Pyongyang, North Korea

Kim Yong-Su never thought he would see Noriko Null in person when he accepted to work as a security guard for Null Technologies. Ever since the fall of the regime over a year ago, Pyongyang has been eerily calm: there’s been tension between the locals and the UN peacekeeping forces still stationed in the nation, but any building owned by Null herself is probably the safest place in the country. He tries not to stare at the 21 year old CEO sitting alone at the conference table, or at the Western woman with pink hair that’s standing behind her holding a tablet.

Null is talking to the holographic projection of a visibly upset man; he can’t understand a single word they’re saying, since Kim doesn’t speak Spanish. Still, when the conversation is over and the hologram disappears, Kim is sure that the man has politely sent her to Hell.

-Is it really a good idea to talk to him like that? – the girl with purple eyes says, in English.

-He’s just the President of Colombia. He can complain all he wants about Nullbots burning down coca plantations, but as long as he needs my fusion reactors he can’t do anything about it.

-You know, Vesta and Quantum have complained quite a lot about doing stuff like this…

-I know, I know. I don’t need another lecture about misusing power.

<You have an incoming call, mistress Null. It’s the President of the United States> a mechanical voice notifies her. A hologram of the White House appears, with a blinking red light.

Noriko taps her finger on the table in front of her a couple of times. Then she does the thing that Kim expected her the least: she turns to him.

-Hi. Do you think I was too rough during the call? – she asks in perfect Korean.

-I don’t know, madam. I don’t speak Spanish.

-Right. I apologize for using you as a prop in the background, but I don’t like having Nullbots in the shot when I talk to politicians; they tend to make them nervous.

-I don’t mind. Shouldn’t you… uhm… answer that?

-Kim is a former soldier, you know. He left the South Korean army to work here – the girl with purple hair informs Null, speaking in Korean as well.

-You didn’t tell me you learned Korean, Kari.

-Nori, I know you don’t like President Keen, but you really should take that call.

-Yeah, yeah. Enjoying your job, mister Kim?

-Yes madam. I think you’re doing a fantastic job for Korea.

-Thank you, mister Kim. But please call me Null, you’re not in the Army anymore.

-Nori… – Kari chastises her again, tapping her foot nervously.

-Okay, fine. Call accepted. What is it, Keen? – she asks to the hologram, which has now changed its appearance to that of the current President of the United States, the former Senator Keen.

-Null. I don’t find it funny to be put on hold every time I try to contact you.

-Really? I find it hilarious. Going back to my point: what do you want, Keen?

-I know you’re moving resources to Antarctica. Did you think our satellites wouldn’t notice?

-No, I thought you wouldn’t do anything about it. After all, I’m setting up Null Station in the Marie Byrd Land, the largest unclaimed territory on Earth, well outside American borders.

So now you’re trying to buy your own nation, Null?

-Again, “unclaimed territory”: if it doesn’t belong to anybody, I don’t have to pay a dollar to own the land. I just need the technology to establish a permanent base; I have it, and you don’t.

Gloat all you want, but remember that area still falls under the Antarctic Treaty. If you carry out any sort of military activity there…

-Keen, what do I have to do to convince you that I’m not trying to take over the world?

Treating your President with any sort of respect would be a start.

-Are you done? I have to go to dinner.

This conversation is far from over, Null.

-Yes it is, thank you for confirming you can’t be right about anything. Call off – Noriko instructs the computer, that metaphorically hangs up on the President of the United States.

-I’m not Keen’s biggest fan, but don’t you think you’re exaggerating? – Kari criticizes her.

-I tried to treat him with respect when he was a Senator and it didn’t work; I’ll be nice when he admits all the lies he’s told me about me to get himself elected.

-Good luck with that. Are we done for the day?

-Sure. See you tomorrow, Kari – Noriko replies, going back to her business as the purple haired girl leaves the room. It takes her a few seconds to realize that Kim is still there.

-Are you also done for the day, mad… ehm, Null? – he asks her.

-Yes, I have to get up early to fly to Honolulu. You can go home if you want.

-Actually, I was thinking about inviting you to dinner.

Noriko is visibly taken aback; it’s probably the last thing she expected to hear. It’s too late to mask her surprise, so she leans back on her chair and gives him a smirk.

-That took a lot of courage – she tells him.

-That wasn’t a no.

-No, I guess it wasn’t – she answers, her mind suddenly a thousand miles away. How long has it been since the last time she’s done anything that wasn’t related to work?

-So, is there a place, ah, where we can, you know, eat? – she asks nervously, stumbling into every single word like she just forgot how to speak Korean. Considering how she was antagonizing the most powerful man in the world two minutes ago, it’s especially weird to witness.

-Don’t worry, I’ll pick up the tab – he answers.

She tries her hardest not to laugh at the joke, failing miserably.

 

Barren Island, Indian Ocean

True to its name, this island is completely devoid of human life. But hidden by the cloud of volcanic ashes there’s someone who is enjoying the solitude, a man with red skin that is sitting cross-legged on a mattress made of hundreds of red energy needles.

A human would find the atmosphere unbreathable and the heat unbearable, but Torn is starting to feel at home. When he feel someone approaching, he doesn’t need to open his eyes to know who it is… there are very few people in this world who wouldn’t mind this environment.

-I’m sorry to bother you. Do you have a minute? – Vesta asks politely, floating closer to the top of the volcano; close enough to dip her toes into the flow of lava, as if she was just testing the water.

-Yes.

-It’s been a while since we’ve had a chance to hang out. If you want to talk about what happened with your sister back at the Dragon Tomb, I’m willing to listen.

-She escaped. I’ll get her. There’s nothing to talk about.

-Really. You’re on the other side of the planet meditating on a volcano, Torn, that’s weird even by your standards.

-I have absorbed my father’s scythe. I’m training to incorporate its power with mine.

-You train? I thought your Demon powers were innate.

-They are. But there’s always room for improvement: that is why Pain is more powerful than me.

-I can relate. After all, I’m probably the weakest member of my family, and I know something about fighting your own sister.

-Did any of your sisters try to murder you?

-Not really. But then again, I can’t die – Vesta shrugs.

-I see. Losing to Enyo and witnessing Hera’s power has humiliated you.

-You’re not really good with people, you know Torn?

-Yes.

-But yeah, you’re right. Besides that, I’ve been giving it some thought. I’ve seen the amount of work that Kari puts in her training, or how much Max and Noriko try to better the use of their powers, now even you. I feel like I’m the only one who’s not trying to improve.

-Because you fear hurting others.

-Uh? I’m not sure I follow you, Torn.

-I’ve seen how you fight. You put all your effort into doing as little damage as possible. You’ve been training all your life to get less powerful.

-I had to. You know what would happen if I hit this island as hard as I could? Mortals can’t understand how fragile a world can be.

A few moments of silence pass, with Vesta pretending to be interested in watching the lava flowing over her feet. Until Torn sighs.

-You’re not here to talk. You’re here to train with me.

-Would you do that? Wouldn’t it go against Demon philosophy?

-That has never stopped me before.

 

Honolulu, Hawaii

The Valkyrie shuttle lands on the beach. Noriko Null slowly gets out of the vehicle, covering her eyes from the little sandstorm she’s raised. She’s a short walking distance from the bungalow she’s bought for her father, as far away from the crowds as possible. She finds Bob Null waiting for her, next to a Kari duplicate who is excitedly waving hello. They’re making her feel a little overdressed: she hasn’t taken off her green leather jacket, while her father is wearing swimming trunks and Kari is in a pink bikini.

-I’m so glad you made it! How’s the arm? – Bob asks, trying to hold Noriko’s left arm; she instinctively pulls it back at first, but she lets him examine the prosthetics that replaced everything below the elbow.

-It seems so real! Do you feel anything?

-Yes Father, I have included tactile sensitivity. And a few other improvements.

-Like what? Does it shoot lasers? Or maybe it vibrates?

-Dad, please – Noriko rolls her eyes. Her father is 37, but sometimes she wonders if he’s 12.

Kari immediately notices her embarrassment and for once doesn’t take advantage of it, holding Noriko’s real arm and leading her towards the bungalow.

-So how’s my Korean duplicate doing? Is she still single?

-I have no idea, but I doubt it. She didn’t join us for dinner yesterday.

-“Us”? Who’s “us”?

-Kari, please don’t start jumping to conclusions…

-You went on a date!?

-I had dinner with someone. It wasn’t a date – Noriko states firmly, but the damage is already done.

-Do I know him? When can I meet him? Is he hot? – Kari asks immediately.

-What are you talking about? – Bob asks, trying to join the conversation.

-Noriko had a date yesterday!

-I spend weeks rebuilding North Korea and you want to talk about my date – Noriko sighs.

-So it WAS a date! You did use protection, right?

-Dad, you are literally the last person on the planet that can talk about that with me – she ends the conversation, opening the door to the bungalow and facing exactly what she’s talking about: her Native-Hawaiian personal physician, Catherine Kalama, holding a baby girl in her arms.

-Noriko! What a surprise. Say hi, Nalani! – the doctor tells to the baby. Noriko stares at her newly born half-sister; it’s nearly impossible to tell she’s half white.

-Hi – Noriko mumbles, still not sure how to deal with her new sibling.

-Isn’t she the most adorable thing in the galaxy? – Kari interrupts, making Nalani giggle.

-I think she is ugly like all babies – is what Noriko wanted to say, but the voice didn’t come from her: it’s from a man sitting on a couch inside the bungalow, speaking with a Russian accent.

Noriko practically shoves Dr. Kalama aside, walks towards him and raises her left hand: the Genius Gun appears with a flash of light, and she’s aiming for the Russian’s head.

-You have five seconds to tell me why you’re threatening my family. Then I shoot.

-I am Doctor Voron. Nice to meet you, Null – the man answers with complete calm.



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