Warship Ragnarok, 65.000 light-years from Earth

The bridge is dead silent. Kari Zel is sleeping, with her duplicates taking turns at the various stations; one of them puts a blanket on Todd Slate, who decided to move here after waiting for hours just outside the infirmary. Max Black a.k.a. Quantum appears on the bridge, coming back inside the ship and regaining his human form.

-Any news? – Kari asks him, lowering her voice to avoid waking up anybody.

-The sensors are right, Tiamat is rebuilding the planet. I couldn’t find any survivors from the fleets, but I can’t be 100% sure since I had to keep my distance. What about Noriko?

-Still under surgery.

-Really? It’s been – he pauses, looking at his watch – Holy crap, eight hours. How are the others?

-Todd’s taking this really badly, he’s not used to any of this. Vesta is trying to look tough but she’s worried sick. And Torn… he doesn’t let his sister get out of sight – she reveals.

-And how are you taking this? – he asks, putting his hand on her shoulder.

-I don’t know. Max, why the Hades are we still here? Even at lightspeed we would’ve been out of this system by now.

-It was Noriko’s call. Tiamat can’t escape this solar system as long as the Time Mover is here.

-Hasn’t she been confined here for millions of years? It probably means she can’t destroy it.

-But Eris is still with her. We have to deal with both; running away won’t solve anything.

-I know, I know. But Max… what if Nori doesn’t make it?

-She will. She always does.

-I know she’s the Slayer of Gods but… I mean, a freakin’ Primordial, Max!!!

-Just another bad guy. What happened to your “just use their strength against them” attitude, Kari?

-That’s different. I was talking about… about… – she pauses, looking terrified.

-Yes we were talking about Enyo, but it’s the same thing isn’t it?

-Enyo – she repeats, pointing at the viewscreen. He turns to see the same thing: a goddess wearing a black armor and a black cape, floating just before the Ragnarok with her arms crossed.

Null – she says, her voice somehow heard on the bridge.

 

The lower decks

The Ragnarok doesn’t really have cells, but there’s a section dedicated to housing dangerous materials. Torn and Pain are there, on opposite sides of a forcefield, staring at each other.

Vesta enters the room, trying her best to look confident while she doesn’t know how to deal with the situation… everything’s spiraled out of control faster than usual.

-Finally someone I can talk to, these two are about as engaging as a bag of hammers. Or in their case a bag of knives, I suppose – Viper comments. Noriko’s clone is not only behind another forcefield, but she’s in handcuffs and tied up with titanium wires.

-I can tie those knots tighter if you’re too comfortable – Vesta threatens her, then she looks at Torn.

-Is your sister going to be a problem?

-I’m keeping an eye on her soul. Still rotten as ever, but I think I can hold her.

-Yes. You think that – Pain comments, managing to still sound menacing. Vesta ignores her and goes straight to Viper; she puts her hand down her top and takes out the Vial of Destiny.

-What is this? – she asks.

-An attempt to make me jealous of your endowments? Seriously, I don’t even know how long you’ve been keeping that thing down there. That can’t have been comfortable.

-I’m not in the mood to play games – Vesta answers, pushing her hand against the forcefield with enough strength to pass through it; her palm catches fire, coming dangerously close to Viper.

-Oh please. Like you’d ever do that – Viper mocks her.

-What are you? A clone? I thought Noriko got rid of hers – Vesta changes the subject.

-She used the Heart Of The Universe to make a better version of herself: me.

-Really? And what makes you better than her?

-Well, for one thing, I have two hands – Viper jokes, impishly smiling. Her attitude makes Vesta lose her patience: the goddess rips the forcefield projector from the wall with her bare hand, then grabs Viper by her red jacket and effortlessly lifts her off the ground.

-This isn’t a joke!!! – Vesta shouts, her eyes literally on fire.

-Then why do you insist on making me laugh? – Viper answers, completely unfazed by her rage.

-Vesta. You might want to slightly lower this – Torn suggests.

-He means “take it down a notch” – Viper translates. Vesta looks like she’s ready to throw her out of the airlock, when the sound of an alarm demands her attention.

-I don’t know if you were telling the truth about your life being linked to Noriko’s. But if you were lying and she dies, I will make sure it becomes the truth – Vesta threatens Viper, letting her go.

The clone seems just mildly amused by the awakening of her wrath.

 

The meeting room

When she reaches the room, Vesta is still unsettled by her encounter with Viper… there’s something about her that gets under her skin. Seeing the last person she’d expect to meet on the Ragnarok doesn’t help: Enyo is sitting at the table, immobile like a black statue.

-You let her get inside!? – she asks to Quantum.

-It was either that or blow up the ship trying to fight her. I think she wants to see Noriko.

-You “think”?

-She never says more than one word, it’s kinda hard to have a conversation – he shrugs.

-Well, one thing’s for sure: you are not going to see Noriko – Vesta makes clear; considering that the last time she met Enyo she barely escaped alive, her courage is admirable if unnecessary.

-I can speak for myself – Noriko says as she enters the room. She looks exhausted, leaning on Todd who is helping her walk. She’s not wearing her leather jacket and she has bandages on her left arm… or of what’s left of it. It’s been amputated at the elbow.

-Oh my Gods – Kari whispers, covering her mouth with her hand; things were so frantic before that only now she’s realizing what happened.

-Are you crazy? You should be resting! – Quantum objects.

-I’ll rest when I’m dead. You got my message: I suppose you agree to my proposal?

Yes – Enyo declares.

-You called her here? Why!?!? – Vesta protests.

-We’re going to war against a Celestial Dragon. I need as many war gods as I can get.

-Wait wait wait, what are you talking about? Did I miss something? – Quantum asks.

-Just follow my orders. I don’t have the time to hold you by… – Noriko pauses, glancing at her missing left hand –…I don’t have time to explain every little detail.

When? – Enyo asks; it’s as if she’s had an entirely different conversation with Noriko.

-Nineteen days if you wait outside the system; I don’t want Tiamat to see you. Everyone else: you have six free hours. Dismissed – Noriko orders, turning to exit the room; her walk out is made a little less dramatic by needing Todd to help her walk.

-There, I took you to the meeting. Now will rest for a while!? – Todd asks her, just when the couple meets Ulysses coming from the opposite direction.

-Null, we need to get through the schedule again.

-No, she needs to recover from the operation – Todd objects, putting himself between the mythological figure and his girlfriend. The latter stops him, instinctively trying to use the hand she doesn’t have anymore; the sheer frustration in her voice is clear, but she tries to hide it.

-Ulysses, give us a moment okay? – she asks, with the man walking to the end of the hallway.

-What happened in the infirmary, Nori? I wasn’t sure you’d get out of there alive, and the first thing you do is planning to fight a space dragon!?

-I wasn’t unconscious during the whole operation. Ulysses and I discussed a plan to…

-You were awake? You could’ve at least told me you were still alive!!!

-Tiamat could vaporize us in the blink of an eye: unless we have a plan ready, the instant she turns her attention to us we’re dead. We’re lucky something is distracting her: if we waste any time…

-Is that what I am to you? A waste of time?

-Seriously, Todd? You wanna talk about this NOW?

-Excuse me for being worried about you! There are heroes and gods here, why risk your life?

-Because I am Null. When heroes and gods can’t measure up, I step in.

-Null, are you coming or not? – Ulysses asks her.

Noriko and Todd look at each other for what both feel like an eternity.

-I’m sorry, Todd. But this is who I am – she says, turning away from him. Todd watches her catching up with Ulysses, with Todd hearing Viper’s words.

-“You’re just her way to mimic human behavior” – he repeats in whisper, wondering if the clone was telling truth.

 

The former Dragon Tomb

Tiamat is staring at her latest creation, looking pensive. It’s a mountain range built using the remains of the planet’s surface and the hulls of the spaceships she destroyed, and it’s shaped like a snake’s skeleton. Inside its open mouth, there’s a castle of solid gold and ivory.

-What do you think? Too subdued, isn’t it? – Tiamat asks.

-It’s fine. Can we go back to talk about your next move? – Eris says, suppressing a yawn. Tiamat makes the Egyptians look impulsive: she’s been awake for hours and all she’s done is waste time. But she also seemingly killed Hekate without breaking a sweat: it’s wise to stay on her good side.

-I can do better – Tiamat decides, moving her arm like she’s pulling back a curtain; the entire mountain range is devastated, crumbling to dust according to her whims.

-Lady Tiamat, please. You’ve been asleep for so long, why does building a palace take precedence?

-I still have the building blocks; there won’t be anything left after the destruction.

-The destruction of what? Of your enemies?

-Of this galaxy. There are too many gods now… it’s time to start anew.

 

One of the Ragnarok’s laboratories

Noriko has been working nonstop for hours. She’s disassembled the Meretrix shell and now she’s integrating it with circuits of her own design; something easier said than done, considering she has to do this with one arm. Ulysses is watching over her, providing what assistance he can give.

-I don’t understand how this will help against Tiamat. We should spend our time building another God Eraser. In fact, I already have some ideas on how to improve its design.

-The God Eraser is my trump card. I’m not gonna show you how to build one.

-I’ve already saved your life twice, Null. I think I deserve some gratitude for helping you.

-You’re right. Actually, there is something else you can help me with – Noriko answers, putting down the Meretrix; she grabs Ulysses, pulls him closer and unexpectedly kiss him on the lips.

He’s taken by surprise: when she tries to continue the kiss, he pushes her away. She replies with a smile and her silver eyes shine rapidly.

-Gotcha. You’re not Ulysses, aren’t you… Athena?

Ulysses steps back, and his eyes turn grey. But it’s nothing next to the staggering transformation that follows, when the man with a red beard is replaced by a statuesque blonde.

-How could you possibly have known? – she asks.

-You couldn’t resist showing off. Ulysses performing microsurgery was suspicious enough, but improving the God Eraser is too much. How long have you been impersonating him? Since you warned me about Isis? Since the Alliance? Is the real Ulysses even alive?

-I apologize for the deception, Noriko. The gods can’t know how close I am to the mortal rebellion.

-It’s time to pick a side, Athena. No more tricks: after we take down Tiamat, formalize our alliance.

-Careful about your confidence, Noriko. You are the Slayer of Gods, but Tiamat is a force of nature.

-She’s not the only one – Noriko answers, her eyes shining.



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