Warship Ragnarok, in orbit above Myridia

Kiros Zel has never seen his planet from this perspective before. It looks so small and fragile from the viewscreen, unthinkable for him just as the fact that that the Slayer of Gods is the unassuming short girl standing next to him.

-Thank you for letting me visit your planet, Lady Null – the Myridian man tells her.

-Just Null, please. Or even Noriko, if you want. Now that you’ve married Kari, you’re practically a member of the family.

-C’mon, I’ll show you our room – Kari tells her husband, creating a duplicate just to wrap herself around his arm and pull him out of the bridge.

-What for? Didn’t you say we’ll reach Earth in a few hours?

-I can think of a few things to pass the time – she answers, with the newlyweds wasting no time in finding a place for themselves. Once they’ve left, the Kari duplicate still in the room asks Null:

-Well, what do you think of him?

-He seems like a nice guy – Noriko answers.

-He’s hot, isn’t he?

-Kari – Noriko sighs, rolling her eyes.

-What? You’re single, not dead. Just because I’m married now doesn’t mean teasing you isn’t fun.

-So if I understand things correctly, the original Kari will stay on Myridia from now on? – Noriko asks, in a transparent attempt to change the subject.

-Yes, I’ll just have duplicates fly back and forth from time to time, to exchange information. I can learn anything a duplicate knows by re-absorbing her, so all my bodies will always be up to speed. That means I’ll have to borrow the Ragnarok quite often, if that’s okay with you.

-With everything you’ve done for me, Kari, that’s the least I can do. And of course Kiros can stay at the Tower if he wants.

-Thanks, but I don’t think he’ll be a permanent resident. Our home is on Myridia now; he wants to see how my duplicates live, but he’s a Myridian boy through and through. He won’t stay long.

-I figured you wouldn’t settle down so easily; I guess it’s easier to do when you can stay at home and be an explorer at the same time.

-Jealous? – Kari asks, raising an eyebrow.

-Of being able to do ten thousand things at once? Absolutely. Of missing a legitimate excuse for never settling down? Not so much – Noriko replies, with a rare friendly smile.

-I’m sorry things didn’t work out between you and Todd. You’ll find the right person eventually.

-I appreciate your concern, Kari. In fact, you’ve really gone above and beyond your duties as a friend and as a member of the Vanguard during this whole trip.

-If you want to make Kiros jealous, I can call him back – Kari responds, jokingly elbowing Noriko.

-Kari, can you be serious for a minute? I have to admit that I have underestimated you. You’re not taking down a god on your own anytime soon, but if it wasn’t for you…

-Stop teasing, Noriko. What’s on your mind?

-Effective immediately, you’re my second-in-command. For the Vanguard and Null Technologies.

-WHAT!? Nori, I don’t know anything about running a company!

-I have people who do that for me, I just need someone I can trust to keep an eye on things that I can’t supervise personally. And who can lead the Vanguard whenever I’m incapacitated.

-I don’t know what to say – Kari admits.

-You’ll say yes. You can’t resist a good challenge. What more do you need?

-Well… I’d end up using the Ragnarok so often, I’d practically need another ship…

-I already have another one in the works. What else?

-I can’t run anything without a valid Earth citizenship!

-Let me take care of that.

-And we should resolve the sexual tension between us by sleeping together?

-Don’t push it – Noriko replies, dead serious, crossing her arms.

-Can’t blame a girl for trying, can’t you? – Kari shrugs.

 

Vladivostok, Russia

It’s not obvious from the outside, but this is one of the most secure buildings in the country. Access is constantly monitored, and there are always guards at every corner… except the laboratories.

Dr. Dmitry Voron prefers working alone, and considering the amazing results of his work the government has had little to complain.

They will eventually find out that he’s not working on developing counter-measures to Japan’s robot army, like he was ordered to. But by then, he will have finished the prosthetic left arm he’s assembling. He pauses when he hears the phone ring, only it’s not actually his cellphone. He takes off his welding glasses, looks around to be sure nobody has entered the lab without his permission, and finally opens the drawer where he keeps a device with the shape of an old CD player.

When he activates it, the device creates a hologram of a woman. It’s heavily distorted, making it nearly impossible to recognize her, although he really doesn’t need to. It can only be her.

-I didn’t expect to receive a call, considering how our last conversation went – he tells her.

And I am impressed. I did not expect you to have a working tachyon receiver.

-If you call this working. There’s a lot of static – he admits, fidgeting with the controls.

That is probably my fault, I am calling from another solar system.

-Since there aren’t a lot of people who can casually drop that information in the middle of a conversation, I assume you’re trying to impress me.

A little. I want to set up a meeting, Voron.

-You don’t seem the kind of woman to call another solar system for a date.

This is not a… nevermind. We do not know each other very well, Voron, but I do admire your ingenuity and I do believe that we both want what is best for the planet.

-You also know that talking in circles doesn’t work with me. Why are you really calling?

Can you set up a private meeting with the Prime Minister?

-He’s not your biggest fan after what happened during the Guild invasion.

Which is why I am calling one of his most trusted advisors instead on landing on the Kremlin with a warship. Can you set up a meeting or not?

-Probably. I just need to get this thing to work properly – he answers, more interested in the technical aspects of repairing the receiver than in the actual conversation.

Finally, he manages to fix the transmission. The hologram can finally show something that isn’t a vague female shape, revealing instead the image of Leiko Tanaka.

-You look pretty good for a dead woman, Leiko. Let’s just say, hypothetically, that I convince the Prime Minister to talk to the woman that was ready to sell out Earth to the Guild…

I see that you have not lost your boldness, Voron.

-And I see that I still have to remind you that we are not allies and that I am not your puppet. I won’t let you talk to the Prime Minister unless you give me a good reason.

The reason? Making sure Earth will never be invaded again – she replies, turning her eyes towards the prosthetic arm. It doesn’t take much to put two and two together.

Let me guess: is that for Noriko Null? I could tell you a great deal about her, Voron.

-Then consider that meeting already scheduled. And please, Leiko… call me Dmitry.

 

The Dead Zone, 60.000 light-years from Earth

When Tiamat died, her body released enough energy to render everything within a 5.000 light-year radius completely inhospitable to any sort of life. Or at least life that can die.

The center is the worst, of course: the energy is so thick that it permeates all space. Except for a small area of it, which would have the shape of a woman if anyone could see her. No instrument would show anything except a sudden void, which moves and thinks, but still a void.

Hard to believe, is it not? – someone asks the void. It’s her exact opposite: shaped like a woman as well, but densely packed with the glowing plasma of ten thousand stars.

I had to see it for myself. Another Primordial is dead – the void nods.

Tiamat, Goddess of Destruction, dead. It wasn’t that long ago that we witnessed the death of her companion Apsu, the Primordial God of Energy.

One billion years ago. With Tiamat dead, there are no more Sumerian Primordials.

Only because Baal doesn’t consider himself Sumerian anymore. Does he still call himself the God of Domination?

I haven’t seen the Lord Of The Flies lately. Why the sudden interest in your fellow Primordials, Nut? Perhaps you plan to conquer the Sumerian pantheon now?

Don’t be ridiculous, Nyx. I am the Goddess of the Sky; what would I do with a few galaxies? Besides, my pantheon is powerful enough. My grandchildren Ra, Set and Osiris rule over my kingdom. I don’t feel the need for further…

Set and Osiris are your children, not your grandchildren. And they’re both dead: their sister/wives Isis and Nephthys are queens now.

Nephthys is my daughter? It’s been so long, I get them mixed up. Amun was the one keeping track of these things for me. But alas, the God of Light was the first Primordial to leave us.

While my pantheon still has all three Primordials. Perhaps we should test our might.

Please, Nyx. Gaea is a pacifist and neither of us can remember the last time Tartarus did anything. That leaves you, and you would never be able to defeat me and Atum, the almighty God of Creation.

That may have been true once, Nut. Have you ever heard of Noriko Null?

Please tell me it’s not yet another child of Zeus.

It’s the mortal who killed Tiamat.

A mortal? I did not know you had a sense of humor, Nyx.

I’m sure you can gather as much from observing the remains of Tiamat.

All I see is her leftover energy. Strangely enough, some of it is missing… an insignificant amount, yes, just enough to power a quasar or two. Nothing to worry about, but it is the most curious thing.

I find your lack of concern for the situation more fascinating.

Please, Nyx, if it is a mortal bothering you, just wait a million years or two and he will die of old age. Now if you will excuse me, I wish to return to my realm to visit my daughter Neith.

In the blink of an eye, Nut leaves the galaxy without leaving a single trace behind. Nyx shakes her head: the encounter has reminded her why she rarely hangs out with Egyptians.

But for once in her brief existence, her daughter Eris has brought up an interesting point… something needs to be done about this Noriko Null.

 

Warship Ragnarok

Noriko Null and Torn are sitting in front of each other, on the floor, legs crossed in the lotus position and eyes closed. She’s feeling a warm sensation over her body, sharing a red aura that flows between her and the Demon.

-Your soul is remarkably stable. Have you suffered from other hallucinations? – he asks.

-A couple of times, but I think I can manage them. Thanks for not speaking about it.

-I just did.

-I meant with the others. And I don’t know what you heard, but I didn’t sleep with Ulysses okay?

-You’ve said that already. Several times. Anything I should know about you two?

-Yes, that there is no “us two”. We just did a Soul Resonance and that’s it.

-Never do that again. I don’t like the way he keeps his own soul isolated.

-I’m not even going to pretend I know what you mean, Torn. Am I okay or not?

-Your body was taken over by a Drylon device that killed a god and realigned your soul. I no longer believe your soul needs a Demon surgeon, but you are not “okay”.

-It’s nice to know I can still count on your boundless optimism, Torn – she shrugs.

-You came very close to losing control again, Null. If you go any further, I shall honor your request to be killed before it’s too late.

-Maybe be a little less enthusiastic about following some of my orders, okay?

-If you ask so. But I do have a question for you, after all we have witnessed on Myridia.

-Of course.

-Ilithyia implied you have given birth before. Was she telling the truth?

-What? No! For Christ’s sake, Torn, she was speaking metaphorically!

-Perhaps – the Demon nods, ending the ritual and opening his eyes.

-Then why does it feel like a piece of your soul is missing? – he wonders out loud.

 

Purgatory, a nameless star system in the Hebe sector

Viper comes to her senses, feeling like she just woke up from a hangover. Of course she knows it’s impossible, but what she witnessed overwhelmed even her superhuman brain.

She can’t focus on processing this, however, because she needs to cover her eyes: there’s something in front of her that’s blindingly bright. As bright as a star.

-Please don’t be mad at me – someone tells her, someone very scared. It’s still impossible to see.

-Just turn down the brightness – Viper says. Her wish is immediately granted, but it takes a couple of seconds for her vision to return.

She can see a Japanese woman with long hair, wearing a white kimono, surrounded by a golden aura. Next to her is a Talos robot: made of neutral matter, utterly indestructible.

With a smoking hole in his chest, where the armor has been molten beyond recognition.

-It scared me. I didn’t mean to hurt it.

-That’s alright, Amaterasu. Come here – Viper says. The

woman approaches her; she’s taller than

Viper, so she has to kneel to rest her head on Viper’s stomach.

-Is that my name? Are… are you my mother? – the newborn goddess asks.

-I suppose I am, in a way – Viper admits, stroking her hair. Smiling.

-You have so much to learn, my child. But first, let me teach you about hurting others…



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