8,000 light-years from Earth

The Ragnarok begins its slow decent into the atmosphere, while the sensors pick up tons of information about this world.

Fortuna is a paradise planet: the weather is uniformly perfect on each of the hundreds of thousands small islands that are scattered in the ocean. All the cities are concentrated on the single continent; it’s easy to see they were built quite recently, with technology that makes Earth’s look primitive.

As much as Null would like to study that, their destination is the Royal Island: it looks as pristine as the other islands, but it’s protected by dozens of spaceships that seem to double as carriers.

The Ragnarok lands on the docks, right besides the Talaria, Tyche’s capital ship. It dwarfs the Ragnarok even though Earth’s only warship is 550 feet long.

The cargo bay opens: Noriko Null is the first one to get off the ship, followed by Kari Zel and Vesta who takes the chance to fly up to get a better view of the place.

-This is amazing! It’s exactly like the last time I was here.

-And when was that? – Noriko asks, covering her eyes from the sun. Fortuna orbits its star a little closer than Earth does; it’s morning, but it feels like noon.

-A couple hundred thousand years ago. I borrowed it from Aphrodite for a couple centuries; the beaches here are just unbelievable.

-You borrowed a planet!? – Noriko exclaims.

-It was before it was colonized. Here comes the welcoming committee – Vesta points out.

There’s indeed a delegation walking towards them. Tyche leads them, dressed far more casually than during their last encounter. The blue-haired teen is wearing a finely decorated wraparound skirt, a golden silk bikini and a necklace made of seashells; the only sign this is a goddess is the red halo of flames above her head.

She has a dozen attendants around her; while Tyche is as white as it gets, they look Pacific Islanders… although Noriko is trying her hardest not to stare.

-Welcome to Fortuna, Null. Can I help you with anything? Drink, food, sex? – Tyche asks, shaking Noriko’s hand: she must take the ability to embarrass her from her father Hermes.

-I’m fine, thank you. I think we should go straight to business, shall we?

-Absolutely! Let’s go inside, the others are waiting for us – Tyche says, practically dragging Noriko with her. Vesta crosses her arms and pouts.

-She didn’t even notice us – she complains.

-Well, at least we can’t say she never takes us anywhere nice – Kari answers her; Vesta isn’t surprised by her enthusiasm, by the fact that there are now six Kari discussing the attendants, or by half of them already being topless.

-You could at least pretend to take this seriously, Kari.

-Hey you had your chance to have fun on this planet, you can’t blame me for doing the same.

 

Tokyo, Japan

The sun has set a couple of hours ago. The hotel lobby is very quiet: when a young woman enters the building, the sound of her boots makes an echo. The concierge looks at her disapprovingly: this is a high-end luxury hotel, and she just walked in wearing a red leather jacket. And sunglasses.

-Excuse me, I am looking for someone. I don’t know the name he used, but did Shinobu Tanaka buy a room for a westerner recently?

-I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to divulge such information, miss.

-Look, this is the deal: I am trying to keep a low profile – she says, leaning against the desk and slowly taking off her sunglasses. The concierge is surprised to see that her eyes are completely black, except for a silver iris, but he’s seen stranger things.

-So please do not make this more complicated than it needs to be – she continues, as the iris becomes red and bright for a full second. When she does this, the computer screen in front of him goes crazy: it opens several files at once, before it crashes completely.

-Thank you for your cooperation – the young woman says, putting on the sunglasses again and leaving as if the situation were completely normal. Of course it isn’t and he shouts at her:

-Hey! What did you just do? Come back here you little-

The young woman quickly turns towards him; there is a flash of red light in her hand, materializing a handgun in less than a second.

-C’mon. Finish that sentence. Make me laugh.

-I, I don’t want any trouble – the man says, raising his hands to surrender.

-That’s not funny – she comments on a monotone voice, pulling the trigger. The gun shoots an energy ray that hits one of his hands, which immediately explodes in a gory fashion . She looks at him screaming in pain, his face covered in blood and holding the stump left on his forearm, as the elevator reaches the ground floor.

-That’s the problem with Japan. No sense of humor – are her final words before taking the elevator.

 

Fortuna, 8,000 light-years from Earth

Once inside the palace, Tyche’s clothes revert to her formal attire: a blue evening dress complete with blue cape. The climate inside is much colder, much to Noriko’s liking: her wearing a leather jacket isn’t out of the ordinary anymore.

Everything looks modern even by galactic standards. The naturalistic look of the outside is in stark contrast with the no-nonsense directive of the inside; even the personnel wouldn’t look much out of shape in the White House, although several males are wearing skirts, and they are all white people.

-Is it me or half of these people look exactly the same? – Vesta asks.

-Oh yeah, now that you mention it, it’s kind of unusual for other planets – Kari says.

-I employ a great deal of Myridians; nobody builds cities faster than them, and I need to make Fortuna into a real throne world – Tyche explains.

-You’re not wasting time, I see – Noriko comments. She still hasn’t decided if she trusts Tyche.

-Unlike you, Null. I expected to see you a couple of days ago, what took you so long?

-The Ragnarok’s Star Drive only reaches two million times the speed of light. I could’ve been here in two hours using the Negative Drive, but I used the occasion to run some tests.

-I see. Is this a subtle reminder that you have better things to do than cultivate our alliance?

-What Noriko means – Vesta intervenes – is that even her technology isn’t a match for the Talaria.

-Actually – Null tries to correct her, but she’s interrupted by Vesta through the Neutral Transmitter:

This is how negotiating with gods work, Nori: start by stroking their ego. Trust me”.

-Oh well, I suppose someone has to own the fastest ship in the Galaxy, isn’t it? Thankfully, this gave the other guests a chance to arrive – Tyche continues.

-What other guests? – Noriko asks, right before they enter the conference room.

There’s a round table clearly meant for a much larger meeting. There are two people already sitting: a man with an unruly beard and a woman with a green jacket. The former nods politely at their arrival, while the latter stands to attention and takes a deep bow.

-Lady Null. I am honored to be at your service – the woman says. Vesta and Kari look at Noriko’s face, and as they expected they see her silver eyes shine brightly in anger.

-Ganos Lal. What the heck are you doing here?

-She convinced me to grant my subjects the freedom to worship you as a goddess, as long as they swear allegiance to me. Isn’t it wonderful? – Tyche asks, excitedly.

-Peachy – Noriko says through her teeth. She really, really doesn’t like the Myridian self-appointed Supreme Pontiff of the Church of Null.

-And this is Odysseus, son of Laertes, who calls himself Ulysses these days. Funny thing, we’re actually very distantly related.

-We’ve met. How did you get here faster than me? – Noriko asks.

-I already told you. Being where I’m not supposed to be is what I do best – he answers.

-Can you also give me a straight answer, for once? – she asks, crossing her arms.

-And where’s the style in that? – he answers, winking. She tries to hide her irritation; that’s easy sitting down next to Ganos Lal, because she irritates her much more.

-What do you know about the Nine Gods? – he asks.

-Athena told me they’re the rulers of the Greek, Egyptian and Sumerian pantheons.

-They are the absolute rulers of the known universe. And Hera just asked for a formal meeting.

-What!? They haven’t met since… – Vesta exclaims, interrupted by Ulysses:

-The First Trojan War, yes I know. You must understand, Null, that the Nine Gods are powerful beyond reason: they’re as close to invincibility as you can get. But they have one weakness…

-Drylon weapons – she deduces.

-Yes. We want you to find the Dragon Tomb so that we can kill them all – Tyche reveals.

 

Tokyo, Japan

Six security guards are waiting in front of the elevator, with machines guns ready to go at any second. They wait patiently until the door opens, then indiscriminately open fire.

The bullets bounce off hexagonal red fields that deprive the bullets of kinetic energy, making them fall harmlessly to the ground. The young woman with sunglasses and a red leather jacket exits the elevator and just stands there, calmly, until the guards stop firing.

-Now that you’ve got that out of your system, please leave. Otherwise I’ll have to kill you.

The guards don’t listen; one of them ties to subdue her physically. He doesn’t even see her take a pocket knife from her jacket until she’s stuck it inside his throat.

She makes short work of the others. The gun vaporizes the second guard’s chest; another two open fire on her again, but they die when the forcefield suddenly accelerates the bullets when they hit it. Another two are killed by ricochet, and the last one who tries to tackle her from behind ends up being electrocuted by her jacket.

When she kicks open the suite’s door, two women scream and hide behind the shirtless westerner man who is slowly clapping.

-Nice entrance, sunshine. How’d you find me?

-“Mercurio Digiove”? Seriously, Hermes, you couldn’t think of a better fake name? You two, out – she orders. The two prostitutes don’t waste any time running away.

Hermes moves behind the young woman, faster than she can see, and gently strokes her long dark hair that reaches her backside. She doesn’t seem to resist him.

-How should I call you, dear?

-I am Null. Reborn without her flaws, shed away like a serpent’s skin.

-Then why come to me, my little viper? To rekindle our passion? – he asks leaning over to kiss her.

-I need to get off the planet – she coldly says, backing away from him.

-You do, uhm? And what would I get in return for my generosity?

-I will kill the flawed Null.

-Really! How fascinating. But tell me, if I wanted sunshine dead, why haven’t I teleported her into the Sun’s core the second I regained consciousness?

-Because you profit from the current state of the galaxy. You plan to hide here, the only planet where she won’t be looking for you, until someone kills her or she dies of old age.

-So why would I help you to solve a problem what will fix itself in a century at most?

-True, a century is about 0,02% of your age: for the flawed Null, 0,02% of her age is 36 hours. But I know you enough. You’re curious about what will happen if you help me.

-Hmm. I do love a woman after my own heart. Alright, I will help you, my viper. Where do you want to go? I know lots of great places: Kythera, Labya, Phryne…

-Gordium – she interrupts him.

-Enyo’s world? How do even know its name?

-It’s a small galaxy if you know where to look for the details. Do we have a deal?

-Oh yes. This is getting really interesting – Hermes admits, snapping his fingers. The young woman disappears, together with the dead bodies of the guards. Replaced with a smile on the god’s face.

-I’ll keep an eye on you, my dear viper. You can be certain of that.



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