Midgard Station, Antarctica

Most of the guests have gone to sleep, but Lily is restless: the Lampyrian girl has never been to Earth before, and every little detail of the secret facility seems to be catching her interest. She paces back and forth, watching Noriko Null and Dmitry Voron sitting next to each other: they’re both fully immersed into their work, writing tirelessly on their holographic tablets.

-Get some rest. This will take a while – Noriko tells her, her eyes still on her work.

-I’m not tired. Can I help?

-That depends. Are you an expert on cryogenics and high-temperature superconductivity?

-Hm, not really. I’m a biochemist and molecular geneticist.

-Really? How old are you, Lily? – Noriko asks, lifting her eyes to look at her.

-Eight and a half – she answers proudly.

-Years? Lampyrians don’t naturally live that long.

-Months. But I did take the Hope Elixir.

-“Hope Elixir”? I guess that’s the name your people gave to the lifespan extension genetic therapy I developed with Hermes?

-That’s right. You know, when this is over, I hope we’ll be able to work together to improve it.-

Noriko stands up and looks at the blue-skinned alien. She’s taller than her, a fully grown woman by the looks of it; and yet, she’s not much older than her baby sister.

-Here. This will get you to sleep – she tells Lily, inserting a few commands on the tablet.

“Encyclopedia of Mathematics”? – Lily reads out loud the title on the tablet, before walking off without taking her eyes off the book that Noriko just downloaded. She hears Voron chuckle.

-Did I say something funny?

-Doesn’t she remind you of, well, yourself? – the Russian asks.

-No. I’m not blue, I don’t have wings, and I’m not a baby.

-You do realize that’s racist, right?

-I, uhm, yes, I suppose it is – Noriko concedes, realizing just now her gaffe. She doesn’t have much to say to salvage the conversation, so she lets a couple of minutes go by in silence.

-Do you have something to say? – Voron asks.

-What makes you think that?

-You’re biting your lower lip. You do that when you’re upset and/or embarrassed.

-Stop analyzing my body language. It’s creepy.

-You do that all the time.

-It’s automatic. I can’t shut off my brain when it wants to work.

-Or perhaps you’re aroused by the chance to demonstrate your superior intelligence.

-Now you’re just trying to test your hypothesis by embarrassing me on purpose, aren’t you?

-Well, since you’re not asking, I’m answering the questions you have – Voron declares, putting down his tablet and going towards Noriko to look her in the eye.

-Yes, Red Star and I did betray Russia to give the Vanguard a chance to defeat the aliens; yes, we are going to ask you to grant us asylum; no, we are not lovers; yes, I do know who your real mother is; yes, you are less sexually attractive than every other woman in this facility but yes, I would still enjoy having intercourse with you more than I would with them.

-Whoa. WAY too much information there, Voron – Noriko replies, taking a step back.

-I already told you to call me Dmitry.

-I checked your history. There’s no record whatsoever of you meeting my mother.

-Not directly. But my father worked as a neurosurgeon in Japan before I was born and he received a sizeable bribe from your grandfather, Daichi Tanaka, to perform some unconventional experiments on the enhancement of human intelligence.

-Experiments on you – Noriko realizes.

-Yes. So you can imagine that, when you showed up on the international stage, it was quite easy for me to suspect that you were subjected to the same procedure that enhanced my intellect.

-It’s actually a little more complicated than that. I’m sorry about what your father did to you.

-Why? I’m grateful for my gift. Who would want to be like the rest of the world?

-You know Voron, as weird as you are, I think I can actually respect that – Noriko admits, then she puts her right hand on her hip and asks with accusatory tone:

-Hey what did you mean by “less attractive than”…

-I’m done – Lily interrupts her. Noriko didn’t hear her come close her, too distracted by Voron.

-What? – she asks, looking at the tablet that the Lampyrian is handing her back.

-I read it. It’s a little dumbed-down, and I think I noticed some errors.

-You read more than 8,000 encyclopedic entries of graduate level mathematics in five minutes?

-Yes. Now can I help you with your work?

-I knew Lampyrians could learn quickly but… let’s see, what’s a Nyquist plot?

-A parametric plot of a frequency response used in automatic control and signal processing.

-I think she’s qualified to work with us – Voron comments.

-Well, maybe tomorrow. Even I have my limits – Noriko answers, suppressing a yawn.

-Can I have a look at your project? – Lily asks excitedly.

Noriko doesn’t know if she finds her enthusiasm inspiring or annoying, but she does download the specifications of her invention and a few reference books into the tablet.

-Knock yourself out. See you in the morning, Dmi… I mean Voron – she quickly corrects herself.


Hours later

Easier said than done. In the dark room, the only light is the dim glow of her silver eyes; she’s been staring at the ceiling from the moment she touched the bed. Her body needs the rest, but her mind just refuses to shut down. She’s been over the math over and over again: there’s really no point in trying to perfect her plan, the room for improvement just isn’t there.

Noriko gets out of bed; she didn’t even take her clothes off, since they’re just using some temporary accommodations and they had to share rooms. Kari is fast asleep in the bed next to hers, just wearing her panties.

“At least she was too tired to try anything funny” – Noriko sighs, deciding to go for a walk and check on the others. Quantum and Voron share a room, and they seem to be competing on who can snore the loudest. Dr. Kalama and Red Star have another room; the latter has taken off only her mask, sleeping in her costume.

“A soldier to the end” – she thinks, trying to get a good view of the unmasked Russian heroine to determine her secret identity. Than another thought takes over Noriko’s mind.

“Nalani” – she thinks: the newborn isn’t in the room. She goes through the lengthy checklist of security measures someone would need to overcome to break into Midgard Station and hurries back to the hallway, determined to scan every inch of the facility in order to find her… but then she hear a baby’s laughter coming from the next room.

-Quiet – she hears Torn whisper. She stands on the entrance to watch: the Demon is holding Nalani with one hand, balancing her against his chest, while the other one is holding one energy dagger per each finger. When he lets them go, the daggers perform a sort of dance around his hand.

-Cute – Noriko comments; she can’t help but smile at the scene. She knows Torn has two daughters, but she’d never considered him the ideal father figure.

-Null. Your sister kept her mother awake, and humans need more sleep than Demons, so I…

-I figured. You miss the days when your kids were her age?

-Sometimes. Then I remember I had to dispose of their feces. Would you like to hold her?

-Not really my thing. And besides, I have a pretty good excuse – she says, pointing at the stump of her left arm, amputated at the elbow.

-You’re growing more comfortable showing that wound in public.

-Yeah, I guess I am. Listen, Torn… about the Winter King…

-Don’t doubt yourself. You can defeat him.

-Sometimes I wish people didn’t have so much faith in me – she admits, instinctively covering the stump with her hand. She lingers there for a few seconds, in silence.

-I’ve been told silences among humans are “awkward”. Am I supposed to say something?

-I don’t like working with Hermes and I especially don’t like that he disappeared right after he brought back Vesta. What do you think?

-He’s trouble. You should kill him at the first chance you get.

-He knows I want to. I wonder if that’s the real reason why he didn’t bring my father here, if he wants to keep him as a bargaining chip. I’m… I’m not ready to lose him, to be honest.

-You never will. You share a bond that transcends space, even if you’re not Demons.

-That’s a nice sentiment. I suppose that’s what helps you being away from your family so much.

-It is. But my place is at your side until my death. Or yours. Which, considering how short human lives are, will probably happen first. Am I talking too much now? I have been told I don’t talk enough, so I have been practicing human small talk.

-It… needs work. As a general rule, people don’t like to be reminded they’re going to die.

-You are such strange creatures. Is that all? I believe you have something you wish to tell me, but you have been prancing about the subject.

-It’s “dancing around” the subject, and yes, I have. Remember what you told me about leaving Todd, back in Hawaii?

-That it made you weaker.

-Yes. I realized you were right… I do miss being in a relationship. That’s probably why I was so careless about Yong-Su. I just… I just don’t want to be alone.

-If you’re looking for sexual gratification, I’m already married and I don’t find you attractive.

That’s not was I meant, Torn. Also what’s up with everyone telling me that today!?

-I am not the best person to discuss human relationships.

Obviously. You make Dmitry sound like the master of subtlety!

-“Dmitry” – Torn repeats, raising one eyebrow.

-Whatever. See you in the morning; it’s going to be a tough day.

-I will be at your side – Torn agrees, watching Noriko exit. Then he says to Nalani:

-Your sister is a very strange human. It won’t be easy for you to be a Null.

-Nu oo – the baby tries to repeat.


In orbit above Earth

Leiko Tanaka admires herself in the mirror. She’s never considered herself to be a vain person, but she knows that the people in power have to look the part. She’s wearing a form-fitting evening gown, ash grey with vertical fluorescent blue lines that follow her curves. She adjusts the translucent cape before checking her most prized possession: the Vial of Destiny, containing the last existing sample of Drylon DNA. It’s standing on top of a shelf between the Black Box and the Athena medallion she stole from her daughter.

“Strange. I don’t remember taking it off” – she thinks, turning to look at Bob Null: he’s still sleeping in her bed.

-My lady, you have been summoned by the Winter King – one of the ship’s crewmates advises her from behind the door that leads out of the room.

Leiko wears the medallion, and after giving a last look at her lover she also takes the Vial, hiding the small container inside her brassiere.

-My lady? Are you ready? – the crewmate insists.

-Of course I am. I have been preparing for this day all my life – she says, taking the Black Box with her as she leaves the room.

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