Nysa, 17.000 light-years from Earth

This is a planet constantly in the shadows: an unusually large moon looms over its parent star, forever locked in the perfect place to an eternal eclipse.

Hundreds of planets in the sector ship their goods here: Nysia’s economy, if it even has one, doesn’t seem to produce even the most basic necessities. The planet’s only job is to provide entertainment for one person, who lives in a nightclub roughly the size of Great Britain.

Each party can last weeks, usually ending after enough people have died of overdose, alcohol poisoning, or sheer exhaustion from dancing for days without pause.

The host is snoring. Someone threw up on his golden throne, so he’s decided to sleep on the naked bodies of today’s first, second and third orgy. He wakes up when the incessant music finally ends, and finds himself facing the hologram of an eye inside an inverted triangle.

<Please forgive my interruption, Lord Dionysus> – says the Scribe.

The god answers with a loud belch that could wake the dead.

-What, can’t you see I’m busy? A god has responsibilities, y’know – he scolds him, scratching his head with one hand and his groin with the other.

<Hermes and Diana are at war. You have to take a side>

-Do I have to? I’d rather back Hephaestus. The guy never bothers me.

<Your brother Hephaestus is dead, Lord Dionysus>

-What? Really? This calls for, what do you call it? A toast? A celebration? Anyway, I’m drinkin’.

Dionysus plunges his hand in the pile of naked bodies, recovering a golden goblet. He spits in it, wipes it “clean” using the hair of a woman passed out from exhaustion. When he lifts it as a toast to his dead step-brother, the goblet fills itself to the brink with wine.

<My Lord. If you’re feeling up to it, I would suggest meeting the person who killed your brother>

-Who is it this time? Ares, Athena? Don’t tell me it’s Inanna again. That b##ch is crazy.

<None of them. It’s a mortal girl by the name of Noriko Null>

-Never heard of her. Is she cute?

<I seriously doubt you are her type, Lord Dionysus>

-Nonsense! I’m absolutely adorable, everybody knows that – the god boasts, snorting loudly. He looks like a drug addict that could be killed by a light breeze, but in a few seconds he changes form to physical perfection. Now he really does look like what most mortals would call a Greek god. Although no statue on Earth has ever captured the bloodshot eyes or the dark circles on his face.

-Now, let’s talk about the important stuff. Drinks are on her, right?

 

Labya, 34.000 light-years from Earth

Naiad is upset. She’s crossed her arms, nervously tapping her foot on the sand. Waiting.

Her blue hair blown by the strong wind, the only effect from standing in front of a typhoon.

“This is what happens when nobody wears a watch on the entire planet” she thinks.

Of course, hardly anybody wears anything around here. Why would they? This is a paradise: always sunny, always warm, always comfortable.

-I-I am s-sure O-Our Lady w-will be here a-at any moment n-now – the man in front of her struggles to say, shivering. Naiad gives him an angry look, and is considering obliterating the place with a tidal wave when the planet’s owner finally decides to show up.

To say she’s a woman would be an understatement: this is, without a doubt, THE woman. The pink robe clings jealously to her perfect body, barely containing her perfect breasts; her luscious red hair is still perfect despite the typhoon, and she tilts her head giving a perfect smile.

-I’m sorry! I’m so sorry, I came as soon as I could. I swear I’ll make up for it! – she says, giggling.

-Four hours. You kept me waiting four hours, Aphrodite.

-Well I did ask you to join before I started. Can I offer you anyone? Male, female, maybe both?

-M-may I go n-now, M-My Lady? – the mortal asks.

-Of course! Oh, look what you’ve done to this poor thing, Naiad! He needs someone to take care of him, to keep him warm, to touch his body…

-Your attention span is the worst. Is it too much for it to last just a little longer?

-You didn’t need to say that to Triton last week, didn’t you Naiad? You lucky girl!

Aphrodite winks at her, causing Naiad to blush uncontrollably. The typhoon disappears instantly.

-How did you… nevermind, it’s none of your business okay!?

-Oh Naiad, you’re so sexy when you’re embarrassed!

-You’re Aphrodite, you think everyone is sexy. Anyway, I’m here on Guild business: Hermes and Diana are at war and we need your help.

-War’s not really my thing – Aphrodite responds, twirling her hair with one finger.

-What if I told you there’s a way to keep war away from your sector, forever?

-I’d say that I would trust Hermes before I would believe a single word from the Scribe.

-This isn’t the Scribe’s plan. We are working for Noriko Null, the Slayer of Gods.

-Why didn’t you say it sooner? I would love to! –Aphrodite answers excitedly, clapping her hands.

-You don’t… mind that she killed your husband? – Naiad asks hesitantly.

-Mind it? This is wonderful! His mother will freak out when she hears about it!!!

 

Lipara, 10.000 light-years from Earth

Once the capital of a local empire, the planet was conquered by Hephaestus thousands of years ago and bombarded from orbit until the entire surface was liquefied. Now only a relatively small installation remains, protected from the heat by walls of neutral matter and from prying eyes by the average temperature high enough to melt steel.

Which makes the fact that the planet’s only visitor is sitting on a chair entirely made of ice.

My sincere apologies for a visit on such a short notice, Galatea IX – the Winter King says, with the breath he exhales turning into a small icy cloud.

-Don’t worry, I am glad to have you as my guest. In fact, you’re the first head of state recognizing my rank following the death of my dear Hephaestus – the female robot answers, taking a small bow. She’s a different model than the one destroyed with the Vulcan Forge, but her neutral matter chassis protects her from the extreme heat just like it did for the older model.

I am sorry to hear that. You may have lost your territory, but you are still Queen of the Talos Collective. Honor dictates that you should be treated with respect.

-The fact that I still control an army of 5,000 indestructible Talos robots is incidental, I’m sure.

A new galactic order will rise soon, Galatea. It is up to you to decide whether you’ll be part of it or if you’ll be left behind as a relic of the past.

-I see. Would there be space for me to rule a mortal population that worships me as a true goddess, in this new galactic order of yours?

I’m sure we will be able to come to an agreement that will meet your expectations.

-In that case, Winter King, the Collective will join your Alliance.

 

Creon VII, 800 light-years from Earth

The Unrelenting Force is on orbit above the planet, or at least what used to be a planet. This world’s devastated surface is projected on the main screen of the bridge, where a dozen officers are studying data from the sensors.

A woman sits in the captain’s chair; she’s wearing the same uniform of the male officers, the only feminine touch being a feather worn as an earring. A 7 feet tall giantess, Aura is the current leader of the space pirates called Hunters and a definitely imposing figure.

-Any survivors? – she asks. It’s mostly a rhetoric question: orbital nuclear bombardment is a nasty way to punish a planet.

-None detected, ma’am. The surface is too radioactive for a complete scan; there may be survivors in underground bunkers.

-You have to admit, she did a thorough job down there – a male voice comments.

The crew reacts immediately, with no less than six people shooting at the intruder. But the man simply disappears in a cloud of white smoke, teleporting on the other side of the bridge. The crew tries to subdue him, but the man moves too fast for any of them.

-What do you want, Mist? – Aura asks calmly. She hasn’t moved in the slightest.

-I hear the Hunters are making very little money these days. Ever since Artemis turned into Diana, fewer words are willing to pay for your protection, for fear of retaliation from her. Which, looking at what she did to Creon VII, is not exactly far-fetched – the Mist explains.

-I doubt you’re here to brag about the Guild’s fortunes, so get to the point.

-You’re pirates, but I know you work as mercenaries from time to time. How much money do you want to be hired as the army of the Alliance?

-How much money do you have? – Aura asks immediately, without giving it a second thought.

 

Korinth, 3000 light-years from Earth

This is one of the main hubs in galactic transportation: every day, millions of people land on this planet just to board a different spaceship in one its many, many spaceports. Security is so tight that bribing the authorities is uncommon, a rarity in the Hermes sector. There are so many different kinds of people traveling here that nobody really pays attention to the unusually tall man wearing a cloak. Until someone bumps against him, causing the hood that obscures his head to move just enough for the cameras to catch a glimpse of his face.

It takes a fraction of a second for the recognition software to cross reference the many billion faces in its database and draw its conclusion, with a speakerphone declaring:

<Warning. Suspect identified. Initiating capture>

-Stupid idiot – the suspect insults the man that exposed him, gesturing towards him: the stranger is lifted off the ground and used a human shield against the tranquilizer darts. The crowd goes into panic, not helped by the suspect telekinetically pushing people away and sprinting towards the exit.

He doesn’t get very far: he stops before bumping against a laser grid, and when he turns he finds himself surrounded on all sides. He considers his next move: taking a hostage? Ripping something from the walls and using it to deflect the lasers? Lying his way out?

The choice is taken off his hands when the ground rises, forming a cocoon around him and dragging him through the concrete floor. He’s not sure about what happens next, but it’s very sudden.

When the cocoon opens, the suspect finds himself facing a dark skinned woman sitting an floating rock. In fact, the ground they’re standing on is now floating miles above the surface.

-Talas Khanos. You know who I am, right? – she asks.

-The Scarab. Has the Guild put a price on my head? You wouldn’t be the first.

-No, we wouldn’t; you’ve pissed off a lot of powerful people. But believe it or not, there is one of them who thinks you’re worth more alive than dead.

-Finally someone recognizes my genius. Who is it this time, Artemis? Athena?

-Noriko Null.

-…

-Ah! This was worth it just to see the look on your face!!!

 

Mortal Liberation Front Headquarters

Noriko Null, Ulysses and a hologram representing the Scribe are sitting at the conference table, facing each other to discuss the latest recruits to their cause.

Kari Zel is watching from behind a glass wall, biting her lower lip. Quantum is next to her, with a hand on her shoulder.

-Is she insane? The Hunters and Aphrodite I can understand, and maybe Dionysus. But Galatea and Talas freakin’ Khanos!? I don’t even want to live in the same galaxy as them!!!

-I don’t like it either, but we have to give her the benefit of the doubt. She’s gone through a lot to make this Alliance thing work.

-I know, I know. I just hope she also didn’t sell her soul to save the Galaxy.



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