Appat Island, Greenland

The Ragnarok returns to Earth, but it’s not moving under its own power: it’s following the movements of the hands of a twenty year old girl. She directs the warship to land inside what’s left of the Project Seven hangar, which has been damaged by the Guild’s weapons.

Six people are watching her control the reconstruction of the island: the rest of the Vanguard, Leiko Tanaka and her lackey Black Knight.

Noriko Null moves towards the latter and studies him with her golden eyes, while the light of the Heart Of The Universe still pulsates in front of her.

-You showed compassion towards my grandmother. Your loyalty is misguided, but you are not beyond redemption. Remember: you will not be saved twice – she tells him, before he vanishes in a flash of bright light.

-Did… did you just kill him? – Kari asks her.

-I won’t kill anyone else today. I just sent him back to Japan.

-Shouldn’t we, uhm, arrest him or something? – Quantum asks.

-I have absolved him of his crimes. You don’t need to understand my ways.

-I don’t like where this is going – Vesta says, voicing everyone’s concern. The Heart is Drylon technology, which they know can corrupt mortal minds, and Noriko’s track record is not stellar when it comes to sanity.

You, on the other hand, deserve punishment – she says to Leiko, floating towards her. The light from the Heart becomes more agitated, and there are dark clouds forming in the sky.

-I will not beg – Leiko answers defiantly, standing proudly before her godlike daughter.

-You are beyond redemption, Leiko Tanaka. I could send you to Hell, but I promised you that you would die alone – she recalls; once she lifts her hand, Leiko disappears as well.

-Where did you send her? Japan? – Vesta asks.

-Somewhere cold. There is still so much that needs to be fixed – she muses, moving the Heart’s luminous form into her hand. The sky rumbles with thunder and lightning.

-Nori, don’t you think you should stop? – Vesta insists.

-This device has been laying dormant for five billion years. I wish you could see how beautiful this is… its power is beyond reason. I can reshape the world, no, the galaxy in my image with this.

-Isn’t that what the Scribe wanted to do with it? – Quantum reminds her.

-Leiko would approve – Torn comments, putting the final nail in the coffin.

Noriko lets the Heart go; it floats a few inches away from her. While still basking in the glory of its rays, she extends her arms and looks at the sky.

-I see your point. Update.

The mother of all lightning bolts hits her. It’s a continuous stream of electricity, far more powerful than any of the other times Noriko did this. It’s hard to see what’s going on: Noriko is brighter than the sun. Vesta could swear she saw something black emerge from her body and fly towards the sky, but she doesn’t give much thought to it.

What she can see clearly is that the Heart Of The Universe is shrinking, with grey tendrils reconstructing a spherical cage. When it’s done, it’s returned to its familiar shape of a perfectly smooth rock, and it falls to the ground. Then Noriko faints.

Quantum moves at the speed of light to catch her before she hits the ground, while Vesta tries to do the same with the Heart. Tries, because as soon as her hand touches it she screams.

-Ow!!! – she complains, letting it go. The Heart is so hot that it melts right trough the ground, continuing its descent beneath the surface.

-What happened? – Kari asks, checking her friend’s hand. Vesta’s palm is covered in blisters.

-It… it burned me. It was too hot even for me – the fire goddess says, much to her surprise.

-Is Noriko okay? – another Kari asks, helping Quantum check her vitals.

When she opens her eyes, they are silver once again.

-I’m never doing that again. Let’s take the rest of the day off, okay?

 

Somewhere cold

The tights are doing nothing to warm her legs, and the shoes have lost their heels in the snow already. Her arms are shaking, to the point that closing the buttons of her blouse was an effort.

Still, she manages to get closer and closer to the ledge. She almost slips on the rocks.

“I will get out of this. Get a signal to civilization” – she thinks. A plan is already taking shape in her head… a plan that is shattered when the clouds are blown away by the icy wind.

There are stars in the sky, but the Sun is also there. Only it’s ten times smaller than it should be, and it’s blue. She’s standing on the top of a mountain: from here, she can see the horizon.

There’s nothing but mountains, snow, ice, and coldness. So much coldness.

Yesterday, Leiko Tanaka was a rich and powerful woman who could get anything in the world.

Now, she has nothing. Her kingdom is as empty and cold as her heart.

Her daughter’s words haunt her: “You will be alone and unloved, wishing I killed you”.

In the coldness of her personal Hell, she has only her hatred to warm her.

 

Null Tower, New York City

Doctor Catherine Kalama may technically be the Vanguard’s physician, but she usually has to treat only Noriko. This time, however, the others need her attention: Kari’s stomach wound needs to be stitched again, Torn needs to be stabilized (although he’s tried to pass being stabbed in the heart for the second time as something he can shrug off) and Vesta of all people has a second degree burn on her hand. Quantum however hasn’t sustained any injuries, and he’s bothering Noriko while she’s laying on the medical bed being examined by sensors of her own design.

-Why not Enterprise? – he asks.

-No.

-Voyager? Defiant? Normandy?

-The ship already has a name, Max.

-Aw c’mon, what kind of name is Ragnarok!?

-It seemed appropriate.

-I still don’t get why you needed your father’s brain juice…

-Cerebrospinal fluid.

-…to use the Heart. How did you know it would work? Wouldn’t a blood transfusion be easier?

-I was hoping injecting foreign DNA into my brain would supercharge the Nexus and give me access to its higher functions, like it happened in Hell. I didn’t expect it to work on the-

The discussion is cut short when Todd Slate arrives. The second she sees him, Noriko jumps out of bed and throws herself in his arms, kissing him passionately.

-You’re in a good mood; you should save the world more often – Quantum jokes, taking the opportunity to tease his overly serious boss.

Noriko suddenly realizes that all eyes are on her at the moment, as this is her first public display of affection towards her boyfriend. She tries to compose herself and to hide her embarrassment.

-I, ahm, I’m glad to just that, I mean I’m just, hm, glad to see you’re fine Todd.

-Are you okay? What happened? – her boyfriend asks.

-That is a long, long, long story – she answers, interrupted by the beep from the sensor. She gestures him to wait, but before she can do anything Dr. Kalama is pushing her towards the bed.

-Where do you think you’re going, young lady?

-I need to check the-

-You need to do what your doctor tells you, for once in your life – she insists, forcing Noriko to lay down before looking at the data shown on a holographic screen.

-This isn’t right – she comments, checking everything twice.

-What? What’s wrong? – Todd asks her.

-Nothing is wrong, which is just impossible. According to these readings, the damage to your nervous system has been completely healed. All foreign substances in your blood have disappeared.

-My heart – Noriko realizes, pulling the collar of her T-shirt to peek at her chest.

-The scar from the surgery is gone.

-Are we sure this is Noriko and not her clone? No offense – Quantum suggests.

-If I’m reading this correctly, not only it’s her, there’s no trace of all the transplants we made from her clone: all her organs read as the original ones. She even got her appendix back!

-I can’t feel them anymore – Noriko suddenly realizes, with her silver eyes flashing.

-What, your organs?

-The voices. Void, Fury, Eve… I could always hear them buzzing around my thoughts, but I can’t feel anyone else inside my head anymore.

-Is it possible that the Heart healed you not just physically, but somehow restored your brain?

-I don’t know, Max, I don’t know. I can’t remember much of what I did while I was using it – she admits, staring into the distance. It will take some time to get used to the silence again.

 

Max Black’s apartment

It’s the dead of night when he comes back. There’s still so much to do… an alien invasion isn’t something you fix in a day… but he has his limits. He appears in the living room, looking forward to get some sleep; just a quick check that nothing was damaged during his absence.

That’s when his x-rays notice someone is sitting before the front door. He takes off his mask and very slowly opens the door, to find a blonde white woman resting on the floor.

-Kristen? What are you doing here? – he asks.

-I couldn’t just go home like nothing happened – the journalist answers; she looks like she’s gone through hell.

-Well, everything’s fine now. Earth is safe, the bad guys are gone.

-Fine? Max, until yesterday, you and your friends were the strangest thing anyone’s ever seen… until yesterday, the world made sense. Now I know that aliens exist, that they are immortal, that Ancient Egyptians had spaceships…

-Actually, as far as I know, only one of them had spaceships. And he’s dead now. Well, technically all Ancient Egyptians are dead now, but you know what-

She interrupts him by kissing him. He doesn’t resist; he closes the door and takes her inside the apartment, where she can’t take her hands off him.

-I need the world to make sense again – she says, starting to take off her clothes.

-We should definitely save the world more often – he comments. Suddenly he’s not so tired.

 

A week later

Reykjavik, Iceland

Normally, the shop assistant would not bother the customer. But this is an unusual situation: it’s not every day that a Japanese girl arrives in her shop, speaking perfect Icelandic and wearing male clothes two or three times her size.

-If you don’t mind me asking… where are you from?– she asks.

-Greenland – is the short answer coming from the changing room, while the oversized clothes are tossed over the curtain.

-I see. This is an interesting… style, to say the least.

-It was the smallest size available on the boat. I was naked when I was rescued by fishermen.

-Sounds like a very exciting story. Wait, how did you survive in the water? The temperature…

The girl opens the curtain of the dressing room. Boots, jeans, black T-shirt and red leather jacket.

-Sheer willpower. Do you have this in green?

-I’m afraid not. I could order one, however. If you could come back in a week or two…

-That will not be possible. I plan on leaving much earlier than that.

-You’re leaving Iceland? Already?

-I am leaving Earth. She cannot be allowed to discover that I am still alive – the girl answers.

The shop assistant would ask who “she” is, but she’s taken by surprise when she sees the silver eyes flashing. She hits her trachea, preventing her from calling for help; then swiftly moves behind her to put her in a chokehold. She’s strong for her size, and doesn’t change expression while she kills her.

-Thank you for your help. I like your shop – are the last words she’ll ever hear.



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