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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
    Likes Received:
    November 3rd, 1999
    22:47 GMT

    I look out through my binoculars at the airbase where the British government is keeping the Alliance's equipment.

    "This isn't a research centre. I'd guess that they're holding it here because they don't know what to do with it and want to keep it somewhere secure. Which means that there are going to be a lot of people coming and going."

    Next to me, Fitz lowers his binoculars and then clears his throat.

    "Gentlemen, I-" I wince at his accent. I'm… Pretty sure that British people haven't actually sounded like that outside of Buckingham Palace since World War Two. "-am Doctor Nigel Fortescue. I hear you've got a rather rum project for me, what what?"

    Perrera shakes her head. "We don’t have their phone line and we don't have a radio intercept. Unless there really is a guy called Nigel Fortescue, they won't buy it for long enough."

    "Nick…" I lower my binoculars and turn to face Sh'lainn. "I'm not seeing any vampires here."

    She turns her computer around to face me, images of some of the people who were at the docks expanded. The thing about most alien species being able to disguise themselves as humans is that what they look like doesn't really mean anything. I look at her for an explanation.

    "They're no' wearing the hologram projectors."

    Perrera leans over and looks at the image for a moment before nodding. "The projectors have to be exposed in order to work. And the tail's still there. None of these people are moving like they've got to take tails into account."

    "Okay." Fitz shrugs. "So they're not vampires. The vampire families run big companies. Can't be that hard to hire a moving company."

    Sh'lainn frowns. "Would the vampires let uninfected humans handle their technology?"

    I… That's a good question. I haven't seen any record of it in the Alliance database. Using humans to expand their personnel base seems like an obvious thing to do. The oni definitely do. Vampires?

    Looks like Fitz and Perrera don't know, either.

    "And there's another thing." Sh'lainn moves to a new video. "Watch this."

    An Alliance agent fires at one of the dock workers-. Sh'lainn stops the image as the plasma bolt narrowly misses him, and-. It's like his whole body is in a funhouse mirror.

    "You see this? I think this man is a faun. The power they use for their disguises doesn't cope well when there's a strong magnetic field nearby."

    Perrera frowns. "Do vampires work with fauns?"

    "About as often as banshees do."

    "So…" Fitz frowns. "What are we saying? It wasn't vampires? Okay, but what does that change? They're aliens-. Ah. Present company accepted, no offence intended."

    "Some taken."

    "And they were smuggling guns."

    I take out my pistol and hold it up.

    "That's a very nice gun?"

    "I don't have a British permit. And I don't remember declaring it when I crossed the border."

    "Nick." Fitz leans over and wraps his arm around my shoulders. "Let me tell you something I learned in the CIA. Laws are things you punish other people for breaking."

    I slip the gun back into its holster. Thing is, he's not entirely wrong. I knew that the Alliance rode roughshod over local law in order to protect the Earth from hostile aliens. But if we're working for… Governments, couldn't this be solved by a phone call? Someone's got to be in the know.

    Fitz snaps his fingers. "Got it! Plane falls, everyone dies!"

    "Ah." I frown, because if he's saying what I think he's saying, that could get a lot of people on that airbase killed. "If Trueblood's finished with the planes, we could fly one-."

    "No, no, no. That just raises more questions. We need to figure out something where no one wants to ask anything."

    I glance at Perrera, but she's… Smiling. No help there.


    "The airbase is on high alert, because it's a military base that's now holding a load of high-tech equipment. But they don't know that that's connected to the agents they're holding, otherwise they'd be in a military prison rather than a police cell."

    I nod. They probably haven't tried getting fingerprints from the captured weapons yet, and while fingerprints are unique, actually matching a fingerprint on a surface to one on someone's finger is more an art than a science. If the London police haven't put their records on a searchable computer system yet…

    "You see, sometimes… You get a prisoner you don't want to have as a prisoner."

    Sometimes, I forget that Fitz used to be in the CIA. And that his honest, open face is just about the best asset he has for deceiving people.

    Perrera tilters her head to the side a little. "Okay? And what happens to them?"

    "Well, sometimes they end up in someone else's prison. We used to have friends in South America for that. And the Middle East. And sometimes it turns out that someone made a mistake and they were never prisoners in the first place!" He shrugs in mock helplessness. "What can you do? And sometimes you get a bunch of people on a plane… And there's an engine failure."

    He shrugs, still smiling.

    "These things happen."

    Sh'lainn nods her head. "And that's why I don't trust those mechanical death-traps."

    Ah. "So..?"

    "There's nothing like prisoners suffering a mechanical failure related 'accident' to make everyone involved really forgetful. We bring the prisoners up here using Ministry of Defense documents, load 'em onto a plane and then fly them up. Then we do a mid-air transfer before dropping the plane on anything we want destroyed."

    Perrera frowns. "What about the airmen on the base?"

    "Oh, we can warn them. Tell them that the plane's coming down and they need to evacuate. Then the plane lands, and they call the Ministry to find out what went on… But there's no one there." He shrugs again. "They'll think it was an MI5 black bag operation. MI5 will say it wasn't, but… Of course they would."

    Perrera shrugs. "We've used worse stories."

    I nod. "That all sounds disturbingly possible. But we-."

    The communicator goes off. Perrera gabs it.

    "Agent Perrera. Go."

    Trueblood's face appears. He looks pissed.

    "The Green Knight is still active in the area. He is very resilient. He took fire from-."

    He winces, and the camera moves to show me a medic working on his hand.

    "From several plasma cannons without slowing down, and his sword cut through our mechs like they were made of aluminum foil. I've got seven wounded agents and one fatality, and the local police showed up just as we got out of the area of operation. Be careful, don't go anywhere alone and prepare to get out the moment he shows up."

    Sh'lainn looks dubious. "Did you run into some fauns, by any chance?"

    For an instant he looks angry, then he gets a hold of himself. "That's irrelevant. Trueblood out."

    "So…" The screen deactivates and Fitz looks thoughtful. "I heard 'no vampires and good luck with the unstoppable knight'. Everyone else hear that too?"

    I sag slightly, sighing. "Thank you, General Rinaker."
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2023
  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    11:13 GMT -5

    "…impressed by how well these humans have adapted."

    I keep trying to ignore Canis, focusing my hearing on the warehouse on the opposite side of the street. Mistress's gang drove their truck here after making their delivery, and I can hear the rattle of the back doors banging against the side of the truck as the shifting weight makes it rock back and forth. If I make a little effort, I can hear it as the metal of the engine contracts as it cools. I can definitely hear the heartbeats and footsteps of the people inside.

    What I don't hear are the heartbeats of the people they drove here with the promise of work.

    "Truly, when Great Darkseid cracks open this world's crusts to form firepits, they will make for fine lowlies."

    I sniff. Fresh…

    I've gotten a lot of experience in smelling… Bodies, since this started. Fresh bodies don't smell much different from living people, unless they lost control of their bowels when they died. Then they don't smell much different to someone with incontinence. Older bodies, I can tell roughly how long ago they died by how decayed they are. I didn't hear any shots, or…

    Heard more people hanging themselves then-.

    Canis flicks me in the forehead.

    "Not yet! You are a warrior, and it is only fitting that you embrace the Anti-Life only at the peak of this world's despair."

    I look him in the eyes. Should I thank him? He only did it because he thinks things are going to get worse, but… Mom would want me to. Because if he has normal human relationships, maybe that'll help him.


    He's already got his sketchpad out. He's-. Yeah, he's going to draw what my face looked like just then.

    "Do not mention it."

    I go back to looking at the warehouse. I didn't hear anything that I'd associate with them killing people. I can't smell any dead bodies. I didn't see any zeta radiation.

    So where did the people go?

    "Canis, is there any New God technology in there?"
    Might Calls To Might.
    He shakes his head. "No. What have you discovered?"

    "Most of the people who went in disappeared."

    "Is it a meat processing plant?"

    "No, I'd smell that a mile away."

    "A teleporter?"

    "It's not a zeta tube."

    "Or a boom tube. I would be astonished if it were a hush tube, but I suppose that some mightier New God might have allowed crumbs to fall from their plate." He frowns thoughtfully. "Speaking of crumbs, I do not think that the insignificant farms in this area would be enough to supply the food we saw doled out. Is the warehouse filled with vittles?"

    I sniff again. There is a smell of food, but it's all traces from short term storage. It's nothing like strong enough for there the place to be full up. So… Maybe this is just where they store the truck? Can't smell grease or anything that might mean it's a workshop. I can hear the faint hum of electricity, but that doesn't really mean anything.

    "Even if it is, there isn't enough for what they've been handing out."

    "A curious fact." He sighs. "Loathe as I am to distract someone from following their passions… We are looking for the laughably-named Mistress. I doubt that she is here."

    He's.. right. But something's off about this.

    "It's not just about finding her. We need to find out everything about her operation. And this is weird."

    "Match, neither of us are infiltrators. It is all I can do to stop myself marching up to one of these lowlies and just demanding her location. And I suspect that your first thought is to charge through the door and see for yourself."

    Actually, my first thought was to tell Dick and see what he thinks. But if I had to investigate, yeah, that's what I'd do.

    Kon's much better at this stuff than me.

    Interesting how that doesn't make me feel worthless, like some things do. Kon being better at being a superhero than me is just a fact of life. Even if I'm more like our father physically, I haven't put the time in with the stuff that's not related to my powers.

    I think-.


    That… Heartbeat. The vibrations…

    "His heart's on the wrong side of his chest."

    "Unusual, but one in twelve thousand humans has dextrocardia. Unless he needs surgery, I doubt that it matters."

    "There's another one. And…" I frown. "The sounds… Aren't moving right."

    "They echo wrongly for the internal space?"

    I nod. "Yeah. I think there's some kind of a portal in there."

    "That is curious. If we are agreed that charging in would not be wise… Perhaps we could volunteer at their next labor drive?"

    "Sounds good. Let's-."

    Another heartbeat, echoing… Wrong. On the right side of the owner's chest. And I remember…

    Anti-matter universe. Their hearts are on the right. What the heck are those guys doing here?

    "Something has occurred to you?"

    "People from the anti-matter universe have hearts on the right. I just heard a second guy."

    "And the chance of two people having such an abnormality in close proximity to one another is low." He frowns thoughtfully. "I wonder how easy it would be to preserve the circulatory system for display?"

    I ignore him, listening as the truck accelerates… And then starts to sound like it's coming from a space that shouldn't be there. And then… Gone.

    "The truck's gone. I think they're trading with the anti-matter universe."

    "That might explain the food. Why would the Syndicate want people? Labor?"

    "Maybe." I kinda lost interest in the file when I found out that I didn't have a duplicate. "But they're risking getting exposed to the Anti-Life."

    Canis nods. "And Darkseid has not decreed their destruction. Is there an anti-matter Darkseid?"

    "I dunno. But it would be a lot easier to move people to a parallel universe than to another planet."

    "Would they want the companionship?"

    "We can find an Earth no one's using. Where humans died out, or something. But we need to look after people, even if they're not looking after themselves. And the anti-matter universe isn't anything good."

    "Then we shall meet up with Robin and plan our attack."
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2023
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    12:44 GMT -5

    "Yeah." I point my binoculars at the last warehouse. "They're not getting that food from in there."

    Artemis is watching the readout from the tracker arrow, and thanks to Batman's training in body reading I hear the moment she gets surprised. A little change in how she's breathing and a slight change in how she's balancing.

    "The truck's gone. Or they.. found the transmitter."

    "Was there a damage alert?"


    "Those transmitters aren't easy to damage. If someone found it, they wouldn't fry it with a plasma torch on their own van. They'd pull it off -which would send an alert telling you it lost its grip- and then try smashing it."

    She nods. "And unless they hit it just right, that would send a damage notification before it cut out, right."

    I try putting the binoculars on infrared mode, but the metal of the warehouse and the insulation effect of their clothes means that I can't see if their hearts are on the wrong side by heat patterns alone. Not from here, anyway.

    "Those are just regular power lines. If they had enough power for some kind of portal, they'd need more than that, right?"

    "You know I'm not literally Batman, right?"

    "Ah, yeah?"

    "So he might be an omnidisciplinary genius, but I'm still going to high school. We don’t do dimensional physics until our junior year."

    "We do?"

    I actually lower the binoculars and eyeball her.

    She shrugs defensively. "I thought maybe it was a special class. But… If there aren't enough cables, then the generator would have to be inside."

    "Or on the other side."

    But why would they open a portal, whoever they are? Blue Lantern and Ultraboy-.

    Their hearts are in the right place. Gotta work that into a sentence.

    So if it's them… Why? Blue Lantern wouldn't want anything to do with the Anti-Life-. OL wanted to evacuate the planet. So BL would… Also evacuate this planet to his planet, because…

    No one's paying him in cash. Villain equipment? No. I mean, maybe, but he's giving Mistress food. He's paying her, not the other way around. Gotham… WayneCorps is keeping track of its most skilled workers. Frankly, most of the people they're getting aren't exactly high-skilled. They could be building up a workforce in secret…

    No, wait. Take people out of a bad situation and they'll be grateful. Get them out of the effect-range of the Anti-Life, let them have a normal life again, and they're yours. BL might just get them all jobs working for the Syndicate. Employees who aren't known to the government. OL said that the Syndicate were moving their operations out of their US. They're having to build up their whole support base from nothing.

    It makes sense, but that's assuming that it's the same Syndicate. Because OL also said that he had to fight some kind of nineties Justice League from a different parallel universe. So how do I know this isn't a different parallel anti-matter universe?

    I don't.

    Heck, for all I know they might just be clones of someone who has their heart on the right side.

    And if it's not BL, who probably wouldn't do anything evil with them, then we need to know where they're going.

    "We're going through… Whatever that is, aren't we?"

    "If it turns out it's a giant mincing machine, no."

    "Did someone have one of those?"

    "Joker did once, but it was a stage prop. You went though, realised you were fine… Aaaand that's when the piranhas got you."

    "That sounds-. Where is the Joker, anyway?"

    "Arkham. Wayne Enterprises paid for supermax cells to get automated. And Batman has been making sure they all stay where they are."

    "Are they affected?"

    "Joker's been laughing less. Though that might just be some new kind of crazy he's cooking up. The rest aren't really doing better than anyone else."

    Mr. Zsasz was trying to rub his tallies off, and Firefly refuses to look at anything burning, including the screen in his room that shows a fireplace as a kind of palliative. The worst is Two-Face. He hasn't argued with himself since this started, and he's been a lot more self-destructive. Since he wasn't in Arkham at the time we don't know exactly where Clayface is, but he… Well, he can't kill himself, so he'll probably turn up when it's all over.

    Whoa, that's dark.

    "Anyway, yeah, we need to get through. And since we don't know what's on the other side, we're going to have to join the volunteers."

    "Won't they see that we're not as affected as they are?"

    "Match walked right up to four of them, and they didn't care."

    "Yeah, but letting them through the.. portal, or whatever…"

    "They're moving people from somewhere with Anti-Life to somewhere without. I don't think they want them Anti-Lifed."

    "So you think it's an actual evacuation, not just choice between slavery and the Anti-Life?"

    "People who get Anti-Lifed make great slaves already. Mistress is clearly organising this, and she can already control them."

    I shuffle back from the observation point and stand back up. Okay, I'm going to need to drop off anything that looks like Robin-gear. We already dressed to blend in-.

    "Okay, this is gunna sound-. Could she be… Good?"

    Artemis looks like she thinks I'm going to say that's stupid, but actually… That's more than a little possible. We -I- don't have a good read on exactly how Anti-Lifed people act. Mannheim's evil, because he started this and is trying to spread it, but the city bosses? They're mostly people who were evil before. And it-. Accepting the Anti-Life looks like it's easier if you were pretty nihilistic before it happened, but… People signed up with the Alliance of the Just because they wanted to do good.

    Could Mistress just want to get people out?

    "It's possible. Or she might just be smart enough to know that she can't feed everyone and getting rid of the rest just makes sense. Or that the broadcast effect works through the portal. I mean, whoever's controlling the portal is probably on the other side, and they must know that things aren't right here, but do they know why things aren't right? If she's sent her Justified through, then…"

    "She might be trying to expand somewhere Mannheim can't reach."

    "Or maybe she is trying to get them out. She used to be a travel agent."

    Artemis snorts. "It's not like anyone wants to take tours of Gotham."

    "Yeah. You think we should take Canis, or leave him here?"

    "Canis in a new environment… Canis without supervision." She looks thoughtful. "I'd.. say… Have him try and get closer to Mistress. He fits in better, and the Justified are less likely to pick up on him being… Canis, than regular guards."

    I nod. I think she's right.

    I'm just worried about him getting on too well.
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2023
  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    13:12 GMT -5

    "You want work, worms?"

    We talked about it, and Dick taking the lead would probably look wrong. He's still in the middle of a growth spurt and looks younger than he is. Mitchell can't look spooked convincingly. Not by physical threats. Even if he's not much tougher than Dick and me right now, we've both been in that sort of situation.

    I shrug my right shoulder. "We want food and to be somewhere safe, so, yeah?"

    The guy we're talking to used to be part of one of the Chinese street gangs. Now he's just standing around outside one of the Mistress-run food halls. Lunch was sandwiches made from long-life bread and cheese slices and most of the people who made it this far look like they were homeless before the Anti-Life.

    Guess they were used to keeping going while feeling this way.

    "There is nowhere that is safe."

    "Why? Do we have to, like, join your weird religion or..? Whatever, first?"

    "No. If you did then you would not want to leave and would be entirely inappropriate to send."

    He looks at us for a moment longer and I start to get worried that he-.

    Shit, I think this was one of the guys I busted before Ollie and Batman recruited me. I don't think he got a good look at me back then, but I-.

    "Two things. Then you can go and wait in the truck with the others."

    I look sullen, channelling how I used to feel when Dad did something like this.

    "You want us to give up our weapons?"

    He wrinkles his nose like he's just smelled the dog shit on his shoes. "No. Keep them if you like. Use them and you will certainly be killed so it doesn't matter to me."

    "'kay, so, what?"

    "This is one way. You will not come back."

    "Why would we want to?"

    "We were all worms, once. Crawling in the earth, with no comprehension of it. If exposure to the great universal truth only makes you want to run… That is cowardice."

    "And sticking around in a crazy, starving city is bravery?"

    I don't need to act to get my voice to sound completely dismissive. Though I do make it sound like I'm a bit more scared than I really am.

    "Accepting reality takes more courage than retreating to a fantasy." He shakes his head. "But my words will not convince you."

    "Fine. So what's the second?"

    "You are a product. Whatever there is in you that makes you flee the truth, we don't care, and neither do the people you will work for."


    "Perhaps you will be slaves. Perhaps you will not. But if you still have some hope of being 'free'..." His face screws up like he just tasted the dog shit. "Then go back to hiding in your hovel and waiting for someone to save you."

    I make a point of looking at Mitchell and Dick, and they both nod.

    "We'll take our chances. Thanks."

    "Then go. Outside. The truck is waiting."

    Everyone else in the lunch hall is… Huddling in their cliques, only its based on what streets you live on rather than what school clubs you go to. None of them even look at the gang members, and most of them try sitting away from them.

    People used to surviving on the streets say 'avoid'. Normal way to relate to gangs, but gangs don't usually run soup kitchens.

    The truck's outside. The only thing in the lot. There's a woman in the driver's seat, but she's just staring ahead. We could try asking her some things, but every time we do, we risk standing out. I glance at Dick, but he just nods at the back of the truck. I climb up carefully, then turn around to help Dick up while Mitchell pulls himself up.

    Gotta pretend we're not super strong. Or maybe if they didn't care about knives or guns, they wouldn't care about that?

    Seven other people in the back. Two look like bums, a family of four and… Some guy in a dirty suit. He's the most alert and… 'Alive', but he pulls himself away slightly when we make eye contact.

    So we copy them, forming a huddle as far away from the others as we can, with a 'safe' distance between us and the back of the truck.

    And then we wait.

    No one else is talking so we can't really talk. I can look out the back, but desolate and abandoned Gotham streets got old a decade ago.

    I wonder what Jade's doing?

    Not like I think fighting a huge war is better than this, but at least what you're supposed to be doing -what you need to do to win- is clearer. And you don't feel the Anti-Life the whole time. She gets to sneak around for a few days and then go back someplace where the people are living normal lives. Space-lives.

    I wonder if Mom would let me take a year out after High School to go space-backpacking? That's something Wally would want to do, right? See a bunch of super-advanced societies? Or maybe space-backpacking isn't really a thing?

    Of course, what Paul's doing is something that will fix the problem. And if we're lucky, won't create another problem. Maybe get a bunch of different color power rings together and summon Captain Power Ring?


    Footsteps-. The Justified guy from inside closes the truck door without looking at us, then I hear his footsteps moving around the side and the passenger side door open. A moment later the engine starts up and there's a slight jolt as the truck accelerates. No seat belts in the back of a truck, but since there's no traffic there isn't a lot of speeding up and slowing down.

    I think… Yeah, we're going to the closest warehouse. No real reason why we wouldn't be.


    Mitchell leans over, so his mouth is right next to my ear. He'll be able to hear whatever I say with super hearing.


    "You think we could use this? Send people through ourselves?"

    Go through, beat whoever controls the portal generator and then start doing mass evacuations without leaving Earth? Sure, we could do that. Except Mannheim might find out about it and send his super robot through to the other side with a boom tube. The only way it would work is if he couldn't find out about it, and I don't… Think it's-.

    Is this why he's coming here? That could be a real problem. If Mistress doesn't know she wouldn't warn them-.

    "Mannheim might want the portals. We might have to get them shut down. I don't think we can risk other Earths getting infected."

    He tenses slightly.

    "I hadn't though-. Yeah, you're right."

    I feel the truck pull off the road, and a few seconds later it applies the brake.

    Let's find out where we're going.
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2023
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    3rd November 1999
    23:56 GMT

    I watch from on-high as the armed police continue to patrol the area of the fire fight. The Alliance did a reasonable job of cleaning up after themselves before fleeing in their remaining transport vehicles, but the signs of a fight like that don't just disappear and the police have clearly picked up on them.

    The first carbonised tree could have been written off as a freak lightning strike, but there are a lot more black marks on the foliage and soil that could be explained by anything short of an electrical storm that would require a dust cloud of a sort that just doesn't occur in Britain.

    The fused lumps of metal look like they could be cars, but once the Scene of Crime officers get here they'll quickly realise that they aren't any sort of car that's actually been sold in any country in the world. And that their owner hasn't paid road tax. If they then reach the conclusion they were some sort of prototype electrical vehicle meant for testing on private land -which would be perfectly legal- they'd still have to explain the odd design choices from the mech-shifting technology that are still visible.

    "Sir, we've got blood down here."

    I hear the voice from the radio of the Inspector overseeing the operation, originally coming from the Sergeant who led the team into the now-evacuated bunker.

    "Forensics will be pleased. Any sign of a body?"

    "No body, sir. Some footprints, and… Looks like animal tracks."

    "Animal tracks?"

    "Too small and wrong shape for footprints."

    "What sort of animal?"

    "Dunno, sir. Something with hooves."

    The Inspector frowns. Ah, he spotted that. A predator might follow the scent of blood, but a hoofed animal -a herbivore prey animal like a deer- wouldn't.

    "Anything else down there?"

    "Dust has been stirred up. Someone's been down here recently. Gone n-. Wait one."

    The Inspector walks over to a carbonised tree and pulls off his right glove to touch it with his bare skin.

    "What the fuck did this?"

    "Looks like someone added a rear exit. I've got more footprints and animal tracks."

    "No people?"

    "Still completing the sweep, but it doesn't look like it."

    "Finish your sweep, then pull out. Leave as much for the Scene of Crime officers as you can."


    The Inspector nods to himself, and then walks over to have a look at one of the piles of wreckage.

    "Some sort of… Armoured car..?"


    The Inspector looks around as another police officer hurries over.


    "It's the Chief Inspector, sir. He wants to know where we are."

    "What does he mean, where we are? He's the one-. Give me the phone."

    The communications officer hands the puzzled Inspector the phone handset, and he brings it to his ear. "Sir, I received deployment orders that appeared to be from you. Are you telling me-?"

    He stops talking, his face growing increasingly grim.


    He takes another look at the wreckage as his superior continues to talk.

    "That may well be, sir, but it looks like a good job they did. I've got two wrecked vehicles, scorch marks that look like someone fired… I don't know, some sort of… High powered taser? Or-. Because the damn trees are burnt like they were hit by lightning. Ah, not sure. Wait one." He turns to his squad radio. "Sergeant, how much blood would you say there was?"

    "If it's from one person, they're dead, sir."

    "Thank you, Sergeant." He turns back to his phone. "One probable, body no longer on-site. And I'm waiting on forensics before we open up the wrecks to see if there are any remains inside. Um. Doesn't seem likely, sir, but it doesn't hurt to ask." He leans forward to tap the armour panels on the wreck he was studying. "It feels armoured, but it doesn't look like any armoured vehicle I've ever seen. How long-? Right, well, we'll do a perimeter check while we wait for them to arrive, and then clear off. Yeah, I think that's one for the secret squirrels."

    He hands the phone back to the officer who gave it to him, then takes a step back from the wreck.

    "Alright, everyone! Form a perimeter, twenty metres out, and wait for Scene of Crime! Don't touch anything if you can help it!"

    Armed officers stop patrolling around the bunker entrance and form up into fireteams, moving away in different directions.

    I've led the horse to water. Let's hope it drinks.

    The Conduit refugees are miles away, camping out in the wilds of Hornchurch. They've got contingency plans for this situation that don't involve me, and I can't keep this armour up while I sleep. Percival could set up a safe house near his cottage, but there isn't really… Most aliens prefer modern conveniences for pretty much the same reasons humans do, and he's pretty off-grid.

    The Alliance soldiers have pulled out. I was kind of expecting them to bombard the area with missiles once their people got clear, but apparently they decided that it wasn’t worth it. Their stealth technology is pretty good, but with a little effort I can see their transport aircraft flying back across the Atlantic. I don't know if they all left, but I can't see any other aircraft of that class nearby.

    So..? Time to go home? Or back to Percival's place at least? Ring, fuel?

    Thirty four percent charge remaining.

    I don't want to get into a big fight at thirty four percent, but I could survive one if I had to. And I've got enough cash on me to get a ferry back to Ireland if I had to.

    Okay, but what about tomorrow? I could follow the Alliance transport plane back to their headquarters and… Express my displeasure. Except that some of the work they do is actually valuable. And I certainly couldn't sub in for them with regard to their global commitments. I could find them doing something dodgy and wreck it to make a point, but would they actually get the point, or would they just prioritise my elimination?

    Prioritise killing me. Like I killed their-.

    No. He was about a second from murdering some unarmed civilians. I don't-.

    But I've got a power ring. There are ways I could disable-. Learn to disable someone without killing them, even if they did have it coming.

    But that's for tomorrow. I'll check the prisoners and Alliance equipment one more time-.

    What are they doing?
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2023
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    November 4th, 1999
    00:08 GMT


    I breathe a sigh of relief as the airmen scramble to get away from the path of the falling Super Hercules. Since we couldn't get enough explosive onboard to make sure that the Alliance equipment would be completely destroyed, I've got to stay near the base so I can activate the explosives Fitz hid in them at the same time. I'm not sure people won't spot the residue, but he was pretty confident that when a plane crashes into something and it collapses, no one's going to believe that something else caused the collapse.

    And below a certain level, an active 'conspiracy' subculture actually helps the Alliance by making the truth sound ridiculous.

    The whole thing makes me feel kind of dirty, but the Alliance can't work without secrecy.

    I just wish my part didn't need me to drop planes on friendly air bases.

    Watching carefully through my binoculars, I just about spot the moment Sh'lainn blasts her way out of the cockpit and flies out, using the smoke as cover. We couldn't risk it not hitting the target, and none of us knew how to reprogram the autopilot. Okay, now I just need to wait-.

    I wince as the plane slams into the hangar where they're keeping the Alliance gear. Wait a second so it looks like fuel cooking off and detonate.

    And there she blows.

    So, what now? Trueblood's plane is halfway across the Atlantic by now, and Fitz needs to get out of British airspace before they send their jets up. Rinaker isn't going to expect me back in Roswell for a couple of days, since I'm here under my own name and with my own passport.

    Trueblood may have ran into the Green Knight, but he didn't run into a vampire.

    I want to take a look at the docks. See if I can spot anything while I wait for a seat on a regular plane.

    I pull a flashlight out of my coat and point it upwards, flashing it three times in quick succession. That should be enough for Sh'lainn to-.

    "There you are."

    She gracefully descends through the air, hair wild and eyes glowing. The moment she touches down they go back to normal, and I hand her her coat.

    "Everything go alright?"

    She puts the coat on, disguising her catsuit. "I can point one o' those contraptions at the ground just fine, thank you very much."

    "I wasn't doubting your ability to crash it-."


    She folds her arms across her chest and starts marching back towards the car. A rental, not something that we might have to blow up later. I glance back at the base, where they're already fighting the fire-. The fire I caused, and then turn away and follow-.

    Green-. That's a green sword. And the armor the guy's wearing it's wearing is pretty green as well. Trueblood said that he's tough but he didn’t say how fast he is. My gun is in my holster.

    He hasn't see Sh'lainn. Do I call-?


    She turns around, sees the Knight and her hands come up two bright beams of light fly from her palms and knock him flying! Gun out, step back, the Knight-. Doesn't look hurt as he gets up-.

    And… Waves his hands across his chest, shakes his head and… Points his right fore finger and middle finger at his left wrist. A shield appears on his left arm and he keeps that pointed at Sh'lainn while he keeps his sword pointed at me.

    I edge closer to Sh'lainn. "No warning this time?"

    "I don't-. He wasn't trying to kill you."

    "Good to know. So can you detect maiming..?"

    "Keep asking stupid questions and we'll find oot."

    But he's not attacking. He's not advancing. He's-.

    "You don't know this guy personally, do you?"

    Because he's looking at you. Those gestures were aimed at you. I got a sword, but you got a communication attempt. Because even if he doesn't know you, he knows banshees. And he knows the Alliance. But he might not know that I'm an Alliance agent-. Except for the gun I'm pointing at him.

    He opens his right hand and his sword vanishes. Then he points his index finger up and makes a circling motion with it before pointing it at.. me.

    Ah. Some kind of… Sign language? I don't recognise the gesture-.

    "He wants to know who you are." I glance at Sh'lainn. "It's British sign language."

    "Okay." Which is a lot more different from American sign language than I assumed it would be. "What was the cross arms thing?"

    "'No police'. He was trying to warn me about you. I don’t think he's used to Alliance agents and banshees working together."

    I make eye contact with the Knight. "Can you understand what I'm saying?"

    He nods. The sword hasn't reappeared, and if he wasn't trying to kill me a moment ago…

    "Are you working for the vampires?"

    He shakes his head and swings his arms horizontally across his chest again. Then he raises his right fore finger and middle finger-

    I know that gesture.

    - and points them at his neck.

    "Vampire. So there are no vampires here."

    He points to himself, makes like he's climbing a rope, and then the vampire sign again.

    "He hates vampires."

    "So who were the weapons for?"

    He brings his hands together at his chest and then pulls them apart, then makes a claw with his right hand and presses it into his left palm.

    "Ah… Big contract?"

    Claw again, two fingers twisting around, then he lets his shield vanish so he can lock his fingers together and move his hands in a circle.

    Sh'lainn frowns curiously. "I don't know what that means."

    "Can you guess?"

    "The last sign was 'American', but I don't know what a 'second American contract'-."

    "The Second Amendment. You're saying that whoever bought them has a right to them, so you're not going to tell me."

    He signs 'no policeman' again. And then he makes a gesture like he's trying to wave me away. Right. He knows who the Alliance are, but he clearly doesn't think we have any right to anything.

    "Did you kill an Alliance agent?"

    He nods.


    Claw gesture enveloping upraised forefinger, then taps his middle left finger.

    "He attacked an innocent. Which I can't exactly say surprises me."

    "Okay, but what innocent?"

    Oh, 'contract second American'. Thanks.

    "So they found the people who bought the weapons. But they only had them to defend themselves." He nods. "Against who?"

    He points to me.

    I guess this is what being The Man feels like.

    "Nick… If the Knight can survive being shot by plasma cannons, why do you think Trueblood only had one agent die?"

    "Because the rest left without attacking an innocent." The Knight just watches me. "Are you planning on stopping us leaving?"

    He makes a show of looking at the burning air base, then turns back and shakes his head, repeating the 'go away' sign.

    "Okay then." I put my gun back in its holster and open the car door. "Let's hope we don’t see each other again."

    I sit down and close the door. In the wing mirror, I see him nod.

    That… Was strange.

    I put the car in drive and pull my cell out of my pocket.

    "Kraker. I need data on London shipping."
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2023
  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    13:22 GMT -5


    After the truck stopped we were herded out into what looks like another warehouse. Over on one side there was a mountain of crates, labelled with the same food brands as Mistress's gang was serving. In the bit we're in there're a bunch of cheap partitions and cheap desks, and if the others are getting the same treatment as me then…

    We're getting job interviews.

    "Carver Malone."


    "I was in High School."

    The man doing the interview glares at me. "I've been 'in' a bank vault. Doesn't mean I'm a banker."

    That doesn't-. Oh. Right. These guys aren't actual recruitment people. These are people who got on the wrong side of the boss, and know it, and are doing the minimum they have to so they avoid getting on his wronger side.

    Or her. I mean, it's usually not, but I've been tied up by Poison Ivy before.

    "Well, what exactly do you want to know? I got good grades, but I'm a sophomore. And school kinda got shut down when-."

    "Can you read and do basic math?"


    "Fine. Do you have any long term medical issues?"


    "What, you don't know?"

    "No, I don't have any long term medical problems."

    "Or allergies or whatever."

    "No, no allergies."

    "Immunisation injections?"

    Working with Batman means that I've been exposed to some really interesting micro-organisms. I actually had to opt out of the school program because it would conflict with something else I had. I'm more than up to date now, but at the time I got people asking if I was afraid of the mercury.

    "I've had them."

    He's working through a checklist with no idea why. What kind of organisation has a way to open portals to parallel universes and then doesn't pay attention to what they got out?

    "Any job training?"

    "I used to be a circus acrobat."

    He drops his tablet on the table between us. "If you don't take this seriously, we'll dump you in meat processing."

    "No. Seriously. My family were the trapeze act. Do you want me to demonstrate?" I make a point of looking at the ceiling. "Doesn't look like you've got one set up."

    "Ah. Okay, I guess. Not heard that one before. Any other skills?"

    "I used to have a paper route in Blüdhaven."

    "We don't need a paperboy."

    "Blüdhaven used to narrowly lose to Hub City as murder capital of America. Then the Sheeda killed everyone in Hub City so there's no more competition. My paper round took me through the territory of five different gangs. I saw one to two shootouts per day."

    It was for a case. And okay, I didn't keep it up for long. But it was an eye-opener.

    "Rough neighborhood. Could be useful. Okay, last thing. Do you have superpowers?"

    If we were infiltrating this place for a long time, I'd say 'no' and keep them as an ace in the hole. But we still need to get back and work out what Mannheim wants with Mistress. So, it looks like honesty is the best policy.


    "Being circus-folk is not a superpower."

    "No, but super strength is. Right?"

    He frowns, leaning away slightly. "You're super strong? Like, tear-through-steel super strong?"

    "I haven't ever tried tearing steel, but I can bend it pretty easily."

    He glances out of the booth, off into the distance. I can't see anyone for him to be looking at, but I guess his supervisor is over that way.

    I smile. "Want me to break something?"

    "Okay, kid? That sounds great, but if you're shitting me we're both in the shit. You understand me?"

    "Yeah, no problem. It's not like I'm saying I'm psychic or something, right? Strength is easy to test."

    "I suppose. Okay." He stands up. "Get up. Follow me."

    He leads the way across the warehouse, and I get a momentary glance at Artemis and Mitchell going through the same thing. We're heading for the exit, and he nods at the door guards before leading me to the back of the lot. Not much around. Looks like… An abandoned airfield, so that's a hangar and not a warehouse. Easier to fly things in, I guess. He leads me over to a pile of packing crates, piled up haphazardly out of the way after they took out whatever used to be inside.

    "Break them up."

    I walk up to the closest and pick it up. "You know this isn't hard wood, right?"

    "I just need to check you're not completely full of shit. My boss can work out how strong you really are."

    I shrug and close my hands into fists, the wood splintering and cracking as my fingers move through it with no real effort. "Like that?"

    "Yeah, but try and make it look impressive. It's my boss and his boss you got to convince."

    "And… Then what?"

    "Then you get a decent job instead of whatever they got the rest of you people doing. And I get a finders fee."

    "Who's your boss?"

    "His name's Jimmy. Jimmy Dawes. It's his call whether you're worth his boss's time. And she's the one who you gotta impress. So make sure it looks good."

    I pick up a crate, toss it into the air and then jump up and bicycle kick it into the ground! My foot basically goes through it, bits of wood exploding outwards in all directions!

    I land in a crouch, looking at my interviewer.

    "That okay?"

    "I dunno. You said it wasn’t strong wood."

    I shrug, pick up the next with my left hand and then punch my right fist through it.

    "Yeah, that should be okay. Come back inside and I'll talk to Jimmy."
    Last edited: May 1, 2023
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    13:27 GMT -5

    "…escort my foot up his ass."

    Mitchell just looks awkward as Artemis comes to the end of her mutter-tirade.

    "Ah. Maybe he said it because he thinks you're pretty?"

    And that was the wrong thing to say.

    Her eyes narrow. "You-."

    "It's the quickest way for them to start making a profit on bringing you here." She turns to me, some of the anger bleeding off. "People traffickers don't do long term investments."

    Which is… Strange, when you think about it. I don’t exactly know what sorts of people survive Anti-Life exposure the best, but I haven't seen anything showing that well-educated people die more. If it was me, I'd be focusing on trafficking people with high-value skills who'd want to leave, so I could exploit them. Just… Getting a whole lot of people for low-skilled jobs doesn't seem worth the effort.

    Maybe they just assumed that people our age wouldn't have useful skills and so they didn't bother asking. Because… They're just taking whoever they can get, because Mistress controls the other side of the portal and they don't want their own people getting Anti-Lifed.

    Mitchell lifts his head slightly, and a moment later I hear footsteps heading in our direction.

    "Anything we need to know?"

    He gives his head a small shake.

    "Thug dialogue."

    Okay, so the people on-site don't make assessments for high-value traffickees. They just decide who's worth passing on to someone who's actually important. But they're not high-value employees, either, so they're not motivated to put much effort in.

    The door to the hut they put us in swings open, and a… Yeah, thug dialogue. Jimmy isn't much better dressed than his henchmen, but the body language makes it clear that he thinks he's going places.

    "Three kids with super strength come through the hole at the same time." He shrugs. "Am I suppose to think that's a fluke?"

    Artemis shakes her head. "Of course not. If we were hiding what we can do, we wouldn't have told you. And we'd have come through on separate days. We're not stupid."

    "Alright. So why'd'you do it?"

    "To get a better negotiating position. And we've worked with each other for years. We'd rather have people we know watching our backs."

    "That Anti-Life thing only started about a month ago. You were together before that?"

    "Yeah? I live in Gotham. Heard the cultists had a way out, took it. What's hard to understand?"

    "How three people who clearly aren't related to each other have the same powers."

    "What, you don't have the Danner Formula? Where.. are we, anyway?"

    "Danner F-?" He leans closer, and if he had an orange power ring I'm pretty sure his eyes would be glowing. "You've got a way to give people permanent super strength?"

    Yeah, that got him excited.

    "No, some crazy doctor did and he gave it to our moms. Only works in the womb." Artemis shrugs. "And I don't know how to make it, so you're out of luck."

    Jimmy pulls away, tossing his head back. "Fuck! Well. You all just got less valuable."

    "To who? We don't know where we are. Or who you are."

    "We're the people who got you out of your shit-hole home."

    "Yes, thank you. But we can't work out what you want from us if you won't tell us anything."

    Jimmy thinks about it. He's trying to make it look like he's in charge, but whatever Mistress's Justified said, they clearly don't have anything here that can stop us just leaving. Has this guy… Not seen what someone with super strength can do to a regular guy? Even if we're in the desert, we can run faster than most cars. Follow the road and we'll get somewhere eventually-.


    Fishing. I don't.. think their boss really knows what they could get out of this. I was thinking that a portal to a parallel universe would be expensive, but maybe they just stole it and now they're trying to work out how to make money from it. Can't sell something like that, not unless this world is a lot more advanced than it looks. You can fence jewellery, but who's going to buy a dimensional portal?

    "Alright, fine. This is a parallel universe-."

    "No duh."

    "You wanna hear this or not?"

    Artemis is doing a good job as a truculent teenager. She's got the expression down perfect.

    "We're part of… A kind of super powered mob. We work for Ultrawoman. And I know you're thinking that you could make a run for it. Fuck, I wouldn't even hold it against you. But however strong you think you are? There ain't no one stronger than Ultrawoman."

    Ultrawoman? I don't remember there being an Ultrawoman. OL said Superwoman was half their Mary Marvel and Olympia was their Wonder Woman, but he never mentioned an Ultrawoman. Maybe they carried on cloning after making Ultraboy? No, that was their Cadmus, and after Ultraman was dead, why would they make another one? Their Lex Luthor is a good guy.

    "So you gunna play ball, or is the boss lady gunna have to fry you?"

    "Yeah, we can… Play ball or whatever."

    "Great." He takes a few steps back towards the door. "So-"

    Mitchell twitches.


    There's debris everywhere! I duck, watching for-. Humanoid shape-. The ceiling, they came through the ceiling. The dust from the roof fills the air and makes it hard to see, and-.

    Oh, I did get hit by part of the roof. It just didn't hit hard enough for me to feel it.


    There's a sudden gust of air, and the dust and dirt are blown away. Ultrawoman… She's wearing traditional kryptonian clothes in blue, gold and red, except where I expect to see an 'S', there's a 'U'.

    "The other two flinched. You just stood there."

    Her right hand is on Mitchell's collar, holding it loosely as she stares at him.

    "What makes you different?"

    If she's kryptonian, she should be able to see the difference between him and a human. But she's asking. Is she asking because she wants us to be honest..? Or is she not looking..? Mitchell looks at Artemis for a suggestion-.

    "That one?" Ultrawoman looks at Artemis, her eyes glowing red. "Then I'll burn-."


    She turns back to see Mitchell's eyes glowing the same behind his slowly-melting shades.

    "Ah. Yes." Ultrawoman releases her hold on him and lets her eyes go dim. She's smiling. "Jimmy? Good work. I'll be taking these three immediately."
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    13:40 GMT -5

    I blink as the light fades, and-. Gravity's not right. Artificial. We're in space.

    The room we're in looks kinda like an open-plan office, and Ultrawoman is walking over to a fancy-looking desk with three chairs in front of it.

    That wasn't zeta radiation. Or a boom tube. So they've got some other kind of teleportation. I'd know it if I saw it again, but I don't know what it was.

    "Sorry for the surprise. I-."

    She reaches the other side of her desk and spins around to look at us, smiling.

    "Actually, let's get to know each other a little better. Why do you think I flew in through the roof like that?"

    Artemis shrugs. "To show how powerful you are?"

    Ultrawoman.. looks me right in the eyes. "What do you think?"

    Ah. Uh.

    I don't wanna look at the others, and Ultrawoman's hearing is going to be as good as mine, so…

    "Ah-. I mean, you found out I was kryptonian, so… Make us jump and see what we did?"

    She nods, and she's still smiling, but… It looks pretty fake, even to me. "That's a good answer." She looks me over, and-. Yeah, she's using some sort of vision power. I don't know why: x-ray vision doesn't do much to kryptonians, and she already knows that I am one. "What else do you think I found out?"

    "What we do when we're surprised." I relax a little when Dick answers. "Or if we were supposed to be some kind of trap."

    She pulls out her chair, then flaps her right hand like she's trying to fan away a bad smell. "Jonathan-" Me. "-stayed right where he was, because he didn't know what to do but didn't think anything could really hurt him. You two moved out of the way and braced for action. You knew there wasn’t anywhere to run to so you didn't try running, but you didn't know what you were facing so you didn't attack. Good reaction. Sit down."

    We all kind of look at each other. But, I mean, they're just chairs. So we come a little closer and sit down.

    Oh, I get it. She's still standing, so she's making us look up to her? She's making herself the centre of attention. Making herself look powerful, even though she's actually smaller than me. And a bit smaller than Artemis, actually. And making us obey her.

    "So. Introductions. I'm Ultrawoman. I manage a number of enterprises for the Crime Syndicate of Amerika, and I'm interested in trialling the three of you for junior management positions in our organisation."

    She sits down. And her chair's a little higher up than ours, so she's still above us. It makes me think of being at school more than anything. Batman usually does this kind of thing standing up.

    "If your trial is successful, you will receive remuneration and benefits commensurate to your abilities… Think upper middle class, from the start, with opportunities to advance yourselves. The CSA is going through a period of reorganisation at the moment and there will be plenty of opportunities for a group of ruthless go-getters like yourselves."

    Artemis raises her eyebrows. "Ruthless go-getters?"

    "You brought useful people with you, but left your families behind. Did the Anti-Life break their spirits? Did they kill themselves, or did it hollow them out like Mistress's servants?"

    "It's not-." Ultrawoman raises her eyebrows. "It's not. There was an opportunity, and we took it. We don’t really know what you actually want from us, but whatever it is, it's gunna be easier for us to cope with it than someone else."

    She shrugs. "If they turn up, I can arrange for them to be released into your care. You may have spotted it, but the people doing the interviews aren't exactly the most capable part of our enterprise."

    "So..?" Dick leans forward. "What exactly is your enterprise? I take it the 'Crime Syndicate of America' isn't named ironically."

    "It may as well be. What do you think of when you hear 'crime'?"

    "Breaking the law?"

    "So if there's no real law, what makes something a crime?"

    Dick smiles. "Whoever's strong enough to enforce a code."

    "Until two months ago, your world was a world of laws. Oh, some people were corrupt, and there were some places where corruption was common, but mostly, there were rules. Here, there aren't. Whatever… Social mechanisms, your type of humans-." She looks at me. "And my fellow kryptonian, have to make people work together for the common good, don't exist here."

    Huh? "Then how do you make anything work?"

    "Threats, violence, naked self interest. My.. people weren't entirely unlike that, but humans… I don’t understand how they made it this far."


    She frowns at me, but it's a curious frown rather than an angry frown.

    "Are there a lot of kryptonians on your Earth?"

    "No… Not many. Did your Krypton explode?"

    "Ah… Kind of. We were pretty spread out, so that wasn't too big a problem."

    Huh? "My species only died out because we were all on one planet. How did..?"

    She looks uncomfortable for a moment. "We received a lesson on the negative long-term consequences of uncontrolled aggression. We bit off more than we could chew and nearly got wiped out, and that's a lesson I apply to my work for the CSA."

    Artemis looks a little interested. "How?"

    "We're here to make money, the same as everyone else. We work together because it's easier to stay out of the way of the only people who stand a chance of stopping us."

    "And you do stuff that isn't illegal, 'cause there aren't any laws."

    "I honestly think that my part of the CSA creates more order than it destroys. The humans here may look like the humans from your version of Earth, but they won't behave in the same way."

    "I dunno. Humans can be pretty nasty back home as well."

    "Annabelle, you don't need to worry. I understand that you're not exactly eager to work for a group of supervillains just because I asked nicely. I just want you to be a little open-minded about our work, and look at the society we're operating in not through the lens of how things work on your Earth, but in terms of how they work here."

    "I… Guess.. we can do that?"

    "Why don't I give you a tour of where the other people from your Earth have been working, and a tour of some… Sites of interest on this Earth, and you can ask any questions you like about what you see."

    "You're… Being… Ah-."

    "Nice about this? Annabelle, one of the main reasons we're trying to recruit from your Earth is because we believe that your people are easier to work with. I want to give our working relationship the best possible chance of being one that benefits both of us. So I could act like… Some people in the CSA, but I don't think that's in anyone's interests. You're being developed as a long-term asset, not some… Sideshow rube to be nickel and dimed."

    "That… Sounds good..?"

    "I'm glad to hear it. Oh, I meant to ask, before your Earth was infested with that Anti-Life thing, were there any wars happening?"

    "Ah… No. After the Sheeda, things… Were pretty calm."

    "Mm." She picks up a remote control and points it at the wall behind us. A moment later the wall drops down to reveal a window onto Earth orbit, the planet below-.

    Explosions I can see from here bloom in five different places.
    Last edited: May 2, 2023
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    13:40 GMT -5

    I am to find this 'Mistress' without the aid of other scions? Well then, they cannot complain overmuch about my methods. Hiding is not the way of the gods of Apokolips.

    "Mother Box!" "Bring forth my faithful steed!"


    I tear off the lowly rags that I wore to disguise myself as Béton Brut emerges, and I feel better already. I told Match that it is not in my nature to disguise myself, but I do not think that he understood how profoundly unnatural it feels for a god to hide their fire under a bushel. Brut checks my scent for a moment and then sniffs the air, taking in the stench of Gotham.


    "It smells a little like home, doesn't it boy?" I pat the side of his neck, then haul myself up onto his back. I can't help but smile. "A pale reflection, but it feels more normal than Earth. Ah, but what art could I produce if I saw only the same things day after day?"

    I look around, the lowlies having scattered and the… Extensions of Mistress's soul looking as unconcerned as they should.

    "There, that one. Brut, scent."

    I grip his sides with my legs as he bounds over, shoving his nose into the chest of the closest. Brut is as accustomed to the Anti-Life as I am, taking the scent of the frail strands of Ultimate Truth that fill the Earth will no doubt prove a simple matter. They raise their guns and I…

    I sigh is what I do. The indulgences I grant Aunt Barda.

    I wave my mega rod, a pulse of force knocking them back artlessly. It's… I can appreciate slapstick, but when you've seen one falling prat you've seen them all. Brut walks forward, sniffing each of the fallen in turn.


    "Do you have it, boy?"

    His head comes up as he sniffs the air for a moment. I see the moment where something catches his attention.


    He bounds down the road, feet momentarily touching road surface or car bonnet as he accelerates towards our destination. The place of power of Mistress. And it seems that we're going south.

    Robinson Park passes us on our right, the land overgrown as the Acolytes of Ivy cultivate the land. It is strange how they give themselves to that cause when their mistress was so dismissive of meat-based life. But I suppose that is one of the wonders of the Anti-Life; all are equal in slavery.

    It will be fascinating to see this undone, to see their minds return to their neutral state having glimpsed the soul of Great Darkseid. I wonder how they will sleep, how they will rationalise their actions in the warm light of falsehood? I wonder if they will become more resistant to future exposure, or less? Perhaps that is why Great Darkseid has allowed this? Those he confronts personally simply do not recover from the experience, so this… Pale shade could generate information that he could not otherwise acquire for himself.

    I wonder..?

    Is it immodest for me to try to acquire a fragment of the Anti-Life for myself? Darkseid has not vouchsafed to me any new objective, so I can only assume that my purpose here has not changed. I would not use it for my own advancement, but… What could I create under such an influence that I can not even imagine now?

    But I should not destroy what-.

    A spray of bullets strike my armour and Brut's barding as we charge through the financial district. I see. Ah, of course. The puppets may not be moved to preserve their own lives, but in the service of their Mistress they will rally apace to corral me. Manned barricades constructed from abandoned cars are assembled with nary a word, but the roads south are many and Brut's paws are swift.

    Inalienable Truth.


    "Ah, you think Anti-Life is your ally? You merely adopted the Anti-Life!"

    But I don't put my spirit into my words. I do not want to challenge Mistress for control of this city. I merely wish to gain some idea of her strength. If she has undergone an Awakening… That may be interesting.

    "I was born in it, moulded by it! I knew nothing of freedom until I was already a man, by then it was nothing to me but cloying!"

    We turn a corner and charge a barricade, and I stow my rod and take up my pistol. Artfully precise shots to the barrels-

    Because Robin waxed wroth at me last time last time I used precise shots to destroy their ammunition clips, after all, and the beauty of the act is much the same; stylistic bloodletting replaced by slapstick as their guns misfire or cease to exist.

    -prevent them from firing. I then stow my pistol, and as Brut leaps the ruined vehicles I lean left and reach out my hand, snatching a cut-rate justifier off the ground. Though I will credit him with not exclaiming beyond what the impact itself forces through compressing his lungs. My right hand grasps my pommel and I haul myself upright once more as the barricade recedes behind us.

    I smile at my burden.


    He gamely draws his knife, not attempting to alleviate my grip around his throat at all even as I constrict his wind pipe.

    "I would-"

    He stabs at my throat, my right hand meeting his wrist, gripping and twisting, snapping bone and breaking grip.

    "-speak with-"

    His flailing kicks at Brut's flank are similarly ineffectual.

    "-your Mistress."

    Disregarding his damaged arm, he leans back using my grip on his neck as a pivot point and places the soles of his feet against Brut's side to push. I tighten my grip with my legs, staring him in the eyes.

    Inalienable Truth.

    "Where may she be found?"

    He draws his pistol, and I can only imagine that he is slow in bringing it to bear against his own head because he lacks the breath for thought. A good attempt! I twist my legs, causing Brut to run closer to the row my buildings to our left. And then I twist in the saddle, the lowlie's shaking hand smacking into the wall and the gun being knocked free with the bare minimum number of broken bones!

    "I will ask again, lowlie." I slap his legs down and pull him closer as we reach the coast, the barricade before the Blackgate Bridge being the last impediment. "Where is she? I would speak with her on a matter of great importance!"

    "Yhr n't fit t' lick'er oots."

    "But I would do so anyway. Now tell me!" All-Consuming Passion of Creation!

    Inalienable Truth.

    "The Supermax wing."

    I toss him aside as the-


    -boom tube opens, Brut lunging through as the bullets from the bridge garrison pass through the air behind us.

    Inside the prison, aah, the Anti-Life is almost palpable! Lines of men in prison overalls stand against the walls, heads bowed, as a woman in tight-fitting but unarmoured clothing walks towards me.

    "Mistress will see you now."
    Last edited: May 3, 2023
  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    14:13 GMT -5

    I'm trying not to think about what I'm seeing.

    One time, Paul told me about a psychologist called John Nash. He did a lot of work on things like The Prisoners Dilemma and other questions like that, things where two or more people were depending on each other but couldn't communicate with each other. He had this whole theory that if people couldn't communicate, and didn't know who it was they had to work with, then they'd have to betray each other all the time.

    Only when they ran the experiments, that didn't actually happen. People don't only trust each other when they have a gun to each other's heads. When you test it, it turns out that people trust unless they've got a reason not to. Even with no way to communicate, the participants trusted each other and got the best result when Nash's theory predicted they wouldn't.



    Only psychopaths who can't trust anyone and economists trained to analyse risk didn't trust, and they mostly got the worst results than people who trusted each other.

    According to Paul, Nash threw his toys out of the pram and said the people participating were doing it wrong.

    Here, he was right.

    Mitchell takes a step back from his console, shaking his head. "How does this..? Work?"

    Ultrawoman smiles… I think she's trying to smile sadly, but it's fake. I know that smile.

    "I don't know. Somehow they keep on going."

    They've got things that look like governments, but in most places they're really just the biggest protection rackets. Even where they're not evil, they're not much use. It's like they don’t really know how to be good, and they're just kind of copying the evil ones but trying to be less evil about it. They've had dozens of nuclear wars, and it's only the fact that they don't build up as much as our Earth did that's prevented them destroying the whole planet.

    This isn't Earth -14. Earth -14 works. This place is crazy.

    Dick hasn't stopped reading. Mitchell is trying to keep his lunch down. Fine, I'll do it then.

    "So…" She looks at me. "We're here to what, exactly?"

    "Take over. We've tried implanting explosives in people to stop them doing… Regrettable things, but it doesn't work. Artificial Intelligences go rogue so fast it's not worth bothering with them. I honestly don’t know why any of this… This is, but it's what we're dealing with."

    "So you're.. saying you're not evil?"

    "No, I'm evil. But I'm the organised, rationally self-interested kind of evil. Not the feral, rabid, self-destructive sort of evil that rules here. Ideally, I'd want to live in a world where everyone else is good and law-abiding, where my natural inclinations gave me just enough of an advantage to earn myself a comfortable life without disrupting the systems that bring me that comfort. But if I have to fix… That, then I need help. Help from people like you."

    "Like..? Us..?"

    And I'm not acting. I mean, it fits the act I'm supposed to be putting on, but…

    This place is…

    It's not Hell. There are pockets of order where the people in power force it because it's convenient for them. But-.

    "Why now?"

    "People don't usually question what they're used to. Madmen have made portals like the ones we're using before, but, well… They were..."

    She shrugs, looking… She's making a show of looking helpless. But not looking helpless enough that I've forgotten that she's kryptonian.

    But I can play along. "They were madmen, right."

    "It's only recently that there's finally a… 'Top level' evil pragmatist who feels the same way that I do. Most of the people we deal with can't even understand the argument. You have no idea how nice it is to talk to kids like you."

    "And you need us."

    "You need to understand what we're trying to do, and be strong enough that you're… 'Death-resistant'."

    "Because even with you and your boss supporting it, people will still try and kill us anyway."

    "Yes." She nods. "If you're lucky, kill. You wouldn't believe what some people will do to avoid having to ask for things politely."

    "O-kay. Ah. That sounds like… Something we could do? But you've got portals going to our Earth. I don't think having everyone exposed to the Anti-Life is gunna improve things."

    "That's what our local partner does for us."

    "That's… Mistress, right?"

    "She and her people instinctively know who carries an infection with them, and who is just affected by it."

    "But she could just tell them to send people through-."

    "She could. Have you heard of something called 'The Prisoners Dilemma'?"

    "Yeah. Except there were different versions and only some of them give the best results by both people trusting each other. This only works if whoever you're dealing with thinks the same way. And you're assuming that Mistress knows enough about the Anti-Life to keep her end of the bargain even if she wants to."

    "And yet we haven't had a single living transmitter sent through." She's still smiling, and it's getting a bit news anchory. "Though that might just be because the Anti-Life doesn't work here, I don't want to take a chance on that."

    "Okay? So, we're obviously gunna wanna check out what you've said, but… If it's.. true? What do you actually want us doing?"

    "Honestly, I wasn't expecting to get candidates as promising as you this quickly. All we've set up for is unpowered people. But you want to see where the other people we brought through are working, don't you?"

    I nod, glancing at Dick to see if he's finished yet.

    "Yeah, we-."

    "This doesn't make sense."

    Ultrawoman nods. "I realise that it's a lot to take in-."

    "No, I mean-. These dates, a lot of them, are basically the same as the dates in our world. The first powered flight happened on the same day!"

    I frown. "Okay, that's… Weird, but-."

    "The Wright Brothers were able to make the plane they did because of people sharing data. People investing in things that weren't weapons and might not pay off. None of those underlying motives work here. Right?"

    I shrug, shaking my head. I wouldn't have thought so, but if it happened on the same day then-.

    "People here don’t share… Scientific data. But just about every major discovery happened at the same time."

    That can't be-. "Really?"

    "And if the people behave that differently, why do the same countries exist? The Founding Fathers of America had strong beliefs about how a country should be run. Why is there even an America here? And there are loads of extra wars, but the population isn't much lower than ours!"

    "Well, there's the Sheeda and then the Anti-Life…"

    "They have nuclear wars. Plural."

    "Okay, so..? What does that mean?"

    "I don't know." He looks at Ultrawoman, who looks confused. That's the first natural expression I've seen her make. "But I think you might need to find out."
    Last edited: May 4, 2023
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    4th November 1999
    10:22 GMT

    "A banshee, you say?" Percival leans on his garden spade, pausing his work in edging the garden borders. "That's a strange thing indeed. Was she there under duress, do you think?"

    I shake my head, enjoying the sensation of rain pelting down against my environmental shield. After hanging around to watch 'Nicolas Logan' poke around the original ambush site for a bit, I decided to come home.

    Home. No, I… It's still… Not. I'm a little more comfortable than I… Was, but it's still just a boarding room. Sorting out… Finding somewhere to live long-term is still…

    Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans, I suppose.

    "There was no sign of it. No explosives on her body or anything like that."

    He smiles. "Looking at her body, were y'?"

    "Not like that."

    And… That's another issue. I live in rural Northern Ireland. The local people accept that I 'work fer the wee fellah', but I… Their friendliness is really bringing home how much my social skills have decayed since college. Not… To the point where I've managed to offend a Catholic village in rural Ireland enough to drive them to report my obviously English self to the Real IRA, but… I can't help but feel that I'm not really integrating. Any time they ask about the work I do… Just being friendly, not trying to interrogate me or anything like that… I don't want to lie, but I also don't want to be sectioned.

    I ended up settling on 'helping him write his memoirs', which is effectively true as I end up frantically noting down everything he dredges up from his extremely long memory.

    "Well, the banshees don't really hate humans. They're just no' so keen on technology. Would you say that the agent she was with was the handsome sort?"

    I.. consider that for a moment.

    "Yes? Is..? That something banshees do?"

    "Oooh yes." Percival grins to himself. "That they do."

    "How? I mean, they're an alien species. There shouldn't be any evolutionary history in common."

    "What of it? Breed with monkeys, can y'?"

    "I've got more in common with monkeys genetically than I do.. with…"

    I regard my decidedly humanoid employer for a moment.

    "I'm suddenly reminded that your species is the oldest in the universe. And we're the same shape. Is there something that you want to admit to?"

    "Ah… Well, I'm no' quite sure how it works, but intelligent species have tended to end up the same shape as us. Fer yer reference, human and banshee is a viable pairing."

    "How about human-siren?"

    He frowns. "I don't really know. Let me know how it goes. But about yon banshee. Did ye happen to catch her neem?"

    "No. Looked… Late teens. White hair. Black catsuit-."

    "Hah! I'll no' blame you for taking a look, then. And don't be putting much stock in her looks."

    "Sage advice. I'm aware that there's far more to a relationship-."

    "No, no-." He rolls his eyes. "Yes, but what I mean to say is that banshees live a while longer than humans do. She could be in her teens, if her muther found herself a man, but I'd wager she's a while older. You didnae get into a fight with her, did y'?"

    "She shot me once when I threatened the agent she was with. She was then willing to translate my sign language for him, so I don't think she bore a grudge."

    "Good to know. Y' didnae get her name by any chance, did y'?"

    "No, sorry. Do think you know her?"

    "Eh… Show me a construct and I'll let yeh know."

    I focus my mind on the woman I saw, straining to remember what I saw and not what I imagined or associated. The resulting construct… I think that's-.

    I think that's right, and I think that Percival just breathed a sigh of relief.

    "No, I can't roightly say I do. But… Eh. D'you think that's an end t' things?"

    "I think that the Alliance will assess risks slightly differently now that they know I'm around. But the Alliance is still around and aliens are still on Earth without being able to either leave or integrate. So nothing's over."

    He exhales slowly, with a little tiredness added in.

    "If it'd be any help, I got… Eh… I've got a little token, fer getting through their stone circles. Yeh could pay them a wee visit."

    "Is that allowed? I got the impression that they didn't think much of other people."

    "It's like visiting anyone else's home. Bring them a little gift, be polite, and leave before they get tired o' you."

    "Like a..? Fruit basket?"

    "A book's probably better. They have trouble gettin' int' town, what with their allergies. Something on astronomy, maybe."

    I nod. "Okay. It's worth knowing who she is. See if I can use her as a contact. And just getting in touch with Queen Mab would probably be useful." Hm. "Anything I particularly need to avoid doing?"

    "Nothing yer actually likely t'do. Don't touch the tree."

    "Is there any particular social ritual regarding meeting the queen?"

    "No' so much. She's a queen, but she's queen in the old Irish sense."


    "Y'rule three farms and a bog an' y'kin call yerself 'queen'." He shakes his head. "She knows she's no' really in charge o' all that much. Don't insult her and you'll be fine."

    "Book on astronomy, don't be a prat, got it. Any idea who those other people were?"

    "When yeh say 'people'-?"

    "Non-humans. I don't want to call them aliens because for all I know they were born here, and I suspect that alien-status is going to be something that I'm going to argue about with the Alliance."

    "No idea. Fauns and goblins and whatnot don't have bad blood, not that I know about." He frowns. "If you'd be asking for my best guess, it's that the world's gettin' smaller an' they're all lookin' fer ways to stay out of the Alliance's way."

    "No idea who's in charge, then?"

    "None at all." He smiles. "Though after the show you put on last night, maybe it's you?"
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2023
  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    14:47 GMT -5

    "…got Deathstorm to neutralise the radiation before we started building..."

    They don't know who that is, of course. They might have an equivalent on their Earth, but they'd probably have a more uplifting name. Lifestorm? Lovestorm? Infiltrating their world once the current crisis is over would be easier if we could work out what our alter egos names are before saying something stupid.

    "…acquired the land for a fraction of its pre-war value…"

    Jonathan hasn't asked about kryptonite yet. Deathstorm can make that as well, but he charges a lot for his time. Jonathan won't be able to afford it once his current supply runs out. I'll provide it, subject to health checks. It'll be a good way to encourage him to depend on me.

    "…without having to deal with a pre-existing population…"

    My current injection will wear out in half an hour or so, and I'd like to be done with this tour by then. It's a good setup they have: two people who are strong all the time and one who can be stronger than the rest for short bursts. It needs trust to work.

    Why couldn't I have ended up on that Earth?

    Oh, there's probably some… They said that Kal's equivalent is called Superman. So, Superwoman, over there. If she's some sort of backwards me, would that make her a crime fighting iconoclast, uncaring of the societal damage she causes as she fights to do what's right?

    "…disparate backgrounds, which means that it's a little hard to know where to start."

    It doesn't matter.

    Wait, I'm doing a villain thing, aren't I? I should just ask them.

    "Hey, I was wondering." I give them a smile they shouldn’t trust. And while I haven't used it enough to be completely sure what that pattern of activity in their brains means, I'm fairly confident that they don’t. But it doesn't matter. The parts of the brain that like smiles are still activated. "Is there an Ultrawoman on your old Earth?"

    Jonathan nods-. Then he stops. "Kind of? We've got a few Supergirls. I don't know which of them is our you."

    "Super… Girl?"

    There are distinct advantages in being seen as younger. Less threatening. And on an Earth where you don't need to convince people that you're dangerous in order to get through the day, the downside of that approach is less of a big deal.

    "I think she's a teenager?"

    He's lying. His responses are a little off… Not in the way that Kal's were, that worthless kryptonite junkie-. But a direct lie is obvious with senses this acute. So does he know that she's a teenager, or know that she's not a teenager, or actually know her..?

    I don't need to know that, specifically. But it would be useful to learn anything that would encourage them to stick with the program.

    So, keep smiling. "Do you know her? There can't be that many kryptonians on your side of the portal? I'm the only one here."

    "There's no 'Ultraman' here?"

    I nudge him with my elbow. "Are you hitting on me?"

    I can see the blood vessels in his face dilate in embarrassment. Oh, he's going to be easy to work with. Though obviously mating with him is completely out of the question. If this whole project works I'll 'allow' Joe to persuade me. And if it doesn't then I'll head through the portal and take my chances.

    "N-no-. I just… There was another-" In the corner of my eye I spot Annabelle shoot him a warning look, but he's too distracted to notice. "-group who called themselves the Young Offenders. They attacked Metropolis a couple of years ago, it was on the news."

    But that's not how you know about it.

    "They worked for a group called The Syndicate, and their boss was called Ultraman."

    I nod in understanding. "We used to have an Ultraman, but he's dead now."

    "I'm sorry to hear that."

    "Don’t be." He frowns. "He didn't share my outlook. He got to the top by being the strongest, but he didn't have any kind of plan and he didn't make any friends. Power Ring killed him a little while ago, and the CSA is better off without him."

    And I didn’t grit my teeth once saying that. My parents designed me well.

    "Now, obviously we don't expect you to actually work in a factory or in a farm. Your job would be to monitor everything -especially the other members of staff- and either deal with any problems or report them to me. And I know what that sounded like, but when I say 'deal with' I don't just mean 'kill everyone'."

    "Yeah, but if we did…" Carver tilts his head so the left a little. "That would be okay, wouldn’t it?"

    "Well, there's no real 'law enforcement' here, not in the way that you're used to. But we're doing this on the assumption that you'll be able to handle things without killing everyone who gets on your bad side. So you can, but you should only do that if you really need to."

    "So…" He thinks for a moment. "Okay. We're building up a town, and you're sending us whoever you can get from our Earth. Why is a Crime Syndicate doing that? Is it really worth it as a long term investment?"

    "In a word, yes. We have to take the long view. Nothing's going to get fixed unless we fix it, and this is the best way for us to start." I shrug in mock helplessness. "If you asked the members of the CSA, almost all of them would say that a well-ordered civilisation would be better than what we live in now. And then virtually all of them would carry on doing the same things that everyone else does, because saying 'don't care, got mine' involves less risk. This plan wouldn't be viable if the head of the CSA wasn't sponsoring it."

    Jonathan twitches. "So what are you going to do about the rest?"

    "Show them the way they benefit from not being idiots. And if they don't get with the program, kill them."

    "And what about the rest of the people on your Earth?"

    "That depends on the outcome of this experiment. If they can be trained to be decent people, we'll reform them. If they can't, we've got people working on a viral agent that will be able to replace the parts of their DNA that makes them incapable of moral reasoning with whatever it is that humans from your Earth have."

    Hm. Okay. There isn't really anything else I can do to convince them to work with us. I think now's the time to back off. Let them talk amongst themselves and decide what they're going to do. And monitor it, just in case we need to use magic to nudge their decision-making a little.

    Telepathy is too easy for a trained subject to detect. And it would be better if it's not necessary.

    "Okay, I know this has been a lot to take in. So I'm going to leave you here to process the whole thing, and we'll meet up at… Oh nine hundred tomorrow morning, local time? If you need me, ask any of the guards and they'll have my priority line."

    Annabelle nods. "Right. Thanks. Yeah-. I think it would be good if we could… Talk about things… Between us."

    "I'll leave you to it. Oh, ah, you can go where you like? But the defence zone only goes so far. After that… You'll have to deal with the people of this Earth."

    I meet each of their eyes to make sure they understand the seriousness of what I'm saying. They'd probably be alright, but I suspect that the experience would be unhelpfully traumatising.

    "Ultrawoman here. One to beam up."
    Last edited: May 6, 2023
  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    15:23 GMT -5

    I drop down from the ceiling panel I shoved aside, landing lightly on the floor. "If there're any bugs here, I'd need more equipment to find them."

    Artemis shakes her head. "She's kryptonian. She can probably just listen to us from miles away."

    Match looks around, his eyes unfocusing-. Really?

    "If she is, I can't see her."

    Artemis crosses her arms. "Superman already tried that one on Ollie."

    Match does a guilty smile. "I think getting away from the Anti-Life got me my sense of humour back."

    I nod, and so does Artemis. Despite everything, I actually feel better about being here than I did about being in Gotham. I mean, their history is… Really bad-. And their present isn't all that much better. Or any better. But I smiled when Match did that.

    It feels good.

    "Yeah." Artemis glances at me. "Do you think she's right? Like, would it be better if we started moving people here? Everyone…" She looks back down the corridor, towards the greenhouses where the first batch of refugees are tending the first crop of seedlings. "Everyone who's working here seems to prefer it."

    I nod. "Same here. Everyone said that they were treated fine, and that they'd rather stay here than go back."

    Match nods. "I'm pretty sure she was telling the truth. The only thing… I think she's dying."

    Artemis frowns. "Why?"

    "I tried not to show it, but she's giving off kryptonite radiation. It… Really… Itches."

    Hm. "That's not a lot. It doesn't take much kryptonite to put Superman down. If you're still walking around…"

    "We've all been taking lessons in kryptonian martial arts. And I'm… When I was still… Berserk… I could disassociate, from it. Like it was happening to someone else while I just… Watched. I think I… I can deal with actual pain better than the others."

    "But she was flying around, and she busted through that hut's ceiling. Green kryptonite doesn't completely turn off kryptonian powers, but…"

    Match shakes his head. "I don’t know. If she's got enough inside her body that I can feel it from outside, she shouldn't be able to do that."

    I shrug. "Maybe kryptonians here aren't the same as our kryptonians. She already said their history was different."

    "What, like they're powered by kryptonite?"

    "Worked for The Kryptonite Man. Kryptonian organelles from our Earth need sunlight and get damaged by kryptonite. Maybe here it works differently?"

    Artemis snorts. "At least you know if she offers you a syringe, she's just trying to help. But we still need to decide what we're going to do."

    I shrug. "Nothing? This place is objectively better with their Syndicate looking after them than they are on our Earth. And we don't know when we might be able to get rid of the Anti-Life permanently."

    She doesn't look sure. "Will they let them come back when we do?"

    "Would they want to? We're-. This isn't like the Sheeda. We're going to be rebuilding for years. And so many people have died…" I take a moment. "Match, how many people could live and work here?"

    He looks around, his eyes a little lower.

    "A few thousand?"

    I nod. For a proof-of-concept… "I don’t think we'll have trouble finding a few thousand people who'd want to move here."

    "So…" She shifts awkwardly. "We find them and bring them to the portal, instead of Mistress just grabbing whoever?"

    "WayneCorp has a list of people with specialised skills. We can get them exactly who they want."

    "But what she wants is us."

    Match shakes his head. "She wants people who are strong and tough. She doesn't even know that you're both superheroes."

    I nod. "And the Justice League is using villains from Belle Reve. But are they really the people we should send to Evil-Earth?"

    She shrugs. "What about the Terrors? Or Captain Cold?"

    "That's… Kind of a hard test of how 'reformed' they are. I… Guess we could send… Arsenal, over to keep them in line..?"

    Artemis knows Roy better than I do. With the whole… Being replaced thing, it still kinda feels weird talking to him. He's closer to Beryl and New Kara rather than Kaldur or… Me. But he probably has the most trouble with the Anti-Life out of all of us. Getting him off Earth, doing something that's useful, would be better for him than keeping him with us.

    Match frowns. "Okay, and you think Ultrawoman's going to be okay with us just telling her this?"

    I smirk at him. "Unless you want to fly us back to the portal."

    "I don't actually know where it is. I mean, I could carry you around while I search the whole world, but that could take a while and they'd know where we were heading."

    One other thing…

    "But what do we do about feeding Gotham?"

    Artemis shrugs. "Tell them it's our arrangement fee or something. They're only shipping cheap stuff anyway. I don't think Ultrawoman's gunna complain as long as her project works out. We might be able to talk her into letting us use her portal generator to move things around on our side, too."

    Mitchell nods. "Okay, but what about Mistress?"

    Another shrug. "What about her? We're gunna need to deal with the city bosses eventually. She's better than a lot of people, but she's still the leader of a bunch of Justified."

    "Are we..?" He looks around. "Are we sure we can't fix her? I mean, the Justified would have gone with someone, and she isn't doing anything evil."

    "I dunno." I shrug. "I dunno. We haven't ever returned a city boss before. It might be something we can do, but there's such a lot of them, and… We don't have the resources we'd need to prevent the Anti-Life just… Picking someone else."

    Match frowns. "Don't… Depressed people handle Anti-Life exposure better than regular people? And they've… Gotta have some superheroes, even if they're not all that good at it."

    Yes. "So we just take their problem cases off their hands and use their manpower to hold onto Gotham!"

    Artemis holds up a hand. "If she goes for it. Supervillain bosses don't usually take it well when someone disrupts their brilliant plans. Can we..? Do we have access to the files they've made on their enemies?"

    Match smiles. "Or Lex Luthor's phone number."

    I start typing on-. "Ah, actually, yes."

    Artemis comes a little closer. "Okay, so who looks-?"

    "No, I mean, we've got Lex Luthor's phone number. Ah. It looks like Ultraman liked to warn him whenever he did anything, because… Well, according to Ultrawoman's notes, he did it because he enjoyed watching Lex suffer from his failure to protect people."

    "Is it current?"

    I pick up a phone. "One way to find out."
    Last edited: May 7, 2023
  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    15:28 GMT -5

    Someone picks up, then there's silence. Okay then.

    "This is the-."

    "The industrial complex that Power Ring has had built in the Yellowstone Nuclear Exclusion Zone. Do you need help escaping?"

    It's weird. It's definitely Luthor, but without the calm confidence that our Luthor almost always affects. That's aside from the way he just offered to do something for us without any real idea who we are.

    "No. The opposite, actually. You know that the Syndicate is taking people from a parallel Earth?"

    "I knew they were taking them from somewhere. Please, I have a lot of people who need my help. Just relay the particulars of your situation."

    "Okay, so they come from a parallel Earth where almost everyone is suicidally depressed as a results of something called the Anti-Life. When they're brought here, the effect ends. Ultrawoman and Power Ring want to use people from my parallel to create a population who aren't as violent as local humans, so they can build a stable society for them to rule over. All of the people who come over are happy about it because they're not suicidally depressed anymore. I came here because I'm part of a superhero team on the other side. We're trying to fix the whole Anti-Life situation, but having somewhere to put the people we can't help yet would be really useful. On the other hand, a group calling themselves the Crime Syndicate of Amerika don't exactly instill confidence."

    "Hptch. And you want my advice?"

    "Actually, we want your help. You're clearly a good guy. If you came over to our side of the portal you could be a big help, and we can send… Ah, some people back through-."

    "Your supervillains."

    "Kinda. I was thinking a couple of superheroes, with a few people who are being rehabilitated. Honestly, I think seeing a world where everyone's a villain might be the last thing they need in order to get why evil is wrong."

    He's quiet for a moment, and then I think I hear a quiet snort.

    "As ever, the devil and the deep blue sea."

    "But I've only been speaking to Ultrawoman for a few hours and she called herself evil."

    "That's a disappointing statement on her part. I had hoped that her treatment by Ultraman might result in… But I was being foolish again. My honest advice is that you should avoid entangling yourself with the CSA. While Ultrawoman does seem to be… Somewhat more honest in her dealings than other members, she's still a ruthless and highly skilled manipulator. There's a good chance that there's some other game going on that you know nothing about. As for.. agreeing to fight on an alternate Earth, I would want an extremely reliable way to confirm any of this before I agree to anything."

    "That's fair. But the Anti-Life is… Basically destroying our world. Even if there is something she's not telling us… I don't think we can afford to turn this down."

    "That sounds like a good way to negotiate an extremely poor deal. Do you have any threats to hold over her head?"

    "The Anti-Life will end up spreading here. And we could probably shut the portals down and prevent them from reopening. But there's nothing to stop them opening new ones to some other Earth, and the people who are here already would get stuck here."

    "What sort of timetable are you on?"

    "We've got maybe a day before the guy who's the centre of the Anti-Life broadcast system gets to the city on our side of the portal. If he notices it, he's almost guaranteed to investigate."

    "What is the chance of him not becoming aware of it?"

    "I don’t know. Not good."

    I hear him sigh.

    "When will you explain things to Ultrawoman?"

    "After I get off the phone with you."

    "That's unnecessary. I can hear you perfectly well like this."

    "Hey… Ultrawoman."

    Artemis's eyes widen slightly. Match looks upwards, probably searching for her through the building's walls.


    "I take it 'Carver Malone' isn't your real name?"

    "Sure it is. But you can call me Robin."

    "And the other two?"

    "Artemis and Match."

    "Kara, the boy's offer-."

    "Is actually pretty good for us. Harder to convince the rest of the CSA to not interfere, and I'm honestly not sure that reformed criminals would be more effective than your civilized supervillains. I assume that I get to see who you've got available before the exchange takes place?"

    "Ah, sure? Subject to availability? What d'you mean by 'civilized' supervillains?"

    "People who understand the value of loyalty. Or just their own word. We don’t need more savages."

    "What are you doing, Kara?"

    "Exactly what you want, Alexander. I'm civilizing our Earth in a way it's never been civilized before. I'm going to improve people's lives in a way that you've never managed."

    "It's not a contest."

    "You didn't sound enthusiastic about going on holiday, Alexander. Surely you'd want to help out on a world even worse than this one?"

    "As you may remember, I did that once."

    "Did you know that Ultraman destroyed that planet without knowing that you were the one defending it?"

    "No. I didn't."

    "Alexander, you're being offered the chance to visit a planet with a superheroic majority, where you'll find people who think like you and want the same things as you do. And you being away means that I can carry on bringing stability to our Earth."

    "You mean killing everyone who disagrees with you."

    "Not all of them. I'll even agree to avoid deliberately killing your friends."

    "Because you want them to deal with your enemies in the CSA for you."

    "You're the one who didn't want me to kill them."

    "Contact me when it's time to depart."

    There's a added quiet as he hangs up. Just me and Ultrawoman.

    "I thought you'd be mad."

    "Oh, I'm squeezing my desk stress toy pretty hard right now. But, honestly, the way you behaved just proves my point. You thought through what I said, realised that I was right and came up with a deal. You didn't blow up the whole facility out of spite. I think we can make this work together, Robin."

    "Yeah. Here's hoping."
    Last edited: May 8, 2023
  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    4th November, 1999
    11:31 GMT

    I'm in the Republic of Ireland without passing through a border checkpoint, but that's okay. We're both still part of the European Union, UKIP's respectable showing in the European Parliament election earlier this year notwithstanding, so there's no need to show a passport. Before coming here I didn't go to other European countries often enough to know if I'm supposed to go through a border point anyway just so they know I'm here or if it's alright to just turn up, but I'm pretty sure that owning a strategic weapon given to me by non-human sophonts would be a bigger deal if it ever came to court. Or maybe not. I think it was in 1984 where one of the characters advised obeying all of the small and everyday rules so that no one would think that you were disobeying the large ones.

    I walk up to the… Well, the stone that Percival gave me is glowing, so there must be some sort of ley line focus here. But the standing stones aren't exactly in good repair, and from the arrangement it looks like someone decided to repurpose them for public meetings.

    But who am I to argue with a glowing stone?

    Construct armour firmly attached, no construct weapons, satchel with appropriate gifts and absolutely no electronic devices. All check. I step into the still just visible circle, hold the stone up and wait.

    I should have asked Percival how long-.

    The stone shimmers white and… Pink? And light strobes out towards the circle's circumference. The intensity builds for a few moments and then there's a flash-.

    And… I'm somewhere else. In a rocky tunnel lined with conveniently glowing crystals. Normally I'd scan something like that and try to work out how that worked. But I'm on best behaviour.


    I was sort of assuming that someone would have heard that, but it doesn't look like anyone's running to see what that lightshow was about.

    Alright, just… Politely walk forwards and… Ah, not ask if anyone's home… Glow more brightly?

    Huh. The tunnel is quite short, and opens into… A sort of underground garden. Strange plants bearing stranger fruits grow from a central area and from large pots around the walls. A large crystal growing in the ceiling appears to be providing the light-.

    "Niamh, would you mind giving me a hand over here?"

    A pink-haired banshee in a plain white robe is doing.. something to one of the plants. Gathering nectar, I think? Or possibly sap?

    I.. walk towards her, looking around as I go. There doesn't appear to be anyone else here, though I can see other tunnels leading away from this cavern.

    "What's the matter, been tasting yer own-" She glances up for a second before returning her attention to her work. "-fruit-."

    Her head comes back up and she stands in a hurry, pitcher containing nectar falling-.

    I extend a construct hawk, flying it across the room to catch the pitcher and set it on the ground. That action is enough to set her off, hair rising and hands glowing as she musters whatever energy it is banshees use for their attacks. Pitcher safely landed I dismiss the hawk and raise my hands in surrender, weakly glowing stone turned so that the rune carved into its surface is clearly visible.

    "What-? Who are you? What on Earth are you doing here?"

    I move my right hand to my chin and wiggle it left and right, then rotate it so that my thumb is pointing towards my chest and slide it backwards and forth.

    She looks down at it and then back up at my face.

    "Is that supposed to mean something?"

    Yes, I suppose it would have been a bit much to hope for, every member of an isolationist community knowing British sign language.

    I nod.

    "Well clearly it doesn't. Where did you get that stone from?"

    Two fists, thumbs pointed inw-.

    "Stop doing that." Her hands are still up but the glow has faded and her hair's nearly back to normal. "Can you no' talk?"

    I shrug, and reach into my satchel for pen and paper. Pulling them out, I flick through to the basic words part and hold up 'No'. Then I flick through to the 'greetings' section and hold up 'Hello, I am the Green Knight'.

    "The… Oh. I didn't think you were real."


    "Of course I'm real. And that doesn't explain where you got that-."

    "Sh'rain!" Pink hair glances over to the cave entry where the voice came from. "Who are you talking to?"

    A banshee with faded purple hair walks in, then stops dead as she sees me. One quick look at the stone-.

    "Put yer hands down, girl. This one's allowed here."

    The pink haired banshee -Sh'rain, apparently- does as she's told, though she still looks at me suspiciously.


    "He's a friend t' Queen Mab. Though he hasn't-" Purple hair regards me curiously. "-been back here fer a while."

    I flick through the book to an empty page and write, 'Please take me to the queen'.

    "Oh, aye. I'll take y' to her a'right."

    Flick to one of the first pages. 'Thank you'.

    "What's so special about him?" Pink hair looks at me curiously, now that her fear has been allayed. "There is a man under there, isn't there?"

    "Aye, there is. Not one we've seen fer a while." She draws herself up slightly as she looks at me. "Come along, then."

    I nod politely at Sh'rain, then march towards Purple Hair. She looks a little older, but I see what Percival meant about them not really showing their age. Scanning her telomeres wouldn't tell me anything as they wouldn't decay at human rates, and I doubt that radio carbon dating would tell me very much either. Once I get closer she turns away, apparently without concern about the glowing green man behind her, and leads me down another tunnel.

    "Y've been away a while."

    I nod, holding up the 'yes' page. But she doesn't turn around.

    "I also don't remember y' bein' so sensitive aboot yer height."

    Ah. Starting to get worried that this stone was for Percival's personal use only. New page, and I write 'I'm not P-.'

    Ooh, that's a big Cavern. I actually can't see the far side, and that's not just because of the giant petrified tree in the centre. And a little way around to the right is… Okay, I don't know enough about Irish history to argue Percival's description of their monarchies, but that looks like an impressive throne dais. A group of banshees -and I think that one's Mab- emerge from various passageways or fly down from other parts. My escort slows down to allow her queen to properly ensconce herself on the throne before bringing me into her presence.

    Mab looks down on me from a great height as I bow low.

    "You have been away for a long time. I had been getting worried that you no longer wanted anything t'do with us."

    The tone makes it clear that she means 'you disappeared one day and I'm still pissed off about it'. I'm not sure what Percival did, as he seemed to think that they were still friendly. Though I suppose for a maltusian it might not have been all that long.

    I reach into my construct satchel and pull out a book filled with the latest in deep space images and artistic impressions of the wider universe, as well as a smaller bag. With a smaller bow I hold them out, and purple hair takes them from me before walking up the steps to the throne and handing them over. The book is briefly opened and a few pages examined, causing Queen Mab to briefly smile before forcing her face back to its resting position. She opens the pouch next, reaching in with her right hand and pulling out one of the many vampire teeth I put inside.

    "I see you've not lost yower strength. Was it a private audience you were wanting?"

    I nod.

    "I can do that. For an old friend." She rises, keeping a grip on the pouch and book. "You'd best have something worth listening to."
    Last edited: May 9, 2023
  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    4th November 1999
    11:36 GMT

    A smaller grove, and the flowers here seem more decorative than arable, and the crystals on the wall arranged for their decorative properties rather than purely to provide light. There's no… Bed, or desk, or any other sign that this is a work space, so I'm going to assume that this is some sort of banshee drawing room. Purple hair and the other banshee who followed us stay outside the entryway, with the crystals growing across it to seal the room at a wave of Queen Mab's right hand.

    Right, then how to-?

    "You are not Percival."

    She sounds irritated, facing away from me as she shakes the teeth out on a workbench.

    "He could make his armour larger than his body, but you have the proportions wrong. Are you a siren, perhaps?"

    Um. Okay, maintaining any sort of pretence around someone who actually knows Percival. Or.. knew Percival. I can just write a description of my relationship with Percival down on paper and she can check it herself. But…

    "No. I'm a human sworn to his service."

    She holds out her left hand and the runic stone glows briefly before floating through the air to land in her palm. She looks at it for a moment, then nods.

    "He gave this to you of his own free will, at least." She puts it down next to the pile of teeth and turns around, eyeing me suspiciously. "But it has been a long time since I have spoken to him."

    "A long time for a human, a banshee, a maltusian… They aren't the same." I dismiss my construct helmet. "I'm halfway convinced that Percival predates this star system."

    She studies me with renewed intensity, but doesn't appear to find anything objectionable. "You were hiding your face, but you're showing it to me. Why?"

    "I can't sleep with my eyes open. The fewer people who know who I am, the better. But… You're friends with Percival-."

    "Is that what he calls it?"

    "Ah… If you.. want me to take him a message, I can certainly do that?"

    "Aye, I will."

    "You, ah, know Percival, and as far as he knows aren't allied to anyone. Your only interest is the good of the banshees on Earth, and since I don’t intend to threaten your people in any way, there's no reason for you to share any information I give you about me."

    "Perhaps I think that you have already seen enough to be a threat yourself?"

    "No. If that was the case you'd have called in your guards and blasted me. You're annoyed with Percival, but from the sound of it you're annoyed because he's been an inconsiderate friend, rather than an enemy. And I.. do have some things to offer you."

    "Such as?"

    "I am more than happy to aid you in any way not detrimental to the interests of the law-abiding people of Earth. If the lycans or vampires are making nuisances of themselves, I'm happy to deal with the issue for you."

    "We're perfectly capable of dealing with them on our own."

    "The impression I got was that your population isn't that big. Every fight you take involves you risking people you can't replace. I'm not as powerful as Percival, but with his help I can fake it for a while. And I'm far easier for him to replace."

    "And what about the Alliance?"

    "I was going to ask you about that, actually. I briefly met a banshee Alliance agent-" She scowls. "-in London. I… Didn't think your people did that… Sort of thing."

    "Sh'lainn Blaze. She left, and she'll not be coming back."

    "Is she something we should be concerned about?"

    "I don't… I don't think that she'll betray us. Beyond joining the Alliance in the first place. And she doesn't know about Percival; she was born after his last visit."


    "The way you.. phrased that-."

    "She's not his, if that's your meaning. No, Sh'lainn abandoning her own people to run around with the Alliance is not any sign that I want anything to do with them."

    "Good show. Do you have any contact with other non-human sophonts on Earth?"

    "Aye. Not often, but I do. Would you be wanting to get in touch with them?"

    I nod. "Yes. My offer to you isn't exclusive. This… Secrecy thing, it shouldn't be necessary. It doesn't help you, it doesn't help us humans… I… Can't think of anyone it does help, not unless the Alliance board of directors are getting rich drip feeding alien technology into the market. Oh, sorry, that's-. Something else I want to offer. I can fly faster than light with passengers. If you decide-."

    "You could help us run away."

    "Humans have undergone an industrial revolution since you settled Earth. There aren't all that many places you can live comfortably anymore. I could help you return to a banshee world, or move you somewhere more primitive. If you wanted. Or on the other hand, I could act as an escort to banshees who… Ah. Wanted to explore the surface in safety."

    Queen Mab's face relaxes a little.

    "That may help. Sh'lainn's mother had the same adventurous spirit. But she and I grew up on the same world together. She lived our culture, and was loyal to me."

    "And without either that personal bond or that cultural background…" I nod. "Sh'lainn grew up surrounded by things she wasn't allowed to touch."

    "She could touch. But we're not a part of it."

    "So would me offering to escort groups of banshees around be helpful… Or make the situation worse?"

    "Staying as we are solves nothing. We can try it, and see what happens. Sh'rain will appreciate it, I'm sure." Queen Mab looks away for a moment. "I used to have talks like this with Percival."

    I nod. "Sometimes an outsider's perspective is useful."

    "True enough." She thinks for a moment. "What do you know about the Alliance?"

    "Not a lot. They appear to be a paramilitary organisation tasked with preserving the secret of non-human sophont life on Earth, while simultaneously regulating it."

    "'Regulating'?" She huffs.

    "Ruthlessly repressing? I didn't want to draw a firm conclusion from the handful of actions I've seen."

    "We had our first encounter with them about t'irty years ago. They haven't made us a priority, but they've been trying to find out where we come from. With Sh'lainn working for them, perhaps they'll realise that we don't want to fight them."

    "If you want peace, prepare for war."

    "And how would we do that?"

    "Bypass the Alliance. Form an accord with peacefully inclined non-humans and then make contact with governments. In private, at first. Find out how connected to the governments of the world the Alliance actually is, because I heard a lot of American accents from their operatives."

    "There are risks to that."

    "There are. As I said, if it all falls apart I'm happy to evacuate you. But it'll be easier if you and any other civilised elements can present a united front."

    She nods. "I can tell you where to go to speak with the leader of the Conduit. That's what they call themselves. And I'll write a letter for you to give to Percival. But before you head off to meet either of them, I want you to give a full report on what happened with you fighting the Alliance soldiers with Sh'lainn."

    "Certainly, your majesty."
    Last edited: May 10, 2023
  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    21:35 GMT -5


    I look around, but there's no sign of Luthor. No oddly muffled sounds that would tell me there was a hologram or illusion, no radiation from a teleporter or exotic monitoring device and no bald man in a business suit. I'm definitely where he wanted me to be-.

    I wince slightly as I really open up my vision powers, just in case Ultrawoman sent someone after me. No one I can see.

    "Luthor? I'm here?"

    There's a tiny shimmer that I probably wouldn't have noticed if I wasn't already looking for anything out of the ordinary, and then… He appears.

    I guess… Objectively, a yellow 'L' isn't any worse than a yellow 'S'. The beard's… Ah, an interesting choice. There's a joke on the internet about goatee beards being a sure sign that someone's an evil duplicate, but this Lex Luthor is a good duplicate.

    He stares at me for a couple of seconds.

    "Are you ready to-?"

    "No kryptonite radiation. But you flew here. Did you use some sort of device?"

    "Ah, I've got a kinetic belt back home, but I didn't bring it in case the CSA got hold of it."

    "You keep your powers-. What powers them, then?"

    "Normally I'd say 'sunlight'… But according to Jor-El, the radiation-."

    "A different trigger-wavelength, of course. Objectively, there's no real reason-. Even a substance as energetic as kryptonite couldn't provide enough power to allow Ultraman to do what he could do. Fortunately, my equipment is designed to cope with empowered kryptonians."

    I increase my visual wavelengths again, just in case. Robin said he was a good guy, but he also said that the good guys here didn't seem to know what they were doing. He's definitely scanning me with something, but it doesn't look-.

    "No need to be concerned. I'm using my neural analyser to decipher your thought processes. Ah, you're… Younger than you look. Honest, though, and… Without the aggression I'm used to seeing. What do you call yourself?"


    "A curious choice."

    I shrug. "I was made to be a match for Superman. Our Ultraman. They didn't get it right and I went mad with anger. After I got fixed… I don't get angry much."

    "You were made in a laboratory… As a weapon?" I nod. "My dear boy, that's dreadful. I had thought that things like that wouldn't happen on your Earth, but I see that I was being excessively optimistic. Again."

    "It happens, but everyone involved gets in big trouble when people find out about it." Batman did a lesson on facial tells, and as far as I can tell he's serious about how much that troubles him. "You're really not like our Lex Luthor."

    "I dread to ask…"

    "He's an evil businessman who somehow hasn't ever been convicted for anything serious."

    "I suppose it could have been worse." … "No, it's actually a bit of a relief. His evil is at least regulated by a functioning society he has the sense not to destroy."

    "I guess. So, what did you want to talk about?"

    "With the information available to you, do you genuinely believe that this is in the best interest of both our Earths?"

    "I… Don't know. I'm not even a superhero, really. I just.. had to get involved when the world started falling apart." He smiles a little, but… What else could I do? "I've heard… Ah, a friend of mine, talk about what it takes to change societies like this, and it's… It's not nice stuff. You know?"

    "Yes, I know very well."

    "But it works. That friend? There's a whole area of space that used to be… Just as evil as this Earth is. And now it's not. They had to do some… They wiped out two whole species. But it worked, and… Other than, like, taking every single member of both species and building some sort of… Prison planet for them, I don't know how else they could have done it. But… Even if that was the best thing overall… I don't think I could have done it." I shrug awkwardly. "Because wiping out two species is…"

    "It's brutal. I understand your hesitancy very well. It's never possible to know in advance whether the atrocity you commit… Will actually achieve the end you seek. And if it doesn't, then all that blood… How certain was your friend?"

    "He only wiped out one of those species. And they were clones of this one warlord… You'd have to ask him about it."

    Does it count if there's still a few of them left?

    "My issue is this: I know that what I'm doing isn't working. The CSA reigns supreme and Ultrawoman has made more progress toward fixing the problem in a month than I have in… Too many years to recall. But are we really so damned that only a programmable virus can save us? And can I trust the CSA with a technology so open to abuse?"

    "Ah… Honestly? If someone told me you were, I wouldn't be able to argue against it. If there even is a biological difference. She didn't say anything about finding one, she just assumed that it exists."

    "The alternative being that our civilization is so vile that this is what it produces, generation after generation."

    "Or it's something else. Magic, or a telepathic field effect? Once the Anti-Life is gone, we could probably help. See if there's a less evil way to turn your world around."

    "It would be nice to have allies again. But I feel dreadfully apprehensive."

    "You're going to be living on a world with the Anti-Life. Apprehension is-."

    "Oh, I'm not worried about that. My neural feedback generator will detect and purge foreign mental contamination."

    "I-? Is that something you can make more of?"

    He frowns thoughtfully. "It's an intelligent system. It needs to be trained, and it's complicated enough that you couldn't outfit five billion people."

    "No, but for a few dozen people who keep getting exposed while they fight Mannheim and the Justified…"

    "I haven't field tested it, but… It should help." He sighs. "Alright. I agree." He holds out his right hand. "Take my hand."

    I take-.

    Space twists, and we're outside the warehouse they're using for the portals.

    "Alexander!" Ultrawoman walks over, smiling. "I almost thought you weren't coming."

    "I'm still torn about it. But you know how I am when people need my help."

    "And these ones will actually feel grateful for what you do! Now, I won't be going through myself because I have no desire to expose myself to the Anti-Life, but we'll keep the portals where they are while you and the young people negotiate with their bosses."

    "I understand. Do you have a way to communicate through the portals?"

    "No, you'll have to send a messenger. Or work it out yourself."

    "I'm sure I can come up with something. Very well, Match. We-."

    "Before you go. I was wondering why a man of your intelligence never joined the CSA just to moderate their actions. Given how often Ultraman did-."

    "Because I have moral principles." Lex is glaring at her. "I wouldn't expect you to understand."

    "Does a desire to do good that doesn't translate into good outcomes actually matter?"

    Lex's expression hardens. "And now you've proven that you don't. And I don't think I could explain it to you so that you would understand. Good day."
    Last edited: May 11, 2023
  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    21:42 GMT -5

    "So, ah, Malone?" The guy who did Dick's interview sidles up to him. "How'd it go?"

    "Ah… I think you'll get your bonus."

    He doesn't even bother looking at Lex-. Alex. I'd pay attention if a hostile guy in power armor showed up. Is that a Parallel Universe of Evil thing, a… Idiot thing, a there's-a-reason-why-this-guy-didn't-get-promoted thing..?

    "Neat." The guy looks us over and then walks to the front of the truck. "I'll be taking you back to one of the other sites. After that, it's your problem."

    Alexander waves a hand towards the patch of air where the portal is.

    "Oh. I see. Simple enough."

    Dick looks up at him. "Feel like teleporting yourself?"

    "No, I'd need half an hour to build the core device myself and I see no reason to wait. I've set one of my factory units to do just that, just in case."

    Okay, but he's a Luthor, so either he can't make it or he's already made it and doesn't want anyone to know. Whichever it is, he just kinda floats up into the back of the truck as the rest of us climb up. Still the same kinda truck we came here in, only now there's a few crates with food labels on them in the back with us. I pull one over to sit on, while Mitchell and Dick take the floor again. Alex takes a quick look at the crates and then turns around to face the exit, floating in the middle of the rear compartment.

    Someone pounds on the tailgate, then the truck starts up. I make eye contact with Dick and Mitchell for a moment, and we're all bracing for-.

    Everything I've made of myself won't matter when the Anti-Life is all.

    For that. Damn! I'd kinda gotten used to it, but being completely free for a few hours just makes it hit harder!

    "Uh." Alex looks stunned for an instant, then his expression goes back to normal. He didn't move from the exact centre of the trailer when it accelerated, and he's still there now. "That was unpleasant."

    Dick tilts his head to the side. "Get used to it. It gets worse."

    Alex moves his hands like he's typing on an invisible keyboard. "I'll cope. Adjusting the parameters will only take a moment."

    "You're using some sort of cybernetic implant, right?"

    "Yes, of course."

    "Isn't that risky?"

    "Compared to what? I've been exposed to dozens of types of mind altering effect over the years, and my current generation implant makes me immune or at least highly resistant to most of them. The degree of risk it adds is substantially less than the degree of risk it removes, a truth which is disturbingly pertinent to our situation."

    The truck stops, and after a moment interviewer guy pulls the rear door open.

    "Okay, they're not expecting us yet, but if you want to get out in secret you should move now."

    I just jump right out the back, Dick right behind me. Mitchell and Alex fly out a moment later. Oh, and now he pays Alex some attention.

    "You gunna go out in the city looking like that?"

    Alex looks at Dick, who shrugs.

    "We've got costumes, but they're a bit less noticeable than what you're wearing."

    Alex clears his throat, and-. His armour vanishes in some sort of hologram. When it stabilises, his clothes make him look like an unusually clean bum.

    Dick nods. "That'll do." He leads the way out of the Gotham-side warehouse, checking who's around before heading out into the street. "We can take you to a safe house while we-."

    "I know Owlman's name." Alex looks around, though he's clearly not too worried. I'm worried, and I was born in this city. "According to your Earth's records he was never born here, but his younger brother is still alive. Which means I assume that his place of residence is your primary headquarters in this city, as well as the best place for me to make contact with him."

    "I dunno. He's been running himself ragged lately."

    "I know the feeling. Ah, zeta radiation. Your transportation network?"

    "Ah, yeah?" Dick's off-kilter. Alexander is picking stuff up fast. I've never met Lex Luthor, but I'm going to remember that this is probably how smart he is. "But you're not in system, and I can't add you."

    "It's not a problem. I can track the zeta beam back to its destination."

    "Our headquarters is shielded against intrusion. And it has a lot of counter-intrusion measures set up."

    Alex nods. "Which you can't turn off, because that would defeat the entire purpose. Very well, I will await your return."

    "Thanks. It's not that we don’t trust you. It's-."

    "You can't trust yourselves. Believe me, I understand. I've had to spend a similar amount of time proofing my own technology against myself in case I was ever subverted. Would you like me to stand guard?"

    "No, that would just attract attention. But I can give you access to-."

    "I've already connected my systems to your Earth's data networks. I'll take the time to acclimatise myself with the locale. Don’t worry about contacting me when you're ready; I've already accessed your zeta tube network."


    Alexander looks around, checking lines of slight. And then-. I stare up as he shoots into the sky.

    Dick's looking up, too. "You think they'd let us trade Luthors?"

    "I think he'd probably wanna stick with his Earth."

    "Yeah." We check around us again, then start walking towards the zeta tube as fast as we can without drawing attention to ourselves. "Check in with Canis?"

    "I should." He taps his communicator twice. "Because-."

    "Ah…" Mitchell is looking south. "So, if Canis charged towards Blackgate and bulldozed everything in his way-?"

    Dick taps his communicator again. "Then I need to get a hold of him urgently."

    "You want me to fly there?"

    "No, he might actually have a plan." He taps his communicator with a little more force. "I mean, I doubt it, but-. Canis, where are y-?"


    Brut walks through the boom tube. Canis is sitting on his back, looking pleased with himself.


    Dick steps towards him. "Canis, do I need to explain the whole 'secrecy' thing to you again?"

    "I understand secrecy. I love the dramatic reveal! But it seemed to me that it was slow and ineffective at achieving our actual goal. So I decided to try things my way. And now that you have returned, we can formulate a plan for dealing with Charity Auction Darkseid."

    "The plan was to covertly monitor Mistress."

    "Wouldn't it be easier if I just cooperated?"

    And then the walls closed in and crushed us.
    Last edited: May 12, 2023
  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    21:42 GMT -5





    Tapping on my-.

    I'm swallowing the capsule before I really think of anything, and I know Bruce isn't going to be happy about that. Alexander said he's got some sort of cybernetic implant to stop him feeling the Anti-Life, and that's basically what Mr. Atom uses. But between Joker, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy…

    Bruce came up with a pharmaceutical solution.

    And it kicks in real quick. Funny thing is, it's not even illegal, just really unhealthy if you take it more than about once a month. But just like that, the buildings aren't trying to grab me or trap me, and the shadows are just shadows or at worst hiding places, rather than pits of evil and doom. The people around me aren't madmen with guns-.

    Okay, Gotham, but not more than normal.

    Gotta love those post-hypnotic suggestions!

    Mistress is smiling at me. And with-. Okay, I'm high, but she doesn't exactly look like an Apostle of Darkseid. She's gotten a fitted suit from somewhere, but other than that, Karon Chase still looks like Karon Chase.

    Except the dark glowing pits she has instead of eyes.

    And Holly being basically stuck to her side like she's on a boat in a storm and Karon's the onlyr thing keeping her from going overboard.

    "You mind turning the doom and gloom down a little?"

    "Doom and-? Oh!"

    She actually smiles, somehow, and-. Meadows and fluffy bunnies and it's a good job Wayne Pharmaceuticals isn't in the legal highs market. Tap tap, antidote, down the hatch! And don't make any major life choices or financial decisions for the next couple of minutes.

    Artemis stops cringing quite so bad, and… I didn't even spot Match leave.

    "You forgot?"

    "I don't feel it. To me, what you saw is-."

    "Normal, yeah, yeah, I heard it from your lowlies."

    "The fact that it's normal doesn't mean that it's not terrible."

    Canis grins.

    "Is it not a marvellous duality! Despite the Anti-Life, she retains a degree of her personality! I cannot imagine Great Darkseid ever saying anything like that-"

    I don't-.

    "-like it's a bad thing!"

    "You didn't grow up in Gotham, did you Robin?"


    "I did."

    She uses her right hand to stroke Holly's hair, while her left gestures to the buildings around us.

    And I'm not in the meadow any more.

    "This isn't a dark fantasy or a tearing away of the veil. This is Gotham, as most people lived it. From the mobs to the supervillains, nothing really got better. The way it manifested changed… But so what?"

    "You mean you always felt like this?"

    "It was always lurking in the background. It's not new for me."

    "But Holly's…" Oh, coming down. The streets still look worse than they really are-. At least, worse than I hope they really are. But now I've had a chance to get into the right headspace, it's something I can cope with. Just about. "Still with you. What does that-? I mean, do you still love her?"

    "I like to think so. But I don't know. Everything feels so different, now. But I will protect her anyway."

    "But-. Why?"

    "Because if nothing matters, why not protect the one I decided to protect? The one thing that nearly makes me feel something rather than nothing? Why not do the thing that I decided to do?"

    "And the evacuations?"

    "The illusion is beautiful. I was happier. Why not let them believe for a little longer?"

    Okay, that's… Good. Most city bosses are pretty contemptuous of everyone not like them.

    "But do you see how it emphasises the hopelessness!"

    And Canis is… Really too happy about this.

    But the thing is…

    "Yeah. I can."

    And he smiles, not because he's being… A dick, but because that makes him genuinely happy.

    "I will pray to the Source for your enlightenment to continue."

    "I don't need that kind of enlightenment. Karon, what do you know about Bruno Mannheim?"

    "I know him. In my dreams the truth wears his face. He will take this world and crush it as we cheer."

    "He's coming here. Do you know why?"

    "Me. I don't fit in. The Anti-Life in me is a counterpoint to the themes he is impressing on the soul of humanity."

    "So… Why doesn't he just send his killer robot after you? Or, y'know, his army?"

    Canis looks at me like I've said something stupid-.

    "Because it's not artistic enough? Seriously?"

    "It's how our power works, Robin! How the might of our souls clash and wrestle for dominance! This is no contest of peasants thrashing one another with pig-sticks! Did you think I invested myself in art for mere aestheticism?"

    Yes, Canis, we all thought you were just weird about painting. That's literally-.

    Oh no. I'm going to have to get Zatanna to go over every piece of art he's made since he got here, just so I can be sure he's not doing something to us.

    "So he's coming here to fight you?"

    "To demonstrate the superiority of his outlook."

    "Like a..?" Artemis looks like she's mostly recovered. "Like a debate?"

    "Conducted with our souls."

    "And what happens if you win?"

    "I will control Mannheim's perspective. His Justified. In effect, the world."

    I nod. "Then we need to do some practice sessions."
    Last edited: May 14, 2023
  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    4th November 1999
    11:36 GMT

    "And who or what is the Conduit?"

    It's fitting that the thing keeping the vampire trapped isn't bars or ropes, but the sunlight coming in through the windows around it. There's nowhere at all it can escape, and it knows it well. It lost its glamour machine when Nick and I broke into its apartment, so I don't know how it thinks it's going to get away.

    "I won't tell y-. AGH!"

    Its tail twitched into a beam of light, and its flesh blackened. I think seeing a vampire like this is bringing out my vicious side.

    "Look… Sharmiane, was it?" The vampire just glares at him. "It's at least six hours until dark, and the way the light angles through those windows… I don't think you'll last that long."

    The vampire hisses impotently at him.

    "Now, if you're a good little snake and cooperate, I can make a call and get you a place in a nice dark Alliance prison cell. Otherwise…"

    Nick shrugs.

    "It doesn't look good for you."

    "They're-. Worthless thieves."

    "So they stole that shipment."

    "They boarded the ship, reprogrammed the computer and stole our weapons before we could take them back!"

    "So they didn't take them to where you were originally going to take them?"

    "Of course not."

    That's an odd thing. If Rinaker got a tip off about the shipment from monitoring the vampires, then Ling should have gone to the original destination. Or he could have attacked the ship while it was out at sea. But if it went somewhere else, he must have known that something happened to it.

    "Interesting. I assume that messages proving that are on your computer?"

    The vampires hisses in irritation. "Of course not. You think I leave things like that written down? Do you think I'm stupid?"

    Nick looks over at me, smiling.


    "If I'm the stupid one, why did the Alliance need me to tell them about the shipment!"

    Nick raises his eyebrows, slowly turning his head back towards the vampire. The vampire looks unsure of itself for a moment. But pride wins out.

    "I knew that we couldn't recapture them, so I thought laterally. You Alliance people and the Conduit dealing with each other was the best result we could get! And blowing up a British airbase! I don't think they're going to be very happy with you!"

    No, though I'm not sure that Rinaker cares all that much. Shouldn't be surprised that using a vampire as a source didn't work out too well.

    "Happy? Probably not. But British Intelligence have been a big help. They don't like guns in their country."

    Not voluntarily helpful. But they've been running around like headless chickens the last two days, and Nick's been learning things from Fitz.

    "But let's get back to the Conduit. I think the Alliance is probably going to want to take a closer look at them. Anything you feel willing to share… It might make us deal with your problem for you."

    "Waifs and strays. Worthless species who cling together for support."

    That's a curious thing, so it is. I always thought that different species on Earth kept to their own kind.

    "Other aliens?"

    "Food. They're too weak to make their own way, so they steal the products of our work."

    Or rather, the work of the humans they enslave with their bites.

    "Did you tell the Alliance that they had the shipment?"

    "No." The vampire smiles, and I'm this close to blasting it in its stupid face. "They still thought it was us."

    "Where would I find these 'Conduit' people?"

    "Around. Out of the way, poor places. They're too weak to hold territory. Whenever we find a nest of them, they abandon it almost immediately. They'll never be more than a nuisance, but they can be a very annoying nuisance."

    "Who's in charge?"

    "I have no idea. I think they use a cell structure, but I don't know if that's something they actually planned, or just a result of them being badly organised."

    "And what about the Green Knight?"

    "The..? Green Knight?" The vampire looks confused. "That's… Ancient history."

    "You'd be surprised."

    "Queen Mab's champion." He glares at me for a moment. "Hasn't been seen for hundreds of years. Maybe thousands; I'd have to check."

    I roll my eyes. "Queen Mab doesn't have a champion."

    "Not any more. But the records I saw are clear that they fought besides one another. And the banshees have never been keen on other species."

    I snort. "And the vampires are?"

    "I love humans. Some of my best dinners have been human-. AGH!"

    Nick lowers his wrist. He used the metal of his watch to reflect the sun onto the vampire.

    "You vampires haven't done anything that would have brought him out of retirement, have you?"

    "No?" It blinks. "You mean he's active?"

    Nick nods. "And working with the Conduit. Apparently, he still doesn't like vampires very much."

    The vampire looks at me. "Is Mab really planning to start a war? Against the resources that the Vampire Families have in this day and age? You'd be annihilated!"

    Does Queen Mab want a war? We haven't done much against the vampires for as long as I've been alive. And I don't remember Mab ever talking to a Green Knight. A glowing green man walking around the caverns would be something that would stick in my mind.

    "Six billion humans and a few hundred vampires, Sharmiane. If a war ever went public, let's not kid ourselves about who'd get annihilated."

    "Because the Alliance is so eager to step into the…" The vampire glares at the beam of sunlight. "Light."

    "Maybe not. But from the sounds of things, the Conduit are more of a problem for you than for us."

    Nick turns away from the vampire and nods towards the door. I-.

    The wall explodes and I'm thrown to the floor as plasma bolts fly over my head. Nick's further away and so stays standing up, making him an-

    "Five seconds!"

    -ideal target.

    Nick grabs me and dives out of the room as the wall explodes, the vampire dashing through the sunlight into the back of a waiting van.


    Nick lets go and I raise my arms at the same time he raises his pistol, but the driver is already getting away. Nick holds fire, so I do too. Nick doesn't chase them, so neither do I. I hope he's got a good explanation.

    "Is there a reason we be letting them get away?"

    Nick nods and smiles, so I think he's got some kind of plan. "London's got the best CCTV network in the world, and thanks to Kraker we've got full access. I want to see where they go."
    Last edited: May 14, 2023
  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    21:53 GMT -5

    Even a young woman whose mind is consumed by something the local people call the 'anti-life' is more rational than almost everyone on my Earth.

    It would be nice if that made me feel more surprised.

    'Match', aka Mitchell Kent, flew away from the children's meeting at considerable speed, but he seems to have regained his equanimity now. He's floating in the air, gazing in the general direction of Washington D.C.. A subverted satellite shows me a motorcade leaving the capital and heading this way, and a number of individuals inside it have the telltale signs of mental subversion. And some have Genosian technology.

    No. Apokoliptian. It would be Apokoliptian here.

    I've absorbed this world's history in moments, my mental discipline allowing me to extract a reasonably reliable summary from the available databases. A twisted mirror of my own, in the sense that a deformed reflection looking at a true figure would consider them twisted. A world that makes sense. A world not without tragedy but still defined by the basic decency of most of its people.

    A world where heroes are held up as icons to be emulated. Not the strongest and most rabid monsters.

    "Clever of you to make contact with this number, but you don't have the right protocols to bypass my security."

    It's as Match said. The voice is mine and yet quite obviously not. Less muscles around the chest, and a little more adipose tissue. Then there's the manner of expressing himself. Perfectly in line with predictions, though I don't detect any affect that I can assign to the anti-life.

    "I wasn't trying to."

    "Mister President?"

    He sounds amused. The version of me-. Us, from Earth -14, was Vice President. A less violent Earth than my own, but it still wouldn't be surprising for their version of Wilson to have died.

    "A different parallel. The League's sidekicks brought me here."

    "Far be it for me to stop you. The whole situation is entirely out of control."

    "You're not affected. Cybernetics?"

    "No. Magic."

    "A demi-plane. Removed enough not to be included in the effect area, while not so removed that you can't interact."

    "If you say so."

    "I'm trying to create a solution."

    "Yes, but you're under the effect of the Anti-Life. Any explanation I give you is an explanation that is available to Mannheim."

    "It's a sub-par solution that condemns you to eventual death in isolation. You must have a route off-world. Why didn't you take it?"

    A very quiet and quite frustrated noise from him. "The Anti-Life covered the world in moments. I didn't have time."

    He didn't know that it was going to happen. It's novel enough that while the Alliance of the Just's actions were suspicious he had no idea that something like this might happen as a result.


    "Any assets I might have and not be able to use myself are hopelessly subverted. Mannheim has billions of eyes. My current plan involves studying the Anti-Life and replacing Mannheim with myself as its focal point on Earth, but I don't rate the chance of it being a better outcome as being particularly high."

    "Post-hypnotic suggestion-."

    "Wouldn't be reliable in the long term unless it was reinforced daily and under the reign of the Anti-Life there wouldn't be anyone who could administer it. Mechanical methods aren't reliable."

    "Connect me to a database. My cybernetic implants would be able to perform that function."

    "Yes, your cybernetics."


    "I'll send you the complete schematics. You can review them yourself and have your magician add whatever protections you require. I'm trying to help you."


    "Inverted morality. I'm what you would be if you were a good man in a world filled with evil."

    "You have my sympathy."

    "Not according to my vocal analysis system."

    "I'm not a very sympathetic man. Unless there's anything else..?"

    I idly note that the children are moving around the country using the zeta tube network, presumably recovering some sort of equipment. My armor's sensors aren't adjusted to get reliable readings on enchanted objects or Apokoliptian technology, so I can't tell exactly what they're planning.

    "Why are you evil?"

    "Have you travelled to parallel Earths before?"

    "Yes. I know that I'm in the minority."

    "Then I imagine that my explanation is the same as theirs. I was weak, once, and I refuse to ever be weak again. And I imagine you made a similar decision yourself."

    "You believe that we all react against whatever hurts us, and that we're all so focused that we make our counter-attack our whole existence?"

    "We're all in some sense the same man. And while I haven't studied the phenomena of parallel universe alter-egos in any detail, it would seem to fit the available data. If we're genetically identical, then the only factors that could cause the differences between us are environmental."

    "Or perhaps you're just saying that because you're concerned that I might target you."

    "Please. I can prioritise a little better than that."

    And I suppose that it wouldn't matter, anyway. Even my enemies don't question the righteousness of my morality, just my good sense. Does it matter if I became who I am for reasons other than-?

    Yes, it does, because if it's just an environmental issue then Ultrawoman's scheme is completely wrong-headed. I need to study that.

    "We will speak again when this matter is resolved."

    "I will look forward to it."

    I disconnect that channel from me, leaving automatic systems to monitoring it. If wherever he is has a laboratory or workshop then he will be able to eject them, but he claims that he was forced to rush things. And while he was a technologist at the beginning of his career, records indicate that he became more focused on business administration later in his life. It's quite possible that his abilities in my chosen field are worse than mine.

    Mannheim's motorcade is choosing to pass through Blüdhaven, bulldozer blade equipped vehicles at the front effortlessly shoving abandoned cars out of the way. Curiously, the local people are… Coming out to watch, from windows and rooftops and… Even from the pavements. There's a certain listlessness-.

    They're falling in behind.

    I can't… Judge how much they're still in possession of their faculties. Most Justified are still capable of reasoning, and it's their thought processes that have changed. But 'Lex' said that Mannheim had use of their eyes. And-.


    They looked at me-. No, he looked at me. Their eyes-. He looked through their eyes.

    And I don't think that he was at all concerned.
    Last edited: May 17, 2023
  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    21:59 GMT -5


    I look over from the work I'm doing wiring up… Some canisters of stuff Dick got from Batman's cave that I'm pretty sure isn't FDA approved. Karon looks fine to me, but Holly's looking worried.

    It's weird, really. Holly was always kinda… I don't want to say 'fragile', but… Like a broken bone that wasn't set right. Healed, but not.. right. The way she talked about Karon, it was pretty clear that them getting together was when she started… Getting better. I haven't gotten a handle on how their relationship works now.

    Dick's right there, trying to work out if there's anything wrong. Nothing I can do to help with that, so I finish getting up the gas bomb and close the maintenance hatch.

    I grew up in Gotham, gangsters and supervillains and all. So I don't find it funny that there were clearly holes where someone else screwed something like this into the brickwork here before… But I'm not exactly surprised.

    "He's closer."

    I look around… She's got some of her Justified around and they're all armed… But they're armed with stuff they took from Gotham gun stores, not the military hardware that Mannheim's guys will have. Since me, Dick and Mitchell aren't part of her… 'Patch', we don’t add anything to her ability to do an Anti-Life fight with Mannheim. Canis does, and he likes her more than…

    Charity Auction Darkseid.

    Which is a stupid name, but if I didn't know how dangerous the Joker is, the name would make him sound like a joke too.

    Anyway, there's no way we could do whatever Karon's done to keep ourselves under the Anti-Life. I think… Mom… Might be heading that way, but it's… Not something I'd want to take a chance on, especially when we've only got a few minutes.

    "Canis…" Dick looks at Canis, and his face is completely serious. Because if he's wrong about this, everyone here could die. "Are you sure what Mannheim is planning?"

    "I have no special knowledge of his human self. But I know New Gods, and this is how we would manage such a conflict."

    We're planning on meeting him in the main yard of Blackgate Prison, because we're assuming that he wants Karon more than anything. But he's going to have to drive through most of Gotham to get here. If he wants anything else… Like, say, taking her place in the minds of most of the people in Gotham, then there isn't anything we can really do to stop him.

    I don't actually know which is better.

    I mean, this place is my home, but I already like Central City and Happy Harbour better. Less crime, nicer people, fewer memories. It's not like places like WayneTech are still working. Batman's moved out the super secret or dangerous stuff, and what's left is all rigged to self destruct just in case something like this happens. So there's nothing strategically important to take here. The portals are shut down and even if he can tell they were here, there's no generator on this side. So all that's left is an old city that used to be big in manufacturing and only just started putting that part of the economy back together after the Sheeda wrecked the places the manufacturing got moved to. It's not rich, it's not advanced, and the people aren't all that great either. So if he just occupies the city and then leaves, not much of value gets lost.

    But I like Karon. And we could practice de-Anti-Lifing people on her and her Justified. So… I don't want Mannheim here or anything…

    I drop down into the courtyard.

    "Do we know where the Finality Man is?"

    Dick nods and holds up his arm computer. Real time from Washington, Finality Man standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial. They haven't wrecked it or defaced it or anything like that, but I know Paul did something to get out of America's… Soul there, and I'm… Worried about that robot hanging around.

    "So it can just boom tube over here whenever it wants?"

    Canis shakes his head. "No. Why do you think we do not settle our wars with New Genesis by sending over a billion Lowlies armed with nuclear bomb packs?"

    "Can't say I'd thought about it."

    "Highfather's metaphysique is strong. On New Genesis his very presence limits what we could send. I could take an army of Dog Soldiers there armed with mundane weapons, to be met with mundane weapons. Before that, we could send rabid insectoid beasts because they were merely violent animals. The nearest we ever managed to that approach were the Suicide Jockeys, and that took effort and they were limited."

    "Effort like..?"

    "Other New Gods pushing against Highfather's soul at the launch point. And their bombs could only be low yield. In places other than New Genesis we are less limited of course, but it was never a simple matter."

    Makes sense they'd have some kind of defense against it.

    Dick nods. "And Karon's doing that here."

    Canis looks at Karon, who is twitching weirdly. "She's disrupting his hold, certainly, but she is no Highfather. He could probably brute force it if he wanted, but it would cost him."

    "And he doesn't need to, 'cause where are we gunna go?" Canis nods. "What happens if Match uses heat vision on their vehicles?"

    "It takes them longer to get here."

    "Or their guns?"

    Canis frowns. "Were you planning on making this a gunfight?" He looks around, then shrugs. "I have no objection, but most of the Lowlies in this city would die, and Finality Man would inevitably appear."

    Dick sighs. "I don't think I'm getting this whole thing."

    Canis… Actually stops and thinks.

    "Imagine… A perfectionist, who wants to complete a… Run through some manner of computer game without… Taking a hit, losing a single unit, without missing a single great treasure. Something of that nature. And their nature means that they cannot accept anything but complete success."

    "So… He has to crush everyone who resists, but he has to do it in… He has to be inefficient, even if he could just throw a ICBM at us."

    "No. If Mistress were not here, he could just throw the missile."

    "Even with this being Batman's town?"

    "Unless Batman is now a New God, yes. In time he will have to kill Uncle Scott, or chase him from the world."

    "But not you or Barda?"

    "No. We have too much of the Anti-Life in us already. We do not oppose it or act as a counterpoint."

    "And if he just walked up to you..?"

    "I hope that my faith in Darkseid would keep me separate. But if Darkseid has given him a great deal of power, I might be overwhelmed."

    "But you being here helps Karon."

    He smiles. "I can't take Mannheim seriously. That affects things."

    Dick shakes his head. "Okay. Do you think this is going to work?"

    Canis looks around. "It may. It is a rational approach, but I have never seen something like this work before. The tension is thrilling."

    "Okay." Dick looks around one last time, trying to see anything else we could do. Doesn't look like he finds anything. "Artemis and I are going to get into position. Good luck."
    Last edited: May 16, 2023
  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    22:28 GMT -5

    "They're lining up along the shore."

    Artemis is looking at Mannheim's parade. I'm tracking the vehicles he brought with him using cameras Match planted, because that's where the people with actual equipment will be. We've-. The Justice League has learned how to… 'Deal' with mobs of Anti-Life-infected people. Sometimes, when there's a focus around, a 'city boss', they can take people who would usually just try stumbling through their day, and… Turn them into Vodun type zombies. They're not in their right minds, but they're still dangerous.

    Except they're just standing there.

    "Robin to Canis. Any reason why Mannheim brought the crowd?"

    "Etheric pressure. They demonstrate the normalcy of his version of the Anti-Life. The actual Darkseid has no need for such reinforcement."

    We've got some gas canisters on that side of the bridge, but that's a lot of people. I don't-.

    "Do we need to deal with them?"

    "If Mistress achieves dominion, that will remove them as an issue."

    "Does he know she can do that?"

    "I doubt that he would bother coming here if he didn't. It's a contest he undoubtably believes that he will win, so he does not see the potential penalty for losing as a problem worth considering."

    His limousine and escorts are most of the way across the bridge. We had the Justified that work for Mistress come off the bridge in case he got some benefit from subverting them. We don't-. I don't think Mistress can actually win a fair fight. We just need her to hold on for long enough that we can knock out his support, and win that way.

    I check the camera pointed at the C4 we planted on the bridge supports, just in case. Yep, still there.

    The motorcade pulls up in the parking lot, the escort vehicles forming a perimeter around the limo. Guards get out-. Justified. I recognise Orpheus and Onyx and a couple of others. Not Alpha Centurion, but he's busy fighting the Hawks in Central Africa.

    And then-.

    Someone gets out of the limo. And I look away for a moment and I can't quite remember what I saw. Every time I blink-.

    One time I tried drawing him while I kept looking at him, and then when I looked away I'd just drawn an omega. He doesn't keep this… Whatever this is, up all the time. Whatever Darkseid did to him, he's still physically just a big man. Mostly, he goes around looking like one. So either he's changed, or he's just doing it to mess-.

    "Canis, can you see Mannheim right now?"

    "Yes. It is as if a feeble human has hooks in his skin, stretching him out to fill a Darkseid-shaped mould."

    "Is that literally what's happened?"

    "Perhaps. Perhaps not. He is enough a New God that his reality is not entirely real."

    "Is Mannheim resisting? Is he-?"

    "Not that I can see. It may be that my contempt for him is colouring my thoughts."

    The Mannheim-shape looks around, taking in the prison-.

    He just looked at all of my cameras, one after the other. I frantically try to recall exactly what just happened, but between the… Eight seconds that just vanished from my mind and from the camera's records, I don't think that's going to happen. I tap my 'eye drive' short term memory backup in case this version of the wards has actually worked, unlike the last dozen times we've tried it.


    But if I check the record just before and just after…

    He looked at me.

    There are two walls between us. My uniform's in stealth mode. I didn't move and unless he's got ears like a kryptonian he didn't hear me. There are no cameras watching me.

    I think he knew where I am because I'm being affected by the Anti-Life. But the traps aren't; they're inanimate objects. The detonators are as simple as they can be. He shouldn't be able to detect them. And even if he does… Would he know what it's supposed to do?

    I hate not having information I need. Especially when I can't get that information. And other people's lives are on the line.

    "Artemis to Robin. He spotted you too, huh?"

    "Yeah. Did his guards?"

    "No. I don't think so. They didn't look this way. Do you think they actually guard him?"

    She knows I don't know. She's trying to distract me. I must look almost as tense as I feel.

    And then I can see him clearly, and it's Bruno 'Ugly' Mannheim if he went on an intense body building course, did something about his posture and got a really good tailor. His expression doesn't ever change, looking around like the universe isn't worth his time. Like he finds it disappointing.

    And then he's walking towards the vehicle entrance, heading towards the courtyard. His escorts… A few of them spread out, but Orpheus and Onyx stick with him as he enters Blackgate proper.

    "Robin to Alexander."

    "That was… An experience. Is that normal?"

    "That's the man who's taken over the world. None of the city bosses have the same ability to… Keep themselves out of your mind. Our best telepaths can't work around it."

    "And your wizards?"

    "We try and keep them away from him. He's… Too good at getting into peoples' minds and souls. Anyone good enough to beat him has… Something powering them that we can't risk."

    "So they study him and his works in an attempt to find a solution indirectly. I'll have to speak with them, assuming that my work is still required after this meeting."

    Here's hoping.

    Okay, he's in the courtyard. Mistress, Canis, Holly and a few of her Justified are… Waiting for him. He's not slowing at all, just walking right towards her at the same pace.

    "Karon Chase. You've come up in the world."

    Hey… I hadn't noticed it before, but… His voice doesn't have quite the same resonance as the Justified. Or the city bosses. With them, they're functioning in the same despair the rest of us feel. They're just better at coping with it. With him…

    When I hear it, I don't think about him being better adjusted to what's happening. With him, it's the rest of us that are supposed to be miserable. He's above it.

    "Bruno Mannheim. You've gone up in the world as well."

    "The less Bruno Mannheim I became, the further up I rose."

    "What are you here for?"

    "You've adapted to the Anti-Life is a way I haven't seen before. I want that."

    "I'm not for hire."

    "That is not what I meant." "All Is One In Mannheim."
    Last edited: May 18, 2023
  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    22:32 GMT -5

    Looking down, I see Karon take a half-step towards him. I don't know why… Maybe part of Mannheim's mental control? But she catches herself and stops.

    "Are you Bruno Mannheim, or has he been consumed by Darkseid?"

    "That distinction doesn't really mean anything. Since he rewarded me, I've become more like him. My weaknesses… Human weaknesses, gone. Erased. I barely have any thoughts that aren't his anymore."

    "Oh, that must be marvellous."

    And Canis had to make it weird.

    "I'm directly connected to a higher power. I don't think this is what my old Sunday School teacher had in mind, but what does he know?"

    "Very little, I'm sure. But is there really no Mannheim left?"

    "Some memories. Isolated feelings. But all this? This isn't something I would do. This is all Darkseid."

    "Then you are no more than a monkey dressed as an organ grinder. No, less: the monkey is a being in its own right. You are little more than a telephone." Contempt for the Tracer.

    "I remember you, little artist. Do you really think that he sent Kanto after you as a form of encouragement?"

    "Of course. And a wonderful insight-!"

    "He did it because he wants you dead. He has no need for artists. He preferred your father, because at least Canis Major knew his place. He sent Kanto to deal with you both because you are an unnecessary distraction and because he wanted to keep Kanto busy. Since he's failed so many times, Darkseid just decided that you weren't worth the effort."

    Canis scoffs. "I do not believe that."

    Ah, man. That's what we all think. But with Canis, it's a little hard to tell when he's making a joke about something.

    "No?" Mannheim grins. "Search your feelings. You know it to be true."

    "I… Do not…"

    "And you've known for a while. You aren't stupid. I imagine that the main reason you rescued Dreamer was to force some sort of response out of him. To see if he remembered that you exist at all."

    He takes a step closer. Fear My Coming.

    "Kanto tried to kill you out of pity." Crush Their Prideful Delusions.

    I can see Canis's face falling as he tries to get his head around the idea-.

    I tap my communicator. "Match to Robin. I don't think-."

    "Blow them."

    I press the trigger on the detonator.

    In the courtyard, in the parking lot, along the bridge and on the shore, the aerosols containing Batman's anti-Anti-Life drug trigger, throwing the drug into the air in pale clouds of mist. I can still see through it clearly, but I don't think anyone else down there can.

    Next to them, speakers playing the Pied Piper's best uplifting music start up. We've never been able to totally get rid of the Anti-Life with it, but people listening to it usually get a whole lot more active than they were before.

    Mannheim's bodyguards go alert when the mist starts drifting by them, but they don't draw their weapons. I thought those two were from Gotham? Shouldn't they get a bit more worried about gas weapons?

    "Pathetic. No telepathic weapon? Or were you too moral to save four billion people by killing one telepath?"

    Some of the people on the shore are collapsing. Or sort of slumping, looking a lot happier than they were. I don't know if they're still connected to Mannheim or not but I don't think they're helping him.

    "You drugged some Lowlies. What did you think that would do to me?"

    "It demonstrates that even though you have 'ruled' Earth for over a month, there are still people resisting you. Studying you. Finding ways to weaken you."

    "Weaken me?"

    "Perhaps it does. Perhaps it doesn't. But if nothing matters, if all our lives amount to are motes of dust in the infinite-."

    "Do you know why you are still alive?"

    "Because I don't react to the Anti-Life in the way that others do. You feel that my point of view is a threat."

    "No." He takes a step towards her. "You are no threat."

    "Then why are you here?"

    "I'm doing this because that… Difference, is something that I don't understand. And I need to understand it. That knowledge is worth the lives of everyone on this planet. I need what you have to complete myself."

    "Match, shoot him."

    There's a quiet crackling noise as the air in front of my eyes superheats, then two rays of heat lance down-
    Be Not.
    -and get met by two beams from his eyes-. The heat just vanishes.

    "What do you need from me?"

    "Your experience. Your adaptation. A part of what makes you you. I'll break it down, work out how it works and then add it to me. I'm grateful. Without you, this would be impossible."

    "Why do you need it from me?"

    "Your response to the Anti-Life is fundamental to who you are. I could wait centuries for someone else who thinks like you to come along. Maybe longer."

    I fire a blast of heat vision again, but he blocks it with his… Omega Effect thing again. I try pulsing tiny shots of heat but he doesn't even bother looking up as he walks closer-.

    Canis's eyes have gone black. He's collapsed.

    "I shouldn’t be surprised."

    "No, you-"

    He catches the arrow and then swings it, smashing the bomb Robin threw into the air just before it can explode. I drive down fists first and-.


    Brick-. Dust-. I'm-.


    I pull myself out of the brick just as Karon pulls out a gun and points it at her own head-.

    And Mannheim's there, arms wrapped around her forearms, eyes… Glowing.

    "Teach me." All Is One.

    His Omega Effect shoots out of his eyes into hers, and she screams!
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2023
  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    6th February 2013
    22:35 GMT -5

    Mannheim… Drops her, as Artemis grabs Canis with one hand and Holly with the other. Neither of them really resist. Mannheim is still doing… Something to Karon. The Omega Effect-. Scott Free described it as giving Darkseid complete control over whatever he used it on. Usually he just disintegrates things, but in theory-.

    I hate being helpless.

    Mannheim lets go of Karon, and she… Kind of staggers backwards and then sits down. I don't have a good angle on her from here and I can't risk getting distracted by looking at my cameras.


    Mannheim blinks slowly, fists balling and then relaxing again.

    "I see. You keep going, even if you no longer feel the things that caused you to adopt that behavior. You don't need to know right from wrong because it's just you. Thank you, Karon Chase, for teaching this to me."

    Karon doesn't react. I don't know if I should grab her, try attacking him again-.

    "But let me share what you learned with the world." Action W-.


    Ah-! Some sort of..! Sonic weapon goes off, Mannheim's.. hit with something that makes him glow, then-. Then he goes kind of transparent-. He raises his hands and looks at them.

    Quick, while he's distracted.

    I dart forward, grab Karon-

    Her eyes look normal now, and she's.. crying?

    -and then run back into the prison.

    "Robin to everyone. It didn't work. Evacuate immediately."

    "Match to team. I'm blowing the bridge now."


    "Artemis. I'm taking Canis and Holly to the Batboat. What's Mannheim doing?"

    We planned the route through Blackgate. Since they used to bring new arrivals in by boat, it's pretty accessible. We should be able to get away.

    "Robin. Can't see him."

    We didn't win. But no one died, went mad, got captured or even injured. Mannheim learned… Something about the Anti-Life, so maybe the world's going to get a little worse. But we learned that's what he was trying to do, so…

    "Alexander. He shouldn't be doing much. I used a magic-enhanced phase-shifter. If my thaumic scans are correct, it should take him about three minutes to overpower the effect. Less if he doesn't try that hard."


    "Robin. How many of those-" I turn down a main hall, using my computer to remotely open the security doors. "-do you have?"

    "Alexander. It's integrated into my armour, but as I understand these things, he will gradually become more resistant. How are Karon, Holly and Canis Minor doing?"

    "Artemis. They're breathing. Not.. responding to my voice."

    "Karon, how you doing?"

    All I hear is very quiet sobbing.

    "Robin. Same. Match, are any of his bodyguards coming after us?"

    "No. Do you want me to try grabbing one of them?"

    Mannheim could start moving at any moment and he already hit Match out of the air once…

    "No. Don't risk yourself."

    Out the back of the prison, and Artemis is already dumping off Canis and Holly. She looks back at me as I leap, landing next to the boat and shoving Karon at her.

    "Robin. Match, update?"

    "Mannheim is sort of glowing. Bodyguard still the same."

    "Alexander. He's about to break out. I'm pulling out. Meet up at fallback point one."

    I jump into the boat next to the controls, hitting the ignition and accelerate the jet engine. It's not quiet, but it's fast and responsive. We pull away from the shore and I start breathing a little bit easier.

    "Arte, how are they?"

    "Canis? Are you okay?"

    Blackgate falls away behind us, and a moment later I see Match flying alongside us.

    A little easier.

    "Canis, I'm gunna shoot you with a purple healing-."

    "Did you know?"

    "Ah… About Darkseid kicking you out for real?"


    "Ah… It's not like Darkseid tells us what his plans are, but it always sounded… I thought he was probably trying to kill you for real. I didn't know he didn't care."

    "I see."

    "But… Not having the biggest bad guy in the universe gunning for you isn't a bad thing."

    "You know nothing. I made my art... For him. His…"

    "Try shooting him anyway."


    "Canis, you haven't stopped being God of Art just because Darkseid is a philistine. It was always kind of a long shot for a guy who wants to crush every soul in existence to like creativity and beauty. I… Know it feels like-."

    "Children! Turn out to sea! Turn out to sea now!"

    I turn the wheel and push the accelerator right away.

    "Robin to Alexander, what-?"

    "It isn't that easy to escape me." Action Without Passion.


    I reduce the boat's speed and resume course for the fallback point. It's already hit, and this was probably what Mannheim was trying to do. Maybe it will wear off and maybe it won't. I can't risk the drugs again.

    Behind me, Artemis turns off the purple healing ray and drops it to the floor. Holly goes fetal, Karon just sort of lies there and Canis is actually looking a little better.

    That should probably mean something to me.

    But it doesn't.
    Last edited: May 19, 2023
  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    5th November 1999
    11:12 MDT


    I sit back down as Rinaker mulls over what I just told him. Trueblood looks about ready to tear the table in half. Sh'lainn's keeping a careful watch on him, while Fitz and Perrera are waiting patiently.


    One last key flip, and Rinaker presses a button on his keyboard. The monitor shows a.. dark corridor. It's Agent Yarrow's-. Late Agent Yarrow's camera. He's moving fast, checking corners and ceilings in a well trained sweep-and-clear. One other agent with him, but they stopped near the entrance to cover his rear. He comes out on a room, then runs through into the next room and points his gun at two aliens in there, a goblin and a faun. The faun is in a wheelchair and the goblin doesn't look armed. Yarrow appears to notice that too, the camera jerking as he checks the corners of the door and the doors leading away.


    He then moves towards the goblin, gun levelled at its face.

    "Where are the vampires?!" The goblin just cowers away. "Where are the vampires?!"

    There's a momentary pause, then the camera jerks back the way he came as the Green Knight runs in, sword in hand. The camera sort of twitches, then the sword comes forward-.

    I wince as the camera twitches again, then falls back to stare at the ceiling.

    I've been involved in things like that before. I actually haven't killed anyone, but a few of my old bounty hunting targets remember me when the seasons change. You've got a fraction of a second to make a life or death decision with your own life on the line. It's actually impressive that Yarrow had the discipline not to fire the moment he saw an alien, but from that range a shot would have been fatal even if it was set to 'stun'.

    The Green Knight saw someone about to kill his ally. Would he have attacked if he'd gone down in the bunker and seen a police officer or someone from a S.W.A.T. team? Would he have hesitated like Yarrow did, demand that he lower his gun and step away? Or would he have attacked anyway because he couldn't see a reason to point a gun at someone who clearly wasn't armed, even if they were a criminal?

    I don't know.

    "Agent Yarrow's actions in threatening an alien involved in a criminal arms smuggling network were entirely legitimate." Rinaker presses another button to turn off the monitor. "The fact the alien in question was working as a physician does not grant them immunity from human law. Since I'm certain that Agent Logan is planning on asking, the Alliance has full clearance from the British government to operate in British territory. The fact that lower levels of the British military, police and political establishment are unaware of that merely proves that we are doing our job."

    In most states in America, police are indemnified against legal action if they acted in accordance with the law and local police policy. Police can legally shoot someone dead if they don't respond to their orders fast enough, and even when they weren't armed. I've heard about some… Dubious decisions, and I've also seen police get shot for not shooting fast enough. If someone was pointing a gun at an Alliance agent, I'd have attacked them. Ideally, with a baton or my fists, but if I had a gun in my hands instead…

    And even if the Alliance is legally able to operate in Britain, if people haven't ever heard of us, it's hardly unreasonable for them to assume that we aren't.

    "General, when are we going after the Green Knight?"


    "We're not."


    "Your report makes it clear that the 'Green Knight' took multiple hits from Alliance plasma cannons without any apparent harm. Using strategic weapons is out of the question for the same reason that we don't just bomb the Intracom headquarters, and unlike a large building the Green Knight is highly mobile. Given his resilience, he most likely could have killed most -if not all- of the agents you brought with you, yourself included."

    Trueblood's clearly not happy about that, but he nods.

    "The fact that he did not do so indicates that he will most likely only intervene if we threaten members of this 'Conduit' organisation. His conversation with Agent Logan might even indicate that he isn't aware of what the Alliance is, and assumed that we were some sort of unregulated paramilitary. Alliance policy with regard to the Green Knight will be to gather information while limiting our exposure. Only once we have identified an exploitable weakness will we attempt to eliminate him."

    "Do y' no' think we should try and tell him what we were doing? I doubt he'll pull his punches if he's thinking that we're just a bunch of t'ugs."

    "If you have a way to relay a message, Agent Blaze, then by all means. It may help to avoid him murdering any further Alliance agents."

    Sh'lainn's obviously not happy. We've never really talked about banshee law enforcement. When Mab thought Sh'lainn had betrayed the banshee to the Alliance, her response was to send a pair of minotaurs to kill her. But I don't know if that's normal policy or just something she did because she was worried about what Sh'lainn would tell us.

    "Agent Fitz. Your… Plan, for evacuating our imprisoned agents was highly effective. All agents are back in our headquarters being debriefed, there were no further casualties and the value of destroyed property was kept to a minimum. Your actions minimised the risk of a data breach, despite the Green Knight's actions."

    Fitz looks smug, but considering the circumstances he's got enough sense not to boast about a positive assessment.

    "You and Agent Perrera will need to follow up in providing the police investigation with a satisfactory conclusion. Unfortunately, too many people are now in the know for a top-down information suppression effort to be effective."

    Fitz grins. "Can do, General!"

    "Agent Logan and Blaze. The last major confrontation between the vampires and banshee was well before the Alliance began operations. As such, we don't have a great deal of knowledge about what occurred. With the reappearance of both the Green Knight and the minotauri, it seems that we may need to correct that sooner rather than later."

    Sh'lainn shrugs. "I was never the best history student, General."

    "Trusting a single person's recall would be unwise in any case." He presses a button, calling up a map of Europe with several locations marked. "The Alliance has been aware for some time of a number of former banshee outposts. They've long been abandoned as far as we can tell, but forcing access risks destroying whatever may be inside. But now we have another option."

    Sh'lainn looks awkward.

    "I understand that this puts you in an awkward position, but we need any historical data contained there. You are free to arrange for any personal effects or original texts to be returned to Queen Mab. Since her people are for the most part content to remain in Ireland and keep themselves to themselves, I see no reason for us to initiate hostilities."

    That seems to make her feel a little better. "Better than jumping out of a plane."

    "I do have one question about current banshee operations, however."

    "I don’t think we really have current operations. Not like the Alliance does. If we did, I doubt I'd be here."

    "That's not the question. My question is this: do the banshee on Earth have regular contact with the banshee homeworld?"

    "No, we don't. I haven't ever lived on a planet that wasn't Earth."

    Huh. I hadn't really thought about it, but we know that the vampires have spaceships. Vampires have been on Earth for a long time. Hundreds of years at least. It wouldn't take a lot of spaceships to hold the Earth to ransom. Or at least give them an unbeatable firing position. So why aren't there more? Is there something stopping them calling home?

    "Hm. I see." Rinaker nods. "Thank you, Agent Blaze. Everyone, dismissed."
    Last edited: May 22, 2023
  28. Threadmarks: Compass
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:

    13th February 2013
    14:57 GMT -5

    "So how is he-"


    I smile politely as the L.E.G.I.O.N. officer's eyes momentarily flick away from me in the direction of Orion's bellow.

    "-getting along?"

    A blinding flash over our heads as the nebula discharges its accumulated charge somewhere in the distance. We both cringe a little, even though it wouldn't do a thing.

    Taking this world from the Reach is being a slog.

    "He's an effective killer, sir. Normal protocol for Orange Lanterns is… Er…"

    He trails off, remembering exactly what my job is.

    "Carry on."

    "Right, well, we rotate them off the front lines after a while. The sane ones, because there's only so long a rational person can keep up that level of desire, and the ones who are losing it because we don't really want them to lose it completely. Orion told us… Ah… He didn't want to stop."


    "He's been like this for four days. I don't think he's slept or eaten."


    "As I understand it, he doesn't actually need to do those things."

    "And he's alright staying that angry? Because…"

    "I don't know. I don't think anyone does. Part of why he's here is so that we can find out. But he should be able to regenerate any damage it does to him using his innate abilities."

    "Constantly or eventually?"

    "Um. Don't know that either."

    Another colossal lightning bolt passes over our heads, and we cringe a little less.

    "How's the fight going generally?"

    "It's a heavily fortified position and we have to use specialised ships to even get here. The whole place is riddled with tunnels and bunkers. Sir, is there something here?"

    "We don't know."

    The nebula contains planets. Unlike most nebulas, it isn't an area of infinitesimally increased particle density, but an actual electrified space fog. There's no actual sun, just a load of lumps of rock just big enough to have a liveable gravity field illuminated by the constant electrical discharges.

    So why are we spending time and blood to actually clear it rather than just mining the region and going right past it?

    Because they spent time and resources to fortify it rather than just mining the region and going right past it.

    And it's good field experience, because…

    I'm getting a slanted view of the war. I usually take part in major fights that have a squad of Orange Lanterns with them. Heck, we kicked this war off with the entire Corps in one place. So that's what the war looks like to me. But the fact is that the Orange Lantern Corps is less than a thousandth of a percent of the size of L.E.G.I.O.N.. Not all L.E.G.I.O.N. fleets have even one Lantern with them, let alone a team of three who could reliably deal with a Scarab Warrior without risking their lives.

    So most ground attacks are carried out by L.E.G.I.O.N. marines. Who are drawn from hundreds of different worlds that have no prior history of working together.

    "Must be something here."

    "If there isn't, we're no stupider than they are. Is there anything you need me to do while I'm here?"

    "Need?" He shakes his helmet. "No sir, I don't think so. Not unless the Reach just sent a fleet our way."

    "Rightoh. Keep up the good work, and keep up the record of Orion."

    "Will do, sir."


    step out, and

    reappear at the minimum permitted distance from New Genesis.

    "This is the Illustres of the Orange Lantern Corps calling Supertown control. Mind if I come down?"

    The space in front of me shimmers… That's… Vikyn, isn't it?

    "You are authorised to approach. Highfather wishes to speak with you concerning Orion."

    I wince slightly. "Yes, I… Thought he might. Be right down."

    New Genesis really is a beautiful planet. I can't quite… Credit that this is the New God's original homeworld. The signs of industrialisation just aren't there. Though I remember reading something about how it would only take a few centuries for most of those signs to vanish from Earth, so maybe it was just that long ago?

    "Did you break him already?"

    I glance right.

    "Hello, Lightray. Basically, yes. Sorry."

    "Would you care to expand on that?"

    "He got a red power ring, because a crazy maltusian was so desperate to feel anything that he made sure that he went as red as possible as quickly as possible."

    "That sounds bad."

    "It was bad."

    "For the maltusian?"

    "For the maltusian. And possibly Orion. I mean, he seems to be coping and I don't have good data on what a stable Red Lantern looks like, but he's been killing Reach soldiers continuously for four days without rest."

    "I've known him do that with parademons."

    "Right, but parademons work for Darkseid. He has good reason for hating Darkseid. I hate the Reach, but as far as I know he'd had nothing to do with them. Because there's a difference between hating people who deserve it and hating people for being there."

    He stops in the air, his right hand on my shoulder to stop me.

    "You do have a plan to turn him back when this is done, I hope?"

    "Yes. But if you'd like to help…"

    I take a hologram projector out of subspace and generate an Indigo Lantern Corps sigil.

    "Do you know this symbol?"
    Last edited: May 21, 2023
  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    13th February 2013
    16:12 GMT -5

    New Berrith looks… Like it's almost as crap as it was last time I was here. The people have rebuilt, to a degree. I can actually… Their neighbours have made some attempts to enlighten them, though they weren't stupid enough to actually land on the planet. But using telepresence and robot drones has allowed them to rebuild a part of one of the continents as an actual civilised region.

    Maybe the lessons will diffuse into the rest of the planet?

    Dreamer looks down at it, her face painfully blank.

    "It even looks a little like Apokolips."

    Bear looks at her for a moment, before returning his attention to the planet. "It has no Fire Pits. Or an unspeakable overlord."

    I drift a little closer to Lightray. "Is there some prohibition against saying-?"

    "Yes." He looks at me to make eye contact before returning his attention to the Forever People. "Speaking his name can draw his gaze. They were not ready for it."

    Objectively true, as it turned out.

    But the New Gods aren't exactly overburdened with people capable of psychometry, and since we're not really expecting physical resistance on this mission it's… Not a terrible way to help the Forever People to try sorting themselves out.

    Which is just about the only reason that Lightray agreed to help me.

    I turn back to Dreamer. "So… Do you need to go down, or..?"

    She ducks her head and hunches her shoulders. "I.. don’t know. Usually, I would need to be close to whoever or whatever I was trying to read."

    She opens her right hand, where the broken remains of the Indigo power ring lay on her palm.

    "It does-. I.. can't-."

    "I've had that in my possession for a while, and I'm pretty heavily orange. Everything I know about psychometry says that traces don't stay forever and can be overridden by a powerful influence."

    Vykin shoots me a grateful look as Dreamer nods.

    "Yes, that… May be the issue. Do you know where on their planet he came from?"

    "No, not a clue. I tried following his desire-trail back once, but it looks like the indigo light obscures it."

    And I couldn't feel anything that marked the berrith recruit out from his fellows. Which doesn't necessarily mean anything; from what I remember, the Indigo Lanterns in the comics were criminals that Abin Sur recruited so Ub'x… Would fit right in, and might have picked the most evil berrith rather than the most compassionate.

    "And since Indigo Lanterns use teleportation rather than normal Lantern FTL I can't really track him that way. So, ah. Are we going down, or do you want to try Ranx?"

    "I wanna see these varmints up close!"

    Serifan's scowling, hands resting on the grips of his pistols.

    "I… Would respectfully suggest that we stop off at the alien settlement first. See if any of the more civilised berrith can tell us anything. Or the more civilised aliens."

    "I ain't afraid of them!"

    "No, but we might make them afraid of us." Moonrider's right hand is tightly clasped around the club that looks like it doubles as a energy weapon, but that's the only obvious sign of tension. "We're here to get information, not fight an entire planet."

    Serifan settles back a little. "Sounds like they got it coming."

    Vykin shakes his head. "It is not about what they have coming. We can't make a better world by treating them as they would treat us."

    "I wasn't planning on eating 'em." Serifan glares truculently at his team leader for a moment, then turns to me. "Hey, Lantern."


    "You'd kill 'em, right?"


    "You pullin' my leg, partner? How many people 'er dyin' between Legion and the Reach?"

    "Quite a lot. But there's no one but berrith on New Berrith and they can't leave, not with all the defence satellites and monitoring equipment."

    "They left before."

    "That was a fluke that required a lot of things to go exactly their way. And the defences have been upgraded since then."

    He looks at me with an expression of extreme scepticism. "So you rilly wouldn't kill 'em?"

    "If evaluated purely on their own moral standing, it's pretty obvious that the universe would be a better place without them. But I want to build a better universe, not just mow the moral lawn in the one we currently have. And that means no exterminating species that are keeping to themselves."

    "… Fine. But they better not eat anyone when I'm around."

    Vykin nod. "Or any of us. Mother Box-."

    "Ah." I raise my right hand. "Probably better not to teleport past the security cordon."

    He frowns. "They cannot stop us."

    "There are ways to block boom tubes, and in a case like this where the Guardians of the Galaxy have gotten personally involved I wouldn't assume that they don't have access to them. And they certainly have armed drones ready to shoot down people who just appear without warning. But beyond that… It's high-handed, and likely to aggravate the people whose assistance you're seeking."

    "We are of New Genesis."

    "The local people look at the Guardians as the supreme authority on… Exotic matters, and their representatives are the Sector's Green Lanterns. They probably haven't even heard of New Genesis."

    Moonrider nods. "If this… This is the first time they meet our people, we should make a good impression."

    Vykin looks around. Bear nods, Dreamer avoids meeting his eyes and Serifan shrugs.

    "Very well. Can you make contact on our behalf?"

    "Certainly. Illustres to Green Lantern One Zero One Four. Come in please."

    There's a brief delay, then a H'lvenite face appears over my ring. Ah. I'm not great at distinguishing between different squirrels, but I don't think that's Ch'p.

    "Orange Lantern. Why are you here? Have the berrith escaped again?"

    "No, just a follow up on that case. I need to get in contact with Ub'x, and since the berrith are the last people to speak with him, I'm hoping that they have a lead."

    "They were already questioned. They were very unhelpful."

    "I have people with me who can bypass their reticence. Ah, without mind control."

    "Wait there. I will come to you."
    Last edited: May 22, 2023
  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Dec 1, 2016
    Likes Received:
    13th February 2013
    16:19 GMT -5

    A tiny green fleck appears from the depths of space; the new H'lvenite Green Lantern. His fur is more of a red colour than Ch'p's grey and lacks his backwards-sweeping jaw line styling. He flies around us in a circle, his eyes glowing as he has his ring bring him up to speed.

    He takes it fairly well, considering.

    "Hello there. Has something happened to Lantern Ch'p?"

    "His wife gave birth. He's taken a short leave of absence while I handle the Sector alone. I am Green Lantern B'dg. And you are the Orange Illustres and New Gods of New Genesis."

    Vykin nods. "We would like to visit New Berrith."

    "What for? Tourism? We don’t allow hunting."

    "We are trying to locate the Indigo Lantern Doctor Ub'x. The Illustres has given our friend Orion a red power ring, and it has strongly affected his mind. We-."

    "Indigo? Red-? There are more Lantern Corps? Why wasn't I-?" His whole body jerks so that he's facing me. "Why is there a note on your file telling me to avoid thinking about anything that you do?"

    "Because my actions tend to be strange and I have little regard for the mental equanimity of the people around me."

    "Are there..? Really two more Lantern Corps?"

    "I've only met one person with an indigo power ring and one person with a red power ring."

    "That's… A little reassuring. And you will-" He returns his attention to the New Gods. "-gain the information you seek how?"

    "I…" Dreamer perks up a little. "I can call up images from their minds and their pasts. Since I know what Doctor Ub'x looks like, I should be able to find anything they know about him quite quickly."

    Moonrider leans forward. "Do you know anything about what he was doing? Has the Green Lantern investigation discovered anything?"

    "The current investigation… There isn't one. The Orange Illustres-" He glances at me. "-is the only witness that he was even on Ranx. We haven't seen Ub'x for years, and good riddance to him. I can authorise you to land, and I will, on the condition that you share all of your discoveries with the Green Lantern Corps."

    Dreamer looks awkward. "Not everything that I discover will have anything to do-."

    "All relevant discoveries. The ones relating to where Doctor Ub'x went."


    She looks at Vykin, then Lightray, then for a brief moment me.

    "I'm.. not…"

    Vykin takes pity on her. "We have no interest in apprehending him. We need him to help our friend."

    "And all of his victims across this Sector deserve to know that he's not coming back. I don't need your help to beat him."

    "You misunderstand. Until Orion is purified, we will protect Doctor Ub'x from you."

    "Oh. So that's how it is." He tilts his head towards me. "How about you, Illustres?"

    "I'm reasonably confident that if I locate him, I'll locate at least one other Indigo. And that's all I really need. Is he due to be executed?"

    "He hasn't been tried yet. Probably not. Compared to what the berrith did, other crimes tend to pale into insignificance."

    "Being an Indigo Lantern is effectively a lifetime community service order. I suggest that you try talking to him as he is now before making any hard decisions."

    "How exactly is it community service?"

    "The Indigo-. As far as I know, the Indigo light turns the Lantern's mind towards compassion, and tends to blot out everything else. Whatever drove him before, it's now not a consideration."

    "As far as you know."

    "If we don't find him it's not an issue. If we do, you can speak to him yourself. If you're not satisfied… Not to blow my own horn here, but you can't take me in a fight, so you'll have to wait until my homeworld is free, at which point he stops being my problem."

    "That's… Reasonable. Your homeworld-." He blinks in apparent surprise. "Why is all information relating to you homeworld restricted?"


    "What is-? That's restricted too."

    Lightray nods. "For a good reason. It is a memetic hazard."

    "If I can't know what it is, at least tell me what it does."

    "Weaponised clinical depression."

    "It's a psychic weapon?"

    "It's a psychic weapon that completely bypasses psychic defences and can infect entire planets at once."

    He… Grooms his whiskers for a moment as he thinks it through.

    "Alright. I can delay justice. Stopping a weapon like that is more urgent and important than arresting Ub'x immediately."

    "Thank you."

    "I'm transmitting the authorisation now. Follow me down. Follow my precise flight path. If you deviate from it too greatly the emplaced weapons will fire."

    Vykin nods. "We will comply."

    Checking those weapons by ring-scan… Yeah. If their Mother Box told them where to appear, they could evade them. Lightray can fly faster than they can track. And I'm me. But that's not what this is about. We're not trying to conquer New Berrith or this region. Heck, I've had enough trouble with the Spider Guild. I don't want to take on another civilisation of cannibals until I'm sure that the system I have for rehabilitation can work.

    I let the New Gods take the lead as we follow B'dg down. I guess it's an assumption that I've never questioned, cannibalism being a bad idea. For humans it's a good way to get prion disease, but I suppose there's no real reason why that should be the same for all species. I just thought, you know, socially, it would tend to get weeded out. Because most intelligent species evolve on planets where they're the only intelligent thing, and most of them are humanoid. My brain tells me not to eat tamaraneans and thanagarians using the same parts that tell me not to eat humans because it's too old to distinguish between them. So berrith must be mostly fine with eating other berrith, and somehow there wasn't a social divide in favour of non-people-eaters where their societies outperformed the people-eating-people, and there wasn't any sort of disease transmission as a result…

    "Lantern B'dg, are the berrith predators or scavengers?"

    "Most predators are happy to scavenge. It's less demanding in terms of energy."

    "Sure, but there are some species who mostly scavenge, and some-."

    "We don’t know. The berrith made no attempt to record their own history outside the self-aggrandising monuments of some of their alphas. No one wasted time studying the natural history of their original homeworld. Some scientists have tried to draw conclusions based on their physiology, but it's all speculative. What are you planning?"

    "Nothing. Just trying to gather information."

    He glances back. "Your file suggests that you might not be telling the truth."

    "You needed to check the file?"
    Last edited: May 28, 2023