The Capitol, Washington D.C.

On a list of the dangers of a congressional hearing, dodging bullets is pretty low. But the place has suddenly turned into a warzone: dozens of heavily armed mercenaries are taking control of the hall, despite the resistance from the United States Capitol Police.

Noriko and Todd are hiding under the desks. She’s working frantically on her N-phone.

-No service and the Neutral Transmitter is down. They’re jamming communications.

-They’re shooting at us!!! – Todd shouts, to overcome the thunderous sound of the machine guns.

-I know – she says coldly, attaching the phone to her watch with the same sound of a cocking gun.

-How can you be so calm!?

-It’s not the first time. Cover your ears – she orders, standing up from her hiding place.

Todd’s ears start ringing when she activates the makeshift weapon: it releases a blast powerful enough to knock a few mercenaries off their feet.

-Focused acoustic pulse – she explains. Her triumphant smile disappears when dozens of bright red dots appear over her blouse. Her silver eyes shine.

She looks around: the mercenaries have surrounded her and are pointing all of their weapons at her.

Another pulse would be enough to take out four, maybe five of them, but that’s it.

“They could kill me now if they wanted to. They want to take me alive” she reasons.

-Put your hands where I can see them, and no sudden moves – one of the mercenaries orders.

He wears some kind of badge over his uniform. A black sword surrounded by golden wings.

Noriko raises her hands, taking advantage of the pause to assess the situation. There are bodies on the ground, bleeding profusely: six officers and three civilians. One of them is a Senator.

“Unfortunately, Keen is still alive” she thinks.

“That’s a horrible thing to say!!!” her human side protests.

Yes. I should be the one killing him” something else suggests.

Noriko prefers not to argue with either of them. The mercenaries are smart: they immediately confiscate her watch, her purse and her belt.

-You don’t seriously think you’re going to get away with any of this – Senator Keen objects.

All he gains is being hit in the face with the butt of an assault rifle.

Don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy that

 

A streak of light streams towards the Capitol, bouncing off an invisible barrier. Quantum is forced back into his human form keeping part of the momentum, which is another way to say he lands on his back on top of a car.

-Okay…not my proudest moment – he acknowledges, getting back on his feet. He got here as soon as he caught a glimpse of what was going on, but the reality is even worse than what he could see on television. The mercenaries have taken control of the Capitol’s stairs and are having a lengthy shootout with the police, who have put up some kind of barricade. The whole situation reminds him of the Talos attack, which isn’t a good sign.

-What’s the situation? – he asks to the first policeman he finds, after moving towards the barricade at the speed of light.

-What do you think!? We’re under attack! – he answers, firing his gun.

-Anything else you want to share? – Quantum asks again, leaping out of cover and shooting lasers out of his fingers. He’s technically transforming microscopic quantities of his blood into streams of energized photons, but the result is still that he cuts in half about thirty assault rifles.

-Holy…

-I guess you can take care of these guys now; how many more are there?

-I don’t know, they came out of nowhere. There’s more inside, they’re taking…oh s##t!

One of the mercenaries suddenly exploded. The rest have started running towards the barricade, taking advantage of the distraction. Quantum shoots them with electricity, but it doesn’t even slow them down. Then the police open fire, spraying them with bullets. They keep running.

-Crap. I think I know why they came out of nowhere – Quantum understands, shooting another laser: this time aiming for a shoulder.

When hit, the mercenary rapidly melts and creates an exact duplicate of himself.

-Man, I really hate these things!!! – Quantum exclaims.

 

New York City, Times Square

Nobody pays much attention to the man with the oversized cowboy hat and brown duster, mostly thanks to the girl with purple hair wearing a form-fitting tracksuit walking next to him.

-You know, if you want a better disguise, this planet has a pretty infinite supply of new clothes – Kari suggests.

-No – is Torn’s laconic answer.

-Come on, I’ve never seen you wear anything else! – Kari objects; the streetlight turns green, and they both cross the street together with the busy crowd.

-I took a hat.

-That doesn’t count! I mean real… wait, you didn’t just take it, right? If you didn’t actually buy it, Noriko’s going to be very upset if you-

-Quiet – Torn interrupts her, looking suspiciously at the people around them.

-Listen, as long as we’re guests on this planet, we agreed to-

-Behind me – Torn says, who stops walking despite still being in the middle of the street.

Two bright energy swords appear in his hands, causing people to scream and panic.

-What the Hades are you doing!? – Kari shouts; pushed aside from everyone who is now trying to get away from Torn.

-They’re all the same.

Kari didn’t notice at first, but there’s a dozen men with exactly the same face and dressed exactly alike walking towards them. On Myridia she was so used to crowds of duplicates that it barely registered on her mind.

They explode spontaneously, one after another.

 

Ukraine

Unsurprisingly for a country who depends on nuclear energy for half of its electricity production, Ukraine has been very enthusiastic about Noriko’s nuclear-free Plasma Reactors. Also unsurprisingly, since it provides most of the nuclear fuel, Russia has been very upset by it.

Which is why Vesta is floating above the construction site of what will soon be Europe’s first Plasma Reactor, to make sure that the project runs smoothly.

“I hope Noriko knows what she’s doing. I’ve seen mortals go to war over stuff like this” she thinks grimly. From her vantage point, she can almost see the Russian army right outside the border.

According to most experts, or at least those she heard on TV, the existence of Vesta and Quantum has thrown the conventional balance of power out the window. They haven’t stepped into any war, but the power they’ve showcased handling natural disasters all over the world has made a lot of very powerful people extremely nervous.

“I wonder what would scare them the most if they knew: the fact that I’m a goddess or that I was just a waitress a little under a year ago?”

The unmistakable sound of an explosion drives her away from her speculation: some kind of bomb detonated from within the construction site. Vesta lands surrounded by the smoke; luckily she doesn’t need to breathe. The flames disappear as soon as she looks at them; being the goddess of the hearth does have some advantages.

-Is anybody here? – she asks; the place is pitch black thanks to the smoke.

Without saying anything, somebody punches her in the face hard enough to make her fly across the room.

 

The Capitol, Washington D.C.

Noriko grimaces during the pat-down; the soldiers have taken all her gadgets and she’s staring at half a dozen guns, so there’s not much she can do. But one thing catches her attention.

One of the soldiers, the one with the badge on the uniform, is giving the orders.

-Set up the projectors, we’re a few minutes from the big show – he says.

-You’re talking – Noriko notes.

-Well, aren’t you the smart one. Any more bright remarks?

-You’re not one of them. One of the Blue.

-The what?

-Genetically engineered self-replicating soldiers. Your army. I recognize the design.

-Ah, those things. That’s a stupid name; have you seen what we wear? – the man answers, pointing at the black uniform and mask. While keeping his gun pointed at Noriko.

-We call them Centurions now.

-Who’s “we”?

-Get ready to get your mind blown, kid.

Following the commander’s gesture, the Centurions activate the holographic projector.

 

The image of a beautiful woman appears. She’s wearing a long black evening dress that shows off her body, along with opera gloves and a high tech purple visor that makes it impossible to recognize her. Her voice is only slightly altered by the projector.

Open your eyes. The world is changing, filled with wonders that nobody can control. Nobody but us. We are behind every corner. We are always ahead of you. We are the future. We are the Empire of Shadows.

The hologram may speak English, but Noriko can still read her lips. She’s talking in Japanese.

“Leiko!?” she wonders.

And this is what happens when you cross the Empress.

The sound of explosions outside the Capitol is loud enough to make the walls shake.

 

Tokyo, Japan

Sitting alone in an empty room, Leiko Tanaka calls up a holographic map of the world. It displays the position of her troops: the Empire of Shadows has infiltrated over a hundred targets all over the world, ready to strike at any moment.

-Status report – she asks; an electronic voice promptly answers:

All 25 battalions deployed. Washington, New York, Moscow and Beijing primary targets hit. Troops met with heavy resistance. Minimal casualties to our forces.

-Position all detonators for maximum damage to secondary targets and await my command.

Receiving troop telemetry. American battalions ready for detonation: Los Angeles, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires. European battalions ready for detonation: Madrid, Paris, Rome, Berlin, London. Asian battalions ready for detonation: Shanghai, New Delhi, Seoul, Bangkok, Tokyo.

-Status of tertiary targets?

Tertiary targets ready for detonation: Mumbai, Cairo, Lagos, Jerusalem, Riyadh, Tehran, Sydney.

The Empress of Shadows smiles. Hundreds of genetically engineered soldiers await her command. The Centurions are not as relentless as the Many or as resilient as the Blue, but they’re untraceable and can be manufactured very fast. And they can explode on her command.

The single largest terrorist attack in history, the first aimed at the entire planet, begins with a single word spoken softly.

-Fire.



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