Mortal Liberation Front Headquarters

Kari Zel approaches the cargo bay carefully. Noriko Null is standing dangerously close to the anti-gravity generators that keep the spaceship called Supreme Scorpion floating above the ground.

Kari continues to be impressed by the MLF: she didn’t expect them to have the resources to operate such a big and complex facility. Noriko is overseeing the work of a couple hundred robots, which are working around the clock to upgrade the already powerful ship.

-Hey Nori. How’s the ship coming?

-I have upgraded weapons and engines to match the Twin Dragon, the capital ship we once stole from Demeter. Regretfully, there is no time to install the teleporter: you will leave in three hours.

-Again? You’ve already sent my duplicates to fifteen different ships…

-You will need more duplicates: you have been assigned as second in command on every ship under Alliance control, which includes the entire Hunters fleet.

-What? When did I agree to do that!?

-Just now.

Null doesn’t even look at Kari when she says it. She’s standing straight, her hands behind her back, cold and detached. Seeing her in this state is more than a little unnerving for Kari.

-Is there a problem, Zel?

-Of course I’ll do it, but I would prefer you to ask before taking from granted that I’ll agree.

-Duly noted. Is there anything else?

-Yes. Can I talk to Noriko for just a minute?

Null turns her head to look at Kari, who still finds her friend’s new personality creepy. Noriko has done many good things since she transformed herself into Void, but Kari still can’t bring herself to trust these silver and black eyes.

-It would be counterproductive: switching to another operating system is a very taxing process. You can address your queries to me, Zel.

-Have you contacted Earth since we left? It’s been three weeks.

-Not yet. I have instructed your duplicate and Slate to call me in case of trouble. If you miss Vesta, we will call her when we reach the second phase of the plan.

-What second phase? I don’t even know what we’re doing right now…

-I am not at liberty to discuss strategy with the rest of the Vanguard; it is part of the terms that I have negotiated with the Scribe, in exchange for his assistance.

-And what have you promised Talas Khanos!? – Kari asks, making no effort to disguise the hatred in her voice. Khanos was one of the Oracles torturing her people before the uprising, after all.

-In exchange for his cooperation, the Alliance has commuted his death sentence into life imprisonment. He will still pay for his crimes; I am not a monster, Zel.

-But he is. How do you know he’s not going to stab you the moment you turn your back on him?

-I know he will betray us; it is his nature. But believe me, the plan cannot work without him.

-It’s a little hard to believe when you don’t tell me anything about the plan, but you spend your day with people like the Scribe and Galatea.

-Zel, as I have already told Black, if I get too far you are free to stop me. Now, if you excuse me, I have to take a very, very cold shower.

-Uh… what? – Kari asks, surprised by the non-sequitur.

-I have a meeting with Aphrodite.

 

The Conference Room

For obvious reasons, this meeting is of the utmost secrecy. The Mortal Liberation Front is an organization dedicated to the destruction of divine rule; while they’ve worked together with gods in the past, the presence of a legit Olympian ruler in their headquarters is unprecedented.

Only the highest members of the Alliance are present… but only some are here in person.

Galatea IX is there, as is Ulysses of course, but the Scribe is only a hologram of the Guild’s symbol. Both Aura and Syzar, respectively leaders of the Hunters and the Blue Rose, are attending only as images on viewscreens. Syzar is not even using his real face, while Aura doesn’t seem to care.

A pink flash of light and a faint breeze that smells of roses announces the arrival of the Goddess of Love herself, and Null finds herself stunned.

She didn’t know what to expect; in hindsight she shouldn’t be surprised to see Aphrodite wearing only a piece of cloth hanging from her waist, just barely reaching her thighs, a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen. Just her presence is sensory overload: Null simply can’t take her eyes off her. She didn’t expect to feel anything like this: she hangs out with Vesta on a daily basis, she shouldn’t have a problem with another superhumanly beautiful redhead.

-Uhm, hello? I’m up here, sweetie – Aphrodite says cheerfully, snapping Null back to reality.

She just realized she’s been staring at her breasts for the better part of a minute, not helped by the fact that thanks to the height difference between them they’re right on her face.

-Ah… hello… I-I mean, welcome to… to…

-Aww, you’re so cute when you’re blushing! – Aphrodite giggles, ruffling Null’s hair and going towards the conference table to greet Ulysses and Galatea IX.

-Odysseus! How long has it been? I love the beard. Why are you still sitting down?

-It’s better if I don’t stand up. There are ladies present – Ulysses jokes, making Null blush even more. She struggles to regain her composure: is this why so many members of the Alliance did not want to be in the same room as Aphrodite? Was this a rookie mistake?

-And Lady Galatea. If you need some company after my husband’s death, just call me okay?

-Over my cold deactivated body – the robot mistress replies.

-That could be arranged, if that’s your thing – Aphrodite answers, reaching for her chair at the table. As soon as she touches it, it’s transformed from a normal chair to a tower of cushions covered by roses, one of which she places in her hair as decoration.

-If we’re done with introductions, we should get to work – Null tries to regain control of the situation, realizing she made another rookie mistake: she picked a seat right next to Aphrodite.

-Yes, let’s get to the important stuff: I can’t have sex with you.

And Null’s efforts to take control are immediately crushed. Her body simply won’t let her concentrate on anything else: two minutes next to Aphrodite and she’s already sweating.

-Are you alright, sweetie? I hate being so hard on you, but you did kill my husband.

<If you need some time to…compose yourself, Null, we can have this meeting without you>

The derision in the Scribe’s voice is enough to shake Null away from her state. Noriko might’ve been embarrassed by Aphrodite’s antics, but she is Void now: an unfeeling engine of logic.

She completely shuts down all emotional and hormonal responses. Her eyes flash briefly.

-I am fine. Aphrodite, what is your relationship with Artemis?

-We fooled around once or twice, nothing serious. Her twin Apollo, now…

-I was referring to your diplomatic relationship.

-Oh, you mean the boring stuff? We used to get along: she had her planets, I had mine, and that was it. But something happened to her: she changed her name to Diana, then she declared war on me.

-It wasn’t Artemis. Her body has been possessed by Eris.

-THAT HUSSY!? – Aphrodite shouts, punching the table hard enough to smash it. Void was expecting animosity between the two, but she’s just furious at the mere mention of her name.

-I told Daddy to throw her disgusting soul into the depths of Tartarus!!! She’s still alive!?

<I take it you’re still mad at her for the whole Apple of Discord thing> Syzar comments.

-Just tell me where she is and I’ll make that accursed witch pay for her treachery!!!

<She has the body of Artemis. Are you really strong enough to fight her?> Aura asks mockingly; the Hunters did use to worship Artemis, after all.

-I am not a warrior but I am a Daughter of Zeus. My wrath should not be taken lightly.

-It’s not just Eris, dear. We have bigger plans for this galaxy – Galatea IX intervenes.

-She is correct: taking out Eris will not accomplish anything in the long run, just like killing Demeter and Hephaestus. We must look at the bigger picture – Null adds. It’s a risky move: she’s trying to convince Aphrodite to help them because killing her husband was not enough.

-I admit I’ve grown tired of my family’s habit of declaring war on each other. What do you have in mind, Noriko Null? – the goddess asks.

-We take out Eris and Hermes and declare a sovereign mortal state, outside any divine jurisdiction. Your sector will act as a buffer against an attack by Ares: he would need to fly through your sector to reach Alliance space. If you swear to deny him access, we will kill Eris for you.

-I’m not used to deny Ares any kind of access, and if you were any other mortal I would be certain that you’re lying. But your reputation precedes you, Slayer of Gods… I am intrigued. Very well, from this day forward the Goddess of Love pledges her allegiance to the Alliance. This calls for a celebration, don’t you agree?

Aphrodite leans towards Null, who grabs her hand before the goddess can grope her breast. The other guests expect her to blush again, but her black and silver eyes are stone cold.

-The war is not over and your presence here is a security risk. You should leave immediately.

-Oh, Noriko. You’re so sexy when you’re serious – Aphrodite giggles, kissing Noriko on the cheek and disappearing with a pink flash of light. Leaving behind a rose in Noriko’s hand.

-Well… that was a lot more awkward than I expected – she admits, crushing the rose in her hand.

<Does it mean that you’re ready to discuss the return of the Supreme Scorpion to the Hunters?>

-Not right now, Aura. Now if you excuse me, I have other business to take care of.

Null walks away from the conference table, while Ulysses covers for her by introducing a meaningless topic but using his charm to make it sound of the utmost importance.

Just outside the door of the conference room, Kari is practically bouncing with excitement.

-Well? Well? When can I meet her!?

-She just left, but you will be happy to know she joined the Alliance – Null answers brusquely.

-But you took pictures, right? Please tell me you took pictures.

-Zel, this really is not the right moment.

-Are you alright? You look like you just run a marathon…

Null doesn’t answer, instead taking the N-Phone from the pocket of her leather jacket and heading straight for her room. Kari is tailing her closely, enough to see what she’s doing.

-You’re setting the Sound Nullifier? Why do you… ooh, I get it, you need some alone time right?

Null turns around to look Kari in the eye. She knows that she can’t literally kill someone just by looking at them, but right now she has a hard time believing it.

-If you tell anyone about this, I WILL kill you. Understood?

-Come on Nori, it’s a perfectly healthy thing for a girl your age…

-Zel. Away. NOW – Null finishes the conversation, slamming the door with all her strength.

Kari sighs. Sometimes, Earth people are so childish.

 

Somewhere in the Hermes sector

Leiko Tanaka is used to luxury, but the host takes it to a new level. They are having dinner in a room larger than the White House, served by barely dressed handmaidens.

-So how are things on Earth? – Hermes asks.

-As they should be. The Empire of Shadows kills terrorists while the Stars deal with the Empire. As the foremost public figure involved with the project, now that my daughter is largely out of the picture I am probably the most beloved person on the planet.

-Wonderful. Did you find another former Eris host, so that we may create another Strife?

-No such luck. How about you? Has Strife killed Eris yet?

-Not yet, but it keeps her busy. Have you discovered the location of the Front headquarters?

-I have lost my contacts months ago – Leiko answers. It’s a lie: she could find the place easily.

-That’s too bad. Please keep trying, okay? When we find them, my victory will be assured.

“I’m counting on it” – Leiko thinks, continuing her dinner silently.



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