All the 50 floors of Null Tower have been completely restructured in the past month. Before Noriko had bought it, the skyscraper was simply a residential building; now it’s the center of the fastest growing enterprise in the country.

Bob Null reaches the top floor, where just like anyone else he needs to show his badge to unlock the blast proof door in front of the elevator.

“This is ridiculous; I need a badge to see my daughter. A badge!” he thinks, placing his hand on the scanner to show his fingerprints. A gentle female artificial voice answers:

-Welcome to the 50th floor of Null Tower, Robert Null. Please state the nature of your visit.

-Open the door, Nori, it’s dad.

-No visits scheduled for the next unspecified hours and unspecified minutes. Please come back later.

-Noriko, open this door now. Don’t make me shout.

-One moment please. Mistress, request to allow unsolicited parental visit.

Bob is about to lose his cool when his daughter’s voice answers to the electronic voice.

-Permission granted, security override F3E57D35779-NULL. Come in, father.

The blast proof door opens by itself after a gentle ping. It’s hard to see what’s on the other side: there are no windows, and the eerie glow of computer screens is filling the air.

-What was that, Nori? – Bob asks, raising his voice in the dark. Noriko’s voice is loud and clear, coming through speakerphones placed strategically.

-Hexadecimal password. Most commercially available computers would take about 16 billion years to crack it.

-I meant the thing that spoke back to me.

-Oh. That’s IRIS, as in Integrated Reconfigurable Intelligence System. I based her program on my understanding of the translation algorithm of the Talos.

-Cool. Listen, Nori, I know you must be doing important…stuff here, but we need to talk.

-Of course. Lights on.

 

Bright neon lights flood the room, which now Bob can see as far more chaotic than expected.

There’s junk everywhere, for lack of a better word. Wires, computer parts, welding equipment, holographic projectors, dozens of empty pizza boxes, a basket full of dirty laundry.

Noriko is wearing her trademark leather jacket of an horrible shade of green and a black T-shirt with a white Ø sign. In addition, she’s wearing futuristic metal gloves that she’s using to work on holographic screens.

-Nori, when was the last time you left the room?

-86 hours ago. Before you complain, father, I eat regularly and this floor includes a shower.

-I see. How many shirts like that do you own again?

-365.

-Right; at least I don’t have to worry about you maxing the credit card on a shopping spree.

-Did you wish to discuss a meaningful topic, father?

-I wanted to know how you’re coping with all…all of this stuff. We don’t talk anymore.

Noriko freezes for a second, calmly removing her gloves. Only now Bob can see that she’s working on the Heart of the Universe.

-I’m doing great, father. The discoveries I make every day…Null Technology is going to change everything. And that’s not counting what the others are doing! IRIS, Vanguard status.

-At once, mistress.

Two new holographic screens appear in front of Noriko; one shows Vesta towing a lost cruise ship to a safe haven, the other shows Quantum rescuing people from a fire.

-By my calculations, the three of us have already saved 8.5 million lives.

-Does that include all the people you almost killed by dropping a chunk of the Moon on them?

-If you must be technical, yes. Why the sudden interest, father?

-I’m worried about you. You stay here day and night, building who knows what. I took calls from your friends for weeks and I don’t think you talked to any of them for more than five seconds.

-They bore me.

-This isn’t you, Nori. You don’t meet your friends, you don’t go out to dance or shop…you don’t date, thankfully…I barely see you anymore.

-This is me now, father – she answers, raising her arms as to embrace the room full of technical wonders. Naturally, her silver eyes flash briefly. Bob is unimpressed.

-So this doesn’t have anything to do with your mother.

Noriko didn’t think she could still do a double take. An alien robot built by a god didn’t faze her, but this is the strangest thing she’s heard all month.

-How do you know that I know who my mother is?

-Maybe I’m not the smartest person on Earth, but I’m not dumb enough to forget that you are.

-Fair enough. But my interest in technology has nothing to do with my mother.

-Terribly sorry to interrupt you, Mistress – an artificial voice interrupts.

-We’re not done – Bob warns.

-Of course we aren’t. What is it, IRIS?

-A package from miss Leiko Tanaka of Scion Corporation is waiting for you in the atrium.

Bob Null crosses his arms and smirks: it’s not often he can corner his daughter like this.

-Okay, my mother may have something to do with it – she admits.

 

A few minutes later, Bob shows up again at the elevator. He’s holding the package, giving a puzzled look at the address.

-It’s from her, alright. This signature right here is her handwrite, but I don’t know Japanese.

-“For her eyes only” – Noriko translates, reaching for the package…but she hesitates.

Bob notices her eyes aren’t flashing: she’s thinking, yes, but she’s not accessing her power…she’s just thinking, just like a normal teenage girl would. If things like these happened to normal teenagers, that is.

-Do you want me to open it? – he asks.

The eyes flash again. She’s not trusting her human self to do this alone.

-It would be wiser if I saw it first – she says, taking the package in her own hands and opening it.

 

As soon as the slightest hint of oxygen can get inside, a green human arm thrusts out of the package punching Noriko in the face.

She takes a step back in pain, losing her grip. Before the package can hit the floor, the green substance inside has already grown at least a hundred pounds.

When Noriko understands what just happened, the package has delivered a fully grown woman with dark hair wearing green clothes.

-The Heart is ours – the Many states triumphantly, stepping forward to steal the Heart of the Universe.

-Over my dead body – Noriko threatens as she reaches for the Heart as well.

Both Noriko and the Many touch the Heart at the same time.

There is an extremely bright flash of light.

 

All of this has taken maybe five seconds from the moment when Noriko opened the package.

Bob Null didn’t have any time to understand the situation. It takes a while for his eyes to recover from the sudden burst of light. When that happens, he doesn’t like what he sees.

The Heart hasn’t moved an inch, but the Many has disappeared. His daughter’s clothes are lying on the floor: Noriko Null has vanished.



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