Midgard Station, Antartica

Noriko Null drinks the sixth espresso cup of the morning, looking at an interactive map of Earth. To use an understatement, it doesn’t look good.

Now that the Endless Winter is no longer stabilizing the heat to a constant -22°F, the planet can return to normal. But it’s a slow and dangerous process: rushing things could be more disastrous than the freezing itself. She needs to consider weather patterns, oceanic currents, wind distribution, population density, commercial routes, and thousands more variables needed to reverse the damage done by the Winter King to the ecosystem and the global economy.

For once, she’s grateful to have some help. Aside from the Scribe, Voron and Lily are the most scientifically brilliant minds she’s ever encountered; they’re not anywhere near her level, but it’s refreshing to let someone else take care of simulations and projections without the need to explain every obvious detail or triple-check their programs for malicious viruses.

-This is not going to work – Voron comments, quickly scolded by Lily:

-Are you always this positive? – the Lampyrian girl asks him.

-I am a realist. The freezing itself killed thousands if not millions of people, and the inevitable economic crash will lead to a global crisis that will be impossible to stop.

-Do you have any suggestion, or are you just trying to get on my nerves? – Noriko asks.

-You should take over the world – Dmitry Voron suggests, like it was the most natural thing to say.

Both Noriko and Lily stop what they were doing to stare at him.

-You can’t be serious – Noriko says.

-Why not? You control the most powerful military assets in the world, you have intimate knowledge of its financial institutions, and…

-I don’t want to take over the world – she flat-out tells him.

-I seem to recall previous statements that contradict your current position.

-I was younger, Dmitry. I hadn’t seen with my own eyes what absolute power does to people.

-And what if you have to do it? What if the only way to save the world is to take it over? If you ask me, the world could do a lot worse than having a leader like you.

-Nobody asked you – she replies harshly, making her silver eyes shine to stress that the topic is over. Lily does her best to stay out of the argument, something made a lot easier when Bob Null enters the room and asks:

-Noriko, can I talk with you for a minute? In private?

-That’s the best idea I’ve heard today – she concedes, following him out of the room and activating her Sound Nullifier to make sure nobody listens to their conversation.

-Is everything alright, Father? Leiko didn’t harm you when you were her prisoner, right?

-No, no, nothing like that! – he answers, faking a chuckle and avoiding to look her in the eye. Even if her superhuman mind didn’t pick up his body language, she knows her father extremely well.

-Oh God, please tell me I’m wrong and you didn’t sleep with her!!!

-Well, we didn’t exactly sleep.

-I think I’m gonna throw up.

-Noriko, please, hear me out…

-I don’t have to listen to this – she replies harshly, trying to leave until Bob grabs her arm.

-I called Athena using your medallion – he reveals.

-You what?

-She should be here tomorrow; I promised her you’d lend her the Ragnarok to get her back to a wedding or something.

-Athena is coming – Noriko says, thinking out loud while her silver eyes shine.

-I hoped she’d defeat the Winter King for you. Maybe she’ll help with… Noriko?

-Athena is coming. I can use this – she adds, rushing back inside the laboratory and leaving behind her father without exchanging a single word.

-Out – is all she says to Voron and Lily; the Lampyrian girl immediately obliges, while the Russian scientist defies Null’s orders as she talks to the computer.

-O.D.I.N, give me the current location of all the heads of states of Earth’s governments.

<Please wait> – the artificial intelligence replies, putting on the screen a map of the planet that is slowly filled up with red dots, one for each country.

<Unable to locate the leaders of 47 countries>

-Russia is my fault. I blew up our satellite network – Voron admits.

-It doesn’t matter, I have the major players; the others will fall in line. As for Russia, I have the Prime Minister’s personal phone number anyway.

-How? – he asks, receiving a bemused look from Null. Her silver eyes shine to highlight the reason.

-Oh. Right. Forgot for a moment who I was talking to – he shrugs.

-O.D.I.N. Record, translate and transmit the following message to all readers: I am Noriko Null. I wish to discuss how to deal with the current situation: be at your country’s official state residence within the next two hours, I will pick you up and take you to a neutral place. No deputies or security personnel allowed, you will be under my personal protection. Null out.

<Translating and transmitting. Shall I prepare the available Valkyrie shuttles, mistress?>

-I knew I programmed you to be smart. Please proceed, O.D.I.N.

-I though you didn’t want to take over the world. You changed your mind? – Voron asks.

-Dmitry, you may be the second smartest person on the planet, but you really don’t know anything about me if that’s what you think.

 

Midgard Station’s hangar

Lily doesn’t know much about the station, but she does recognize that the ship under construction by the Nullbots bears a striking resemblance to the Ragnarok. She wonders why the human she finds is looking at it, and it takes her a while to remember her codename.

-Blue Star. How are things going? – she asks, startling her.

-Lily! I didn’t hear you coming. But call me Kayla, I probably won’t be Blue Star anymore now that I’ve lost my costume – she answers, but she’s not looking at Lily in the eye when she does.

-Is something wrong? You’re staring at me.

-S-sorry. I haven’t met many aliens before. You… you don’t have a nose – she says, feeling stupid when she states something that obvious.

-It’s fine, I haven’t met many humans with your skin either.

-Uh. Not too many black people in the galaxy?

-No, the Laestrygon are extinct. But I was talking about brown humans like you, and they’re not that rare. Or at least not as much as…

-Lily! I see you’ve met my sister – Quantum interrupts her, suddenly appearing out of nowhere.

-Is Miranda alright? – Kayla immediately asks him.

-Yes, your girlfriend survived the Endless Winter just fine. So did Mom and Dad, by the way; I’ve told them you’re staying with me.

-Your parents are still alive? How old are they!? – Lily wonders, shocked by the idea.

-They’re in their sixties. Why, is that rare where you come from? – Kayla asks.

-I knew humans are long-lived, but being fertile for that long? No wonder you populated the entire Olympian Galaxy!

The siblings exchange a bemused look, which they both interpret as “she has a lot to learn”.

 

The Winter King’s fleet, leaving Earth’s solar system

Leiko Tanaka taps her foot impatiently, watching her breath as she sighs in coldness of the Winter King’s room.

The monarch is resting on the bed, which is being subjected to the weight of his massive armor made of Neutral Matter. The room is cramped: a dozen of doctors and experts buzz around him, carrying advanced medical instruments and other devices that Leiko doesn’t recognize.

-What’s wrong with him? – she asks to the nearest Lar doctor.

-His organs have been damaged by massive gravitational acceleration, My Lady, and his ribcage has been broken – the grey-skinned physician answers.

-Is he going to survive?

-With proper rest. They are not fatal wounds, for a Lar – he explains, blatantly highlighting his race’s physical superiority to humans.

-Then leave us alone. All of you – she orders. The physician seems uncertain, but Leiko’s icy stare is enough to convince him; he’s the first one to leave, soon followed by everyone else.

She’s alone with the Winter King now. Even with the armor, he seems so vulnerable.

Worry not, Leiko. I shall survive this ordeal.

-How can I be sure of that, if a human child can humiliate you so easily? Without your armor, you are nothing. In fact, I’m not even sure there’s someone under that armor.

How… dare you… – the Winter King replies, slowly trying to rise; judging by the way he holds his hand on his stomach and groans, it’s very painful for him.

Null found a way to disarm me. But I am so much more than my armor.

-I’ve never seen you take that thing off. How do I know you can even survive without it?

I granted you asylum, gave you my trust, raised you to the rank of Ice Queen, and this insubordination is how you repay me? – he asks, standing back up again and raising his hand towards her: the air around his glove is already freezing.

-I repay you with honesty, My Lord: kill me now and the doubt that you are nothing without the Winter Armor will haunt you for the rest of your days. Grace me with the sight of your real body, and you will conquer your doubts and my heart – she replies.

The Winter King doesn’t move for what feels like an eternity. Then something unprecedented happens: the armor releases steam from multiple points, and the plates begin to separate.

The Winter Armor is now unlocked. A Lar man steps out of it: his skin is more white than grey, after ages lived hidden from the sun. And despite his alien looks, Leiko has to admit that there is indeed something regal in the way he carries himself.

-You are the most extraordinary woman I have ever known – he tells her; it’s strange to hear him talk without the armor’s vocal filter, and it’s even weirder to feel the touch of his hand on her chin.

-You are also different from other men – she replies, coming close enough to kiss him.

The Winter King closes his eyes, feeling the warmth of her breath on his lips.

And then a sharp pain coming from his abdomen. He screams, but not a single sound comes out of his mouth, not even when the knife is twisted repeatedly and spills his oily black blood.

-You are the dumbest one I’ve ever met – Leiko mocks him, smiling as she pushes him.

He falls on the floor, watching her toss the Sound Nullifier on the bed and use her dress to clean up the red and black dagger on her hands.

-I knew this would be useful. I should thank Hermes for it, when I have the chance – she comments, watching the Winter King crawl on the floor trying to reach the Winter Armor: she stomps on his hand before he can touch it. His scream is barely a whisper: nobody will come to his rescue.

-You thought I would follow an idiot like you? You had multiple chances to kill my daughter and take over the world, but your obsession with honor was too important for you. Well, here’s what I really think about honor – she continues, kneeling and forcing him to raise his head while placing her dagger on his neck.

-The King is dead. Long live the Ice Queen – she says, slashing his throat.

He gargles incomprehensible words, bleeding on the floor in the most undignified death possible for a king. Leiko Tanaka watches him with unbridled joy on her face.

With her precious dress drenched in alien blood and a psychotic look in her eyes, she turns her attention to the fully unlocked Winter Armor.

-Long live the Ice Queen – she repeats.



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