space station and the Moon city projects are fine, now that Null Aerospace is fully operational.

-What about Project Seven? You still haven’t told me what it is.

-There are things I can’t talk about. Even with you.

-I understand – he answers, although it’s clear from his voice that he doesn’t like it.

-Speaking of which, have you told anyone about… us? – she asks.

-Not yet. But… and I’m speaking as your public relations manager now… it’s going to come out, eventually. Everyone already thinks we’re dating anyway.

-What do you mean “everyone”!?

-Well, we spend a lot of time together, and I’m always with you when you travel abroad. You’re a public figure, Noriko, not to mention the world’s richest single. You think the media isn’t interested in your private life?

-I don’t think I’ve seen a single gossip about me in any newspaper.

-That’s because I know how to do my job. It doesn’t mean people aren’t talking.

-I suppose it can’t be helped – she sighs.

-You should tell your father, though.

-You have got to be kidding me…

-He’s very protective of you. It’s better if he hears the news from you, isn’t it?

-I would rather get shot in the heart again.

-I know your father is… weird…

-Now there’s an understatement – she comments.

-…but it’s cool that you have such a close relationship. To be honest, I’m kind of jealous.

Noriko bites her upper lip. She still feels guilty because Todd missed his father’s funeral because he had to cover for her absence.

-Alright, I’ll talk to my father. But you have to promise me something.

-Anything.

-Avenge my death after I die from embarrassment.

Todd retaliates by throwing back the pillow, and the serious discussion degenerates into laughter.

 

Living quarters

Not too many people live in the Tower. Bob Null is one of them, sharing an apartment with doctor Catherine Kalama, his daughter’s physician. Technically speaking he doesn’t have a job, but Noriko

finds him mopping the floor of one of the corridors.

-Father – she greets him. By now Bob is used to be called that way; it used to bother him the first few days after Noriko’s mind changed, but he’s moved past that.

-‘Morning sweetheart. Careful where you step, it’s still wet.

-You know you don’t have to do this, right? We have robots for this kind of thing.

-They’re okay, I suppose, but nothing beats a real janitor. Besides, it gives me something to do.

-If you say so. Can we go inside?

It doesn’t take much to convince Bob. His apartment is much bigger than the one they used to share when they had to live on the salary of a high school janitor, but the décor hasn’t changed much. At heart, Bob Null is a very simple man.

-Sit down, please – she instructs him; he offers her a chair while he sits on the couch.

-Dad, I… I have something to tell you.

That she called him “dad” instead of “father” is already worrying, but the fact that she made sure he was sitting down is enough to send Bob into panic mode.

-Oh my God you’re pregnant!

-What? No!!! Why is that always your first thought!?!?

-Are you sure?

-I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.

-Well, that’s a relief! So, what is it that you wanted to tell me?

-Todd and I… we’re in a relationship.

-Really?

-Really. We didn’t plan it but it just… sort of happened.

-Seriously? You’re not trying to cover for something else, aren’t you?

-What are you talking about?

-I’ve always thought you liked girls.

-And I’ve been telling you that’s not the case for like five years, Dad. It’s… getting creepy, actually.

-So… you and Todd?

-Yeah. I just thought you should know.

-Isn’t he a little old for you?

-He’s not that old. Besides, it’s not like maturity or education are a factor with me.

-Well, it’s kind of unexpected, but he seems like a nice guy. Not that you need my permission, but if he makes you happy, you have my blessing.

-Thanks Dad. It means a lot to me.

-You are using protection though, right?

-Aaand here we go – she facepalms; she knew this was inevitable.

-Sweetheart, I know you’re smart, but in the heat of the moment it’s easy to forget things like that.

-You should know, that’s kind of the reason why I was born – she shrugs.

-…

-Sorry, low blow. Can we change the subject, please? I’m really not comfortable talking about this.

-Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Father and daughter stare at each other awkwardly for at least thirty seconds, in silence.

-He’s not too rough on you, is he? You’re a short girl, it can be painful if he’s too big down there.

-Please kill me now – she pleads, burying her blushing face in the palm of her hands.

-What? I’m trying to be a sex positive parent!

A little too much, Dad. I can’t talk about… stuff like that with you!

-You’re right, you’re right. You’re a responsible girl, I should trust your judgment.

-Thank you. I know you mean well, but…

-I should talk with Todd instead.

-Oh my God. I think I need to move to another planet – she groans, holding the bridge of her nose.

-I don’t know where you’ve learned to be such a prude, Nori. Definitely not from me.

Definitely. Why can’t you be like every other dad and think of me as a little girl who’s never going to have sex in her life?

-Well it’s a little late for that, don’t you think?

-Not… really – she blurts. By this time her face is so red it may catch fire.

-What do you mean? Is everything alright between you two?

-Yeah… but… we haven’t… yet… well…

-Really? How long have you and Todd been together?

-A couple weeks.

Weeks!? And you haven’t… Now I’m thinking he’s the one who’s hiding in the closet!

-It’s not him, I’m the one who… wait, why am I telling you this!?

-I should definitely talk to this guy – Bob decides, standing up, but Noriko’s eyes suddenly shine.

-SIT DOWN, Father. You are NOT going to tell my boyfriend to have sex with me, PERIOD.

Being scolded by his own daughter is apparently enough to convince Bob to sit down again.

-I have to be THE first girl in history who has to say that to her father – she comments.

-But I still don’t understand why you’re so worked up about this.

-That’s because we have the most backwards father-daughter relationship ever. Now please, please, PLEASE promise me you won’t embarrass me talking about… that in front of Todd or anyone else.

-I promise. Would it help if I told Catherine? She’s a doctor so she may prescribe him some pills.

-Oh, wow, look at the time, I have a… meeting with some… invention – Noriko quickly lies, pretending to look at her phone for an excuse to leave.

-I have to go, Father, we’ll continue this conversation never.

-Looking forward to it! – Bob smiles warmly, not getting the clue. He watches her daughter leave the room, more rapidly than he’s ever seen her move.

-Man, they grow up so fast these days… – he muses.

 

Argos, 100 light-years from Earth

The Alliance was just a loose coalition to fight a war: it wasn’t built to last. While its military is still busy fighting the resistance of planets still loyal to their gods, something unprecedented has started on Argos. Located roughly in the middle of Alliance space, once the capital of a regional power, it’s being used as the bureaucratic center of the new mortal kingdom.

When Alexer Syzar steps out of his luxury hovercar, he finds a woman waiting for him: she’s wearing a green cape and cowl.

-Welcome to Argos, mister Syzar. I look forward to working with you.

-Do I know you, miss…?

-Ganos Lal, Supreme Pontiff of the Church of Null. It’s about time we talked about the future.



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