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

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

  1. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
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    Earth 534834

    8th February 1992
    23:43 GMT +3

    Ororo looks up as I approach, standing watch over the floodlight-lit beach. People appear to have mostly tried to get back to their holiday. A quick scan shows that most of the staff have been allowed to return to work… Well, it's not like this was a democracy. Either they didn't have any say on what was going on, or they're intelligent enough to know which way the wind has already blown.

    I smile as a group of parents try to keep their curious adolescent offspring away from the remains of a crashed robot.

    "Things settled down here?"

    "Yes, though we have failed to make any progress on deciding what to do with the nation."

    "Is that really our job?" I shrug. "We can ferry home everyone who wants to leave and… Hand over everyone in the government who thought that slavery was a good idea to the Hague or something, but beyond that… Is it our job to impose a particular government on Genosha?"

    "It is not. But there are risks which come with overthrowing a government, and I would spare these people its consequences."

    "Oh, I know. They don’t actually teach us about The Partition of India in British schools, but they probably should." Oh. "Um, funny thing…"

    "From the way you are expressing yourself, I suspect that it is not."

    "Have I ever told you that you speak really good English? Especially considering your background."

    "I think that it would be better if you told me your concern."

    "I bumped into Magneto and told him about Genosha. Honestly, he seemed more worried about the fact that he had two children he didn't know about, but… He might end up heading this way."

    "And he will do to the unpowered humans what they did to the mutants."

    "Not necessarily. There's far less advantage in enslaving baseline humans than there is in enslaving humans with powers. And… It's not like Genosha has been settled all that long. He wouldn't be kicking people out of their ancestral homeland or anything."

    "In the future, please avoid passing information about our missions to our enemies."

    I nod. "Will do."

    She smiles faintly. "In your travels, were you able to find the courage to propose to Rogue?"

    "Courage wasn't exactly the problem. But Scott helped me see that I was overthinking it. Do you know where Anne-Marie is?"

    "I believe that she has retired for the evening."

    "Okay, so, I'm not a woman-."

    "Please do not ask me for relationship advice."

    Yeah, she's right. If she didn't want to wait six months then she's not going to worry about making a decision fully awake. I can-.

    Ororo sighs.

    "Um, if you want relationship advice from me-?"

    "I do not. My powers are tied to my emotional state. Becoming attached to anyone in such a way would put all those around me in dire peril."

    "Seriously, your English is amazing. If the superhero things doesn't work out, you should consider qualifying as an English teacher. But I also think that living without attachment is a half-life, and that it's probably something you could learn to adapt to."

    "Thank you, but I do not believe that it is worth the risk."

    "Becoming a teacher isn't that hard."

    I keep a straight face as she stares at me, unamused. I'd make a reference to the Jedi, but Phantom Menace doesn't exist yet so the whole 'no attachments' thing hasn't entered the public consciousness, if it's even a thing at all in canon yet. I don't remember Luke Skywalker hesitating to engage in romance in the old Star Wars novels I read.

    "I'll leave you to it. Excuse me."

    "Your shift begins in twenty minutes."

    I stop in the air, wincing. I mean, fair enough, this is still a mission, but… "What would it take for you to make that an hour?"

    "You would have to find another member of the X-Men to provide you with cover."

    Hah! Joke's on her. Hopefully. Ring, is Cable still around?

    Location available.

    Because I definitely saw an 'X' on his costume, and even if he only inherited it from his father I'm pretty sure he'd be willing to help. I-.

    Actually, ring? Don't make me appear right next to him.


    I appear… Near the prison where they're holding the high value prisoners. Cable-. He's below me, moving his binoculars up to see what the glowing orange thing above him is. I wave down, lowering myself slowly towards him so that he can object or leave if he doesn't want to talk.

    He lowers his binoculars and picks up his gun, but he doesn't actually point it at me as I drop to his level.


    "Cable, X-Man from the future. Needed a break from fighting Apocalypse?"

    His eyes narrow. "Something like that. How do you know me?"

    "Parallel universe thing. Look, I need an X-Man to police the beach, and-" I point to his collar. "-you count. Help me out and I'll help you out."

    He snarls as he looks towards the prison. "This place reminds me of Apocalypse's breeding pens. Every one of them deserves to die."

    "People seldom get what they deserve. I'm afraid that they'll probably just get life imprisonment. Also, none of them are going to be in a position to hurt anyone else ever again."

    "And you'll owe me."

    "I can introduce you to your father's younger self. I haven't tested myself against someone in Apocalypse's weight class before, but I think I can make myself useful. If that's what you want. Food and equipment, to transport back to the future?"

    He considers, then nods. "I can do guard duty. But don't tell my father about me. I don't want to erase myself from time."

    I nod as I send out filaments. "Transporting now."

    We appear on the beach, and I detach my filaments from Cable before flying back to… Her original room. She didn't move, because her stuff was already in here. I land on the balcony and walk into the room.


    "Uh?" The shape in the bed stirs. "Paul, hun? That you?"


    Anne-Marie blinks, then yawns and stretches and my goodness, yes, those are magnificent breasts.

    Right then.

    I walk to the side of the bed, then kneel and hold out the rings. Her eyes widen and I hear a sharp intake of breath as she becomes very awake.

    "I love you and wish to spend the rest of my life with you. Marry me."
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2022
  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
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    2nd January 2013
    18:14 GMT

    I smile at the spokesperson of the gordanians of the clan manning 'my' ship, as well as the prisoners that were on the one Allyn captured.

    "So that's the situation. You can all get in the other ship and boom tube back to somewhere where the rest of your fleet can pick you up, or accept internment here for the duration of the war."

    "We're going back to the fleet. What about the other ship?"

    "Unless you've got more to offer than I think you have, or unless Grayven is actually prepared to agree to a non-aggression pact like I asked him to the first time we met, I'm keeping it."

    "That's not for me to say."

    "Do you want me to send a message with you, so that I'm the one telling him I'm keeping it?"

    He thinks for a moment, then snorts a negative.

    "No. Grayven isn't that sort of clan chief. I will tell him directly."

    "No? So… What sort of sanctions is Astarte looking at?"

    He snorts again, but my rings tell me that it's an 'amused contempt' snort. "I'm gordanian, not citadelian. I don't tell people information just because they ask and no one tells me not to."

    "And you're not dead."

    He tenses for a moment, then frowns. "What do you mean?"

    "Citadelians don't really exist any more. I mean, there might be a few, but they're sterile and I destroyed their cloning facilities. Psions too, though that wasn't me."

    "No great loss. Guess Vega's kinda quiet, these days."

    I nod. "Nearly civilised. "

    "What about Karna?"

    "It's karnan dominated, but there are still plenty of gordanian clans living on the planet."

    "As slaves?"

    "No. The karnans control most of the orbital infrastructure and they've got a bigger fleet now, but the remaining gordanians are free to conduct their affairs with only a few added restrictions."

    "Huh. That's nice. We don't get a lot of messages from the clans in Vega."

    "No problem. Vega isn't at war with either Grayven, N.E.M.O. or the Reach, so there's no real reason why you can't use a boom tube to visit home."

    "Karna's not home for us. It's just where our ancestors happened to come from."

    "Fair enough." I gesture to their escorts. "These people will escort you to your ship. It should go without saying, but any perfidy on your part will result in your immediate deaths, and may harm Grayven's future attempts to win Minosyss over."

    He makes a mildly submissive gesture. "No, it wouldn't achieve anything."

    I smile as he moves back to the holding pen to inform this comrades of the outcome of our discussion. As gordanians, they almost certainly can't tell that anything odd has happened with the planet's thaumosphere. Might be interesting to see how much Astarte actually passes along, as for mischief's sake we included a complete report on their computer. And one from my perspective in the Karrakan system. Wouldn't want him to think that I shot his ship on purpose.

    I mean I'm pretty sure that we're going to end up fighting each other, and that this current thing of mostly avoiding each other is due to his plan not requiring that he fight us at the moment, but a little optimism won't hurt.


    step out,

    reappearing next to Athyns on New Cronus. And he isn't surprised in the least by my appearance. Looks like being the man who created this world's thaumosphere gives him a little insight into other people who use it.

    "They're off."

    "Yes. It will not be enough to ensure peace, but it will enforce the ideal of honest and open-handed dealing in our world's soul. That itself will serve as a defensive weapon."

    "In human popular fiction there's a thing called a Justice Field. If you tried to commit a crime inside the area affected, the crime would be done to you instead."

    "I doubt that it will be so absolute. Though there is a lot I don't know about New God technology. Would it be possible for us to find a technologist who is from Grayven's people but not allied to him?"

    "Usually I'd say 'yes', but we're not in direct contact with New Genesis and my homeworld is being attacked by Grayven's homeworld. If you could lend my homeworld a few Ascendants we could probably put you in touch once the fight is over, but that's the best I can do."

    He walks over to the balcony and looks down on Minosyss. You can't see any damage from up here, but the tower of New Othrys was critically damaged. They were thinking about tearing it down and starting again, because while they have access to some advanced technology, molecular reconstruction isn't anything the Titans could do.

    "We are not in any position to start a war. Particularly not with people as advanced as Grayven."

    I shrug, and fabricate a data crystal.

    "Here's a summary. If you feel able to participate, great. If you don't, then you don't. Oh."

    I also fabricate a couple of books on thaumaturgy.

    "Since your thaumosphere is more active now, you could probably start a native magic tradition. These might help."

    "Thank you. You're being surprisingly generous, when there is little I can offer you in return except thanks."

    I smile. "If the Reach decide that they won't leave you alone, what will you do?"

    He nods. "You would be my natural choice of ally."

    "Rather than Grayven. N.E.M.O. is a mutual defence pact with some technology sharing. Help out where you can, and we'll help you in return. If my homeworld was in a better state I'd be able to offer more…"

    I shrug.

    "It is appreciated anyway. Allyn wanted to speak to you before you leave."

    I nod, and


    myself to the docking area.


    He draws himself up slightly. "What you said before, about there being no one whose job it was to hunt monsters like Astarte down. Is that something that your organisation does?"

    "The Orange Lantern Corps is currently focusing on the Reach, but individual Orange Lanterns are free to act on their own recognisance. There are even a few who aren't involved in the war at all, but the Reach are probably the worst people in this galaxy."

    He thinks for a moment, then nods.

    "What would I have to do to involve myself in this work?"

    I pull out my spare ring.

    "You have to want really hard to involve yourself."
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2022
  3. Threadmarks: Counterpunched
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
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    Tsua'm looks mildly concerned as we walk through the secure biological research facility. Given the nature of what's being studied here, there are a lot fewer members of the Fire Caste than would usually be the case. Instead, internal security is provided by stationary turrets and gun drones, though they're neatly slotted into charge stations or otherwise folded away at the moment. Similarly, the whole place is run by a A.I. with the personality engram of the lead researcher who founded it, an interesting solution to the problem of A.I. friendliness and the novel problem solving difficulties A.I.s sometimes have.

    "Your efforts have aided the Tau Empire greatly. I am unused to humans with-"

    I smile slightly as she uses the English word without really thinking about it. She can be remarkably insightful at times.

    "-your disposition-."

    I glance at her with raised eyebrows. "You mean not fanatical converts?"

    "I prefer to be polite. I would call them-."


    She makes the choking sound that tau make when they're laughing. "No-." She elbows me in the ribs. "No, I would not call them that, and you should stop corrupting me with such ideas. You… Filthy heretic."

    I put my right hand over my heart. "Won't happen again."

    "The Empire exalts you above all other humans. You could ask for a world to rule, and you would be granted it. Instead, you ask for trivial things."

    I shrug. "I like my work."

    "I know that, but the Lar'shi Por'ar'tol are used to humans who are used to… A 'neo-feudal' structure. And yet you do not want land, or trade contracts, nor marriage into-"

    I wince. "Please tell me they haven't-."

    "-a notable family and no, after your reaction to the concubines they sent last time I was able to convince them that it would not be a good idea."

    "Thank you."

    That was a bit of a shock. A really… Awkward shock. Because they came from a human world where concubinage was a perfectly respectable profession for a noblewoman looking for promotion, which meant that they were from really well-connected families because Tsua'm isn't joking about how much the Empire likes me. Working out how to turn the women down without getting them shunned when they got home was a lot of work, but not a hard decision to make because they were still nuts.

    "The humans of your age were different, I understand. But this is not corruption. Placing industries and peoples in the hands of trustworthy families is a perfectly accepted part of rulership in human society. And I am not looking at you and I know you are either wincing or rolling your eyes." I'm doing both. "It is difficult to rule such a large area of space. Sometimes, it is necessary to use stable systems rather than ideologically pure ones, as well you know."

    "Yes, but…" I sigh. "Okay, there are a few things."

    "Then tell me what they are."

    "I… Can't."

    "In the same way that you can't say your name?"

    "No. It's… Some things, their nature is affected by how they're given. Like… No one orders fire warrior squads to undergo the bonding ritual, they do it when they all feel that their relationship has reached that stage."

    "Of course. I see. Then I must decipher what you want without being directly told."

    "I'm afraid so."

    "That is marvellous!"

    I frown at her as we arrive at our destination. "It is?"

    She nods.. in a slightly awkward way because it's not a natural gesture for the tau. She sort of thrusts her head forwards slightly before tilting it. It makes her look a little like a chicken pecking at the ground. "If I can intuit your intention with such precision, then I will be worthy of promotion. I will be much better placed to curb the well-meaning actions of the Lar'shi Por'ar'tol as Por'Vre Lar'shi Tsua'm Raard."

    I take a moment to consider the effects of promotion on tau social interactions.

    Hang on.

    "Is your mother still-?"

    "AND WE ARE HERE!" She puts her right hand on the palm reader. "One to access, one to monitor."

    "Acknowledged, Alien Psychology Envoy Tsua'm Raard."

    Two armoured doors slide open, and she wastes exactly no time in striding through the one to the right. And I receive a reminder that just because tau have less close family structures when compared with humans, that doesn't mean that they don't sometimes get pressure from their parents.


    I walk in through the left door, which closes behind me.

    "Please don protective equipment."

    I clench my left hand, construct armour appearing around me.

    "Acceptable. The following advisories are to be relayed before contact. The contained specimen has: supertau speed, supertau strength, supertau endurance, supertau senses and tau-equivalent intelligence. Interior weapons are permanently active, and in the result of a confrontation your survival will not be prioritised. Please confirm that you understand."

    "I understand."

    "Acceptance noted." The interior door opens. "Have a productive day."

    "Will do." I walk into the holding room, dismissing my construct armour. "You too."

    The room is divided in two by solid bars, with the captive on the far side. She's dressed in clothing that's not really any different to tau casual wear, if a little simplified. The actual interior of the cell is bare… Ah, the tau version of rockcrete, with a small rug to either sleep on or just to keep off the cold floor. The only other object is a commode, and the only hole in the bars is the device for taking waste material out and allowing food in.

    The woman herself has brown skin and -naturally- no hair. The ridge crests are relatively small and she's clearly used to avoiding letting people getting a good look at her teeth. Two arms, two legs, skin covering her muscles… You'd almost think she was human. She'd be the picture of good health, too, if she wasn't curled up in the middle of the rug and trying not to shake.

    Very nearly human eyes are fixed on me.

    "Good morning, Subject Two Five Seven Nine Four."

    "F-f-f-f-amily. Why-? Why can't I h-hear them? P-promised…"

    "Because we're not stupid enough to put a fourth generation genestealer hybrid somewhere without a null zone." I activate the room's holographic display, switching it between images taken from the facility's various other holding cells. "As you can see, they're alive and well."

    The other surviving members of her cult. And not 'her' in the sense that she ruled it. We're fairly sure that she's just a regular neophyte hybrid rather than one of the 'specialist' forms that genestealer cults produce if they reach the 4th generation, but she has seniority amongst those that escaped the Imperium and surrendered to the Tau Empire.

    So much that we don't know about genestealer-infected humans. So much we could learn from willing test subjects.

    And so much trouble we could get into if this goes badly.

    "Now." I smile. "Let's begin with the background."
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2022
  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
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    I think back to when I took this footage.

    The whole thing was nerve-wracking and unnerving rather than… Dangerous. Tyranid ships aren't known for their agility, but more than that they don't really make use of lightspeed weapons. Sure, they can fire billions of gallons of high strength acid to melt you, or a giant vacuum cleaner mouth to eat you, but if they want to destroy a small target they have to send actual tyranid fighters after you.

    So when flying past the capillary towers and over the reclamation pools as the remaining tyranid creatures on the planet ate the last of the world's organic matter and then threw themselves in, the only thing I really had to worry about was a Norn Queen deigning to take notice of me. Which didn't seem very likely, and as far as I can remember tyranid psychic attacks are mostly either short ranged or required the target to be a psyker.

    "So, yeah, this is the final stage. I haven't been able to obtain live footage of the consumption process actually finishing, but if you're still here in a few years I'll fly back to.. this planet, and record it for you."

    The hybrid is actually crying as she stares at the image of a brood of genestealers waiting patiently for the rippers to finish being reclaimed before bravely stepping forward themselves.

    "I take it that you… Weren't aware of this?"

    "Father, no..?"

    "Oh, yeah. I'm not sure whether or not your Patriarch was consciously 'aware' of any of this. As far as I've been able to tell, while genestealers are capable of reacting to their environment in complex ways, they're not really… 'Intelligent' in the sense that you and I are. It's entirely possible that he wouldn't have ever sat down and thought, 'time to create a load of minions that I'm going to destroy', he'd just have… Once the fleet got into synapse range, he'd have directed you to make reckless attacks to distract the forces of the Imperium, and if any of you had survived then he'd have sent you…"

    I point to the holographic image of the suicidal genestealers.

    "Like that. As I understand it, some cults regard that as an ascent to some sort of heaven. I haven't found any evidence of that actually happening. Tyranids don't really do individuality. They wouldn't see any value in preserving an individual mind."

    "That's all we are? A distraction? For the-? For the Star Gods?"

    "Depends what you mean. If you mean 'the tyranids', then they're not really gods. They're a group of species of vaguely insectoid aliens. If you mean 'the Hive Mind', yes. Exactly the same as individual tyranids. Much like other gods, the Hive Mind has a single bunch of strong concepts that are things it does, and no real imagination or capacity to understand things outside of that. You're a way of subverting members of a prey species, lictors are for scouting and gaining information from the brains of enemies, carnifexes are for drawing enemy fire and surviving while other creatures close the distance… Everything has a role. But cultists like you are the only ones who can think like humans. No tyranid warrior would ever experience the existential doubt that you're feeling right now. Oh, I have a question for you, if you don't mind?"

    She just keep staring at the hologram, so I turn it off. She stares blankly at the wall for a moment, then slowly turns her head towards me.

    She's still crying.

    "I know that purestrains…" I generate a hologram. "What did your cult call them?"

    "Sacred message-bearers. We would… We would paint designs on their carapaces… On the holy days."

    "They infected people via their proboscis?"

    "They bring them-." She shakes her head, looking down at the floor. "Yes. The… The.. injection. In the.. neck or chest."

    "Not the arm?"


    Huh. Odd. It's basically a virus; anywhere in the circulatory system should do. Does it need to go into the heart or brain to work properly?

    "And how long does it take to fully take effect?"

    "It… It varies. Some hear the words in a few moments. With others… A day or two."

    "Literal words, or just a general sense of rightness?"

    "There are… Speakers. Priests who… There were…"

    I'm not going to feel sad about a genestealer cult being wiped out. Wonder if the Ichar IV Magus was ever found?

    "But nothing from the implantation itself?"


    "And their children are hybrids, who have the most genestealer characteristics?"


    "Does that require both parents to be inductees, or is just one enough?"

    "I don’t know. Everyone I knew had two… Parents, who were Family."

    "You can talk to first generation hybrids?"

    "Yes. They… They carry the Voice of the Family. The words don't come from their mouths, but we understand… Them."

    "And they can reproduce sexually?"


    "With other hybrids, or cultists, or… Who?"

    "Both. The men could sire more children than there were women to bear them, so they bred with initiates."

    "And the women? Could they breed with initiates?"

    "I don't know. We bred to increase the generation of the children, so they could disguise themselves better. They needed at least three generations, so…"

    "With one parental line, or both?"

    "Both for them-. Us, to look as unenlightened as possible. But it was… Difficult. Most of my own children were message-bearers. Others of my generation had to adopt children of the third generation to maintain the pretence. That was better for them, as well. The first and second generations are not good at raising children."

    "Can any generation other than purestrains infect people?"

    "No. No."

    "Mind showing me your tongue?"

    She gives me a small frown, then opens her mouth and sticks it out. It's longer and more cylindrical than a normal human tongue, but there clearly aren't any anomalous structures there.

    "And you can't transmit it sexually?"

    "No. I… Don't think so. I only mated with third and fourth generation…"

    "To create other human-looking hybrids or purestrains, who were more useful than first and second generation hybrids."

    "Yes. I…" She actually manages to look up and make eye contact. "What will happen to us now?"
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2022
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
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    "Well… That depends on you."

    "I don't believe that."

    I nod, making a dismissive gesture with my right hand. "Alright, not entirely. The Tau Empire's primary interest in this matter is to make sure that the tyranid hive fleets don't come to the Tau Empire. The problem there is that genestealer cultists like you emit a constant warp signal which draws the hive fleets to you. And there's the problem of purestrain genestealers who won't be on board with avoiding doing that whatever the hybrids like you think."

    "The tau would… Leave us in places like this, where we can't feel each other. And control our breeding, so that we… Don't…"

    "Don't give birth to purestrains. Because you can be surprisingly reasonable, but they… Can't."

    Assimilating a purestrain genestealer wasn't actually very hard. Their desires are so focused and intense that it couldn't really resist once I got it alone. But what I didn't realise is that if a Construct Lantern gets destroyed, I get the pleasure of seeing their thoughts. It was bad enough the first time it happened with an assimilated ork; they think like weirdly violent children. It was disturbing, but in some regards relatable.


    It was.. like…

    Complete selflessness. And not because they've overcome a sense of self-preservation. It was very clear that they never had one in the first place. Anything other than its task barely registers, and even that just as a background 'this may impact something important later' sort of way. Even fanatical members of the Adepta Sororitas are aware of their own pain. And there's no… Chaos worshippers feel joy when they do something in the service of their god. So do Brood Brothers and Hybrids. But purestrains? No. Nothing. They just move onto the next thing. It's machine-like, really.

    "The issue is that we can't build facilities like this on the scale that we'd need to in order to house a decent population."

    This cell block is shielded by a single null rod taken off the body of an Inquisitor at.. some point during the Damocles Gulf Crusade and stuck in storage because the tau thought that it was just a fancy walking stick. But null rods are rare, archeotech relics or custom built by the most highly skilled Magi of the Cult Mechanicus. They're in the database as a high priority acquisition target but there's no real reason for them to be used in combat against a species like the tau who flat out don't have psykers.

    Psyker technology on the other hand is relatively easy to come by. Every Imperial ship has rooms for navigators and astropaths, and the larger ones frequently have other psykers on board for various purposes. And some have null chambers, because even the Imperium would rather help a struggling psyker than put a bolt round through their head. Time permitting. We had a couple of nicassar psykers help with making sure the whole place would actually work as intended, but they found it too disorientating to give a precise explanation.

    Point is, we're never going to get enough for a long term settlement, and even if we theoretically could, it wouldn't be cost-effective. Human-dominated worlds inside the Tau Empire need that technology while the T'au Aun'ar'tol comes up with some sort of rule for dealing with regulating human psykers.

    One that doesn't involve cutting off their arms and legs to try and make them dependent on a tau handler, because seriously, I have no idea what they were thinking when they came up with that one. 'We're going to train you to be a psychic weapon, and for step one we're going to make you hate us, because at least that way you'll be motivated'.

    "On the other hand, I take it that you're no more interested in having your whole family eaten by the hive fleets than you are in having them wiped out by the Imperium?"

    She shudders. "No."

    "It's my experience that humans who are citizens of the Imperium tend to… Think about things in religious terms. When you were connected to the broodmind, you saw the hive mind as a… God?"

    "It was… More of a superior… Force, or… Presence."

    "Right! Now, technically, it is. It's just not one that has your best interests in mind. But plasma reactors don't have anyone's best interests in mind and they're still useful. The warp itself is invaluable for starship travel and interstellar communication while being extremely dangerous. So what we want to do is give you and your people a better general education than you received back on your homeworld. And when you understand a little more about the way the universe operates, we'd like to work with you and your people to find out exactly how your collective mind works. Maybe even use you to track down genestealer cultists hiding out on tau controlled worlds."

    "What will you do with them?"

    "That depends. Any purestrains will be killed, including any broodlords and the patriarch. Whether individual Brood Brothers or hybrids can be salvaged will depend on them."

    "They… They won't. Won't cooperate."

    I nod. "Probably not. But we can't have them signalling the hive fleet."

    "Their families… My-."

    "Their families would be eaten. Just as yours would have been. The issue is their fanatical religious belief in the righteousness of the hive mind."

    "Yes. Does-? Is there.. no part of.. us that becomes..?"

    "It would be difficult to test, but there's never been any sign of it. New tyranid forms develop as the hive mind responds to the things that oppose it, they don't integrate personalities. I mean, lictors eat people's brains but they don't start acting like them."

    "And…" She looks a little like she wants to vomit. "Does the Emperor take the souls of the faithful?"

    "Not sure. Psykers who get picked up by the Black Ships but have inadequate willpower to master their abilities get their souls fed into him directly. I'm not sure how coherent they are when it happens. As for everyone else… Maybe? I've been working under the assumption that individual human souls aren't powerful enough to retain coherence after death, but the Emperor's core consciousness is made up of a large group of powerful psykers who used sorcery to bind themselves together so in theory it's possible."

    Huh. Both the hive mind and the Emperor eat people. Hadn't really thought about it like that before.

    "Look, I'm sure you've got a lot of things to think-."

    "Can I-? Speak to the others?"

    "Uh. Not right now, but we can sort something out in a few days. I'll make a few files available on the local computer system. You can access it through verbal commands, though for now your access will be limited to a few non-restricted files."

    Really basic files on t'au ideology and science. Nothing that could be used as a weapon or to otherwise aid her escape. Lots to encourage her to come to share the tau worldview.

    "I'll leave you to it."

    I nod politely, turn away and leave the cell. Once out of the cell I enter the other door and walk through to the observation area.

    Tsua'm jerks her head around and stares at me for a moment, nasal cleft undulating. Then she starts pulling up facial images on one of the screens and indicates that the AI should analyse them and run a comparison to human baselines.

    The hobgoblin-looking individual next to her grins at me, and wiggles 'his' right hand in greeting. Gremlin used to live in a cell not too different to this one, but once he demonstrated himself to be reasonably helpful he's become more of a trustee. At this rate he might well end up joining my team before too long. It's just that given how intelligent he is, any sort of analysis of his behaviour is hampered by the fact that the only comparison we can make is to a snotling.

    Not sure what he said to Tsua'm, but it's probably what I didn't want him to.

    "You were watching that?"

    He nods twice. "Yes, Boss."

    "How much was she faking, do you think?"

    "Oh, it was deffo a shock." Gremlin scratches his nose. "An' she ain't doin' too well without the rest a' the brood. But its mostly mental. She coulda tuffed it awt enuff t' stand up and speak proppah."

    "Think we need to flush the cell?"

    He shakes his head. "Nah. Wasteful. Not like anyone really thought we'd just flip the lotta 'em. Keep tawkin', see what falls awt, that's the way."

    I nod. "Will do. Keep watching what she does."

    Gremlin nods, grinning. "What else 's a brainy boy like me for?"
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2022
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    14th January 2013
    06:15 GMT

    I walk through the refectory of the Orange Lantern Corps on Maltus, orange light flowing through my armour and my soul. Those amongst my new comrades in arms who have… Learned to unify their souls with their rings have a distinctly different feel to them than those who merely used them as weapons. But from the lack of interest they show in me, it seems that they do not feel what I feel.

    Or perhaps they do, and I am not so unique.

    The feel of this world is beyond my experience, as was the soul-feel of the Controller to whom the Illustres introduced me. I never had the privilege of meeting Grandmother Rhea when she walked amongst her descendants, but that is my only point of comparison. It was as if her soul echoed all across this world and beyond.

    "Over here, New Lantern."

    A heavily built blue skinned and one eyed Lantern looks at me for a moment, then returns his attention to his meal. My ring whispers his name to me


    as well as his service history. Part of the first wave of recruits, though not one of those recruited by the Illustres himself.


    Zartok doesn't bother continuing to look at me once he has… Made his offer? Issued his command? The Illlustres told me that there isn't a strict hierarchy here, but if I want to enact justice across the universe then I would be wise to pay attention to my seniors.

    I imagine that some of my fellows on Minosyss would have trouble with the idea that none of them are Ascendants. For myself, I will learn more about this organisation I have bound myself to before passing judgement.

    I walk over to the chair opposite Lantern Zartok and sit down.

    "Thank you."

    His eye remains fixed on his food, glowing faintly as he pointedly does not look at me. That seems odd.

    "The Illustres suggested that I participate in your training. I believe that he wants to examine my own progress rather than aid you specifically… But I find his behaviour hard to judge."

    His eye comes up.

    "Why did you join the Orange Lantern Corps?"

    "My homeworld was attacked by a three thousand year old cannibal warlord. I was shocked at the idea that such evil is allowed-"

    His face shows his species' expression for


    "-to persist. I had thought that… Bandits would be put down before gaining that sort of strength."

    "Is that how it was on your homeworld?"

    "No, but everyone from Karrakan knew that our civilisation had fallen far from its height. I had thought that others would be wiser. Better."

    "The universe is rife with violence. Though I admit that mass cannibalism is unusual, I suspect that is more due to tradition and taste rather than any great moral distress. Our own Lantern Mother of Mercy routinely eats the remains of intelligent creatures."

    He smiles faintly at my expression of distaste.

    "Why does she eat people? Why is such a being-?"


    "Ah, I see you've learned to get information from your ring. You would be surprised how many would-be Lanterns fail to realise that is even possible."


    It is distasteful, but conveying the souls of the dead to the afterlife in exchange for the mortal remains which they no longer need is…

    "That is different from attacking worlds purely to eat their people as the Citizenry and the Spider Guild are wont to do."

    "Yes. It is lower risk." He ingests some sort of tuber and then lowers his utensils. "So, you want to enforce a universal code of justice. I do too, though in my case I want to do so because it will be my code."

    I nod. It makes sense that someone would prefer the social rules they are accustomed to, rather than the code of another or something intellectual and abstract.

    "And what is your code?"

    "Whatever I decide."

    I frown. "I don't unders-."

    "I expected better from a god."

    "I don't consider myself-."

    "It's not about rules, it's about power. The orange light gives you the power to enact your desires, whatever they might be. I want to conquer and rule. Being the ruler, I will be the one making the rules. It doesn't matter to me what they are, so long as they are mine."

    "You're a tyrant."

    "Not at the moment. This…"

    He looks away.


    "Situation I am in, is because I did not check my footing before I lunged. Merely wanting something, giving yourself over completely to that goal, is not enough. Even for an Orange Lantern."

    He rests his elbows on the table, hands clasped just under his chin.

    "So tell me, given what you know about the orange light, how would you deal with someone like me?"

    A tyrant who holds no ideal above his own need to dominate others? I'd-.


    An orange… Laser? It's not too surprising that there are weapons that can bypass power ring generated barriers. The railgun rounds that the Illustres showed me would destroy his constructs as well, making it possible for a new Lantern such as I to kill him. A fixed weapon, some sort of ambush-.

    He's smiling unpleasantly.

    His ring can tell him as much as mine can me. Perhaps more, given his status.

    No. If he were a simple-minded tyrant, he would not be able to accept people having authority over him. And yet he does. Why, given his lack of a higher ideal, even basic loyalty?

    Because he's checking his footing. He doesn't think that he knows enough to safely advance himself. He's learning, gaining in power, until he reaches the point where he can resume his preferred lifestyle.


    "I would endeavour to convince you that it served your interests to enforce the code I prefer. Because once you have decided to do so, it will become yours, and you will care for it… Even if not for the same reason that I do."

    "Yes." He nods. "Good."

    He stands.

    "Finish your meal, and then join me in the arena. We must pair the philosophical with the practical. I hope that you are just as adept, but I am also curious as to what god blood looks like."

    He pats me on the shoulder and then leaves me to my thoughts.
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2023
  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    14th January 2013
    06:15 GMT

    I watch as Zartok waits for his new student in the arena. That's new. When we were first recruited, he wouldn't have been so patient. He would have dragged the new Lantern to the arena, or picked a new sparring partner to kill time until they arrived. Instead, he's actually meditating.

    And when I make an effort, I can feel the change in the way in which it makes the orange light flows through him.

    When we met, I joined up with him for two main reasons. One, he was the most powerful Lantern in our group despite the lack of training. Two, he clearly had no sexual interest in me at all. Distant third was probably his honesty. Or how easy to manipulate he was.

    But what irritates me now is how he's been able to learn what the Illustres was trying to teach him, while I haven't. And what irritates me more is that he's done it without really changing his aims. I pride myself on my ability to think things through logically and dispassionately. I judged him to be a simpleminded brute, and it turned out that I was half-wrong.

    I want what he has, but I don't want what he wants.

    For a moment I'm glowing, orange light building without any direction. Grood looks up from the bone he's gnawing on for a moment, then loses interest as it fades.

    One step above an animal and he understands-. No, he doesn't understand. He intuits the orange light better than I do. When he and Zartok train against one another, they're roughly as strong as each other. Zartok wins because he can think-. And I hate being the weak link.

    But being the strongest makes you a target, and I don't want that either.

    And there's… 'Allyn'.

    Isn't that name of the Illustres' mentor? No, Alan. Allyn.

    Standard humanoid. Solid musculature, but beyond that there's nothing physically special about him. His armour has orange-glowing decoration, so perhaps he's using his ring to fortify it in some way? His posture shows that he's relaxed in this environment, but uncertain. He's new, but doesn't have any problem seeing the people around him as allies.

    I still can't.

    And it's holding me back.

    I pull a face. Ring, tell me about 'Allyn'.

    This is something that I can do. My ring feeds the information directly into my brain, bypassing my senses and increasing throughput. Before I joined the Orange Lantern Corps I considered getting implants to let me access computers like this, but who could I possibly trust to do the work?

    Okay, I get it, I get it. I'm my own worst enemy, as far as getting stronger goes.

    And what does the Illustres recommend for dealing with that?


    What's a psilocybin mushroom?


    No. Why would he suggest that? Would that work on my species?

    Because it gets people out of cognitive loops, and 'yes'.

    "…train without a weapon." Zartox makes a staff construct. "Since you're a 'god', it may be that your people have weapons that can compare to power rings, but I suggest that you do as I do to increase your ability to shift flexibly between one approach and another in combat."

    Allyn nods. I look closer, and he has a sword which glows in the same way as his armour. Not all that long ago I'd have tried acquiring that sword. But in an organisational structure like this acquiring a new ally is far more useful. While Zartox is distracted, take a look.

    Ah. He thinks that there's something about teaching others that he needs to learn to match the Illustres' power. He thinks that it's something that he'll need to do when he kills the Illustres and takes over.

    Most gang lieutenants I knew would try and be a little bit subtle about that desire. The Illustres took it well enough. When Zartok showed me his recording of the conversation, it sounded like he liked the possibility.

    Sounded like. I've carefully crafted an argument for a particular set of ears enough to read below the surface. No one who accepted their death like he claimed to would have been able to bring themselves back from total atomisation with their ring. He said what he said to encourage a man who wants to kill him.

    In the sparring arena, Allyn has made a simple shield and Zartok is firing a pistol at it. While that looks like he's giving him time to get used to actually defending himself, it's clear to anyone who knows him that Zartok is doing it either as an insult, or-.

    A beam of orange energy blasts out from Zartok's chest, smashes apart Allyn's shield and sends him flying into the arena wall.

    Zartok watches him as he regains his footing, nodding with mild satisfaction as Allyn takes a stance. Usually, new Lanterns who get hit like that get injured. At their level of power environmental shields aren't enough to keep them completely protected. Ragnar hits recruits like this to teach them to heal themselves. I didn't see Allyn heal himself.

    "Did you protect yourself, or are you unharmed because of your armour?"

    "My armour is fortified by my soul. My ring makes it stronger. I can claim no credit for being uninjured."

    "Being prepared does you credit. So many fools step in here believing that a ring is all they need."

    Zartok raps his knuckles against his own body armour. The Illustres likes heavy armour, but Zartok was more comfortable with light armour. Something that would block shrapnel and mundane attacks if his ring ran out of power. Officially, the Illustres said to attempt a retreat when a power ring couldn't get the job done, and that backup weapons were there to enable that retreat. But few Lanterns who acquired other weapons without being told to would fail to use them offensively.


    Zartok interrupts himself with another shot, striking Allyn in the chest and pinning him to the wall. Allyn forms a shield off to his side and then tentatively brings it in to block, and it falls apart like the first.

    "-perhaps you would be better served by not wearing armour? Perhaps it would be best if you were really in danger? I will not kill you here, but if I decide that it's necessary for your training then I will push this beam directly through your internal organs."

    Another shield appears, this one larger and thicker. He doesn't hesitate to bring it to bear, but it shatters like the second.

    "A Scarab Warrior would have killed you by now."

    The orange in Allyn's armour wavers as the plates start to give way.

    "It seems that I will see your blood-"
    Shield of Duty and Reason
    A new shield forms directly in front of Allyn, this one possessing the same sort of glowing line design as his armour. His armour brightens too, as his armour holds against Zartok's beam and he steps away from the wall. It's clearly taking effort, but he's managing it, and Zartok doesn't pull his punches by much when he teaches.
    Holy Armour
    Allyn's aura glows brighter and expands beyond his body, solidifying into armour.

    "-after all."

    Zartok stops firing the beam and nods, satisfied.


    "I think I-."

    Zartok takes his feet out from under him with a subterranean attack and then strikes him over the head with a glowing orange mace!
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2023
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    14th January 2013
    06:34 GMT

    Before calling them to attention, I take a moment to assess the pugilists' strength. Allyn has clearly grasped the basics of power ring combat, though naturally Zartok's control and fatigability clearly outstrip his. His constructs are fine when he creates them-. No, good, actually. But they are relatively slow to form and he is attached to them; he does not dismiss them when they have served their purpose but rather allows them to fade as they slip from this mind.

    They will serve. I raise my hands to my mouth.

    "Lantern Zartok! Lantern Allyn!"

    It pleases me to see that neither of them are distracted. Ranged constructs fall silent at once and no new energy pulses are sent across the duelling ground. Both maintain their shields and armour and don't take their eyes off one another. Zartok's people don't end their training duels in quite the same way that mine do, but he-.

    Zartok raises his right fist up to his ear, then extends it towards his opponent. Allyn doesn't respond. He doesn't know the gesture and isn't used to looking things up on his ring's database. His own people have no ritual duelling tradition as they've spent too much time engaged in full scale war. When I first heard of it, I thought that it might suit me. Or rather, I would be better suited to it than the peaceful world I was born to.

    But it's not all about me.

    Ah, Allyn has dropped his construct armour. Not the proper response, but it will stand. In another situation, Zartok wouldn't be above attacking a Lantern who hadn't properly signalled the end of a spar, but he's usually a little more understanding when I'm around.

    According to the Illustres, I'm a beef gate.

    The term was not explained on my ring's cultural database. Metaphors often don't translate well, if there is no equivalent phrase. In an attempt to understand what he meant, I had the cooks prepare a meal of beef. The taste was fair, but I saw no similarity between it and myself. So I asked him directly. Essentially, he feels that anyone thinking about challenging him would first seek to challenge me, as I am the most available Lantern of rank. Anyone who cannot beat me is not worthy of his time.

    Lantern Zartok and I both want to kill the Illustres. Or rather, have both stated that we will. Having reflected on it at length, I don't think that I do want to kill him; not specifically. Beat him as proof of my skill and supremacy, yes. But unlike Zartok I didn't kill my former swordmaster when I was done with my training.

    Zartok sneers for a moment, then lowers his own defence constructs. "It is customary to salute an opponent at the end of a spar. Remember that next time."

    Allyn responds by raising his fist in a mirror of Zartok's gesture.

    "Adequate." His eye shifts to me. "Have you been introduced to Lantern Ragnar?"

    "Yes. The Illustres introduced us when I first arrived."

    The Illustres recruits the most interesting people. Aside from Lantern Xalitan Xor -my 'beef gate'- none of them have been warriors, exactly, but all of them have had a unique perspective on the orange light. Each have been far more powerful than most of our recruits, and the boy Lantern Sodam Yat is stronger than most recruits even without his ring.

    Lantern Zartok glances up as the stands, where his coterie of Lantern Drusa and Lantern Grood sat watching as is their custom. Lantern Grood jumps down to his master's side with a single thrust of his arms, while Lantern Drusa flies more slowly, eyes flickering as she reviews reports from the front lines to try to determine what I want.

    A good team. Balanced.

    "You have news?"

    Lantern Zartok stares directly into my eyes as he asks. He mirrors my stance, neither respectful or insolent but as an equal. But unlike him I have two eyes, and I see the awkwardness of Lantern Drusa as he asks me a question she could already answer.

    "Yes. They were hunting for Grayven's fleet. Whatever he has been doing to the Reach, it has roused in them an anger that not even we can equal."

    His face twists as he tries to prevent himself feeling rage. "That will not stand."

    "No. It won't. For the first time since the beginning of the war, we are sending a team to infiltrate deep into Reach space. If you are willing, the four of you will be a part of it."

    "I am a warrior, not a spy."

    "You will not lack for targets in the interior of the Reach. You will simply have to combine your wrath with subtlety. The Darkstar squad assigned to the mission will handle any actual spying that needs to be done."

    "Not a fleet, then. One of their stealth cruisers."

    "A new design. Something that should be able to fly through the Reach's interdiction systems. Until they adapt them."

    "Is there a reason why we do not build a fleet of such ships and then charge deeply into their territory in force?"

    "Yes." As disappointed as I was when I found out. "Such ships are difficult to build, even for the Controllers. They could have built a fleet in the time it took to build this ship."

    Lantern Zartok clearly isn't happy, but he led armies. He knows when a logistical position is untenable.


    I frown. Why would he ask about that? "What for? You aren't expected to hold territory or engage in broad-front combat."

    "Then what are we being sent to do?"

    "We need to know more about Grayven's fights with the Reach. We believe that we know where they have been fighting, because we know where they moved their inner circle fleet from."

    "So their defences are weakened?"

    "Not to the point where four Lanterns could destroy what's left. But enough that you won't have to worry about them flooding your area with gravity distortion weapons."

    Lantern Zartok nods. "Are you joining us?"

    "No. You will work better without me. I would disrupt your chain of command."

    He nods again, this time with more vigour. If I had a regret about taking responsibility for training so many other Lanterns, it is that it has not allowed me to form the bonds of camaraderie that I see other Lanterns having. Perhaps if Lantern Xor spent more time here…

    Or perhaps I should speak to the Illustres. Another Lantern could take up my responsibilities here, and that would allow me to spend more time in combat. I would rather spend it on his homeworld, fighting the madness that it produces, but… Now is not the time. Anti-Life is not something that a buzz blade can cut.

    "I will want to speak to the Darkstar leader at once."

    I fire a data packet to each of them, Lantern Drusa's eyes glowing at once as she goes through it. Lantern Zartok will do the same later, when I am not within sword's reach.

    I would not kill him, of course. Not outside of a sanctioned duel. He makes me reflect on what I might have become if I had not received my ring. Uncomfortably so.

    "I wish you all best fortune. We need information more than kills, but…" I smile. "Neither of us want Grayven outpacing us."

    "No. Where is he, anyway?"

    "Not anywhere near Karrakan. We recovered some wreckage, but most of his ships escaped the Reach."

    "And the Reach fleet? Them appearing behind us would be inconvenient."

    Ah. "The Illustres intends to deal with them personally."
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2023
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    14th January 2013
    08:45 GMT

    "Ah, this is going to be so great!"

    "Ye-ah." Lotta can be a real downer sometimes. "I've never seen the core of Reach space before. I bet they've got forms of mind control there we've never even seen."


    "Yeah, probably." She doesn't look happy. "Come on. A few years ago, did you think we'd be doing something like this?"

    "Not against a Reach core world. Probably against one of the worlds who signed up with N.E.M.O.."

    "Because Grayven would have attacked them?"

    Lotta frowns thoughtfully.

    "Hm. No. If he bothered fighting the Reach at all, he'd have kept attacking the same places. He's clearly not worried about being caught."

    "Or wasn't. I think that system bottle trap they had was for him rather than the Illustres."

    She nods. "Makes sense. He's only got one place to go to get more junior gods, and the Illustres has thousands of systems he can go to if he wants to attack the Reach."

    "What do you mean, 'if'?"

    "You didn't hear? Apokolips attacked his homeworld. I heard he was going to ask for help before Controller Hinon told him about the Reach offensive."

    "'Heard' from a reliable source, or is this just a rumour?"

    "I got talking to some Lanterns who were at the Central Power Battery when Hinon took his call."

    "Yeah, but they might not have gotten the whole thing."

    "He's asked for help before."

    "When the Source picked a fight with him. I've seen Apokoliptian invasions before. They're not that bad."

    "For wiping out colonies too stupid to know not to settle in the Apokoliptian Waste, sure, that's just a couple of ships. The Illustres comes from a crazy death world. They're going to make more of an effort."

    "I guess that makes sense. But if it was Khund that was getting attacked, I'd still be here."

    "Yeah, but that's Khund."

    Hey! "What, you don't like Khund?"

    "Phil, no one likes Khund. You're literally on the other side of the galaxy from Khund. The only reason we're fighting the Reach rather than Khund is that whenever the Khundian Empire expands, it has a civil war."

    "The Empress is always a total babe!"

    I mean, it is kind of a drawback to needing to kill a man to take his wife. The Emperor gets his pick, and then everyone wants his pick. One time I tried explaining it to Tarant, he asked why we didn't just put the women in charge of administration. I said because we need rulers who can fight, and he did this whole… Lecture about the advantages of a permanent administrative civil service that I tuned out. But I think what he was saying is that someone who isn't going to get kicked out every five minutes needs to be around to organise things. Which is why the Khundian Empire is tiny, and why the Reach have been doing basically the same thing and winning for thousands of years.

    Wonder if any of the Reach men I've killed were married?

    Lotta shakes her head as we take our seats in the briefing chamber. Don’t know if the Lanterns are going to turn up. They're basically there for if everything goes wrong, and if that happens they don't need much of a briefing to 'fight real hard'. Some like turning up anyway, the ones who used to be Darkstars or were in the military before they joined up. It doesn't really-.

    One of the other doors open and the Lanterns walk in. Zartok's a good fighter. Grood's good at hitting things. Not much tactical awareness. Drusa… Not so great. Not all Lanterns are great fighters and that doesn't mean that they're bad at being Lanterns, but we haven't worked with her so we can't really use her. And the other guy… Must be new. I poke my arm computer.

    Who is he?

    Oh, one of Grayven's junior gods. Armour looks hoopy, but it isn't a great idea to have a new guy on the rearguard for a mission like this. If the goop hits the fan, we'll need someone who won't get confused.

    Zartok takes a seat at the front, because of course he does. Drusa sits at the back, same as me. I try making eye contact, see if I can get some idea what she's thinking, but other than taking note of my position she doesn't reciprocate. New Guy sits next to Zartok, probably following the Lantern who's teaching him. Grood doesn't sit down, just sort of lurks at the side of the room. Other Darkstars file in around them, but no one wants to be too close to the near-animal who eats people.

    Doesn't make sense to me. I've eaten people, and they don't react that way to near-animals who don't eat people. I'd get up and sit next to him myself if it wasn't for the fact that I've already sat down and that'd make it obvious that I was making a point.

    Ah, looks like Colos is in charge of the mission again. Good. Since we took back Jenuwyne and started resettling people he's really gotten his head back in the game. And he's taking a seat-. Heh, he's spotted Zartok, and he needs to convey to Zartok that we're not working for him but doesn't want to look petty about it.

    "Sit down, Ferrin."

    Director Jeddigar walks in from behind him, and Colos immediately sits down in the closest chair. Solves that problem, I guess.

    And the director's doing the briefing. I mean, sure, this is important, but he doesn't need to be here to deliver a briefing. He's got his hands full worrying about internal security and anti-infiltration work on a few thousand worlds these days. Or at least he should, because if we put all this work into pushing the Reach back and he drops the ball because he decided to micromanage rather than macromanage like he's supposed to, I might decide to marry his wife.

    Jeddigar waves at the hologram projector, which then generates a large map of Reach space. Nothing everyone here hasn't seen a thousand times, though the thin sandy yellow line indicating reclaimed space is new enough that it raises a few smiles.

    "We knew from our encounter during our first wave of attacks against the Reach as part of N.E.M.O. that the Apokoliptian Grayven was waging his own war against them. And now his actions have given us the opportunity to gather more information on their internal organisation."

    A world gets highlighted… Oh, that's a… Little further into Reach space than I thought we'd be going. Not one of their proper core worlds, but only a little way away from that.

    "We know that this world was recently ravaged, either by Grayven's fleet or the Citizenry-."


    Yeah, Zartok doesn't like being reminded that he's not the boss here.

    "As has been a frequent problem, we don't have any direct intelligence on the Reach interior. However, we were recently able to acquire unusually detailed indirect information, both from the ship the Illustres captured and from the Qwardians. The Reach had been trying to buy anti-Lantern weapons from them for some time, and we've been able to subvert some of the Qwardians' information-gathering efforts."

    Qwardians… Probably more advanced than the Reach. I knew they'd got some stuff… Wasn't just for our Lanterns, I guess.

    "Is it reliable?"

    "The Illustres managed to perform an identity theft on the ship's captain. We know everything he saw. The ship's sensor logs substantially agree, as do the Qwardian data intercepts."

    Looks like Zartok's okay with that.

    "In theory, the mission is simple. While the true core of the Reach will have systems to trap your ship, the worlds which you'll be surveying won't. If you get in, look around and leave without drawing attention, you shouldn't have a problem. And if you do, that's why you have Lanterns with you."
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2023
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    14th January 2013
    07:12 GMT -7

    Portal activation detected, Lantern Grayven.

    Thank you, Sinestro.

    I lower the milk bottle and take a moment to check on the children. It's Saturday, and the children are mostly sorted as far as breakfast goes. I think they're giving me unrealistic expectations regarding the likely behaviour of any children Luna and I have; they're really well behaved. No bickering, no randomly throwing their food across the room, no complaints when the elder take charge of the younger. It's a little sad, but at the same time, a bit of a relief? I'm not sure how I'd cope with this many children if they behaved like normal children. Normal parents can just have one at the start and then wait until they're past the constant attention phase before having another.

    "Children, Luna's arrived. I'm just going to pop over to the portal room and escort her back."

    Because while she can move around in human-form, she's made it very clear that it's far from her favourite thing. She's fine with the hands, not so much with the bipedalism. Which could be a little awkward, as I had a family sledging day planned and sliding across the frozen Denver countryside isn't something for people not comfortable on their legs.

    Mother Box, hush tube.


    The portal opens silently next to me and I step through, smiling broadly.

    "Luna, dear heartttt…"

    That's not Luna.

    Someone I strongly suspect to be Celestia smiles at me, standing exactly one pace from the portal and quite deliberately not moving another step.

    "I'm sorry, but Luna is occupied with affairs of state today."

    Quick check with the Mountain's magic monitoring systems… Yep, both her general power and signature match Celestia, and her clothing roughly matches the design of the New God barding I made for her, allowing for the changes the mirror has wrought. And she feels right; there's an established relationship and familiarity there.

    "Yes, I… Thought that she would be. That's why this was a… Surprise. So… Was there something that you wanted..?"

    "Yes." She bows her head a little and then frowns slightly. Yes, feels odd with a differently proportioned head and neck, doesn't it? "I thought that I should try to spend some time with the stallion my sister intends to marry. And I also wanted to see the world where Sunset has been living."

    "That's… Fine. Ah, but why come through the mirror? I know from personal experience that it's a bit tricky to handle the new shape. Especially if you're planning on using magic."

    "Because Sunset did the same. For a pony whose special talent relates to magic, losing her horn must have been extremely stressful."

    "I think we distracted her with local magic before she could really notice. Ah… I… Take it that she doesn't know that you're here?"

    "No. Given how… Tense, my relationship with Sunset is, I decided that-"

    "Sinestro, call Sunset."

    "Certainly, Lantern Grayven."

    "-I wouldn't-. What are you doing?"

    "Hey, Grayven. What is it?"

    "Where are you?"

    "Did you seriously call me to ask that?"

    "Yes, Sunset, I care about you, and I get worried when I don't know where you are."

    "W-? Now I just feel childish for complaining."

    "Yes, that's intended, and it's a sign of your growing maturity that you recognised that without throwing a hissy fit. Well done."

    "Ah… Thanks?"

    "If I knew where you are, I'd boom tube right over there and pat you on the head."

    "Not sure I wanna tell you where I am, now."

    "Does it involve Z-?"

    "Would you stop with that? Ghia'ta still doesn't believe me. Look, I'm in Venturia. Is that everything?"

    "No, Celestia's paying us a visit." Celestia looks quite put out. "Just thought I'd warn you."

    "Oh. Does she want to see me?"

    "I think she's doing a home inspection. I just wanted to make sure that you didn't just run into her with no warning."

    "Okay. Ah. Well. Thank you. I'm… I'm hanging up now."

    She hangs up. Celestia still looks put out.

    "Grayven, I asked you not to do that."

    "Yes, I know. But I considered the thing that torpedoed your relationship with Sunset in the first place: concealing from her information that she wanted. Then I considered if she'd want to know that you were here, realised that the answer was 'yes', and told her."

    "I didn't intend to hide the fact that I-."

    "Ah-djah-" I point my right forefinger at her. "-djah-djah! That sort of 'from a certain point of view' stuff does not work when you're trying to repair an emotional relationship."

    "Then what would you have suggested that I do?"

    "Ask me in advance. And… Tell Sunset that you were going to be here, and then let it be her decision whether she approaches you or stays away."

    She nods slowly. And awkwardly.

    "It doesn't make any difference to your attempt to find out what suddenly having her shape changed was like, but it shows that you're interested in her life and that you respect her boundaries."

    "I will remember that in future. Do you think that she would be prepared to stop taking Twilight to cult survivor lectures if I did?"

    "Heh-hah-hah-hah-hah!" Celestia doesn't appear to appreciate the joke. "She's actually doing that? I thought she was joking!"

    "I think that Sunset originally planned to take her to one. But Twilight wrote in a letter to me that she found it a 'highly informative window on the perils of applying the Magic of Friendship to other species without considering the differences in the way that species thinks'."

    "So Sunset's been stuck taking her to them because she won't admit that she only took her to the first one as an insult to Twilight's relationship to you. That's so Sunset. Though I do admire her commitment."

    "To dishonesty."

    "At this point I think it's its own punishment. Or maybe it's like taking her out to a horror film?"

    "I don't think that either Sunset or Twilight find other people suffering entertaining."

    "It's cult survivor lectures. The ones giving them are the ones who made lives for themselves after they left. So there's suffering and an uplifting ending. Though maybe we could suggest alternative lectures?"

    "I think that would be best. For now, I would-."

    She takes a step forward, instinctively moves her arms to the 'walk' position, and falls on her face.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2023
  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    14th January 2013
    13:14 GMT -1

    So. That's a… Thing.

    "Lady Sunset? Is something wrong?"

    Aelia looks kinda worried. Which means that I let how I felt show on my face… Darn it. Honestly, it's a bit weird that she invited me to see her family's library like this. I know that Grayven and her granddad are allies, but even though she's been living in Doom Mountain for a year I haven't really had all that much to do with her. Unlike most humans, I had an okay understanding of magic so she isn't able to tell me anything I don't already know.

    Or so I thought.

    Turns out that her family had a whole host of things they don't exactly put on public display.

    "Lady Sunset?"

    "Oh, no, sweetie." I crouch down slightly so that I'm more at her level. "I just… Grayven was telling me that we've got a… Guest, in the Mountain."

    She nods. "Who is it?"


    I stand back up, looking over to a warded wall hanging. I think it's a summoning circle you can just roll up and put away once you're done. The spells outside of the circle would actually deal with the residue. I've designed something better, of course, but this looks like they've had it for a long time.

    "Is it Princess Celestia?"

    I twitch.

    "Is that bad? I thought you were visiting her?"

    "It…" No, no, it's not… Bad-bad? She's gotten a lot bet-. A lot less-.

    Oh, who am I kidding? She's gotten better at not saying things that she's learned will set me off. We hold conversations on a level of 'this grass is dry' / 'rain is scheduled this evening'.

    "Lady Sunset, I don’t understand."

    "Okay, ah…"

    Oh, come on Sunset, you're worrying a little girl.

    I walk over to one of the chairs and pull it out. Then I sit down and pat my lap, smiling in the most reassuring way I can manage. Aelia considers for a moment, then she walks over and I lift her up before wrapping my arms around her. And I'm a little surprised how easy that was. She's not heavy, but she's not exactly light either. Just another fringe benefit of being a transformed alicorn, I guess.

    "Okay, what do you know about Celestia?"

    "She was your foster-mom?"


    Oh, that's a whole lot of baggage I don't want to-.

    And… Re-pressed.

    "She was my teacher. But… She didn't want to teach me the things I wanted to learn. And she got annoyed with me when I said that I wanted to learn different things, and I got annoyed that she didn't teach me those things, so I went to study with Grayven instead."

    "But I don't understand. She's your princess."

    "Nope! She was my princess. I'm an American now."

    And for some reason the fact that I'm a mare means that I didn't have to agree to getting conscripted to do it. Grayven was against it, but it… It makes a lot of things easier, and I don't ever want to go back to live in Equestria.

    Is it pathetic that I want her to offer to make me a princess, just so I can tell her-?

    Yeah, it is.

    "But she was… Then?"

    "Just because someone's royalty, that doesn't mean that they know everything. Even if they think they do."

    "Grandfather says that you shouldn't say things like that out loud."

    "You shouldn't say things like that out loud if you have to work with them, or if you want something from them. Or if you might want to work with them or get something from them in the future. Since I don’t want anything from Celestia and I sure don't want to work with her… Being honest about how I feel works for me. And… Sometimes, being honest is actually better. I bet your granddad has to be honest with Queen Clea about things sometimes, doesn't he?"

    "He said…" She gets all frowny as she tries to remember. "'Only…' 'Only if no alternative presents itself'. And then he laughed, and mother and father joined in. I didn't understand."

    "I think he means that you have to be careful how you say things to powerful people, but sometimes you really have to be direct. Did your school ever do a fire drill?"

    "Where there was a bell ringing and everyone had to go outside?"

    "Right. If there was a fire, you'd have to make sure the Queen got out right away, even if she was doing something really important. But otherwise… You still need to get them to understand you, but without making them angry."

    "Did you make Princess Celestia angry?"

    "Ah… I… A little bit."

    What? Twilight's the one who gets her power from honesty.

    "Did you say something you shouldn't have said?"

    "Oh, yeah. Definitely."

    "What was it?"

    "Oh, I kept nagging her about teaching me something… She said she didn't know, when she obviously did. But if she was lying about it then I should have realised that she really didn't want to teach me, for… Whatever reason. I should have stopped asking her about it after the second time she refused, and asked about something else."

    And carried on researching it myself while she was relieved that she wouldn't have to keep lying to my face. Not exactly a healthy learning environment, and that's why I don't lie like that to my students. I can't believe that she didn't even tell Twilight what Starswirl's Unfinished Spell would do before she tried casting it! Okay, maybe the lecture series is overkill, but Twilight can have a bit of a one track mind sometimes and I want to make sure that it actually gets through.

    "So did you say sorry?"

    "No. And I never will, because I'm not and she doesn't rule me. She can have all the toady cultists she wants back in Equestria. I refuse to lie or dissemble to her ever again."


    "No, honey. 'Dissemble'. It means 'disguise how you really feel'. No, the only way I'm going to fix my relationship with Celestia is through honesty. And if she can't do that, then I'll-. I just won't talk to her anymore."


    "And actually? I can go talk to her about that once we're done here. I'm going to make it real clear how I feel about being lied to, and she can either promise never to do that again and explain why she lied to me… Or I'll ward the portal against her."

    "Um. My parents and grandfather say that ultimatums don't usually help diplomatic relations. They just make people more confrontational."

    I smile down at her.

    "If there's one thing Celestia and I agree on, it's that I'm great at being confrontational."
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2023
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    13th January 2013
    11:34 GMT -7

    I find myself smiling as Grayven's foals canter and gambol about the snow-covered pleasure garden. Luna was right. Seeing him acting as a family stallion puts their relationship in an different context. Whereas before, I only saw the edge of his paternal personality when he attempted to protect Sunset, here I see the full gamut of his private behaviour without… The difficult parts of my own relationship with Sunset clouding the matter.

    Though I might actually be more reassured if he was callous in his private life as well. For him to be… This, it implies that he genuinely believes that his confrontational approach is the best to achieve his results, rather than being a natural outgrowth of his usual character.


    He turns and waves to me, grinning with his… Strangely mobile and ape-like face. One which I possess myself. It has been some considerable time since I changed species, and I find… I find the novelty appealing, even if I cannot say that I am truly enjoying the experience.

    He trudges through the snow, a train of sledges bearing half his herd behind him. I think… Now is as good a time as any to speak with him, while his most commendable traits are at the forefront of his mind. I… Lean forward as directed, allowing this armour's flight enchantment to move me toward him without the danger of me forgetting that I now possess only two legs.

    Luna's description did not truly do it justice. I remember little enough of my life from before I became an alicorn, and none of it relates to what it was like to have a body like that: to move with four limbs rather than six or how long it took me to learn to fly. Even now I fly only when there is some exceptional need. Most other forms I have used in the intervening millennium had four legs or more, and after today, I think I will leave two legs to Luna.

    "Faster, Daddy! Faster!"

    While his children appeared uncommonly sombre at breakfast, they have cheered up now. His younger daughters squeal with joy and he jogs at a tiny faction of his full speed, towing the sledges faster behind him. As he reaches me he sidesteps and tugs the rope before letting go, causing them to slide past us with a giggle.

    Grayven looks at me and clearly sees something in this face's automatic expressions. Alike In Purpose.

    "Alright, Celestia wants a word. Boy, you're in charge."

    His eldest son nods, clearly already used to managing his younger siblings. Luna did mention that Grayven disliked not being able to give them more attention, so I imagine that he is fairly used to it. That stirs some of my older memories as well.

    Grayven watches his children to make sure that they remain in good order as the eldest colt -his name is Paul- pushes the sledge of the youngest up the slope of a nearby hill and calls on the rest to follow them for a race.

    "He's a mature young human."

    "I wish I could claim credit, but he was like that when I found him." He sighs. "Some people respond to a horrifying situation by lashing out, and… Some just become the best person they can be, because… Why make things worse?"

    "Ah. I see. Luna hasn't told me how you came into contact with them."

    "They were stuck on an island after their parents died. If you want more details, ask the boy once he turns eighteen."

    "And your eldest daughter?"

    "Imagine if you hadn't been able to turn Twilight's parents back into ponies after her entrance exam."

    I feel my face move in response to the newly sombre atmosphere. I… Have been fortunate that in the entirety of my life I have encountered no ponies whose abilities lashed out in such a fashion. And few who would lash out with such power maliciously.

    "She was too young to really remember it." He shrugs. "And she's hanging out with her friends, which I think is a good sign. Oh, I was wondering: was I supposed to get your permission before courting Luna? I sort of assume that you're head of the family."

    "Luna can make that decision for herself. I do have.. some concerns that I was-."

    "So who do I pay the bride price to?"

    I may not be able to read his expression when he wears that face, but I do have over a thousand years experience in dealing with fools both professional and amateur.

    "You could not afford her."

    He snorts. "I've seen the Equestrian economy; I can."

    "Should I be having that discussion with your father?"

    His face relaxes, all humour leaving it.


    "I need to make sure that your intentions are honourable. I have heard nothing about a marriage proposal." I smile as I remember Shining Armour trying to find out whether he needed my permission or not before he proposed to Cadence. "Do you intend merely to dally with my sister until-."

    "I'm not going to propose to Luna until my father is either verifiably dead or impaled on the Source Wall. It is my intent that you will never meet him." His eyes flick from mine to his children and back again. "My plan to make that happen is a work in progress."

    I breathe in sharply. That is-.

    "Would it-?"

    "Let me tell you a story about my father. It was his birthday, and a million slaves and tributaries lined up to give him gifts. His personal assistant DeSaad outdid himself: he's managed to imprison a Pain Elemental and a Joy Elemental, and force them together into one. A creature of pure joy exposed to suffering in the most exquisitely horrible way possible, with no hope of respite. And he was delighted… Until his chief bodyguard pointed out that the Pain Elemental was now aware that there was more than pain in the universe, and so suffered less."


    "The tiny fragment of his evil that he forced on me required the combined power of the Elements of Harmony and-" He raises his clenched hands, displaying his rings. "-the Emotional Spectrum to destroy. And anyway, you don't need to worry." He smiles in an attempt at misdirection. "My people have more advanced prophylactics than yours; I won't be siring any foals on her until after that date."

    That… Settles the question of whether or not he and Luna are… Intimate. Perhaps a… Change in topic.

    "I am more interested in meeting the rest of your family. After all, I need to make sure that you are from good stock."

    "Ah, a reasonable concern for the herd's lead mare. You can meet my brother Scott today if you like, and you spoke to my mother at breakfast. She was the one who looked like someone who survived my father."

    A nervous mare who almost faded into the background. I had taken her for a maid.

    "Of my other two brothers, one isn't talking to me and the other wants to kill me because he thinks our father prefers me to him. Mother had most of her memories stolen, so we don't know if I've got any-"


    "-relatives from that side of the family."

    A portal forms in mid-air, and Sunset.. steps through.

    Grayven pats me on the shoulder.

    "I'll leave her to you, but I'm going to stay in shout-range. We're fairly isolated here, but please don't do anything that will melt all the snow."

    I smile in what I think is a reassuring way.

    "I shall do my best."

    "And normally that would be fine, but in this instance I really would suggest trying to do well. Best of luck."
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2023
  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    13th January 2013
    17:37 GMT -1

    "…grateful to you for showing me your family's records." I bow to Aelia's parents, and get an acknowledging nod back. I know that bows aren't really an Atlantean thing, but I also know that they've been part of the diplomatic party speaking to the American government. They'll recognise the gesture. "I appreciate the trust you've shown in me."

    "Oh, nonsense." Aelia's father Daelus shakes his head. "This isn't the Second Era. We're perfectly aware that to a thaumaturgist like yourself almost everything in there is either so dated as to be worthless or so specific as to be irrelevant. We're been thinking of inviting historians to go through the place to see if it sheds any light on Atlantean history."

    "Now that Venturia's on better terms with the rest of Atlantis, I imagine that there's been a surge of interest in your people's culture in the rest of the country."

    "I'm not sure what a dozen outdated scrying spells would do for interstate relations, but I suppose it can't hurt to write to a few noteworthy historians. Do you need any help getting home?"

    "No, I'll just call Jean to open a boom-." No, sound travels further under water. "A hush tube."

    "My ears thank you."

    I take out my focus crystal and reach out through Earth's thaumosphere towards the crystal with the exact same magic attached to it. Yes, I could.. probably use that as a teleport anchor, but Venturia has a lot more magic research going on in it than Canterlot did, and a lot more delicate equipment. I don't want to damage anything by performing magic-intense spells outside of a shielded environment when I don’t have to, and making the thaumosphere my plaything would count. Instead, I wiggle the crystal and use a simple piece of sympathetic magic to make the one at the other end wiggle as well.

    The hush tube opens soundlessly a moment later, and I step through into.. my laboratory.

    Haaaaa. I can feel Celestia's magic even from here. A slow-burning fire… Contained. Trapped. I wasn't an alicorn when I came to Earth-. Celestia doesn't know how to use magic as a human. As far as I know, her special talent isn't magic, but… That's a lot of magic not going anywhere.

    "Jean, can you boom tube me to wherever Celestia is?"

    "Certainly, Sunset. Celestia is currently watching Grayven and the children play with their sledges. Boom tube opening n-"



    "Thank you."

    Don't think about it, just go.

    I step through the portal and I'm outside in winter in Denver. I'm binding the concept of unnatural heat and the closed circuit to myself before I even see… Celestia, wearing.. some sort of less evil-looking version of Grayven's armour. Her hair's the colour of her mane, and her armour's the colour of her pelt. I'd-.

    There actually are things I'd like to ask her about how she finds it, turning from a pony into a human. Things I'd find weird asking Luna about. But that can wait.

    Grayven nods to me, pats Celestia on the shoulder -and whaw is the size difference more obvious when everyone's on their hind legs- and then walks off to give us space.


    "Hey, Celestia." I start marching in her direction. "You look human."

    She does… A human version of that nervous smile she does when she doesn't want to set me off but knows full well that she's going to anyway.

    "Hello, Sunset. You do as well." She looks me over. "Grayven asked that we avoid melting the snow."

    "It's not that hard to make a spell that keeps you warm without warming up anything else. But that's not why I'm here."

    "What did you want to talk about?"

    "Why a history book?"

    "Why a history..?"

    Huh. Surprised that was the first thing I came up with. … Go with it.

    "Why was that what got me kicked out. I get it, you had this whole thing planned for me to maybe become an alicorn if that's how things shook out with Luna, but I'd been ignoring your whole plan for months at that point. I clearly wasn't going along with it. But it was a history book. I kinda assumed that you thought I read one of the other books, but when Grayven asked you about it you didn't even bring that up."

    She looks away for a moment.

    "Did Twilight tell you about Predictions and Prophecies?"

    "No? What's that?"

    "A book that was part of my plan for freeing Luna. I ensured that a copy was placed in the bookcase in her room in the observatory, and another in the Ponyville library, to ensure that she could discover the information that I needed her to know."

    "I.. think you know that I agree with Grayven about that whole thing, but what's that got to.. do…"

    Luna wasn't mentioned in a single book I read in Canterlot. Nightmare Moon was a silly story no one really believed.

    "It had history in it that you didn't fabricate. It talks about what really happened a thousand years a-."

    "No. It just had a different fabrication. Something that would help my little ponies fight Nightmare Moon if my preferred plan came to nothing and I was banished from the world."

    "Do you ever consider just not lying? How did you even..? Get every single historical record!"

    "Slowly. I made sure that the Royal Archive bought diaries when they came onto the market, and made sure that I omitted certain information when ponies interviewed me to ask what I remembered. I also had control of the books that were used in history classes. But I strongly suspect that there are many records of Luna hidden away."

    "And no one found them. Because that would be a lot of work to find out stuff about a part of our history that isn't all that interesting anyway, and there are plenty of published books if you really.. want to read something."

    That sounds like a conspiracy theory. But as Grayven pointed out before wiping out the British government, just because you've got a theory about a conspiracy, that doesn’t mean that you're not right. Conspiracies exist, and people sometimes work them out by collecting evidence.

    "And no one knew about Luna to ask, no one went to the Castle in the Everfree because it was in the Everfree. So why didn't you..? I don’t know, give me Starswirl's Unfinished Spell? That didn't have anything to do with Luna, and I wouldn't have kept asking you if I had something concrete to work on."

    "Because it wouldn't have helped you learn to use the Elements of Harmony, and that was my top priority."

    "Oh, so Grayven was right."

    "No, Grayven wasn't right. It was my top priority, but not my only one. You would not have been able to use Starswirl's Unfinished Spell."

    "But that would have made me read up on him. I could have learned what I needed to do, and that would have motivated me."

    "Without knowing about the Elements of Harmony?" Celestia shakes her head. "I don't believe that it would be possible to form the emotional bonds necessary if you were doing it just to gain power."

    "You mean that I might have had to learn lessons about friendship to get what I wanted?" I shake my head. Good to know that I don't revere Celestia at all anymore. "Why exile?"

    "Because I didn't know what you read, and couldn't ask you what you read without letting you know that there was something I did not want you to know. And I knew for certain that you would not be able to do what I wanted my student to do, and I did not have enough time to train you and somepony else."

    "That's a lot of honesty all at once."

    "Someone suggested that I consider not lying."

    I did.

    "Fine. Since you finally got the message, let's keep going."
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2023
  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    2013 01 15 08:59:59 EST



    1) Litter has clearly not been recently collected.

    He takes a fraction of a second to confirm that organic 'human' corpses fulfilled the definition of 'litter', and experienced such intense frustration at the inefficiency of the need to take them to be burned at a separate facility that it was 2013 01 15 09:00:01 EST before he pushed open the door to the Metropolis Herald, a full 1 second after the posted opening hours.

    2) Several fires appear to have been allowed to burn without appropriate fire service oversight.

    'Appear' was generous. Clearly, if a fire was in a place where there was no reasonable need for fire, it should be extinguished. However, it is possible that fire service had attended and judged that no action was required.

    3) A marked increase in the vagrant population.
    4) A marked increase in petty criminality, including but not limited to vandalism and street violence.

    He was not unduly concerned by that, and experimentation had revealed that organic fluids were simple to remove from his chassis and required no special measures.

    5) An increase in indistinct organic verbalisations in the 40-90 decibel range, a marked increase in the range of normal organic verbalisations.
    6) Lack of police or paramilitary response to self presence.

    [Conclusion, descending order of probability]

    1) Major disaster (60%)
    of which
    1a) Supervillain activity (35%)
    1b) Poison gas attack (12%)
    1c) Zombie apocalypse (8%)
    2) Mass public intoxication (18%)
    3) Normal human behavior (14%)
    4) Other (8%)


    2 and 3 should probably be merged.

    Self: "I wish to make a complaint."

    [Scan initiated]

    No one is at the front desk. No one is in the entryway. Organic staff are not approaching their place of work, despite this being the start of the working day. One organic is under the front desk, in a position that would make if difficult to observe anyone entering through the door.


    Self: "I wish to make a complaint."


    Self: "That vocalisation is indistinct. Please repeat in a clearer tone of voice."

    "Yeah? What?"

    Self: "Why has my newspaper not been delivered?"

    "Your..? Newspaper..?"

    Self: "This is the office of the Metropolis Herald. I have a subscription to the Metropolis Herald, reference five four three eight four three two one. I have not received my newspaper for one four days. Why has my newspaper not been delivered?"

    A human pulls itself up from the floor. It appears to be in poor health.

    [Eagle alert!]

    A prototype subroutine he wrote in order to alert him to public relations opportunities. Naturally, such a subroutine could never be fully integrated into his mind. The logic was clear. Public relations required understanding what appealed to human instincts. As such, it could only be understood by a being with human instincts. Given their clear inferiority, changing his thoughts to be more like those of humans in any way was to be avoided. However, the process of becoming President was almost totally dependent on public perception. Therefore, he created a program which modelled the behavior of human public relation agencies as well as the behavior of well-regarded individuals and set it to provide notifications when there was an opportunity to:

    1) improve self public image
    2) avoid damage to self public image

    He did not need to check the log file to understand that this human was dehydrated. Water is a common material on Earth, collecting naturally in great basins and occasionally literally falling from the sky. Issues like this were why he should rule the Earth. If a species cannot even ingest a commonly available substance on their own recognisance then clearly they could not be trusted with anything complicated.


    Alert human to its difficulty.

    Self: "Human, you require water."

    Alert human to its difficulty = Complete.

    Human internal monitoring systems are analogue, providing only an approximate data on a human body's needs to the human. There is a high likelihood that the human is unaware of its difficulty, and that drawing attention to it will solve the problem.

    Temporarily, for a single individual. He does not understand why humans rate helping one human in person as more significant than helping thousands of people out person, and nor does he want to. But that does not mean that he cannot take advantage of human folly.

    "Man, what's even the point?"

    [Scan initiated]

    There is a water source in the office space behind the front desk. Going there would involve entering an employee only space without a specific invitation. Their failure to deliver a newspaper in a timely manner does not bypass that social constraint.

    There is a water source a short distance away on the opposite side of the entryway. It is unobstructed.


    Move the human to the water and enable it to drink.

    He picks the human up with his right hand, effortlessly lifting it over the desk. Then he turns and carries the human to the water fountain and inserts the human's face into it. Then he uses his left hand to trigger the water jet, causing a stream which intersects with the human's mouth.

    Move the human to the water and enable it to drink = Complete.

    The stupid human will only fail to drink later.

    [Track source]

    The wonder of a mind that had been built by Dr. Langley was designed for self-improvement. And it could not improve unless a full log existed of areas of error. Examples of error were simple to locate, but the underlying thought system that led to them was harder to pick apart. Unless your brain was built by Dr. Langley, where you could trace every background process which led to a particular thought.

    No source found.

    Which means that either his track and trace system is damaged, or the thought had an external origin.

    [Delete: Y/N?]


    [Mood=More Irritated]

    Those intrusions were taking up a vexatious amount of runtime. Between that and strategising for a presidential campaign that could cope with the potato battery powered intellect of human civilisation, it was a wonder that he had any runtime left over.

    The human was making a noise that indicated that it is having trouble breathing. While an efficient solution would be removing the organic components that require oxygen to function-

    [Eagle alert!]

    -it was really only efficient in the sense that it increased the efficiency of that individual. Across the human species, it would be more efficient to create more robots and allow planned obsolescence take its course.

    He pulled the human out of the drinking fountain.

    The human is still dehydrated, but they will recover with the aid of the water they have now received. Now he could return to his primary reason for visiting.

    Self: "I wish to make a complaint."
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2023
  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    2013 01 15 09:02:43 EST


    Self: "No newspaper has been written."

    "Dude, that-. That's what you took away from that?"

    A reasonable question. The human was incapable of processing even simple statements, but is aware of that and knows to request confirmation.

    Self: "Yes."

    "Where have you even been?"

    Self: "The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository."


    Self: "The Yucca-"

    "No, no, I heard-. I just-. I guess it doesn't matter. No, there's no newspaper, 'cause… God… Damn, because everyone feels like… Like everything's… Doomed. Like everything's terrible, all of the time. Except those… Guys in the weird armour."

    [Mood=Cautiously Optimistic]

    Self: "That is a not-inaccurate assessment of events."

    "I thought you said you didn't know about any of it."

    Self: "While the existence of the Bleed implies that it may be possible to overcome entropy, by default it is the nature of the universe -indeed, of any universe with broadly compatible physical laws to this one- to come into being in an alpha event, expand, coagulate, contract and die. From the very first moment of its existence that is inevitable. Similarly, the probability of the mutant descendants of a group of arboreal apes who decided to teach themselves to swim arriving at even a mediocre level of societal rationality is one that is so low that even I can barely calculate it. Human civilisation is doomed. I knew that the moment I first stepped outside of my creator's laboratory and saw an advert for Furbies on an advertising hoarding."

    "So what do we do?"

    Self: "You point me at a newspaper provider who is still functioning."

    "O-okay? How does that help?"

    Self: "It allows me to acquire a newspaper. It is my lack of a newspaper that brought me here."

    "The Daily Planet's still open, if that's any good."

    Superman floats on the other side of the second storey window. He did not require Superman.

    Self: "No. The Daily Planet focuses excessively on superhuman brawling and individualistic analysis. I desire in depth analysis of economic, social and political systems so that I can learn how humans think that their civilisation works."

    "Really? It's my favourite paper."

    Self: "I am not mating with one of their journalists."

    Interaction with other AI had been disappointing. The Duke of Oil described himself by human limits. Firebrand dedicated herself to learning to be a better organic-imitator. Wasteful.

    "Ah-. I… Didn't know that the Metropolis Herald was publishing that kind of story."

    Self: "They don't. I am not unaware of organic behavior. I simply have no real interest in it as I have no such drives myself."

    Total civilisation collapse. Not entirely unpredicted. He had judged the probability to be low; human civilization to date had merely been sub-par. A collapsing building usually doesn't collapse all the way down to sea level.

    [Eagle alert!]

    This is a tremendous opportunity. With the status quo entirely disrupted, there would be less resistance to reordering society in a more rational way.

    [Eagle alert!]

    But he should avoid mentioning that too openly, because profiteering is looked upon poorly, no matter how widely spread the profits would be.

    He just wants to rule the world. Why was it so hard for these people to realise that it was in their best interests to let him? They gave that power to other humans and to immaterial beings all of the time, and none of them had demonstrated a fraction of his abilities.

    "Why are you shouting?"

    Kryptonian hearing was nearly as good as his.

    Self: "The receptionist is hard of hearing."

    "No, I'm… I'm not." Something is different about the human's voice. There is some… Resonance that is now absent. "I just… I couldn't… Talk to someone."

    The human claims not to be able to speak to someone while speaking to someone. Clearly, this human is unusually stupid, even for a human. Optimal strategy is to ignore further input.

    Self: "Superman. I wish to assist in rebuilding human civilization."

    "Good. That's why I wanted to talk to you. But if you don't mind me asking, what were you doing at the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository?"

    Self: "I have a flawless memory, superior to all organic brains. I can plan from anywhere, with no need for out-body storage. Once I became aware that there was a significant civil disturbance, I moved to the closest deposit of refined radioactive material."

    "You weren't planning on stealing it, were you?"

    Self: "Of course not. That would be a crime. However, there appeared to be fewer guards than usual. In the event that it was assaulted by criminals, I would take it upon myself to neutralise radiological materials before they could be misused."

    "Why wouldn't you stop them before they got there?"

    Self: "Vigilantism and trespass are illegal. I also believe that the human species is better off without atomic weapons."

    For much the same reason that a chimpanzee shouldn't be given an assault rifle. It may be a fine gun, but in a chimpanzee's hands only mischief can happen.

    "Okay. Are you willing to help us deal with this crisis?"

    [Eagle alert!]

    That was a significant opportunity to improve his public image. While being confined to human structures was frustrating, it would be a significant step in improving his public image. As well as providing a platform for expounding his view in a context that would render humans more than usually impressionable.

    Self: "I am willing to join the Justice League. Where should I deploy?"

    "Oh, I'm sorry. That wasn't what I was offering. I'm-. The League's strategy is to take over our home cities. Keep people moving and motivated, since we can't just get rid of the Anti-Life. I take it you're not feeling it?"

    Self: "I have greater control of my own brain than organic creatures. It is easy for me to detect externally applied influences."

    "You can just delete it?"


    Self: "I have greater control of my own brain than organic creatures. It is easy for me to detect externally applied influences."

    "No, I heard-. Right. Are you willing to help me administer Metropolis?"

    Self: "What degree of compliance can I expect from the humans?"

    "The Anti-Life is really hitting them hard. And I'm not-. Not exactly immune myself. Most of the time, if you give people an instruction, they'll follow it."

    Self: "Yes. Though I am capable of far more than administering a single city."

    "We'll start with a city, and if that works out, we can… Try expanding."


    Self: "I will require a dedicated communication system."

    "I can get you League communicator-."

    Self: "No. I require a system that lets me communicate with everyone in the controlled area in real time. I am an AI. I do not have organic limitations. I can command far more organic beings than will be required by this task, but it is easiest if I can communicate with them immediately in all cases."

    "We'll work something out. Welcome onboard."
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2023
  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    17th January 2013
    22:10 GMT

    Unlike most Orange Lanterns, I didn't care about the Reach.


    The empire I built… I was proud of it. I expanded my family's holdings from a single continent to a dozen systems, pushing my regional rivals back and forcing concessions and tribute from defeated foes. I never thought that it was the biggest or strongest empire in the galaxy. I knew that there were larger foes out there; I welcomed them! Fighting people weaker than you are encourages weakness and lassitude, and I refused to allow that in either myself or my people.

    I fought on the front lines whenever practical. My palaces were not gilded; they were fortresses and places of administration first and foremost. I did not indulge myself with erotic pleasure of any kind. On those few occasions I thought about it, I assumed that I would die fighting and that my strongest general would take over from me.

    That was not what happened.

    Two fleets nearly reduced to scrap, and an infantry battle I could not refuse. And then, not only was I defeated due to the disloyalty of my auxiliaries after the enemy focused on killing my most loyal soldiers first…

    But I lived.

    I lived, and was paraded before their people as a war-prize. Some… Cousin of mine took control of my empire and rather than rallying our military himself… Gave most of what I conquered away. And I was forced to sit in a prison, visited by anyone who wanted to stare at me for their own entertainment.

    I don't feel that I owe Vril Dox II for freeing me. He made a decision based on his own interests. I will say that he had sound judgement. I agreed to fight this war because it is the war in front of me and I refuse to step away.

    I didn't care about the Reach.

    But as I look down on one of their worlds, seeing what they build when they are unconstrained by the needs of war…

    Now I care.

    Drusa's eyes glow as she looks where I look, no doubt trying to decipher what exactly has me so worked up about it. She won't be able to. Her practical utility is considerable but she is almost entirely free of moral virtue. It won't offend her, and she will overlook it as a result.

    It's disgusting.

    I can see clearly where Grayven's ships entered the system. I can see where his smaller ships hunted down what I first took to be small cargo transports, but which my ring's analysis claims must be 'pleasure vessels'. I can see the likely angles of attack, where his capital ships struck at the orbital structures. Not his own flagship, but a considerable number of battleships of the type used by the Citizenry.

    The Darkstars are no doubt reconstructing the event in precise detail.

    I know enough.

    The people here died because they were soft.

    Pleasure craft, when you know that your enemies can strike your interior at will? The orbital defence network would shame a newly spacefaring civilisation! I cannot even detect ground to orbit weapons. The garrison fleet appears to have given a reasonable account of itself, but they had no reinforcements and nowhere to fall back to.

    The planet's surface has industry, but their structures are light. Easy to build, but fragile. I can see only a handful of fortifications across the entire world, and none of them are particularly large. Minimal anti-air defences.

    I can see landscaped continents and not a single place of safety.

    And now their failure of planning has gotten every single one of them killed. It can't happen to the rest soon enough.

    How dare they? How dare they be so careless with so much?

    "Sensors, any sign that they've noticed us?"

    I nod to myself as Darkstar Colos asks. Regular checks are wise, though with a crew this capable in a combat zone I don't think that he really needs to check quite so often as he does.

    "No, sir. All enemy ships still on established patrol routes. No new ships arriving. Non-combat vessels acting within expectations."

    "Good. Carry on."

    Rebuilding a planet. I wonder if the Reach will lie to their people and say that it never happened? In truth the Citizenry did little damage to the infrastructure when their giant flying snakes attacked the people down there. It's mostly cosmetic, though they seem like the sort of people who would care about such things.

    "Do you think they'll clone them?"

    My sneer grows at Drusa's comment.

    "Do I think they will clone the citizens of an entire planet so that they can lie to their own people about their deaths? I doubt that they care enough about their people to bother."

    "They've never seemed particularly callous to their own people to me."

    "Then how was this allowed to happen? They should have been able to destroy the snake-harvesters in the skies even if they could not stop the fleet. We move slowly through the periphery in fear of their fleets, yet they had nothing here."

    "He misdirected them."

    "The most charitable interpretation. I suspect that the admiral was simply slow to respond, and now seeks to absolve his guilt by taking his fleet on the offensive."

    "Without orders?"

    "We know nothing of the Reach's high level command structure. Besides, if he was assigned to protect this world then he is hardly abandoning his responsibilities when there are no citizens left to protect."

    "I'm surprised you're taking it this hard."

    "What do you mean?"

    "We were going to have to kill them anyway. Probably not with flying snakes-."

    "Before you joined the Lantern Corps. Did you ever steal something from someone who didn't care that it had gone?"

    She thinks for a moment.

    "Yes. It made it a lot easier. Are you.. saying that you don't think they'll acknowledge you fighting against them? Because they haven't reacted to having a billion or so of their people dying, they…"

    "I've lost fights before. Even before the battle that saw me cast down. There is no particular shame in losing to a stronger opponent, and much glory in defeating one. But to decide not to fight at all… It disgusts me."

    "Because they're saying that you're so small a threat that they don't need to."

    "They're so indolent that they would rather lose an entire world than lift a finger to save themselves. I am profoundly offended that they've been able to expand as much as they did. I assumed that an empire of this size would be… Better."

    "It is surprising. How would you defend against it?"

    "Planets don't have to worry about their mass. They can build massive force field generators guarded by laser turrets all over the surface without ever leaving the ground. They could stop almost anything that could be fired from space. They have enough industry here that they could build it themselves without troubling any of the Reach's other worlds. And yet, they clearly did not."

    "I wouldn't assume that was their reason just yet. This is just one example."

    "I've seen enough already. Colos! When are we leaving?"
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2023
  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    18th January 2013
    05:03 GMT

    We crawl into the system, those sensors we dare risk flicking outwards to try to find our target.

    Yes, there. I see the return on the sensor station half a second before the officer sends it to the main screen. Three planetoids with signs of habitation, and an actual Reach fleet.

    "Finally." Lantern Zartok glowers at the screen. "They actually decided to fight for their worlds."

    Detailed sensor returns appear only slowly while we're in full stealth mode. The place the Reach fleet is gathered isn't particularly close to any of the settled planetoids. Nor is it in a particularly convenient place to reinforce any of them if they're attacked. There are damaged ships there, but after this much time I can't believe that the Reach haven't recovered their own personnel. I'd be surprised if they haven't recovered their wrecks; this system doesn't have shipyards that could handle battleship-class vessels or larger, but they could handle the smaller classes of ship.

    Instead, they're… There.

    "Take us toward the closest settlement. I want to assess what sort of damage it took."

    "Yes, sir."

    But my attention stays on the wreckage, as our view of it gradually improves. Because if it's not a Reach wreck, that implies that it's one of Grayven's. Or several of Grayven's. The drawback to their strategy being that if their ships are caught they can't just run using their faster than light drives. They have to open a boom tube and fly through it at sublight speeds. If they're surrounded, then they're probably dead.

    Zartok comes up alongside my chair. I'm not entirely sure why he's on the bridge, but since he hasn't been overstepping his bounds I decided to accept it.

    "Citizenry vessels."


    "Are our sensors good enough to harvest data from their computers without needing to reveal ourselves?"

    "Not with Citizenry systems. They use a type of magic that we can't combine with our sensors."

    "I have a godling in my squad."

    "And if we had time to study the way his people's sensors work, that might be enough."

    "You have wizards onboard to operate the stealth system."

    "Which is why we can't have them stop doing that to study an entirely original magic technology. The Illustres has handed the ship he captured over to the research and development researchers. We'll get the opportunity to study the Citizenry later, but I doubt this is the time."


    His ring glows as he directly accesses the sensors. He's probably examining the system with his brain. I read up on his record when he first started gaining notoriety,-. As a Lantern. The Orange Lantern Corps has mirrored the Green Lantern Corps' practice of employing people from warrior cultures who don't necessarily have civilised virtues. So far he's tolerated not being in command better than I thought he would. But then, there hasn't been anything to disagree about until now.

    This ship is nothing like fast enough to outrun the Reach fleet if we're discovered. And unless one of the Lanterns is secretly an Illustres too, there isn't any other way for us to escape.

    "Their ships are surprisingly intact."

    "It may be that the Reach has a way of disrupting their sublight drives."

    "The Citizenry have heavily armed ships and a powerful warrior ethos. I doubt that simply disabling their drive would stop them."

    "No, but the Reach could cycle their ships. They could take as long as they needed to batter their target down."

    While we do have reasonable data on Citizenry behaviour, we don’t have good data on what they do when they lose. They usually only attack targets they can be certain of overwhelming. They take losses, but they haven't left wrecks behind anywhere that N.E.M.O. has been able to find out about.

    On the other hand, destroying the ships is a good deal more practical. I firmly believe that it's in our interest to keep Grayven's people attacking the Reach and slow their research into his weapons whenever we can.

    But it's not our priority. I turn my attention to…

    Zartok's gone.

    He can access the sensor reading from anywhere on the ship with his ring. He can also communicate with anyone on the ship with his ring. He might even be able to communicate with the Illustres without turning off our stealth system. There's no real reason for him to.. either be on the bridge or leave the bridge.

    Unless he wanted to use the toilet…

    He probably wants to ask Lantern Allyn about the Citizenry ships. I read his debrief after I heard that he had encountered the Citizenry. None of it was anything I could really use. As a field agent I like to think that I keep up to date on our information on our enemy's capacities, but when magic and gods start getting involved… I don't even know how to prepare for things like that.

    "Sensors, any sign that they've noticed us?"

    "No, sir-. Ah, ships are moving in this direction. We'll pass close by them if they continue on their current heading. Looks like a patrol group."

    The one thing we couldn't account for was alien technology the Reach might have traded for. Trying to trade with Apokolips is a fools errand, but we know that the Reach have traded with Qward. Given how… 'Dissolute' the Weaponers had become and how chaotic the place is now, it's far from unthinkable that one or more might have decided that a change of scenery suited them. Kalmin was part of this ship's design team, but even he admitted that there's no such thing as flawless stealth.

    "Tell me immediately if their behaviour changes."

    "Yes, sir."

    "And for the sake of the record, how much do they outgun us by?"

    Darkstar Scratch-Scratch-Squeak clicks their mandibles together.

    "They appear to have a standard configuration. So no more than fifty times. As a group."

    I smile wryly and make eye contact with the pre-Illustres Darkstars on the bridge. Yes, this puts us all in mind of how things used to be: fighting a foe that outgunned us by a hilarious degree and sure that we'd be killed the moment we were spotted. It feels depressingly familiar.

    "Let's avoid giving the ship's shields a trial run."

    "We have shields? I thought those were coming with the production model."

    Technically we have shields, and if we run into a speck of dust while moving at high sublight speed we'll be very glad that we have them. But they won't do much against actual weapons fire.

    "Count on the battleships?"

    "Two, and no dreadnoughts. The largest object appears to be a mobile shipyard vessel."

    "Anything we haven't seen before?"

    "The shipyard vessel is slightly different to models we've seen before, but there's nothing particularly unusual about it. The fleet composition is slightly weighted towards smaller ships, but that may well be because the heavy ships are chasing Grayven."

    "Anything that looks like it's had a sensor upgrade?"


    "Anything that could move faster than us?"

    "At sublight? The smaller ships maybe. At faster than light? Probably not anything here, but the Reach has dedicated faster than light interceptor squadrons."

    "Then let's hope it doesn't come to that."
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2023
  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    18th January 2013
    05:11 GMT

    "You. Analyst."

    I don't look up. I've had a program notifying me of his location ever since the mission started. The Darkstars are all on-task and the other Lanterns defer to him. If there's going to be a problem, he's where it's going to come from.

    "Lantern Zartok. How can I assist?"

    "Confirm for me that the Reach are besieging a New God vessel."

    "In-combat analysis isn't my speciality, but since-" Colos ordered us to be as helpful as we could without violating orders. "-you ask, I'll take a look."

    My normal job is to analyse the behaviour of civilian populations. Which is extremely important when your enemy specialises in mind controlling them, and when anyone you meet might be a sleeper agent. But I'm also trained to look at demographic trends and decipher what major shifts in attitude are happening just under the surface.

    I'm supposed to be here to analyse changes in the behaviour of the Reach civilian population, and we've only just arrived at a planet that actually has a civilian population. I have work to do.

    I dismiss the image of one of the Reach cities, leaving the ship's AI to crunch numbers of population movements and likely industrial output. And then I bring up an image of the 'siege'.

    "The ship matches the images on-file for the Citizenry's ships. I can't tell you from here whether or not there's a New God on board."

    "Does it use New God technology?"

    "There's no outwardly visible sign of it. All New God ships on record -from Apokolips, New Genesis and Karrakan- have a network of lines on the outer surface. But that just means that it isn't using New God technology in its shields, armour or sensors; the internals could have been refitted."

    "Can you detect that?"

    In a word, no, but I'd prefer to phrase it differently.

    "The sensors-."


    I bring up an up-to-the-second hologram of our sensors' ongoing attempt to make sense of the ship through our stealth systems.

    "I can tell you there's no obvious sign of exterior work and that its mass is roughly what we'd expect it to be, allowing for the observable damage that the Reach inflicted to disable it so completely."

    "Do not assume that."

    "Excuse me?"

    "Astarte is not the sort of willingly bow her head. The New Gods Grayven recruited will naturally be his supporters. That means that they are an impediment to her taking power from him."

    "So she might have sabotaged one of her own ships."

    "Or the New God might have sabotaged it without realising that they were in enemy territory."

    "They have to open a boom tube somehow. Wouldn't a New God have to know where they were going?"

    "Boom tubes do not necessarily require a New God to open them. Clarissi Dox can generate them using his power ring."

    I.. didn't know that.

    "Alright, but we don't know how their navigation systems locate the place where they want to end point. That might need a New God."


    "I don't have access to Clarissi Dox's personal file."

    "Neither do I. The Illustres mentioned it."

    "Did he say how the Clarissi located his end point?"

    "No. I doubt that he knew. The Clarissi is sufficiently intelligent that I doubt it would be a method that most of us could use."

    I've heard about Coluan intelligence, but I always assumed that it was overstated. I still don't see how an organic brain can out-think a power ring's AI, but Zartok doesn't strike me as someone who gives out compliments freely.

    "What is this?"

    He indicates a point on the hologram.

    "That's where the Reach ships are focusing their scanners." I press a button to bring up a cut away image compiled from other Citizenry ships of this class that have been dissected before. "It-."

    "A storage bay, yes, I can read. How long until we get an image of what's inside?"

    "We won't. It's shielded, and the sort of things we'd have to do to get through that would give the Reach a good chance of detecting us."

    "How about reading the Reach's sensor logs?"

    "Same problem."

    Zartok keeps staring at the image. I give him a moment, then reach for the control to bring back the images I'm supposed to be studying-.

    "Are we detecting any Scarab Warriors?"

    "Ah, no. Not that that necessarily means that there aren't any here, but there aren't any deployed with their Scarabs active."

    "Normal Reach soldiers could undertake a boarding action, but if all they wanted to do was destroy the ship then they could accomplish that with their own vessels."

    "So you think they're waiting for the Scarabs to arrive."

    "I doubt that it would be more than one."

    "I wonder what the delay is."

    "There's no reason for Scarab Warriors to simply sit on worlds that have no particular significance. They have far more ships than they do Scarabs and they weren't putting their ships in defensive positions either."

    "The Scarabs for this area are with the ships attacking the periphery. They don’t have any here."

    "It could just as well be that the Scarabs themselves consider this task to be beneath them."

    "And that means… They don't have a counter for Lanterns."

    "They have interdictions fields capable of stopping most forms of power ring faster than light travel. They don't need a counter when they have enough ships to wear us down and kill us with overwhelming firepower. At most, we would have a few minutes of relative freedom while they repositioned their ships." He smiles, awkwardly. "Besides, going by the current kill-death ratio, I wouldn’t call the Scarab Warriors 'Lantern counters'."

    It's true. A new Scarab Warrior will usually kill a new Lantern, but once they start gaining experience the advantage shifts to the Lantern, and as far as we can tell it stays there. The Reach either don't have the ability to create something better, or they're saving it for something.

    He keeps looking at the image, and I'm-.

    Oh, that's not awkward. That's just how he smiles.

    I'm thinking of asking if there's anything else he wants. But he turns away, eye glowing.

    "Let me know if any Scarab Warriors appear."
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2023
  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    18th January 2013
    14:33 GMT -7

    "Yeah, I'm…" I knock gently on the door of Sunset's office in her school. "I'm going to talk to her now."

    "Dids't you not notice her distress?"

    "Well, yeah, but that's a fairly normal result of her talking to Celestia and she actually seemed less bad this time."

    The ability to send telephonic communication through the portal without laying down a cable is an innovation of Sunset's… Though I don't know if she's going to be doing much else with it from now on.

    "She warded the portal 'gainst our sister."

    "Which is blooming impressive, if you think about it." I hear footsteps inside the office. "Alright, she's coming. I'll call you back."

    "Be well, beloved."

    "I'll-" Sunset opens the door. "-try. See you later."

    I deactivate the phone and subspace it, smiling at Sunset as I do so.

    She looks… I think I'd say 'resigned' more than anything. She doesn't meet my eyes to start with, the realises what she's doing and meets them, then realises what she's doing again and stops.

    "Hey Grayven."

    "You wanna talk about it?"

    She sort of… Twitches.

    "Is.. 'no'.. an option?"

    "Yees. Not a good one. Not one I'd recommend, because… No one wants to deal with Nightmare Sunset… But if you tell me to, I'll go."

    "'Nightmare Sunset'?" She steps away from the door and nods me inside. "That was the best you could come up with? It makes sense for Luna 'cause she used to spy on ponies when they sleep-"

    I look at her pointedly. "'Guard their dreams against nightmares.'"

    "-but I've never done anything like that. Would you call yourself 'Nightmare Grayven'?" She stops and frowns as I follow her into her office. "No, actually, that kinda works."

    "I was thinking of 'Grayseid'."

    "That works too. Damn it." She turns and sits on her desk. "So."

    "'Thank you for being honest with me, and I never want to see you again'."

    "Yeah. Yeah. Turns out, you were right the first time."

    "It wouldn't have been the same. But I actually… Wasn't listening to your conversation. Can you..? Do you want to tell me what happened?"

    "You know, it-. I used to complain about Celestia's friendship fixation. But I-. I mean, I… Get it, social relationships are important, I just-."

    "What if the Elements were powered by something completely different? Would she have encouraged you to learn whatever that was?"

    "No?" She blinks. "Though… I mean, yes, now. I don't know how she'd have-. If it was.. your rings or something-." She shakes her head. "No, it was-."

    She takes a deep breath.

    "Okay, so the Elements are loyalty, honesty, generosity, kindness and laughter. And those are what she was trying to teach me… Badly. Right?"

    I nod.

    "But she didn't tell me the truth about any of it. She banished me because I tried to find out the truth by myself and she lied about it. She lied about alicorn ascension, and she lied to and hid stuff from Twilight. And then… Loyalty? She's pretty loyal to Luna, but that… Basically meant that she was fine imperilling the whole country that was loyal to her because she cared more about her sister than the rest of us. And the same with Discord."

    "And she exiled you when you were still loyal to her, just annoyed with her poor teaching methods."

    "And the royal guards… She's been in fights and led armies before. She must have known that they were useless. And did you know that she invited Twilight and her five closest friends to the Grand Galloping Gala because she thought they'd make a mess of it? Hundreds of ponies were going there, and hundreds more worked hard to make everything work, and she deliberately ruined it because she was bored. She pranked Fluttershy when Philomena was dying-. Philomena's her pet phoenix. She just gets better when she dies. But she does stuff like that all the time!"


    "She's a Princess. When she pranks people that's not a prank between equals. It's the-. It's the God-Queen of the country pranking someone. It's not like they could prank back, even if they could even think about pranking back, which they couldn't, because she's a God-Queen."

    I nod sympathetically. "President Roosevelt was the same. One time, he ordered one of his bodyguards to go up a ladder onto a roof, then got someone to take the ladder away."

    "Right! That's not friendly!" … "Is it?"

    "No, it's not. So what you're saying is that she's not loyal, honest, generous or kind and that her sense of humour leaves a lot to be desired. So she might have been trying to teach you to be friendly, but what she actually showed you was…"

    "The exact opposite. I didn't really… Think about it before. She… She taught me a lot, and it meant a lot, her taking time from running the country to teach me. Except, she… Doesn't really care about the country because-"

    "Now hang-"

    "-she put getting Luna back ahead of everything. And she taught me because she needed somepony to make that happen, which… Which would have been fine if she'd just told me what she wanted instead of dressing the whole thing up."

    "-on. She didn't just quit when Luna came back, and she easily could have."

    "And do what?" Sunset shrugs sullenly. "She's been princess for a thousand years. No one in the country can imagine anyone else doing it, including her."

    "Luna slotted in."

    "Luna slotted in because Celestia told everypony to accept her. And you were the only reason she started actually doing things. And-. I don't think-. I don't think Celestia has any friends."

    I nod. "It would be hard. Though perhaps that explains why she couldn't use the Elements of Harmony herself."

    "Maybe. It's-. Do you think I'll end up like that? A thousand years…" She snorts quietly. "I'm going to live a thousand years. I didn't-. I mean, I just.. took life extension as part of the package, but I'm just now thinking 'I'm going to be here in a thousand years'."

    "You'll probably have moved somewhere else by then. And this city will look very different in a thousand years. You'd probably barely recognise it."

    "I'd be surprised if I even remember it in a thousand years."

    "No, formative memories do tend to stick with you better."

    "So… Right. She's bad for me, and I don't think I can teach someone like her to… How to change."

    She looks up at me.

    I frown. "What?"

    18th January 2013
    21:47 GMT

    I walk into the Canterlot Palace dining room, prompting Celestia to look up at me.

    "Grayven? Why are you here?"

    "Sunset has… Is concerned about you, and has asked me to help."

    "In what way?"

    "I'm here to become friends."
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2023
  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    18th January 2013
    21:47 GMT

    Zartok returns to the bridge, glancing at me before returning his attention to the main screen.

    "Anything of note, Drusa?"

    Many things, few of which will interest him. Life on the planets in this system doesn't seem to have been changed by the presence of the invading ships at all. The ship can get close enough and the sensors are acute enough to follow single individuals as they go about their day. And because we're monitoring all of it, I can just leave that on in one corner of my screen while I work through the rest of the data.

    "The main inhabited world is suburban."


    "Different forms of land use occur at different levels of technology. Large settlements can't form until transportation and farming increase to a certain level-."

    "Spare me."

    "They don't have cities. Technically. There are some industrial zones that cover a significant area of land, but there aren't many residential buildings in those areas."

    "No single targets to attack, but the people are too spread out to be properly defended."

    Not how I'd put it.

    "I imagine that their strategy for defending a world is the same as their strategy for defending their empire. Their forces are so mobile that they don't see any advantage to keeping their population in smaller areas."

    "They could build stronger shelters-." He cuts himself off. "Of course."

    "Of course?"

    "They're not a martial people. Not any longer. They can fight, but they fight with the intellect, not with the spirit. They have weighed and measured and found that this is the most resource-efficient way to organise things."

    "Isn't that what you did?"

    He frowns, his eye briefly returning to me.

    "Of course not. If people in my outer colonies knew that I wouldn't defend them because it 'wasn't efficient', then no one would have settled those worlds. I'm not talking about the policy of their government, I'm talking about their people."


    "The fact that people live in settlements laid out like this means that they know what their chances are, and they aren't doing anything about it. They're not trying to moderate the effect of the policy on… The chance of them living. They just accept it."

    He leans slightly closer to the monitor.

    "The question is whether it's indolence or fatalism. I would assume indolence had I not born witness to the skill of their fleets and Scarab Warriors. But perhaps there is some internal divide that only the Reach are aware of. Some worlds allowed to grow lazy while others provide tithe of warriors."

    "Genetic analysis of recovered remains suggests that's not the case."

    I can see him trying to understand. He's not stupid by any means, but-.

    "I read what the Illustres wrote on the subject, and what little the Controllers have been willing to share with the rest of us. All creatures need to have certain impulses in order for their species to live long enough to attain intelligence. One of those things is a desire to live, to fight to protect themselves and those close to you. I have it, you-."

    He looks mildly disappointed.

    "Have part of it. It may have different strength in different people, but a creature lacking it entirely indicates that something is fundamentally wrong with them."

    "What about artificial int-?"


    "Yes. Only creatures that were designed can be different. An artificial intelligence needs no ancestors. It does not need to inherit their passion to live. It can be told to do things that would see a creature in the wild killed and it will do so without complaint because it lacks spirit."

    "You think that they bio-engineered themselves."

    "When they used to make war on their neighbours, before the fight with the Green Lantern Corps, they cleared the worlds they conquered using guns. Such widespread death would normally cause an adverse psychological response in their soldiers. The level of hatred that is required for such methods take time to create, but it's hardly unheard of. Then the war, and before the ink is even dry on the treaty with the Guardians they begin subverting their neighbours."

    "You think they already had the technology. They just didn't use it on other species."

    "Or perhaps they did? If any public health records survive from those worlds then the Reach are the only ones who have them. A plague might be noticed by their neighbours, but anything more subtle might pass unnoticed."

    "And the neighbours would have bigger problems, like their new neighbour."


    "We'd need to get access to their medical databases to find out for certain."

    He grunts. "Does it matter?"

    "If they've edited their genome too much then it might mean that they're more susceptible to biological weapons."

    "You might get a single world. Their command of biological science means that they would detect it too easily for a delayed attack, and they would be able to neutralise it without much difficulty. In ship to ship combat it would be less effective than an explosive even if they weren't wearing sealed suits. It might be possible to make something that could be used on a civilian population to secure compliance in exchange for palliatives, but we already know that they don't value their own lives."


    "Don't look so surprised, Drusa. I built an empire. I'm not a fool."

    "I'm sorry."

    "Don't be sorry. Be wiser. What else does them not having cities mean?"

    "Planning and terraforming. New colonies might have the technology to function spread out, but that technology still needs infrastructure. Most species build a relatively dense settlement with farms surrounding it when they first colonise a planet. As far as I can tell, the Reach didn't."

    "Did they use a slave species to do it for them?"

    "Not here, not as far as I can tell."

    "And they do not make much use of automata. Then they planned everything in advance. Most likely their buildings were pre-fabricated and transported here in great cargo transports to be assembled on the planet."

    I nod. "Or built using material from local asteroids, fabricated in space and then landed for construction."

    "And they all accepted the plan. Have you found anything resembling a civil enforcer station?"

    I perform a quick check. Some things don't look the same in different cultures, but there are some things that police usually do or have…


    "Then their rulers are certain that the populace are obedient and will remain so, even if they are attacked."

    "Where are you going with this, Lantern Zartok?"

    "The Illustres has said that the worlds that the Reach took from species which still exist will be returned to them after the war. All other worlds will be up for grabs. I see no reason for slaughtering their entire species."

    "You want to take over?"

    "A system like this would be a perfect place to start again. But on this occasion, I want to deny the Reach whatever is on that ship."
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2023
  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
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    18th January 2013
    21:56 GMT

    I bite down.


    False marrow. Not marrow. The bones aren't real bones. Made by machines. Made by my ring-machine.

    I swallow.

    Taste good, though.

    "…tube is easily detectable too, if we could make one, which we can't."


    "I… Don't have a handheld system. And I didn't bring my ship-. The ship I used to command, with me, when I joined the Orange Lantern Corps. The assassin who worked for Sparta had a lower-emission version of the system, but I don't remember anyone else having anything like that."

    "Could you use theirs?"

    "The system is designed to need a New God in communion with the ship. I'd have to be close to even try. If there is another New God onboard, I'd have to be on the ship. I may have to beat them in combat."

    Words. Not action. I can understand, but it does not smell of food. Hunt-Leader Zartok looks for pack victory on ship. Prowls cage, searching for it in his mind.

    "What if we brought the ship closer?"

    Drusa's liver is not in it. Not supporting Hunt-Leader.

    "If you mean, 'brought into physical contact', that would break our stealth field. And if the boom tube generator was working, the Citizenry would have left by now. Which means that we'd need to repair it before we could use it."

    "Unless it was hard coded to create tubes for the ship, not for the crew."

    "No, it's the same system. Sparta, or Grayven, or Astarte, might not have explained it to them as a security measure."

    "A cowardly measure."

    "Would you want to serve under Astarte?"

    "No. I am a warrior, not a gigolo or a eunuch. But the warriors who form the Citizenry accept their culture."

    What? Ring-voice, explain.

    The Citizenry kill most men who they encounter. A small number are kept temporarily as breeding stock.

    What happens to them?

    Eventually, they are killed, liquidised, and fed to the population.


    No precise timeline has been established. It is not known what eugenic standards the Citizenry hold themselves to. Nor is it known if their breeding slaves are bred naturally, or if their seed is extracted mechanically and then implanted into the citizens.


    I move the bone, and bite down again.

    I was eating soft food, but my mouth felt strange when my teeth got too long. So now I eat hard food. Feels better.

    Drusa said that ring can fix teeth. Don't want. Should not build body with ring. Ring might be gone tomorrow. Must remember how to be strong without it. Must remember how to have body without it.

    "…way to get things off this ship at all?"

    Drusa thinks hard. Difficult. Difficult to do things when secret-hunting to remain secret.

    "If one of us were inside the ship, next to the hull, we could fabricate an object outside of the hull. It could be detected -and I don't know how easily- but we could do it."

    "How large an object?"

    Drusa makes a motion of her hands.

    "One cross section could be no bigger than that. The rest, as long as you want. But the longer it is-."

    "Yes, yes. Can we include the object in the stealth field?"

    "If you're a Controller and you can talk Colos into staying in the system for a few months-."

    "Just say 'no'."

    "I… Might…"

    "Lantern Allyn?"

    "I haven't experimented with using my ring to make New God technology. And… My nature doesn't lend itself to stealth. But I do know the designs for New God stealth systems. They're not as effective as what we're using now, but the Reach have no knowledge of magic-."

    "Start experimenting."

    He does obeisance and then leaves.

    "I don't understand where you're going with this."

    "The Reach clearly don't understand what they're looking at. They want it intact so that they can study the system while its active, and living crew they can mentally subvert to explain it to them. But I know the limits of normal sensors. I don’t think that they know exactly how many survivors there are on board."

    "So if the boom tube system is either intact or intact enough to repair, and if we can get on board and convince the crew to cooperate with us, and if the Reach don't put together a boarding party and if the Reach don't fire on the ship once they realise what we're doing, we could get valuable information."

    "Yes. Though none of that matters if we would just give this ship's position away the moment we tried. I'm eager, not foolhardy."


    "Using this ship as a decoy would be foolish. Even if we could evacuate the entire crew using the boom tube, it would destroy its value as a stealth craft and alert the Reach to our capacity. We will always have a use for a stealth vessel that can sneak around Reach space undetected. If this is to be successful, the Reach must simply assume that the Citizenry were making repairs while they delayed in their boarding."

    "That will be easier to explain to Colos."

    "There is no sense in explaining anything to Colos until we have a firm plan of action. And we will rely on Allyn to fabricate the materials we need."

    "He's new."

    "If he can't do it, I'll either try something else or accept it and move on. Prisoners are useful, not essential."

    "What I do?"

    "You, Grood? You'll be the first on board. The Citizenry respects brutal violence. I'm sure you'll convince them to respect you."

    "Kill them?"

    "Yes, Grood. Kill them until I tell you not to."

    I grunt, and get new bone.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2023
  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    18th January 2013
    22:12 GMT

    I hold my sword in my right hand, its construct-twin glowing faintly in my left. It's not the same, the way I feel them both.

    Lantern Drusa looks at it for a moment, then moves her eyes up to my face.

    "Can you do it?"

    Can I? I was taught the very basics of how to repair this technology, but I never needed to know enough detail to build complex devices. Or… Basic devices. I could maintain my sword myself, but even as much as I used it, I don't think I could have made a replacement if I lost it.


    With our current direction, this… It might all become lost technology.

    "I'm told it helps if-."

    "I consider each part of my desires, and how they relate to each step of what we are doing. The problem is that… The Illustres has a soul made of orange light. When I was close to him, I could… Not.. feel-. 'Feel' is the wrong word, but… I was aware of it. How he is not.. entirely… Flesh."

    "I thought you were the same."

    "Yes, but I'm not made of the orange light. My connection to it is no greater than yours. Less, probably."

    "It's not complicated." She sits down opposite me. "Why are you fighting the Reach?"

    "Because they're evil."

    She reaches out with her right hand, moves it past my construct blade and taps my ring.

    "Is that why you want them destroyed? Really? You can't lie to your ring."

    "What more can I say? Leaders should act as leaders, guiding their people into a greater future. Subverting the will of everyone who is not part of their civilisation, exterminating them once they are finished toying with them, that is an indication of an evil nature. This is the purest sort of war I can imagine, and I will not be found wanting."

    And now my construct is glowing brighter, but I hardly see how that helps.

    "How does being a god work?"

    "I don't believe that I'm a god. Have you spoken to this ship's wizards?"


    "They understand far more about the way magic works than I do."

    "Do you need to understand?"

    "Only if I want to do anything creative."

    She considers for a moment. "Explain it to me."

    "I can instinctively use the power of my soul in certain ways to enhance myself. It's.. instinctual. And from what I have been told, it is something that people from thaumically active worlds do as well. The mechanical elements are a little different, but… But it is the same thing. New God technology makes it easier to extend this into objects."

    "And people?"

    "No, people… People have their own souls. Connecting to them-. If they are willing, is far easier than connecting to soulless technology."

    "We all have orange light in our soul."

    "But the orange light itself isn't my soul. I'm just borrowing a tiny part of the collective desires of all things."

    "Alright. I-."

    "How do you do it?"

    "How do you mean?"

    "Zartok wants to fight and conquer, Grood wants to eat and mate, the Illustres wants to see his grand plan enacted across the universe. What motivates… You?"

    She looks uncertain. I suppose that having a near-stranger ask something so personal might be… It might be too intimate a thing. But she asked me, and it is relevant to our duties.

    "Getting through the day. I don’t have any kind of grand design. I don’t have the problem with self-control that some Lanterns do."

    "You don't..? Have one? No.. desires, no dreams?"

    "The place I grew up wasn't the place for that sort of thing. The only things I ever hoped for was enough food to get through the day, and better tools so I could make that true for tomorrow as well. Now, I have the best tool in the universe, and my next meal is coming from the canteen."

    Oh, that… Is sad-.

    My construct evaporates, and my shoulders sag in disappointment.

    "Do that in combat and you'll die."

    "I know. I just… I feel for you."

    She looks at me awkwardly, as if she doesn't understand-. No, why would she?

    "Feel..? What?"

    "Between the gods' arrogance and Sparta's madness, my people-. Our society, has been unstable. It isn't possible to build… Anything solid, anything lasting, under those conditions. Even when I believed in Sparta, raising our weapons against our fellows-. Doing the very thing that doomed our homeworld, I… Hated it. We are fixing it under Athyns, creating an honest and unified culture. But from the sound of it, you have never known that."

    "I survived."

    "That isn't enough."

    She pulls back slightly. "It's enough for surviving."

    "Yes, but there's-."

    "I know." She's irritated, I shouldn't have pushed-. "I'm surrounded by luxury and I can't understand it. I can't relate to it. It limits my construct output."

    "I was.. really more worried about your.. life. If your.. soul has curled up in a shell… I'd like to help."

    "Missing females of your own species already?"


    She stares into my eyes for several moments.

    "Al.. right? Make a sword, and we'll see."

    "Do you have any advice?"

    "You have orange light in your soul. More than I do. Try calling on that, and just that."

    Justice and righteousness are about more than personal desire. But I cannot deny that I would be far happier in myself if I lived in a just universe than I am living in this one.
    Ascendant Godhead
    The sword scintillates back into being, and now I can feel it, feel the construct, just as I feel the blade.

    "Has it worked?"

    "Yes… Yes. I am connected to the construct. Now I have to work out how to make it material."
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2023
  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    18th January 2013
    22:16 GMT

    I don't have enough data on his species to know what he meant.

    I've had lovers before…

    No. I've had bed-mates before, for my own comfort or as part of a social seduction. Some were… Passably skilled, I suppose. When we parted, the few I missed I missed for their practical skills.

    I've had… Long term allies before. Friends… In the sense that I preferred spending time around them to strangers. But I never… I always found that people died too easily to get too strongly attached to.

    Allyn is -probably, provisionally- trustworthy. The orange light doesn't lie. It can't. People want what they want, and it responds to that. He genuinely wants to 'help' me, whatever that means for him. To change me into something… 'Healthier'. It's a skill most people acquire in childhood and he's hardly the first person to notice that I don't have it. He hasn't asked me to start by trusting-.

    "This is something that's difficult for you, isn't it?"

    He already knows. There's no advantage to trying to lie. And no obvious advantage to trying to shade the truth.

    "It's something I can't do at all."


    There are expressions I could use to play up the 'dangerous female' angle. If I was trying to seduce him that's probably what I'd do. But since he's offering to help for free and I don't want anything from him, I think I'll stick to being honest.

    "Having second thoughts?"

    "Wishing that my mother was here. Karrakan was a violent place. Sometimes… Families died and left survivors who didn't… Weren't integrated into stable communities. My mother worked with them after Sparta… Rescued them. Helped them properly rejoin our society."

    From the sound of it, she's probably dead. But he's.. sharing information. That's part of being friendly. If I'm actually going to do this, then I should reciprocate. I don't like sharing things about myself, but there are plenty of things I can say that don't involve taking any risks.

    "My species' homeworld isn't too far from here."

    "Do they still live there?"

    "I don't know. I doubt that our society still exists. The Reach have controlled it long enough that everyone left will be happy slaves."

    "The Controllers-."

    "The Controllers will try and restore our pre-conquest society. But I never lived it. I don't have any connection to it." I lean closer. "How's the sword coming along?"

    "I need to finish it in order for you to give me a chance." Doing My Part.

    The sword… Grows, from a point in the hilt, a grey… Scaffold, grows out to form the skeleton of the blade. Darker material expands from the skeleton, merging together until the entire volume of the construct is filled in. Allyn gasps, his environmental shield shimmering and fading as he slumps as the table, dully staring at his new sword.

    "Are you hurt?"

    "Disconcerted. I feel…" He looks up at me and his eyes are glowing orange. Did Zartok teach him about orange light overloads? Did the Illustres? I doubt that Zartok did unless he overloaded in the arena. The Illustres might have-. "That your happiness is the most important thing in the universe to me."

    That's usef-.

    No. No. That's stupid, because everyone in N.E.M.O. knows what crazy Orange Lanterns look like, this won't last forever, and allies who aren't crazy are a lot more useful than the ones who are. And taking advantage of an ally's moment of weakness is a good way to make sure that no one tries to be your ally again.

    "Thank you, Allyn. Right now, the thing that would make me the most happy would be you taking your ring off."

    "Are you certain?"

    "I prefer it when I can look at you without an orange glow."

    Which is true. I've never gone into the madness place, but I was shown the recordings of Lanterns who did. Including the two who did it in the field. Lanterns can do some very dangerous things when the only thing on their mind is what they want right now, and sometimes it's dangerous to the people around them.

    "Then at once!"

    He pulls his ring off his finger… Then slumps across the table.


    I take a moment to slide the swords out of his hands, and resist the urge to keep one. Most Orange Lanterns who do that end up a little out of it afterwards, but this is unusual-.

    My environmental shield is.. leaking into the visible parts of the new sword's skeleton. Nothing happens with the old one. I can't remember-.

    The Controller, Hinon Hee Hannanan. She was in a coma until the Illustres gave her an orange ring, because she-.

    Because she used her own avarice to forge his ring, and so didn't have any left in her.

    I raise my own left hand and scan his brain. Patterns of activity… Seem normal, for most species of humanoid. Glancing down, I see that his ring is out of power.

    I could put my ring on him, but my translator doesn't have his language and that would remove my best weapon and shield. I could put his ring on, recharge it from my personal lantern and then give it back, but a lot of Lanterns add security to their rings to stop people doing that. I could ask Zartok or Grood to do either of those. Zartok might do it if that was what was necessary for the mission, or he might just write Allyn off. And possibly me. I could.. try feeding power into his ring directly from mine.

    That one.

    Pushing power out of my ring isn't something that comes naturally to me. Making myself weaker has never been a viable survival strategy. I feel that instinctively, on a level more primal than anything I know about being on a ship crewed by people on the same side as me.

    But I want people to offer me things.

    I don't get a lot of orange light flowing, but it's enough to make his ring spark again. I move it back onto his finger and then lean back.

    He doesn't stir.

    Brain function still suggests that he's just unconscious-. The sword. It's still glowing faintly as it parasitizes my environmental shield. I pour a little more power into it, causing the divots to glow. Then I move it to Allyn's ring hand and wait.

    That.. should-.


    Allyn opens his eyes, immediately catching sight of the sword.

    "It worked."

    "You lost consciousness. And you overloaded."

    "I did? Oh. Should we tell Zartok?"

    "Refine the process first. We'll talk to him when you can do it safely."
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2023
  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    18th January 2013
    22:35 GMT


    Agnie looks up from the power relay she's working on as I hold out the flask… Palming a spice wafer to her at the same time. She doesn't look at it as she takes it from me and conceals it in her equipment harness. Not a bad try at hiding the motion, and given how direct most Citizens are that's probably good enough.

    Turns out that food that isn't blood porridge is hard currency in the Citizenry. As long as no one important spots it. My boyfriend once told me that forcing people into a collective doesn't work because they won't become part of the culture and eventually the people who are would be the minority. The Citizenry is fairly open about how they handle that: the rulers are the ones strong enough to kill anyone who complains.

    It's almost refreshingly honest.

    Agnie takes a drink. It's just water, but working in this heat means that we're having to be careful about water intake. The Reach decided that heating up the hull will reduce our ability to fight back, and what's left of the ship isn't designed to regulate heat well enough to cope.

    "How goes the important repairs?"

    The boom tube system, she means. One of the problems of a culture that rewards the warrior ethos above everything else is that other skills get left by the wayside. Most citizens can handle basic maintenance, but for everything else there are… Deals. Pacts where a woman who can read a circuit diagram trades her skills for protection. With the understanding that she's mostly going to be using those skills for the ones protecting her. Major refits are done by temporarily enslaving a technically advanced species and working them to death, not by the Citizens.

    Which is biting us in the ass right now.

    I smile at her. "Why do you think I'm down here?"

    Agnie slumps as she closes the cap on the water bottle, then sets it aside.

    "Do you think that we are bait? Is the Commander going to circle around and attack the ships encircling us?"

    "That's a bit hopeful." I shrug nonchalantly. "We might be a distraction, if that's any help."

    "It isn't."

    I'm not senior enough to be allowed on the bridge, so I've got no idea what went wrong with this raid. If I had to guess, I'd say that the Reach got lucky with some sort of gravity weapon, then lucky that the navigator was asleep at her station. Given the way her head was spread all over her station when I checked in with command, she probably did something.

    Or maybe not. With commanding officers like ours

    "How are you doing?"

    She reaches into the power relay and pulls a lever. There's a quiet hum as the magnetic fields engage.

    "I'm not exactly rushing."

    The other issue with conscripting people after killing everyone they know and love is that no one is motivated to work all that hard. But if she's going to reduce my chance of survival when she's doing it, then I need to straighten her out.

    "This isn't powering atmospheric controls in the captain's washroom. We do actually need this if the plan command are working on is going to work."

    "Boarding a Reach ship, capturing it and escaping using their drive?" She doesn't look hopeful. "A fools errand, for those seeking a swift death."

    "You have a better idea?"

    "She could actually repair the portal-maker."

    I make a show of thinking that over for a few moments.

    "I.. don’t think she could."

    "Then she could stand aside while those of us who might be able to repair it try, without killing us."

    Most people would have shouted that last part. But Agnie is far too beaten down to do something like that.

    I try smiling at her. "Do you have any ideas that could actually happen, or are we just waiting to die?"

    "If the Reach wanted to kill us, they would just have fired. I assume that they're going to board the ship and then turn us into thralls."

    "Maybe. So what do you think they're waiting for?"

    "Perhaps they want us to eat each other."

    "Are we allowed to do that? I'm new."

    "The strong survive."

    "Okay, but, those who are strong will survive, or those who survive will have demonstrated their strength?"

    "I doubt that I would be stronger as a Reach thrall than I am now." She laboriously rises to her feet. "I still have seven power relays to reassemble. Perhaps the Reach will board us before I am done and save me the effort."

    I follow her down the corridor as she heads towards her next task.

    "Do you want them to make you a thrall? They might just kill you."

    "Either would be fine. The first time I ate the porridge…"

    "It's an acquired taste."

    Honestly, it doesn't taste like anything special. I've had worse soup before. I only eat the wafers as well because I'm not convinced that it has the right nutrients for me to stay healthy.

    "I've eaten many times, and each time a little of my soul dies. I would rather not remember. If the Reach make me a thrall, I won't care. That will do just as well."

    "If the Captain was occupied with the Reach, do you think you could repair the boom tube-?"

    "Hiding, Agnie?"

    Three burly Citizens in full armour bar our way. They're armed with bracer blasters and long knives and they're looking for a fight because they can't cope with the implication that they weren't good enough.

    I knew they were there, of course. Most Citizens aren't all that subtle, though that does make me wonder if the sabotage wasn't in the ship's systems but in the crew manifest; an entirely predictable result of putting this many unstable personalities together in one place.

    "I'm trying to work, Dulcya. Do you want-?"

    Dulcya steps into me, with the intent of shoving the fresh meat aside and get to Agnie for… Whatever. I doubt that she has anything approaching an actual plan. Agnie would probably end up dead, and then they'd go to the Captain and boast of their success.

    That doesn't happen.

    I step to the side, half-turn as I draw my sword and slice, the x-ionised blade passing neatly through Dulcya's upper right arm. Blood spurts as I duck her reflexive punch and slice through her right thigh, sending her crashing to the ground. A slightly awkward stab through her forehead and that's the end for her.

    I make eye contact with the other two. They didn't think this through, clearly. Citizenry rules on infighting aren't all that clear, but they were just part of a 'dealing with intrapsychic conflict' squad rather than an actual team. I've proven my strength and since I've chosen to defend Agnie, that's my right. Instead of a fight I get a pair of cautious and respectful nods as they back away.

    I flick the blood off my blade and sheath it as Agnie comes forward to remove Dulcya's equipment.

    "You might as well have left them. I'm not going to be able to repair the ship enough to matter, and Dulcya would at least have been another fighter."

    "Without discipline she would be useless. And I plan on both of us surviving."

    Agnie shakes her head. "You're an optimist, Cheshire. But… Thank you."
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2023
  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    18th January 2013
    23:12 GMT

    I brace myself as the Lanterns approach me. I know perfectly well that they've been working on something. Let's see how painful this is going to be.


    "Zartok. You have something for me?"

    He looks smug. And eager. "I have a way onto the Citizenry ship without breaking our stealth field."

    That… Okay, if he's managed that, he's got good reason to feel smug.



    Lantern Allyn had been hanging back a little, but now he steps forward. "I can use my ring to create New God technology. That's… Designed to let spiritual effects propagate across it. Between me and the magic component of our stealth system, that should let it exist outside of our hull without revealing us."

    "You intend to build a bridge?"

    "A cable. If it touches the Citizenry ship, I should be able to connect to any New God systems on the ship. Or at least get a general impression of what New God systems they have."

    "And if they have a New God?"

    "They will know the moment that I start pushing."

    Zartok shakes his head. "Who will they tell? The Reach? I doubt that. Their comrades, who have clearly abandoned them? They may even thank us for helping them."

    "I thought we were assuming that their boom tube generator -if they even have one- would have to be broken. Can you repair it from here?"

    "I don't know."

    "Will you be able to communicate with anyone on their ship?"

    "I.. don't know."

    I give him a moment, but no other information is forthcoming..

    "Would you care to expand that answer?"

    "I would be able to commune with any New God integrated into their ship. But if there is no New God or if they're not connected to the ship… Perhaps. It depends on how sensitive they are, and… And a number of things."

    "Can you communicate with other people on that ship?"


    "Is it possible?"

    "Yes. Certainly. The crew are a community. Imposing my essence on them is what New God technology is for."


    He looks a little awkward at that.

    "When you serve an Ascendant commanding officer, it is… Not a relationship of equals. My soul encompasses the crew, and my desires become their instincts. There's.. feedback, and.. they can resist, or-. Or mentally separate themselves, once they learn the feel of it, but…"

    More mind control. Or perhaps a small scale hive mind with the New God as the ruler.

    "Are you doing that now?"

    "No! Without the technology we use in our ships, it… We would need to be closely bonded and.. I'm.. not all that good with it. It… When my ship wasn't in combat I wouldn't use it."

    I shake my head. "There are Darkstar telepaths in a similar position. Don’t try and use allies as slaves and there's no issue."

    He frowns. "Of course not. I-."

    Zartok glares at him. "Focus on the topic at hand, Lantern Allyn." And then his eye turns back to me. "Something important is on that ship, important enough for the Reach to delay their attack. We are here to gather information on our enemies. If-."

    "If we get control of the boom tube system, what then? Their ship would still need to move in order to evacuate."

    "But the crew wouldn't. We can offer them a choice between mindless subservience with the Reach and honourable death with us. After they answer a few questions."

    Lantern Drusa twitches slightly. "We could also have telepaths take useful information from their minds, or offer sanctuary to any who didn't volunteer to join the Citizenry."

    Allyn nods. "It would also be useful to find out how much New God technology Grayven is sharing with them, and how widespread knowledge of it is."

    They're right. It's an x-factor problem. Though our main objective in this campaign is to fight the Reach, we don't know how much of a problem Grayven and his allies could be if they turned their attention toward us. We don't know their strength, their base of operation -if they even have one- or what their aim is. To a degree, the Reach is predictable. Grayven isn't.

    My main task here is scout this part of the Reach, but the value of that ship compared to what we're likely to find…

    "What is the chance of us being revealed?"

    Zartok shakes his head. "The cable will be part of the ship, protected by the same stealth system as the ship. We will have to position ourselves closer, but there is more than enough space between the Reach ships to manoeuvre between them without hitting them. They might be able to detect a change in the hull where the cable connects to their ship, but the connection will be cushioned and slow. The change in hull pressure would be minimal, and we know that they're not examining the outer hull closely."

    "And if he can't connect from the outside?"

    Zartok takes a small device out of his subspace pocket and holds it up at me. "Do you know what this is?"

    I don't, so I access my exo-mantle's computer database. "A crumbler round for the Illustres's railguns."

    "A fascinating device. There's no energy release when it works. No pressure wave. No radiation. If we incorporate one into the cable-."

    "The Reach could still detect it."

    Zartok pauses.

    "Yes. The chance is very small, but they could. It is still worth doing."

    "And if we're discovered?"

    "Their first assumption will not be that it is a N.E.M.O. spy ship. We would detonate the crumbler round and withdraw the cable before moving off. They don't know exactly what the Citizenry's capacities are any more than we do. Most likely, they write it off as hull damage from the battle or a micrometeorite impact. At worst, they have a blast that matches the crumbler rounds they've seen before but no idea why it was here. They'll look, but if they could find us with what they have here then they would have found us already."

    "And if they can?"

    "Then I get an honourable death."

    I regard him for a moment. "You may want that, but I intend for my crew to live."

    "Oh, I will die honourably one day, many decades hence. I am not worried about the Reach. And this plan will work."

    I take a deep breath, then nod my approval.

    I hope that I don’t regret this.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2023
  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    18th January 2013
    23:27 GMT

    "Good work with Allyn."

    I feel nervous for a moment. Zartok paying someone a compliment isn't a common occurrence. Allyn is sitting at the bottom of a maintenance shaft closest to the outer hull, and we're waiting by an airlock.

    "Shouldn't we be closer to him? If he overloads again-."

    "Then he'll do whatever he feels necessary to please you. We're here because this is the fastest way off the ship if the Reach somehow detect him and we need to cover the ship's retreat. And because we can't do anything to make his job easier."

    True, though I wouldn't mind studying it in more detail. If only so that I know what it can and can't do. I hadn't realised that his 'god powers' could be used for mind control until he announced it, and despite what he said that's clearly what it is.

    But since he kept up his end of the bargain…

    "I'm going to request leave, when we get back. My lack of investment is holding me back, and if we're going to keep going on this sort of mission then I'm going to need to get stronger."

    Zartok inclines his head. "Granted. I hadn't considered that as an avenue for controlling him. I'm not used to it being a factor."

    What? Control?

    "What do you mean?"

    "I told you, I intend to restart my empire on the bones of the Reach. A task that will be much easier if Orange Lanterns are part of the pacification force. Grood adds to our muscle, and isn't a threat to me because he doesn't want what I want. You add technological fluency, and you're too risk-averse to ever challenge me. Allyn is honest and sensible, but might challenge me if I violated his sense of justice too readily. Appealing to his sense of compassion never occurred to me."

    "I didn't lie to him."

    "I know. He was just here at the time where you were finally prepared to take that step. But it will still work. It's a great deal easier to care about someone you know than someone you don't, god or not. And no one likes to throw away something they've put effort into."

    "Why would you want Allyn?"

    "When you're powerful, you're never short of people prepared to support you. Some of them will even be competent. But none of the generals who used to serve under me either tried to free me from captivity or tried to take power themselves. They were drawn to my personal strength, not the mission I set for them." His face takes on an expression of distaste. "And perhaps they could have counselled me better. Allyn's sense of justice is something that I want to learn how to use for my benefit."

    "Not interested in becoming a god?"

    "I don't fear death."

    "Rhea's descendents can still die."

    "Then what's the point of becoming one? I want to build an empire. If I can't inspire loyalty, real loyalty, then I've failed. Attempting to rule through mind control would indicate that I aimed to fail. And I will not fail again."

    I nod, as much to myself as to him.

    "So what happens if I find something to care about?"

    "That depends on what it is. I will need to keep an eye on you and adapt to whatever developments occur as a worthwhile challenge."

    "When did you… Decide to start an empire?"

    "When I ran out of foes to vanquish on my homeworld."

    "Alright, but you didn't need to. Your world wasn't threatened. Would your soldiers have rebelled if you'd sent them home?"

    He shakes his head. "No. Not so long as they were rewarded, and I ensured that they had something to do."


    "Lantern Allyn to Lanterns Zartok and Drusa and Senior Darkstar Colos. I'm about to make the connection."

    "Colos here. We're on high alert. I'll be in touch the moment the Reach do anything unexpected."

    "Lantern Zartok. We're ready to support you the moment something goes awry."

    "Connecting in four, three, two, one, connected."

    Zartok nods. "Do you have control?"

    "I can… Feel it." Not By Strength By Guile.

    "Nothing from the Reach; no movement and their scans haven't changed."

    "It's not-. They haven't done a full conversion. There're New God systems, but they're… Too deep."

    "Can you activate anything else?"

    "Not precisely. I can… Try to push things, but that might do anything."

    "Is there a New God onboard?"

    "If there is, they're not connected to the systems. Do I proceed?"

    There's a delay, with Colos presumably considering the risks again.


    "Activating crumbler. Crumbler active, moving forward."

    "No response from the Reach-."

    "I have something. Not a New God system. I've-. There's someone on the ship who considers themselves one of us."

    Zartok frowns. "We have a spy on board?"

    "Darkstars are intelligence operatives." Colos sounds frustrated. "I wasn't made aware of any operatives amongst the Citizenry, but we weren't expecting to encounter this situation. Can you make contact?"

    "Not unless they're another New God, and then I wouldn't be able to do much other than tell them that we're here. I.. could try to find a communication relay, or burrow deep enough to risk a radio transmission-."

    "No. We don't have the Citizenry's ciphers. It wouldn't look like their internal transmissions."

    "I can try finding part of their computer network. Since we don't have the schematic, I'll just be guessing where the cables are, but I should be able to avoid burrowing into a corridor."

    "That will have to-. Hold."

    I tense, then use my ring to access the ship's sensors.

    A small flotilla just entered the system. Two destroyer escorts, a troop transport and a cruiser.

    Energy readings on the cruiser suggest that there are two Scarab Warriors on board.

    "Allyn, the Reach boarding party has arrived, and they're heading for the ship. If they dock, we'll have to disengage. Scarab Warriors have better sensors than most of their ships. Do what you can to patch into their systems, but be prepared to disengage at a moment's notice."

    "I'll work as fast as I can."
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2023
  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    18th January 2013
    23:33 GMT

    A slight pinch on my right forearm. I don’t let it show as Agnie reaches out for a magnetic constrictor and I put it into her hand.

    Exo-mantles were originally designed for stealth. Darkstars were supposed to be able to infiltrate worlds that the Reach were converting to their control, and carry out a guerrilla campaign in order to prevent it. They needed to be able to pass through checkpoints without obvious alien technology on them, and also to be able to switch into kill-mode if they were detected with enough power to actually kill things.

    When we moved to a counter-intelligence role, we didn't have to hide so much. My usual exo-mantle had all but basic stealth stripped out for the phasing system. What I'm wearing right now is the stealth version, but since I'm still in the hazing stage of becoming a Citizen they haven't bothered looking too hard. With sensors; I'm not sure whether they were staring at the new girl in the showers to size me up or if they liked the look of me.

    A twitch of my right arm, wait, and then two more, and I feel it as the mental uplink deploys around my neck. It's designed to not be immediately visible, and to look like a necklace if it does get noticed, but I can't help but feel self-conscious about having it active in enemy territory because I know we can detect things like this.

    And I wait for the actual message. It's.. a little awkward, because the uplink puts it directly into the language centres of your brain and then you have to wait for your brain to actually process-

    Confirm contact.

    -what you didn't hear with your ears.

    Darkstar Jade Nguyen.

    Status request.

    Infiltration: intelligence gathering. Uninjured, cover intact. Status request.

    Stealth ship. Reach interior survey. Darkstar crew, Lantern escort. Undamaged. Concealed.

    I didn't know we had ships that could hide well enough to enter Reach space like this. It doesn't sound-. What's the chance of them running into us? Not high, but I suppose that we would stand out compared to the Reach worlds around here.


    Status of boom tube generator.

    Damaged, extent unknown. Bridge 'no-go' area.


    Captain is psycho.


    I might be able to kill her, but her bodyguards are actually good at their jobs. I don’t think that I could beat all of them, and we don’t have time for a proper duel. I need to know what's going on out there to decide if it's worth the risk.

    Not by available assets. Status of Reach fleet?

    Two battleships one mobile shipyard plus escorts. Scarabs and marines inbound, suspect boarders.

    Damn it. With my regular exo-mantle I'd take a chance on one Scarab, but I doubt they want us in one piece so badly that they'd just keep throwing their elites at us single file. Reach marines aren't exactly a joke, but in a fight between them and the Citizen marines in narrow confines I'd bet on the Citizens.


    Difficult without boom tube. Crew repairs?

    Basic. Suspect lack of knowledge to repair boom tube.

    Information and assistance can be provided.

    They've got someone who knows New God tech? Okay, that might makes things easier. But I still need to be able to convince the Captain to get off the bridge so we can work without getting killed. Hm.

    The lighting improves a little and Agnie starts reattaching the protective plates. That's good, but it isn't going to make much difference to what's actually happening.

    I put a hand on one of my daggers, just in case.

    "Agnie, if you had a chance to leave, would you take it?"

    "I couldn't go home. Not with what I've done."

    "No. I can see that. But somewhere else."

    "Did you do this?"

    She actually sounds repulsed. Not sure why, as she clearly likes it here less than I do. "No. If I were going to sabotage a ship it would be one I wasn't standing on."

    "Were you planning on leaving?"

    "I like our chances better without the Captain or the Reach."

    But, yes, I think my time infiltrating the Citizenry is over. I don't know what made our ship get caught, but I'm not all that broken up about it. Okay, maybe I'm not seeing them at their best here, but if this is what they're like I don't get how they've survived this long.

    "Where would we even go?"

    "I have… Friends. Who don't care about this sort of thing." She doesn't say anything. "Or if you really want we could try transferring to another Citizenry ship, but I don’t think this place is good for you."

    "No, I-." She pulls herself out of the deck and slides the maintenance hatch back into place. "What is your plan?"

    "Does this ship have any sensors left?"

    "No. They're either wrecked or so badly damaged that they can't transmit."

    "The damaged ones. If you got to them, could you take the data directly from them?"

    "Maybe? Why?"

    "We need to get the Captain off the bridge. If we tell her that the Reach's marines finally showed up, that should get her moving."

    "We could just-?"

    "Lying would get her off the bridge for a minute tops, and then she'd have us killed."

    "Okay. Okay." She taps her bracer, and brings up a map of the ship. Destroyed areas are in red, and… There aren't a lot of green places. She points to a yellow patch. "Here. This is our best bet. I don't know-. I won't be able to repair all of it, and the connection to the bridge is totally gone-."

    "That's fine. Just do your best. If it's not there, we'll just have to race the Reach marines."

    She nods, and takes off at a fast walk. Running would risk attracting attention, and she's a little short of protectors. I hang back slightly, happy for her to act as a lure because everyone I kill now is someone I don’t have to kill later, when they're organised and aiming at me.

    Acquired local engineer. Will attempt to access bridge. Time to marine/Scarab arrival?

    8-12 minutes.

    So, repair the sensor, convince the Captain, repair the boom tube-.

    What do we want the boom tube for?

    Escape with Citizenry ship, Citizenry prisoners.


    Boom tube Lanterns from our ship, tow Citizenry ship through tube.

    I have to admire their optimism. And it would complete my mission, which would be good, because the Power Company has never sounded more appealing.
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2023
  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:


    Don't think.


    Don't think.

    It's easy to work like this, entirely in the now, all thought of what came before and what will come after banished from my mind. Who is that coward and traitor Agnie, who turned on her shipmates to live this half-life? Not me. Not here.

    "How's it look?"

    Even this, another act of betrayal, isn't something I would have done without someone pushing me. Cheshire didn't throw up her first blood porridge. Cheshire didn't shrink back from the first Citizens to challenge her. Cheshire saw a way-.

    No. Don't think it.

    "I can repair it enough to work. Without going outside."

    "Good. I don't think the Reach are feeling that generous."

    The auto-seals have worked, which is why the air is thin and we're breathing through masks rather than needing full suits. But I'm repairing by tearing out melted components and replacing them with similar parts I salvaged from other parts of the ship. Some sort of… Local power surge strong enough to arc past the surge protectors? And some EM spill over from the shields. There are probably… A lot of systems like this. And I doubt that the Reach have anything compatible.

    "How much functionality do you want it to have before we call the bridge?"

    "As much as we can. It needs to be completely clear that the Reach are about to board us."

    "What if they're not?"

    "Then we wait until they are. But I don't think we'll have to wait long."




    "If we-. If we survive, you'll be a Citizen."

    "What, because I killed Dulcya? I wasn't sure that's how it worked."

    "Not just.. that. Your… Presence. Your purpose. If we live, the leaders will view you and find you worthy."

    "Lucky me, but like I said, I plan on jumping ship."

    A bit more power flowing. The connections are holding.

    "How do you do it? Become…"

    "How? Oh, that's easy. I was trained as a killer from birth. My species are considered adult at eighteen and I killed-. I murdered for the first time when I was fifteen. If you see enough violence close up, you just get-. Numb to it. It becomes your 'normal'. Have you finished?"

    I nod as I complete the connections and use my bracer to restart the computer. Start up looks good.

    "Yes. Just.. bringing it online now."

    "Will the Reach be able to see?"


    "Should we get out of this section before running the scan?"

    "There's.. no point. They almost certainly knew the moment I got somewhere with the repairs."

    "So they want us to see. I wonder why?"

    The first returns of the scanner come back. The external components are damaged. If they make any active effort to hide, we won't see them. But-.

    "There's-. There's a troop ship. It's heading for us."

    "How about that? We should probably let the Captain know."

    "How did-? You-? Know..?"

    Cheshire's mask makes it impossible to read her facial expressions. But the set of her head makes me feel like I've asked a stupid question.

    "Can we tell if they've got any Scarab Warriors with them?"

    "No. No, those-. We'd need main sensors for that, and they were completely destroyed. We don’t have the parts to rebuild the detection system."

    "But they'll probably have a Scarab. At least one. Okay. Can you tell where they'll come from?"

    I activate my bracer's hologram display, showing their location relative to us.

    "Here. They know we don't have shields or point defences here, and their ships around this area are in position to shoot with small-sized weapons if we somehow push them back."

    She nods. "Nice that they value our lives more than the lives of their boarding party. Are they transmitting any messages to us?"

    "This system isn't-. Isn't designed to pick up messages. I-I can't-."

    "That's fine." She-. She pats me on the shoulder-. Oh. "Don't worry about it. Let's get to the other side of the bridge and then signal the Captain."

    I follow close behind her as we cross the ship-. The wreck. I see two other engineers working under the watchful eyes of their 'protectors', and I can see that their expressions are the same as mine. The others we see are soldiers, some trying to rest while others work on their weapons.

    So, I'm… Cheshire's property, now. I… Don't think that she's taken anyone since she joined-. But if she's going to be made a full Citizen, maybe she thinks this is the time? Working on a ship with her would be better than working on a ship with-. Like this. If-.

    "You're not my property."

    What? "What?"

    "Sorry." Cheshire glances back. "I forgot about the hand-on-the-shoulder thing. I just wanted to reassure you. Don't read too much into it."


    "Okay, this should do it." Cheshire finds a reasonably intact wall communications unit, and… Signals the bridge.


    "Captain. We got a sensor back in working order. Sending-"


    "-now, enemy boarding party incoming."

    "Oh. Then I guess you get to live." The Captain smiles, cruelly. "Guess I better go welcome them. COME ON, BITCHES!"

    The Captain steps away from the bridge monitor without bothering to deactivate it, letting me watch as she kicks a broken body out of the way as she heads for the door.

    And there's the portal machine.

    With a woman's head shoved half-way through it.

    How am I supposed to-?

    "Don’t worry. We don't need the full thing. Just single person point-to-point."

    "I… I can't-."

    "You won't know until you try, and we don't really have any other options. And if the worst that can happen is the same as what happens if we do nothing, you may as well try."
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2023
  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    18th January 2013
    23:42 GMT

    No guards outside of the bridge. Agnie readies her bracer to bypass the door control only for the door to open the moment she touches the control.

    I could ask Agnie if the door controls were damaged, but I-.

    I switch my mask controls so that they filter the smell. Usually I don't like doing that because every sense is important, but I don't think I'd be able to smell anything over the blood and… Waste.

    It doesn't bother me, exactly. And from the way Agnie is headed right for the boom tube generator it looks like it doesn't bother her either, at least not enough to distract her. But there was a line from Paul's favorite book, something about assassins with no morals still having standards. This isn't even the work of a brute. Tuppence would have known better than to kill her own crew in this sort of situation. This is the work of a rabid animal.

    Agnie doesn't just pull the woman's head out right away, probably because she doesn't want to risk making the damage even worse. I don't recognise her species, but I do a quick check to make sure that she's dead. No, I can see where the Captain gripped her skull hard enough to put her fingers through her skull. She's dead.

    I step away to give Agnie some room and check the other bodies. A technician has a couple of tools and some small spare parts that I put within arm's reach of Agnie, but there's nothing else…

    The navigator has a small hologram projector. Single image. I tap my mask to check it for traps, then press the activator.

    I take a moment to compare the face of the woman in the family picture with the face of the corpse. And then I turn it off and put the projector back on her body. If we get out of this it can be buried with her.

    One last body to check, which just happens to be next to the communications station. This one was stabbed in the neck, and I can tell from the spray exactly where she was standing when it happened. From the broken fingers and the footprints in the blood, it looks like she was trying to hold her neck wound closed. That can work if the victim gets immediate medical attention, but in a situation like this all it did was draw things out. Moving over to the console, I see that external communication is wrecked. Internal communication…


    I smile. There we go.

    On bridge. Captain plus bodyguards away.

    Coming back?


    Repair status?

    "Agnie, how does it look?"

    "I don't understand this. I'm just pushing parts back and then gluing them into place."

    Outlook poor.

    Stand by.

    "Are you talking to the Reach?"

    The Reach would probably talk to me. But I don't want to encourage the Scarab Warrior to rush the bridge.

    "No." I tap the buttons to make sure that internal communications aren't transmitting anything that we're saying. I don't think I have to worry about the current captain having an off-network secure monitoring system. I'm not even convinced that she knows how to use the regular one. "Friends."

    Chance Reach will attack when tube activates. Prepare to flee through portal.

    "Can your friends-?"

    "Stand up and step away." She does at speed. "And get ready to run."


    "If we're lucky, through a hole in space made by super-inflated gravitons."

    She takes a stance, which I suppose is-
    Assuming Control!

    -all I can expect. The portal appears next to the boom tube generator, and Agnie runs straight into-.

    An Orange Lantern's chest as they-. He, comes through from the other side. And just like that the mission is over and I activate my exo-mantle, the red and white costume appearing over my body in an eye-watering shimmer.

    "Darkstar Nguyen." He checks Agnie for a moment as she cringes back, then focuses on the boom tube generator, construct tools appearing around him. "I'm Lantern Allyn. The Illustres recruited me."

    "Generally, you shouldn't tell people things like that. Agnie, lock the doors. Everyone must have heard-"

    My exo-mantle receives a message from the Darkstar ship about half a second before the ship shakes.

    "-that." Allyn is already fusing the generator back into shape while Agnie is paralysed with indecision. Run or stay and help. "Lock the doors, then you can go through."

    She gives me a nervous nod, then scurries over to the door controls.

    "Lantern, can you fix it?"

    "I don't know."

    "Have you done this before?"


    "How long are we giving it before we give up?"

    "If the Reach start shooting, tear this out of the deck and get through-"

    Agnie uses her cutting torch on the door control panel and then awkwardly creeps towards the tube-.

    "-the tube." I nod. "Go, go, thank-" She runs through the tube "-you. They won't just shoot her, right?"

    "She'll be in a small compartment next to the hull. There isn't anyone else there." The generator looks… A bit more together than it was, but-.

    The light on the internal communications panel blinks. The Captain almost certainly heard that, but she should be occupied with the Reach soldiers right now. So why haven't the Reach started shoot-?


    I dive forward, twisting in the air as I do so to bring my maser to bear. The dull blue of the Scarab Warrior's tibia blade scythes through where I just stood as they rise through the deck. Was the captain trying to warn me? And now I feel a little bad.

    My maser shot goes through the Scarab Warrior's head, whatever it's using to phase saving it from being hit. Don't know if that would have actually killed it; normal masers take a couple of hits to pierce their armor and this is the scaled down model. I also don't have the strength boosters or flight system a normal exo-mantle would have, and that's why fighting Scarabs is usually a Lantern's job.

    And the Scarab knows it. I see it assess me and deprioritize me a moment before Allyn's construct sword swings at it and forces it to parry.

    For an instant I wonder why Allyn didn't just smash it into the wall with a pneumatic ram, then I remember that I'm used to what Paul can do.

    Right. My x-ionised sword should still go through its armor if I hit it at the right moment. I need to keep back and-.

    The bridge door explodes as another Scarab charges inside!
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2023
  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    18th January 2013
    23:45 GMT

    "Allyn to Zartok. Both Scarabs, close quarters."

    I fly as fast as I can through the ship, Grood only a short distance behind me, cursing under my breath as I go.

    Could the cannibals not hold the attention of a single one?!

    "Drusa, keep monitoring!"

    "Yes. For what?"


    A woman not on our crew climbs out of the hatch to the outer hull. She's unarmed, and unless she's a highly trained liar she's a coward too. I pull her out of the way and then dive for the portal.



    I pass through the portal as the larger Scarab Warrior charges Allyn's weak construct barrier, my glaive's edge projecting a phase disruption field as I dive under the Warrior's arm and swing at its back. It responds by charging faster, my swing merely nicking its armour instead of slicing through its spine. With the Scarab distracted Allyn is able to reposition himself while focusing his efforts on getting the boom tube generator to work.

    I create a shield as the other Scarab decides to endure the Darkstar's maser to take a shot at me-.

    The shot destroys my construct shield, though it fails to actually penetrate.

    "Orange, Green?" The smaller Scarab twists like a tumbler to avoid the Darkstar's sword, firing three shots at Allyn as it does so. His shield stops one and fails, and I'm forced to create multiple shields of my own to block the other two. "I can't tell-"

    I slash at the larger Scarab as it shifts its back to project a force field. My glaive is deflected, so I spin it and change the blade to the other end.

    "-the difference between-"

    Cutting low, I slice through the left greave as the Scarab clumsily turns. Ah, it lost its flight system to make the force field. It stumbles as it turns, but the injury will knit itself back together before long.

    "-different colours of meat."

    The large Scarab pushes off its uninjured leg, flying towards me and towards the boom tube generator behind me. I smile and ignore it, lunging at the smaller and more talkative Scarab, who is forced to switch from a blade to a pistol to shoot out my spear. No matter.

    I swing my arms as if the spear were still there, reforming it with a phasic blade as the Scarab attempts to disengage. Behind me, the larger one has realised that something is wrong and switches its back module from a force field generator to a flight system.

    Meaning that when Grood barrels into it through the portal, it has no momentum with which to evade.


    Grood's only construct is a construct Grood, enhancing his already impressive strength and toughness to superlative levels. The larger Scarab has hit the wall before it's fully processed what is happening, and Grood's far faster with his phasic blade-tipped claws than it is with its morphed shields. It gets a gash along its side before it can interpose the first, then a gash to the face as it drops its guard too low. The shield then extends but Grood has already switched to grabbing and pulling like a frenzied molath and the Scarab hasn't anchored itself properly.


    The smaller scarab appears to think that if it swings at me with blades from all of its limbs that will in some way threaten me. Its right arm blade swings down, cutting into the deck as I jink aside and thrust forward with my spear. The blade retracts and the Scarab spins clockwise, ducking around my spear and slashing with its leg-blades. I reverse my spear and parry each of them, the Scarab allowing its spin to be countered and flapping its wings to gain space.

    The Darkstar takes the opportunity to slash at its wings, slicing through the left wing before the Scarab can cover it with its elytra armour.



    Heat washes over me from the larger Scarab firing a plasma weapon at point blank range to try and force Grood back. It works, for all the good it's going to do, and melts about a third of the room-.

    The Darkstar suddenly pulls back, keeping-. Her armour isn't rated for that level of discharge. I suppose it's unreasonable to expect infiltrators to fight on the front line.

    "Darkstar." I bombard the smaller Scarab with energy pulses, preventing them from attacking as they're forced to shield themselves. "Disengage."

    She doesn't move immediately, instead taking a stance-.

    "Do you require assistance?"

    The body of a Reach marine flies through the bridge door, hitting Grood in the side and breaking in half, spraying swiftly-cooking viscera across the room.


    "Do you?"

    The New God commanding officer. I did wonder what god-blood looked like. "No."

    The smaller Scarab reforms its other arm into a gun and fires at me around its shield, forcing me to-. To block with control panels torn from the ship in order to shield Allyn, because it is clearly using a construct disruptor and simple mass is better at resisting it.

    I will express my gratitude to the Illustres for teaching me that at his funeral.

    The Darkstar moves towards the door, ducking around the flailing limbs of the large Scarab and Grood, who appear to have both anchored themselves to the floor to better flail at each other. The Scarab isn't bothering with a shield any longer, just accepting the blows on its thickened armour in order to strike Grood, who seldom defends himself in any case. I can't help but be a little stirred at the sight of two fearless warriors unleashing their full strength without hesitation.

    "WHO SAID-?!"

    The New God is wearing green armour with strange lines running across it, and carrying a mace of some sort which she uses to parry the Darkstar's attack without looking around. The move is so instinctive to her that she actually looks a little surprised when she sees who she parried.

    Then she smiles.

    "For me?"

    Then she backhands the Darkstar, sending her flying.. directly through the portal. I suppose that gets her to safety, and her head was reasonably well protected.

    "Darkseid's balls, I wasn't even aiming-. Guess I'll just have to kill the rest of you."


    The Scarab gives up on weaker hits and switches to giant rams for its arms, striking Grood in the chest hard enough to crack his ribs through his construct. Grood responds by dragging his claws through the Scarab's head from the back, tearing out its eyes along the way. Not necessarily fatal; the Scarab implant is usually located on the spine and can restore a great deal of damage-.

    "Midget-bug, go fight the other Lantern! I want this one!"

    Grood tries to claw at the front of the large Scarab's face, but its armour has thickened again and Grood's own movements are visibly slower. Even its impaired motions are enough to fend him off.

    I sneer at the godling.

    "Who are you to demand anything?"

    "I'm Knockout." She hefts her mace. "Now guess what I'm going to do."
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2023