Megalopolis, 52.000 light-years from Earth

This is the most densely populated planet in the Olympian Galaxy. There are over two hundred cities with a population over twenty million, and four times as many people live in smaller communities. With so much need for living space, the presence of a private garden so huge that it can be seen from space might seem strange.

The Holy Palace stands proudly at the center of the garden, and it’s ridiculously huge. Its entrance lies at the end of an impractically long staircase, and it’s surrounded by two statues so big they make the Statue of Liberty look like a toy. They represent two winged women raising in triumph a laurel wreath with one hand and a stylized lightning bolt with the other.

At the top of the staircase, the Secretary of State awaits patiently. She’s a blond woman wearing a modest blue dress that’s as impeccable as her conservative hairdo; she’s just standing there, looking into the distance, and smiling. Constantly smiling.

She can’t see the bottom of the staircase, but she can feel what’s approaching. The plants on the side of the stairs are quickly dying, spreading an invisible illness that’s turning leaves into ashes.

When the visitor arrives her smile doesn’t fade, but the Secretary tightens her hands. She takes a bow, avoiding looking the planet’s new guest in the eye.

-Welcome to Megalopolis, Lord Hades.

She feels a chill inside her bones. His features are hidden beneath the shadows of his leathery black cloak; she feels sick just by being near him. But she keeps smiling.

We’re expected – he says, his voice barely louder than a whisper.

Yeah! You’ve got the Motherfu##in’ King and Queen of the Underworld here, and this s##t is the best you can do!? – the woman next to him complains, as loud as possible.

In more ways than one, Persephone is her husband’s opposite. He’s calm and composed, she’s constantly on the verge of a psychotic break. He blends in the darkness, she’s dressed exclusively to attract attention: green hair, a dragon tattoo on her chest, covered only by a metal bra.

-I am sorry to hear that, Lady Persephone. What can I do to help you?

How about you lose that fu##ing smile? – Persephone asks angrily, raising her hand towards the woman. Hades stops her, grabbing her by the wrist.

No.

The f##k!? You care about this c##t? – she asks, struggling to break free. There’s enough strength in her arm to lift a mountain, but Hades doesn’t budge.

We talked about this. You will behave, and you will be nice to my sister.

Persephone clenches her teeth; she could vaporize half the continent with a temper tantrum, but she knows it’s impossible to argue with Hades. When he lets her go, she crosses her arms and pouts.

Whatever. Let’s just get this over with.

 

Earth, Arlington County, Virginia

Even though there are over two hundred bathrooms in the Pentagon, there is only one currently guarded by two soldiers standing at attention just outside the door.

That’s because the person using the facility is currently considered to be the most powerful person in the world: the twenty year old genius billionaire Noriko Null.

She gets out of the stall to wash her hands, staring at the mirror. She didn’t dress up for the occasion: the usual leather jacket of a horrible shade of green and the black T-shirt with her white Ø symbol on it will do.

She looks at herself in the mirror, her silver eyes staring back from the reflection. There are bags underneath them: she’s been sleeping less than usual, even by her standards.

There is simply too much to do. Earth did survive an alien invasion almost unscathed, but she did have to reveal owning a starship with tremendous destructive power. And of course, the knowledge that aliens exist is rapidly redefining many aspects of what was ordinary life.

She washes her face, just to clear her head while she wonders how people would react if they really knew the truth: not only aliens exist, but the Greek gods as well. And they own most of the galaxy.

When she moves her hand to grab a towel to dry her face, someone hands it to her.

-Do you have a minute to talk? – a male voice asks.

Noriko reacts like only she can: her N-Watch recognizes a specific twitch of her fingers and creates the Genius Gun in her hand, which she points straight at the man.

It’s overkill, for sure: it may look like an ordinary handgun, but at full power it can level a building.

He doesn’t care. He gives a sly smile, highlighted by the unruly red beard.

-Ulysses. You know you shouldn’t be here – she says, recognizing the immortal hero of legend… although she never thought she’d see him wearing a suit and tie.

-I doubt you’re allowed to bring that kind of stuff here – he answers, calmly pushing her hand aside to get out of her aim. Though she still doesn’t make the gun disappear.

-How did you get here?

-You know it’s what I do.

-Be a creep in the women’s bathroom? – she tells him, taking the towel.

-Go where I’m not supposed to go.

-I haven’t seen you since we deposed Artemis and Hermes. Good news or bad news?

-It’s about the gods.

-Bad news, then. Is there any other kind?

-Your use of the Heart Of The Universe has made a lot of gods nervous, Null. Considering you’ve already killed three gods, you having access to a Drylon weapon makes them afraid of you.

-Good – Noriko nods, her silver eyes shining.

-No, that’s not good at all. True, killing Selene discouraged other gods from a direct assault on the Mortal Republic, but in the long run you’re just escalating the conflict. We already know Ereshkigal took an interest in you, and my informants in the Abydos Galaxy tell me Isis is coming back.

-Isis? What does the Egyptian pantheon have to do with this?

-Thanks to you, the Greek pantheon is losing power and territory, and fast. The other pantheons are seeing this as a sign of weakness. If they come to the conclusion that the internal conflicts of the Olympian Galaxy compromise its defense against an invasion…

-Bad news, yes, I get it. What do you suggest?

-I talked to Tyche. She’s convinced she can strike a bargain with Olympus to get mortal kingdoms officially recognized as vassals to Zeus: it won’t grant you protection from other Greek gods, but other pantheons won’t be able to attack without risking retaliation.

-Sounds too good to be true. You really think Tyche can do it?

-She has her father’s talent for manipulation and her mother’s powers of seduction; she’s not called the Goddess of Destiny for nothing. When she decides an outcome, nothing can change it.

-And since you came to talk to me, I assume she wants something in return for this…

-She wants to know the location of Earth. I think you should give it to her.

-What!? Earth being invisible to the gods is one if its greatest assets!

-It’s not as useful as you may think: too many gods already know where it is, and not all of them are your allies. It’s a small sacrifice to gain the protection that Tyche can grant you.

-If you think it’s such a good idea, why don’t you tell her!?

-Because I don’t betray my allies.

Noriko and Ulysses look at each other. They know they can’t fully trust each other, but both of them are smart enough to realize they should work together.

-Alright. But I don’t want her to set foot here: things are tense enough as it is, I don’t want another spaceship hovering above New York. Do you know the location of her planet?

-I’ll wait for you there – Ulysses answers, pointing at something behind Noriko. She turns, looking at the galactic coordinates written with golden dust over the mirror. She memorizes them in the blink of an eye, but when she turns again Ulysses has disappeared.

-I hate it when they do that – she groans, wiping the gold off the mirror with her sleeve.

 

Megalopolis, 52.000 light-years from Earth

The interior of the Holy Palace is lavishly decorated. The floor is pure gold, and the light coming from the enormous stained glass windows reflects on the mosaics of precious gems on the walls.

This is called the Peacock Room for two rather obvious reasons: there are dozens of such birds roaming free, and the golden throne at the center has a colorful and ostentatious tail of gemstones.

Sitting on the throne, elevated a couple of feet above the guests, is the supreme ruler of this planet.

The Secretary of State kneels before the throne, introducing the guests.

-Lord Hades, Lady Persephone, you stand in the presence of the Queen of Olympus, the Jewel of the Universe, the Most Favorite Daughter of Kronos, the Loving Mother of the Galaxy, our Beloved Empress, Hera the Great.

-Feel free to bow – Hera tells them. Even by divine standards, she’s exceptionally beautiful and she knows it. Her white dress is tight in the right places, and a precious golden necklace stands comfortably over her ample bosom. One hand is patting one of her pet peacocks, while the other is playing with her luscious electric blue hair.

Persephone reluctantly bows, while Hades proudly stands when he greets her simply saying:

Sister.

-Brother. How good to see you and your beautiful wife.

Yeah. Just great.

Yes, funny how I’m always the one visiting, while you’ve never set foot in my galaxy. The Underworld would be glad to host you, Hera.

Speak for yourself.

-What was that, dear Persephone? – Hera asks, her blue eyes shining for a second.

Nothing.

-Just as I thought. To what do I owe the pleasure? Have you finally decided to respect your marital vows and conceive a legitimate heir to your throne?

Keep wishing. How are your children, anyway?

-They’re fine. Thank you so very much for asking.

Fine? Hephaestus is dead.

-So I have been told.

Don’t you care? He was your son.

-He was a deformed hunchback married to an illegitimate and unfaithful goddess. I can’t shed tears for such a failure of a son.

And they say you’re the cold one – Persephone says to Hades.

So you are not upset about the death of your sister Demeter? Or Selene?

-That green-haired harlot deserved a thousand deaths for laying with my husband outside the sacred bounds of marriage. As for Selene, while it’s unfortunate to lose a loyal servant of my father, she refused to swear allegiance to Olympus. Her death doesn’t concern me.

I think it does. Mortals have learned to use Drylon weapons; one of them, in particular, is growing to be a danger to us all. Her name is Noriko Null.

-I don’t believe I’ve heard the name. She’s not one of my husband’s children, isn’t she?

She’s fully mortal, Hera. One of Athena’s champions.

-Ah yes, Athena. A frigid spinster and her pet human, is that what worries you brother?

Both Ereshkigal and Isis took an interest in that “pet human”, Hera. I think you should too.

Yeah, don’t underestimate that little bit…uhm, witch. She’s really dangerous.

-They would risk my husband’s wrath because of a mortal? Zeus would protect us from them.

I went to Olympus to make sure of that, but he’s not there. Where is your husband, Hera?

-Visiting our mother in the Elysian Fields. This mortal is a woman, you say?

I don’t see what it has to do with anything. This is a matter of galactic importance.

-So is my marriage. Tell me more about this “Noriko Null”, Hades… I shall take this matter into my own hands, before Zeus has a chance to be infatuated again.



Ø
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