Aoyama Cemetery, Japan

It’s been over a month since Earth was the victim of an attempted alien invasion; among the many casualties, one of them is particularly unusual: Leiko Tanaka, the Minister of Defense, has been declared dead only a few days ago. This has caused some conspiracy theories, since her body has not been found and was initially only considered missing.

Many politicians and foreign representatives have not attended the funeral: Leiko was an extremely controversial figure after spearheading the invasion of North Korea.

Standing before her grave, Bob Null feels uncomfortable. Not just because he’s one of the few people on the planet that know the truth, but because he hates wearing formal clothes.

-Are you sure it’s okay that I’m not wearing a kimono? – he asks his daughter Noriko.

-It’s alright. It’s a mofuku, by the way – she corrects him.

In fact, while he’s dressed as a westerner, she’s wearing the traditional mourning dress; it’s the first time ever he’s seen her wear something like this.

-Thank you for coming, Father. It means a lot to me, even if there was nothing to be cremated.

-Are you sure that she’s dead now?

-I’m sure that I won’t see her again; it’s enough for me. I’m sorry if that makes me cold.

-Is everything okay with the authorities, about her mother? – he changes the subject.

Leiko’s tomb (or rather her gravestone, following the Japanese customs of cremation) is right next to those of her family: her two older brothers who died before Noriko’s birth, her father Daichi, and his wife Noriko… who according to the tombstone died years ago.

-I didn’t question why she was declared dead ahead of time, they wouldn’t question how I got hold of her body. It’s strange: Leiko named her own daughter after her, then she killed her in cold blood.

-Oh Leiko didn’t choose your name. I did.

-What? You never told me that.

-Leiko wasn’t always the way she was when you met her. The way she talked about her mother, how she admired her work and determination… she seemed happy talking about her.

-Did you love her?

It takes Bob an eternity to answer. He thought all this was behind him.

-I suppose I did. There was a beautiful person inside her, Noriko, before that damn alien technology washed it all away. I wish you could’ve seen her.

-<Please forgive my interruption> – a male voice says behind them; Noriko turns to see a man also dressed in traditional Japanese mourning clothes, and her silver eyes shine.

-<Black Knight!? What are you doing here!?> – she asks.

-I take it you two know each other? – Bob asks, not understanding a single word.

-<May we speak in private, Null-san?>

-<I’m armed> – she clarifies.

-<So am I. However, all I want to do is talk>

-Sooo… do you guys need some privacy? – Bob asks, still confused.

-This won’t take long, Father. <This better be worth it> – Noriko says, walking away from the grave followed by Black Knight.

 

She switches on the Sound Nullifier™ to prevent anyone eavesdropping, just in case. They walk until they reach a street under the shades of cherry trees, and she lets a very subdued laughter slip.

-<I fail to find anything amusing about the situation> – Black Knight comments.

-<I’m under a cherry tree, wearing traditional clothing, next to a guy in a kimono… it took my mother’s death to make me do something so Japanese>

-<It’s a mofuku> – he points out.

-<What do you want? If you’re looking for a job, I’m really not interested>

-<That won’t be necessary: the Tanaka estate is very generous with its funding. They are, however, facing a crisis: Leiko’s testament gives all her patrimony to her closest relative, but according to the law she doesn’t have any offspring>

-<You have some nerve. After all she’s done to me, you think I will give her the satisfaction to admit she was my mother just to get her money? Do you even know how rich I already am?>

-<I know that you don’t care about money. And I know that the Tanaka family must have a leader>

-<The Tanaka family is dead; you can thank Leiko for that. I am Null>

She leaves abruptly, without looking back. No matter how hard she tries, it seems she just can’t escape her mother’s shadow.

 

Imperial Hotel

Todd Slate is admiring the view from the window of the 5-star suite, overlooking the Imperial Palace, when the door opens.

It’s strange for him to see Noriko in traditional Japanese clothes, but it’s even stranger that she asked him not to come to the funeral with her.

-Hey. Enjoying the vacation? – she asks.

-Sure. We should come here more often.

-Now we can. But there’s no way I’m wearing these again – she complains, taking off the sandals and split-toe socks.

-Where’s your father?

-One of Kari’s duplicates stationed in Japan is showing the town to him and doctor Kalama.

-Any particular reason why we’re not following them? – he asks, foreseeing trouble.

-We need to talk – she says, taking his hand. They sit down on the couch, next to each other.

Her hands are fidgeting; she’s clearly nervous. More than he’s ever seen her.

-This is, this is not easy for me, okay? I’m not… I have issues with… with my family.

-You were abandoned at birth. That’s understandable.

-Yes, I… I guess it is. You see… I had to come here… to be here today… because…

-Because Leiko Tanaka was your mother.

All her genius, all the world’s information in her brain could not have prepared her for this.

-You know!? How… It was Max, wasn’t it? That guy can’t keep a secret!

-Nobody told me anything; I figured it out. There was something personal between you two, the official story about your mother didn’t make much sense, you went to her funeral even though you clearly hated her, and you wore the mourning clothes… which only the immediate family is supposed to wear. And, well I never said it because it sounded racist, but you really look like her.

-That’s… wow. I’m not easily impressed, but… wow.

-You told Max before you told me? – Todd asks, raising an eyebrow.

-He found out when… it’s a long story. Actually, you’re the first person I’ve told this. Ever.

-It seems I have a habit of being your first – he jokes, but she remains serious.

-I was born to be a weapon, Todd, a tool. My mother didn’t care for me, just for the Nexus in my brain… and I guess that deep inside, I feared that the Nexus was all I had. I was afraid that… I was afraid that all you saw in me was just my brains. I thought that…

-I love you – he interrupts her.

-…

-I love how you won’t let anybody else define you. I love how having the entire galaxy against you can’t even slow you down. You don’t have to worry about not being human, you don’t have to worry about what you are. You’re the woman I love, and that’s all that matters.

-I… I… – she tries to reply, but she chokes.

He waits patiently for her to find the courage to say the words, but her silver eyes flash.

-Did you hear that? – she asks, turning away from him.

-Hear what?

-The TV – she says, taking the remote control to raise the volume; Todd wasn’t even aware he left it on. Luckily they’re speaking English, so he’s able to follow the newscaster:

The Tanaka estate has already publicly confirmed the statement. Shinobu, who has been seen accompanying Minister Tanaka in previous occasions, is confirmed to be the only son of Hideki Tanaka, Leiko’s older brother who tragically passed away twenty years ago for drug overdose. Nothing else is known about him, but Shinobu Tanaka is confirmed to have just inherited his aunt’s fortune.

The images show a Japanese man giving a public statement before the press, a man that both have seen before:

-We know that guy, don’t we? Isn’t he…

-Black Knight – Noriko recognizes him.

 

Argos, 100 light-years from Earth

Some days, Alexer Syzar hates his job. Being the President of the Mortal Senate arguably makes him the most powerful human in the Olympian Galaxy, but keeping that power is a constant struggle. Especially when it’s hard to avoid comparisons with the competition for the title.

-You destroyed the Guild? On your own? – he asks to the holographic projection of Noriko Null.

You sound worried. I thought you’d like having one of the Republic’s enemies disappear.

-I’m more worried by the fact that someone has a Drylon weapon capable of annihilating one of the Galaxy’s most powerful mortal organizations.

You have nothing to fear from me, Syzar. We are allies, aren’t we?

-So was the Guild, not too long ago. And now I have to deal with a massive power vacuum; next time give me some warning before you do something like this.

It’s not like I planned it or anything. Listen, I have to deal with a ton of stuff here on Earth, I probably won’t be able to focus on galactic politics for a while. But keep me posted, okay?

-I will. Take care, Null; Syzar out.

The hologram disappears, and Syzar sighs. A cloud of white smoke appears next to him, announcing the arrival of the Mist in his white mask and cloak.

-It seems she doesn’t know you’re still alive – Syzar tells him.

-Just because I was undercover when it happened. I bet that if I was wearing the mask at the time, I would’ve been disintegrated like all my duplicates.

-Were you able to get an update from your other bodies? What happened to Leiko Tanaka?

-She did accept my offer; I would’ve launched an assault on the Scribe if Null hadn’t destroyed my ships with that stunt. I don’t know what happened to Tanaka, but I assume she’s dead. And so is the rest of the Inner Circle: if the Guild still existed, I’d be its highest ranking member.

-Do you think the Winter King or Dionysus will make a move to conquer that territory?

-Unlikely. The Mortal Republic will have no problem annexing the entire Guild territory.

-Then the masquerade isn’t needed anymore. This entire Guild business can be put to rest.

-I will miss being the Mist – the man sighs, taking off his mask… revealing the face beneath it to be an exact replica of Alexer Syzar. A duplicate, to use the Myridian terminology. Their hands touch.

The Mist’s body is absorbed by Syzar, and so are all of his memories.

Meeting with the Scribe… working with him to unlock the duplication power inherited from his Myridian mother… and constantly working in the shadows to do what a public figure like him couldn’t get away with.

Memories of thousand of duplicates flood his mind; all the knowledge of the inner workings of the Guild will make it extremely easy to annex its territory.

And most important of all, it seems his deception worked: he’s certain that Null doesn’t know that the Mist was his duplicate. Now he has more political power than any mortal in history.

Null is the only one who could challenge that title. He could seize the moment and order an attack on Earth: with his Mist knowledge, he knows its location now. But he won’t make the same mistake twice: he doesn’t believe Null to be a goddess, but she clearly can’t be defeated conventionally.

However, even if she is a goddess, she has proven time and time again that gods can be killed.



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