Null Tower, New York City

This is a rare sight: the CEOs of the nine subsidiaries of Null Technologies rarely meet in person, preferring the use of holograms to communicate.

They’re sitting in the alphabetical order of each branch: Null Aerospace (self-explanatory), Null Capital (banking), Null Construction (heavy industries), Null Data (software), Null Defense Services (military contractor), Null Electronics (consumer electronics), Null Energy (in charge of the plasma reactors), Null Pharmaceutical (health care) and Null Robotics (automation).

They’re joined by the chairman of Null Foundation (non-profit) and by the Public Relations Officer, Todd Slate. They’re listening to the words of Mark Stewart, the Chief Operating Officer of Null Technologies, who despite being in his mid-fifties is one of the oldest people in the room.

-Rebuilding North Korea will cost much more than the reconstruction of Beijing; factoring in the financial aid we provided to foreign governments, and the loss of several investors following the cancellation of the moon base project, we should…are you listening to me?-

All heads turn to the young woman sitting at the head of the table. The situation is formal enough to have convinced her to trade the usual green leather jacket for a black buttoned up shirt, which she’s wearing with a white tie with her Ø symbol on top.

Noriko Null doesn’t answer Stewart’s question immediately. She’s more preoccupied with the metal glove on her right hand: she stops fidgeting it with a screwdriver, and it transforms into the Genius Gun. A flick of her wrist turns it back into a glove, then into the handle of a laser sword.

-You worry too much. We can take the hit.

-It’s a two hundred billion dollar loss.

-We make more money than the next five biggest conglomerates combined and I have a half trillion dollar portfolio: we can afford North Korea. Are there other concerns? No? Good; if anyone needs me for the next few days, just ask mister Stewart or mister Slate. Dismissed.

Noriko gets off the table, ignoring the questions. The CEOs storm around Mark Stewart to get some answers, while Todd Slate is the only one following her out of the room.

-Noriko! Wait a minute!

She doesn’t slow down her pace, but Todd is able to catch up with her. It’s easier than convincing her to look at him in the face, as she seems to prefer staring at the elevator while waiting for its doors to open.

-You’re leaving Earth again, aren’t you? – he asks.

-Yes, I’ll be back in a few days. And don’t worry, there’s not gonna be a fight this time.

-Kind of sudden, isn’t it? You could’ve told me sooner, I would’ve prepared.

-You’re not coming with me. And I have set up everything, just ask O.D.I.N. if you need anything – she dismisses him. The doors open and she gets in the elevator, but he follows her inside.

-We need to talk. Something’s wrong with you – he goes straight to the point.

-Don’t be ridiculous, everything’s fine – she shrugs, pressing the button. The elevator starts, moving quickly but smoothly towards the top of the skyscraper.

-Don’t lie to me, Noriko. I can tell when you do.

-Oh really – she smirks, crossing her arms defiantly.

-We’ve been through this before; you bottle up everything inside and pretend you’re okay. I’m your boyfriend, you know you can talk to me right?

-What are you even talking about?

-You haven’t been yourself since the invasion. You bounce from meeting to meeting, you spend God knows how many hours in the lab, and the few times we sleep together you’re clearly not-

-Don’t bring that into this! I have more important things to worry about than spice up our-

Noriko stops, because in the middle of the sentence she noticed the doors are opening. Worse, she sees the person on the other side: a thirty-six year old man, smiling.

-Mister Null – Todd greets him, nervously biting his lip.

-Father – Noriko says, trying really hard to act cool despite blushing visibly.

-Hey kids. How’s it going? – Bob Null asks cheerfully.

-Fine – his daughter says.

-Fine – her boyfriend says.

-You sure? Because it sounded like you were having a fight. Now, I’m not exactly an authority on stable relationships, but if things are getting boring you could try new positions or-

-Aaaaand there’s my cue to leave the planet – Noriko rapidly interrupts her father, once again creeped out by his complete lack of shame.

 

Megalopolis, 52.000 light-years from Earth

Hera is watching several videos projected on the marble walls of the Holy Palace: all of them are showing Noriko Null.

Fighting the Many on the Moon, the Talos in New York, dealing the finishing blow to Demeter, standing trial before Themis, facing Hephaestus on the Vulcan Forge and Hermes in a direct assault, pushing a laser sword through the eye of Artemis, standing on the ruins of Hell, ending the life of Selene, holding the Heart of the Universe in her hands.

-Why would anyone care about this flat-chested mortal of inferior breed?

And just HOW are you taking pictures of her!? – Persephone asks. For once she’s not mad at Hera for being jealous of a mortal who has never even met Zeus: her question is directed at Hades.

Am I really the only god who understands the threat she poses to us all?

-You’re just being ridiculous, brother.

Am I? Then why is Isis coming back to the Olympian Galaxy to meet her?

-She’s doing WHAT!? – Hera shouts; the ground shakes, and her pet peacock is burned alive by the blue energy she’s suddenly radiating. Even Persephone is taken aback, while Hades keeps his cool.

My sources tell me that she’s been in contact with Ereshkigal, recently. They don’t trust each other, so Isis will probably want to have a look at the Olympian Galaxy in person.

Didn’t she have some territory here? I think I inherited a few sectors from her – Persephone recalls.

-I won’t let her set foot in my husband’s galaxy! – Here vows.

It’s too late for that. She’s reaching the Olympian Galaxy as we speak – Hades reveals.

-How? The Abydos Galaxy is eleven million light-years away; even the fastest capital ship would take half a decade to reach us – Hera protests.

Isis doesn’t need a ship – Hades reminds her.

 

Eresos, 40,000 light-years from Earth

History hasn’t been kind to this star system. There have been wars and revolts and uprisings for as long as anyone can remember. The last straw was Demeter’s gift to her daughter: Persephone didn’t care in the slightest for the mortals who lived here. When the Talos arrived, no one came to rescue Eresos: the indestructible robots conquered the planet with ease, erasing with nuclear fire centuries of civilization. Now their artificial eyes are the only ones to see the sky being shattered by the appearance of something as bright as a star.

Its light is the last thing seen on Eresos before its surface is crushed under the increased gravity. The Talos robots survive: built out of neutral matter, they are unimaginably resistant. But even their advanced minds have trouble understanding what happened: nothing smaller than a planet should be able to generate so much gravity.

Which is why there’s an entirely new planet in this solar system, with a single continent occupying half of its surface. A continent shaped like a woman with large falcon wings.

The information is relayed through the Talos collective: Isis is in the Olympian Galaxy.

 

Athenian Presidential Palace, 80.000 light-years from Earth

-She did WHAT!? – Athena shouts, slamming her fist on the desk. She doesn’t just pulverize it: the entire capital is hit by a minor earthquake.

The winged goddess looking at her is shocked: she literally can’t remember the last time Athena lost her cool. She’s not fooled by appearances, of course: she may be wearing a yellow office suit that wouldn’t make her stand out even on Earth, but she’s still the goddess of war.

-She moved to Eresos, ma’am. With her own planet – Nike confirms.

-She teleported an entire planet. From another galaxy – Athena repeats, still finding it unbelievable.

-Yes. Ambassadors from the Apollo, Ares, Enyo and Artemis sectors wish to know how we are planning to respond.

-Any words from my father?

-We are still unable to reach him, ma’am. We have, however, confirmation that Lord Hades is visiting Empress Hera. Should I contact them?

-Let me think – Athena says, clasping her hands and staring into the distance. Her grey eyes shine for several seconds as the Goddess of Wisdom considers all possible options.

-Inform our ambassadors on Karnak and Babylon and send a message to Hell: Hera is about to call for an assembly of the Nine Gods. We need to make sure this doesn’t turn into a war.

 

A New York City apartment

The phone is ringing insistently, beneath the pile of clothes scattered on the floor. Max Black is frantically trying to find it, but unfortunately it’s not under his clothes.

-Looks like it’s her – a blonde woman tells him, picking up the phone and looking at the Ø symbol on its screen. By the time he tries to get it back, she’s already answered.

-Good morning, miss Null. I’m afraid Max can’t talk right now, but – she starts talking, but is cut short when the African-American snaps the device out of her hand.

-Yes this is Max Black, how can I help you?

That was Kristen Lynn, wasn’t she? I guess that’s why your Neural Transmitter is on private mode.

-Yeah sorry I didn’t answer sooner, I was…

I think I have a pretty good idea about what you were doing, Max, and it’s none of my business. I just called to warn you that I’m taking the Ragnarok for a diplomatic mission and won’t come back for a few days, so please try to remember that your job doesn’t only include sleeping with the press.

-Kind of a sudden decision. Should you really do this alone?

I’m taking Vesta with me since I need an expert on gods and some Kari duplicates because, well, it’s not like I need her to stay in just one place. Keep an eye on the planet for me, okay?

-Yeah, sure, of course. Take care Nori – Max answers, ending the conversation.

-Some comments for the press? – Kristen asks, putting her arms around him.

-I don’t thinks she likes you very much.

-I’m her boyfriend’s ex, of course she doesn’t like me. Unless she’s also a little jealous of you?

-She’s just a little protective; she probably worries that you’re interested in me only because I’m a superhero. Anyway, it wasn’t anything serious, I doubt your readers would find it interesting.

-Max, the phone rang for a full minute. The most powerful person in the world doesn’t waste a minute trying to talk to someone unless it’s important.

-Sorry, I can’t tell you. We agreed there are some things I can’t share with you, didn’t we?

-No, we didn’t agree to anything. Your friends just decided there are things that the world isn’t ready to know. There’s a big difference there.

-What do you want me to do, Kristen? Tell the world what’s out there? How much time will it take before the entire world goes into panic?

-We had an alien invasion! It’s too late to worry about people learning the truth. Unless there’s something else you’re not telling me? You’re not an alien too, aren’t you?

-Of course not. I just got my powers from an alien device and a goddess – Max answers honestly, immediately regretting it when he sees Kristen’s face.

-That word again. You’re telling me Vesta isn’t an alien… you actually think she’s a goddess?

-I should’ve taken the chance to leave the planet – he sighs.



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