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[Archive] With This Ring (Young Justice SI) (Story Only)

Discussion in 'Story Archive' started by Mr Zoat, Jan 30, 2019.

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  1. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st January 2013
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    The stars… Move, the universe 'above' and 'below' the system's orbital plane emptying of light sources while the rim becomes far brighter. I… Don't even want to think about the sort of gravity manipulation they've had to do to make that happen.

    "Very pretty."

    On the off-chance, I try warping space. I can manage a little, but the feedback I'm getting from my ring makes space-time feel unusually… Sticky. Which means that my second favourite form of faster than light travel is effectively unavailable unless I feel like trying to override their generator… Which could actually be outside of the system.

    "I look forward to the day when we can do this to your home system."

    "My home system?"

    "Yes. Why, did you think we would grant it clemency?"

    I try transitioning a test object, and… It works, but that system is dramatically slower than warping. Flying in normal space would make me deal with relativity and relativity is no fun at all. Honestly, when I imagine trying to get around Universe Prime with FTL probably being impossible I actually shudder.

    "Tell you what. If you abandon your attack here, I'll take you there right now. I'll even escort your troops to the surface and do absolutely nothing to them."

    "So you are a deviant even amongst your own kind."

    A sternguard element of their fleet… Rotates with impressive speed to face me. They don't actually move in my direction, but their heaviest armour and main weapons are now pointing in my general direction while their existing momentum carries them along towards Karrakan.

    "Oh, Earth. Did you know that we gained powered flight technology a hundred and ten years ago? Sixty six years later we had rockets capable of taking us to our moon. Giant moon. Whenever I stand on another planet and someone describes the moonrise as 'beautiful' I always end up squinting. 'That tiny thing?'"

    Ring, cold gun.

    Compliance.

    Big cold gun.

    Compliance.

    "We've got hundreds of gods no one even worships because they're so common, humans with bodies made of mud, AIs that run on electromagnetic tape reels… A few weeks ago I had to fly through a pocket universe made of fragments of dreams. I call it 'hard mode' sometimes because I know of exactly no other planets that have the same range of madness that we have to deal with."

    "Fascinating. Please, keep talking. This is helping me build a far more accurate psychological profile."

    "And about ten years ago, a man with no higher education invented a gun that can reduce anything its beam hits to zero-"

    Fire.

    Compliance.

    "-degrees Kelvin. Completely arrests molecular vibrations. How good's the thermal insulation on those ships?"

    Okay, so don't point it at the star, unless it's a star no one's using and Leonard needs an ego boost. We're all in the inner part of the system but the beam won't hit anything for five minutes or so-

    Realistic space combat sucks.

    -unless… I focus on our desire and the desire of all within N.E.M.O. to strike at the Reach… No, let us draw upon the desires of species long since extinguished as well and add that to our force!

    "I suppose that we'll find out in five minutes."

    "Maybe."

    Space wobbles like a rubber sheet, snapping back almost immediately. But the distortion carries with it a beam of max-strength cold ray, partially concealed by the ongoing beam I'm firing in the direction of those ships. No beam attenuation makes this a far better weapon for long-ranged sniping than a laser.

    I watch as the Reach fleet manoeuvres, using gravity manipulation to shift a little at right angles to their main angle of thrust. Plenty to make sure that they're not on the same trajectory five minutes from now that they were when I fired. The sternguard do something-

    My pulse hits the largest ship in the sternguard.

    -similar, manoeuvring but not moving as far due to their lower speed.

    Not that it matters.

    The ship I hit tremors, but it keeps moving and manoeuvring. Maybe it-.

    The hull cracks, a dozen rents appearing in the frontal armour and atmosphere venting from all of them. Usually there would be emergency force field or -given that this is the Reach- reactive armour automatically patching small holes. But it looks like those systems also just got wrecked by absolute zero and can't function. The ship isn't dead-dead, but it's severely-

    "That's interesting."

    -impaired in its functioning. I think I got about half of its frontal weapons, though the dorsal, ventral and side weapons are completely fine.

    "Glad that you liked it."

    "But can you do it again?"

    "No, that's completely impossible."

    We do it again, aiming at the next ship in line, predicting based on observed to-target time and manoeuvring pattern.

    "Excuse me."

    Ring, drop channel and try contacting the Ascendants in charge of those ships.

    Compliance. Channel open.

    "This is the Illustres of the Orange Lantern Corps. Please respond."

    "Illustres! It is good to hear from you."

    "Ascendant Thiva. Well done for still being alive. Any idea why the Reach are coming here?"

    "This is the Reach? Their ships are different from our records."

    "This is one of their inner sphere fleets. They use them to defend their core systems. People don't usually see them. Consider yourself honoured."

    "It is an honour I would gladly pass. As to why they are here, we are evacuating the remains of Grandmother Rhea to be interred in New Orthys. We were going to finally abandon the system after that."

    "Do you have them on board?"

    "Yes."

    "Can you make it to the edge of the system? Without being overhauled?"

    "Perhaps."

    "Try it. I don't think we've got the force here to defeat them in conventional fleet combat. Did you send an alert out?"

    "Yes but… The system… Can they get in?"

    Given how boom tubes work, probably not using those.

    "We'll have to assume that we're it for now. What can the Ascendants you have on board do?"
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2022
  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st January 2013
    20:46 GMT


    "It's… This is the last of our people in this system. The very young and old. They.. cannot really… Help."

    Their ships begin moving away from the larger asteroid base, accelerating hard. A moment later their secondary weapon systems activate, tearing the base apart.

    At the same time I see tiny mushroom clouds erupt from the surface of Karrakan.

    And as ever, everything about the Reach just aggravates us. We distort space once more and fire the cold gun. The time to target is even smaller this time, and the ship on the edge of the sternguard formation actually cracks. The whole frozen and brittle front quarter of the outer armour splits off from the rest, numerous systems struggling to remain functional.

    "The planet. Is there anyone still there?"

    "We tried to evacuate, but… Sparta's way was the only successful attempt at instilling any sort of unity. They would not hear us."

    Darn. Looks like… Kinetic harpoon? Or I suppose it could have been one of Rhea's descendants throwing their weight around; I never found out what sort of power level they topped out at. I mean, the Reach could have shot them from where their ships are now using a graviton accelerator, but...

    But you don't need a fleet this big to destroy a planet no one is defending. So… Capture? The Reach are good at mind control. New Gods are resistant to chemical and exotic manipulation… A Scarab? Occupation or destruction?

    Okay, the Reach dreadnoughts will… Based on my estimate of their primary armament's effectiveness, be in a position to meaningfully bombard the planet in… Six minutes. Although given the sheer number of guns here they could start firing sooner, it would just be inefficient. The sternguard… Aren't moving towards me. If anything they appear to be accelerating away from me. More slowly than the rest of the fleet, but it's a change in behaviour. I suppose now that they know that I can shoot them there's no longer any reason to poke me.

    That flotilla is pulling away from the main fleet, diverting towards the Ascendants' ships.

    "I assume that your boom tubes are out."

    "Yes. They use hyper-inflated-."

    "Gravitons, yes, I know. I thought that New God technology could be enhanced by you putting your spiritual effort into it."

    "It.. can, but that is most effective when the Ascendant has some skill, and… Most of the Ship Masters remained near Minosyss. Those of us here, we… We cannot push through."

    Their small flotilla of six ships… Three aren't warships. They're heading for the asteroid belt around the system's first gas giant. At current speeds… The Reach ships pursuing them will get in probable weapon range before they arrive. And… Honestly, a standard gas giant won't do much to disrupt Reach sensors.

    "What are your guns like?"

    "Inadequate."

    Of course I've got a spare orange ring, but she's an Ascendant and she's needed to keep the ship functioning. And to keep the mortal Karrakanians calm. And she hasn't studied Lantern combat. Against some fleets I'd just grab some likely looking local and give them a ring anyway, but the Reach are well-used to fighting Lanterns and an untrained Lantern would simply be killed out of hand.

    "One moment. Ring, switch channel to Mister Unnamed Assimilation Specialist."

    "Compliance."

    "So what exactly are you planning to do, here?"

    "Spread the Writ of the Reach to all parts of the universe."

    Space bends with our need and the back tenth of a battleship in the middle of their formation suddenly experienced extreme thermal shock. Doesn't look like any of the vital systems are destroyed, but the crew in that part of the ship will be looking at severe frostbite.

    "I mean, specifically. We're in a three way war here and if Grayven's really giving you that much trouble I'm fine with just letting you arm up on anti-New God weapons. I just want to help their ships evacuate."

    "The ships are one of the things I want from this system."

    "Alright, but-"

    We bend a larger area, getting a better feel for their efforts to stop us. The desires of untold numbers of physicists whisper their dreams to us, and we increasingly make them reality. This time our attack envelops the same battleship, causing cracks to appear all over the hull. Its size makes it unlikely that a attack like this could kill it quickly, but with the majority of its weapons compromised it is more or less 'mission killed'.

    "-how badly do you need all of them? Ah, were you on that ship?"

    "I see no reason to compromise. As much as you're straining our ships' self-repair systems, the data we're gathering on your weapon is far more valuable. And, no."

    "End. Signal… That dreadnought."

    The one in the middle of the formation. Reach commanding officers we've encountered to date have been utilitarian in their positioning, neither eager for combat or afraid for their own safety. The most logical place for the senior officer to be therefore is in the largest class of ship in the centre of the formation, where they're best able to direct the response to attacks from any vector without unduly exposing themselves.

    "Hello hello?"

    An acknowledging 'ping', but that's all. It's not actually possible for most Lanterns to identity theft someone via a com signal, but the Reach don't like taking chances with that. Because…

    Hm.

    I don't think I can, but I could probably use it to home in on someone through the Honden.

    "Don't know how much of that you heard, or how much strategic decision making authority you have. But I'd like to take the Ascendant's ships and go, and you can have the rest. How about it?"

    "That is uncharacteristically-."

    I roll my eyes.

    "Really? A little girl voice? I'm entirely too psychotic for that to work."

    "That's useful information too! But your offer is uncharacteristically generous, implying that there is something of value here that we don't know about."

    "No-. Well, sort of. I'm trying to be a bit less kill-happy. In order to improve my relationship with my colleagues on my homeworld. They're not involved in the war, though you are welcome to travel to my homeworld to confirm that for yourself."

    "Do you really expect us to believe that you'd make a deal with us to make your friends happy?"

    "I gotta try, you know? I mean, I don't want to kill that Scarab Warrior who thinks I can't see it because they're phased… No, not phased, something else. Jumped out of your sternguard when I started shooting them? They've made good time. But when I kill it all I'll get is mild satisfaction. Having Alan or Kal-El tell me that they like the way I've altered my approach would make me feel far better. And it's not as if I have any sort of good feelings for Grayven and Company."

    "That's a good point! But we're gunna kill you anyway!"

    "We're going to make Scarabs an endangered species like this." I cut communications. "Alright, clever bug. Let's see what you've got."
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2022
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st January 2013
    20:50 GMT


    The faint whiff of exotic energy and desires changes its angle of approach slightly. We're aware that we're more immaterial than we've allowed ourself to be for a while, and that is making perceiving the desires and drives of the Reachians so obvious that for a moment we can't imagine not seeing them.

    I raise my right hand and point at it, keeping my right finger trained on it as I reinforce my construct armour and add a cluster of small railguns for anti-Scarab work. Regular Scarabs… It's not that they're not a threat to me, but it's more on the level that Sodom and Gomorrah are to Kal-El. Yes, they could kill him, but once the initial transmutation didn't work it was pretty obvious which way the fight was going to go.

    "I… See… You…"

    And… Tiny flecks of-.

    Move. Load phasic rounds, fire. Shoot the warp-assisted cold beam at-.

    One of the Scarab's drones deactivates its phasic system and fires-.

    And my giant cold gun construct is gone. Didn't register any conventional damage. Have they managed to replicate the crumbler effect? Tricky, but-.

    Another drone -looks like there are four of them- phases in and fires at my armour. I'm using ablative construct plating instinctively, so I'm not too-.

    A whole chunk of armour vanishes, leaving my right shoulder and the upper right portion of my torso exposed.

    That wasn't a crumbler.

    I shift plates around, taking small x-ionised plates out of subspace in order to-.

    I just about spot the shift in desires as another drone phases in and takes a shot. I block this one with a metal plate at about thirty metres from my actual body. Block is… Successful. Looks like whatever that beam is doesn't do much to conventional matter. And the beam is… Light speed.

    Rats rats rats.

    Alright, I-.

    Another drones shoots at the back of my helmet, the intensification of the desires associated with it giving me just enough time to block that shot.

    It's behind me.

    That means that I no longer have the advantage of my enemy being in a single arc.

    "How many years at war with the Green Lantern Corps and now you develop-"

    Two shots, two blocks. They're moving to surround me, but multi-channel processing isn't hard for us. Were they expecting someone other than me? Someone not from Earth, or.. just.. not the Illustres. A normal Lantern who had their defensive construct shot out would be a good deal more vulnerable, and even if they recovered they'd go through their ring charge much faster than normal in order to repair it.

    "-anti-construct weapons? I mean-"

    We block another two shots. It looks like there's a recharge time issue.

    "-I'll take it as a sign of how seriously you're taking this."

    "How are you tracking our drones?"

    Just because I'm not communicating with him, that doesn't mean he can't communicate with me. I was just trying to reach the Scarab, but… Ah, why not?

    "How stupid do you-"

    Block and block, block and block.

    "-think we are?"

    "'We'? Are you using an AI, perhaps?"

    Fiddlesticks. On the other hand, not exactly a secret-secret. And without using the senses of the Ophidian portion of us, this wouldn't be possible.

    "What's an 'AI', really, when you get down to it?"

    "Or is it you who's the AI? Is that how you came back from being totally disintegrated?"

    "Yes, you've found us-"

    Since the drones appear to be holding off for now, let's have another shot at those ships. Can't take another shot with a giant cold gun without it being really obvious, but if gravity manipulation is the order of the day…

    "-out. Curses, we are undone. Melon melon melon."

    They're abandoning the system anyway.

    Beam singularity projector. We have no idea what will happen when we fire this, but-

    Drones fire and blocked.

    -it should satisfy any number of the desires we feel to find out. Bend space between here and the target and fire!

    We hit the central dreadnought and it… Shudders. There's a neat hole where we hit, and a neat hole at the far end. Presumably we hit everything between those two points, though the ship is disrupting our scans-

    Blocked.

    -too well for us to tell for certain. The ship… Doesn't appear to have changed its acceleration, so perhaps-.

    There's a small bloom of heat from inside the ship. Wait, all this gravity manipulation and they can't even disrupt a singularity beam a little? If this whole space-bending thing turns out to be a macro-scale hologram I'm going to be annoyed. Or maybe I was right and the generator is outside of the affected area, and these ships only use gravity manipulation in a more normal way? Either way, I-.

    The drones fire at us again, this time joined by the Scarab Warrior. Shots blocked, but I'm being delayed and… And this isn't a viable strategy for anyone who isn't me. And I couldn't do it if there were more drones, or if there was a lot of other things going on. In the brief moment it was in normal space the Scarab itself didn't look anything special. Larger guns mounted on the forearms, but I assume that's just what they're using to disrupt my constructs.

    "It's amusing how dependent we become on certain things. The Reach has long relied on our Scarabs to be the last word in humanoid warriors. We scarcely made any effort to improve other weapons at that scale; our regular soldiers are far inferior, despite the fact that our oldest conquests were made with a conventional army."

    "The Guardians depend on their Lanterns, despite the fact that they have always been perfectly capable of building both war fleets and other sorts of exotic weapons. That's a weakness that your 'N.E.M.O.' doesn't share. You personally don't rely on your constructs, which is wise of you."

    "Thank you. From all of us."

    We spot it as the Scarab Warrior prepares to fire once more, and-

    -it emerges from its phased state-

    and our construct armour vanishes.

    "But you do rely on subspace storage. Kill him."
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2022
  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st January 2013
    20:52 GMT


    No desires for you.

    The inner orange lights of the scarab and host vanish, leaving the weaker corona of expectations marking its position.

    I form a new construct shield but the drones down it at once and my construct ram isn't quite fast enough to destroy it while it's phased in. Fine then. I can still track them, they can't move as fast as my constructs can and they don't appear to have-.

    We see the Scarab Warrior prepare to fire, and move-.

    There's a sudden burst of heat along the armour of my right shoulder.

    That wasn’t a construct disruptor. That was… Ring?

    Weapon was positron ray.

    Partially deflected by my armour's force field and it still burned a line across my shoulder. Positron beams aren't light speed weapons, but at this range they're close enough for most purposes. This armour isn't rated against Scarab Warrior-level opponents.

    A drone prepares to fire but I ignore it. I'm not doing badly for ring power, but I can't afford to just throw it-

    The drone fires, hitting me in the chest-. And with an awkward gasp I realise that it just shut down my environmental shield and I'm having to breathe normally.

    I-.

    Ophidian?

    Oh dear.

    I don't know if they're going to fire but I'm going to evade anyway and-. Good choice! Re-establish contact and re-activate my environmental shield and there we go.

    That was terrifying and dodge again and try and hit them with a laser construct which we drop a fraction of a second after it fires to stop the drones hitting it with their counter fire.

    I don't think that the laser hit, but it wasn't that powerful a laser and to be honest the Scarab Warrior's self-repair system could easily handle it even if it did hit.

    The scarab…

    We reach out and restore our light to the host, and twist the desires of the parasite so that it actively wants to be inactive. We're not sure how much mental freedom scarabs have to disobey their hierarchy. Certainly, they haven't ever been slow to throw themselves at Maltus-aligned forces, but that might just be a combination of hate and arrogance programmed into them to ensure that they would always remain friendly to Reach interests.

    Of course, if the host is Reach-loyal, that won't help. Or at least won't make me win. But A.I.s are a lot faster at well defined tasks than organics, so it might slow their shared reactions a little.

    Dodge, dodge, miss with a hammer, miss with a laser, and the Scarab has stayed in its phased state for a little longer than it needs to. Waiting for an opportunity or grateful that it has agency again? Can't tell.

    So okay, no subspace, and the sternguard have actually started accelerating in this direction. It looks like it'll take them a few minutes to reverse their momentum, but while a Scarab Warrior might be manageable without long lasting constructs an actual fleet isn't.

    Can't access subspace, and blocking access is a lot easier than breaking in. The actual physics are well beyond me, so-. So I can't force my way through the block reliably. I mean, I can try to steal my own things because I did scan the device that the Sivanas used-.

    Not reliable.

    So.

    Formation there, warp space and accelerate! Energy to matter transmutation would take too long. Use x-ionised blades to carve sheets off armour. Not big sheets, but-.

    And a drone hit me with its ray and I'm alone in my own head again. It's only for seconds but the Ophidan's absence chills me to my soul.

    Re-establish, and-. Well, that's tiny, but it'll do for now. X-ionise-

    "What a fascinating-"

    -and block, making sure to let go as the beam is intercepted and grasp it again once the drone falls back into its phased state.

    "-technique."

    "Thank-"

    The Scarab Warrior is doing… Something, and it and the drones are moving to catch up with me. I use a ring scan to try and determine exactly what's different about this sort of phasing, but I don't get anything that means anything to me.

    "-you."

    Okay, construct scanner. Get me more detail. Work out what's happening there.

    Compliance.

    Block-block and calculate, and take back a small amount of my hate for normal physics and fly that way. Tricky to judge, but if I-.

    Report available.

    And I'm sure that Dox will find it fascinating, but is any of it actionable?

    Yes.

    Okay, that's good-. Or… Not. At least that explains how it blocked my access to subspace. A phased object -probably the scarab itself- is somehow keeping the rest in subspace. Or.. something like that. I think the ring is dumbing it down for me. So a phasic round could in theory hit the scarab, but those are fairly small targets and not exactly fragile. How the drones are managing… Slaved to the scarab? Fine, except I have no-.

    Ring, keep-

    Block and dodge, because the Scarab Warrior appears to have spotted that something is up and is shooting at us a lot more. We frantically alternate between interposing our small x-ionised plates and normal construct shields as we struggle to sniff out-.

    For a moment the Scarab Warrior fully emerges into normal space. My laser hits it at once, but it forms a shield to prevent me hitting anywhere fragile and reconfigures… Something, before vanishing again with only trivial damage.

    Looks like I can't just replicate Thaddeus and Georgia's trick and steal the body from subspace. Which is a shame, because a Scarab Warrior without a scarab probably can't self-terminate.

    Alright, vector's good, scarab is as off its game as it gets. Let's try this again. I-.

    Drones shoot at the same time as the scarab, anti-construct shots pass through the space where my construct shield would have gone if I hadn't opted to evade instead. Somewhere deep in Reach space their creator may be pleased that the function they designed into them worked as desired. We manoeuvre again and attempt to acquire the subspace band being used by the scarab to hide in, and-.

    Drones firing constantly, the Scarab phases in and resets again. We calculate and use our body to shield our gravity manipulator construct as we bend space just-.

    Ugh, hit again. But did it-

    The Scarab Warrior phases out and-

    -work-.

    -reappears immediately, spinning out of control where the phasic round I fired earlier intersected with their scarab implant. The drones materialise at once and I-.

    They melt, their self-destruct systems consuming any technology I could have recovered.

    Now for the Ascendants.
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2022
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st January 2013
    20:54 GMT


    I sigh as I register the Reach fleet moving into orbit around Karrakan. I might be able to reach them before they kill everything on the surface, but… I… Don't think so. They could do enough damage to make the planet even more hellish than it already is, and if the locals aren't going to cooperate then I wouldn't be able to rescue them-.

    Alright, it would technically be possible to seize a ship and put them there, but given the description Thiva gave me I don't think I really want them to get hold of a top of the line warship. Shame about the regular people but I doubt that the Reach are interested in them.

    "Orange Lantern to the-."

    "How did you manage that?"

    "I'm pretty good at this whole Lanterning thing. And because you used your new technique on me, I'm going to be passing on my information into the rest of the Corps."

    "You think that you learned more than we did?"

    "Bored now, hanging up."

    Hung up.

    Ring, signal the ships in the flotilla chasing the Ascendants.

    Compliance.

    And message to Thiva.

    "Illustres?"

    "Sorry for the delay, they sicced an upgraded Scarab Warrior on me. I'm heading towards your pursuers now."

    "How are you able to travel at faster than light speed?"

    "I can overpower the Reach's gravity manipulation over a small area. Hard work though, and it's draining my power reserves faster than I'd like."

    "Can you move our ships like that?"

    "I.. don't think so, and I haven't examined the boundary."

    "Then we will-. Do you want our warships to turn around and fight the Reach beside you?"

    I take a moment to consider the relatively small Reach squadron pursuing them, and the slightly larger number of ships pursuing me. I don't know whether they're equipped with construct disrupters or not… But even if they are, ships of that size aren't anything like as agile as Scarab Warriors.

    "Are the passengers all loaded on the transport ships, or are they just sort of packed in anywhere there's space?"

    "When the Reach arrived, we just rushed to get everyone aboard-."

    "Then keep evading them."

    Communication from Reach vessels.

    Good show. Hang up, answer.

    Compliance.

    "Hello there. I'm the Lantern chasing you."

    "Ah. I had hoped that our Beetle was just carrying your rings."

    "Sorry, no such skill. So listen, my record at killing Reach ships is really good."

    "My record at killing agents of the Darkstars is similarly good."

    "Which would be good for you… If I was a Darkstar. Ever killed a Lantern?"

    There's no response.

    "So I don’t know exactly how the Reach handle personal initiative and impossible situations, but as I see it the problem is like this: your objective is to collect samples of Ascendant biology and technology. And I do mean collect, not scan. It's too different to things your people are familiar with for a few long ranged scans to do much good. Now, there are only wrecks left of their habitation platforms and not a lot of advanced stuff on the planet itself. These ships are valuable."

    "Yes."

    "Except… You can't. I'm going to catch up with you before you're in optimal weapons range. Your own sensors can confirm that."

    "Assuming that you can keep up your pace."

    "Assuming that I can keep up this pace, and not go faster. So given that you can't reliably cripple the ships you're chasing before I reach you, do you think that you can beat me?"

    "Yes."

    Hm.

    "I've got no reason to fly past you, which means that it's rear-facing weapons only. You're nothing like as manoeuvrable as me, your maximum acceleration is less and you know that my weapons can destroy your ships."

    "And?"

    "And, if I destroy you, then you won't be able to fulfil your mission. So what I'm going to suggest is, your turn off and fly away, and so preserve your ships and personnel. You'll fail your mission, but once the Scarab Warrior failed to tie me up for longer that was a given. The only issue is whether your ships survive or not. Though I.. suppose that the information your side gathers on my destructive abilities might be worth something. I can't judge how the two things balance for you."

    No response, though the channel is still open.

    "Now, in other circumstances I might quite like to destroy this fleet. But as I understand it, you're just here for information to help you fight Grayven. I'd actually quite like you to learn more about fighting New Gods, which -unusually- means that it's in my interests to let you go. I wouldn't exactly be choked up about having to kill you all, but it's not my primary aim."

    Still no response.

    "I'm nearly in effective weapons range. If you want to take the offer, I'm going to need to hear something… Now."

    The warp terminates, and… Ah. It's like a weight has been lifted from my metaphysique-. Which raises the worrying question as to whether or not I'd have been able to do this in a thaumically dead system. Or… Whether we would.

    I should… Probably get a new medical exam.

    "I'm afraid that I'm-"

    I form a new giant cold gun.

    "-going to need to rush-."

    BOOM! INEXORABLE ASCENT!

    Uh…

    A boom tube has opened in the area of the Ascendants' former base, and I see Grayven's flagship fly through.
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2022
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st January 2013
    20:57 GMT


    I narrow my eyes slightly as the central Reach dreadnought's mid section is vaporised, the colossal beam of energy working its way back towards the Absolute Dominion's hyper blaster. RUINATION!

    Heh.

    "Ring, message to the Absolute Dominion: go get 'em, Grayven."

    Other, smaller ships fly through the boom tube behind the Dominion. And… Those aren't gordanian ships. They're… More like what the Ascendants use, which makes perfect sense given the source. And they'll probably have-.

    Was… Sparta talking complete nonsense about the state of Karrakan's surface? Was it actually fine and he was-? No, Thiva would have checked-.

    "Ring, get me Thiva again."

    Compliance.

    "Holy Grandmother. Illustres, can you feel that? His… Power. Who is that?"

    "That's Grayven, Sparta's sponsor. And I'm afraid that I can't-"

    A second dreadnought is hit, its central section disintegrated, fore and aft drifting apart with surprising gentleness as the Reach fleet starts to try to reposition itself. RUINATION!

    "-feel it as I'm not a god myself. I've got to ask: how much effort did you put in to trying to rescue people from Karrakan?"

    "I don't understand."

    "You see that the ships accompanying Grayven's flagship are very similar to the ones you're using? He had to get Ship Masters from somewhere."

    "I spoke to several myself. Or-. I tried to. They would not hear me."

    "Did they know that you were allied with Sparta? Or that Sparta had been overthrown? Because they might have turned you away for that reason."

    "I didn't ask. I just…"

    "Right, fine. He might be willing to take you on; if that's something you're interested in it would probably be best if you contacted him directly. Otherwise, I'm betting on him over the Reach, so we should be out of here soon."

    "If he wishes to speak with us, he can come to New Othrys."

    "I've got a suspicion he will. Ring, add the Reach ships in front of me to the channel."

    "Compliance."

    "So I'm guessing that you're getting new orders about now."

    Their primary weapons open fire on the Ascendants. It's at the very limits of its effective range and New God shielding is very good, but the intent is clear.

    "Yes. We are to deny Grayven all resources, no matter the cost."

    "That's a real shame."

    End. And fire.

    The cold beam lances out, hitting the Reach ship closest to the Ascendants. Since I'm close enough not to worry about needing to warp space to make it hit, the beam is continuous. The ship I hit is completely enveloped with a beam of unceasing physics-violation. The armour seems to shrink in on itself as it dissolves into fragments, the interior freezing solid. Something I can identify because whatever they use to disrupt ring scans appears to have been one of the things I just destroyed.

    "Would you care to reconsider? Think about the needs of the whole of the Reach, not just the local theatre."

    Near Karrakan the more agile Reach ships are in full retreat, trying to get to the far side of the planet as the New God ships draw closer. The capital ships-.

    I smile faintly as the last one is torn apart by the Dominion's primary weapon. RUINATION!

    I know it's not an efficient design, but there's something about watching it tear through enemy capital ships that stirs a primal joy in the violent and uncivilised depths of my soul.

    "The Writ is all."

    "I'm sorry to hear that." I switch the cold cannon to the next target and fire. "Thiva, you handling it? Or do you need me to fly closer and shield you?"

    "I think that Grayven's power is fortifying our shields."

    I wince. Looks like he wants to preserve his investment.

    The second ship I targeted comes apart like the first. Three left, and while they're gaining on the Ascendants their weapons aren't doing anything worth talking about to the shields at this distance.

    "Come on, don't you have families to go home to?"

    Nothing. Ring?

    Channel ended.

    Alright, signal the other three ships.

    Compliance.

    "Guys, you're not hurting their shields and I can one-shot your ships. Please give it up. If you're concerned that you'll be punished when you go home, I'll take you prisoner. I'll even let you scuttle your ships first so I can't gain useful intelligence. Please."

    "The Writ is all." / "The Writ is all." / "The Writ is all."

    Darn it.

    I turn my cold cannon to the third ship and fire, watching… Yes, I'm actually saddened by it. These ships aren't an immediate threat to anyone but unless I destroy them and their crews they will become one. What do they think we're-?

    "Has your government told you something about us treating prisoners badly? Because I assure you, it's just a high security prison black site. One round of telepathic interrogation, and then you'll be left to your own devices."

    "No succour. Stop insulting us and kill us."

    I sigh and fire at the second to last ship, which doesn't survive any better than the previous ones. The Ascendants-. They rotate their ships and begin applying thrust to reduce their speed.

    "Thiva, what are you doing?"

    "Helping." Strike!

    Primary fore-mounted weapons from their warships fire, taking a few seconds to hit the last Reach ship in pursuit. Its shields crackle and flex, far better able to cope with nearly-normal weapon fire than the physics-defying wrath of a cold beam. The Reach ship responds by taking hopeful shots with its secondary batteries, but it's clear that's more a sign of their will to resist rather than something they expect to actually achieve anything.
    Slay!
    Another barrage from the Ascendants and their target's shield finally suffers a partial overload, failing and allowing the energetic assault to hit the hull. Again, that survives far better against their shots than it did against the cold beam, but there's never really any doubt-.

    I nod as the front of the ship melts, and the interior is far less resilient that the armour.

    I turn to face my own pursuers. They're still following, but-.

    I stare in astonishment as the giant cold beam I fired at the beginning of the fight slams into the Absolute Dominion.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2022 at 6:38 AM
  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st January 2013
    21:00 GMT


    Ah…

    I kept that up for a while, punctuated by the warp pulses I used to make it hit the Reach ships in a timely manner. The Absolute Dominion has New God shielding and armour and Grayven is powerful, but… The voice we've half-heard sounded like it was more interested in attacking than defending.

    We're a long way from the Absolute Dominion, but I think I can see a slight… Shimmering? Where the cold beam hit. It hasn't ceased firing, though given the smaller size of the remaining targets it's mostly using its secondary turrets rather than the hyper blaster. Using empathic vision-.

    I wince at the uncomfortable backlash from his defences.

    Well. He's still alive, at least.

    The pursuing ships briefly pass between me and the fight around Karrakan.

    Right. Them.

    "Ring, message those ships."

    "Compliance."

    "Reach flotilla, your fleet is being destroyed and I killed these guys. I would respectfully suggest that this isn't the best use of your time, resources and lives. Please, go away."

    I train the giant cold gun on them, making sure that the angle won't take the beam anywhere near Karrakan.

    "I know you've probably got the same orders as the other squadron, but I suspect that the person who gave it is dead, and so it might be time to reassess."

    I wince inside my armour as the second beam hits the Absolute Dominion. It's still firing but it's definitely slowed. The surviving Reach ships are doubling back towards it, trying to minimise the proportion of its guns that can fire on them while allowing them to fire back. The Absolute Dominions escorts are moving to intercept.

    "I am also willing to cooperate on escaping this trap, if that makes more sense to you. Or you can just keep doing what you're doing and I can kill you all. But if I do that… How good is your self destruct? How good is your ability to flash your databases? Can you be certain that we won't get something useful out of your defeat? Because I know that Clarissi Dox will trade quite a lot for the remains of those battleships."

    They're closing, and they're not actually that far from maximum weapons' range. Thiva's warships are moving perpendicular to them, with just enough off-axis movement to serve as an evasive flight path.

    "Come on, make the intelligent choice. I know your effective ranges as well as you-."

    "Can you return us to Karrakan?"

    "Not while your interdiction field is active. And I doubt that Grayven will turn his off. If you want my help turning around, I can do that and give you a boost. Bit of a change of tune."

    "Our Unifier is dead and the Negotiator is out of contact. In this situation-."

    "Fine, I'll believe you." I dismiss my cold gun cannon. "Power down your weapons and position them at neutral, and I'll approach."

    "Wait."

    They don't try to reverse thrust, but they do begin rotating in space with the aim of turning their drive this way. Their weapons… Some return to their gunports, others turn to face along the hull of the ship.

    "Is this what we want?"

    I rotate in space and arm-shrug in the direction of Thiva's ship, and switch channel to reply to her only.

    "If my enemies want to kill each other, who am I to stop them?"

    And… Oh. Some of the Absolute Dominion's guns have stopped firing. Its escorts are swarming any ship that makes an attack run, taking visible damage themselves to keep their overlord safe. And the cold beam is still hitting… I'm not sure how. Yes, I moved it to keep it on the projected location of the dreadnoughts I was aiming at, but the Absolute Dominion only entered that cone by chance-.

    Or did it? My use of gravity manipulation to alter the course of my phasic rounds was passably clever but not really innovative as space combat amongst species with gravitational manipulation technology goes. The current state of this system shows how good the Reach are at things like that. And they certainly have FTL sensors; they would know where the shot was going.

    And of course, Grayven's force isn't like N.E.M.O.. If they kill me or Dox or Hinon, N.E.M.O. keeps going. Grayven is the driving force behind his faction's attack on the Reach. I doubt that the Citizenry would be prepared to follow whoever succeeds him as clan chief, or that the Ascendants would follow either.

    Or maybe I'm mistaken. If the Darkstars have infiltrated Grayven's forces, they haven't forwarded an intelligence report to me.

    Well, the Reach ships have stowed their guns. Time for me to do my bit.

    We warp, flying towards them with one metaphorical hand on the brake, waiting for them to chance their arms. But, no, they don't, and I can approach to construct distance.

    Oh, that's what the Ascendants were doing. They've grabbed enough Reach wrecks to create a physical barrier between the cold beam and the Absolute Dominion. Whatever the Reach were doing to make the beam hit in the first place, it looks like they can't use it to make the beam turn at right angles. The Absolute Dominion itself… It's accelerating sluggishly as the surviving Reach ships appear to decide that firing at point blank range is their best bet.

    I generate a construct clamp around each of the nearest Reach ships and pull, increasing their turning rate to just apply under their theoretical maximum safe hull stress. No point ripping them up before they arrive. And I keep monitoring their weapons and keep an eye out in case they've decided to send a stealthy Scarab Warrior after me. No, nothing.

    Yet.

    Ships turned and rotation halted, I move along the line, though the ships next to these ones aren't close to one another in the conventional sense. Another series of construct clamps and another careful pulling twist as the first couple of ships I turned around begin accelerating back towards Karrakan. This means that they're currently going backwards, but the rate at which they're going backwards is slowing.

    It's not just me that conventional physics has made its enemy.

    We move down the line, redirecting their ships until they're all facing the right way. Then we draw upon the desires of the crews and of the Reach in general to destroy those who threaten their way of life and give them a little push.

    And there they go, on their merry way, to death or victory. Not sure whether I want Grayven to have killed Unnamed Assimilation Specialist or not. I mean, we've bumped into each other a couple of times but it's not like with Truggs where I actually agree with some of what he's trying to do. There's clearly no way I could rehabilitate him while still leaving any part of his original personality intact. We'd have to start on a new behavioural profile but I'm sure that Dox would live.

    "Illustres to Thiva. I think our best course of action would be to head to the edge of the system and see-."

    Stars shoot overhead as the rest of the universe reappears, another Reach fleet flying in about a third of the way across the system from us and heading for Karrakan.

    "Or that could happen. Can you open boom tubes?"

    BOOM!

    A glowing portal open in front of each of the ships, and I fly towards the closest.

    "Then let's fall back and regroup for now. I'm interested to see what you've done with Minosyss."
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2022
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th February 1992
    12:21 GMT


    "…not a matter of cold feet, oh seraphim of my heart. But there are practical arrangements to make of a type I'm not supposed to tell you about in advance."

    "Ah know ah-." I hear her make a frustrated exhalation. "Did ah come on too strong for ya? Ah know ya'll said-."

    "Seven months' time is more sensible, but if you don't mind besotted-me-who-isn't-making-rational-decisions, I'm more than happy to acquiesce to your request."

    "Since you ain't makin' rational decisions, vanishin' raight aftuh a conversation like that's not a real great way to start a new part of the relationship."

    "Understood, won't happen again."

    "Is it-?" … "Are you lookin' fer a ring?"

    I look down at the rocky shore of Muir Island as I fly over it.

    "Not right now."

    "Ya'll don't have t' fight that Mandarin fellah again on mah behalf."

    "No, but you know that if I don't he's going to turn up at the wedding, and that's just going to be a nuisance."

    "That's awful presumptuous of ya. Ah don't remember ya'll askin' me."

    "Or maybe it's more convenient for us to make him come to us? Sort of a team exercise. And anyway, I need a pair of engagement rings and a pair of wedding rings. That's four rings out of a set of ten, so then there'd be five left over and I don’t like it when the numbers don’t fit."

    "Ah do expect ya'll to ask me."

    "And I'm going to make it as romantic as I can, and also a bit of a surprise, which is why I'm not talking about specifics and definitely not because I'm panicking about not having any real idea how to do it."

    "Yeyah. Ya'll ain't the only feelin' nervous. Lahk I got a whole mess a' butterflies flying around mah insades."

    "I get a tingle in my extremities. A bit like pins and needles, only not as painful, combined with a dreadful sense of apprehension that I'm going to somehow make a tremendous mess of things."

    "Hn. I guess we don’t neither of us know what we're doin'."

    "I'd like to be able to consult with my parents, but…"

    "Oh."

    "Sorry, that was a bit… I'm sure they'd be happy for us, but it would be nice to be able to discuss it with people who'd been married for over thirty years."

    "Ah think ya'll 're gonna do faihn."

    "And I think you will as well. Though I've got a very biased viewpoint." I see the Muir Island research institution up ahead, and fly towards it. "Okay, look, I need to do that thing I can't talk to you about…"

    "An' ah need t' get back on guard duty. See ya'll back at the Mansion. Don't keep me waiting, now."

    "Indeed you will. I love you."

    I tap the ring to end my satellite connection, wrenching my thoughts back onto the job before I drop out of the air. Ah… Orange power rings are not love-friendly. I've been practicing, but… I might have to talk to Scott and Xavier about not getting paired with Anne-Marie on missions if I can't work out a way around it. A couple of other versions of me I met at Vanishing Point appeared to be managing, but from what they said it involved a level of spiritual development I… Just don't have.

    I land at the front doors of the Muir Island laboratory and press the buzzer. Scan shows only one person present, which is what I expected. It might take them-.

    "Who is it?"

    "Orange Lantern. I'd like to speak with you face-to-face if that's at all possible, Doctor Adler."

    "How did you get here?"

    "I flew myself here."

    "Ah. I.. see." There's a klunk as the door is remotely unlocked. "Come in. I'll be down shortly."

    "Thank you."

    I push the door open and stride inside. It's.. not really a reception. This isn't a customer-facing business, it's a laboratory for a mad scientist who very occasionally entertains guests. Largely funded by Mr. Worthington the Third, it's one of the few places where the x-gene is studied because… Between the Friends of Humanity on the one hand and mutant paramilitaries on the other, a remote Scottish island is just about the only place where it's safe to do things like this.

    A door in the corridor swings open, and an Einstein-lookalike walks out to greet me.

    "Orange Lantern. We're not really open to the public here. What exactly do you want?"

    "Your permission to marry your adopted daughter, Ms. Darkhölme-."

    "I don't know who that is-."

    "The real Doctor Adler died on Genosha, which I recently-."

    The plasma bolt hits me in the forehead -ow- and I feel a sharp burning pain as it's only mostly absorbed by my environmental shield. Strengthen that.

    "Please don't-" She fires again, and this time I don't feel it. "-do that. It's irritating, and if it actually worked Anne-Marie would be quite upset." Forehead still hurts, so heal that.

    He studies me for a few moments, then lowers his gun. "How did you find me?"

    I don't say anything, but let my glowing eyes speak for themselves.

    "You want my permission to date Rogue?"

    "No, I want your permission to marry her. Naturally, I'll be hunting down Irene and Kurt for the full reunion, but -and forgive me if I'm being presumptuous here- it seemed to me that you occupied the paternal role in her life."

    "Did she tell you to do this?"

    "No, but I warned her that I wasn't up to making sensible decisions this early in the relationship and that we should probably wait a few months. She wasn't keen, so here we are."

    She stares at me, gradually shifting back to her default blue-woman-in-white-dress form. "Are you rich? Powerful?"

    I shrug. "I'm rich enough that I don't ask how much things cost, and I'm powerful enough to keep up my end of a fight."

    "Do you love her?"

    "Yes."

    "Does your shield work against her power?"

    "Yes, and I found a ring which lets her touch people, so she's not dependent on me."

    She weighs that up for a moment.

    "Then you have my permission."

    "Great, thank you!" I consider hugging her, but decide that would be pushing my luck. "I'll let you know when we've got a date. Um. And please don't get arrested or do anything particularly evil in the meantime, because I know that Anne-Marie still loves you and it would make her upset."

    "Of course not."
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2022 at 8:26 AM
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th February 1992
    13:47 GMT +1


    "Good afternoon!"

    I drop down onto the side of the field where the monks are preparing the ground for spring planting. I get a few shocked stares, but none of them flee in terror or anything. Flying superhumans aren't anything particularly new; the earliest flying superhuman fights in the historical record happened during World War Two and a couple were caught on camera film.

    The monk closest to me looks around for a moment -diffusion of responsibility is a wonderful thing- before smiling awkwardly and coming a little closer.

    "God be with you, stranger. I am Brother Johan. What brings you to our monastery?"

    "I'm looking for a fellow-" Whom I don't look at, whose hood is currently covering his unusual features. "-called Kurt Wagner. I understand that he's a brother here? Ah, sorry if he.. took a new name when he took his vows, I don't.. really know how that works."

    "And what do you want with Brother Kurt?"

    "To invite him to my wedding. I'm getting married to his sister-"

    I see the tip of his tail twitch under his habit, the tension in his frame and the slight gleam as his eyes fix on me.

    "-in a little while, and I wanted to.. check that he could come. I mean, if his vows include staying on-site we can visit later, but it would be nice to have him there. Obviously, I'll cover the costs of travel-."

    "Ah-h…" The monk… No computerised records, yes, so I can't just get his name. He actually looks around at Mr. Wagner, who walks off in the direction of the monastery barn. "I… I will need to speak to Brother Kurt to see if he can be disturbed. Many Brothers like to spend time away from the world in prayer and contemplation."

    I smile and make a small wave with my right hand.

    "I quite understand. If he's occupied, I'll just leave contact details and he can.. write a letter to me or something."

    "Or his sister?"

    "I'm trying to set it up as a surprise for her? I sort of… I'm pretty sure that I'm going to bungle the proposal, so the pleasant surprise is going to have to come from somewhere else, so I thought that I'd track down the whole family and invite them along." I shrug, then we just look at each other for a moment. "So..?"

    He blinks, then nods.

    "Oh, yes, of course. Please, come this way, and I will see if he can speak with you."

    I follow him as he leads the way over the rough ground towards the monastery building. This place is… Well, it's not that remote, not as the crow flies, but with mountains all around I don't imagine that it's high on the priority list for electricity or plumbing.

    So this monk clearly knows who Mr. Wagner is, but I don't know for certain that the rest do. An isolated monastery offering refuge to an abandoned child with an unsightly 'deformity' isn't exactly a new story, and… I remember in The Elenium, where after dealing with corruption in the church hierarchy for most of the story, they encounter a priest in an isolated village who is completely devout and only wants to help the main characters and his parishioners. One of them commented wryly that while he was the sort of person who was suppose to be drawn to the priesthood, he'd probably die if he got put into an actual leadership position that took him away from his flock.

    "I don't believe that you told me your name."

    "Ah. No, I…"

    "I know. Costumed fighters do not use their names." He smiles at me. "When I was a boy, I had a Captain America poster on my bedroom wall."

    "I go by Orange Lantern, but my actual name… I sort of freeze up when I try and say it." But fortunately Mr. LeBeau made me a name badge. I take it out of subspace and hold it up. "You seem like the trustworthy sort."

    "Thank you." He smiles and then opens the side door to the… Main hall. "If you would like to wait here…"

    "Thank you, but that won't be necessary."

    I scan for Mr. Wagner's location and transition there. He's hanging upside down from one of the barn loft's roofing beams, staring at the main doors as he chants prayers and fingers his rosary. I invert myself and stand on the beam next to him.

    "Bit of-" His head jerks around, and his cowl slips off his head. "-a shock."

    He regards me for a moment. "But you are not shocked. You knew what I look like."

    "I've seen a lot of strange things. You're not even top ten. No offence intended."

    "And… My sister. I have a sister."

    "Your natural mother adopted her, yes."

    "You know who my mother is?"

    "Yes. And I've already invited her."

    "And she..? She is like me?"

    "No, she has red hair."

    He blinks, slowly. "No, I mean, she is… She looks…"

    "She has blue skin. No fur though. And she can change her appearance at will." Huh. "So I suppose she might have fur and just never show it."

    "This is… A lot… To take in."

    "Okay, well, I can leave you here to think about it if you like. But if you've got any questions, now seems like a good time to ask them."

    "Do you know my father as well?"

    "Um, no. Sorry. He and your mother had separated before she.. adopted Anne-Marie."

    "But you know who he is."

    "Baron Christian Wagner. German. I.. think he's still alive." I shrug. I don't remember any version of X-Men I watched mentioning his name, because it didn't really matter. 'Sired a child on Mystique, reacted badly to him being a mutant' is his role and that doesn't require him to have a name. But in a real living world there are all sorts of records of things like that.

    "Why was I abandoned? Is it because… I am.. like this?"

    "Basically, yes. Your mother obviously wouldn't have a problem with it, but she's… She… Honestly, I don't know exactly why, but she's a member of a mutant paramilitary organisation and it's hard to bring up a young child in that sort of situation. Ah. Don't know about your father. If you want me to… Sound him out about talking to you, I can go and do that?"

    "A… A paramilitary?"

    "Yes, she's a founding member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Um, though the name is really for the intimidation factor rather than any real commitment to evil as an ideal. That's how she met my girlfriend; Anne-Marie got thrown out of the family home once her abilities manifested."

    "She is… A criminal."

    "She's not… Much worse than people like the Friends of Humanity. And it wasn't that long ago that the American government was sending out giant robots to abduct and imprison people with the X-gene without trial in a clear violation of the American constitution. It's.. not exactly paranoia when a lot of people actually are out to get you."

    "Perhaps… Perhaps it would be best if you told me most about my sister. Or do I have any other brothers or sisters?"



    "None who I'm going to be inviting."
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2022 at 8:53 AM
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th February 1992
    08:51 GMT -5


    Guide dog sniffing cautiously at me from her position next to Irene Adler's legs, the woman herself faces my general direction with a frown on her forehead.

    "I wasn't expecting to speak with you today."

    And though I wouldn't be so gauche as to say it, I was expecting someone younger. Though I.. suppose that with her shapeshifting abilities, it's about as hard to guess Ms. Darkhölme's age as it is Logan's.

    "Okay? I can leave if you want." I frown. "Ah. Does you not expecting to speak to me mean that I've got some sort of protection against prognostication or does it mean that I've inadvertently broken the universe?"

    "I hope that the universe isn't that fragile." She pauses. "But you being here isn't helping. I know that I'm talking to you and I know nothing about this conversation."

    I nod sympathetically. "I feel the same way, most of the time."

    "Hm." She raises her right hand to her chin. "I heard nothing as you walked up the path. You might have been walking quietly, but I can hear your feet moving now. And you rang the bell. The other possibility is that you flew."

    "The second one."

    "Are you here to arrest me? My power doesn't lend itself to combat and I'm an old woman. I'd prefer to come quietly rather than be grabbed by a giant robot."

    I shake my head. "Those aren't a thing anymore. And I can't arrest you unless I see you committing a crime right in front of me."

    "One of Charles' adventurers?"

    "One of his students. A.. mature student, obviously."

    "Your name?"

    The card's no good, because she's blind. I could add the Braille characters to it, but just thrusting something she can't see towards her seems a little rude. "I work under the name 'Orange Lantern'."

    She steps back from her door. "You may as well come in. Try not to make too much of a commotion; I'm too old to keep moving every few years."

    "Thank you." I frown. "I.. thought that your ability allowed you to walk around?"

    She sidesteps around a hall table, a knob-ended cane lying on top of it. I follow her inside and shut the door, her dog coming forward to give me a few sniffs before returning to its mistress's side.

    "It usually does. Anywhere where I will walk, I can look a moment or two ahead and use that to navigate. But with you here, I can't, because as far as my power knows there's no chance of this happening."

    I nod. "And so no chance that you'll be where you are."

    "Not talking to you." She leads the way into the kitchen. "There are any number of things that could cause me to be somewhere else in my own home."

    I nod, glancing at the photographs on the wall. Some of a younger Ms. Adler and Ms. Darkhölme, some of other people I don't recognise. The one that draws my attention is a group picture of the two of them with Anne-Marie. Huh. I don't think she has a copy-.

    "You've stopped. You're looking at the photograph."

    "I was speaking to Ms. Darkhölme a few hours ago."

    "Oh? How is she?"

    "She was in good health. I think she's up to something evil, so I'm doing a three monkeys impression until it becomes overt." Wait a moment. "Don't you know?"

    "I know roughly how well she's likely to be in a variety of situations. It's not the same."

    I suppose that makes sense.

    Inside the kitchen the dog walks over to its basket and flops down, watching its mistress. Ms. Adler picks up her abandoned mug of tea but leaves the newspaper where it is. Because she doesn't need to read it -she can't- but she can look into any future where she might read it and read it there.

    "Well? What brought you here?"

    "I read up on your file in Professor Xavier's records. I understand that you were going blind before your ability manifested?"

    "That doesn't mean that my precognition didn't cause my blindness, just that it manifested first."

    "If you like, I can give you a brain scan more accurate than anything available to human medicine. If it was a side effect or unrelated, it's easy for me to fix."

    "Did Charles finally find a mutant healer?"

    "Sorry, I don't have an x-gene. And I can only heal certain people. But in your case it's a service I'm happy to provide."

    "And why am I part of the elect?"

    "I'm Anne-Marie's boyfriend, and I'm here to invite you to our wedding."

    I see the tea in her mug shake slightly, so she puts it down on the work surface.

    "I didn't see that coming, either."

    "No?"

    "If anyone, I was expecting Gambit."

    I frown. "Really? He didn't seem like the type."

    "It wasn't likely. And you invited Raven."

    "And Kurt."

    "Kurt-? Did you tell Raven you were inviting him?"

    "Yes. She didn't really react, but… I suppose that given how long it's been since she had anything to do with him, that.. may just be awkward for her rather than-."

    "I wouldn't assume that." She looks thoughtful for a moment. "How long have the two of you been together?"

    "About three months. I wanted to.. wait a little longer. She.. emphatically didn't. Um, Professor Xavier managed to transfer Carol Danvers' personality back into her so that's not an issue any more, and when she woke up she didn't seem to really remember Anne-Marie, so we… Probably got away with that."

    "It was necessary."

    I raise my right index finger. "It was probably necessary. I understand that sometimes you miss consequences."

    "That's true." She nods. "And if I can't see you at all, then everything that I thought I knew about her future could be wrong."

    "I love the Seldon Plan, and so does my good friend The Mule. But I'm not going to complain because if you hadn't done that I might not have met her. She might have stayed with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants-."

    "It was supposed to be in apostrophes."

    "I'm sorry?"

    "'Evil Mutants'. A place for those cast out of polite society because they were different and so of course they were evil. Creed took it as a challenge." She shakes her head with a grimace. "I've got no idea what she saw in him."

    "Okay, but can you come?"

    "Do you have a date?"

    "I haven't actually asked her yet. Um. Do you have..? Any advice on..? How to go about that?"

    "Oh good grief."
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2022 at 10:10 AM
  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st January 2013
    21:06 GMT


    "Orange Lantern." Athyns sounds like he's in good health, though something of the timbre he had while using the Seeds is missing. Hopefully that's been resolved by… Whatever this civilisation is now calling itself. "What brings you here?"

    I hang back slightly as the Ascendants' ships fly in the direction of New Chronos. The damage has long since been repaired, and… It looks like they've expanded the docks. Asteroids have been dragged into near-Minosyss orbit to be taken apart by new orbital stations, and I can detect the network of interdiction fields and detection networks.

    "Bit of a problem in Karrakan's system. The Reach attacked, and then Grayven attacked them."

    "Thiva?"

    Her ships are heading towards New Chronos at high speed. I… Hm. There's one advanced settlement very visible on the surface. I didn't ever find out how good the New Titans' building technology was. It seems to me that they'd probably do what the New Gods of New Genesis do: keep all advanced technology and magic up in 'Supertown' and leave the rest as a primitive wasteland. But it looks like they've decided to actually do something with the local people. That'll be useful.

    In a generation or two.

    "It is as he says. Everything we built there has been destroyed, and Grayven and the Reach are fighting over Karrakan itself. Grayven has Ascendants among his followers."

    "Lantern, while I appreciate your work in reuniting my people, we are not your allies in your war with the Reach."

    "I understand that. I'm just accompanying these ships, and I'll clear off if you want."

    "Grayven was trading with Sparta. He had Ascendants serving him."

    "I couldn't feel their influence myself, but the ships were of a design to require that."

    "Thiva, take the ship carrying Grandmother Rhea's remains to the surface at once. We will prepare for Grayven's arrival. The rest will dock with New Chronos."

    "Yes, Athyns."

    "Orange Lantern, we… I, have no wish to join your war. On any side."

    "I'm glad to hear it."

    "I have been expecting you to attempt to recruit us."

    "The Controllers will feel obliged to Minosyss. This is the first time we've encountered Grayven since his declaration of war. Without us having an immediate need to fight New Gods, they felt that it was better to leave you be."

    "Why haven't either of them approached us?"

    "Not sure. I'd guess that Grayven already has a… Excuse the phrasing, 'breeding population' of Ascendants, and so doesn't need you, and the Reach… Probably hasn't heard of you. Depending on whether or not they capture anyone on the surface, they may not find out even now."

    "But they knew of Karrakan."

    "Yes, but… With the L.E.G.I.O.N. ships that have been flying through it, it's perfectly possible that they just knew that we were interested in it."

    "I don't think that is why they were there." Thiva certainly sounds dubious. "That was a great many ships for an investigation."

    "It would also work as a trap for me. What they did to lock us in the system, that's not what their usual system interdiction devices look like."

    Oh. Ring, update Controller Hinon.

    Compliance.

    "So if the Reach kill Grayven, there's no real reason for them to come here even if they know here exists. If they don't, and you don't ally with Grayven, there shouldn't be any problem."

    "And if they decide that they do not want to take a risk?"

    "You're not part of the conflict. You could.. call in the Green Lantern Corps. Them picking a fight with you would violate their treaty. If they limit themselves to sieging the system, you could bypass that with boom tubes, or… Just… Not? Did you feel an urgent need to go elsewhere?"

    "No. And we will not for quite some time. Having them picket our system wouldn't really impede our work here."

    "So that's a perfectly fine result. Of course, if Grayven turned up… He can probably track boom tubes, and Sparta would almost certainly have been sharing information with him."

    "What will he demand?"

    "I don't know. He was fairly hands-off with Sparta, but he might have expected her to declare her allegiance after she won. Or he might have been satisfied with the service of those Ascendants who wanted to work for him. Or he might just have wanted the Sun Eaters to use against the Reach."

    "How much success has he had against them?"

    "We don't.. really know. The thing is… N.E.M.O. has incorporated as many of the worlds on the periphery of Reach space as we can. We've been in contact with literally all of them. Grayven's personal followers are gordanians, from the Vega Systems. But they're not going home to recruit new soldiers. So where are his shipyards? Where is he getting raw materials from?"

    "The ships of the Ascendants can self-repair."

    "Sure, but with no raw materials for the repair systems? And… Major damage? There weren't any reports of him using ships like his Ascendant captains are using before now. Where is he building them? Is he capturing worlds at all, or just fighting like the tau?"

    "Please explain."

    "N.E.M.O.'s aim in the early stage of the war is to take back worlds that have native populations on them so that we can remove whatever mind control the Reach used on them. If the Reach fleet in the area pulls back, we'll probably let it go because killing Reach citizens isn't our specific aim. For the tau, the objective is the enemy. Grayven isn't trying to save anyone. Yes, he probably wants to take Reach territory and industry, but if he doesn't need it to maintain his current fleet, then he might just be treating Reach fleets as his objective and going after them."

    "Do you know what he would do if we went to his aid?"

    "No. The gordanians I spoke to seemed perfectly happy being ruled by him, so I doubt that he's a particularly bad tyrant. He might expect you to kneel at once, or he might treat it as a favour."

    "How would you take it?"

    "Honestly, we'd be happy for Grayven to take the entire core of Reach territory. We just want the bits around the edge so that we can restore them to the species who lived there before the Reach wiped them out. We'd much rather make common cause than fight him."

    "Why didn't he agree?"

    "I don't know. Maybe he felt like he needed to look strong and independent. Or maybe he plans to conquer us as well. A lot of the species who signed up with N.E.M.O. were fairly sure that Maltus would be treating them like vassals, but they did it anyway because at least that meant that someone had a plan for fighting the Reach."

    "Would our position be weakened by aiding him?"

    "It will piss off the Reach and eliminate your defence under their treaty with the Green Lantern Corps."

    "I need more information."

    "It's usually helpful."

    "I thank you for your counsel. Please, come to New Othrys. I want to show you what we've made here."
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2022 at 7:11 PM
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st January 2013
    21:22 GMT


    New Othrys has an interesting mix of styles.

    The weapon and shield emplacements might as well have just been ripped off the Ascendants' warships. I see the classical New God tron lines combined with materials… Materials that are easier to produce when you're a technologically primitive but magically powerful civilisation. I wonder if that's something Grayven shared with them or something that they developed based on his guidance? Or something Rhea showed them how to make?

    The 'God Buildings' are much the same, but the rest of the city… Reminds me of Themyscira City. Primitive materials used to make something that was planned out far better than a naturally occurring primitive city would be. Wide thoroughfares paved with stone or brick because they can't make tarmac or an equivalent, or can't make it in sufficient quantities or can't make it here. Anti-gravity floaters serve as cranes for the building works while animal-drawn carts are used to move raw materials. Even under the guidance of well-intentioned incarnate gods, it would have taken several generations to make a noticeable change to the lives of the natives using novel technology; even a relatively sparsely populated planet like this just has too many people on it, and too many logistics systems that can be snarled up if you rush things.

    "How are the locals taking all of this?"

    I hear Athyns exhale. "One group of alien gods are much the same as another. Our beliefs and theirs are similar enough that nothing… New needed to be added to the doctrine we were promulgating."

    "'Ours' and 'theirs' in the context being..?"

    "The followers of the gods and the followers of Sparta."

    "What does your theology look like at the moment?"

    "We have demonised Sparta, and accepted the other descendants of Rhea as equivalent to me. With the gods… Not presently available to lead us, we have taken more prominent roles."

    "'Not presently available'?"

    Ahead of me, the warship I've been following docks with the upper level of the central tower. It clearly isn't a shipyard, and as far as I can tell they aren't bothering to construct ships on the planet's surface.

    "This world is thick with magic. And even in death, Rhea's remains will strengthen that link."

    "You're going to try resurrecting them using the seeds?"

    "Not… Precisely. I heard what you and Melinoë said concerning the nature of divine magic. That they-"

    Ah.

    "-would-."

    "You're going to dump the seeds in the local thaumosphere."

    "Yes. The process will be guided by members of the Ascendancy. The aim is to allow their consciousnesses to expand and draw power while still remaining coherent."

    "Yes… I mean, in theory that could work. The local thaumosphere is relatively blank, so you could just imprint them on it-. In fact, that should allow you to draw more power into Minosyss."

    "I didn't know that."

    "N.E.M.O. has a number of magicians in its employ who could assist your study, even without an alliance."

    "No party to the war who knew they were here would believe that."

    "Then I should be able to find people not a party to the conflict who could help."

    "If the Reach have been fighting Grayven, do you think that they have learned to detect boom tubes?"

    "Um. Within their own territory? Probably. They give off plenty of gravitational waves that can be detected. Here?"

    I have the ring open a map of the region inside my mind.

    "I… Doubt it, unless they've got equipment specifically designed to pick it up pointed this way that we haven't detected. On the other hand, I didn't know about their system bottling technique."

    "If the thaumosphere comes alive, we will be able to defend this world from any force that Grayven or the Reach will be able to spare. And we will be able to improve this world far more easily than we can now."

    "As… Far as I can work out… Even if you don't get exactly what you want, using the seeds in that way should improve your position."

    "Are you willing to review our work?"

    "I am, but I'm not a practitioner. I can't do much more than confirm that it could work."

    "What of the Ophidian?"

    "I… Think we'd be able to tell whether it was likely to work in more detail, but the Ophidian has a strong presence herself. We might throw things off just by being there."

    "Or you might make it stronger."

    A-ah…

    "You're really getting to the limit of what I'm competent to comment on. I think that could happen, but I also think it would cause the entire thaumosphere to become Ophidian-flavoured. And Grayven will almost certainly be able to feel that. His flagship's main gun makes an excellent ground-strike weapon."

    "Still, I would like you to give me your opinion."

    "Alright, I'll do what I can. Where do you want me?"

    "Go to the ship."

    I fly across the city and up towards the top of the tower. Gunships and a group of Ascendants in raiment that resembles New God armour fly around or wait in the air to respond to any threat as…

    Thiva leads the way out of the ship, Ascendant pallbearers carrying a stone sarcophagus in solemn precession. The… Sarcophagus-.

    I blink as it seems to expand in my vision, becoming… More. We feel the universe bend around-.

    A pallbearer blocks my vision for a moment and I turn away. I think I can see where the stuff about gods building worlds from the remains of titans comes from. I take a moment to obscure my vision and follow on behind the convoy on foot at a respectful pace, shifting from my armour to my formal robes.

    Artificially boosting a thaumosphere…

    That has potential. I'm sure that there are plenty of pantheons on Earth who wouldn't mind the option to go their own way. If we assigned one to each planetoid in the system, it could really help with colonising the Sol system. Not sure what it would do for other places. Unless we could find other titan corpses? Keeping the truly malevolent ones in Tartarus doesn't seem like a sensible long term plan to me, and Zeus isn't in charge to require their use as batteries any longer. Then there's whatever was happening with that Mother Star. I still don't really understand what it was trying to show me. Does it have enough presence to serve a similar purpose?

    We pass through a protective ward around the tower's exterior and then inside into the building proper. The corridor is wide and relatively long, and a cautious scan shows some very heavy duty shield generators in compartments around the walls. Personally, I'd have been inclined to build the vital equipment closer to ground level, but I suppose there might be a New God-related reason for this-.

    This design.

    Similar stone sarcophaguses are arrayed around the room in a circle, with a central space reserved for Rhea herself. The seeds are placed on pedestals around that bier, with Athyns himself ready to officiate as her sarcophagus is respectfully lowered into place.

    We immediately feel the pull as the room becomes more real.
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2022 at 8:24 AM
  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st January 2013
    21:26 GMT


    My eyes immediately move to Athyns, to see if he felt that as well. From the slightly ragged breath I just saw him take, it appears that the answer is yes. And for a moment I have a flashback to the Reaper mission in Mass Effect 2.

    'A god - a real god - is a verb. Not some old man with magic powers. It's a force. It warps reality just by being there. It doesn't have to want to. It doesn't have to think about it. It just does.'

    I don't think that's true, but it never occurred to me to see if the water that once made up Oceanus's body has any anomalous properties. So many fascinating topics, so little time.

    "Everyone else felt that, right?"

    Athyns has himself back under control, but the other Ascendants are… Small twitches, tensing facial muscles and clenching fists. I don't know their species well, but that looks like physical displacement activity for dealing with stress. For a moment Thiva looks like she's going to respond, then she looks at Athyns for permission.

    He nods. "We did. The shape of the world changed."

    "I don't know Karrakan society well. How much contact did you have with Rhea's material remains?"

    Because in the normal run of things… I mean, if she were a normal woman, Rhea's soul would be in Karrakan's thaumosphere. Unless the place was thaumically dead, in which case it would stay put until it got here. But if her body incarnating made it a manifestation of her soul… Does she just stay… Recumbent? Unalive?

    We need to find some minor gods no one will miss.

    "I visited them in her temple, once. Thiva?"

    "Sparta closed the inner part of the temple off when she took over. This is.. the closest I've come."

    She looks around, but none of the other Ascendants appear to have had any contact either. I try scanning through the sarcophagus, but my scan is defeated. Don't know if it was by the sarcophagus itself or by Rhea's magic.

    "Okay, I just need to do something before we go any further." I fly back through the entrance. "Back in a minute."

    Back into the sky, and up I go. Transitioning somewhere like this -particularly when we're going to mess around with the local thaumosphere- wouldn't be a good idea. But I can fly bloody quick when properly motivated. And as I go I begin using my rings to fabricate a suspended animation pod, manoeuvring thrusters and a new adult clone body for myself. Okay, out of the atmosphere, and looking at my own inanimate face like this stopped being strange after the second time. Add a beacon so that no one flies into it, and my spare ring in case I need to go into action right away. Make sure that it's got the velocity to stay in orbit for at least a few days… Yes, good.

    And I fly down, barely bothering to consider my surroundings other than to make sure that I don't cause destructive shockwaves. Back into the building…

    "Sorry about that."

    Athyns dismisses some sort of holographic display.

    "Does your species have an urge to reproduce before going into danger?"

    "Ah… More aggressive personality types tend to also be assertive in social situations-. Oh, no, that was just me putting a backup body at minimum safe distance. In the event of my physical destruction there's a good chance that I'll be able to transfer my soul into it." I shrug. "Just in case."

    "Can anyone do that?"

    "It was a pure chance thing when I did it the first time, and for obvious reasons I haven't practiced. It rather depends on me being drawn to the replacement body rather than the planet's thaumosphere." I frown. "I think there's an Apokoliptian called Baron Bedlam who does something similar, though he can animate a lot more bodies at once than I can."

    I nod at the sarcophagus.

    "Was that feeling in line with your predictions?"

    "We knew that something would happen. We didn't know quite what it would feel like. Still, this was proof of concept."

    "You..? Wait, did Sparta explain how any of this worked to anyone?"

    Thiva looks down. "Enough to use it or repair it. I don't think that she knew much more herself. She directed us to learn as much as we could and share what we learned, but there… She didn't intend to build anything like this. She just wanted the seeds for herself, to… Prove that she was the most favoured daughter of Rhea."

    Our eyes flicker as we try to determine if there was any major… Damage? To the local thaumosphere. We can't see anything, but in our duality we are aware of how limited our facility in that field is. There is something disquieting to that idea, a disquiet we do not feel as the Ophidian or as the Illustres. Should we not possess all capacities? Are we not a universal titan, unlimited to mere planetary thaumospheres as we exist in the orange light?

    "Okay, so what's next?"

    Athyns gestures to the Ascendants around the room, and they move to take their positions sitting in a meditative posture between the Titans and their seeds. Thiva takes the role of Phoebe, while Athyns himself moves closer to the sarcophagus. I suppose that except possibly Sparta herself he's the oldest and most powerful, so that makes sense.

    Tron lines glow and shimmer faintly as whatever magic they're using starts working, and it's like the floor has dropped out from under us, a falling sensation in the pit of our stomachs.

    But-. But off-putting as it is, nothing appears to be going wrong. Other… Than the Ascendants corresponding to Hyperion and Theia developing a plasma corona. Huh. And as I look, the others develop coronas themed after their titans as well. Makes sense, though I don't know if that's coming from the seeds or from the corpses-.

    I feel a moment of disquiet. I can understand Athyns not really wanting to try resurrecting them, but it… They weren't all narcissists. Arrogant, yes, but they were actual gods surrounded by mortals. They were objectively superior to most of them. But if they were successful in resurrecting some, those would inevitably want to resurrect the rest, and… That would almost certainly lead to another fight. This isn't a terrible compromise.

    Athyns lays his hands on the sarcophagus.

    "Grandmother."

    We feel-. Yes, the whole room, it's becoming… The arcane aspect is being intensified is the purely material world, causing a sort of hyper-reality as the thing and the idea of the thing become one, but it's all around-.

    My eyes shoot to the ceiling as we feel something alien to the system appear.

    "Athyns, I-."

    "I felt it too. We cannot be interrupted in our work. I feel… We can do this. It will be difficult-."

    "Who has government authority to speak when you're not there?"

    "Talk is free. Pontico has seniority on New Chronus."

    "Right. I'll try getting rid of them. Let me know the moment you're finished."

    I walk out of the chamber, careful not to step on the tron lines. As I go, normal reality begins intruding, and the disquiet I felt when it started is nothing to what it feels to leave it.

    "Illustres to Pontico. Who have we got?"
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2022 at 1:22 PM
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