Warship Ragnarok, 65.000 light-years from Earth

Things couldn’t get worse: there’s a dragon the size of a planet ready to incinerate the Ragnarok, and the ship can’t even go faster than light.

-That is not fire. I don’t think I can protect the ship – Vesta admits.

-I can – Torn says, holding tight the energy scythe in his hands. He raises it above his head; it lights up, providing nearly as much light as the dragon’s power.

-SEVEN GATES OF HELL!!! – he shouts.

The dragon exhales plasma, hotter than the surface of the Sun. It doesn’t reach the Ragnarok: a red pentagram has appeared before the ship, acting as a portal. The energy comes out of other six identical pentagrams, each one positioned around the dragon. The attack is redirected against its master, bombarding the dragon with pure destruction.

It took everything Torn had to do this: he loses his balance, leaning on the scythe to avoid falling. The Time Mover slips out of his duster’s pocket, falling to the floor. Pain is quick to reach for it, but Vesta grabs the female Demon by her long red hair and pulls her away from it.

-Don’t push your luck, lady. I don’t have the time to be gentle with you – Vesta warns her.

-Neither do I – Pain answers; two red blades appear out of nowhere, acting as scissors to free her. She’s about to create more weapons to fight when Vesta’s palm hits her chest: in the blink of an eye, Pain is pushed against the wall hard enough to dent it. If Pain were a human, she would have a broken collarbone and a concussion. Instead she’s ready to keep fighting: the only reason she doesn’t is that Vesta holds her index finger against her forehead, pushing it with enough strength to move an armored truck. Demon or not, it’s too much for Pain to remain conscious.

-Don’t say I didn’t warn you – Vesta comments. When she turns towards the viewscreen, she can see that the dragon withstood its own attack and is ready to shoot once more.

-Detecting multiple ships entering the system, headed for us! – one of the Kari duplicates says.

<According to Republic records, they belong to the Enyo and Athena fleets> L.O.K.I. explains.

-Open a channel and transmit: Ωε αρε τηε Vανγθαρδ, πλεασε σηοοτ τηε δραγον cηασινγ θσ!!!

-What the hell did you just tell them? – Quantum asks.

-“We’re the Vanguard, please shoot the dragon chasing us”.

The viewscreen shows the dragon being hit by hundreds of shots fired from multiple sources, with one ship after another entering the view. They’re barely visible next to the planet-sized beast, but the dragon seems to have taken an interest in them. It’s not destroying them, probably because they’re not a threat. It’s just studying them.

-Should… should we help them? – Quantum asks, unsure about his own words.

-As long as we’re in this system, we’re as good as dead. I’m going to check on Noriko, you keep an eye on these two – Vesta tells him, pointing at the unconscious bodies of Pain and Viper.

He could swear the latter is still smiling.

 

Where a planet used to be

Despite looking like a ten year old girl, Hekate is hundreds of millions of years old. During all this time, she can count the number of times she’s been knocked out on one hand.

What happened to us? – she asks, trying to stand up. Only there’s no ground left beneath her.

Her mind reconnects to the other two bodies shared by the same goddess, the Maiden and the Crone, and they all confirm her first thought: they’re floating in space now, orbiting Tiamat.

The dragon should be big enough to have its own gravity, but it doesn’t. Hekate can’t even feel any use of antigravity: around Tiamat, the laws of physics just don’t apply anymore.

Any sane goddess would escape to the farthest reaches of the galaxy now. But “sane” isn’t the first word that comes to mind regarding the Triple Goddess.

Tiamat! We demand an audience!!! – Hekate shouts, all her three bodies releasing a massive energy wave in the form of a wolf’s head; it’s enough to reduce to ashes the unfortunate ships in its path, but not worthy of the attention of Tiamat.

-Don’t take it personally. All Primordials are like this – Eris tells her. With all the commotion of hundreds of ships and Talos robots attacking the dragon, Hekate didn’t even see her coming.

We are the Triple Goddess. How dares this beast ignore us?

-She’s so far above us she doesn’t distinguish between mortals and gods. Unless, of course, you’re cosmic royalty like me. Tiamat!!! Grant an audience to the daughter of Nyx!!! – Eris shouts.

There’s no reason for the dragon to hear her, especially in space. But the beast ignores the thousands of megaton explosions on its face and turns its immense head towards the swarm of meteors that used to be a planet. And Tiamat speaks with a thunderous voice.

-I SEE THAT NYX HAS SPAWNED. WITH THE OFFSPRING OF GAEA NO LESS.

-Yes, Gaea is my great-grandmother. Can we talk?

-YOU ARE DIFFERENT FROM THEM. WHAT FORM ARE YOU WEARING?

-What do you mean with “form”?

She is from a time you can’t remember, Eris, before gods took human form – Hekate explains.

-Oh, I see. This form is called “woman”. What is your true form, Tiamat?

-WHATEVER I WANT. WHAT HAS TRANSPIRED DURING MY SLUMBER?

-That’s a lengthy discussion. Is there a place we can talk privately?

-IF I SO DESIRE – Tiamat answers, turning its head towards the fleets attacking her. Her mouth shoots fire once again, this time disintegrating every single one of them. Eris can’t believe her eyes: they’re just mortals, so she knows plenty of gods capable of doing this, but completely disregarding the fact that this is a clear act of war against both Enyo and Athena is astonishing to her.

-WOMAN – Tiamat says. Suddenly the planet-sized dragon turns into a mass of bright blue light, which flows like a liquid towards the asteroid where Eris and Hekate are standing.

Inconceivably, all of it manages to fit inside a vaguely humanoid shape in a few seconds. And just as quickly, Tiamat takes a new form: unmistakably humanoid and undoubtedly female, taking inspiration from the bodies of the goddesses before her. She still adds a few personal touches: her skin is grey, her eyes have a vertical iris, and what she’s wearing would be considered pieces of armor made from dragon skin and bones… if they didn’t leave way too much exposed skin.

-I remember these. Inanna invented them – the new Tiamat comments, touching her breasts.

Taking human form was your last mistake, monster! – Hekate tells her, ready to shoot her once again. Before she can attack, Tiamat moves faster than she can think and effortlessly plunges her hand inside the chest of Hekate’s Maiden body, ripping out her heart.

-Internal organs. How quaint – Tiamat comments, studying the bloody mess she holds in her hand while the other two Hekate bodies scream in agony.

-What is this annoying creature?

-That’s… that’s a goddess, Tiamat – Eris answers her.

-I see. Things really have changed – she comments. Hekate’s adult body suddenly explodes, with the Child and Crone bodies following immediately afterwards; their flesh and blood quickly deteriorate into black energy, which is efficiently absorbed through Tiamat’s skin.

-Now she won’t disturb us anymore.

-Did… did you just kill Hekate? Just like that!?

-Her existence displeased me. Now, Eris, tell me more of what has happened to my galaxy.

“What have I gotten myself into?” Eris asks herself. Not a good sign when the goddess of strife and discord understands she’s gone too far.

 

In the ship’s infirmary

Wearing the Hostile Environment Suit saved Noriko’s life: as soon as it detected a breach, it sealed itself off and reduced the loss of blood… somewhat.

But she’s far from out of danger. Her vital signs, shown by holograms next to the bed, are far from encouraging. Kari duplicates are doing most of the work, from removing the suit to tending to what’s left of her left arm to giving her painkillers, while Vesta is holding her right hand. It may not look much, but if it wasn’t for her divine powers Noriko’s vital signs would be much worse.

Todd Slate can’t do anything but watch. He’s seen his girlfriend injured before, but this looks a thousand times worse.

-I’m not sure you should be here, Todd – Kari says, creating a duplicate explicitly to escort him out.

-You can help her, right? Is she going to be alright?

-I won’t lie to you, it’s bad. I have some medical training, but we should get her to a hospital.

-Then what are we waiting for? This is the fastest ship in the galaxy, isn’t it?

-It’s not that simple – Quantum answers him, coming into the room with the Time Mover in his hands; he’s trying not to look at Noriko.

-As long as we have this, we can’t use the Negative Drive.

-Then throw it out into space! – Todd shouts, going as far as trying to take the Drylon device from Quantum’s hands. In the middle of this, Noriko manages to wake up.

-No… can’t let… Tiamat escape… have to… stay here… – she says, struggling with every word.

-That thing will kill us if we stay here! And we have to get you to a doctor! – Todd replies.

-We tried to call our allies, but even the Athena pendant doesn’t work – Vesta informs her.

-The Meretrix… black… pearl… – Noriko says, before losing consciousness again.

-Poor thing. She’s delirious – Vesta comments, maternally adjusting her hair.

-Not necessarily. Where’s her jacket? – Quantum asks; he blinks out of the room for an instant, returning with a seashell. He opens it, revealing the metal disk inside, and asks:

-She took something from the Sanctuary. The device that activated the hologram.

-Got it – Kari says, recovering something from one of the suit’s inside pockets: an obsidian pearl the size of an egg, which she tosses to Quantum. He studies it, noticing it fits inside the seashell.

-Now how to I turn this on? – he wonders, when the seashell speaks with a seductive female voice.

Welcome to the Meretrix network. What is your heart’s desire?

-We need a doctor, and fast.

Indexing categories: group sex, playing doctor, quickie. You have: 17 million potential partners. Would you like to restrict the search?

-I thought we couldn’t get signals faster than light. How is that thing connected? – Vesta asks.

-The Black Pearl must be boosting the signal. There has to be a way to use this thing… Meretrix, can I send a message to a specific person?

If the person is a registered user on the Meretrix, of course.

-So Athena is out, there’s no way she’s using this thing. How about Ulysses? – Kari asks.

I am sorry, there is no user registered with this name.

-He’s the founder of the Mortal Liberation Front, of course he won’t be this easy to contact. What about Odysseus, do you have anyone with that name? – Vesta asks.

I am sorry, there is no user registered with this name.

-Search for “nobody” – Quantum says.

Nobody found. Would you like to have sex with Nobody?

-I’m a freakin’ genius. Yes, ask Nobody to get here right away! – Quantum orders.

-I can’t believe this is actually working – Kari comments.

It doesn’t take long before something happens: a circle of light descends into the room, marking the appearance of a man with an unruly red beard.

-That was, by far, the most unexpected message I ever received – Ulysses comments.

-Noriko needs medical attention. Can you use the Master Portal to take her to safety? – Vesta asks.

-I knew letting her pursue the Dragon Tomb alone was a bad idea. I’ll take her to… uhm, this is rather strange – Ulysses comments, fidgeting with the holographic interface of the device he’s wearing on his wrist. Quantum can’t read the words on it, but its sounds are not encouraging.

-Let me guess: it’s not working. Can you at least use the portal to send a doctor here?

-Involving other people would only complicate things. Everyone who doesn’t have experience performing microsurgery, please leave now – Ulysses says, going for the tray of medical equipment as if he already knew where to find everything. Including the scalpel he’s now holding.

-Things could get messy.



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