Max Black’s apartment, New York City

Max realizes that the interview has been going on for hours when he hears his cellphone ringing, although it takes him a while to find it. Kristen Lynn takes the opportunity to take one of Max’s comic books laying around, and starts to flip through the pages.

-Didn’t picture you as a fangirl.

-Lois Lane was my heroine when I was little; too bad you have to get past a lot of Superman crap to read something about her – she answers. Something about her tone tells him she’s not joking.

He tried to stay defensive in their talks, but her determination is admirable. The fact that she’s hot is helping, of course. Just by looking at him, she understands that something is wrong.

-It’s her, isn’t it? – she asks.

-Just gimme a sec. Noriko, what are you doing on your phone on your birthday? No, why? What emergency signal? No, I don’t… yes, I… I know it’s important, but… yes… yes I know, look I promise I won’t turn it off again, okay? What, right now? I’m kind of in the middle of something. No, it can’t wait. Oh come on! On a scale of one to ten, how bad can it be? Ah. Okay. I’ll be right there.

-What did she say? – Kristen says the moment Max ends the call.

-“Eleven”. I’m sorry but you’re gonna have to leave, we’ll continue this some other time.

-Is this something that’s going to be on the news? – Kristen asks excitedly, trying to resist when Max is physically pushing her towards the door.

-Not on this planet. Look, I’ll call you as soon as I have the time, okay? I promise!

As the apartment’s door unceremoniously closes in front of her eyes, Kristen realizes that Max seemed very worried. What could possibly scare a super-hero like that?

-“Not on this planet” – she repeats. Something about his choice of words intrigues her…

 

Null Island, Pacific Ocean

Ten seconds later, Max Black a.k.a. Quantum materializes in the middle of the island’s Operation Center. Noriko is there, looking at a holographic representation of the Galaxy; Vesta and Kari are already there, while Torn is still on his leave of absence on his planet.

-I hope this is important – Quantum says. He really didn’t like pushing Kristen away like that.

-You’re not the only one who had to sacrifice his love life today, so I don’t want to hear any other complaints– Noriko quickly cuts him off: she’s already upset about something.

Quantum turns his attention to the hologram. He’s seen this map before: it shows the extent of the Alliance space. But two large patches have been cut away, and are labeled “Selene” and “Talos”.

The latter doesn’t have many pleasant memories attached to it.

-Why wasn’t I informed about this earlier? – Noriko asks, and the answer comes from a secondary hologram. Quantum recognizes the man as Alexer Syzar, one of the Alliance’s big shots.

Our resources are too scattered to keep track of every system. That area of the former Persephone sector was very sparsely populated and doesn’t have a lot of resources, so it was a low priority.

-Except it was our border with the Athenian Federation. Now they can’t reach the sectors conquered by Selene without having to fight the Talos, which they’re reluctant to do since they’re also very close to the sectors controlled by Hekate.

-Hekate will probably forge an alliance with Selene. They have much in common – Vesta recalls.

-Such as? – Quantum asks. He keeps meaning to brush up on his Greek mythology, but…

-They both hate Zeus and have little respect for mortals. We’re cousins, but I don’t know them very well… they’re from a much older era. I think Selene is pushing six hundred million by now.

-Any ideas where she’s been lately? Athena gave me the impression of being taken by surprise.

-I haven’t seen her since Persephone’s wedding. She said she was considering moving to Irkalla.

-The Sumerian underworld. That’s not a coincidence – Noriko realizes.

You should come to Argos for an emergency session of the Alliance security council; there are too many things that we can’t discuss over this channel – Syzar adds.

-Good idea. I’m ready, have Lysia set up a portal as soon as you can.

That’s going to be a problem: according to the Mortal Liberation Front, she’s on a mission. And without her Infinity Key, we can’t use the Master Portal.

-She can teleport anywhere in the universe but can’t spare five minutes? Fine, I’ll fly there myself with the Callisto. In the meantime, find everything you can about the Selene’s movements… I don’t like where this is going. Null out.

Noriko closes the communication without giving Syzar any time to respond, and immediately turns her attention to the Vanguard to give them orders.

-With Torn still in Hell, I’m gonna need all of you for this mission. Kari, get the Callisto ready for launch. Vesta, I have a God Eraser under construction, I’ll need your help to load it on the Callisto. Quantum, I want to find your sister and give her a Space Phone: she’ll be able to contact us in case there’s any emergency on Earth. Questions?

Kari and Quantum shake their heads. Vesta remains silent.

-Alright people, let’s get the show on the road, we have a galaxy to save – Noriko tells them, her silver eyes shining with determination. Quantum disappears in a flash of light and Kari runs towards the nearest exit, while Vesta approaches Noriko. She’s biting her lower lip nervously.

-Is this really a good idea? – she asks hesitantly.

-I will ask Selene to surrender before I use the God Eraser, but only if I get the chance. I won’t let her take any more innocent lives, Vesta.

-I know, but that’s not what I mean. Is it a good idea to get back to space so soon after… well…

Vesta doesn’t finish the sentence, but Noriko knows exactly what she means.

-The galaxy won’t wait for me to get my s#it together, Vesta. We have to do something now.

-You told me using the Eraser has a heavy toll on you. After what happened the other day…

-You don’t have to worry. I just had a small psychotic breakdown, that’s all – Noriko shrugs.

-I saw you laughing like a maniac and popping anti-psychotics like they were candy.

-I can handle this – Noriko declares, looking at Vesta with eyes that can stare off a god.

-Okay, fine. We’ll do it your way, again – she concedes, while promising herself she’ll keep an eye open for additional unusual behavior.

 

The Dark Pyramid

An undisclosed location in the former Dionysus sector

This is a rare sight: the Guild’s Inner Circle doesn’t usually hold meetings, but when they do it’s never a sign that things are looking good for the galaxy.

The room is dark, lit only the candles of the chandelier that hovers above the table thanks to miniaturized antigravity generators. The Scribe sits at one end of the rectangular table, clasping his hands; his face is completely hidden by the shadows.

Scarab and Mist sit to his right and Naiad to his left: the demigoddess may be part of this group, but she doesn’t like to be mixed up with mortals whenever possible.

The Winter King sits on the other side of the table, opposite to the Scribe. The air around him is fuming with coldness, and the ice covering his chair has converted it to a small throne.

The reason for this meeting is clearly shown by the holograms shown on the table: images from the worlds attacked by the Talos and by Selene, and above it all an image of the current state of the Galaxy. It’s essentially the same map studied by Null, with the exception of an area larger than the former Dionysus sector: the space under direct control of the Guild.

-Selene. I have to admit, her involvement is unanticipated.

-She’s just an old witch who doesn’t stand a chance against today’s galaxy – Naiad dismisses her.

-I can take her – Scarab boasts, confidently reclining on her chair and putting her bare feet on the table. To prove her point, she taps on the stone scarab lodged in her navel.

-She’s a Titan. Even your Drylon powers have limits – the Mist reminds her.

-We’ll see about that. She uses rock monsters, right? I can deal with rocks – Scarab answers, lifting a finger: the dust in the air solidifies to create a small rock the size of her fist, which floats in the air.

Selene is not the issue. How we deal with the effect of her arrival is.

-Precisely, Winter King. Right now, the Alliance if falling to pieces: the Mortal Liberation Front has scattered its resources too thinly, Syzar has been unable to form a powerful government, and Galatea has already defected to create her own kingdom – the Scribe sums up.

-I told you the Alliance wouldn’t last – the Mist reminds him.

-It wasn’t built to last, it was built for a purpose: depose the ruling gods and set up a new mortal establishment under our control. The first phase is completed, now we move to the second.

You left out Null. She will undoubtedly fight Selene.

-I’m sure she will and I’m sure she will win. When she does, she’ll be in the perfect position to take over the Alliance: we must take steps to ensure she doesn’t do it first – the Scribe continues.

-If you’re asking us to kill her, I’m all for it – Naiad enthusiastically declares.

No. We are allies: honor dictates that we help her in the fight against a common enemy.

-Oh please, not the honor thing again – Scarab rolls her eyes.

Don’t mock me, woman, unless you want to test your power against the Winter Armor.

-Yeah? Maybe I will – Scarab answers, throwing the rock against the Winter King; as soon as it leaves her hand, it’s disintegrated by a laser coming from one of the walls.

-Not while you’re on the job – the Scribe chides them, as if they were unruly children.

I won’t fight Null without reason. She is our ally – the Winter King stresses again.

-So what? Galatea is an ally, but you don’t see us coming to her aid to fight Selene – Naiad shrugs.

The Winter King stands up. The candles freeze over just by the slightly increased proximity, and they are replaced by the neon lights coming directly from the ceiling.

Yes, and why is that, Scribe? Does honor mean nothing to you? Are we all just pawns in your game, just waiting for you to place us in position?

The Scribe doesn’t react in the slightest, but his lieutenants do. Scarab repeats the dust trick but this time to create a sword, Naiad rubs her hands that are suddenly surrounded by a stream of water with pressure of a tidal wave, and the Mist creates three duplicates right behind the Winter King.

A fight between these people would wreck the Dark Pyramid, but everyone backs down as soon as the Scribe raises his hand. All except the Winter King.

-Careful, your majesty. Even a king can be someone else’s pawn; don’t overestimate your importance to my plans. Galatea will perish because she failed to realize she’s no longer useful to my cause: if you come to her rescue, you will make the same mistake. For no reason, I might add.

No. For something you will never understand: honor – the Winter King replies, theatrically covering himself with his blue cape.

This unleashes a full blown snow storm in the enclosed room. The Mist protects himself with his white cape and Naiad just has to glance at the snow to deflect it, but Scarab is completely covered by it in the blink of an eye. She shivers: she’s dressed for the desert, not for this.

-That son of a… where did he go!? – she asks. There is no trace left of the Winter King.

-To his doom. What a stubborn man – the Scribe comments. The snow is sliding down the forcefield that protects him; he’s bare-chested, but unlike Scarab he doesn’t seem to mind the cold.

-Still, this will force our hand. Mist, please make contact with our main agents on Earth… it’s time for me to meet an old friend.

 

United Nations Headquarters, New York City

Leiko Tanaka is sitting in front of the President of the General Assembly, who isn’t particularly thrilled by her presence… probably because she showed up without notice.

-With all due respect, Minister Tanaka, your request is quite… unusual. If Japan wants to address the General Assembly, I would’ve expected your Prime Minister to be the one to speak.

-I understand your concern. But I can be very convincing… for example, this was all I needed to have the President of Russia agree to my every word – Leiko says, taking a small object from her purse and handing it over to the President… an unassuming black metallic cube.

-This is called a Neural Enslaver. I plan to mass produce them… and you will help me install them.

-I will be more than happy to serve you, my Empress – the Presidents says, staring at the cube.



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