Midgard Station, Antarctica

Outside of these walls, a human would die of exposure in minutes. But here it’s warm enough that Noriko Null takes off her green leather jacket, remaining in her black T-shirt with a white Ø symbol as she makes herself comfortable on the lounge chair.

-Sorry about the mess. The Nullbots can be a bit sloppy – she tells her guests.

They’re currently in a spacious office room that oversees a truly enormous hangar, where hundreds of robots are busy assembling the hull of a vehicle the size of an aircraft carrier.

And that’s actually a rather small part of Midgard Station: something between an industrial complex and the blueprints of a city, it stretches for miles in every direction.

-When did you have time to build something like this? – Dr. Kalama asks her, walking back and forth while keeping her daughter Nalani in her arms, trying to get her to sleep. Meanwhile Lily struggles to seat on an office chair; her Lampyrian wings keep getting in the way, so she settles for sitting on the table that Noriko is using as a footstool. Kayla Black, now wearing overalls to cover what little remains of her Blue Star costume, prefers to stay away with her back against the wall.

-It’s faster than you think when you have access to a legion of robots that can work 24/7 and plasma reactors that provide a practically limitless source of energy; the hardest part was actually keeping the existence of this location from the entire world.

-That didn’t work completely: we’ve known about this installation for months – Dmitry Voron comments, walking into the room. He’s not alone: he’s with the costumed Red Star, followed closely by Kari Zel and Torn who seem to have been through rough times.

-Don’t tell me: Hermes was the one to let you guys inside – Noriko guesses.

-We failed you, Null: we were not able to stop the Winter King – Torn apologizes, with a tone that is particularly gloomy even by his standards.

-Don’t sweat it, Torn, we all took a beating – Noriko excuses him, unlocking her left prosthetic arm and removing it from its socket; the hand is completely stuck and useless now.

-It’s too cold to sweat in here – Torn answers, missing the point as usual.

-So what’s the plan now? What do we do? – Kari asks.

-We kill the Winter King – Red Star answers bluntly; with her accent, the Ws sound more like Vs.

-Oh so that’s what we should do! Why didn’t we think of it before? – Kari comments sarcastically.

-Kari… – Noriko reprimands her.

-Okay, okay, I guess I’m a little edgy after freezing my τητσ to fight the guy. But since you’re here, why don’t you turn the Neutral Matter in his armor super-heavy?

-“Neutral Matter”? – Red Star repeats.

-A hyper-dense degenerate state of matter forged in the core of a neutron star – Lily explains.

There’s a second of silence as everybody looks at her.

-What? I studied your fight with Hephaestus – the alien shrugs.

-I thought about it. The process is sensitive to heat and won’t work beneath freezing temperature, so that’s a no starter – Noriko explains.

-What if we drop a nuclear bomb on his head? That should stop him – Red Star suggests.

-You can’t be serious – Kayla objects.

-Why not? This is a war – the Russian heroine insists.

-Speaking of something like that but, you know, not stupid, how about the Ragnarok? – Kari asks.

-He could simply freeze it. He’s been able to take down everything we’ve thrown at him, I’m not going to risk losing Earth’s only warship until I’ve figured out how his powers work – Noriko says.

Just then, Hermes appears in the room with the last two guests: Quantum, blowing on his hands to gather a little warmth, and Vesta… or rather, the frozen statue that completely encases Vesta.

-Sorry I’m late! You won’t believe how cold it is out there – Hermes says, immediately moving next to Noriko. She pushes the chair aside, both to get away from him and to inspect Vesta.

-Is… is she dead? – Dr. Kalama asks, taking care to have Nalani look the other way.

-No. I don’t sense death on her – Torn reassures her, in his own way.

-She took the worst of the attack. He called it Endless Winter – Quantum explains.

-I’ve heard that name before. It’s what the Lar called the technology that Hephaestus used as the basis for the Winter Armor… they believed it could destroy the world – Noriko recalls.

-Uhm, I don’t want to tell you guys how to handle this kind of stuff, but shouldn’t you call for reinforcements or something? You have allies, right? – Lily asks.

-Like who? I don’t have access to the technology to call Athena, and we can’t trust the Mortal Republic now that we know Syzar used to be part of the Guild – Noriko shuts her down.

-I didn’t know that – Lily mumbles.

-We could ask Hell to save us – Torn suggests.

-Now that’s something you don’t hear everyday – Quantum comments.

-Sorry Torn, but since Demons are weak against cold, I’m afraid we’re on our own – Noriko admits.

-Uhm, excuse me, mister Hermes? – Dr. Kalama asks the god, who creepily smiles at her.

-Just Hermes for a gorgeous beauty like you – he answers, causing Noriko to roll her eyes.

-Thank you for saving my daughter, but… can’t you bring Bob back here as well?

-Great question – Noriko agrees, trying to cross her arms before recalling she’s missing one.

-I could, but my dear Leiko would likely be able to trace me if I get too close… and believe me, you really don’t want to be on her bad side.


In orbit above Egypt

Not too long ago, Bob Null would’ve found the concept of feeling bad for having sex with a beautiful woman to be completely alien to his worldview.

But now that he sees Leiko blissfully sleep naked next to him, he has only two things on his mind, and much to his surprise aren’t her breasts. They’re Catherine Kalama and the medallion he’s very, very carefully taking off Leiko. Once he’s made it he gets off the bed, just as slowly, and sneaks away. Fortunately for him, while this ship was built by aliens far more advanced than humans, even the Lar sometimes need to use the bathroom.

Only after he’s reached the restroom next to the bedroom he allows himself a sigh of relief. He looks at the medallion, a cog with a lightning bolt inside: the symbol of the goddess he invokes.

-Athena – he says to the necklace, just a little louder than a whisper.

Very soon, something incredible happens: the holographic image of the goddess of wisdom appears before Bob, dressed in the golden battle armor, holding a spear and a shield in her hands.

What is it, my chi… oh – she says, raising her shield and looking to the side.

-Shh! Lower your voice! I’m not Noriko – Bob whispers.

I noticed. Please put on some clothes – she answers, not whispering but still with a softer tone.

-Ah. Yes. Just a sec – Bob answers, looking around searching for a towel; Athena points her spear at a panel in the wall, and as soon as Bob touches that it pops out exactly like a drawer.

-Thanks. Sorry ‘bout that.

I assume you are not calling to show your genitals to the other side of the Galaxy.

-There’s this dude who just froze my planet, he’s called the Winter King.

I know of him.

-Well, we’re having some trouble with him. Can you come over to help us?

He rules his own sector. Interfering would cause a war with the Winter Kingdom.

-So? Aren’t you supposed to be the goddess of war?

Of strategic war, not of needless war. Besides, I am presently 17.000 light-years away from Earth; even at top speed, I would require approximately 3 days to reach you.

-Well, that sucks. Don’t you know some other god we could call?

Tyche could be there earlier, but she’s in her honeymoon; nobody else would come to Null’s rescue. As for me, I must attend the wedding of my half-sister three days from today.

-Well… my daughter has a really, really fast spaceship. If you get here and help us, I’m sure she’ll be thankful enough to give you a ride! What do you say?

Hmm. The Ragnarok’s top speed using the Negative Drive would take us from Earth to Thrake in 69 minutes… that sounds reasonable. Can you survive for three days?

-Sure! Thanks Athena, if there’s anything I can do to repay you…

Never call me again – the goddess abruptly ends the conversation, making her hologram disappear.


Nysa, 17.000 light-years from Earth

Athena looks at the medallion in her hands, an exact replica of the one she gave Noriko. This is an unexpected turn of events… her sources did say that the Winter King was growing more aggressive in his policy, but this is unprecedented.

-Would you stay still, please? – a female voice complains to Athena, who rolls her eyes.

She’s sitting on a finely decorated chair, with her bare feet resting on the thighs of a woman with red hair who is wearing a pink veil wrapped around her waist… and nothing else.

-I swear to Dad, Athena, you need to know how to relax – Aphrodite tells her, returning to the task of painting Athena’s toenails until the goddess of war slips away from her.

-Hey, come back here, I wasn’t finished! You agreed to this, didn’t you?

-No, I wanted to discuss our trading policy with the Mortal Republic; you couldn’t stop changing the subject to your favorite position and this inane ritual was the only way I could find to keep your mind away from thinking about intercourse – Athena rapidly explains, putting her boots back on.

-Tee-hee. You’re so cute when you act like you’re not embarrassed – Aphrodite giggles.

-I am embarrassed, yes, of sharing half of my parentage with an airhead – Athena complains; she’s normally able to keep her cool, but she finds the goddess of sex to be absolutely unbearable.

-Wait, where are you going? You’ll miss the pre-nuptial orgy!

-I know for a fact that Ilithyia has not planned anything of the sort.

-It’s not for the bride, silly – Aphrodite responds, winking seductively at Athena.

The goddess of war doesn’t waste any more time, teleporting away and leaving Aphrodite alone.

-That girl needs to get laid SO badly. I wonder if Ares will be at the wedding? – she asks herself, posing for the nearest mirror to make sure she’s still the hottest thing in the universe.


Midgard Station, Antarctica

Kayla Black’s hands glow from the heat they’re generating, to the point of raising the temperature to the room by a few degrees. Even when she gets them closer to the ice that’s trapping Vesta, however, it doesn’t melt. Not even by a single drop.

-Fascinating – Noriko comments, getting closer to see the phenomenon with her own silver eyes.

She wipes the sweat from her forehead by using the same pocket-sized sensor she’s supposed to be reading from; one of the inconveniences of having no replacement for her left prosthetic arm.

-Nothing. It just won’t heat up – Kayla complains, making her hands return to normal.

-Not exactly. The ice’s temperature fluctuated by a few millionth degrees, before returning to its previous state – Noriko observes.

-You should see it in infrared. It’s like it’s absorbing the room’s heat – Quantum comments.

-It’s a possibility – Noriko answers unconvincingly, more out of politeness than anything else.

-Why don’t we shoot it? At some point it will either melt or blow up – Red Star suggests.

-Is shooting your answer to everything? Besides, even freaking Vesta couldn’t get out of this thing, and her fire is like a million degrees – Kari objects.

-You’re exaggerating – Red Star tells her, soon corrected by Noriko:

-Actually, the highest temperature I measured for Vesta’s plasma is 2.78 million degrees.

-Maybe the Winter King is turning that temperature into its opposite? – Torn suggests.

-That’s not physically possible – both Noriko, Voron and Lily answer at the same time, looking at each other like they didn’t expect the others to reach the same conclusion.

-Why not? Is minus two million degrees not enough? – Torn asks, far more confused than them.

-Absolute zero is -273.15°C, or -459.67°F for the Americans here. It’s physically impossible for anything in the universe to be colder than that – Voron explains.

-That’s it!!! – Noriko exclaims, snapping her fingers. Everyone looks at her in silence.

She has the fate of the whole world on her shoulders and a smile on her face when she says:

-I know how to defeat the Winter King.

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