Megalopolis, 52.000 light-years from Earth

A young woman is slowly approaching the Holy Palace, watching the two enormous winged statues behind it, representing two females raising in triumph a laurel wreath and a stylized lightning bolt. Her style is impeccable, a pristine two piece suit that would not look particularly out of place in a boardroom. It makes her look a little more mature than what her features would normally allow, since she can be still mistaken for a teenager. But as the flaming halo floating above her head implies, she is far more than a human and she is over seven thousand years old.

-Uhm, hello? You must be Tyche – another young girl greets her. They look roughly the same age, but anyone could tell that they have little else in common.

Tyche is doing everything she can to look like an adult, while the young blonde taking a bow before her is doing the opposite with her short haircut and extremely simple white dress, which is trying yet miserably failing at hiding a figure that could be the envy of the galaxy.

-Princess Hebe. The pleasure is all mine – Tyche answers, reciprocating the bow.

-We’ve met before. I’m not sure you remember, it was just a couple centuries after your birth.

-A subtle reminder that, while being the Goddess of Youth, you still have more experience than me?

-What? No no no, I didn’t mean it like that, please don’t be angry at me! I… I actually kind of admire what you have done – the blonde goddess quickly changes the subject.

-Why is that? You are the child of Zeus and Hera, while I am just a minor goddess.

-A minor goddess that rules on her own right; I know Hermes and Aphrodite never intended you to govern, but you rose through the ranks anyway. I own my sector only because Mother gave it to me.

-Speaking of our beloved Queen, do you know why we are meeting here and not on Olympus?

-No. Mother always tells me what to do. She never tells me why.

Tyche studies her aunt. Just mentioning her mother seemed to distress her; as much as Tyche dislikes being the daughter of Aphrodite, at least she doesn’t terrorize her offspring like Hera.

-Shall we go inside? When we’re done, I can ask your mother to let you come visit my kingdom.

-You would do that? Thanks Tyche, you’re the best!

The two goddesses proceed, one thinking about how wonderful it would be to have another friend and the other one calculating how to exploit this need for companionship.

 

Hera’s throne room

Tyche did expect other gods to be present, but not the ones she sees. Enyo turns her head towards her; she’s not wearing her helmet, allowing her to notice the slight resemblance to Hebe: she’s a fully grown woman and her hair is pink, but you can tell they’re sisters.

The man next to her sends chills down Tyche’s spine, and Hebe instinctively gets closer to her. Even without the heavy armor covered in spikes, his red eyes alone are piercingly terrifying.

Tyche. Sister – Enyo greets them with her deep voice.

-Well, well. You sure have grown into a lovely thing – the man says; he doesn’t even try to be subtle when he tries to touch Tyche’s backside.

-Back off, Phobos. In case you’ve forgotten, you’re my half-brother.

-So what? Both our fathers are half-brothers to our mother. I’m sure they would approve.

-Children – a stern voice calls all of them to attention. Hera is sitting on her throne, elevated from their position, petting one of her peacocks while another goddess stands to her side.

-Phobos. I have summoned both your father and your mother: where are they?

-Lord Ares sends his apologies, grandmother: I will represent him during this meeting. I have asked Aphrodite to join us, but she is… differently occupied at the moment.

-That sacrilegious tramp. I should have cut her head off as soon as she came out of the womb of her treacherous mother – Hera mumbles; the fact that two offspring of Aphrodite are present doesn’t seem to bother her. Or perhaps it’s intentional: Tyche and Phobos would never dare to lift a finger after her, and she knows it.

-Now now, Mother, don’t you think that’s a bit harsh? – the goddess next to her asks sweetly.

She has the long pink hair and the sky blue eyes of her father Zeus; she’s wearing a tight pink dress with pink evening gloves, and her knee high pink boots don’t quite reach her miniskirt.

-You are right, Ilithyia. As always, you are the voice of reason of this family.

Both Enyo and Hebe don’t seem particularly happy to see Hera praise their older sister like that.

-I’m always grateful to see my Queen, but may I ask the reason for this council? – Tyche asks.

-Restoring order to the Olympian Galaxy – Hera answers; at her command, a map of her husband’s kingdom appears out of thin air. It’s nothing new to Tyche, as she was present when the details were decided during her last visit to Olympus.

The Galaxy is divided in twelve parts. The sectors under direct control of Zeus and Hera have changed little over the last years. The three most powerful sectors, under the control of Athena, Apollo and Ares, have expanded; the latter two are now divided by a spherical area now called the Dead Zone, created by the death of the Celestial Dragon of Destruction Tiamat, and by the newly created Ilithyia sector. Ares also shares borders with his sister Enyo and his lover Aphrodite.

The star systems that used to belong to Demeter and Hermes are now under the control of Tyche and Hebe, whose newly created kingdom shares a border with Hera’s.

Such changes are quite common in the history of the galaxy, but there’s something new: two sectors under direct control of mortals, the Winter Kingdom and the Mortal Republic.

-Thanks in no small part to your meddling, Tyche, a sizeable part of the kingdom now falls outside of the direct control of my family.

-The Assembly of the Nine Gods itself has ruled that mortals can now be vassals to Zeus, my Queen, by electing their own representatives.

-Indeed they have. But, as Queen of Olympus, I have veto powers over their selection.

-Hm… shouldn’t this be… decided… by Themis and Dike… M-mother? – Hebe asks, timidly raising her hand. She seems scared.

-I have relieved the Goddess of Divine Law and the Goddess of Mortal Law of their duties. At the suggestion of Ilithyia, they will now serve as ambassadors to Poseidon and Hades, answering directly to me.

-How thoughtful of you to spare their lives despite their failures, Mother – Ilithyia tells her.

-Fine by me. I’m just waiting to know who I have to invade – Phobos comments. He’s the only one not paying attention to Ilithyia: Hera adores her, while everyone else can’t stand her.

-I have issued a new decree: all vassals to Zeus must be married in order to keep their sectors.

-What!? – is the reaction of everyone to Hera’s decision.

-Athena is exempt, since my husband granted her wish of virginity. And I will allow Aphrodite an extended deadline of a thousand years to mourn the death of Hephaestus. Everyone else will have to marry within the next year.

-What happens to those who don’t? – Tyche asks.

-Their territories will revert to my direct control. And of course, ALL marriages will need MY blessing to be official. Have I made myself clear, children?

Absolutely – Enyo answers. Tyche has heard less hatred in her voice when she fought Tiamat.

In fact, everyone seems distressed by the decree… except Ilithyia.

-Shall we discuss the potential suitors, Mother? Your wise counsel will be invaluable.

 

Tokyo, Japan

The woman turns in the bed, woken by the sound coming from multiple TV screens. Together with the king-sized bed, the screens are the only Western objects in the room: everything else is strictly of pure Japanese origin.

Including the man who is watching the news while also practicing with his sword, naked. She watches his for a while, but she’s bothered by the TVs: they are just showing the news. Most of the channels are repeating the same story: Japan has inaugurated its first army of humanoid robots, for the moment just a couple thousands, and there is wide speculation that they are based on Null technology. When the image of Noriko Null comes up, the woman orders:

-Audio off – she says, getting out of bed. The screens obey her command.

-I was watching that – the man complains, ending his practicing.

-I don’t like her. You invited her to the wedding and Nuru did not even…

-Null – he corrects her, using the English way to pronounce the name instead of the way most Japanese people say it.

-You fixate too much on her. Should I be jealous? – she asks flirtatiously, coming closer to put her arms around him. He doesn’t appreciate it, moving away.

-I am honoring the terms of our arrangement. Now honor yours, Kasumi, and take your test.

-Where’s the hurry, Shinobu? You say you don’t like women, but you’re not bad at making love.

-Should I take care of her? – another man asks, getting out of the same bed.

-No need to worry, Shingen. My wife will now take her pregnancy test – Shinobu Tanaka answers him; and by his tone and the look on his eyes, Kasumi knows better than to contradict her.

She practically stomps out of the room. Shingen gets closer to the lord of the house, who doesn’t shy away from his touch like he did with his wife.

-Relax, it’s just been three weeks. I’m sure she’ll give you the heirs you need, Shinobu.

-She better do. Since Null won’t acknowledge her ancestry, it’s up to me to restore the Tanaka clan to its former glory. No matter how hard it is to carry out my duties as a husband.

-You know I’m happy to help you with that – Shingen replies, kissing his lover.

-Get dressed now. You have responsibilities as well; you have to be in Russia within the hour.

-You make it sound like something difficult – Shingen answers, recovering something from the end of the bed: the superpowered suit of White Star.

 

Peter The Great Gulf, Russia

Not too far away from Vladivostok and the borders between Russia, China and North Korea, the gulf has seen its share of military exercises during the decades. This is an absolute first: from the deck of a Russian aircraft carrier, two superheroes are watching Japanese robots practicing flying maneuvers with Russian soldiers wearing armors.

The Russian heroine is wearing her Red Star suit; powered by the miniature reactor in her belt, she could take out both fleets on her own. White Star is next to her, and is the only other person on the planet using a suit with the same design.

-I wish they would let me join. I’m curious to see how long your robots would last against me – she tells him in Russian; the suit provides a quick translation into Japanese, thanks to the Null software.

-Yes, it’s a shame our governments won’t let us exploit the capabilities of these suits to their full extent. But I am more interested in how you managed to replicate some of the Null technology, when even the best Japanese scientists struggle with it.

-Because they haven’t hired me – someone replies to him in Japanese, albeit with a heavy Russian accent. White Star is approached by the only civilian he’s seen on the carrier: the heads-up display projected into his retinas shows the name Dmitry Ivanovich Voron.

-Dr. Voron. I’m sure that if Tanaka-San knew you would be present he would have joined us – the Japanese hero reassures the doctor, respectfully bowing. The Russian scientist doesn’t seem to care, concentrating instead on the robots passing by the warship.

-Interesting design. You based them on version 1.6 of the Nullbots, didn’t you? I’m more of a fan of the 2.0, but they are too costly to mass-produce.

-If you don’t mind me asking, Dr. Voron…

-Call me Dmitry, please.

-Why hasn’t the Russian government commissioned a robot army? China and the United States have; why focusing on human pilots?

-Ask the Prime Minister, I don’t make policy. Speaking of our neighbors, I should really go now: I have a meeting with Null herself – the Russian excuses himself, and his hologram disappears.

White Star is taken by surprise: his suit didn’t register it as an illusion. Red Star notices this:

-Yes, our good doctor is full of surprises. You didn’t think Russia would let Japan and the United States call the shots forever, did you?



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