Null Island, Pacific Ocean

The room is silent. There is only one person there, surrounded by a dozen holographic screens which are the only source of light except the faint glimmer of silver eyes.

They belong to a nineteen year old girl who’s been staring at a particular screen for the last two hours straight, thinking. A beeping sound distracts her from her thoughts.

-Come in – she says; a door unlocks and opens automatically.

A man sixteen years older than her comes in, walking carefully to avoid tripping.

-Hey kid. Do you have a minute for your old man? – her father Bob asks.

-Sure. Lights on – she orders. Once the neon lights respond, the room is revealed to be very unusual: there isn’t any furniture with the exception of a single chair, where the girl has thrown her trademark green leather jacket. There are pieces of technological junk scattered all over the place.

-Sorry for the mess. I like keeping my hands busy while I’m thinking – she says.

-It’s okay, as long as none of it explodes.

-You might want to move a little to the left then. You almost stepped on a Genius Gun Mark 6 prototype right there – she warns him.

-Please tell me you’re joking – he says, watching carefully where he’s walking, before adding:

-So this is the Think Room. It’s…comfy, I guess. What are you working on?

-Nothing special – Noriko answers, making a rapid gesture towards one of the screens: following her hand, the screen is reduced to an icon and filed under a folder labeled “PROJECT SEVEN”.

-I was just updating. Project One and Two, the reconstruction of Beijing and the Planetary Defense Initiative, are on track at 35% and 12%. Project Three, the multiple vaccine distribution, is actually ahead of schedule at 20%, while Project Four is picking up the slack from the previous months with a 10%. That’s the phasing out of fossil fuel with fusion technology.

-I still can’t believe you want to do that in just two years. What about the space stuff?

-The space station and the Moon city, yes. Null Aerospace will open shop in a few weeks, so I estimate Projects Five and Six to be at 5% and 3%. There’s still a lot of work to do.

-Speaking of which, aren’t you supposed to take a break every once in a while?

Noriko rolls her eyes; she knows her father means well, but sometimes he worries too much.

-I don’t need another lecture about my health, Father, I already get enough of that from Dr. Kalama. I’ve increased my sleeping schedule to 3 hours per night, plus I take a 20 minute break three times a day, not counting showers, meals and bathroom breaks – she explains, counting each point on her fingers.

-Well, when you say it like that, it sounds only half as crazy as before.

-Actually, according to my calculations, I’m at least 68% less insane.

-…

-That was a joke. Not that I don’t enjoy our time together, Father, but do you need something?

-It’s just that I’m moving back to New York tomorrow, but Todd told me you won’t be there for a couple of weeks until the new Tower’s inauguration.

-I have a few things to do at the Island before I move back to Null Tower. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.

-I know, you’re an adult now. You can take care of yourself… heck, you pretty much take care of the entire world, don’t you?

-You could say that – Noriko nods, smiling with a mixture of pride and arrogance.

-Catherine will be moving with me. We haven’t talked much since we got together…

-Father, your relationship with Dr. Kalama doesn’t need my permission.

-What do you think of her?

Noriko is surprised by the question. Her father’s always asked her about how she felt about his lovers, but not once since she’s developed her super-intelligence.

-Unlike your usual… acquaintances, she has more admirable assets than those simply granted by two X chromosomes and an unusually kind puberty.

-Uhm… which means…

-I like her – she clarifies.

-That’s great! So what do you think about having a nice dinner together? Just the three of us.

-I can’t see why not – Noriko shrugs, still more focused on the stream of information relayed by the holograms than on the confirmation.

-I was thinking about telling her the truth about your mother – Bob finally confesses.

Noriko has her back turned to her father. She doesn’t say anything for a few seconds, then she closes all holograms with a gesture and turns to look him in the eye.

-That serious, uh?

-You just said it, Nori, she’s different from the others. I’ve never told the truth to anyone.

-Not even me. I had to find out on my own – Noriko recalls. She’s accepted his reasons, but deep down she’s never forgiven him for keeping the secret for 18 years.

-Things are different now. She deserves to know the truth.

-Which one? That my mother’s still alive? That she’s Japan’s Minister of Defense? That she’s the Empress of Shadows? Or that the only reason I was born is that she needed to be pregnant to unlock an alien device?

-All of it. I want Catherine to be part of the family… even if we’re more than a little messed up.

-I’ll think about it – is all Noriko says, her silver eyes shining briefly before turning her back again, once again surrounded by holographic charts and graphs.

-I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, Nori, but we really should be talking about Leiko.

-I said I’ll think about it – she repeats, clearly upset. Bob leans towards her, but he hesitates before touching her and retracting his hand.

-You want to be alone? – Bob asks, not sure about what to do. He’s always been close to his daughter, but she’s grown increasingly distant over the last few months… and her mother’s become an even touchier subject than before.

-Just call me if you need anything – are his final words before quietly leaving the room.

Noriko sighs. On top of everything else, she really doesn’t need this kind of drama right now. The folder labeled PROJECT SEVEN blinks red, looking for her attention.

-Not yet, Seven. Not just yet – she says to herself, closing the folder together with all other screens.

-Lock the door. Start a new project, security level: Silver Eyes Only. Project name: MIRROR.

 

The Pentagon, Arlington County, Virginia

After the destruction of NORAD at the hands of Eris, Projects Silver’s headquarters have been temporarily moved to the Pentagon. Inside a large meeting room, General Anderson and the Secretary of Defense sit at one side of the table. They are facing a very small delegation from Japan: current Minister of Defense Leiko Tanaka and her aides, all civilian.

Two unusual participants stare at each other, standing behind their leaders. On the American side there’s a black woman wearing an unusual blue uniform with a mask that covers half her face.

She’s facing a Japanese man who, unlike her, makes no attempt to disguise the fact that he’s basically wearing a superhero costume. It’s white; his face is partially obscured by a semi-transparent white visor, and there’s a dimly glowing red circle on his chest.

-On behalf of the American people, Minister Tanaka, I wish to express my gratitude for Japan’s fight against international terrorism.

-There are no cameras here, Mister Secretary, and both our governments have agreed not to disclose the specifics of this meeting to the general public. So please, stop embarrassing yourself.

Leiko’s tone is calm and cold; the Americans shift uncomfortably on their chairs, while she sits perfectly still. As always, she behaves like she owns the place.

-The Empire of Shadows is slowly but methodically eliminating all other major terrorist organizations on the planet. Their methods may be barbaric, but their effectiveness cannot be denied: their biological drones have infiltrated and decimated over a hundred terrorist cells.

-With thousands of civilian casualties – General Anderson adds, but he’s ignored by Leiko.

-They will eventually shift their attention away from the competition and attack a sovereign nation. The last time they did so, only the intervention of the Vanguard was able to stop them.

-I like to think that Blue Star played a part – the General objects, pointing at the black woman standing behind her.

-And I agree. She proved herself to be a very capable young woman, but she’s lost her superhuman abilities after her fight with Abyss – Leiko recalls.

-And her minions. How did you get your hands on the Excess suit? – Blue Star asks; she feels there’s something deeply upsetting in Leiko’s voice.

-It’s been renamed White Star – the Japanese man in the white costume clarifies; unlike Leiko’s, his English is highly accented.

-With the Red Star suit currently employed by Russia, it is the only two superpowered suits in existence. Neither of them is replicable… at least not for human use – Leiko explains, making a gesture towards one of her aides. Soon there’s a suitcase on the table, and when it’s opened it reveals its content: a blue superhero costume.

-It is designed to restore and enhance Blue Star’s power. As much as I value the friendship of the American government, however, my career in business has taught me that everything has a price.-

Behind the blue mask, Kayla Black’s heart jumps. Her brother Quantum has told her that Leiko can’t be trusted… but the suit is there, luring her in.

-What are your requests? – the Secretary of Defense asks.

-Many sovereign states have signed a secret deal with Noriko Null; it’s called the Washington Protocol. Japan is not one of them, and therefore is under no obligation to restrict research in superhuman weapons. We have studied the Centurions… the artificial lifeform that the Empire of Shadows uses as infantry… and we believe we can replicate the results.

-Artificial soldiers – General Anderson understands.

Superhuman artificial soldiers, which can be mass-produced. The Empire has shown that the technology exists, and I’m sure that others will attempt to reproduce it. Russia, perhaps. Or China. Or maybe, perhaps, Null?

-It would be in direct violation of the Washington Protocol – the General reminds her.

-Which China has signed, yes, but Russia has not. To use an American phrase, General, the genie is out of the bottle. All the diplomacy in the world will not put it back inside.

-What is your proposal, exactly? – the Secretary of Defense asks.

-A common strategy. The world is filling with superhumans that answer to no government… the Vanguard, the Empire of Shadows, Abyss, Artemis… and the latter has proven that there is no single army on this whole planet that can stand up to them. Project Silver should be re-established, but this time as a joint venture between America and Japan.

There are whispers between the Secretary, the General and their aides. Leiko and Blue Star look each other in the eye… there’s something hypnotic in the Minister’s stare.

-I will speak to the President about this – the Secretary finally says.

-Please do. I’m looking forward to hearing how many seconds it took him to say yes – Leiko answers.

 

Null Island, Pacific Ocean

All things considered, the dinner’s been a success. You could almost mistake it for a family dinner, even though some people might find it odd that all three people are from different races.

-I’m sorry, I have to take this call. It’s the President – Noriko excuses herself.

-Tell him I said hello – her Bob adds cheerfully, as her daughter hastily leaves the room.

-Nori, wait – Dr. Kalama calls her; without giving her a chance to respond, she hugs her.

-I’m sorry about what your mother did to you – she says, almost tearfully. Noriko doesn’t know how to react, awkwardly patting her in the back as she picks up the phone.

-Yes, Mister President?

We have to talk, miss Null. I need to know your thoughts about Leiko Tanaka.

-I’d be happy to, Mister President, if I ever understand them.



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