4 A.M.

The smartest girl in the world wakes up, her silver eyes shining in the darkness. After a long yawn, she stretches her arms and legs while she orders:

-Lights on. Status report.

Neon lights illuminate the bedroom, which is rather unimpressive for a billionaire. Not much larger from her older room, when she was an ordinary teenager…with the exception of the holographic screens on every wall.

-good morning, mistress – the computer voice says, while unleashing on the screens all the information recorded in its databanks in the last eight hours. It would take twice as much time to read it all for any human being; Noriko does it in fifteen seconds, yawning again.

As usual, there’s a lot going on in the world. The nations attacked by the Empire of Shadows are still coming to terms with the rise of a new threat they barely understand; there are riots each day in many different countries. Senator Keen is making a lot of noise accusing Null Technologies of everything from attempting to create a monopoly on fusion technology to supplying funds and who knows what else to the Empire of Shadows. Unfortunately that’s close enough to the truth to make any rebuttal difficult, and the press has been quite negative towards her lately.

-Call Todd Slate. Audio only – she instructs, taking off her shirt and walking towards the bathroom.

Almost two minutes later, a very sleepy voice responds by asking:

What?

-Can we do anything about Senator Keen? I was thinking maybe I should get a few lobbyists to…

For God’s sake, Noriko, can’t it wait until morning?

-I have a busy schedule. Can you join me at breakfast?

Sure. You’re working already? What time is it?

-Four A.M. Couldn’t sleep, too much to do.

You should get a hobby. Just don’t call me again this late unless we’re under attack, okay?

I’ll keep that in mind.

See you later. Oh, and happy birthday.

-Whatever. End call – she orders, brushing her teeth. Of all the things in her mind, turning nineteen today was the least important. She’d barely given it any thoughts at all.

She looks at the mirror. Silver eyes aside, she doesn’t look different from her last birthday… frustratingly enough, she’s given up hope to grow taller than five feet. Looking at herself with the toothbrush sticking out of her mouth, she thinks:

“To think that last year my biggest concern was Jeff wanting to go beyond second base…”

A couple of minutes later she’s back in her room, where the holographic screens are showing the city. There are no windows in her bedroom; she knows Null Tower is under constant watch and she certainly doesn’t want anyone staring at her wearing only her panties.

-“Get a hobby”, as if. Load the “to do” list.

The images of the skyline are replaced by walls of text, which cover all available space. Noriko glances at them, stroking her chin.

-You have 687 uncompleted projects.

-Happy birthday to me – she sighs.

 

5 A.M.

Noriko is relaxing in her enormous bathtub, the only luxury she allowed herself. While she’s dismissed the idea that it has anything to do with her Japanese ancestry, she finds it extremely relaxing. Today it might be a little too relaxing: she can’t focus on anything.

There are a dozen holographic screens in front of her. They show various blueprints, mathematical formulas, chemical structures, financial data…none of which have changed in the last hour.

-Mistress. Vesta would like to speak to you; she’s waiting outside.

-She’s back already? Let her in and load the modesty screen.

Vesta floats in, keeping her bare feet an inch off the ground. As always, she’s wearing her orange tube top and orange tight jeans.

-Back from Egypt already? – Noriko asks her. Since Vesta doesn’t need to sleep, it’s not unusual for them to see each other this early in the morning.

-Yeah, it’s…kind of bad. The protests ended as soon as I got there, but things are still hot. Tensions have been high in the region since the Pentagon sent Blue Star to join military exercises in Israel.

-Things have been bad there since forever. You of all people should know that.

-Which reminds me, happy birthday – Vesta says handing her a small gift-wrapped box.

-You shouldn’t have – Noriko replies, rising up. A holographic black censor box covers her breasts as she does so and proceeds to open the present: a bracelet made of gold and malachite.

-It belonged to an old friend of mine, but I guess Satiah doesn’t really need it anymore.

Noriko’s eyes bright up as she recalls the name, then examines the bracelet again.

-Great Royal Wife of Pharaoh Thutmose III, that Satiah? This is 3400 years old!?

-Give or take. I know you’re not much into girly stuff, but…

-I…I don’t know what to say. The most expensive thing I ever got for my birthday was a pair of boots from my fath…from dad – Noriko says, wearing the bracelet and admiring it.

-Glad you like it. You’re working on something? – Vesta asks, looking at the screens.

-I was trying to, but I’m stumped. I’m running a new analysis on the Heart of the Universe, simulations on a new Negative Drive, a new algorithm for IRIS, a business plan to promote the diffusion of reactor technology…

-Everything at once?

-That’s the problem. My mind comes up with so many ideas it’s impossible to focus.

-Maybe you need purpose – the goddess suggests.

-What do you mean?

-I’ve hidden from mortals for thousands of years until you forced me into the spotlight. Then I didn’t have time to dwell on what could go wrong; I was saving lives. Nothing else mattered.

-Saving lives – Noriko repeats, her eyes shining again. It’s not a quick glare; something is burning behind them. She turns her back to Vesta, snapping her fingers. Two holographic keyboards appear, and she starts to write on each one using one hand.

-Saving lives – she repeats.

-Everything okay, Nori? Hello?

-Can’t talk now. This is too slow, sync to my neural transmitter.

-Alright then, I’ll see you at breakfast okay? – Vesta asks, but Noriko is a million miles away: back into the tub, staring at the ceiling, with the light in her eyes flickering rapidly.

-Saving lives – she says again. The screens are showing what Vesta recognizes as a DNA model.

 

8 A.M.

Moving into Null Tower has been quite an experience for Todd Slate; not only for Noriko’s strange obliviousness to the fact that humans need to sleep, but for the bizarre company.

-Wait for me! – Kari shouts, creating a duplicate right in front of the elevator. The duplicate sticks her arm inside to block the door, leaving enough time for the original Kari to arrive. When the original steps into the elevator, the duplicate disappears with a popping sound.

Todd still finds Kari’s power hard to accept; it’s unnerving to always wonder if you’re talking to a real person or to her copy.

-Kari. You look good – he compliments her, knowing it’s an understatement. The bicycle shorts and sports top, both purple like her hair, show off her athletic body.

-Have you seen Nori? She was supposed to join me in the morning workout.

-She probably changed her schedule and forgot to tell you. You know how she is.

-Maybe you can convince her to do some exercise. She has to put on some muscles.

-Like she listens to me. And before you ask no, I don’t want to join…I’ve seen your training regime and I don’t think Olympic athletes work out as much as you do.

-Nori says I have higher stamina than anyone else on this planet. The only one here capable to keep up with me is Torn but, well, you can imagine how much company he can be.

-Yes, he’s…well he’s Torn – he says. Out of all the weird associates of Null, Torn is by far the most undecipherable.

-New outfit, I see. Looks good on you – he decides to compliment her again.

-Oh, thank you! Noriko found a way to make any clothes I want to wear duplicable, so now I don’t have to fight against naked copies of myself when I’m exercising.

-That’s…an improvement – he struggles to say.

The elevator comes to the penultimate floor of the Tower. There are already three people in the kitchen: Vesta is cooking, Torn is looking out the window, and Bob Null is arguing over the phone.

-Come on Deena, I can’t do that! I know we almost blew up but…hello? Hello?

-Good morning mister Null. Trouble? – Todd greets Noriko’s surprisingly young father.

-Yeah, my girlfriend wants to break up unless I move out of the Tower. After the Empire of Shadows she says it’s too dangerous to live here; I think she’s still upset about the time we wound up on the Moon. Imagine that.

-I’ll…try – Todd politely responds, wondering if Noriko took her quirkiness from him.

-Take a seat, Todd, I’ll be there in a minute – Vesta says; she’s holding a frying pan and her hands are on fire. Judging from the reaction of everyone else, this is completely normal for her.

Approaching the table, Todd asks to Torn:

-You’re not eating?

-No.

-You’re just going to stand there, say nothing, and look outside the window for no particular reason.

-Yes.

-He does that – Kari “explains”, creating a duplicate to massage her neck. Todd sighs, wondering:

“Can this day get any weirder?”

-‘Morning – Noriko says, entering the room from the door leading to her lab. She’s wearing nothing but one towel wrapped around her body and another one on her head. She has a golden bracelet on one wrist and is writing frantically on a holographic screen.

-Good morning sweetheart, happy bir…you sure you don’t want to wear something? – Bob asks.

-Not now. Still in the zone – she cuts him off, sitting at the table without pausing her typing.

There’s awkward silence for almost a minute; this is weird for everybody. Even Torn is facing away from the window and is staring at her while she mumbles:

-C44189H71252N12428O14007S321…

-You’re not blowing up your brains this time, are you? – Kari asks.

-In. The. Zone. C204H301N51O64.

Everyone exchanges worried looks. Finally Vesta places a plate of bacon in front of her, then scolds her with a stern voice:

-Noriko Null. What did I tell you about working while eating?

-C29H41F2N5O aaaand… there. Finished. What’s for breakfast? – Noriko asks. She places the holographic screen on the table (or rather lets it float a few inches above it).

-Ah, bacon. Nice. Can I get some coffee?

-Everything okay? – Bob asks, trying to get a good look at her daughter’s eyes.

-Yes I’m fine. Why are all of you looking at me like that?

-Does this have anything to do with the reason you wanted to talk to me over breakfast? – Todd asks, reaching for the screen.

-Sort of. I came up with a way to boost my approval rating and save a bunch of lives.

-What is it? – one of Kari’s duplicates asks, after appearing behind Todd to look at the screen.

-“Antiretroviral transcriptase inhibitor for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome” – he reads out loud, before skimming through the bulk of the text. Suddenly he shouts:

-Are you fu##ing kidding me!?

-Yep, I just cured AIDS. Before breakfast.



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