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

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

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  1. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
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    "So, ya wanna actually talk to some of these jerks?"

    The robot facing me looks like it was patterned after a bear, with a screen replacing the head. Ring scans show it to be respectably well armoured by local standards, though not armed with anything beyond brute strength and retractable claws.

    B'dg nods. "They do, governor. I don't, but that's the job."

    "Ya know they eat people, right?"

    Vykin nods. "We have been informed."

    "And ya can't take weapons in with ya. It's like taking keys into a zoo exhibit."

    Serifan starts to open his mouth, an expression of outrage on his face. Vykin raises a hand in his direction and he bites his tongue. "We are capable of defending ourselves without weapons. The Gods of New Genesis are far stronger than normal people."

    "Good for them. What about you?"

    B'dg flies over to the robot and whispers into its microphone.

    "They-? Seriously?" B'dg nods. "Oh, okay, just as long as their next of kin knows the score. So we're clear, the guns here are designed to stop people coming to or going from the planet. We don’t put infantry weapons here in case the berrith get a hold of them somehow. Same with ships. We deliver things to the planet with drop pods so there's no fuel left over. The robots are fuelled with bleed torsion generators which self-destruct if something goes wrong. The robots are strong because that's the only way to make these savages listen. Basically, I'll show you who you can talk to and that's it. I ain't going to help you do something stupid like run an investigation here."

    Bear shrugs. "I think we can manage."

    Another robot trundles forward and Moonrider allows it to take his club. "If you hold them in such contempt, why are you here?"

    "There's a short list of people with the skills to do something like this. It's even shorter when you exclude the people looking for a reason-. An excuse to just kill them all and have done with it, and the people who'd treat them like the civilised species they're not. It needs to be done, and I'm the best candidate."

    Serifan scowls as the second robot approaches him, but he grudgingly divests himself of his pistols. "Why not just shoot 'em all?"

    "Because the Guardians of the Universe asked us not to. And since their Lanterns did most of the work in stopping the berrith, they get the deciding vote."

    "Imagine, Serifan." Lightray smiles at him. "Once we are done with Apokolips, we could be the ones protecting and nurturing younger civilisations."

    "So we could vote to wipe 'em out?"

    "So we would not need to." "Because we can shine the light of civilisation upon them."

    Serifan winces-. Actually, all the Forever People do. Not sure what that's about, it was a perfectly reasonable if slightly naive statement of principle. Maybe they get that from him a lot?

    "Having pursued both possibilities myself, I find that preserving a civilisation and reforming it is honestly the more satisfying, in the longer term. Killing more than a few hundred people just makes it too abstract to have the same psychological impact, whereas seeing a people successfully reintegrate into society with what they've built while not being evil can be really satisfying."

    I consider Chughraghahh for a moment.

    "Eventually. But given how long your species naturally lives, it shouldn't be an issue."

    Vykin nod. "Please take us to those you have settled here. That will allow us to become accustomed to their behaviour before confronting those in the wild."

    The h'lvenite on the screen shakes his head. "I don't think that you really understand what we do here, but alright. Follow this robot and it will take you to them."

    The robot turns away and starts walking towards a compound near the outer perimeter of the h'lvenite settlement. We leave the Forevermobile and follow along behind it, Moonrider frowning thoughtfully.

    "What do you mean? Aren't you trying to change their society by showing them a better way to live?"

    "Ever seen a trapped animal gnaw off its own leg to escape a trap?"

    Moonrider frowns. "No. Though I have nothing against hunting, on New Genesis we use matter re-sequencers to-."

    "I don't care. The point is that the berrith don't want to change. If we build a school… Heck, even a gymnasium, they just smash it up unless they're watched the whole time. If we watch them, they steal things, and make rude gestures."

    Serifan looks mystified. "So what can you do with them?"

    The robot stops at the door to the compound, and raises its right forepaw. The door detects… Whatever it's scanning for, and slides open. I can immediately hear the… Noise? It's coming from living creatures, but it's not reaching the threshold for speech…

    The robot shows us a window on a crèche, infant berrith being tended to by fur-coated robots.

    Bear blinks in confusion. "What..? Is this?"

    "Our attempt to eliminate nurture. Their mothers are living in the nearby berrith settlements. We pay them in food for the opportunity to educate their young."

    "They sold you their children? You bought them?"

    "This will be an educational establishment. On any normal world, they'd be paying us. The berrith here will be free to leave with no obligation to us once they reach adulthood or if their mothers want them back. But in the mean time, we will bring them up to be decent sophonts, something that previous generations of berrith have uniformly failed to do."

    Dreamer steps up to the glass in something of a daze, laying her right hand upon it as she watches a berrith infant be sprayed with something unpleasant when it refuses to give up its empty bottle.

    "They-. You're not a predatory species-."

    "Input from better socialised predators and omnivores was sought and included. That is why this robot is pattered after a large creature rather than after my species. And why they will be taught how to hunt and butcher rather than just farm."

    The robot turns away and walks further down the corridor.

    Serifan looks nonplussed. "D'you mean the Guardians approve of this?"

    Lantern B'dg shrugs. "They haven't objected."

    "The Guardians did something similar to a species in my home system. They took them, and… Completely changed them. That's the reason why my species exists today. And the reason why the descendants of those they altered have an actual civilisation and not a series of bonfires."

    "That's interesting. And restricted."

    "I don’t set Green Lantern Corps data security policy."

    Another set of security doors, and this time the noise is louder and I can easily pick out words. Rowdy… Youths? Shouting at each other. None of it sounds… Especially violent.

    The robot stops in front of another window. Young berrith are being taught… Some sort of team game involving ropes. They… Seem to be getting it.

    "These children are a little bit older. We're not sure where the cut-off is for being able to socialise them, so we're trying with several different age groups. The early indications are that berrith aren't innately stupid, so I'm hopeful that we might be successful."

    One of the children punches another in the face, causing two others to jump on them. The robots move in quickly to pull them apart and apply corrective face-squirts.

    "Eventually."
     
    Last edited: May 24, 2023
  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    21:37 GMT


    "…the vrangs' own anti-orbital weapons, and the ship exploded-"

    Kara throws up her hands with an excited expression on her face, to the joy of all the children listening to Kryptonian History Story Hour.

    Who all immediately copy the gesture. "BOOM!" / "BOOM!" / "BOOM!" / "BOOM!" / "BOOM!"

    "-in a giant fireball. And then Krypton was free of evil aliens, never to be conquered again!"

    That doesn't meet with quite the same level of joy as the call-and-response part, but the children seem happy enough. I do spot Kara's eyes lingering on the two tamaranean children who decided to sit in, but they appeared to enjoy the story as much as the kryptonians. Bit of a slant, but I suppose that Karsta might have decided to enculturate them through jingoism.

    Nothing wrong with preferring your own civilisation to someone else's. And I say that as someone from objectively the greatest civilisation that the Earth has ever produced.

    But that's not a lot like I remember from the comics. Or much like Kara 50. I think… I mean, she seemed fine, and Karsta's been keeping an eye on her-.

    "Hey, Mister Grayven."

    "Hello, tiny tiny children." I smile at them as I bend down, favouring them with pats on the head as they move past me into the hallway. "Are you behaving yourselves for your teacher?"

    "Yeeees!"

    "I'm glad to hear it. Now, run along, little people. I need to speak with Kara."

    The rest of the class files out, heading towards their… Evening meal.

    "Grayven!" Kara smiles at me and takes a few moments to restore the seating to a perfect grid before walking over to me. "What brings you here?"

    "Oh, I like to keep an eye on important projects. You know, turn up in person every so often and talk to people. Make sure that I'm not missing something important."

    "That's very responsible. If Kem-El had kept an eye on Daxam, they wouldn't be a bunch of yokels today."

    "Ah, well, to be fair, there was a primitivist movement on Krypton before he got involved. Though, I mean, if you want to, you can use the hush tubes to visit them yourself."

    "No." Her face slips back into neutral. "They've made their choice, and safeguarding true kryptonians is more important than trying to dig the Daxamites out of the hole they've buried themselves in."

    "Okay, and… You sure you..? Want to keep doing this?" She gives me a concerned look. "I know you were studying mathematics on Krypton, and while this is important work, I wouldn't want you to feel chained to it."

    And she's smiling again. "Nothing is more important than preserving the kryptonian species!"

    "Right, but… There's more to resurrecting the kryptonian species than child-rearing. Ultimately, they'll need-."

    "A New Krypton to live on." She nods. "I know. I've been talking to Clarissi Dox about it, and he says that we can be folded into the current wave of colonisation projects. Ideally, we'd like a world with no one on it, but I can see that it might be better to share a world until the second generation are born and people are settled into their occupations. Besides." She rises off the floor. "It's not like I can't go back to another career later. No one knows how long kryptonians live when they've got access to a yellow star, but it's a long time."

    "Well. Okay. If you're happy. Have you and… Karsta, decided what you want done with the Rao system? We've probably got the manpower for… Whatever you decide."

    Her eyes… There's an odd expression that I can't quite-.

    "Could you restore it completely?"

    "You mean, transmute the kryptonite back into normal rock and stick the planet back together?"

    "I-." The odd expression again. "Y-. Yes."

    I do a quick back-of-an-envelope-but-in-my-head calculation.

    "Yes. Not.. quickly, but it's certainly possible. Be a good deal easier if someone as well motivated as you took the lead-."

    "No. My place is here. Living kryptonians are more important than a world that chose not to save itself."

    "Ooooooh-kay."

    "So don't prioritise it, but I'd still like it back. Ideally."

    "Rightoh. Is there..? Anything else you need?"

    She shakes her head. "No, I don't think so. You've resourced this project appropriately."

    I nod. "Okay, I'll leave you to it, then. Have a good day."

    "You too!"

    Mother Box…

    Ping.

    Yeah, but… Do the tube thing.

    Ping.

    I walk through the tube to the command station, where Ecksey and Karsta are keeping tabs on things. They both look around, though I wait for the tube to close down before putting a sound-deadening field around the room.

    "What's up with Kara?"

    Karsta frowns. "What do you mean?"

    "Ecksey, you know what I mean, right?"

    "Her mental activity has not changed significantly since she arrived. Neither has her outward behaviour."

    "She was reading a story about the vrang occupation to a class, and-."

    "Oh, the one about Hatu-El's resistance movement." Karsta nods. "It's nice to know that she's taking inspiration from the worthwhile members of her House."

    "Don't you think it's a bit… Xenophobic?"

    "Fighting against people who invaded and conquered our planet? No? I think it's exactly right xenophobic. Look…" She gestures to the monitors with her right arm. "All our kids are growing up surrounded by aliens on a space station built by aliens in a project overseen by you, another alien. That's not a kryptonian thing. We didn't mix with aliens like this."

    "Well, if you know a kryptonian with a cloning-."

    "I know. I'm not complaining. I'm grateful. I know I wouldn't do something like this for your species."

    "My species does kind of suck."

    She gives her head a small shake, and I do know what she means.

    "Even if they didn't. But as far as I'm concerned, Kara Zor-El is far more normal than that exhibitionist weirdo Kal-El."

    "We did rebuild her brain. She's just… It's just that she's acting so different from the parallel universe version I met, I'm worried that we did something wrong. Got something wrong."

    Ecksey shrugs. "Her brain has all the right parts. None of the patterns of activity are all that strange for someone who went through a great trauma. Since I have no idea how she thought when she lived on Krypton, I can't say if it's wrong for her or not."

    I nod. "Okay. Let me get back to you."
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2023
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    16:46 GMT -5


    The adult female berrith looks up at Bear. I can't read her facial expression, but I'd guess… Impressed? He's a good deal bigger than she is. Than her whole species is. If their whole alpha-dominance psychology is hard-wired, there's a pretty good chance that she'll just do what he asks.

    "We're looking for someone."

    "Who?"

    Posture… Ring analysis suggests that she's 'cautious'.

    Bear's head twitches, as if he was going to glance at me and then remembered that the glass is one-way. Then he holds up a data pad with a picture of a random beaver-type h'lvenite, dressed in clothing that Ub'x has not worn in any of the publically available recordings I've been able to access.

    "This guy."

    She regards it for a moment.

    "Is that the alien alpha?"

    "Ah, who exactly do you mean?"

    "With the face on the robot."

    "Have you seen him somewhere else?"

    "No foo-. No. They don't come here without robots. Are you stronger than them?"

    Bear smiles weakly and flexes his arms. "I'm physically stronger than a lot of people, but that doesn't make me better than them."

    I wince, shake my head and turn away, heading towards one of the other observation windows.

    "…better house."

    Vykin is looking a little lost, which is probably why his berrith female is making demands. He's established himself as beneath her in the pecking order, so as far as she's concerned she can just tell him what to do and she can expect him to do it.

    "What is wrong with your house?"

    Wrong response. Obviously -and I say that as an Orange Lantern- there's nothing wrong with it save that it could be better. That's true of any house that exists, and she's pushing not because she needs something but because she thinks that she can get it.

    Were they just training these children to say 'taaru' whenever anything happened, or did they get any practical training as well? Because it doesn't look like it.

    "It doesn't have a good enough shower. Or a drying room."

    "I can talk to the governor about-."

    "Then get the governor and bring him here."

    I suppose that it's better that he learn here rather than somewhere urgent. I turn-.

    "What's the matter?" Lightray appears to be taking the whole… Thing… Lightly. "She's not asking for much. We can easily build a few new rooms."

    "She's not asking because she needs or deserves a bigger house. She's asking because Vykin is displaying weakness. Subservience." I use my ring to review their talks so far and roll my eyes. "She hasn't even said that she knows anything, yet. He didn't use the misleading picture. She just said 'maybe, here's what I expect you to give me for even thinking about it'."

    "How do you think they should do it?"

    "That-."

    "Something that won't drive them insane with berserk rage."

    "That wasn't deliberate. I explained the risks ahead of time, and Orion's an adult. Orion and I both knew that what happened was within the realms-."

    He flaps his right hand at me. "And none of that matters, because it still happened."

    "Your feelings aren't affected by anything as tawdry as facts."

    "Yes. Exactly. I'm already going through Orion-withdrawal and you give off strong Orion-vibes."

    "Is that a New God thing?"

    "Partly." "And partly because you've got the same focus that he does."

    I.. frown. "I'm sorry, what?"

    "I said 'partly'. You don't have his anger-."

    "You mean his..? Focus? Well, yes, my home planet is currently being Anti-Lifed. Given how long it's been going on for a few hours probably doesn't make much difference, but I still want it gone."

    "No one likes Anti-Life."

    "I'm pretty sure that Darkseid does."

    "I wouldn't presume to pretend to understand what Darkseid likes or doesn't like. But I suspect that he finds it… 'Appropriate' or 'useful' rather than 'nice'."

    "Anyway, things happen, and I don't accept guilt. Can you do interrogations?"

    "Not in situations like this. I can frustrate people until they tell me what I want to know, but that doesn't help when they don't know anything."

    "What does Vykin do?"

    "Ah. He.. can control magnetic fields."

    "You don't sound sure."

    "It's because of how our powers work. They require that our natures be in tune with our thoughts. With Anti-Life exposure… With the exposure they had on Apokolips, their abilities aren't… Entirely reliable."

    "Will Dreamer be able-?"

    He looks pained. "Probably. If she's not hurried, and you don't need precise detail. It's… They're here to try and help with their recovery. To remember how to be themselves."

    "You know I only spoke to Dreamer briefly, right? And I've never really spoken to the rest of them."

    "Yes, this is my responsibility, while Orion isn't. Why are you asking?"

    "Vykin could demonstrate dominance by reshaping some metal. He wouldn't need to threaten her, just show a power that she couldn't comprehend that could be used as a weapon. If he could do it reliably."

    "That sort of necessity probably wouldn't help."

    "Alright, tell you what: let them finish up their current interviewees and then send the berrith on their way. Then I'll pick an interview subject and they can all watch me."

    He looks at me sceptically.

    "Obviously, there are good reasons not to just copy everything I do. But they need to know how to question people and I was trained by people far less ruthless than me. If you don't like it, you can always tell them to ignore me."

    He nods. "Alright. I'll let them know."
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2023
  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    16:53 GMT -5


    I sit in my chair, not looking at the female berrith as she walks in. She looks around, and then focuses on me, sniffing quietly. I raise my right hand and pointedly examine my nails. She comes a little closer, and tries to pull out the chair opposite me.

    It doesn't move.

    I make a quietly contemptuous snort.

    She looks at me again.

    "What?"

    I turn in my chair and lower my hand, giving her my full attention.

    "Sit."

    Berrith dominance hierarchies work well when the berrith trying to work together know each other, and know who's in charge. Berrith who don't know each other and are put in a situation like this will sort of dance around each other, testing one another until a hierarchy establishes itself. I'm being ridiculously domineering by their standards, and there's a non-trivial chance that she'll attack me due to me trying to force her into a subservient role that she isn't mentally ready to accept.

    I keep my face neutral. Not aggressive or angry. Not particularly invested in what she does. As if I take it as a given that she will comply.

    She puts her right hand on the chair once more and gives it a small tug. This time it moves.

    She pulls it out fully, and sits down.

    Her posture indicates caution, which is a better start than four out of five of the Forever People managed. And I think that with Bear it was accidental.

    I hold out my power ring.

    "Do you recognise this?"

    Tracking her eyes… My face, the ring, stays on the ring for a few moments, then around the room, towards the part of the room that has one-way glass, the ring, my face and then the ring again.

    "What do you want?"

    Don't respond. Don't change the way you act based on the subject.

    "Answer the question. Do you recognise this ring?"

    Ask again in a clear voice to demonstrate that, and if she doesn't respond then instruct her to leave.

    Quiet sniff… Nervousness?

    "Yes. Alphas had them."

    Slight smile, small nod. Indicate that such a response was correct.

    "What did those alphas do?"

    "Demanded obedience. Took people off the planet. Died. The people were brought back."

    "Yes." I nod, maintaining eye contact. "Good."

    "Are you taking revenge? Were they yours?"

    Now, this is a case where I can answer her, because she's requesting more information about my topic in order to understand my intent better.

    "I'm not taking revenge. I killed them for using my rings."

    She pulls away slightly, because I just marked myself as someone who fought and killed alphas with magic rings. While she's reconsidering the wisdom of her agreeing to talk to me, I take the photo out of subspace.

    "Did you meet this h'lvenite?"

    She looks at the picture, but she's sniffing-. Right.

    I use my ring to replicate his scent. She starts sniffing harder immediately.

    "No. I smelled something similar, but not quite the same. He doesn't look quite right."

    I nod, clearing the air and sending the picture back into subspace. Then I take another picture, still not of Doctor Ub'x, and add the scent.

    "This one?"

    "No."

    Ub'x this time, though I'm careful not to change my posture or expression.

    "This one?"

    A sniff, then a couple of deeper sniffs.

    "I did not see him. But I have smelled him before."

    "Do you know anyone who spoke to him?"

    "Not for certain… I think Marran might have spoken to him. Maybe. I didn't."

    "What makes you think that?"

    "The smell. And she spoke strangely for a while. I think she met someone who was not berrith. It might not be him."

    I nod, affecting 'pleased alpha' berrith body language.

    "Thank you. That's helpful. I will speak with her next."

    I smile inwardly as she affects 'pleased beta' body language.

    "Do you have any children here?"

    "Two daughters."

    "Why do you send them here?"

    "Should I not?"

    "I'm interested in your reason."

    "We berrith went to war. We lost. The other species, the ones we fought, were stronger. My children will learn from them and be stronger. Wiser. I can't do that for them. The h'lvenites can."

    "Do you visit them?"

    "Yes." She makes a quiet whine. "I shouldn't. I don't want to distract them, but they're my daughters."

    I nod. "That's enough of a reason."

    "No. If I visit more, they might learn from me. The aliens don't smell right. They don't smell of us."

    "It would go better if they smelled like berrith?"

    "Yes."

    "Thank you for bringing that to my attention."

    I can't change that, obviously, but I'll speak to the governor about it.

    "Now, please take me to Marran. I'll need to speak to her next."
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2023
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    17:06 GMT -5
    Earth 50


    I get a half-second view of her dainty fingers, then I'm flying backwards across the Metropolis skyline with my nose pancaked across my face.

    Ow!

    Through… My environmental shield and…

    Really ow.

    Fix my nose back into shape.

    By your command.

    OW! Which hurts more-. And-.

    I'm jerked to a stop as Kara blurs after me, her hands grabbing my gorget. "What are you doing here?"

    "Fixing my nose, you-. Deeply rude woman. What the heck was that for?"

    "What did you think I was going to do? You're still a wanted fugitive, Grayven."

    "What? But I barely committed any crimes at all." She looks incredulous. "One little vault break in and maybe a few thousand dollars worth of damage."

    "And the people you killed."

    "They were Anti-Lifed to the point of being unsalvageable." I shake my head as my nose finishes regenerating. "I honestly didn't realise that people here were still throwing such a fit about things."

    "John and Shayera aren't here. They-."

    "They're on Thanagar. I know. I'm still in contact. I'm a friendly guy with people who don't respond to 'hello' by punching me in the f-. Flipping face."

    I jerk my arms up, knocking her arms away. And yes, I know that if she was gripping hard that wouldn't have worked, but I'm happy to see that she hasn't quite learned real savagery yet.

    She folds her arms across her chest. "What do you want?"

    "I found our version of you a while ago. Ah. Sort of. She's Kara Zor-El, not Kara In-Ze, but… Same idea. Blonde kryptonian female, survived Krypton going up…"

    "I'm not the only blonde kryptonian."



    I feel guilty for thinking it, but I can't help it any more than I can prevent myself snort-chuckling.

    "Wha-?" She blinks as she gets it. "Ugh. That's not funny, Grayven."

    "If it makes you feel better, Kal-El's the only black-haired kryptonian." I exhale. "I don't find the death of your species funny or anything, but it was the juxtaposition between you just saying it like that-."

    "I can go back to hitting you, you know."

    "If it makes you feel better-. No, let me… So, we located her and brought her back to the facility I'm using to clone the kryptonian species back into viability-."

    "Y-? How do you mean..?"

    "I got a load of kryptonian genetic records from… Various places, mixed them up a bit and then used some ex-Citadel cloning machines to create more kryptonians. Hired some people to raise the resulting children… And since that was-. Actually, do you have any kryptonian genetic records here? We're doing okay for genetic variation, but there's no such thing as too much variety."

    "Ah… Brainiac's database might have some medical records… He could access all of the data on Krypton, but I don't know if he bothered loading it onto the database Kal captured. There's… Probably some intact bodies on Kandor. We didn't really get much kryptonite radiation, unlike Krypton."

    I nod. "Nifty. I'll have a look around at some point, we can include them in the next batch."

    "You're not… Keeping them as slaves, are you?"

    "What? No. Karsta Wor-Ul would-" Try to. "-kill me. And they're children; there's basically nothing they could do that it wouldn't make more sense to have an adult or a robot do."

    "But when they grow up…"

    "They're part of my domains. If they want to work for me, I'll hire them. But their capacities make forcing them completely impractical."

    She stares at me searchingly, and I shrug.

    "Okay. So-? Wait, are you asking me to… Contribute?"

    "Ah. No? I mean, you can-. And I can manufacture kryptonian sperm if that's something that you want, but-. We're getting away from my point."

    "Which is?"

    "Our Kara was severely injured due to having been in a malfunctioning pod ship which was trapped in a kryptonite asteroid. We fixed her up with a daxamite medical sarcophagus, and she seemed… Fine-ish..? But she's a lot more… Socially vicious. And… Loudly devoted to Kryptonian nationalism in a way that I wasn't… Expecting."

    "Okay? She's not me. I don’t really… I mean, aside from Jax-Ur, that wasn't really part of kryptonian politics. We didn't have any contact with aliens and no one really wanted to leave."

    "No vrangs on your parallel?"

    She frowns. "No who?"

    "Vrangs? An alien species that invaded medieval Krypton before eventually being kicked off by the natives. That didn’t happen on your Krypton?"

    "Not that I remember. I never really bothered studying ancient history, and if Brainiac didn't think it was important, he might just have got rid of the records." She relaxes her arms. "So, okay, she's acting weird. Why do you want to talk to me about it?"

    "Because you're both young kryptonian women and I don't know any kryptonian psychologists. I'd like to you try talking to her, find out if there's actually something wrong with her."

    "I can't just disappear from my job."

    "I could kidnap you? I mean, it's not like I ran out of gold kryptonite."

    "And it's not like I ran out of radiation shields." She looks away, thinking. "How long will this take?"

    "I don't know. How good at psychology are you?"

    "Why don't you ask Kal?"

    "Your Kal-El?" She nods. "Because I don't want him near the children. Or near me. Did you tell him I'm the one who dosed him with gold kryptonite?"

    "No, I left that out. He's actually… Talking to me now. He approves of…" She glances down at her 'S'. "This."

    "I imagine he wasn't entirely displeased to learn that Batman died either."

    "I'm not sure. He wasn't happy when I told him, especially when I told him how." She shrugs. "They were friends for years. I don't think his… Feelings about Batman were that… Simple."

    "So is that a hard no from you?"

    "I'll see if I can get the time off work, but I'd like to get Kal out of the Fortress. It's not healthy."

    I sigh. "Okay. I'll give him a try."
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2023
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    22:11 GMT
    Earth 50


    "Oh. It's you."

    Kal-El returns his attention to one of the alien animals he acquired from his fight with the Collector, a big purple herbivore of some sort. It gives him a hug with its face tentacles, and he pats it fondly on the side of its neck.

    "It's me."

    He walks over to check on the feeding station. "Did you want something?"

    "Yeah." I sigh. "I wanted Kara's help with something and she's busy with work-."

    "And I'm not." He pats the animal again, then makes his way to the exit from the enclosure. "Not that that means I'd want to help you."

    "I wasn't expecting you to volunteer, but you have specific expertise that I need and I'm prepared to hire you."

    That gets a frown as he wipes the tentacle goo off with a prepared towel.

    "What makes you think I'd want to work for you for any price?"

    "Have I done something to offend you?"

    I mean, yes, obviously, but Kara didn't tell him about the gold kryptonite-.

    "Kara didn't tell me about the dust you used on me, but I run a farm here. I do soil sampling to check that the soil chemistry is right for the crops, and I've got air purification systems set up. It started showing up in the filters a little while after you left."

    Ah.

    "Guess I'm rumbled then."

    "What is it? I couldn't tell exactly what it did, but I doubt that you'd have used it unintentionally."

    "Kryptonite comes in more than one colour. That was gold. It basically turns off your powers without causing other damage."

    He grimaces. "Luthor beat you to the punch."

    I shrug. "What, you expect me to trust Luthor?"

    He huffs. "I guess not. And that's why Kara was getting sick, until you removed it."

    "Yeah. I kind of assumed it would have settled… Or that she was angry enough to have written you off. She's a really nice person."

    Perfectly innocent noses aside.

    "Nice isn't enough. I thought what S.H.A.D.E. did would have been enough to teach her that."

    "I'm-." I frown. "Did you want her to kill you? Or lobotomise you? Because that would seem to be the logical continuation of that thought process."

    "If she had, I'd have understood. But I was more hoping that she'd join me after she experienced how bad America's politics are for herself."

    "I think it was less personal than Luthor was for you. She hadn't had years of graciously not tearing his head off to regret. So anyway, reason I'm here, is that I'm worried about the mental state of my universe's Kara. She's… Ah, not like yours, and I'm worried that when we fixed her up after she was seriously injured a while ago we got something wrong."

    "And you want me to take a look? I do probably know more than most people about kryptonian medicine. And I've still got Brainiac's database."

    "I wanted Kara, but, yeah."

    "What are you offering? I doubt you'll give me my powers back."

    "No, obviously, but I could upgrade your defences, if you like?" I'm definitely not including him in the program. "Get you a universal television receiver so you can watch alien T.V.? Or just more materials for your own projects? Heck, if you really want I can relocate this place somewhere so you don't have to worry about being murdered in your sleep by vengeful government agents."

    "That last one sounds good. I'd still need some way to get back to Earth, though."

    I nod. "I can build a zeta beam transporter easily enough. It will be point to point, so if the end station gets discovered that's your problem. That all?"

    "I hate corrupt governments. I don't have anything against sick young women, and I…" He sighs. "It wasn't ever about taking power myself. It was always about… Trying to help people. Make their lives better. You hit me with that gold kryptonite of yours a few minutes after meeting me. Would you have handled the supervillains we lobotomised any different?"

    "I'd have settled for killing most of them. Having them around with two burn scars on their foreheads just harmed your brand. When they stop being capable of evil, anyone who interacts with them is just left looking at a harmless person you harmed." His eyes drift away as he considers what I'm saying. "With a corpse, people would just move on, and they wouldn't have that constant visual reminder of who killed them."

    "That's not a bad idea."

    "There were actually a whole lot of other things you could have done better, propaganda-wise. Given your background as a journalist, I'm surprised it didn't occur to you to manufacture some consent."

    "My journalism classes were about teaching me to spot someone else doing that stuff, not how to do it myself."

    "You were in charge of the country. Should have changed the curriculum."

    He makes an amused exhalation. "I'll remember that next time."

    I smile. "That's the spirit. Anything you need to do, or are you alright to head out now?"

    He walks over to a wall panel and presses a button. A few moments later, a… Somewhat weathered Superman robot trudges in and heads towards the next pen.

    "It's not that hard to automate things, but I need something to do myself."

    I nod. "Right then. Mother Box?"

    Ping.

    BOOM!

    A few animals squawk or grunt, but for the most part they accept the noise and the glowing hole in reality.

    I lead the way through, back into Karsta's office in the cloning facility.

    "Karsta Wor-Ul, this is Kal-El Fifty." Karsta studies his face intensely, frowning as she does so. "I've asked him to have a chat with Kara, see if he can-."

    "Fine. Fine. I don't need to know every little thing you get up to."

    "He took over his Earth after their Lex Luthor proved to be an incompetent lunatic. I think you might like him more than our Kal-El."

    She takes in Kal-El's farm overalls. "He dresses better."

    "I probably used to dress the same way. It's just not really a good idea to wear a cape around farming equipment."

    I nod. "Alright, I'll take-."

    Ping.

    I stare down at Mother Box. "Seriously?"

    Ping.

    "Okay, ah…" I look at Kal-El and Karsta. "I'm sorry, but it sounds like Atlantis has risen from the ocean and I need to get back to Earth. Karsta, could you please show Kal-El around, introduce him to Kara, that sort of thing?"

    She gets up out of her chair. "Sure. Probably-"

    Mother Box.

    BOOM!

    I jog through the portal back to Challenger Mountain.

    "-best to start with the healing pod…"
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2023
  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    17:35 GMT -5


    From Marran to another to another, we finally have a lead.

    The Forever People share a discomported look as we walk through the berrith settlement. Probably a medium sized town, though I'm not sure how to judge their order of service. The berrith are actually a post-industrial society, but… They haven't ever developed some technologies that humans have now, while being more advanced in other areas. Personal computers aren't something they really had even during their initial advance into space. They do have computers, but they're work tools rather than a consumer item, and they prefer using terminals which connect to servers rather than personal computers.

    Their heavy industry means that the air quality is quite a bit worse than most places back home-. Maybe some Chinese cities are like this? Smog clouds are an ongoing issue, and the sky sort of greys the background out after a certain distance. The roads are concrete, and the vehicles are like humvees with proportionally larger wheels.

    Serifan is pulling a face. "How do they breathe this?"

    Vykin looks around, relatively untroubled. "Did you not study the early industrial society of Earth?"

    "That weren't the part I was reading about. Plenty of fresh air in the Wild West."

    "Usually, a planet that had space ships would have moved away from burning hydrocarbons for fuel. I guess the berrith just…"

    Actually, why haven't they moved on to fission fuel?

    Original berrith homeworld had only small quantities of fissile material, along with plentiful quantities of easily accessible hydrocarbons. While berrith science was aware of the principles involved, it was impractical for them to implement on a wide scale.

    "Didn't have enough heavy metals on their homeworld for fission."

    "So?"

    Moonrider shakes his head. "New Genesis is the perfect world. Most other worlds lack things that we consider normal."

    "Yes, floating cities over a largely untouched forest aren't things most worlds have. Even Oa doesn't have that."

    Serifan looks outright confused. "Why not? Them Guardians could make Oa like that. Couldn't they?"

    "I can't speak for the Guardians, but if you're asking me to guess, I'd say that they consider themselves above any animal part of their nature that would like there to be plants or animals around. Since as far as I know Oa never had any wildlife, it's as desolate outside of the buildings that they and the Green Lanterns have built as it was when they moved there. Maltus is more like New Genesis, though our cities are on the ground and a good deal bigger."

    We're getting a few stares from the locals, but… They're temporary stares. They look, they sniff, then they go back to doing whatever they were doing before. I remember my college textbooks calling that 'the diffusion of responsibility', but considering how berrith social hierarchies work it might be more accurate to call it the focusing of responsibility.

    "Though if you were serious about that stewardship thing, feel free to get started."

    Dreamer… Her arms are wrapped around her chest, her hands rubbing her sides. She's looking around, but I can't tell what she's looking… For? At? Bear's spotted it to.

    "Have you found the one we're looking for?"

    "What do you-?" She focuses on him. "No. This world… There is usually a connection between a people and their home. The berrith feel nothing."

    Bear nods. "Their original home was lost during their war. The species who won wanted more space between them and the berrith."

    "Between the orbital bombardment and the heavy hydrocarbon use, their original homeworld is a far less pleasant place to live than this, and will be for some time. To say nothing of the likely response of the rest of the Sector if the berrith tried resettling it."

    "That… That might be it. I don't think I've ever been on a world like that before."

    "It's not common. Usually, an invader would wipe the locals out rather than displace them. Ah." I stop outside a foundry, heat and the sound of heavy machinery emanating from inside. "I do believe that we're here. Vykin, would you care to take the lead?"

    He steps forward, heading towards the yard where the raw ore is laying in piles awaiting smelting. The workers notice him, but since he doesn't appear to be carrying a tonne of ore on his person they allow him to pass.

    "I-." He glances back at me. "I wish to speak with Mister Huyen."

    The workers do a quick hierarchy-check, then one of them abandons his task and runs off into the foundry.

    Progress. I give Vykin an approving nod.

    Interesting how the other berrith aren't paying us much attention. Their eyes linger if they were looking in our direction anyway, but other than that they stick to their tasks. If this happened in a human place of work then I imagine that a whole crowd would gather around.

    There's a slight… Something, and I notice that all of the New Gods are now looking at a window on the first floor of the structure. I follow their gaze and see a male berrith with a number of minor burns on his face disrupting his fur pattern. Not the one we're looking for, but… Check with the records… Yes, that's the boss of this place. Checking us out, perhaps? Berrith civilisation doesn’t have an overall alpha at the moment, so his status as local alpha has more significance.

    Maybe that's why they never really developed commercial radio? It created a direct link between ruler and ruled when governments started broadcasting on Earth. I could tell you who the Prime Minister was for most of my life while never having any idea who the head of the East Sussex County Council was. Would they have found that too disruptive, or would it just never have occurred to them?

    The berrith who went inside comes back out, accompanied by a younger berrith. The younger one - Huyen- cautiously approaches Vykin.

    "What do you want, alien?"

    Vykin hesitates for a moment, hopefully trying to decide how to put my instructions into effect.

    "I am here about your brother."

    "My brother is dead. He was eaten. The alphas said that he was unfit for anything else."

    "You know the h'lvenite he spoke to?"

    "He did not speak to me. But I saw him, sometimes. He glowed with purple light."

    Vykin taps his Mother Box, and a hologram of false h'lvenite one appears.

    "Is this the-?"

    "No. No, not like that. I will not forget the one who took my brother away. Do not bother with more fakes. I could draw his face."

    "Take us to where this happened."

    Huyen looks up at the first floor window. The elder berrith considers for a moment, then makes an affirmative gesture. The Indigo Lantern's brother returns his attention to us.

    "I can take you to our home. But I have no way to contact the h'lvenite. I was not what he wanted."

    "That is my concern."

    Huyen looks at him for several moments, before fluffing and then flattening his fur.

    "Then follow me."
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2023
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    17:49 GMT -5


    "Hm."

    B'dg makes a point of floating past my face as we approach the late Indigo Lantern's former home. I guess he wants to talk about something.

    "Can I help you?"

    "… It's not what I expected."

    The berrith, I assume. "It takes a lot of work to be all-evil all the time. Apokolips manages it, but most Reach worlds are quite nice places to live if you're a reachian."

    "What about the Spider Guild?"

    "The slave pens take up quite a lot of space, and since they like the moans and screams they don't use any sort of sound-deadening technology on them, but outside of that… Pretty much." I shrug. "The Vega branch of the Guild is a little different due to the Queen and the fact that most of them are so young, so my viewpoint is a little slanted."

    "Huh."

    "What were you expecting?"

    "More beatings. I've seen recordings of berrith prisoners, and they had to be kept restrained or they'd fight each other the whole time."

    "That was the males, right?" He nods. "They'd only do that until they established a hierarchy. If you kept them in small groups and let them settle things, they'd calm down afterwards."

    "We didn't keep people who fought each other without provocation in the same cell!"

    "That was a mistake. You should have done. It's unwise to assume that alien species think the same as your own, even if they look like a bigger version of your species."

    "… Huh. And the females?"

    "Less direct violence, but they might take a little longer to settle things. Or you could just imprison them in the groups you capture them in, because they already have an established hierarchy."

    "And that's it?"

    "If you give them a really big prison then they might just avoid each other. I'm a little surprised that you don't know this. It shouldn't really-."

    He waves a paw. "I didn't read up on the berrith because it was a done deal. There probably are people who know about it. Now, anyway. Do you know why they eat people, too?"

    "No, I've been wondering about that as well. My guess would be that their ancestors leaned into the scavenging side of carnivorism. So they evolved guts that could handle partially rotted meat, which meant they also got the ability to eat other berrith without the sort of health problems you or I would get if we tried that. And because they were used to scavenging available meat, the same sort of social prohibition our species-."

    "Whow, whow, hey. You might be an omnivore, but I'm strictly a herbivore!"

    "My species has about eating each other never developed." I frown at him. "Obligate herbivore or do you just not need it?"

    "Some h'lvenites eat… Beetles, but they're weirdoes."

    I nod as Huyen shows Vykin in. Berrith appear to like communal dwelling, so it's more like a dormitory with an attached kitchen than a house or flat. There are two other berrith in there, slightly older than our escort but not closely genetically related to him. The one closest to the door gives Vykin a mild glare, but our escort grunts something and he calms down.

    "Anything interesting happening in the Green Lantern Corps?"

    "I wouldn't know. I've never left this Sector. Ch'p is the only other Green Lantern I've ever met."

    "He did your… Basic training, then?"

    "That's right. Never even seen Oa. I thought they might send an Honour Guard Lantern to cover for Ch'p, but I guess the Guardians didn't think they needed to."

    "You know your ring can contact other Lanterns, right?"

    "Yeah, obviously."

    "You can just contact people to have a chat, you know? Or if you want to improve your skills, get a bit of remote tuition? Lantern Priest of Sector One Six Three Four is the most skilled green light user I know, and his Sector is almost completely safe."

    "Thanks. Once Ch'p gets back from his paternity leave, I'll do that." He looks me over. "This isn't how I thought this conversation would go."

    "The Green Lantern Corps fulfils a vital interstellar policing function. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who puts on one of those-" I nod at his ring-bearing paw. "-and serves their Sector, and if I mention certain issues in your Standard Operating Procedures and training scheme it's because I want you to be able to do better, not because I think that you're worthless."

    "Ah… Thanks? I think?"

    "And I certainly don't blame the occasionally sub-optimal decisions-."

    "Okay, you can stop now."

    "Of course, if you're feeling really brave, then you could see if you can get released for detached duty in Sector Two Eight One Four. Wait until we've dealt with the Anti-Life, then give us a couple of months to rebuild planet Earth's economy, then we can spare the time to give you some lessons."

    "A couple of…"

    "Lanterns!" Vykin gestures to us as the Forever People go inside. "We are ready to begin."

    I nod as I walk towards him, B'dg flying alongside me.

    "I'm assuming that Dreamer needs me?"

    "It would make things… Easier. None of us have seen this 'indigo light' before."

    "How exactly does her ability work?"

    Vykin… Actually looks mildly affronted. "Our abilities are a gift from the Source, which we receive as we approach adulthood."

    "Right, right, but presumably she's interacting with parts of the 'default' universe in order to get information. I was wondering what part. Unless the Source grants her each vision individually."

    "Beneath the corporeal world, beneath even the realm of the spirit, there lies a realm-."

    "The Dream, yes, I've been there. Impressive that she-."

    "You've been there?" He blinks. "You mean to say that you have dreamt while maintaining your awareness."

    "No, I've physically entered the Dream. Went to dream-Baghdad, spoke to the dream-versions of certain notable historical figures, and ended up running through a dream storm. Interesting, though not a lot of fun. I can see how that would work, though it's impressive that she's able to get that level of resolution out of it."

    "I… See."

    We enter the building, Bear's size forcing him to wait in the common room while the rest of us head into the barracks. Huyen gestures to what I assume to be his brother's former bed, and I approach as Dreamer starts to focus.

    Show me nothing. I am unworthy.
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2023
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    17:53 GMT -5


    Once, when my sister was having trouble parking her car with me in the front passenger's seat, I offered to get out in case my presence was creating a distraction. I was later informed that that was the incorrect thing to do, because by doing that I was drawing attention to her problem. So I'm not going to ask what sort of problem Dreamer's having, because that might make it harder for her. I have moved to parade rest, but I don't think that means anything to the New Gods.

    The berrith is switching between staring at her and staring at the rest of us. None of the New Gods are saying anything about her… 'Difficulty' either, so there's nothing to tell him that anything is wrong. We do need him here as a reference for his brother, so-.

    "Is something wrong?"

    B'dg's question is perfectly innocent, but Dreamer's New God companions glare at him anyway.

    "I can't do it."

    Dreamer looks completely miserable at her failure, her head tilted forwards so that her hair covers her face, her posture stooped and her hands held limply at her sides.

    "I can't-."

    She sighs, quietly.

    "Alright, and the attempts of your fellow New Gods to fix the problem hasn't worked." I shove past Moonrider as he and the other Forever People instinctively gather around their cluster mate, making myself the closest person to her. Then I firmly lay my right hand on her left shoulder, prompting her to look up at me. "So explain to me what the problem is and I'll try and help you fix it."

    "E-ever since I came back from Apokolips, I can't-." She looks away, trying to get her thoughts in order. "They forced me to activate my power, to see the dreams of billions of people on a world that only knows the Anti-Life. I-it was…"

    I nod. "I've got some idea. So, what? You assumed that the Source's gift wouldn't ever show you anything unpleasant?"

    "No. I just-. I thought that I would always be able to endure what it showed me."

    "You're still alive-. It's not working because you don't want it to work. You feel unworthy."

    She nods hesitantly.

    "And that undermines your whole self-concept because that's tied up with your power-. No, your connection to the Source."

    I look around at the other Forever People.

    "I take it that it's the same for the rest of you?"

    Moonrider nods solemnly, Vykin hesitantly. Serifan just looks away, hands reaching for absent pistols. Lightray doesn't look pleased, but it doesn't look like he intends to step in to stop me.

    I could probably use the orange light to force fix their problem, but… I remember a film about attempts by psychologists in the 1910s to fix speech impediments created by World War One PTSD. One was a nice bloke who tried to talk to his patients about their experiences and managed to horrify himself to the point where he got a stammer too. The other was a bit of a bastard who electrocuted his patients' vocal cords until they started working again. I like to think that even without Superman's nudging that I wouldn't go for option two unless it was time critical, and I'm certainly not going to do it here.

    "Alright, I should probably… How old are you all?"

    Vykin looks at Dreamer for a moment before answering. "Between thirteen and sixteen. New Gods live indefinitely, but our early years are much like yours."

    "Yes, you sort of stop aging at thirty. Look, I realise that it's a shock, but you must realise that if Highfather couldn't end the war in centuries it was completely unrealistic to expect you to be able to endure the Anti-Life on Apokolips. There's a horror in what you saw that you just don't have the life experience to comprehend. That's not a sign that the Source has turned its back on you or anything like that, it's just life."

    Dreamer looks at me in horror.

    "That's just… Life?"

    "Honestly, yes. The problem with the Anti-Life isn't that it's objectively untrue, it's that it's one side of an argument. A… Frankly unhealthy perspective. Your… When you summoned Infinity Man. You do remember how that felt, don’t you?"

    "Yes."

    The rest of the Forever People nod as well.

    "Why would that be less 'true' than the negation of… Everything, but the Anti-Life. I've seen worlds where the locals vivisected slaves, another where they ate people and rejoiced in their fear and pain, and another where they made weapons with which to worship a being who wants to consume creation. Such places exist. And so do… Places like Oa and Maltus where people try and fix them. Or like Tamaran where the indefatigable locals just bounced back from being enslaved and brutalised and are expanding back into space. Life isn't just the nice bits, it includes the frankly disgusting bits."

    I sigh.

    "And I'm afraid to say that heroism isn't just flying to somewhere which at worst has a small problem, summoning a god-robot and then flying away. It's about seeing things that sicken you and keeping going because anything else is just going to result in things getting even worse. It's seeing the worst… The worst things in the universe and thanking the Source that you've got the opportunity to set them right. And accepting that sometimes you're not going to have what it takes to stop it, and that the best thing you can do is fall back and try to come up with a plan that could work."

    "What do you want to achieve? What is your vision for the universe?"

    "I don't want the Anti-Life to touch anyone ever again."

    "Good. Good. And would you return to captivity on Apokolips if that was what it took to achieve that end?"

    She shivers.

    "So, okay, what do you need to do in order to become the person who would?"

    "I don't know."

    "If you did, would you want to do it?"

    She breathes in sharply, her eyes not focusing on me. And then out sharply. And then in. And then out.

    "Yes."

    "A month and a half ago, my homeworld got Anti-Lifed. We're here to find a way to undo that. Anti-Life can be undone."

    I move my hand from her shoulder and take hold of her left hand, lifting it to my forehead.

    "Take a look at what I believe. If it helps."

    She nods. "Show me your hope."

    Images flicker around us. Alan forming constructs, binding the Justified and tearing off their helmets. Transmission hubs explode, people cheering with relief as their minds are free once again. A beam of white light striking Mannheim, and something dark and sinister being forced from his body. A people, bloodied but unbowed, working to repair all that was lost.

    "It's not going to be quick and it's not going to be easy, but we're going to make it happen. So, do you think you're up for taking a look for the Indigo Lantern?"

    She studies the images a moment longer, before nodding.

    "Yes." "Show me what we need."
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2023
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    17:59 GMT -5


    "Even amongst your kind, cannibalism isn't common."

    The illusion of Doctor Ub'x leans around the knife floating just in front of his face, the berrith who reflexively threw it growling at him in response.

    "But I can see the blood of at least five other berrith on that blade."

    "I have no alpha."

    "You recognise that's not right, don't you? That's not how normal members of your species think."

    "If I have no alpha, I must be the alpha. The ones I killed didn't understand that. You don't understand that."

    Ub'x smiles faintly. "The way you're staring at my neck is a bit of a clue. You don't know who I am, do you?"

    "I can't smell you, and all h'lvenites look the same."

    The berrith lunges, snatching his knife out of Ub'x's construct-grip and snapping his jaws shut just short of Ub'x's face.

    Ub'x doesn't react.

    "I am Doctor Ub'x, and-."

    "The mad doctor. I've heard of you." The berrith actually looks a little… Pleased? Excited? "Get me off this planet and I'll kill anyone you want."

    Ub'x raises his eyebrows. "You want to work for me?"

    "You aren't my alpha. But I'm not a feral beast. I can trade."

    "It's not that you're not a beast; it's that you're constitutionally incapable of accepting anyone in a position of authority over you. It's your brain, lad. To put it simply, you're missing something almost all berrith have. And most of those that don't have it don't live as long as you have."

    "What?"

    "I wasn't accusing you of being prideful. You literally can't experience what other berrith experience when they acknowledge someone as their alpha. The part of the brain that does it? You don't have it."

    "That's why they…" The berrith backs off a little as he takes that information on board. "Then I will have to dominate. It is the only way that I will survive."

    "No." Ub'x reaching into his coat and pulls out an indigo ring. "There is another way."

    The image freezes, and I glance sideways to notice that Dreamer has perked up a little. She's… Sweating, though, and trembling as if she's undertaking strenuous physical activity. Though that could be purely psychosomatic.

    "I remember that day." Huyen stares mournfully at the illusion. "He was polite to people. Usually, it was all he could do to avoid biting them."

    "Did you see his power ring?"

    "No." Huyen shakes his head. "He didn't tell me that he had one. I didn't ask why he was behaving differently because." He tilts his neck and I see the gaps in his fur where the skin underneath is scarred. "When we fought he never stopped until he won. I just thought that he… Mpf."

    So Ub'x recruited him because he couldn't function in berrith society? Because he thought that the indigo light could substitute for the pack instinct he didn’t have? He'd killed and eaten people, but for a berrith or a Lantern that isn't that big a deal. Berrith accept fighting for dominance, and there was a clear biological reason why he wasn't fitting in with the rest.

    Wait, did they fight h'lvenites because they're small, and so they categorise them as terminally omega?

    Vykin looks relieved. "Dreamer, can you use this to locate him?"

    "I can feel other places where he has been, if we are close. But…"
    Show Me The Path.
    The image twitches and warps, shifting into… A rocky landscape, the sky clear and dark and-. Ub'x is talking to someone-.

    The image fade and Dreamer staggers into Moonrider's waiting arms.

    Ring, stellar mapping. Where were those stars?

    Working. Multiple possible locations found.

    Showing that landscape?

    Not all worlds have full geophysics scans on file. Rocks are not an uncommon geological feature.

    Alright, alright. Pick the closest.

    Location available.

    "I might have it. My ring's calculated places where those stars can be seen in those patterns. If we go to one of the possibles, could you eliminate it as a possibility?"

    Dreamer is propping herself up on Moonrider, but she makes eye contact with me as she nods. "If you can take us to that place, yes."

    "Alright then. Huyen, thank you for your assistance. It seems like your brother would have been a good fit for the Indigo Lantern Corps and it's a shame that he wasn't ever able to realise his potential."

    "I suppose it is. I'd have liked to know him better when he didn't start fights."

    "I don't know berrith customs, but if you like I can get a recording of what happened on Ranx before he died."

    "No. I don't want to. He's dead and the alphas who had him killed are dead." He hesitates. "But I want to talk to that h'lvenite. If you find him, tell him."

    I nod. "We will."

    The New Gods have already started filing out of the room. B'dg looks uncertain about… Something, then flies after them.

    Hm.

    I stride out of the building, the New Gods clustering around Dreamer.

    "Right you lot. Since bluntness seemed to work for Dreamer, would the rest of you like to talk about your problems before we move on?"

    Serifan's right hand twitches towards his empty holster. "Get my guns back and I'll let them do my talking for me."

    "By the time I was first exposed to the Anti-Life I was already so resistant to it that I barely felt it, just a discordant buzz of nonsense. However, achieving that state did require me to fully integrate all of my most disgusting and monstrous repressed desires into my consciousness. I believe that's a close equivalent. My current clarity-."

    Bear looks bewildered. "It doesn't affect you? When you-. Hear it-."

    "It's just words. Those parts of the Anti-Life I've been exposed to before are so contrary to my nature that they don't find any purchase. I find myself thinking a thing and I immediately reject it."

    "What did it say?"

    "Ah… The Key said 'purpose equals failure'. It tried to make me think that anything I attempted would eventually undo itself. But, I mean, if you think about it, that's true for everything. The universe has a finite lifespan. Eventually, everything ends. But that doesn't mean that anything you do or try to do doesn't mean anything. That it doesn't matter for everyone who experiences it. As an Orange Lantern I prioritise realising my desires, and most of those are for relatively short term things. You don't… Not eat a meal because at some point you'll be hungry again, do you? It's daft."

    He glances at the others, and then looks… Nervous?

    "That wasn't what it said to me. Us."

    "No, you were actually on Apokolips. What did it say?"

    "I-. I can't say it. Not until I'm sure it won't come out."

    "Okay. How about we head back to the h'lvenite school, and you can… Indirectly describe it to me."
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2023
  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    18:21 GMT -4


    Glowing orange breakwaters extend into the Atlantic from the coast of Cuba, and if I strain my eyes I can just about see where my fellow Orange Lanterns are repeating that defence on the Caribbean's other islands. The surging water from the newly risen continent of Atlantis arrived only a little after we did, and stopping a tsunami like that…

    It isn't fun, and it's something that high tier Justice Leaguers are actually trained for.

    I can see a handful of total morons hanging around the beach to take pictures of the situation just staring like the gormless morons they are. I could say something about the fact that we're just going to reduce the force of the water and not block it completely, but if they're this dumb then I think their lives are a worthy offering to the Great God Darwin-.

    "Thanks fer doin' this, Grayven." I nod at Guy at he approaches. "We don't rilly have the manpower fer things like this."

    "Not a problem. Orin tell you what's going on?"

    "Nah." He shakes his head. "He stops showin' up t' meetin's, then a few weeks later this happens."

    Wait, do I actually know more than the Justice League? Okay, Batman's ability to gain intelligence is a lot less in places with no real contact with the surface world and no electronics, but I'd have thought…

    Richard, I know I said to make sure that the League didn't die, but I assumed…

    The water level starts rising all along the shoreline. Not… Catastrophically, and I've got a reserve standing by just in case things escalate, but things are going to be pretty messy once the waters recede.

    "You… Planning on joining in?"

    "I'm in reserve, case anything else crazy happens." He stares out to sea, squinting. "You breakin' it up?"

    "That's the idea. I'm nothing like strong enough to just block it all, but I can weaken it just fine. Who's handling the US?"

    "Superman."



    "How?"

    "Spinnin' real fast or somethin'."

    "Oh, ah, just in case something weird happens, I've got a parallel universe version of Superman doing some work for me on Tamaran. Doubt he'll come here, but just in case Superman starts acting weird…"

    "Thanks. I'll pass that along." He hesitates for a moment. "Do I wanna know why you got goatee-Supes werkin' fer you?"

    "He's clean-shaven. I've got some kryptonian technology, and it helps to have another brain that knows kryptonian technology looking it over."

    Guy frowns thoughtfully. "That the Superman who took over the world?"

    "Ah… Define… Yeah… Yes, okay."

    "You sure he don't have a goatee?"

    "Their John Stewart did." Hm. Mother Box, does that seem like enough water to you?

    Ping.

    So, what, they're actually being slightly courteous, or they're keeping it for themselves?

    Ping.

    Ah. "Guy, is the League aware that Ahri'ahn has been living openly in Atlantis?"

    Guy looks a little awkward. "Ah… Yeah? Aquaman said he had it handled."

    I pointedly look out across the swelling Atlantic in the general direction of the Earth's newest continent. I mean, Clea said that she had it handled-.

    Ring, grab me a spy satellite and show me what's going on.

    By your command.

    Several countries and a few private citizens who probably shouldn't have satellites in position to observe Atlantis. Tapping into all of them gets me a slightly better idea of what's going on.

    That's a lot of dead seaweed. And dead sea creatures. The cities themselves-.

    Venturia is surrounded by a giant sphere of water. In fact, in the highest parts of their territory it's actually frozen solid. Guess Lex's airport just got rendered completely superfluous. And I can see… Three other cities that have enclosed themselves in a similar way. The… Most logical explanation is that they're making an accommodation for water-adapted Atlanteans. Almost all Atlanteans can breathe air, but Atlanteans with tails would struggle to move.

    Poseidonis doesn't have a sphere of water.

    But what the hell? Atlanteans have fish farms that are now empty of water and filled with dying fish. The land there might be… Drying, but it's going to be salty as heck. There's no way they can plant crops on it until they do a lot of work. Clea's probably on top of that, but she told me she was on top of Ahri'ahn as well so I've got to check.

    "Who's the redhead?"

    "Which one?"

    "The one with the curly hair, stripper uniform and big titties."

    I consider our female tamaranean recruits.

    "Again, which one?"

    "Seriously?" He turns back to me. "And you're dating a horse?"

    "Pony. And it's not my fault that you have plebeian tastes." I glance over at Lantern… Andreand'r. "Most tamaraneans look that good. Probably like how European dental health got really bad once cheap sugar became available; they haven't had a chance to get fat because they've had to do physical labour and haven't had access to large quantities of fat and sugar."

    "Looks like she's got fat in all the right places."

    I shake my head. "Guy, you're thirty six. You don't have time to mess about ogling random women. If you're-"

    "Ow."

    "-interested in her, talk to her once the water calms down. I'll put in a good word for you. What's the League planning to do about Ahri-?"

    The air over the Atlantic shimmers, then stabilises into a massive… Illusion? Of Ahri'ahn, staring out imperiously across the world. Probably just a projection which he can't see through.

    "Attention, barbarians of the world. I am Ahri'ahn, the greatest magician in the history of the Earth. The nation of Atlantis stands tall once more, and will regain its former pre-eminence. Your rulers and potentates will attend the King of Atlantis in Poseidonis and pay him homage. You will do this within a week, or you will suffer our wrath."

    The illusion stares down at us for a few moments, and then fades out.

    "Well shit."

    "Language. Does the League have a plan?"

    "Not fer this exact thing."

    "I have a Lantern Corps. And Lex has a fleet. We can help."

    "Ah… I'll pass that on." He frowns. "How's Black Adam gonna take bein' called a barbarian and told to show up and bow?"

    "Not well. Does the League have a wizard who can take Ahri'ahn?"

    "I'll… Get back t' yeh."

    I look down to where the water has risen over the beach.

    "Best get back quick, because I don't think General Lane is going to be patient."
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2023
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    18:33 GMT -5


    BOOM!

    I follow the Forevercar through-.

    "Lightray, what is that vehicle actually called?"

    "The Whiz Wagon."

    I follow the Forevercar through the boom tube to a point-. To a point on the surface of Qualar IV, no doubt terrifying the native population into a collective coma.

    "Serifan? Why are we in the atmosphere?"

    "They's all going to be terrified whatever we do. Least this way we don't waste time."

    I scan yep, yep, every native within hearing range of the boom has indeed fainted. Fortunately, they've designed their vehicles and appliances with the fact that the operators might collapse at any time with no notice into account. Might be an export market for narcoleptics on Earth, if the shipping distance wasn't completely ridiculous.

    Vykin turns his head towards me. "Can you locate our destination?"

    Ring?

    "You could get that view of the stars from almost anywhere on this planet at different parts of the year. Between the annual snow and… Time, there isn't a precise match to the rock formation anywhere."

    B'dg looks up at the sky. "Shouldn't this planet have their Green Lantern on speed dial?"

    Lightray smiles. "Would they phone the Green Lantern all of the time, or faint before they made it to the handset?"

    "They do have a Green Lantern, but he's insane."

    Bear frowns. "Would a world of cowards call a brave man insane?"

    "Yes, but I mean, the reason why he doesn't faint is because he hallucinates that there's no threat to him. He once beat a war fleet while firmly believing that the ships were some sort of biting fly."

    B'dg narrows his eyes at me. "Get out."

    "The Sector's other Lantern is a hypochondriac, but he's otherwise rational."

    "And how do you know that?"

    I shrug. "My homeworld has two actively serving Honour Guard Green Lanterns and sometimes they share personnel files."

    Or more honestly, Guy likes to bad mouth his more useless colleagues.

    Vykin turns to Dreamer. "Dreamer, can you feel where the image we saw occurred?"

    She looks around somewhat blankly, before shaking her head.

    Hm. Okay.

    I turn up my empathic vision, the world of light fading away and being replaced by the colours of sentiment. The fear of the locals is omnipresent, but not actually all that strong. They're used to their own fear response, and know that a lot of the things that trigger it aren't actually all that dangerous. They've all fallen down -Perdoo aside- and they've all gotten back up again. They're not afraid of fear, but they are afraid of not feeling fear.

    Why?

    Connect to a medical database…

    Ah, that makes sense. Certain types of serious injury turn the fear response off. If they're not afraid, they're in a great deal of trouble.

    Why would Ub'x come here?

    Their technology is interesting in how unconsciousness-friendly it is. Their social organisation is peacefully unified, because anything else was just impractical. They have no interest at all in travelling in space and are generally unambitious, because anything else is just impractical. Their music is… Very soothing, actually.

    Moonrider looks at me. "Did you hear something?"

    "Just trying to work out why Ub'x came here. Or… Wherever, if not here. Then I got the Wiki disease and started following links. Can you imagine what music a people like this would create?"

    "Something which could not possibly cause alarm."

    "Yes. I'm going to see if I can buy an export licence for their musical catalogue."

    "Why?"

    "After being Anti-Lifed, I suspect that my homeworld could do with some soothing music. Anyway, I've got no idea why Ub'x would be here. Indigo Lanterns tend to recruit people who are pretty darn evil, but these people couldn't do evil if they wanted to."

    "Perhaps one of them wanted to be able to do evil very much."

    "Maybe. What's with the staff?"

    He hesitates, then raises it a little. "I am usually incisive. The Source granted me the power to control lightning, but it's.. not.. just.. lightning. It's focus and certainty. I never hesitated and I never doubted before.. we were taken to Apokolips. I made this staff-" He looks at it for a moment. "-because I will not let my weakness prevent me from fighting. But…"

    "You don't sound incisive."

    "I am not. Being incisive resulted in us being imprisoned on Apokolips. It resulted in Infinity Man being turned into that abomination. I can't trust my own judgements, so I hesitate. But if I don't hesitate, something like that could happen again."

    Vykin is looking at Moonrider, a guilty expression on his face. I suppose that when a man whose whole thing is being incisive lets you decide on tactics, it's a blow when they can't trust themselves any more because that means that by extension they can't trust you either.

    "And I'm afraid that you telling me that that's just how things are sometimes won't help."

    "Then I suppose that it's the difference between knowing that you don't know what the right thing to do is, and knowing when you do know what the right thing to do is."

    "I don't think that I understand."

    "All the wars I've started, and I honestly couldn't tell you whether any particular one was right or not." I shrug. "I know that the people I and others on my behalf fought were very bad people. I know that them being gone or at least forcibly reformed makes the universe a better place. But I'll go to my grave-" Again. "-not knowing for certain whether I did it in the best way I could. If there was another approach I could have taken. Because a lot of people who would have lived have died because I made the choices that I did."

    "I thought that you did things because you wanted to."

    "No, that's entry level stuff. I pursue ends because I want to achieve them. But that doesn't mean that I magically know what the best way to reach that end is. And I have to go for it anyway, and if I'm wrong… Try to fix what I broke, because-."

    "That's how life is. As you told Dreamer."

    "Yeah. I'm afraid that you are going to make the wrong decisions sometimes, or get put in a place where there's only a 'least bad' decision and no way to tell which one it is. But getting paralysed with indecision is worse, because it guarantees that whoever you're supposed to be fighting can do whatever they want."

    "I see."

    "Did that help?"

    "I don't know. I suppose I'll find out next time I have to make a decision."
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2023
  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Late Summer, IC 687
    21st August 2015
    10:57 Japan Time


    How fascinating. A world without superheroes, but where the film of the material is still sufficiently flexible to allow a gate to open between here and there. Unfortunate that my knowledge of magic is insufficient to determine what exactly that means. Could people on this side perform magic within the rules of their own parallel? Could they perform magic using the rules of 'my' side to perform magic while the conjunction holds true? I don't have full power ring powers, so I'm tentatively assuming not, but…

    "You think your god is in that ring?"

    One of the soldiers escorting us gives Diabo a slightly puzzled look. With the Japanese Self Defence Force bottled up on Alnus Hill, they haven't had a great deal of contact with Sandera's magic. Wyverns, pigmen and trolls might be dismissed as alien creatures, but an intelligent creature living in a ring is still a bit of a stretch.

    "No, of course not." Diabo shakes his head as we walk towards the room where we will be harangued by Japanese parliamentarians. "This ring is just a tool which the God of Avarice uses to speak to me. Otherwise, I would have to go to his shrine to talk to him, or he would have to take a host."

    "Oh?" The lieutenant in charge of our detail mugs gormlessly. "And what's he saying now?"

    "I'm rather puzzled. Japan has poor soil and for a long time had nutritionally poor crops like rice. Humans from Japan have evolved so that you starve more slowly than humans from other parts of your world. Your natural body shape is slender because your blood never learned to deal with an excess of fat. In addition, you are soldiers, an occupation that requires a great amount of physical exercise. You eat a great deal of food and use it all to make muscle."

    "Ah… I guess..?"

    We continue down the corridor a short distance, and I can see Diabo try and work out where I'm going with this. Frankly, it's pretty obvious that these soldiers were chosen to escort us because, firstly, they don't know anything sensitive, and because they aren't exactly hard cases. They'll be pumped for information later by actual intelligence specialists, but I'm pretty sure that they are supposed to be friendly. Put us off guard.

    The lieutenant in charge is either a complete goob or the best actor I have ever seen. And from what I can see of his desires, I'm pretty sure that he's not acting.

    Anyway, those intelligence specialists will now know that I -and presumably the Empire- know enough about Japan to comment on the soil quality and history of farming. About genetics. And I want to get them in a relaxed and friendly frame of mind, too. Not because I want to influence policy or discover military secrets, but because I still don't know why an early-21st century Japan is acting this out of character. Why are they being so assertive? Where are the Americans? If I don't know that, then I can't advise Diabo how to prevent further hostilities.

    "So what's up with Sergeant Tits?"

    "*GH!"

    She stares at the ring, then at Diabo, who sees at rage-filled expression on her face even as he tries covering the ring with his right hand.

    "What exactly do you mean-?"

    Diabo takes a step back. "It wasn't me!"

    "I mean, serious, look at them. I'm not reading any silicon in my scans. That's all natural."

    The lieutenant looks slightly amused, an expression he gets under control about half a second before the sergeant shifts her glare to him.

    "Did you inherit tits from a non-Japanese ancestor? American? Dutch? Is there some secret monastery somewhere where Japanese women can apprentice themselves to learn the Secret of Tits? Do they all blow up like a pair of balloons when they achieve mastery?"

    One of the other soldiers lets out a choke-laugh, which he rapidly turns into a cough when the sergeant directs her ire his way.

    Diabo jerks his left hand up to his mouth.

    "What are you doing?"

    "I'm trying to appear like a crass buffoon so that they'll underestimate me. Also, the lieutenant is a fan of a particular form of Japanese story-telling where such behaviour is a trope and so this fits with his expectations."

    "That-. Okay, but could you tone it down a little? I don't want that gladiatrix to murder me in my sleep."

    "As you wish. Well done on becoming more assertive."

    Our party rounds the corner to whatever meeting room this is. Diabo drops his hands and schools his face immediately, while the escort detail takes a few moments to sort themselves out. I suspect that they've also brought one or two other Sanderans and kept them separate from us, because there's no way that anyone on the Japanese side knows enough about the structure of the Empire to advise them. It would be simple enough to detect them, but that's something that he and I can talk about later. When we're a little more alone. They should have prisoners from the initial invasion, but I'm not sure whether they'd be able to speak with them or not. The Sanderan language sounds like Latin, but I'm sure there's more to it than that.

    The lieutenant walks ahead and speaks to the man guarding the door, and I feel myself glowing as Diabo reflexively checks for weapons. The answer is 'yes', but-.

    "Excuse me, your highness." One of the privates steps up to us. "You said that your god isn't in the ring. So does the god just use it like a radio?"

    "Honestly, I don't completely understand it myself. But it's more like the ring is his window on the world. He can see and hear everything that happens around it, but I don't think that he's really 'here' like you and I are."

    "If I was actually here, Sergeant Tits wouldn't know what hit-!"

    Diabo shoves me into his pocket, and I make the appropriate 'muffled protest' noises.

    The private looks at the pocket for a moment. "So this is the God of Avarice."

    "Okay, they're ready for us."

    The lieutenant waves Diabo forward as the door guard opens the door, numerous cameras pointing at it. Diabo does another scan, and the ring's sensors and database explain what he's seeing. It's a little strange that despite my current connection I'm actually far more disconnected from the ring's systems than I was when I wore it. It is nice to have access to digital clocks again, though. Maybe I should see if they'll sell us an atomic clock? No, something that will calibrate itself based on local daylight hours would be better, as I doubt that our world has a 24-hour day.

    Diabo walks confidently into the…. That's a little bigger than I was expecting for an interview, with a lot more journalists. He slows slightly as it's not entirely obvious where he's supposed to be sitting, but one of the ushers does a shallow bow and gestures to a witness box near the door. Diabo walks towards it without making eye contact with any of the people who will be conducting the inquisition. I think I remember something about Japanese emperors speaking to people from behind a curtain to preserve their mystique? Behaving in an imperious manner might help trigger an ancestral memory of that sort of interaction, or it might just make him seem confident.

    The people lined up to ask question are mostly politicians, but there are a couple of military officers as well. At the moment there's no actual fighting going on, but the Japanese are dug in around the gate and the Imperial Legions and tributary armies are dug in next to the major roads. There's not a lot that they could do to stop the Japanese if they actually decided to advance, but there's nothing that the Japanese could do to stop a moderately competent Lantern. If the Japanese try something while we're here in Japan, we're in a far better position to cause damage than they are.

    "Diabo El Caesar." A portly minister from the Defence Ministry takes the microphone. "What do you have to say for the crimes the Sanderan Empire has committed against Japan?"

    Diabo looks at him contemptuously.

    "I am Prince Diabo El Caesar. You will address me as such, or I will return to my homeland until your Emperor can receive me in person. I tolerate lesser officials in the name of peace, but I will not be disrespected by a plebeian."

    What a marvellous shade of red he's turned. This should be amusing.
     
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2023
  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st August 2015
    11:05 Japan Time


    "…unprovoked attack on innocent Japanese citizens?!"

    Without prompting I relay my impression that the outrage and anger is purely performative. Interesting that my empathic awareness continues to work in this form. Prince Diabo makes a show of disinterest, but I can feel the effort he's making to continue appearing so outwardly calm.

    "It was because we wished to invade your country and either conquer it outright or acquire enough slaves and other valuables to return a profit."

    A few, a very few, expressions of surprise. A couple of journalists who seem to be genuinely horrified, but for the most part there are only so many ways you can shade something like that.

    "And how can you justify that?"

    Diabo shrugs. "I don't. The decision was made by the Senate and my Imperial father."

    "I don't mean the decision. I mean the morality of invading another country to take from them?"

    "How did men of your grandfather's generation justify lining up Chinese prisoners and then racing to see who could decapitate a hundred the fastest?"

    A couple of intakes of breath, but I suspect that it's because they didn't expect him to know about that rather than shock about being called out on it. It's a little… Historical anomaly, the divergent ways that Germany and Japan were treated after World War Two. Germans who were involved even tangentially in their atrocities were still pursued seventy years later, whereas for Japan they barely bothered and the Prime Minister annually visits a shrine to commemorate them.

    "Japan's history is not at issue here!"

    "It is if you wish to accuse the Sanderan Empire of being evil. When in fact your great grandparents would have found what we did perfectly normal, and your grandparents would think we were soft."

    Ah, he's given up on willpower and is now using the ring to force his body to stay calm. In his place I'd probably have started with that, but I can't criticise him for becoming more determined.

    "Do you feel no guilt at all for abducting our people?!"

    Diabo sits up slightly. "Is that what you want?"

    "What?"

    "This is a peace negotiation, yet all you've done is harangue me. That's the first thing that you've said that tells me anything about what you actually want from this discussion. Is the return of enslaved Japanese citizens one of your requirements?"

    "Yes, of course it is!"

    "Very well. That can be arranged. Naturally, we would want the surviving Sanderan soldiers returned as well."

    It would be difficult, of course. Unique-looking slaves from new territories are usually more valuable than local ones. Japanese slaves will have vaccinations against common Sanderan diseases and be far less psychologically resilient than slaves taken locally, and the Japanese are expecting the Sanderan Empire to create artificial scarcity. We could probably get the ones in the capital easily enough, and Senators would probably trade fancy slaves for imprisoned relatives without too much issue… I can find the rest, but neither the Japanese or the Sanderan slave traders know that.

    The Japanese official clearly isn't happy about Diabo saying that as if it's an equal exchange, but after a quick mutter with his aides he appears to decide to let it go.

    "And in compensation for your attack, we-."

    "Hah!" Diabo allows his composure to break for a moment, then becalms himself and raises his right hand. "I apologise."

    "Do defeated nations not pay tribute to the nations who defeat them on your world?"

    "At best, but I don't understand what you think we can pay you. Between the failed invasion and the deaths of so many Sanderan men, ready funds are in short supply. I imagine that many fields will be left fallow for lack of men to work them. But more fundamentally, what do you think we can make for you that you cannot make for yourself far more cheaply?"

    "We.. are willing to accept payment in kind, or rights to extract minerals from your land."

    "How could that possibly work?" Diabo shakes his head. "If you found… Iron, or some other metal, how are you planning on transporting it back to the gate? And in quantity? We take pride in our roads, but compared to what I saw on my journey here they're barbarian mud trails. It would take an entire legion of five thousand men working perfectly together to make five miles of road in a day, and our roads are built for horses and carts, not your larger and heavier machines. And if you managed to transport your spoils to the gate, how are you planning on moving it through the middle of your greatest city to your foundries? Will you just demolish the centre of your city, to turn it into a great warehouse?"

    A depressing number of suddenly thoughtful expressions suggest to me that they hadn't considered that.

    "What about magic?"

    Diabo snorts. "Did you see the magical armour that the legate who led the attack wore, that made him immune to your bullets? The magical sword that let him cut through your armoured machines? No? That's because they don't exist. Magicians can do amazing things… For themselves. If they could do useful things like make fields more fruitful then we would use them for that ourselves. I can only do what I do because I have a god helping me, and if you want an Apostle you can talk to them yourself."

    The wind has rather departed the minister's sails.

    "And then there is the threat of disease. Our peoples are strange to each other. Your medicine is more sophisticated than ours, but do you know that you have cures for the diseases we consider normal? We certainly have no medicine to cure your diseases. My Imperial father is already planning for our central farmland to suffer from an outbreak of plagues brought by your soldiers."

    "You're refusing to compensate us?"

    "I simply suggest that you be realistic about what a society like ours can offer one as prosperous as yours. If you want a chest or two of gold or jewels, I can arrange that the day a treaty is signed. If you want more than that, we simply don't have it. We don't have your machinery. Most of our people are farmers, and most of the rest are skilled manual labourers of other sorts. Carpenters. Blacksmiths. Thatchers. Millers." He shrugs. "If you want an annual tribute in coarsely milled flour, that would be a simple matter as it is grown close to the gate. Are you short on flour?"

    I believe that wheat flour would be an improvement on rice flour, nutritionally speaking.

    "No, we-."

    "And then you have to take into account how long the gate will remain open."

    The face of one of the military officers whitens and he stands up, making his way to the podium. The minister pulls back to allow him to use it.

    "What do you mean?"

    "The gates are opened by the gods. We have no control over them. My own ancestors came through a similar gate many centuries ago, and that gate shut many centuries ago. We have no way to close it, because if we did we would close it now. And we have no way to keep it open. Except for prayer. So if you were planning on building a foundry on our side… You can, of course, but you won't be able to gain any benefit from it once the gate closes."

    "How long do they stay open for?"

    Diabo shrugs. "The gods open them for their own reasons."

    Prince Diabo, may I speak?

    He looks uncomfortable, and then raises his left hand up.

    "My fellow gods open-" There are quite a few wary looks. Obviously magical jewellery can do that in a purely technological civilisation. "-gates to amuse themselves when things in Sandera become stagnant and boring to them. Once it is clear that no further war will be happening, they will close it quickly, and keep your soldiers behind to see what they do. The other gods do not like the idea of human technological progress. I imagine that without logistical support their weapons will fail them fairly quickly, whereas allowing you to build production facilities to support an occupation locally would risk that technological stasis. Already, exposure to your machines is causing the educated in the Sanderan Empire to consider new approaches to war and artifice."

    The officer stares into space, working things through in his head.

    "How much warning would there be?"

    Diabo shrugs languidly. "How much did you get when it opened?"

    He looks to the minister and leans closer to whisper to him.

    "Minister, we need to consider an evacuation."
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2023
  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    18:52 GMT -5


    "Wait."

    Dreamer perks up, looking around with renewed interest.

    "I think… I can feel something." "Show me the dreams of compassion."

    Ring, any ideas?

    Possible matches found.

    Could just fly there, but from the look on Dreamer's face she's trying to do something difficult with her power. A delay of a few minutes is worth it if it gets her confidence-

    A phantasmal image of Lantern Ub'x appears a short distance above us and then flies… In the direction of one of the points suggested by my ring. Vykin accelerates the Forevercar after it, and Lightray, B'dg and I fly after them.

    -back, so I'll let her take the initiative.

    The Ub'x illusion, is…

    "Dreamer, your illusions. How reliable is it for accurately recording facial expressions?"

    "That depends. If I use it to show something someone did, it will be accurate. If I try to use it to find out what they were thinking or saying, it's more… Representational."

    The Ub'x illusion turns to look down at us. "This doesn't have anything to do with you, Orange Lantern."

    "I know, I just want to talk to you." I frown. "Wait, can he-?"

    "And I don't want to talk to you. Not yet, at least."

    "We've already spoken. On board.. Ranx… Dreamer, is this impression based on what he was when he was here?"

    "Yes. If he was here before he met you, it won't be able to tell you anything about your meeting."

    "Thank you. Okay, Doctor Ub'x, why don't you want to meet me?"

    "I don’t want to be involved with either the Guardians or the Controllers. Not… Yet."

    "Then you probably shouldn't have picked up a power ring."

    "No one owns a universal emotion."

    "No, but the Guardians have mostly done a good job as regulators of certain forms of technology. You -on the other hand- come with certain baggage."

    "Do you know how many species the people of Maltus have destroyed?"

    "My species exists today because they destroyed the Burning Martians, so I'm probably the wrong person to use that explanation on."

    "Their judgement is impacted by their lack of contact with other emotions."

    "Our judgement is impacted by our contact with other emotions. If someone has to make decisions affecting the entire universe, being completely impartial about it is-. Why am I arguing this with you, you're not actually here."

    "Empathy. I'd be interested to learn that you still do things like that."

    "I assure you that you weren't."

    "I can't just drop everything to pay attention to you, you know."

    "Why not? I'm the most important thing in the universe."

    Ub'x gives me a funny look. The problem is that since he's an unusually vertical beaver it makes me want to scratch him under the chin, rather than reconsider what I just said.

    And I think he realises-. Or Dreamer realises, or something like that. In any case, he looks away from me.

    "Lantern B'dg, please stop."

    "No. We need to know what you're doing. They've tried to convince me not to arrest you, but I want to make certain that you're reformed for myself."

    "You won't find me. I'm undetectable. And even if you did, I'm pretty good as a Lantern, and I can teleport."

    "Me too. Look, do you know what the Anti-Life is?"

    "No. No, I can't say that I do."

    "Well, it's-. It's really bad. I just want you to spend a few minutes on my homeworld, and then you can go and do whatever you want."

    "To… Get rid of this 'anti-life'?"

    "Yes."

    "No."

    "Why no?"

    "Is your world worth the entire universe? Objectively?"

    "Y-. N-. Yes, for… Reasons you might know if you spoke to a maltusian."

    Lightray looks at me askance. "I'm not aware of any reason to treat your world like that."

    "Have you recently spoken to a maltusian?"

    He smiles ruefully. "I suppose not."

    "Well, there you go, then. Try asking Metron next time he appears."

    He look away. "I don't want to know that badly."

    The Ub'x illusion shakes his head. "I suppose I can't stop you if you're determined."

    "You can't."

    "And I can't stop you learning what I did here."

    "You could just point us towards a different Indigo Lantern. It's not as if I need you specifically."

    He frowns. "Other-?"

    The images fades as the Forevercar slows to a halt. Yes, this… Does look like what the vision showed. "Dreamer, can-?"

    Dreamer glares at me. "You pushed that recreation too hard. It isn't a person, just an echo of one. If you do that, it will fail and I won't be able to call it back."

    "Oh. Um. So you..? Can't get whoever it was that Ub'x was talking to?"

    The car lands and she walks towards the site of their meeting. "I should be able to recreate the meeting. And just that. And I should be able to summon whoever he met. But that is all."

    I smile at her. "Then that's what we do."
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2023
  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    18:56 GMT -5


    Unsurprisingly, the illusionary Ub'x is shown standing next to an unconscious native. Ub'x appears to be taking the opportunity to file his teeth. I hadn't realised that was something that he needed to do. I sort of assumed that at some point in his species' development, as they stopped needing to spend so much time gnawing on wood, evolution would have led to a gradual slowing of the growth of their teeth. But I guess not.

    There's a… Subtle twitch from the native, but Ub'x doesn't respond to it.

    Dreamer makes eye contact with me. "That was for our benefit. She did not actually twitch."

    "So she became conscious, but hid it. That's uncharacteristic of her species."

    Ub'x touches the cutting edge of his teeth, and realises… Something. Ah, he's decided that they were too sharp, and is filing the edge flatter.

    Another twitch, and-.

    The native very weakly throws a small stone in Ub'x's direction. It falls well short, and bounces once with a feeble 'clack' before coming to rest.

    Ub'x looks at where they landed, then returns to his filing.

    The native appears to have lost consciousness-. Wait. There really was a native who wanted to be evil but couldn't?

    "That wouldn't even scare off one of your species. Oh, no. You're unconscious again. I suppose that was more effort than most of your species would have made."

    He puts his tooth file away and watches the native, patiently waiting for-. Her eyes open very slightly and she tries to subtly take in her environment.

    "Hello, Paldak. I mean you-. No, you're gone again."

    Serifan looks at Dreamer. "Can you speed this up any?"

    Paldak's eyes open again, and make contact with Ub'x's. "What do you want with us, weird mould-covered alien?

    "I-. What? No, this isn't mould, it's fur."

    "What's that?"

    Ring, quick scan-? Ah. No, no species on this planet has fur. Symbiotic mould is indeed the closest they have, and that's an insect-analogue only thing.

    "It's made of the same material as…" The locals don’t have nails, due to the obvious risk of a species like that having anything vaguely sharp anywhere on their bodies. "It's made of keratin, which-."

    "I know what keratin is. Why is it growing all over you?"

    "My species evolved it for insulation and water-proofing. That was nearly a confrontational statement."

    "If I faint three times in succession, it takes a little more to trigger the response again. Not much more though. Hang-. Hang on."

    She goes limp.

    "Hm." Ub'x considers her for a moment, then waves his hand.

    She immediately jerks awake. "Whatwhatwhat?"

    "I could see this wasn't getting anywhere. Why did you try and 'attack' me?"

    "Because you're a weird alien who kidnapped me! And I-! How am I still upright?"

    "I suppressed your natural inclination to-."

    "I will do anything for you if you make this permanent."

    "Ah. That makes this a little easier. How would you like the ability to make it permanent yourself?"

    "Yes. My own body is the one enemy I can't beat! If I can stay awake, I can do anything!"

    "And do what?"

    "Anything! I've never been this excited before! It's amazing!"

    Ub'x looks a little uncomfortable as Paldak scurries up to him and pushes her face into his.

    "Doitdoitdoit-."

    Ub'x taps her on the shoulder and she collapses.

    "That's about enough of that. But that was definitely consent." He waves his staff-.

    The image stops moving, and Dreamer steps closer.

    "They left after that. He is recruiting."

    I nod. "Maybe he just doesn't want to talk to me until he's got a Corps to back him up? Can you tell if he came here after he visited New Berrith or before?"

    "It feels… I think before? But… Not by long."

    "Can you tell if Paldak is still alive?"

    Serifan snorts. "Or more importantly, where she's still alive."

    "If she died, it was not on this world. And no."

    "Indigo Lanterns are hard to track. That's not surprising."

    Ring, any monitoring..? No, of course not: none of them could watch it. There are some missing person posters, which is a nice touch. And means that she hasn't been back.

    Given what happened to Huyen, that's not particularly hopeful.

    Vykin considers the scene. "We could attempt to speak with the locals. That would give us the time of her departure."

    Serifan shakes his head. "They can teleport anywhere. It ain't like we can track his trail."

    Bear frowns thoughtfully. "Do her people have an enemy?"

    B'dg nods. "No, but the statejians are the most aggressive species in this region. She would know about them. Do you think she picked a fight?"

    "I think fighting picked her. And if her body stopped holding her back, where else would she go?"

    Vykin nods. "Dreamer? Can you see any other destination?"

    "I…" She shakes her head. "No. I can't. Wherever he went, he wasn't thinking about it here."

    "Or it's blocked. In case it comes up, to the best of my knowledge the homeworld of the Indigo Lantern Corps is a place called Nok. No idea where it is, and my previous attempts to locate it haven't been successful."

    Vykin nods. "Then we go to the home of the statejian, and we ask politely if they have seen her."

    B'dg frowns. "I doubt they'll answer a polite question. They're pretty aggressive."

    "Perhaps. Or perhaps the violent parts of their species are what other people see, and on their home things will be different."

    Ah. I look at Lightray, but he doesn't seem bothered. Okay, well, their technology isn't anything special. I should be able to protect everyone. It-.

    BOOM!

    "Really, Serifan?"

    He grins impishly. "They've barely had time to get up. Let's go!"
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2023
  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    19:11 GMT -5


    Turns out? No. No, they don't see things differently when-

    The cruiser skimming the atmosphere above us opens fire with its ventral weapons, lasers turning the air to plasma which slams into my construct shield.

    Ah…

    -we visit them on their own planet.

    "Gentlemen and lady, I can keep this up indefinitely, but it's not doing the planet any good."

    Vykin looks at Lightray. "Will they keep shooting if we approach a settlement?"

    "Vykin, I've never been to this planet before or met these people."

    "Lantern B'dg, do your records give-?"

    "They're.. pretty much gunna-" He raises his right hand as if contemplating adding his own shield to mine, then decides against it. "-keep shooting until we're dead. On the plus side, their system defence ships aren't anything special. You could probably destroy them."

    "No." Bear looks decidedly truculent. "We burst into their home. They're scared. We're not killing anyone."

    "Aircraft incoming. Looks like troop carriers."

    Hang on. Ring, are the people in charge of those soldiers communicating with the ship?

    No direct communication detected.

    Is that because the air is too thoroughly ionised for anything to get through?

    Suggested explanation is plausible.

    The ships fire again and the area of energised air above expands.

    Knowing what I do about the history of this species, I'm not exactly going to be choked up if they get a few of their own soldiers killed due to stupidity. On the other hand, I doubt that it would help the Forever People's recovery if that actually happened.

    I think-.

    "They will die if they fly into that plasma cloud." Moonrider holds up his lightning gun thing, and then-. "That will not happen." The Lightning Will Be Earthed.

    Electrical energy leaps… Leaps through my construct and slamming into-. Into the ground right next to Moonrider! The ground explodes and knocks him flying, Bear diving to catch him before he lands. His armour is.. a bit singed, but-

    "Uh-hg."

    -he's alive at least. I take a purple healing ray out of subspace and shoot him with it. Bear twists his head around, clearly alarmed-.

    "It's a healing ray. Look at him."

    And I look at the sky. It's suddenly clear, and-

    Communication detected.

    -the soldiers can now talk to the ship, which… Yes, it isn't firing and my scan shows that the cruiser is closing its weapon port.

    "Mooney?" Bear looks down as his friend stirs. "Are you well?"

    He blinks, then manages to open his eyes. "Yes." "I felt like me again."

    "I'm giving you half marks, could do better. The aim is to earth the electricity into the ground, not into yourself."

    "I will remember that. What is this beam?"

    "A healing ray from Earth. Since you tried discharging a large plasma cloud into yourself."

    "I'm not-." He starts smiling. "I wasn't aiming at myself. I was trying to channel it into the ground. I am not fully recovered, but that was more than I have managed since our return."

    "Good for-" I switch from an overhead shield to a horizontal one as the incoming soldiers start firing. "-you."

    "This ray from Earth feels… Good. Usually alien healing devices don’t work well on New Gods."

    I frown. "How 'good' are we talking-?"

    "Please!" Vykin walks up to the inner surface of my shield construct, his hands raised. "We merely want to ask if you have seen someone we are trying to find! We have no interest in fighting you!"

    They respond by aiming at his face. He drops his hands, takes a deep breath, and waits for them to realise that it isn't going to work.

    Bear helps Moonrider back onto his feet and makes sure that he's capable of staying upright, and gets a grateful nod as Moonrider proves that he can.

    "Dreamer, I don't suppose you can… Get anything out of them like this, can you?"

    She looks at the advancing soldiers and shakes her head. "Too many people thinking about too many things."

    "Alright, I'll give it a go, then. Poke me if you need me."

    Serifan looks confused. "How're we supposed to poke you in all that armour?"

    But I'm already unfocusing, staring beyond the world. The desires of soldiers in combat are much the same from place to place, slanted by the fact that we're obviously not receiving damage or fighting back. Beyond that, I look for images of Ub'x or Paldak, anything they've done or anywhere they've been.

    I don't see anything. If she was here, it wasn't for long enough to cause any real fear or stimulate any strong desire. That doesn't mean that there wasn't some sort of bulletin or other news release. Or maybe their fleet engaging someone doesn't really count as 'news' to them.

    "No, nothing. Never mind."

    "…will die, alien!"

    Vykin shakes his head solemnly. "We have no interest in killing-"

    Two shots hit the construct shield in front of him at almost the exact same time. Then one of them throws a plasma grenade. It explodes, doing nothing.

    "-anyone."

    He half-turns back, looking for suggestions.

    "Have you considered paying them for information?"

    "We do not usually engage in.. commerce."

    "But you don't object to it?"

    He shakes his head, so I fly up to him. Ring, transmit on radio in addition to normal speech.

    Compliance.

    "We want information, and have refined-" I get two shots level with my faceplate. "-metal to trade." I extend my right hand and let a selection of gold and jewellery fall to the ground. "And then we'll get lost."

    No more shots. Good.

    "Have you-" Their leader appears to be counting down. "-seen a small-" They all fire at once, aiming at the centre of my mass and still not doing any visible damage to my construct. "-beaver or lizard with a power ring-?"

    Another unified shot. And then another. Honestly, their discipline and aim are really quite impressive. But this isn't getting us anywhere. Empathic vision.

    "Anyone feel like taking the deal? Anyone want a nice big bonus to their regular pay?"

    Flickers of orange-.

    I attach filaments to all but two of the soldiers and transition them halfway across the continent.

    "Right then." The two nervously lower their guns as I drop the construct barrier. "Let's try that again."
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2023
  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    19:15 GMT -5


    The two remaining soldiers very slowly move their guns out to the side, one hand around the barrel and nothing anywhere near the trigger.

    "Um…" The one on the left looks at the small pile of gold behind me. "You… Mentioned payment?"

    "Yes, we need some information and I'm hoping that you can provide it. Someone we wish-."

    "Dude." The second soldier glances at his financially-motivated colleague. "It's just like in War Fury."

    "Shut up."

    "I'm sorry? 'War Fury'?"

    "Yeah, it's a television series. Ah. Your species has those, right?"

    I consider the state of television during the current Anti-Life infestation, where Batman authorised the use of worldwide jammers to prevent it being a transmission vector.

    "Not… Right now, but I know what you mean. So… What..? Happens in War Fury?"

    "There's this guy-. One of my species? Some stuff happens, and he gets recruited to fight for this alien warlord, wins a ton of battles, and… Ah… Meets a bunch of alien women." He glances at Dreamer. "Hot ones. Not like-. I mean, I'm sure she's-. You? Are very attractive by your species' standards-."

    "I… Get the idea. And that's something that you want to do?"

    "S-?" First soldier looks shocked. "Seriously?"

    "I mean, I can't recruit you right now, but the alliance I'm part of is fighting the largest empire in this galaxy, and we can always use… Are you infantry, or do you have specialised skills?"

    Second soldier looks like he's having about a decade's worth of birthdays at once. "We're trained as marines. You know, landing and boarding operations… But we're always eager to learn new skills!"

    "Okay. Well, once this trip is over, I can get a L.E.G.I.O.N. recruitment flotilla sent this way. Might take a little while to get here, but it's not really a problem for me. I doubt that you'll answer to Supreme Commander Dox personally for a very long time, and… You'll have to work out the attractive females thing yourself-"

    "No problem!"

    "-but that can happen."

    First soldier isn't anything like as excited. "I'd… Rather have cash. I'll probably join up if they actually turn up, but I don't know you."

    "Perfectly reasonable concern."

    I use a construct to pick up the valuables, split the piles in half and proffer a half-pile to each of them.

    "No point trying to fight you." First soldier shrugs. "It was pretty obvious that we weren't doing anything against your force field."

    The soldiers take the opportunity to squirrel their bribe money away in various parts of their armour.

    Vykin nods. "I understand. We mean no slight on your honour."

    "Honour? No, it's just dumb to keep attacking someone you can't hurt. I hate getting dumb orders."

    T.V. enthusiast nods companionably, while the other decides to try hiding a ruby in his stock in place of one of his spare power cells. After checking that it fits, he looks up. "What did you want to know?"

    Dreamer waves her right hand, and images of Ub'x and Peldak appear just in front of them. "Do you know these people?"

    "The one with the head fronds… That's from Qualar IV, yeah?" She nods. "Don’t they fall over if you look at them funny?"

    "This one would be different."

    The two of them peer at the images for a few moments, before performing a negative gesture. The ruby-squirreler also makes a gesture of appeal. "Is there anything else we might know them by?"

    "Indigo force fields, like the force fields Lanterns use."

    The two of them twitch, then make an affirmative gesture. Squirreler raises the screen mounted on his right arm. "Display attack on dockyard eight, highlights."

    A fairly standard docking cradle network with central hub design. A few unique touches, but for the most part there are only so many ways to make a space dock that make sense. Form comes from function almost exclusively.

    An indigo speck appears, slamming into the force field protecting the important military asset. Defence turrets deploy and open fire a moment later, the indigo blur ducking and dodging as they evade.

    I narrow my eyes. The constructs look-.

    "Bad constructs." B'dg floats next to my head. "She's not channelling compassion well. She's just fighting because she wants to."

    I nod. "And she's not even denting those shields."

    Squirreler indicates a negative. "Our shields are tuned to block constructs."

    "Really?" I frown. "No offence intended to your engineers, but specific construct-blockers are usually something species a good deal more advanced than yours start developing."

    "Oh, yeah, yeah, don't worry. We bought the design from these bald guys with bug-eye cybernetics years ago."

    "Qwardians." I generate a construct image of Varnathon. "Like this?"

    T.V. addict makes another affirmative gesture. "He said… He said they… Ah… Were releasing their previous-generation shield designs for export because… They were upgrading their own fleet."

    Squirreler points to his computer screen. "See, this is where it-."

    Peldak stops moving, the point defences shooting holes in her construct shield as whatever camera was recording this zooms in. She trembles-.

    Her construct barrier turns green, patching its holes as light surges along its surface. Now the point defence shots are being absorbed or deflected, and she looks decidedly satisfied with that eventuality.

    B'dg frowns. "Huh. Did you know they could do that?"

    "I wasn't sure."

    That covers her defence, but her energy bolts still aren't penetrating the shield. Finally she moves on to trying a… Denture construct? And she's clearly making an effort -I can see the shield being stressed- but it doesn't go through. She pulls back and flies away.

    "Okay, we-."

    "It hasn't finished."

    The camera angle changes to an external facing, zooms in on-. She's grabbed a wreck with a construct tether and is accelerating towards the dock. This time secondary batteries open fire, striking the wreck and punching through-.

    Most ship-scale weapons are designed to mission-kill ships, not completely disintegrate them. Peldak is a small and agile target, her tether isn't much bigger and while the ship is taking holes it isn't breaking apart. The accurate but unfocused fire continues for several seconds before someone gets the gunnery under orders and they target… The bow of the ship, where the construct tether is attached.

    They hit, so Peldak… Flies around behind the wreck and starts pushing it.

    It gets closer, weapons continuing to fire.

    Closer. It's taking some damage, but it's got enough momentum at this point that it doesn't matter.

    Closer.

    Closer-.

    It slams into the shields and shatters, achieving nothing.

    "Yeah, she basically vanished after that. No further sightings."

    "Thank you. We can follow up on that in orbit."
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2023
  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    19:23 GMT -5


    The blue-furred man looks at me sceptically. "The biggest empire in the galaxy?"

    Behind me, I hear Serifan's complaints muffled by Bear's hands.

    "Yes indeed. The Reach have been very successful, expanding over the centuries. Sending you a map now."

    He looks away from the camera, presumably at a second screen. "Huh. Doesn't look that big."

    "On a map of the galaxy the size of-" Quick scan. "-the screen you're looking at, you can actually see it. No other empire covers that much area. It incorporates hundreds of worlds, habitable worlds with breathable atmospheres, not worlds total. Probably the most powerful fleet in the galaxy in conventional terms."

    "How 'conventional'?"

    "New God ships have more advanced weapons and shields, but are far less numerous. Qward, the Dominion… They might have ships that are more advanced in one or two areas. I don't know what would happen if a Qwardian fleet with qwa-energy weapons fought the Reach fleet. But in terms of power projection, numbers and general technological might, theirs is the overall best."

    "And you want us to fight?"

    I shrug. "I don't have a strong feeling either way. Will you slow us down?"

    He bears his teeth. "Is that you and your weird flying car in front of my weapon batteries?"

    I shrug. "Shoot it. It's not my car."

    "HAH!"

    Moonrider frowns at me. "Please don't tell him to shoot the Whiz Wagon."

    "I promise you that I will never tell him to do that." I return my attention to the dock commander. "So do we have an agreement?"

    "Any Lanterns in this war?"

    "Yes, but they'll be on your side. You can even suggest people for us to recruit into the Corps."

    "Ah, my gonads are quivering in anticipation! A war, a grand war! What's the prize?"

    "We pay in raw materials, technology and colonisation rights. You'll have to negotiate once you get there."

    "Sold! Scan for your weird lizard Lantern all you want. I've got a war to prepare for!"

    The screen winks out.

    Honestly, I'm a little surprised by how eager for a fight these people are. I know that 2814 is actually pretty peaceful due to The Traitor killing everyone capable of making a nuisance of themselves… Not his specific intent, obviously, just the result of killing everyone who got his attention. But the idea that a whole species would go 'you got a war, gimme gimme gimme' is something I can't help but find odd.

    The Forevercar flies towards the dock which Peldak failed to attack, Bear releasing the irritated-looking Serifan from his friendly but firm grip.

    "That was rude, Bear." Discordant Chimes.

    "You know why I did it." His eyes flick my way for a moment as the Forevercar comes to a halt at Dreamer's gesture. "Lantern, can we talk?"

    "Yes."

    "I… Somewhere…" He looks at the image of Peldak Dreamer has conjured. "They don't need me for this. Or you."

    "Ah. Yes." I tether him with a construct and float him out of his seat. "We'll be back shortly."

    Moonrider nods as I fly Bear around the dock into an empty cradle, a location with no lines of sight to his friends or any windows.

    "So. What do you need?"

    "I thought we might need to fight. You asked them to fight, but for you, not against you."

    "It's a convergence of interests. They're a nuisance here, but they'll be useful in the periphery. They like fighting."

    He nods distractedly. "I'm good at fighting. But I've never liked it. Highfather taught us that it takes a stronger person not to fight, but… Uh. It seems to me that if you're strong enough, you don't need to. If the person you want to stop doesn't think they can beat you, and you don't want to fight them, then you can talk things out. Once we were attacked by a group of Apokoliptian Lowlies and I was strong enough to grapple them and hold them until they tired themselves out. None of us were hurt, and they only had a few bruises. If I hadn't been strong -really strong- then I couldn't have done that."

    "Then I must ask your forgiveness, because I'd sort of gotten the impression that you left that sort of thing to Infinity Man."

    "Sometimes we call Infinity Man because we aren't strong enough to fight and we need to. But he isn't good at talking. And he's terrifying. If we call him, no one will talk to us. We can't solve problems like that."

    I nod. "What happened to the Lowlies?"

    "They thought that we were of Apokolips. When we showed them that we were not, they were happy to see us. We spent a few days helping them build their village." He smiles faintly. "It was a good day."

    I'd like to ask about Drax. But… Not the time.

    "What did the Anti-Life say to you?"

    "It wasn't anything I hadn't heard before. It was what-."

    He looks away.

    "Bear, I want to help. The Anti-Life only has the control you give it. It can make you think some fairly disturbing things, but once-."

    "They found them. They found… The Lowlies we helped. They… The Anti-Life said… Things to me, and they put me in one of-of…"

    He looks away, raising his right hand to cover his face.

    "They have arenas, where warriors kill one another for the Elite's entertainment. They made me think… And I killed them. I tore them apart. With my bare hands. It wasn't even a fight, they were just…"

    I gently lay my right hand on his shoulder.

    "And if you'd been weaker, you wouldn't have been able to kill them."

    "Yes." He slides his hand to the side so that it's only covering half his face, and what I can see is a picture of misery. "Yes."

    "That's what the Anti-Life does. Everything that is proud and noble and worth something is undermined and flipped on its head. It… Wouldn't be evil if it wasn't evil. There is no greater purpose in the suffering he causes, other than satisfying him. If it helps, the fact that you can still feel bad about it is something to be proud of. Because he wasn't trying to leave you with that capacity. He wants you to think that sort of thing is normal. Or to think you shouldn't have helped those people in the first place."

    "We shouldn't have gone there. If-."

    "You're not responsible for Darkseid being evil, Bear. He was like that a long time before you were born. Pointless suffering is what he does, and the best you can do is mourn and then do what you can to prevent it happening to anyone else."

    "But what if I can't?"

    "Then you find someone who can and you make sure they've got the tools they need. But I wouldn't count yourself out just yet."
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2023
  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    19:27 GMT -5


    I open my mouth, then close it again as Moonrider shakes his head at me.

    The illusory image of Peldak floats in space in front of Dreamer, staring at her. For her species that's not a sign of aggression: they don't have any psychological mechanisms relating to their ability to threaten each other because they can't threaten each other.

    "Why did you attack this shipyard?"

    "Because it was there. They use it for making warships. If they can't make warships then they're not a problem for anyone else."

    "Why wasn't Doctor Ub'x with you?"

    "Because he had other things to do and thought it was foolish." Her fronds twitch. "And he was right. I should have practiced first; I was too overjoyed at being able to do anything to think about what I should do."

    "Where did you go afterwards?"

    "What's it to you?"

    "We need to speak with you, to get your help with something that needs an Indigo Lantern. Either you or Ub'x or anyone else he has recruited would be fine."

    "Why do you need one of us?"

    "One of our friends has gone mad with rage. The Orange Lanterns have told us that your ring can fix him."

    "Um. Maybe. You would have to ask Ub'x or-."

    The illusion wavers for a moment, causing Dreamer to gasp and grasp her head with her right hand.

    "Lantern Peldak, where did you go after leaving here?"

    "I just flew to the next system over so I could practice some. I didn't have anywhere else in mind." She twitches and fades. "I should work on that…"

    And gone. I'd ask Dreamer how she is, but Vykin and Moonrider are checking her over. Okay, next system is… Ah, two she could be talking about, one with three gas giants and the other with two. Some automated mining, but the local species haven't anything like mined out their own system yet and no one else wants to start working so close to them.

    "I'll take a look."

    Wanting to get better, stronger. Learning to focus emotions should disrupt the general feel of residual desires…

    I step out


    and reappear next to the upper level of a hydrogen siphon. I can see the damage where the main magnetic column has been repeatedly pierced, and the armour plates slowly drifting away where they've been torn off and the charred metal where the defence turrets were destroyed. Not a lot of defences on something like this. An attacker would almost certainly prefer to take it intact so that they could use it in its former owner's place, and not putting heavier defences in places helps keep the cost down.

    Hm.

    Looks like standard energy pulses, various strengths. I drift around to one that feels like desire, but I can't see anything that would mark this turret out as more or less significant than the others.

    How did she do that?

    I… Dimly remember Indigo Lanterns being able to use other colours in the comics, but knowing what I do now about power rings… That doesn't make sense. Power rings are connected to a single emotion by their very structure, and naturally crowd the others out. You could make a ring that linked to multiple colours, but it would tear itself apart the moment you felt more than one emotion about something. Compassion isn't… Special in that sense, and in any case Dreamer's dream image showed us the simple indigo ring that I expected.

    It should only work for compassion.

    But that's clearly not the case.

    BOOM!

    I drift away from the damaged siphon as the Forevercar flies in, followed by Lightray and B'dg-. I hope he's got permission to be out of his Sector. I'd hate to get him in trouble for helping me. Dreamer makes eye contact with me and I gesture to the siphon with my right arm…

    And look down at the swirling clouds of the gas giant below us, the siphon's funnel getting smaller and smaller before vanishing into invisibility well before is reaches the storm-wreathed atmosphere. It's… Actually beautiful.

    Once this whole mess with the Anti-Life is over, I'd… Actually quite like to do a little sightseeing. Hopefully without spending the whole time working like last time.

    I shake my head and fly back towards where Dreamer has summoned the local dream of Peldak. She's better able to interrogate it than I am, and I shouldn't just stick my oar in while she's getting reaccustomed to her own abilities. Instead, I fall in besides Lightray, who appears to be taking a similarly hands-off approach.

    "Lightray, I have a question."

    "Really? I have several."

    "I'm happy to share any mission-critical information you want, and trade for most other things."

    "No, I mean, in general."

    I turn to look him full in the face, but he's… He's decided to be a nuisance. Fine, I'll just ask, then.

    "With Infinity Man working for Apokolips, what happens to Prince Drax?"

    He looks uncertain. "How do you know that name?"

    "The fact that Uxas had a brother isn't a secret. The fact that he was friends with Izaya is not known to many, but it wasn't a secret either. The place on Apokolips where the Omega Force was stored before Uxas bonded with it isn't anything like as secure as it used to be. It wasn't as hard as you might think to work out that tales of Drax's death were somewhat exaggerated."

    "I… See. I hadn't realised that your Lantern Corps' intelligence gathering was so… Thorough."

    "The Reach are a problem for us now, but we know that we're going to have to deal with Darkseid afterwards. And that means that we need to know what's going on."

    "Last time a Lantern Corps attacked Apokolips, it did not go well for them."

    "Failure is just the opportunity to begin again more intelligently. So: Drax."

    "We don’t know. The Forever People were our only way of contacting him. We are.. aware that Infinity Man's corrupted presence on your homeworld is our responsibility and we wish to deal with it as swiftly as possible. But we can't send it back to him in its corrupted state. We don't even know if he's still alive."

    "If he's dead, can we send it back to wherever he was?"

    "It… Would be better not to, but… Yes."

    "Is there another way to get there?"

    "Technically, yes. You get hit by the Omega Effect, and then you get very lucky."

    The image of Peldak vanishes, and I give Dreamer my full attention.

    "Where to, then?"

    "Talok IV. She wanted to master her fear of the dark."

    "Then let's go!"
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2023
  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st August 2015
    21:05 Japan Time


    Diabo curls up into a foetal position, then bites down on his right forearm and starts sort of rolling back and forth on the ground.

    "Yes, using emotional stabilisers and then coming off them can have that effect on people."

    "Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh…"

    "I thought that you did a good job."

    "Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh…"

    "Alright, alright. Get it out of your system."

    He rolls back and forth a few more times, then rolls onto his back with his arms flapping down on either side of his torso.

    "I'm dead. I'm dead."

    "Can I have your dressing gown?"

    He blinks. "Huh?"

    "Since you're dead, and I doubt that you want your brother or father to have it. I won't be able to use it for a while, but it's pretty nice."

    "I don't think this is a dressing gown."

    "No?"

    "I saw people wearing them outside."

    "It still looks nice."

    He tilts his head up to look at his yukata. "It does. Their weaving is as much ahead of ours as everything else they do."

    "You'd be surprised. A lot of the traditional crafts haven't changed all that much. If you want to see the design, you could probably share it with the Empire's weavers."

    "I just want to forget that the gate ever opened."

    "On that subject, how are you doing?"

    "Can you keep me from falling asleep?"

    "Yes? But I wouldn't worry. They've got a crack team guarding this place, and-"

    "You think they're guarding it!"

    "Honestly, yes."

    "Can you check? Can..? I check?"

    "Ah, no. You could find out if they want to kill you, but you would only know if they planned to kill you in your sleep after they received their orders because I doubt that they feel any malice for you personally."

    "Oh."

    "And I doubt that they'll receive them. Killing ambassadors is frowned upon."

    "It's frowned upon in the Empire as well. Do you know how many ambassadors we've killed?"

    "Yes. I'm a god."

    "O-." His eyes widen. "I meant no offence, divinity."

    "It's fine. But do you really want to stay in this room-"

    "Yes."

    "-rather than gain useful intelligence on Japanese society by interacting with your protection detail?"

    "Yes… But… No."

    He sighs and rolls into a sitting position.

    "What should I try to learn?"

    "How they think. What makes them do things. You already know that they don't act like citizens of the Empire. You need to learn how far it goes."

    He nods, and I feel his own desire kindle as he immediately associates learning about the Japanese with his own short and medium term survival.

    "You also need some sort of plan for when we get back."

    "What can I do? I haven't won a victory. Father might even refuse to ratify the treaty I'm negotiating in the hope that the gate will close before he needs to pay them."

    "By now, the soldiers sieging Alnus will have had plenty of time to see the bodies of their late comrades, won't they?"

    "Yes. They won't just leave the bodies there to rot."

    "And..?

    "And… They'll have seen their injuries. What the Japanese weapons did to them. The tributary kings and the legate will be on my side, at least. But the senators in the capital won't be."

    "You appear to have forgotten that you have me."

    "I can't just pick them up and shove their faces in the giant mounds of corpses."

    "..."

    "I.. can?"

    "In practical terms, yes. There's the further question of whether or not it would actually be productive to do that which you should consider before actually doing it."

    "… Oh."

    He stares blankly at the wall in front of him.

    "I had assumed that the thing with the dragon would have caused you to gain an awareness of your personal power."

    "Assassins. I can't-. If I do that with rich and powerful people-."

    "How often do apostles get assassinated?"

    "But I'm only as resilient as an apostle when I'm awake. Aren't I?"

    "You're still tougher than a normal person when you're asleep. Poison or a stab with a knife wouldn't be enough. There are also various things that can be done to the room to make it harder for someone to approach your bed. Alternately, you could build a house on top of a mountain where no one else can reach and fly there at the end of each day."

    He gazes into the middle distance. "I prefer that."

    "Prince Diabo, you are going to need to interact with those people eventually."

    "Yes… Yes, and I did, but I'm a lot more… Significant now. Whether they agree with what I've done or not."

    "Life is not a safe occupation, Diabo. And while I'm sure that it sounds trite, the only way to get over your fears is to confront them."

    "It's not that easy."

    "Alright. Let's start with the security detail. You're awake, and you already know that you can defend yourself against their weapons."

    "Yes, that's… True." He reluctantly pulls himself upright and walks towards the sliding door to his room. "And the young officer seemed-"

    A bullet punches through the wooden wall and slams into his forehead!
     
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2023
  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st August 2015
    21:08 Japan Time


    "-easy-going!"

    The bullet flattens against the part of the environmental shield covering his forehead, penetrating just enough to embed into it and delivering just enough kinetic force to knock him back a step. Construct armour snapping into place around his body, he raises his hand to check for blood even as he braces himself.

    His hand finds the bullet and for a moment he's more confused than anything else. He's mentally off balance and it's not an immediately familiar object. Most bullets around Alnus Hill didn't hit anything that hard and so didn't deform quite as much, and the word he hears for 'bullet' refers to stones use in slings.

    Then he realises what it is, and throws himself through the door.

    "Guards!"

    The lieutenant and one of the other male soldiers are already running towards us, also dressed in yukata but with their sidearms at the ready.

    "Prince Diabo, are you okay!?"

    "Someone shot me in the head!" He holds out the flattened bullet as proof of his injury. "See!"

    The soldier looks Diabo over. "It doesn't look like you're bleeding, your highness."

    Diabo isn't reassured. "Who's attacking us?!"

    The lieutenant looks a little awkward. "We don't know, but the perimeter security should be all over them. It was probably just a stray bullet rather than one that was aimed at you specifically. We should move further towards the middle of the resort."

    He gestures down the left hand corridor, and Diabo follows his direction.

    "Were any of your people injured, Lieutenant?"

    "No." He takes the lead as we come to an intersection, checking both directions with his gun ready before stepping forward. "Our radio operator is trying to contact our command, and the rest are getting their equipment."

    Diabo, we could resolve this ourselves.

    That would make them think that we think that they're incompetent.

    You did get shot in the head in the middle of their sea-bounded country. At a certain point it's something they thank you for doing to save them the embarrassment.

    He slows down, looking at me on his left hand and nearly having the soldier on rearguard walk into him.

    I know that you're used to being relatively powerless, but the image of strength-.

    Alnus Hill was different! I had to do it there! I have guards here!

    I hate to sound like a-. Person who repeats themselves, but I'm forced to ask once again: what would the Diabo you want to be do?

    He'd be surrounded by loyal guards who would put themselves between him and people who could kill him!

    Have you seen your shield?

    He stops completely, causing the Lieutenant to give him an interrogative look.

    Are you certain that they don't have anything that can hurt me?

    Am I? His construct armour is reasonable. Good, even, for someone who has been using a ring for only a few days. Repeated anti-material rifle shots would go through it, but would anyone have actually brought one of those? Regular sniper rifles wouldn't even penetrate his environmental shield thanks to his underlying need for personal safety. I haven't seen any weapon lasers or exotic weapons. A suitcase nuke would kill him, but the chance of someone bringing one of those

    While I can't promise that for certain, the chance of them having anything that can hurt you while you maintain your focus is vanishingly small. Use this ring to expand your awareness if you want to be certain.

    "Ah, your highness? We should move."

    Knowing wouldn't hurt, I suppose.

    His eyes glow orange as he turns in a circle, trying to see who it is outside the spa resort. I see… Asian faces with… No unit patches, obviously, but overwhelmingly carrying genes from China. The other side in the gunfight appear to come from a more mixed background, which doesn't actually narrow it down. Very few places have special forces soldiers from a single ethnic background; they could come from just about any former European colony. Though given that this is Japan-

    Diabo blinks as he focuses on the Lieutenant.

    "The Japanese guards have vanished."

    -I would guess they're America. They're all using NATO equipment, but for the Chinese that's probably because they copied it.

    The Lieutenant nods. "That explains why we can't reach them."

    Diabo, the fight outside appears to be between Chinese and American soldiers. China is a strategic enemy of Japan while Japan and America have been allied for seventy years. Given that the only obvious reason for the absence of the Japanese soldiers is their deaths, I would guess that the Americans are answering their call for help.

    Are America and Japan equals?

    Oh gosh no. America has more than twice as many people, a far larger military and strategic nuclear weapons.

    What are-? Oh.

    Yeah. Want to know why Japanese men are all thin? It's because last time they had a fat man, a city vanished.

    "Lieutenant, I… I think I should go outside and help your allies."

    "Ah… Well, we hit you with everything we had when you landed on your dragon, and you didn't get hurt. But we're supposed to keep you safe."

    "I appreciate that." Diabo takes a moment to get himself-. He's thinking of himself as Emperor, how that will make him safe both physically and socially. "But I've got a god in a ring on my finger and you don't. Thank you for your trouble."

    Diabo hasn't got the hang of transmission, but the idea that being an apostle means that he should be able to move faster than a normal man is a far easier one to grasp. The wood-panelled walls blur past us as he runs, a construct sword-

    Really?

    I know how to use it.

    -appearing in his right hand. And then we're outside, flickers of light and bursts of sound echoing from the woodland surrounding us. The gunmen are using suppressors, but all that does is muffle the noise a little.

    The ones who look like the Japanese, but with rounder faces?

    Check that their equipment matches, because there are ethnic Chinese and Japanese in America.

    Alright. I see… There.

    The wood blurs past, and I see through his eyes as he bursts through a bush into a Chinese fire team. They don’t have time to reposition themselves before he's among them, sword stabbing through necks and eyes. As they fall he checks again and dashes towards the other cluster of Chinese survivors. This time one is facing the right way to see the oncoming orange glow and gets a volley off with his automatic rifle, but Diabo's armour construct is easily up to the task of stopping it. And stopping the blood spray as he slashes with his sword, sending the man's head flying.

    Diabo checks his surroundings, sword at the ready and breathing far harder than his level of exertion really warrants.

    "American soldiers! The Chinese are dead! I thank you for your assistance! If you have injuries, I am willing to offer my aid!"

    And then the flashbang goes off.
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2023
  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st August 2015
    21:12 Japan Time


    I'm blind!

    No, you've just been exposed to a bright light. It's like walking from a dark room to the bright outdoors. Focus on your desire to see and you'll be fine, or have the ring's sensors direct you.

    Oh.

    Also, you can fly.

    Ah.

    It's alright, we'll work on it.

    Thank you.

    A small impulse and his eyes clear, revealing a large probably-American soldier standing just in front of him and a couple of others providing cover from behind nearby trees.

    "…probable target, please advise."

    Diabo nods. "Yes, I was probably the target. I appreciate-" The soldier's eyes widen and he takes a half-step back, his gun rising slightly. "-your efforts in fighting the Chinese."

    Definitely an American accent. My guess would be Kansas or Nebraska, though training for commando units means that they might have picked up the accent from outside of their home state.

    "Ah. You're welcome. Sir."

    "Though I would appreciate it if you could keep your.. 'flashbangs'? To yourself in future."

    The soldier looks… Surprisingly awkward about things.

    "Sorry sir. You just sort of appeared. I was aiming for the Chinese."

    I notice that one of the other soldiers is speaking urgently but quietly into his radio.

    "…made contact with-. The Chinese were here, too. No, he did. With a glowing orange sword, so I'm not exactly-. Yes, Unicorn Three is..."

    "Are any of your tent-mates injured? As I said, I-."

    "No, thank you, sir. Sir, my commanding officer would like to speak with you quite urgently."

    "I would be happy to thank him in person. I'm currently being quartered at the resort through the woods. Please send your commander through as soon as you've checked the perimeter for other Chinese soldiers."

    Diabo turns away, rising off the ground as he does so and flying back towards the resort. At the entrance the lieutenant and several other soldiers have thrown their body armour on over whatever they were wearing and grabbed their guns, readying to sally out. Diabo lands just in front of them.

    "The Chinese appear to be dead, and the Americans are securing the perimeter."

    The lieutenant looks mildly puzzled.

    "Americans?"

    "Yes? I believe they're your nation's allies?"

    "That's…" He looks a little awkward. "True. But we weren't told about any Americans being sent here."

    "And you weren't told about the other Japanese soldiers withdrawing. I suggest having your messenger flogged."

    The lieutenant smiles. "A-hah. It's probably a miscommunication. It happens sometimes."

    "Then flog the miscommunicators." Diabo walks past them and back into the resort. "The leader of the Americans will be visiting later. Please escort them to me."

    "Ah, the thing is… Sergeant, take over here." An older sergeant nods as the lieutenant scurries after Diabo. "Prince Diabo, the Americans are our allies. But there has been a… Polite disagreement about the best way to handle the gate."

    "But it's in the middle of your country. And it can't be moved."

    "I.. don't think I'm supposed to talk about it. I don't really know what the Prime Minister and the American President talk about."

    "Am I going to have to-."

    "Lieutenant!"

    Diabo and the lieutenant turn at the sergeant's shout, as-. One of the American soldiers walks out of the woods, his gun at rest across his chest. The Japanese soldiers look surprisingly unsettled by that, but I suppose that a relatively junior soldier in a politically sensitive situation might well feel out of their depth.

    "Who're you?!"

    The American soldier halts. "Captain Thompson, 1st Special Forces Group. The Prince invited me."

    Realistically, a captain probably won't be much more in the loop than a lieutenant. He certainly wouldn't have the authority to deploy a squad in a friendly country on his own recognisance. But he could well be the most senior American on-site, and it might not be practical for their ambassador or whoever to get here from the embassy.

    The lieutenant nods. "Are the Chinese dead?"

    "Yeah. No identification, so the Chinese will probably say they were all Korean." Captain Thompson shrugs.

    "Have you seen the squad who was supposed to be guarding the resort?"

    "No. But I didn't see their bodies, either. Ah. Okay, real talk? I think someone at the embassy pulled some strings so we could talk to the Prince."

    The lieutenant's expression hardens. "They got the security detail removed?"

    The captain shrugs. "It's not like they knew that the Chinese were gunna send in a team. Guess they just wanted our meeting to be off the books."

    Ah. Yes. Someone upstairs decides something stupid and the sensible people have to run around pointlessly trying to make it happen instead of doing what they know is the more sensible thing.

    "Is that why we can't contact them?"

    "I didn't get any orders about jamming you, so I guess so. Someone on your side probably ordered them not to answer."

    The lieutenant doesn't look too happy.

    "You just want to talk to the prince. Why?"

    "This is just me guessing, but I think your government's being a bit slow about forwarding intelligence. After the portal appeared in Tokyo, everyone got scared that a portal might open in one of their cities. And we all know that the Self-Defense Force went through… But we're not getting any information."

    The lieutenant nods slowly.

    "Personally, I'm just pissed we weren't already involved. I was on base when the weird Roman army came through in Ginza. We were mounted up and ready to go, but no one could get authorization. Coulda been on site in minutes."

    The lieutenant looks shocked, then his expression morphs into one of anger . "I didn't know that."

    Diabo nods. "Perhaps I could put your mind at rest?"
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2023
  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    21:06 GMT -5


    B'dg and I approach the kiosk. I'm smiling brightly, but apparently B'dg feels that professional detachment is a better mien.

    "Hello sirs, and welcome to Talok IV." The mature woman manning the desk has the usual blue skin of her species, but her hair is streaked with grey rather than being the matte black of her younger counterparts. She blinks after completing her first line of her spiel, her eyes focusing on the lantern sigils on our chests. "Oh-h. Do you-? Do you want to talk to the Interior Ministry?"

    "No." / "Yes."

    She looks from me to him and back again. "Um…"

    "He does, because the Green Lantern Corps has a cooperation agreement with your government. I don't, because I'm just a nosy parker."

    "This is a tourist information kiosk, sir." Her eyes move to B'dg. "Would you like the Interior Ministry to send a car, or would you like to speak with them in a private booth?"

    "Booth, thanks. If I need to talk to someone in person I'll just fly there."

    She points to the right. "Just through there, sir, the privacy shield will engage once you're inside."

    "Thanks." B'dg flies off, and the sound cuts out a moment later.

    "What would you like to know, Orange Lantern?"

    "Okay, so, I'm looking for someone I'm pretty sure came to this planet sometime in the last year." I generate a construct image of Peldak. "She also had a power ring."

    "While we don’t habitually track our visitors, I can help you navigate our public information systems. Unless visitors set a 'no monitoring' order, that's usually enough to work out approximately where they are."

    "I love visiting other planets sometimes. It's like being at home a couple of decades in the future."

    She looks like she doesn't quite know how to take that.

    "Fine. Please do a perfectly legal search. Her name's Peldak."

    She begins pressing buttons.

    I could… Bypass the whole thing, obviously. Ring-hack their computer systems and access all of their logs. But Talok isn't on fire, and since Peldak doesn't seem like the sort to register her flight plans, finding out where she's gone if she's not still here will rely on Dreamer. And Talok is in a Sector with two mid-tier Green Lanterns, is civilised, prosperous, on good terms with its neighbours and… Generally, it's the sort of place I wouldn't mind Earth having as a neighbour, or turning into. Heck, they even have a culture of superheroes, and that's really rare in the galaxy.

    Sure, they've all got the same power, but the principle is the same. And that cultural background is probably why this woman is being so accommodating. The only bad thing about it is its proximity to some Dominion tributaries, which is how Ms. Mallor came a cropper, and that's hardly their fault.

    "I'm not seeing a 'Peldak'. Is your image life size?"

    "Yes. Ah, hang on." I generate Peldak's name in local standard phonics. "Try that? Or Indigo Lantern?"

    "I don't think that she came through a port access portal."

    "No, she'd probably just have flown down."

    "We do discourage that."

    "Her species usually faint if anything happens anywhere near them. She's let the fact that she doesn't do that any more go to her head."

    "Ah… No, nothing-. Oh."

    "Oh?"

    "I was looking for 'indigo', and I found several mentions of a shower of indigo lights over one of the Shadow Champion hermitages about half a year ago." She presses a button to call up an image. It's the right shade of indigo, certainly. "We discourage that sort of thing as well, but the police investigation didn't turn up anything and the Champions didn't think it was worth worrying about."

    "I know what a Shadow Champion is, but I don't know what the significance of the hermitages is."

    "They're the sacred sites where they go to meditate on the power of the Father of Shadows to activate their own. Disturbing them is very illegal. Have you met a Shadow Champion before?"

    "Yes, and there's a man on my homeworld with the same sort of ability."

    "Which one did you meet?"

    "Lyrissa Mallor."

    "Ah. Yes, she gave herself to the Dominion to save an entire world. A noble sacrifice in the finest-."

    I frown. "You do know she's still alive, right?" She looks surprised. "The Dominion were keeping her at a prison I liberated. I sort of assumed that she'd have got back in touch with her homeworld by now. Has she..? Not?"

    "I… If she has then it's not been publically announced. It… Might cause trouble with the Dominion if they… If they saw her."

    "Normally I'd say 'to heck with them', but I've got quite a lot of war on my plate already. I'll have a word with her. Who do I need to talk to about visiting the hermitage?"

    "By visiting-. You can't go inside the hermitage; that would contradict it's-"

    "Of course."

    "-entire purpose. If you want to visit the site, then the person to talk to is Lyssa Drak."



    This is presumably before she met-. Before she joined the Sinestro Corps.

    I don't remember the comics really… Covering her back story. I mean, she must have done something with her time before becoming the Sinestro Corps' personnel officer on Qward. And she definitely hasn't visited Qward in this timeline.

    Honestly, I hadn't even realised that she was from here. I thought that she was just some blue woman Sinestro picked up somewhere.

    "Okay, great. Can you make me an appointment, or do I need to talk to someone else?"

    "I can request an appointment."

    "Please do. I'd like to bring a few friends along, but we can make it just Lantern B'dg and I if she prefers."

    "I will send a message now. I-." B'dg flies back in, looking unhappy. "Is something wrong, Green Lantern?"

    "The Guardians aren't happy about this."

    "How unhappy?"

    "The entire Corps is getting put on alert to find these people."

    "Makes my life easier."

    "They want the whole thing shut down. It was her using the green light that pushed them over."

    I shrug. "As long as they wait until the Anti-Life is gone, that's fine with me."
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2023
  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    21:21 GMT -5


    I wave as the Forevercar converges with B'dg and I on the way to the hermitage. Dreamer was trying to track Peldak's path to the planet, and it looks like we reached the same conclusion. Vykin turns the control yoke so that the car manoeuvres closer to us, raising his right hand to hail me as he does.

    "Orange Lantern. We have felt a.. strange… Absence here. Do you know what it is?"

    "Ah… Did you eat before you left New Genesis?"

    He doesn't so much as smile. "Please. This is a serious matter."

    "What you're feeling is probably the local connection to the Shadowlands."

    "What is that?"

    "Not entirely sure. There are a few people on Earth who can connect to it to do various things with semi-tangible shadows, and as I understand it the warrior elite amongst the locals can do the same thing."

    "So you have seen only their abilities, and not the Shadowlands themselves?"

    "I saw… One creature that allegedly came from there, but I've never seen the place. Lightray? Anything you want to add?"

    He shakes his head. "This is new to me as well."

    "You've never heard of the Great Darkness? Would have been..? About fifteen years ago?"

    "Fifteen Earth-years would be about… The only thing I can recall from that period was a… Confusing couple of days where we could not feel the Source."

    "Sounds about right. The Great Darkness entity has gone to the Source, but its presence lingers in the Shadowlands. What that means for magic or physics or what it is that you do, I don't know."

    "Hey." B'dg flies in front of me. "What does it do to power rings?"

    "Smothers all but the brightest constructs. If we get into a fight, keep your distance and fire material projectiles."

    "I ain't ever practiced that."

    "Well… Now's a good time to start."

    B'dg doesn't look any happier. "So we're going to meet someone who can turn power rings off."

    "No, we're going to meet their facilities manager. Someone who can call on about…" Ring? "Fifteen or so other people who can turn power rings off."

    "Oh. Yeah. That's better."

    "You're free to leave."

    "Actually I'm not. Like I said, the Guardians want everyone on this who can get on this. I'm assigned to track down Peldak, wherever she is. So I'm sticking with you."

    "I'm sorry for your loss."

    Vykin turns towards our destination. "The creature from the Shadowlands. I presume it was dangerous?"

    "Yes. Strong, tough and fast, and resistant to exotic attacks and capable of phasing. But Talokites don't generally call things up."

    Moonrider smiles faintly. "Because they have no need?"

    I nod solemnly. "Because they have no need. But that's a worst case scenario, and look on the bright side! That fact that you're struggling with your god powers won't matter if you wouldn't be able to use them anyway!"

    "Hehehe."

    The other Forever People look around, surprised that.. Dreamer just laughed. She looks around at her team mates.

    "He's right. It takes some of the weight off my mind. Mooney, we will rely on your lightning gun for protection."

    "It is New God technology. Even if it not dependent on my dharma, it will not work if our connection to the Source is disrupted."

    Serifan looks smug. "My revolvers will work just fine."

    "Hey." Bear looks mildly concerned. "We're visiting a shrine used by this world's greatest heroes. We don't need weapons. Look." He points to the main entrance, where a native woman in dark blue robes with a large leather-bound book in one arm has emerged to greet us. "See? She's friendly."

    And better yet, she's not carrying a yellow power ring. Empathic vision isn't giving me anything useful, but if this place covers a portal to the Shadowlands -or something similar- then that's hardly surprising.

    I do hope that we've arrived too early in her personal spiritual journey for any of… Whatever lead her to sign up with Sinestro to have happened.

    She really didn't have much character in the comics, did she?

    I fly ahead as the Forevercar sets down in the landing zone. "Hello there. I'm the Illustres of the Orange Lantern Corps, and this is my colleague Lantern B'dg." Ms. Drak nods. "We're looking for Lantern Peldak. Have you seen her?"

    "Yes, though I'm afraid that she's no longer with us."

    Rats.

    "Can you tell us what she was doing here? What she wanted?"

    "I can show you. Please, follow me. Your… Friends, as well."

    And so we fall in behind her as she leads the way into her… Church? It has a gothic church feel to it, though the stone is darker than St Mary's. Vaulted arches form tunnels into the interior of the mountain, while friezes on the ceiling show scenes of warriors conjuring shadows to fight… A plethora of different enemies.

    "Don't be confused by the appearance. This shrine is only a little under two hundred years old." She smiles faintly. "The original structure was far more simple."

    Moonrider frowns. "So why change it?"

    "One of the Shadow Champions of the time was a good friend of the continent's ruler. After he died, the ruler… 'Improved' the site as a tribute. It was a nice gesture but rather foolish: it was only ever supposed to be a dark hole in the ground. Adding worldliness to a place that is supposed to confront the petitioner with the other distracts from the whole thing. It's fortunate that the hermitage itself was maintained in its original fashion."

    "Is that what Peldak wanted?"

    "A chance to confront something terrifying, yes. I didn't let her enter the inner part of the hermitage, of course, but for those who seek to test themselves, there are vestibules close by that can be accessed."

    "How did it go?"

    "It's hard to say. I believe that she saw something, but other species don't always respond to the touch of the Father of Shadows in the way that we do."

    I'm not sure that I'll see anything, but I open my empathic-.

    Severance.

    That-. She.. died? That-.

    I look at Ms. Drak. And at the colour of the leather binding the book she's pulling up-.

    Swirls of blackness lance out and the world falls away!
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2023
  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    21:25 GMT -5


    Light dies as total textureless blackness consumes all. Every glimmer of light from the emotional spectrum vanishes as well, leaving me utterly blind. And while I'm not deaf, sound is muffled and… Distorted, echoing strangely, the walls that surrounded us moments ago failing to return anything while the sound…

    There was a sound stage which I… Dimly remember being discussed on a radio program I listened to many years ago. It was deliberately designed so that anything played there would return next to no echo at all. It succeeded in its aim, but was thoroughly hated by everyone who performed there due to how cold it made everything sound. They had to add in small speakers throughout the venue to add back in the echo they excluded.

    It's like that. Little sounds are being… Almost sucked away. I clap my hands together, and… Yeah, that's weird.

    Ring?

    Nothing.

    I didn't put on my power armour, so there's no AI for me to try to communicate with.

    "Is anyone there?"

    I don't hear anything, but with sound acting up…

    "Dark, isn't it?"

    Lyssa Drak's voice. She isn't supposed to be able to use obtenebration, but perhaps there's a way to invoke it without using it yourself?

    "I stopped being afraid of the dark when I was ten."

    Can she actually hear me, or is she just trying to sound menacing?

    Hm. Okay, well, our search for Peldak has met with an unfortunate end. Ms. Drak has neutralised the rest of us in the best way available, but… The Shadowlands are a place. She didn't appear to be carrying any weapons and is only as strong as a normal humanoid adult female.

    "Oh?" Oh, she can hear me. "Then perhaps the true appearance of the Shadowlands will be more to your liking."

    "Oh, I'm always up for new experiences."

    "I will be interested to see if that remains true."

    Then… It's not as if light has been added so much as the darkness… Retreats slightly, rolling back like an ooze, and revealing… A sort of… Washed out… Desaturated landscape of bare earth and sandstone. On top of a small rise to my right there's a small copse of apparently dead trees, their bent and wizened trunks completely bereft of leaves.

    Actually, they don't-. Their branches aren't braced or bending downwards, yet gravity feels like it's normal. There's no breeze to move them or leaves to catch the air, so… I don't know. Over to my left, the ground terminates in a… Drop, and I'm not sure whether it's a cliff or the end of the land.

    No Forever People, Lightray or B'dg.

    I can't… See a light source, so I'm not at all sure how I'm seeing any of this. I look up-.

    A-ah…

    There's a… Like a… Hole, in the sky. Very faint lights flicker around the edges-. And something about it makes me… Makes me think that it could fall on me, somehow, or draw me up into it, or…

    I swallow, dragging my eyes away from the otherwise black sky.

    Based on what little I know about the Shadowlands, the only thing that could really be is the hole the Great Darkness crawled out through, but there's no obvious path up to it.

    Okay.

    I turn and walk towards the cliff-. No, not a cliff, just the end of the-

    I turn left again and walk to the 'end' in that direction.

    -floating island I appear to be on. I cautiously lean over the… Apparently bottomless void, and it.. looks like it goes straight down a little way and then curves inward. Obviously I can't see what happens after that-.

    "Having trouble, Orange Lantern?"

    Lyssa Drak is standing on a small platform above me, her now-open book in her hands. She's also peeled back her robe to reveal her comic-compliant underwear.

    "Ms. Drak, what's this about?"

    "The limits of the mortal mind. You appear to be taking this relatively well. Have you been here before?"

    "No. But, really… Why? Why did you kill Peldak?"

    She strokes the cover of her book fondly.

    "Making this portal to the former resting place of the Father of Shadows required a ritual sacrifice."

    Okay, no innate ability, but she managed to bypass that.

    "So, what, you wanted to be a Shadow Champion, felt left out when you couldn't use the power, and were happy murdering to make it happen?"

    She rolls her eyes, looking away. Not that, then.

    "Is this about Sinestro?"

    Her head jerks back around as her eyes widen, staring at me.

    Ah. It was a long shot, but he is recruiting. Why does he want her? Something to do with fear-.

    "Fear. I don't feel fear all that much any more, but looking up at that-" I glance up, and it's still just as unnerving. "-makes me decidedly uncomfortable. So… Bring people here, make them feel-. No. See how they react? You're testing-" She's recovering, looking a good deal less concerned. "-potential recruits? No."

    So what else-?

    "You're forging rings."

    I hold up my hands, my rings dead upon them.

    "How? No." I lower my arms. "No, that doesn't matter. What do you want to get out of this? I'm not keen on murder but I need to find an Indigo Lantern more than I need to have you arrested."

    She pauses… I think she's trying to regain her equilibrium, but without my empathic abilities I'm forced to rely on outward signs and I'm… Not the best with those.

    "You already deduced what I want: yellow power rings. Shadow Champions must confront this place and grow accustomed to it in order to use its power. Those who cannot do that are unworthy of their office, failures, cowards and caitiffs. With yellow power rings, everyone who wishes to master themselves and grow in power will have the opportunity to do so."

    I nod. "Very meritocratic. I approve. And you murdered Peldak to make that happen… Why her?"

    Her eyes narrow slightly. "You say that you have mastered your fears."

    "More or less. Certainly, strangeness doesn't scare me any more."

    "It will be interesting to see whether you remain resolute as you die of dehydration."

    She closes her book and turns away, stepping from… One small platform to another as they shimmer into and out of existence. A few moments later the blackness extends over her and removes her from view entirely.

    Huh.

    "Richard! If you're listening, I could use a hand!"



    No. That would be a bit too easy, wouldn't it?
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2023
  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    21:29 GMT -5


    A quick circuit of the island shows no way off. The sides go straight down for a short distance and then vanish, which probably means that they curve down but my camera drone is in subspace so I don't know for sure. Given how Ms. Drak disappeared I can't rule out the possibility that I'm on the top of a tall tower and the ground is merely obscured by darkness, but since my flight systems are out of order I don't want to chance it.

    So. Option 1. I work out how to make my rings work here and fly around in the hope of finding something. Option 2, I try studying my surroundings more and try and…

    My tattoos are still working.

    Ms. Drak used a ritual sacrifice to make her book work, meaning that this is all magic, or… Magic adjacent. John used a magic ritual to attack the Great Darkness prior to it flying off on its own. I'm probably absorbing local magic right now, which means that in theory I should be able to connect to this place.

    Just need to master an entirely novel superpower I might not even have within the next five minutes.

    Except… This is the realm of the Great Darkness. The talokites have been using it for a lot longer than fifteen years. They couldn't dick around with the place freely even if they did worship it; experimentation had some serious risks. Every record I have on the Shadow Champions shows them manipulating blackness, not making floating islands. The same is true of Mr. Swift.

    So did she make islands, or just make it so that I can't see islands that are there anyway?

    I look in the direction Ms. Drak left in, and walk over to the edge of my island closest to that point. I can't… See any island, but based on her height I can work out where the platform she was standing on was. Then the ones next to it, and if they extend in a straight line, then…

    I cautiously extend my right hand over the edge of the island and-. And it disappears in blackness.

    Okay, good, but that doesn't tell me whether or not there's a platform in there, and I'm… My regular armour doesn't have a cable and there isn't really anywhere to anchor it anyway. I don't want to risk falling over the edge. Texture doesn't really feel of anything, though there's obviously a chance that Ms. Drak can just feel it-.

    Unless she's controlling things indirectly using her book, which might mean that she can't.

    Doesn't matter. I don't need to move the shadows myself, just feel objects through them. No real records on what it feels like to learn; Ms. Mallor only ever gave me a practical description and I never studied the available texts. But.. I.. did study the ritual John used for his attack. I can remember it, but I'm not sure how much of it is actually useful.

    Ah… Let's see. 'Darkness' plus 'Communicate'? Trace that in the bone-dry ground with myself and the shadow probably obscuring the platforms included in the circuit, and… Unfocus my proprioception like I do when I'm feeling with constructs

    I… Think I've got it. It's really… Faint, but… Yes, I can… Feel an odd… Tightness, outside of my body in the direction I'm expecting the platforms to be. Like something can't move in a particular direction. It's not entirely precise… And dying here would be a huge pain. But I doubt that the Forever People are in a better situation, so I can't just hang around and hope that they find me.

    Leap of faith time, then.

    I stand, try to get a better idea exactly where the first platform is, and then extend my right leg-.

    FUCK! Fuck! Fuck!

    Lower! It was lower! I just got about a tenth of a second of freefall, and while I wouldn't exactly say that it scared me, it was disconcerting and annoying. Okay. Second one feels closer, and going by Ms. Drak's path it should be on a similar level to the one I'm on now. Keep my weight back on my left leg, extend my right-. And it's there. Slightly higher than this one, and that's fine. Step off, and step forward again… Yes, still there. I've lost all light, but really all that means is that I can focus on the one thing outside myself that I can feel.

    Move faster. I've got a better idea of how far apart they are now, and I don't think that the Forever People are getting into a better position than they were. In fact…

    "Orange Lantern to anyone! Is anyone there!?"

    No reply.

    The steps are ascending towards something, and-. My eyes flick up, and I can actually still see the black circle thing up high in the sky.

    "Orange Lantern here! Please respond!"

    A slight curve in the path, around to the right. I'm not too sure how far I've come. I haven't run into Ms. Drak yet, so she's still ahead of me, but beyond-.

    I feel a shape move in the blackness, something-. The movements are slow but irregular, apparently responding to its environment. A life form. I… Don't know whether I should stop or keep going but since I don't know, I keep going. Whatever it is moves around to its right, pulls slightly away from me as I keep-.

    The path begins curving in that direction. Okay, in that case I should speed up, faster fast-. That one was further apart. Easy to handle, but even small changes are unnerving in a situation like this.

    A.. small island up ahead. Not as large as the one I was on, and a little way above the moving creature that I'm still very much aware of.

    "Orange Lantern here!"

    I-.

    I heard something. Muffled, but in the direction I'm heading. Excellent! Three steps, two steps, slow, one step-.

    Grab Vykin before I accidentally bulldoze him off the platform that wouldn't be large enough to lay down on, twist, step-. And put him down in the narrow column of 'light' so that we can actually see each other.

    "Vykin. You alright?"

    He takes a moment to look me over, before shaking his head.

    "No. I am not. I have once again led my team-. Led my friends into a place of utter desolation."

    "That's your job. Half your job. Heroes go into places like this and fix them. So so far, you're doing fine."

    "What is the other half?"

    "Leading them out again. Did you see Lyssa Drak?"

    "She… She came here to taunt me. How did you cross the void?"

    "It's not a void, it's a light-and-sound absorbing darkness. There's a path through it-. Well, there was one to here."

    Damn it. I should have checked whether or not there were any more paths off my island.

    "Can you feel where the other Forever People are?"

    "Once, but no."

    "The darkness can-."

    "Not since Apokolips. It is my nature to provide direction to the group, and I led us into that nightmare."

    "Vykin, you're the team leader. You can feel guilty about your failures once the rest of the team are safe, because that is your primary aim here. Do you understand?"

    He hesitates, then nods awkwardly.

    "The Great Darkness has joined with the Source, so this place shouldn't completely block you." I crouch as best I can in the limited space, and sketch out the design again. "Put your hand here, and pray."
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2023
  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    21:32 GMT -5


    "…direction of my life, that when I return to you I am found worthy. I submit myself entirely to your desires." "Bind Us Together."

    I feel a something as Vykin finishes his prayer, though I don't know whether or not it's a sign that what we want has actually-.

    "I… Believe that I can feel them."

    "Good show. Looks like the Source believes in you."

    "That… Is not how it works." He rises to his feet. "But I thank you. Have all of my friends confided in you?"

    "Not Serifan. Though I have my suspicions. Where are we heading?"

    "In that direction." He points in-. Well, a direction. "Is there a path that way?"

    No. "There's a path that… Might go that way."

    "Then that is the path we will have to take."

    "There… Is an alternative." He looks at me attentively. "There's an animal that's sort of circling around this island. If we jump off, we can probably land on it. Then we'll have however long it takes to throw us off to work out how to get it to go in the direction we want."

    "I am not skilled in animal handling. Are you?"

    "No. Normally I can just bypass that using my rings to make animals want what I want them to want. But that's… Not reliable with creatures from the Shadowlands. At least, not on the one example of a Shadowlands creature I tried it on. What is it your Source-gifted power does?"

    "It allows me to control magnetic fields. Though now that I once more have-" He clenches his right hand into a fist and rotates it, small metal balls rising off his vambrace. "-a degree of control, I can move and reshape magnetic objects."

    "Can you put it around your body and fly? Because that's the best approach."

    "If you wish to risk your life to my uncertain control, yes, that is something which I can do."

    "That-. Okay."

    I crouch down and put my left hand on the inscription knuckles-first, making sure that my ring's sigil is touching it. Whatever it is down there might be immune to being assimilated or branded, but there are less extreme mind-altering abilities available to me. John said that as far as he could tell, the Great Darkness didn't have any kind of plan, and that the damage it caused was more as a result of a thing of its level of power throwing its weight around than any sort of active malice.

    It didn't want power, because it already had that.

    It didn't want worship, because it already had that and didn't appear to notice.

    It didn't want to touch the material universe, because it could already do that.

    In its place, I'd have stayed where I was and played Populous. But it flailed around for a bit and then swanned off to the Source because… It wanted purpose.

    My rings spark with orange light.

    "Okay. I think I understand. This realm is defined by the Great Darkness. Its desires are paramount, not mine."

    "And I can only touch the Source through it."

    "But… I think"

    Its desires define local desire, but there's almost nothing to make it fade. Which means I should be able to touch

    Yes, like that.

    Touch it and twist and pull.

    Did that work?

    Vykin is staring downwards. "I can… Feel…"

    "Yes. Get ready, because while I know its approximate size and shape I have no idea what it actually looks-"

    There's a pale yellow-. That's an eye, with a cross-shaped pupil, set in a navy blue hide-. And there's another, and another, erupting through the shroud containing this tiny islet and… Now they've split into two rows and I've got no idea what they're seeing and I can only assume that they're not designed for normal light.

    "-like."

    "It seems quite large."

    "Yes it does." I stand as its body moves just far enough away that it's entirely outside of the 'clear' area around the islet. Another tug "Okay, I'm encouraging it to orientate itself in the direction you pointed. But as I said, I'm not entirely sure of its dimensions, so…"

    Metal flows along his arms, forming gauntlets around his hands.

    "I will be ready for a treacherous surface."

    Your purpose lies that way. Your purpose lies that way.

    I move to the edge of the islet.

    Your purpose lies that-

    I step off, leaning forward and trying to provide as much air resistance as possible.

    -way.

    I fall I fall I fall I think it's here-.

    Ougff!

    Grab the-! Grab the-! Grip with the knees!

    There's a vibration in my feet as Vykin lands a short distance away from the… Tendrils? Whiskers? That I'm currently grabbing onto. He rolls over twice, trying to slap his hands down on the rough skin of the creature but being prevented from doing so by his own momentum. Sliding towards a drop he whips his head around and throws his arms towards me, metal flowing together and extending into a thin tether line. It's going to-.

    Wrapping my legs around one tendril and gripping the other with my left hand, I lean towards it with my right forearm at the ready-.

    And that's the second time I've had my shoulder dislocated! But the armour mesh holds, and the wire wraps around my vambrace and pulls, giving Vykin something to hold onto and this is much less fun when I'm able to feel pain!

    Vykin gets his feet back under him just in time for the creature we're standing on to undulate, sending him tottering-

    "Ah!"

    -to the side.

    "Which way?! Nod your head!"

    He staggers in my direction, small droplets of metal running down his body and coating the bottom of his boots to let him grip better, using momentary eye contact to indicate which of his jerky body motions is supposed to be my guide.

    Your purpose lies that way.

    I feel the creature move again, but this time Vykin is close enough to grab his own tendril, and pulls the metal wire off me to better attach himself. And I know how to get my arm back in its socket but I can't really do it here.

    So I guess I'll just have to hang on tight.
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2023
  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    21:36 GMT -5


    "We are close."

    "Good. Great."

    I've been trying to work out how fast we're moving by checking the hole in the sky, but it's not working and the combination of the wrongness and the pain from my shoulder combined to be worse than the sum of their parts.

    "Apropos of nothing, have you ever shoved a dislocated arm back into a shoulder socket before?"

    "No. Moonrider once suffered a similar injury. It took Bear three attempts to correct it. He was quite embarrassed."

    "I wouldn't complain, but I shoot with my right hand."

    "I believe that you have done enough."

    "I can never do enough. I'm an Orange-"

    The creature we're riding on turns slightly, and I clench aaaaaargh my jaw as a new wave of pain shoots into my brain.

    "-Lantern. Okay, up or down?"

    "Down."

    Right. "Hold on."

    The creature undulates, front end rising up before pointing down. Vykin and I keep our grips but we're face down towards whatever it is that we're aiming at.

    The creature remains silent as ever.

    "I could try to use my metal to force it in, but that would risk injuring you further."

    "I can fix any damage once we get out, and I can't really fight as I am. Have a go."

    "You could fall."

    "Just drag my body out when you leave and get someone to clone me a new one. I'll probably be fine."

    "Very well." He tightens his grip on his tendril, and then tenses his forearms. The metal he had been using to maintain his grip drips upwards off him, coagulating into small balls before flying over to me and wrapping tight around my right upper arm, shoulder and chest. "Are you ready?"

    "How close are we?"

    "Close."

    "Do it."

    DDDDDDDDAAAAAAH-hah-ah-ah-ah-h-h-h.



    Oh, I let go.

    Ah. Ah! Spreadoutlookatthegroundforasloperollwiththe-!

    Dah! Dagh!

    Uh.

    Cold… Pain, in-. Everywhere, except I don't think that I concussed myself. Right shoulder aches, but-. But the bone feels like it's back in. I… Think… I might have a broken left shin bone. I'm not sure, because I remember that in the immediate aftermath of a break you can't really feel it because the nerves are too damaged to relay the signal. But it certainly feels odd. Armour seems to have prevented me getting too torn up-.

    Ah. Darn. Looks like a couple of broken fingers.

    Gingerly, I lay my left palm-.

    Owowowowowow.

    I lay it on the ground and try and push myself up a little. To try and see what's going on.

    From atop a tower of shadows Lyssa Drak looks down at me with an expression of mild surprise on her face.

    "You're here. And not dead."

    I glance left-. Bear's crouching behind a decayed stone wall, staring at me in surprise as shadows roil across the broken landscape. I flash him a smile.

    "Interesting. These other people have been far less mentally resilient."

    "Haa…"

    Oh, winded too.

    Vaguely bestial shadows chase Moonrider out from a broken down house, while Serifan's bullets are blocked by a shadowy talon.

    Your purpose lies right there.

    "And in this place-."

    Oh it was a manta.

    The many-eyed creature breaks through the darkness enshrouding the desolate plain we're on, smashing through the tower of shadows supporting Ms. Drak and… Sort of sucking a great deal of the shadow stuff into vents on its underside.

    "By the Dark F-!"

    "Hate to be a bother, Bear, but could you-?"

    Between the roiling clouds of animated shadow and the sheer size of the thing, I can't tell where the manta creature ends. The sucking-. Ms. Drak grabs her book and is forced to walk inverted on its underside to try and escape the pull of the vents.

    Bear hurries out of cover, grabs me and pulls me back behind his wall.

    "Is Vykin okay?"

    "He-."

    The wash from the manta creature slams into us, and Bear digs his hands into the ground-. Then switches to a one handed hold to grab Serifan as he flies past, and throws him down next to me.

    "He's on that."

    Your purpose lies somewhere else!

    A stronger suck and a sudden downdraft, and the creature begins pulling away, dragging the shadows with it. I can see the hole in the sky, and all around us is a… A town wrought in stone that was abandoned to the desert elements for a century or so.

    I see a… Dot falling from the creature in the distance, wings of shadow forming on Ms. Drak's back as she swoops down safely.

    "I can't… See him."

    I touch-. OW! Broken finger, broken finger. Work through it, all pain is temporary. I draw the sigils necessary to utilise the Great Darkness.

    "You two, touch here! Magic bypass!"

    "Great!" Bear grins as he slaps-.

    "Myfingersarebrokenpleasebecareful!"

    Slaps the glyph. Strength for Protection.

    "Sorry! But I feel better."

    A little way to our right I see a wounded Lightray help a battered Dreamer towards us. Where did Vykin-?

    The creature finishes flying over us and Vykin drops, metal tendrils webbing the tallest standing towers to bleed off his speed so that he lands on the ground with barely a sound.

    "My friends. Even if we win, Lyssa Drak has no reason to let us leave."

    Moonrider hobbles over, B'dg in his left hand. Vykin nods to them.

    "It is time." We Are One.

    Serifan's face falls. Are We?
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2023
  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2013
    21:40 GMT -5


    Vykin shakes his head. "Not yet. We have not been since Apokolips. They tortured us with our greatest vulnerabilities. Made weaknesses of our strengths and vices of our virtues. They made me believe that my decisions were the only reason-" Bear goes to say something but Vykin silences him with a gesture. "-that we were captured. Guilt has been poisoning my soul ever since. I love each of you, my friends, and the most painful thing in the universe to me is the thought that I was to blame for what each of you suffered."

    Moonrider shakes his head. "That is not why it happened."

    "I know that in my head. As you should know that it is not yours, either. Whatever they told you, whatever you felt, that is what they do. It was a lie. We could all do better, but the Source will not turn from us if we fail to be perfect."

    "I-." Dreamer looks away for a moment before staring straight at Vykin. "They showed me how their people live, all of the suffering, until I could not take it any more. And then they kept it going until all I could do was scream mindlessly. I can barely bring myself to see anything even now."

    Bear lays his right hand on her shoulder. "They made me believe that unless I used my full strength against their warriors, you would all die. But… They were not warriors, and you were not in danger."

    Moonrider looks pensive. "For the most part they left me to my thoughts. The idea that I should have acted differently, that I should have held back. Occasionally they made me run some gauntlet where quick thinking simply got me hurt more. But that was a deliberate attempt to break me. I know that."

    Serifan shifts awkwardly, while Vykin looks at him compassionately.

    "Serifan, we have all seen the worst parts of our own characters. We will not-."

    "Fine!" Immediately after shouting, he seems to shrink in on himself. "They… They found criminals. Worst of the worst. Stuck 'em in front of me and showed me all the proof of what they did. Most of them admitted to it, too. And they gave me a choice. I could shoot 'em dead, or they'd let 'em go and make me watch when they went right back to doing whatever they were doing before."

    Vykin nods. "You are not responsible for-."

    "I know that! Weren't me doing it! But I couldn't know! They're Apokoliptians. They can lie real good. Maybe it was all fake and they were good people! 'cause after the first couple of times I started shooting them and I'm terrified to go to their homeworlds and see if it was true or not!"

    "The Apokoliptians would neither have cared for their guilt nor for yours. However it felt, they had control of the situation and full knowledge of the truth of the matter."

    "I know you're right, but…" Serifan raises his right arm to wipe his eyes. "I was the one who watched 'em die, real close-like. I watched 'em bleed, and collapse, and die, and I don't know if they deserved it or not."

    Vykin walks up to him, embracing him. For a moment Serifan doesn't respond, then he raises his arms and hugs Vykin back. The others come closer, clustering around and extending it into a group hug.

    Next to me, B'dg blearily opens his eyes. "Did we win?"

    "Like..? Morally…?"

    As the huggle awkwardly pulls apart, Moonrider smiles. "I have missed all of you." "Let us never be parted again."

    Lightray sits down next to B'dg and me. "It's nice to see that they're doing better."

    "Do you have any medical training?"

    "When you heal from physical injuries as quickly as we do, it doesn't-."

    "Get the book, get us back."

    Lightray nods, ignoring B'dg trying to glare him to death, and stands. "Children of New Genesis. Are you recovered?"

    "No." Vykin turns to face him. "But we are recovering, and in time our shared suffering will make us stronger."

    "Taaru!" / "Taaru!" / "Taaru!" / "Taaru!" / "Taaru!"
    "We Are One!"

    There's a flash of golden light, and…
    Reality Command: Tracelessness.
    Lightray looks at the spot where the Forever People were standing.

    "… Oh."

    "Did they-? Did they explode?"

    "No, I would have felt that. I.. don't think that-."

    Shadows surround and engulf him, pulling him up into the air and pinning his arms and legs before solidifying!

    "That was an impressive feat."

    Ms. Drak walks out from behind one of the partly-ruined buildings, animated shadows playing around her body. Oh. I feel stupid, but I've only just noticed that nothing here casts a shadow.

    "Overcoming their mental deficiencies in this place. And escaping. I cannot feel them at all. But they appear to have abandoned you to your fate."

    "Or they've had the sense to go and get an actual Shadow Champion so they-"

    She steps on my hand.

    "-AAAAAAAAGH!"

    Aah. Haaah.

    "That's really petty and unnecessary!"

    "How can I test your resolve without pushing you to your limits?"

    "Why would you want to do that in the first place? You're not going to give me a yellow ring, and I'm so atypical that you can't use what you learn from me to guide you with anyone else."

    She stares down at me-.

    "AAAAAAAAGH!"
    Reality Command: Still.
    "You have a strange way of pleading for mercy. Perhaps if you-" The shadows swirling around her freeze in place. "-try-."

    She stares at them, then tries motioning with her right hand. They remain exactly where they are. She tries to open her book, but the pages remain resolutely sealed shut. She-.

    "AAAAAAAAGH! WHY?!"

    "How have you done this?"

    "He hasn't."

    There's a golden shimmer in the air as... Someone in gold and blue armour shimmers into visibility.

    "But compared to the strange geometries I have studied, the connection you're using to manipulate the residue of the Father of Shadows is simple to disrupt."

    He takes a step closer, brushing aside the shadows in his way with his left hand and pointing his right at the shadows enveloping Lightray, which twist and fade at they return him to the ground.

    "It's fascinating, really, but I don't think the children would appreciate it if I took my time. Go." Reality Command: Transition.

    A flash of golden light and she vanishes, her book left behind. Immediately the shadows flow away, vanishing into the buildings.

    He looks down at me as I reach for the book. "My connection to your realm isn't stable. Can you manage from here?"

    "Probably."

    "That will have to-." He grunts quietly as his body begins to fade. "Have to do. Give my regards to Highfa-."

    A flash of gold and he vanishes, the Forever People falling out of the air in the place he occupied. They appear uninjured but recumbent.

    "Lightray, can you turn the pages for me?"
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2023
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