Warship Ragnarok, 65.000 light-years from Earth

You’d never say this was a starship. A simple, undecorated room, lit only by candles carefully laid on the floor to draw a pentagram. Inside the geometric figure there are two persons, sitting in the lotus position: a tall man with red skin and a short Asian girl. They have taken off the brown duster, the green leather jacket and the shoes, and they’re keeping their eyes closed.

Their bodies are emitting a faint red glow, flowing calmly between them. Then the muscles on the girl’s face start to twitch, with the field around her becoming more and more unstable.

-Calm down. This requires absolute control of your emotions – Torn tells her.

-I know, I know, I’ve just got a lot on my mind, that’s all – Noriko minimizes.

-You wanted to learn Soul Resonance to fortify your mind against the negative effects of the Nexus, but remember that in this state I can see your soul. And how much it’s in turmoil.

-Can you blame me? I literally have the fate of the Galaxy on my shoulders. What if I blow it?

-Just follow my lead: find your center. Focus your soul. Embrace its core – Torn says slowly: a sword of pure red energy appears in front of Torn, gently rotating in the air.

-Find my center. Focus my… hnnn… soul – Noriko says through her teeth: every vein in her body seems ready to burst and her face reddens: she can feel every beat of her heart.

-Don’t overdo it – Torn warns her, but he hesitates before stopping her: something is working. Her body releases a small amount of electricity, enough to coalesce into a tiny ball of energy that floats in front of her. Torn is impressed enough to raise an eyebrow.

-Remarkable. As a human you can’t access the Blood, but your ability to move information is-

He doesn’t finish the sentence: the tiny spark that Noriko manifested isn’t harmful when it explodes, but he didn’t expect it to end so soon. And she’s visibly exhausted.

-Don’t be ashamed. It happens to everyone the first time – he consoles her.

-You go through this every time you create a sword!? – she asks him, trying to fix her hair: she worked up a good sweat in less than ten seconds.

-Yes. A Demon body is far more resilient than a human’s. Continue to study Soul Resonance, but never take it this far without my supervision. This technique can easily kill you – Torn warns her, standing up. The red energy scythe that’s been sitting in the corner the whole time floats towards him, bringing him back his duster. Noriko stares at the unusual clothes hanger.

-About your father’s weapon… how powerful is it?

-Very. He sealed a part of himself inside the Soul Reaper, giving it a direct connection to all of Hell’s power. You saw with your own eyes how much destruction that can bring.

-I’d like to study that someday. I theorize the Blood is an extradimensional energy field that reacts to biological matter and electrical fields: if that energy could be safely harnessed…

-You want to reverse engineer Hell itself – Torn translates.

-Basically, yeah – Noriko shrugs, recovering her boots. While she’s putting them on, the hologram of two intertwined snakes appears before her.

<Please forgive my interruption, mistress, but we are about to enter the Omoroca star system>

-Thanks, L.O.K.I. Gather everyone on the bridge… it’s showtime.


After a quick shower

When the door to the bridge opens, Noriko has to shield her eyes. The electric blue light that permeates the bridge is far brighter that she expected; once she’s accustomed she asks Kari:

-Why are we so close to the star? I thought I asked you to stop at the solar system’s edge.

-We are. See for yourself – Kari invites her, pointing at the navigation console.

Quantum and Todd are still looking at the main screen, admiring the majestic view.

-That’s a really big star – Torn comments.

-Not what I was expecting. L.O.K.I, I assume that’s a spectral class O-4? – Noriko asks.

<That is correct, mistress. Physical characteristics: 56 solar masses, 25 solar diameters, absolute magnitude -6.7, biometric luminosity 700,000 times Earth’s sun> – the AI informs her.

-What the heck does any of that mean? – Quantum asks.

-That’s a really big star – Noriko translates, but her tone makes is clear that something’s not right.

-What’s wrong? Is it dangerous? – Todd asks.

-It’s a star hundreds of thousand times more powerful than the Sun, but the Ragnarok’s shields can take it. L.O.K.I, I see a planet in the navigational information; what’s the star’s metallicity?

<-1.4 Fe/h>

-That can’t be right. Kari, send a signal to Athena and then take us towards the planet, slowly.

-Nori, just pretend for a minute that we don’t know anything about astrophysics.

-There shouldn’t be any planet here, Max. The bigger the star, the brightest it is and the shorter it lives: this kind of monster can’t be more than fifteen million years old, at best. It doesn’t have the right age and not anywhere near enough heavy elements to form a planet.

-But we know the Dragon Tomb has been lost for a billion years – Torn recalls.

-It could’ve been moved. If Isis can teleport a planet, maybe some other god can – Kari theorizes.

-I can think of several. Including every one of the Nine Gods – Vesta reveals.

-Perhaps. I just have the feeling that something’s not right. Let’s be careful, okay?

The fact it’s Null, of all people, that’s asking this, doesn’t exactly fill her crew with confidence.


About two hours later

Noriko Null is sitting on the captain’s chair, concentrating on the vast amount of data relayed to the holographic tablet in her hands. The rest of the crew is finding the main screen more interesting: it’s not showing the star anymore, since it’s so bright only Vesta could hope to look at it directly without being blinded. But the closer they get to the planet, the more debris they keep finding: hundreds if not thousands of ships have tried to reach their same destination, but one after the other has been destroyed. It’s hard to say how much time ago this happened or where the ships came from: the planet is so close to the star that a ship not protected by powerful shields would’ve been heavily damaged at the very least.

-You know, I just realized something – Quantum breaks the silence.

-Nobody has ever returned from the Dragon Tomb – Noriko adds, not looking up from the tablet.

-Yeah, that too. But we don’t really have a name for the planet, right?

-Technically no, “Omoroca” is the star’s name. Is that important?

-No – Torn intervenes, but Quantum complains:

-Oh come on, you don’t get to name a planet every day!

-We are not going to call it Krypton, or Vulcan, or Skyrim, or whatever silly idea you’re having.

-You’re just mad because you can’t call it “Planet Null”.

-Can’t I? – Noriko answers, finally looking up from the tablet and raising an eyebrow.

-Well, too bad we can’t ask any of the locals. Take a look at the sensor data, the place is so close to its star that it makes Hell look like Alaska – one of the Kari notes.

-But at this distance it’s got to be tidally locked: if only one side is always pointed towards the sun, the other side is always in the dark. Maybe we should look there?-

If the sentence had come from Noriko, nobody would’ve missed a beat. But since the remark came from Quantum, there’s a weird silence in the room for a few seconds.

-What? You’d be surprised how much science you can learn from Star Trek! – he points out.

-Well, he’s not wrong – Kari says, transferring the images on the main viewscreen.

They’re approaching the planet from the side, and the difference between the half facing the star and the half opposite to it is quite stark: one is incandescent, the other is completely dark.

-How can anything survive in a place like that? – Quantum wonders.

-There’s too much interference for the sensors. Vesta, since you’re immune to heat damage, take a closer look and find us a place to land – Noriko orders.

-Shouldn’t I be the one to do it? I’m way faster – Quantum asks.

-Not this time. I need you, Torn and the original Kari to follow me first… we need to suit up.


One of the many laboratories on the ship

Todd Slate knocks on the door, wondering if coming on board was a good idea. He hoped to pass more time with Noriko, to understand her line of work, but it’s increasingly harder to get her away from working on the next invention. And since she’s doing this for the good o the Galaxy, he feels horrible for selfishly wanting her to stop.

-Come in, Todd, we’re decent – she answers.

-Decent? We’re freakin’ badass! – Kari cheerfully exclaims. When the door opens, Todd can see why: the girls are wearing some kind of sci-fi armor. On top of a skintight suit of grey polymer that seems to prioritize flexibility above protection, everything else is metal: boots that reach above the knee, bulky gauntlets, shoulder pads, and a breastplate connected to what Todd recognizes as a miniaturized plasma reactor. Noriko and Kari are wearing an identical design; the only way to tell them apart, aside from the height, is the color of the metal: green and pink respectively.

-Okay, the Hostile Environment Suit should now be synchronized with your molecular structure.

-This is the coolest thing ever! – Kari says, creating a duplicate just to give herself a high five: both of them are wearing the exact same suit.

-Please tell me these things fly – Quantum says, appearing out of nowhere wearing a male variation of the same suit, in his case blue.

-Maybe next time; allowing them to work with your powers was hard enough to do in a couple of days. You didn’t need to come here, Todd: L.O.K.I. informed me that Vesta has found a safe place to land; we’re leaving in a couple of minutes.

-I know. Can I talk to you for a minute before you leave?

-C’mon, let’s leave the lovebirds some privacy – Kari says, taking Quantum by his arm and walking away after winking at Noriko.

-That girl will be the death of me – she comments, rolling her eyes. She pauses when she notices that Todd is staring at her, studying the suit.

-If you’re going to say my butt looks great wearing this, I’m afraid Kari beat you to it.

-I assume you didn’t make one for me.

-Todd, please, this is serious. Even the Scribe didn’t want to risk coming here.

-I’m not going to tell you not to go: I know this is part of who you are, Noriko. But I don’t want you to take unnecessary risks… I don’t want to lose you. You took the Vanguard this far: you don’t have powers, couldn’t you send them and stay here to coordinate them?

-That’s very sweet of you, Todd, but I have to go.

-Why? Because they need your help? You don’t have to prove anything, Noriko.

-Yes, I do. I had a chance to fix everything when I had the Heart of the Universe, Todd, and I just blew it. This may be my only shot at making things right, and I won’t miss if for anything.

-Not even me?

The two lovers look at each other in the eye, unsure of what to say. Luckily they’re interrupted when Torn walks out of the improvised changing booth: he’s wearing his brown leather duster above the suit, in his case red, trying to adjust the metal piece that protects his crotch.

-These clothes require adjustments. I don’t think they are meant to fit a Demon.

-I believe we have more pressing matters to worry about, Torn.

-Easy for you to say: your genitals are internal.

If there was ever any chance that Noriko would continue the conversation, Torn just killed it. Fortunately for her, she has an excuse to avoid discussing with Torn: her pendant is shining intermittently. It’s hard to take it out of the suit, but when it does it shows a hologram of Athena.

Noriko, can ~~~ hear ~~? I~~~ ing to con ~~~ you for ~~~ past ~~~ days~~~

The communication is heavily disturbed and it stops right there, leaving too many questions.

-Days? Didn’t you speak to her hours ago, to tell her to stop Enyo? – Todd asks.

-I’ll have to assume that she failed. Which means that we have yet another reason to finish this as soon as we can – she reasons, putting on her helmet.

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