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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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    18th February 2013
    21:46 GMT +8


    They just took the interior of the reactor apart with picks and hammers. The bodies are piled up around the edges of the room where they were dragged after they keeled over and the others wanted them out of the way so that they could take their turn.

    I don't know what they were-.

    I've rebuilt the shielding, put the radiological materials back in place and repaired the reactor. Now-.

    Recognised, Mister Atom, asterisk.

    He steps out of the construct zeta tube, raising his hands. My ring can't entirely decipher the mechanism, but I can detect that radiation is being sucked into him. No matter how little sense that makes.

    "Have you identified any major leaks?"

    "Some fuel is missing. I'll follow up on it right now."

    "The time allotted is five minutes. If you cannot locate it within that time, notify local authorities and proceed to your next city."

    I nod and transition myself out of the power plant. Lots of lovely radiation-blocking metal and concrete around here. Honestly, we're lucky that Darkseid thinks that nuclear bombardments are too quick, or a lost fuel rod would be far from the worst thing that happened today.

    Worst ongoing thing. Those men having burned themselves to death with fuel rods is… Pretty bad. I don't know if it would be better to believe that they died under the effect of the Anti-Life or that they died after it left. They'd have been more aware of the pain… But maybe it would be better to die free as yourself?

    Strong radiation trace that way. Towards the riv-.

    Transition.

    "Uuuuh."

    A man whose skin is more blister than skin is weakly reaching for-.

    Stick that in a construct box, purple healing ray and shoot him with it.

    "Sir, don’t try to move. You're-."

    Sufficiently close to death's doorway that I'm a little surprised that you're alive.

    "You're in a bad way, but we can fix you up."

    Ring, signal Mr. Atom.

    Compliance.

    "…hurts…"

    "Yes, and I'm sorry, about that, but I don't.. want to risk introducing drugs into your system, and your brain is in somewhat less than pristine condition."

    On the… Other hand, I… Should be able to remove the sensation of pain. Because that has to hurt.

    I extend my environmental shield around… Dr. Li. Oh shit, this is a man whose nervous system doesn't need me poking it for… At least two minutes while the purple ray does its work.

    "Two minutes, and then you should be healed enough for me to give you a painkiller without killing you."

    "Not important. People… Safe."

    "Got to be honest, I'm impressed that you're still alive."

    "White God."

    Um..? "What do you mean by that?"

    "We were… Commanded. Spread radiologicals." He shudders. "I got..." He manages to weakly raise his head and look at the river. "This close before I fell. Then… I saw the White God, and the... My mind cleared. Tried to throw it away, away from the water. Live to shout for attention, warn… Someone. MostImportant thing."

    "The White God. It looked like-"

    I generate a construct of the Life Entity.

    "-this?"

    There's something odd in his expression as his eyes lock onto it. He nods, stiffly.

    "You saw it?"

    He nods again, still staring at the image.

    "That happened yesterday?"

    Another nod. He lived that long with those radiation burns… Not impossible, but… Unlikely.

    I dismiss the construct.

    "I understand that the government of the People's Republic of China is not in favour of religion. While I personally know that all of the Earth owes the being you saw a great deal, it might be a good idea not to talk about it too freely."

    He looks up at me and nods stiffly. There's some actual skin on his face now, which is a significant improvement. So… He drew on the white light. Not much, but enough to keep his body alive while he tried to get the fuel rod away from the river.

    I know that the Life Entity can empower people. That's why Nommo's still alive after all this time. But that isn't common. He described the process as reaching into the furthest limits of the Earth's thaumosphere through meditation. But… If the Life Entity is… Occupying the space Mannheim created rather than where the Guardians put it…

    Then it would now be easier. And we can't really have a bigger target painted on the planet than 'successfully opposed Darkseid'…

    Well, if we can then we now do. And if we can't then we can't.

    Alright, Doctor Li looks recovered enough not to keel over. I numb his extremities and… Use ring power to accelerate the rate of repairs, patching up the parts that are too badly damaged for the purple healing ray's regeneration enhancement to affect. Only a few more moments pass, then he's back to full physical fitness. I reach out to offer him a hand up.

    He takes it, looking a little stunned as he examines himself.

    "Thank you."

    "I can fly you back to the power plant if you like?"

    "Thank you, no. I would like to take the time it will take to walk there to think things over. I… Am not sure, of a great many things."

    "Rightoh."

    I transition back to the power plant, next to Mr. Atom as he closes his radiation absorption vents.

    "I got the fuel rod and the scientist, but we might have a problem. He saw the Life Entity."

    "Yes."

    "You're not surprised?"

    "Initial interviews suggest that the closer a human was tied to the Anti-Life, the clearer and more intense their vision of the Life Entity was. They do not understand what it was they saw, but they know that it was part of what freed them."

    He takes the fuel rod from me and eats it.

    "Create a new zeta tube construct. I am needed elsewhere."
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2023
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  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    18th February 2013
    19:21 GMT -7


    I sigh as the g-elves escort… An idiotic American college student in. He's dressed like an unusually sheltered middle class youth's idea of what a punk looks like, faux-leather bracers, three hundred dollar leather jacket and jeans that were 'ripped' with a pair of scissors. He looks up at me with a depressing combination of despair and hope. "Ah, Mister… Grayven?"

    "Perry.. Jerome.. White."

    I make a show of slumping slightly in my chair, elbows resting on my desk.

    "How..?"

    "Ah… Mister Grayven?"

    "A simple question, man. How on earth did you manage it?"

    "Well, I…" His eyes shift shiftily as he tries to work out what the right answer is. "I-. The book made it… I didn't even think it was real. Y'know?"

    "You, a rank neophyte, with no prior experience of magic, managed to summon up the Queen of the Succubae."

    To my surprise and mild satisfaction, he manages to pull himself up slightly.

    "Yeah."

    "Why?"

    "Ah… My last girlfriend dumped me a couple of months ago, and she-. I'm pretty sure she's been spreading shit about me with all her friends-."

    I raise my right hand. He stops talking.

    "I can well understand a young man being horny and without a partner. What I don't understand is going from that to selling your soul to Queen Triskele."

    "I just… Stopped reading at 'succubus'."

    I close my eyes.

    One.

    Two.

    Three.

    Four.



    Okay.

    I open my eyes.

    "If you'd stopped reading at 'succubus' then we wouldn't be in this position. So am I to understand that your aim was to summon up an idealised sexual partner and make merry, and worry about the bill later?"

    "I just… Figured she'd.. want… 'Vital force' or something?"

    "Mister White, Japanese pornography is not a reliable guide to demonology. Also." I close my eyes again and shake my head. "Triskele has the form of a giant skeletal snake with an androgynously beautiful face strapped to her skull. Now, I'm dating a horse, so I'm not going to criticise you for having extra-anthropological tastes, but…"

    "There were… There were, like, other pictures on the page, and I didn't really… I didn't know she was the snake, I just thought… I thought the bones were… You know, decoration."

    If I ever find myself in the room with the man responsible for World of Warcraft…

    "I hope that the rest of your studies are going rather better than the 'F' I'm giving you in demonology."

    "'F'-? The spell worked, didn't-?"

    "It didn't achieve its stated objective."

    "OW! Fuck you!"

    Mr. White winces as his wish is pushed into the room, bound hand, foot and neck with enchanted bonds of iron, the neck bracket attached to poles held by federal agents on work experience.

    One suitably nubile succubus, magically able and willing to indulge his every desire. Which unless I miss my guess probably started at the occasional mildly unusual sex act and quickly morphed into supportive girlfriend things that she'd find painfully boring but was too scared of her queen to say anything about.

    "Jer-ry! They're hurting me!"

    "Do you have your immigration paperwork?"

    "Wha..? I'm American."

    Improbable breast-waist-hips ratio, flawless skin without makeup, purple hair and… I sniff. Yes, a mild aphrodisiac scent. None of that is impossible for a metahuman, but a metahuman wouldn't suffer burns from the sanctified iron.

    "You're a demon. And while the two aren't necessarily contradictory, I had Mister Constantine go through your alleged paperwork."

    "Constan-?" … "Fuuuuuuuuuuuck."

    "Not quite sure what he's got that I haven't, but sure. Be worried about him." I gesture to the two agents accompanying her. "As you can see, the United States of America is a little better prepared to handle things relating to magic these days."

    "Ah, babe? I think we should probably cooperate."

    "But Jer-ry! The queen's gunna be super-pissed!"

    I shake my head. "You know full well that in four years it's not going to matter anyway."

    Mr. White looks at me nervously. "Why? What happen in four years?"

    "The pact isn't 'until death'. It's 'until Triskele gets bored'. Five years at most, then she drags you off to Hell."

    "…" His eyes widen. "F-uuuuck."

    "You can get out of it! Just make a new deal! It's like a mortgage!"

    Mr. White looks at me for confirmation.

    "Yes, if you can scrounge up a new innocent soul to sacrifice, that would indeed work. The last person Mister Constantine found in your position habitually kidnapped and sacrificed babies to fulfil the requirement."

    "Fuck."

    "Sure!" The succubus rattles her chains. "Just let me ditch these guys and I'll get right on it, and on you."

    I gaze levelly at Mr. White. "Seriously?"

    "I-I don't wanna murder babies!"

    "You wouldn't. You'd kidnap babies. The queen would kill them. And maybe not even then! Sometimes they just get trained as cultists, or sold on to other people!"

    I lean forwards. "May I assume, then, that I will have your assistance in un-fucking this situation?"

    He nods, while his succubus concubine just looks away, disinterested.

    "And you."

    "Whaaa-aat! You're ruining my contract!"

    "Yes, but let's be honest with ourselves: you don't actually like Queen Triskele. Do you?"

    "She got me this job.""So no, she suuuucks."

    If possible, Mr. White slumps a little further.

    "It was just one puppy! I have needs.""And wants."

    "So I intend to tug on your contract to get Queen Triskele's attention. Work with me, and you will avoid prosecution and eternal damnation both." I hold out my right arm. "Shake my hand."

    He shakes.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2023
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th February 2013
    10:57 GMT -6


    Wallace frowns in distaste as we watch the news broadcast of Superman and Lex Luthor shaking hands on his arm computer. Mr. Luthor… Two days ago he appeared from wherever it was that he was hiding, and has been marshalling LexCorp's resources to aid in reconstruction efforts since then. Which means he's actually been back for at least a week, if he was ever completely out of contact. The only plus side is that unlike just about everyone who stayed, he didn’t get any contact with the Life Entity.

    "Are we supposed to take that seriously?"

    I float a new batch of cars off the road onto the ersatz car park around him

    "'There is no profit in the end of the world.'"

    I get a small smile from him as he starts opening the doors and… Recovering the people inside.

    "What's that quote from?"

    "Spider-Man. A guy with the ability to make portals lets one get out of control to the point where it threatens to suck the entire planet through. Once he realises what's happening, the main supervillain of the story stops trying to blackmail him and starts offering him the use of his resources at no cost. When he asks 'why', the supervillain explains by saying 'There is no profit in the end of the world'."

    Wallace nods. "I wish real supervillains said stuff like that."

    The bodies appear in a line, laying on their back. There's a slight blur in the air as he pauses and takes a picture of their faces to be submitted to Mr Atom's facial recognition system, along with their driving licence if a quick rummage through their possessions located one. Not all that many people decided to die in their cars on major highways, but the shock of the initial Anti-Life broadcast was so intense that a lot of people crashed.

    These bodies are mostly intact, deaths coming from the collision itself. There's a pile-up with fire-damaged remains a little way ahead. I study it for a moment, then return my attention to him as he finishes the current batch.

    "Are you..? Going to be okay with..?"

    He sighs, spotting what I was looking at. "No. But I can-. I can cope. I saw enough people during the Sheeda…" He looks away for a moment. "I've seen it before."

    I nod, and pick up the crashed cars with a construct claw.

    "How 'bout you?"

    I move the empty cars off to the side and pick up the fire-damaged vehicles ahead of us.

    "Barely register it."

    "Huh." He frowns as I set the cars down next to him. "When was your..? First?"

    "The first time I saw a human corpse?"

    "Yeah."

    The first car appears to have had a slow fire. I hope that the people inside were dead before it.. caught them, but blackened bones are all that's left of them now. Wallace sprays what's left of each of them with a quick-setting foam before moving on to the next vehicle.

    "The Santa Prisca mission. Fresh, and riddled with bullets. You?"

    "About a month after I started."

    Oh? My eyebrows rise. "Was Flash trying to put you off?"

    "Yeah, but not like that. You know how Snart avoids killing people?"

    "Yes."

    "Right. So someone goes around with a freeze-. I mean, a cold gun, and we thought it was him. Turns out it was some guy called Chillblaine who got one of Snart's old cold guns. He used it on full power." He completes a circuit and I snip through the roll cages with construct shears to give him easier access. "I didn't even realise the guy was dead to start with. Not until Flash started freaking out."

    "'Freaking out'?"

    "Not because of the body. Because I was there. He didn't want me anywhere near it. And I argued about it with him, because I didn't know why he wanted to get rid of me, and I didn't know why we weren't just breaking him out of the ice."

    "And you were… Fourteen?"

    "Yeah. Once I worked it out I just did what he said and left. Compared to Santa Prisca, I didn't really see all that much."

    "You were younger."

    "Your world doesn't have superheroes though. You weren't used to seeing violence in the streets."

    "True."

    The wrecks cleared, I shift them off to the side again, my eyes momentarily alighting on a small pile of solidified foam before moving on to our next objective, the road bridge. Several cars crashed into the support pillars, badly cracking the concrete cladding. Combined with the fire damage, it's not safe for travel at the moment.

    I fly over to it and begin analysing.

    "What's Mister Atom had you doing?"

    "Running town to town, telling people what's happened. I didn't realise how many places had bad phone signal." He walks over, watching me work. "How about you?"

    "Reactivating nuclear power plants."

    "Was he hungry?"

    "Coal needs regular shipments of coal. Gas plants need gas pumped into them. Oil needs shipments-."

    "Yeah, and nuclear reactors just need someone keeping an eye on them. I guess I'm just surprised you didn't replace them with something."

    "What, like hydrogen? Hydrogen plants would need a whole new infrastructure base to keep them supplied."

    "How about wind power?"

    "Not reliable. And they need grease to keep them from jamming. And when it gets cold they freeze up and the standard method for de-icing them involved spraying them with a flamethrower."

    "Huh."

    "Yeah, they keep quiet about the amount of oil those things use."

    "What about those.. bleed torsion generators? They don't need any fuel."

    "It would be a little harder to integrate them into the power network. And no one could maintain them."

    "So? Just take them out once things get going again."

    "And then there's the issue of one government or another half-inching them and doing something stupid with them. I'd rather not put temptation in their way."

    "I don't think anyone would do that. Governments… Most countries barely have governments. And… A lot of people saw the Life Entity at the end, and… People are behaving differently."

    "Maybe. But then there's the question of why I didn't just release them in places other than New York."

    "You want to improve the world. Maybe you need to take the risk?"
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2023
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  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    28th February 2013
    10:01 GMT -8


    Mr. Constantine lays out the parts of the thurible on the work bench.

    "Right. Bone fragments from their mother and father." Those are loaded into the central portion of the thurible. "Blood samples from the other kids." The vials containing those slot into the exterior ring. "And this-."

    I peer at it. "Is that a tooth?"

    "Considering how drunk I was at the time, I'm friggin' surprised I even remembered where it was." He picks up the elongated canine with a pair of tweezers and puts it onto a upper plate. "Tooth from the King of the Vampires."

    "Okay."

    "Now, normally I'd just hand it over and wish you all the best." He pats his coat for a cigarette packet, then glances at me and reconsiders. "But since it's kids involved, I'll walk you through it."

    He picks up the lid and screws it on. The exterior is decorated with runic scrawlings that I suspect he made up, but I suppose that hardly matters. It just needs to be able to handle the energy flows.

    "The tooth isn't just for the fact they're vampires. It's for you as well. You're the ruler. Your powers lets you use it to substitute for him."

    "Did he have any actual power over other vampires? I've spoken to a few and most of them hadn't even heard of him."

    "Dunno. He always had a few with him when I saw him. Maybe he wasn't a total arsehole to other vampires."

    I carefully pick up the thurible by its chain with my right hand, letting it dangle freely. By My Power. Yes, there we are.

    "It works. What else?"

    "Blood and bone for cross-referencing. Authority and the fact that you're their adopted dad connects you to the bones of their father and the blood of your children. That connects you to the bones of their mother, and the whole thing should lead you to anyone it resonates with."

    "Isn't Hell a high-magic background environment?"

    "Shouldn't be a problem for you."

    "No, almost certainly not. I'm just concerned that it will disrupt the functioning of this device."

    "Not as long as Triskele isn't there. She's got magical authority over the other succubae."

    "And I can use that-."

    "As long as she isn't there. Yeah." He exhales slowly. "Look… This is the sort of thing I'd do. But I don't get why you are."

    "How do you think I should do it, then?"

    "I dunno. Summon the old bitch up and stab her to death?" His eyes drop to the Sword. "I recognise that thing. You know what it does?"

    "It doesn't kill them. It just makes them mortal. Someone like Triskele is going to have a way back to power. Or just accept the hit and work her way back up. I accept risks as part of the job. I prefer not to accept them on behalf of my children."

    "This will come to a fight." He looks me right in the eyes and I see his certainly, wrought from bitter experience. "She can't let something like this go."

    "Then I'll get the children out of the line of fire first."

    "Or." He points to the thurible. "The magic in your children and in their mother is the same as the magic in her."

    "And..?"

    "You should be able to bind her to you."

    "I'm not a magician, Mister Constantine."

    "You don't need to be. Just do what you do best: fight her and beat her, pushing your essence into her through the thurible all the while. And then when she's barely got any magic left, hit her with your orange ring."

    I frown. "Has she done something to irritate you, Mister Constantine?"

    "I deal with demons because I need to. That doesn't mean I don't know what they are."

    Nice to hear.

    "How would I even get her to fight me?"

    "Not that hard. Same way I sold my soul to the First, Second and Third. Remove all magic residue from a ritual space and then call her up. Make sure that she's fully here and then hit her." He tilts his head to the right. "Of course, in your case, hiding you isn't quite as easy."

    "Wouldn't she just teleport back to Hell?"

    "I can give you a way to track her. Keep using your Mother Box to stay on her trail. If she keeps running away in her own place of power then it'll keep costing her."

    That's true. I'm aware of the theory, and from Other Grayven's memories I can recall how it felt to do just that to another New God. But that was a weaker New God as a training exercise, not an ancient demon. It's possible, but…

    "What happens if the First sticks his oar in?"

    "Well… I'm not exactly unbiased where he's concerned. He's not exactly unbeatable. And if Triskele is getting her tail handed to her I don't think he'll help. He's more about giving you sadistic choices."

    "So he'll have found the children already and offer a trade."

    "If he even knows this is happening. Look, you know there's no way to guarantee this. Are you looking for an excuse to not try?"

    "No. No I am not."

    Mother Box.

    Ping.

    The hush tube portal opens to our ritual space, Mr. White and Ms. 'Bae' bound to armoured chairs in the centre of the room. Mr. White looks decidedly uncertain while Ms. Bae is more afraid but is trying to cover it up.

    "Mister Grayven? Are you..? Sure about this?"

    Sunset rolls her eyes. "Like I told you the last five times, it's fine. This room has the best sense-defying wards there are. I designed them."

    "The Queen's gunnna be, like, super-pissed?"

    Sunset folds her arms across her chest. "I don't think I'd want a demon who eats souls to not be 'super-pissed' with me." She looks my way. "Grayven, are you ready?"

    I nod. "Start it up."

    Sunset nods and gives her control system her full attention. The theory is simple: Triskele is aware of Mr. White through her contract, and of Ms. Bae through her authority. By pinging both -a sort of legal authentication spell for Mr. White and the first part of a binding spell for Ms. Bae- constantly in a warded area, she'll be driven to distraction with a need to locate them but with no idea of where they actually are. We just need-.

    Sunset's eyes widen. "I felt her. She's looking. Running a trace… Got it."

    Ping.

    Excellent.

    I ignite the thurible, raising it up to head height.

    Boom tube to Hell.

    Ping.
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2023
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st March 2013
    10:57 GMT


    Mr. Queen leans back slightly in his chair. "You wanna run that by me again?"

    "What?"

    "Oh, it's…" He waves his right hand. "Just that out of everyone here, you're the guy I'd have thought would have the least problem with them."

    "Why?"

    "Your.. huge.. body count?"

    I shrug, shaking my head. "What's that got to do with it? Strategic nuclear weapons destroy the whole region indiscriminately. I'm very discriminating. They're also too big and poisonous to use in intraplanetary warfare and don't work well in space."

    "And just like that, suddenly it makes perfect sense."

    I nod. "I'm glad we understand each other."

    "And I don’t think you understand why I'm against them at all, but…"

    "I suspect that it's because they represent the capacity of humanity to violently destroy itself, and you think that by expunging them from your awareness-"

    "No."

    "-you can metaphorically expunge the very capacity of man to commit acts of violence."

    "No, it's the 'wiping out all life on Earth' thing."

    "Wiping out all life on Earth isn't hard. Any Lantern could do it. Honestly, anyone with a few rocket motors and a little patience could do it. But honestly, the whole 'nuclear winter' thing is overdone. The bombs used on Japan threw up a lot of ash because the cities they hit were mostly made of wood and had been being bombed by incendiaries for weeks beforehand. They didn't create ash so much as throw upwards what was already there. And outside of the initial-."

    The door to my right opens, and Superman walks in, looking pensive. "Ollie, Paul, thanks for coming."

    "Don't sweat it, Clark. What is it? Want help wrangling Luthor?"

    "No, I-. Luthor wants to do some… Radical things with the rebuilding project. I wanted to talk to both of you about it."

    I smile, generating a construct halo and wings for Mr. Queen and a trident and horns for myself. Superman spots it and smiles.

    "I wouldn't be so hard on yourself. But you do certainly have a unique perspective."

    Mr. Queen glances back at his wings and then reaches up to feel his halo. "And what did I do to join the brain trust?"

    "You're the most normal guy on the Justice League."

    "I'm a millionaire bowman."

    "Ah, okay." Superman nods. "Who would you pick?"

    "C-." Mr. Queen thinks for a moment longer. "Ba-." … "What about Ray?"

    "Doctor Palmer's a great guy, but he doesn't have your life experience."

    I set my trident construct to float at my side and rub my hands together. "Alright, Kal-El. What morally dubious thing do you need me to convince you is rational today?"

    "It's not-." He takes a breath, then pulls over another chair and sits with us. "It's not a simple moral subject. If it was, I'd just do the right thing."

    "That-." I sigh. "Did Batman tell you what I did to him?"

    "Ah…" Superman looks a little concerned and glances at Mr. Queen, who seems similarly out of the loop. "No? Did you have an argument?"

    "Do you remember how after Richard got exposed to the Anti-Life, he went through a major re-evaluation of his life choices?"

    Mr. Queen winces. "I don't know what you're about to say but I already know I'm gunna hate it."

    Superman frowns. "You did something to him so he could use the yellow ring."

    I nod. "I undid it afterwards, and I think it was essential to the mission, but unlike a lot of things I've done, that… I'll definitely understand if you want to run your moral quandaries with someone else."

    "You undid it." He gives me a hard look, eyebrows slightly raised. "You're sure?"

    "As sure as I can be. You can't-. Experiences change a person. I couldn't just turn him back without erasing his short term memory, which would be worse. So he could still think about what happened with Richard in the same way that he did before, but he can also remember thinking about it… Differently."

    "And Batman knows you did that?"

    "He couldn't really miss it." I point to the right side of my face. "You might have noticed that one of my bruises didn't just vanish with the rest of my injuries."

    "I did, I just wasn't sure what that was. That means you think you deserved to be injured, does it?"

    "It means that I want to hurt. The point is, I-" I dismiss the horns, trident, wings and halo. "-quite understand if you'd rather ask… Ted Kord?"

    "Considering that I'm dealing with Luthor, you might still be the best guy."

    Mr. Queen shrugs. "If it helps, he seems pretty much the same to me. You, ah… Got any plans to brainwash the rest of-. You do?"

    I shrug. "The drug I used would work the same on everyone-. Any other human. I can't think of any reason why I'd want to use it on anyone else, but it-. The possibility is there."

    Superman sighs. "The thing is, that actually makes you better for helping me with this."

    "Ah." Mr. Queen glances awkwardly at me. "Should I try running now, or are you gunna give me a five minute warning?"

    "Before I got here, you were talking about nuclear weapons."

    Mr. Queen nods. "I mean, none of the countries who own them have managed to reorganise their militaries. We could just get rid of all of the warheads."

    "That wouldn't stop them making new ones."

    "Maybe they won't-." He sags a little. "Yeah, wishful thinking."

    "Strictly speaking, we could have gotten rid of them before all this happened."

    Superman gives his head a small shake. "I don't think the League wants to become a nuclear power."

    I shrug. "Who said anything about keeping them? Unlike America, the League could actually destroy the nuclear material rather than just sticking it in long term storage. I assumed that the League didn't do things like that because you didn't want to directly act against world governments."

    "That's a part of it. Lex has spent a few days trying to persuade me we should work a little differently."

    Mr. Queen snorts. "Well if it's Lex…"
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2023
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  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st March 2013
    11:02 GMT


    Superman nods.

    "Yeah, I know. But even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Orange Lantern, do you remember when we talked about me helping people by releasing kryptonian technology to Earth?"

    I raise my eyebrows. "Wait, are you actually considering it?"

    "I was wondering… Did you ever think that you should have built more bleed torsion generators?"

    "I considered a world where I did, and realised that it would involve me doing an awful lot of work for no real personal or planetary benefit. And that's with a safe technology." I shrug. "Then other clean power technologies entered the market, prices collapsed and I got the result I wanted."

    "Everywhere they were accepted."

    I nod, because I spent quite a bit of time repairing nuclear power plants last month. And clearing roads for coal shipments, and repairing pipes for pumping gas… Europe and America are switching over, but it's not happening all that fast. I think Ted Kord said there was some sort of problem getting the legislation through to rewire the United States, but I stopped worrying about it because Lex was… On it.

    Mr. Queen looks puzzled. "Why wouldn't they be? It's cheap, clean-." He jerks his head my way. "It is clean, right?"

    "LexCorp's generator essentially absorbs solar and galactic background radiation at extreme wavelengths and turns them into useable electricity. There might be some sort of giant monster sleeping below the Earth's crust that usually feeds on those wavelengths so now it will rise up and eat us all because it's getting denied its food, but other than that possibility it's completely safe."

    "When we get out of here, check for that monster."

    "Already did. Couldn't find it."

    He closes his eyes for a moment. "You had to put it like that."

    Superman nods. "What about the other generators that got released?"

    "One's a thaumic converter and the other is an oddly efficient method for producing hydrogen. I guess they used alien technology, but they can reproduce it so it doesn't really matter."

    "Which is the best?"

    "The radiation converter and the thaumic converter both draw on a power source that will effectively never run out. But there's only so much exotic radiation around, and I'm not sure… There might be a point where we're trying to convert more than is intersecting with the Earth. I don't know, and I'm not sure if anyone knows. The thaumic converter distorts local magic fields, which might start being a problem if more people start learning magic. And you need magic users to build and repair them. There wasn't a problem in production, but they were trying to hire Atlanteans to expand and… We were reaching the end of the 'available' Atlantean magician workforce."

    "And as more people started using them, that might start being a problem anyway."

    I shrug. "Maybe. They haven't been used on a wide scale yet. Now, hydrogen is dead simple. Any half-way competent engineer could make a basic hydrogen-powered generator, so there's no shortage of people who can make the high-end ones. It needs hydrogen which is generated by… Well it used to be generated by combining methane with steam, but these days it's mostly generated using genetically engineered bacteria. The only waste product is water which means that it's as environmentally safe as it can get."

    "I beg your pardon?" Mr. Queen leans forward. "Weird space energy and magic I get, but how do you take in bacteria and get out water and electricity?"

    "There's plenty of hydrogen in things. Getting it out with bacteria's just more energy efficient than most alternatives. That.. one actually works in my original parallel universe as well."

    "So why bother repairing nuclear reactors?"

    "Because they were there, along with the infrastructure and expertise to run them. If you mean 'why weren't their governments using something better', I'm not sure."

    Superman nods. "According to Lex, China has a lot of restrictions on who can own their infrastructure. He'd have had to essentially give the technology away, and the only people allowed to make money on it would be the Chinese."

    "True. Every company working in China has to have a certain percentage of Chinese ownership. Was Lex asking us to forcefully bypass that?"

    He nods again. "He knew that we already emptied out the Gobi Desert prison. The way he put it, if we got rid of the coal power plants and put in his radiation converters, they wouldn't have any choice but to accept what he was offering. He.. also made a pretty convincing environmental argument."

    Mr. Queen nods. "China does burn an awful lot of coal."

    "Which releases radiation and lead into the air as well as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and carbon particulates. China actually has smog."

    "America has smog."

    "It's a problem in backwards, primitive-."

    Superman slight raises his right hand. "My point is, we could replace them. I could replace them."

    I shrug. "Superman, if you wanted to take over the world, you should have said something a couple of weeks ago."

    Mr. Queen frowns in puzzlement. "He's not talking about taking over the world. Just fixing it up a little."

    "He's talking about overriding a national government when they do something stupid. And not just a small country where people might not notice." Or care. "And we're talking about doing it at a time when the national government is in a mess, and probably can't meaningfully stop us."

    Mr. Queen nods. "So you think once they get organized, they're just going to undo everything."

    "Remember the training exercise, when with nothing at stake the Chinese government didn't notify the Justice League?"

    "That's not the same thing. We're talking about giving them stuff for free here. New reactors would let them get their whole economy started up again."

    I shrug. "I could be wrong. I hope I am. But I don't think I am. They won't buy from Lex on terms he will accept because they don't want to give up control. They won't accept us switching them over on our own recognisance because it shows they've lost control. The best we could do is find a senior enough person in what's left of their government to okay it, and help that person rise to the top before anyone can stop them."

    "So… Conquer the world, with extra steps."

    "More 'make a deal with someone, who then conquers their own country', but basically..." I nod.

    Superman regards us both with growing disquiet. "Ollie?"

    Mr. Queen shrugs, leaning back in his chair. "He's not exactly wrong. What did you have in mind?"

    "Kryptonian technology is a lot more advanced than human technology. Outside of some pieces of biotechnology that work with kryptonian-specific physiology, just about everything I have could improve something."

    "Okay. Ah… Two options. Release designs that slightly improve things that already exist. Carbon scrubbers that are a bit more efficient that what's in use now. Or are cheaper. Slightly better solar panels that can be built using existing human technology. People will gradually switch over on their own."

    "Kryptonian.. solar panels are a lot more than 'slightly' more advanced."

    "Can anywhere on Earth build them?"

    "A couple of places probably could." He looks pointedly at me. "I.. thought-."

    "Sure, I could fabricate them, but that just makes everyone dependent on me." I shrug. "Uplift is difficult, Superman. You've seen how much progress I've made?"

    He nods. "What was the other option?"

    "Pick somewhere small and offer to completely uplift the place. Deliberately destroy their existing economy and culture and replace it with something that can serve as an example of what can be achieved."

    Mr. Queen gives me a sideways glance. "Or just change one part. Like power generation. Making energy cheaper -and cleaner- has a whole bunch of positive knock-on effects."

    "Okay. I can do that. Did you have anywhere in mind?"
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2023
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  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st March 2013
    04:17 GMT


    So.

    Hell.

    I'm not really sure what part I'm in. I've read demonic texts which suggest that Dante had it dead right, and then others which mention regions and demonic notables that don't appear anywhere in his story. I half-assumed that any obvious political references -like the Pope-pile-hole- were additions he made himself for his own intellectual satisfaction, while the rest…

    Join us!

    No. Contemptuous Refutation.

    And that's something else that I wasn't expecting. Yes, I draw magic energy from my environment and use it to reinforce myself. To force it to conform to my nature. And then I can project it outwards to control or alter things that relate to that nature. And that's fine on Earth, and a little uncomfortable away from thaumically active places-

    Join us!

    No. Contemptuous Refutation.

    -but here… It's aggravating. Hell… Knows that I'm here-. No, that's anthropomorphising too much. The magic is reacting to someone drawing on it, and is trying to make me more demon-like as I make what I take more godly.

    Huh. I just realised… I might be the first being to ever experience this. Human souls either break down or internalise it, but I'm instinctively absorbing it while still being alive. Good or evil, New Gods go to the Source when they die, and there's no obvious reason for any New God to have wandered through Earth's afterlives before.

    Anyway, this part of Hell is… Physically, it's a stone castle, only the rooms and courtyards are larger than makes sense, and often contain natural features that wouldn't make sense in a castle. Also, the views of the 'outside' vary in a way that makes no sense if the dimensions were consistent and the general state of repair varies from 'crumbling' to 'couldn't slip a knife between the stones'. I've seen a few locals in the distance, though whether they're succubae, incubi or just damned souls I've got no idea. They don't appear to be paying me any attention, though whether that's because they don't know I'm here or because they know that I'm way out of their weight class I don't know.

    I come to a junction, and the thurible tugs to the right. I try to feel where it's taking-

    Join us!

    No. Contemptuous Refutation.

    -me, and just get more hellish backchat. But that's why Mr. Constantine made it.

    And what meets me is stone wall. I study-. No. I see. There's a gap around the edges, and a ring set in the centre. A test of strength? Awkward with one hand, but alright. I turn sideways, my free left hand grasping the ring while my right keeps the thurible in position. Take the strain and lift

    And it doesn't move. I might be able to brute force it, but it doesn't really make sense that Succubus Castle makes it hard for people to access the residents. You can't corrupt people through overwhelming carnal desire if they can't get to you, after all.

    My eyes alight on the ring on my left ring finger.

    I want to get in.

    Runes drawn in vicious narrow slashes shimmer on the iron ring, and then the light passes outwards through the cracks in the stonework. And as I try lifting again it's heavy but it actually moves, sliding upwards into the space within the wall. I-.

    Ah, it's not locking in place. Okay, lift it as high as I can get it, get my… Shoulder under, hand off the ring-. Yeah that's heavy. Hand… Pressing upwards against the underside of the stone 'door', move forwards and… Let it drop.

    SLAM!

    Okay, thurible is still tugging me this way. And… Huh. This place looks like a… Training arena? Torture chamber? Bondage room? Some of the whips on the wall are those silly sadomasochism play things while others are semi-serious weapons. There's a raised platform in the centre of this… Courtyard, but I can see other courtyards leading off from-.

    "We don't usually get visitors in here-" A hulking brute in plate and chain walks slowly towards me from the next courtyard over. "-but I suppose you've got the build for it."

    I think she's… Trying to saunter, to swing… Her hips and tail, but her musculature and armour don't really lend themselves to that sort of motion. What little of her skin I can see appears to be grey-purple while the small amount of her face visible through the opening on her helmet is entirely feminine.

    "So what is it? Pain? Rough…" She reaches out to fondle a chain wrapped in barbed wire with her left hand, leaving a trail of blood smeared along it from the cuts it makes in her finger tips. "'Play'? Combat?"

    I lift up the thurible, and watch as it tugs towards her.

    "I'm looking for some people. Failing that, information."

    "We aren't tour guides. This is a place of pleasure, whatever your pleasure happens to be."

    "My pleasure is finding the lost brothers and sisters of my children while the Queen is distracted."

    "And you think your children came here? It takes a long time for anyone not born of Hell to reach our level. Or do you think they are amongst our-"

    She grabs an axe off the wall and brandishes it.

    "-playthings?"

    "Staff, I suspect. And can you knock off the ridiculous stereotype thing? I'm trying to have a serious conversation."

    She looks at me like she can't decide whether I'm serious or not. "You came to the Punishment Grounds for a serious conversation? I thought warlocks like you were a myth. Do you also want to hold my hand while taking long walks along the beach?"

    "I'm not a warlock and no. A vampire and a succubus somehow produced a brood of children. Some-."

    "Wait." She lowers her axe slightly. "You're here for them?"

    "Yes."

    "Why?"

    "I adopted the children who still live. I am concerned for their siblings."

    "I see. And you just tell me this?"

    "If you tell me what I want to know, then you're implicated. The Queen would take it out on you as well as me. If you don't…" I draw my daiklave with my left hand. "I realise that this won't kill you in a permanent sense, but it should render you incapable of speech for long enough that it won't matter."

    "Isn't that interesting. I thought that you looked strong. But that isn't enough to make me want to put my children in your care."

    Ah.

    "When the youngest didn't follow the eldest down here, I knew that something was wrong. I would have felt it if they fed themselves. Have you locked them in a dungeon somewhere, with metal grills welded to their faces?"

    "No. I sent them to school to make friends."

    "Fah! I birthed carnal wonders and you want to tame them?"

    "I want them to live lives better than what you made them for. I want them to be people and not weapons."

    "Then you don't understand what we're for." She reaches back and pulls the lash off the wall to supplement the axe. "Perhaps when I kill you and bind your soul, I can present it to the Queen as a gift. And then she will release me to the Earth so that I can take back what is mine."

    I heft my sword, snarling.

    "Oh, I'm going to enjoy this."
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2023
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st March 2013
    04:21 GMT


    "That's what-"

    The lash darts out, aimed at my face. I shield myself and raise my daiklave to better parry whatever her follow-up attack is. The metal links themselves deflect off the construct as expected but the barbs bite into it, scoring lines across the front.

    "-I am for!"

    She lashes again, metal coming down from above. I move the construct up to block and step forward, the lash being blocked about half-way along its length and curling around-.

    I jerk my head to the side, but a barb still catches my cheek. Bypassing my resilience and environmental shield, which is irritating but I am in Hell. I see a tiny droplet of my blood on one of the barbs as she pulls her weapon back and-.

    I raise my left arm, fusion cannon construct forming and firing, scintillating beam striking her in the face just before she sticks my blood in her mouth, because I'm not that slow off the mark. A demon drinking my blood would not be good, especially as I have no idea how strong she is. I had assumed that she was relatively weak given how her mortal vessel was killed, but if it was all part of a scheme…

    Let's see if she's any good with that axe.

    I take two heavy steps forwards as she blinks to clear her vision -she's tough at least if that didn't burn her- and give my daiklave a one-handed swing across her body. She steps back and to her left, twisting her axe so that the spikes on the stop and the toe point trap it against the brick wall.

    "Are you a master of the blade as well?"

    "Honestly?" I shake my head as I try to pull my sword free. "No. Far from."

    She grins as my sword remains trapped, so I clench my right fist and lunge forward, abandoning the daiklave in an attempt to force her back. She gets her lash arm up in a rushed block but I power through, construct gauntlet breaking the barbs and my fist slamming into her helmet. Her helmet takes it, but she staggers back and loses her grip on the axe.

    I back up, recover my daiklave and check the thurible. Still in one piece, good.

    "Hm."

    I watch as she tosses the lash aside and grabs a spear and a round shield from the wall.

    "Should I assume then that your aim was for your children to die young, come here and begin their training?"

    "I was hoping that they would grow strong enough to form a toe-hold on Earth. Dying was an acceptable second choice."

    The spear-tip darts out in a probing thrust. I try knocking it aside with a construct, but the spear just absorbs the orange light and I'm forced to awkwardly move the daiklave to bat it aside. Even at my level of strength it's a lot easier to thrust with a spear than move a sword like this back and forth, and she's clearly competent enough to realise that. On the other hand I am stronger, so if I actually hit her spear I could knock it out of her hands. Knock it loose, at least. Figure of eight ward and slowly advance.

    At least if she pierces my armour she can't lick the spear tip without being sliced in half.

    "Why don't they remember?"

    "I had to have room for making improvements."

    I advance more aggressively before I-.

    I jerk my head to the side as the spear tip darts at me, just about getting my neck out of the way. She smiles at my loss of control.

    See if you smile about this. Implacable Advance.

    I stop warding, lifting my daiklave to a high position and maintaining my advance. My right hand is gauntleted again as I bring it forward to slap the spear aside if she thrusts at my chest. If she thrusts -even if she pierces me- I can press forwards and cut her in half before she can recover her weapon. Her weapon is almost certainly enchanted, but most weapon enchantments I've studied require that the user be holding them to receive a direct boost. The worst it can do is poison me and since it's not radion I can fight it off.

    She smiles, and decides to take the trade.

    She steps forwards and thrusts as she does to, aiming at the centre of my chest. My right hand moves to slap the spear up but she twists it so that the edge of the blade cuts through my construct and into my armour gauntlet.
    Quail Before My Advance!
    But to her surprise my gauntlet takes it, hand twisting around to the flat of the blade and tapping it aside.

    I step forward again, swinging my daiklave down at full force! She tries to step aside but I'm now far enough forwards that my right hand can grab the haft of the spear just below the head. To her surprise it doesn't move when she does and she has only a fraction of a second to adjust her plans.

    Her shield comes up.
    Shatter!
    My daiklave hits it, battering her to the ground and splitting the shield in two, her spear still in my right hand!

    I toss it behind me as she jumps back to her feet.

    "What about their father?"

    She grabs a mace and tower shield from the edge of the arena, then jumps up onto it.

    "A useful source of bloodlust and something to bind them to the Earth." She sneers. "You didn't think I loved him, did you?"

    "There are lots of vampires. I assume you chose him as your children's sire for a reason."

    "He was the first I met who fit the requirements. He was fun, and savage, but succubae do not form romantic attachments."

    "Chantinelle would rather-."

    "Don't compare me to that… Madwoman."

    I walk over to the steps up to the arena and she takes a defensive position in the centre. No sense jumping up and leaving myself vulnerable.

    "So, that's it? You get slightly better henchmen and women?"

    "Bound to me by blood and magic."

    "By blood-? Because they fed on you. You… Perverted what looked like an act of kindness into a ritual binding." I reach the edge of the arena and she bangs her mace against the front of her shield. "I'm genuinely impressed."

    "It's not complicated magic. Though you are right: I did use it well. Now. Fight-"

    I twist my left wrist and stab my daiklave into the ground, point first.

    "-me? What are you doing? I won't indulge you if you want to fight bare-handed."

    I bring my right hand up to the cut on my cheek and wipe off a small amount of blood. Then I raise my left hand and dab the top of the thurible with that blood before pressing my orange ring against it.

    "You backed up and lost your weapons, conceding to me three times. This contains your bones, and the blood of children you bound to you. And I have an orange power ring. I bind you." Know Your Place.

    "What?"

    Orange light envelops the thurible, shining brilliantly out of the little holes in the side! The warrior succubus stares for a moment, then drops her mace and shield and clutches her forehead!

    "AAAAAAAGGGGGGGggggggghhhhh..?"

    Her hands drop, revealing the orange sigil burned into her forehead.

    "Summon your children here, now."

    "Yes, master."
     
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2023
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Earth 12

    19th September 2039
    07:12 GMT -5


    I amble into the dining room to find Claudia putting a bowl of porridge in my place.

    "Morning, Dad."

    "Good… Morning?" She looks-. "What?"

    She feigns innocence, and she's better at it in her middle years than she was when she used to sneak out to play with experimental supervillain technology in her childhood, but I've known her for her entire life.

    "What do you mean, Dad?"

    "What's happened?"

    "I just.. felt like visiting this morning."

    "I'm not senile enough to believe-." I look around. "The radio's not on and there's no newspaper. Claudia?"

    She sighs, and opens the cutlery drawer-.

    "That's the cutlery drawer, why would you hide-?"

    She passes the newspaper over. "It's in the nationwide section. Just… Don't go nuts, okay?"

    "I'll do my-" I sit down on my chair and open the paper. "-best?" Nationwide section, because the Daily Planet mostly covers Metropolis rather than-.

    The paper tears in my hands.

    "Dad-."

    I hold up my right hand as I try to master myself. Oh. Oh. Yes, that-.

    "O-kay. Claudia-."

    "Dad, just-."

    "A District Attorney does not have the right to order the use of an untested drug on unconsenting citizens! For any reasons!" I move the porridge bowl aside and then put the paper-. Smooth down the paper so I can get a better look at the article. Why were they-? Oh, oh! "Especially not to rewrite their ffffff-. DNA!"

    "I know, and I've contacted our lawyers already." She smiles. "And thank you for sparing my ears."

    "Did you contact them regarding civil rights, or regarding the fact that they obviously used our proprietary technology to do it?"

    "I… Dad, they specialise in corporate law. It's easier to use the proprietary technology angle."

    I look around-.

    "Claudia, did you hide my phone?"

    "I just put it in the drawer, Dad."

    I frown. "I'll let you off about the paper but that handset can't be hygienic."

    "I just didn't want you to phone anyone without talking it through with the lawyers first."

    "If I ran everything by lawyers then I'd never have gotten anything done." I make a gesture of appeal with both arms. "Who do you think I'm going to phone?"

    "The District Attorney, Sam Young. If you phone him up and start threatening him, it will make the case much harder."

    "No. No, I'll speak to him before we file papers, but he can wait. I'm going to phone Batman and ask what the heck he thinks he's playing at."

    She blinks in surprise. "You've got Batman's phone number? I know you used to work with the Justice League, but I didn't know you knew them personally."

    "He didn't give me his number. I just know who he is, so I can just use a public listing." I take another look at the newspaper, focusing on the picture of Batman-. The new Batman. Shorter, more slender… Richard works as a gymnastics instructor and Timothy… I… Think he ended up with a job with a toy company? Neither of them are likely to have taken over, and no one else comes to mind. "The last one, anyway. I don’t know who that is."

    Shouldn't be that hard to find out, though. Some young man has started hanging out with Bruce Wayne. I could probably-.

    Mm.

    "Okay. I'm not going to fly off the handle. Consider me managed."

    "Dad, you just said that you know who Batman is."

    "Yes, and while I'm not exactly the shifty, sticky-fingered git's biggest fan, he did save the world a few times so I'm not going to go around broadcasting his secret identity to people, including you."

    She nods. "That's fair enough. Okay. I'm going to get Derek and Louise up, and then talk to Public Relations."

    "And-."

    She nods. "And warn our more skittish employees, and schedule more media awareness training days. Which might be unnecessary. They might just fold."

    "No." I point to the paper. "They tried to kill him. When an American politician decides that it's alright to ignore the law and the constitution because of something that affected them personally, they won't back down."

    "We don't actually know that they used the same technology that Mum invented."

    "People don't often reinvent the wheel. From the sounds of it current generation 'splicing' is a lot faster than what Barbara developed, but I'd be astonished if they didn't use her work as the starting point. Uhh, they even had a tiger woman. Oh, and… Don't forget to include whatever's left of the Chimera Institute in our legal action."

    "Okay, Dad."

    She opens… Oh, okay, that drawer was actually empty, and pulls out the telephone handset. She then puts it down next to the top of my paper, makes slightly nervous eye contact with me for a moment, then walks out of my apartment.

    Right… Phone… Voice activation enabled…

    "Phone, access.. society pages in Gotham City newspapers. What young man has been spending time with Bruce Wayne since the new Batman appeared?"

    Nothing for a moment, then translucent holographic images of… An elderly Bruce Wayne, walking stick in hand, walking down a red carpet with… A young black-haired man wearing a brown jacket just behind him.

    "McGinnis, Terrence. Student. Home help."

    M-hm.

    I pick up the handset. "Phone Bruce Wayne."

    The little screen says 'calling' and-. Don't put it next to your ear you silly old fool. Put it down on the stand so that the camera can get a good look at your face, because he's probably got image-based screening-.

    "Wayne."

    But that doesn't mean that he has to use it.

    "Wynne."

    "I thought you might call."

    "That was Barbara's work, wasn’t it?"

    "Modified."

    "It's not supposed to be administered like that. You know that."

    "It worked."

    "I'm not happy about the way Gotham dealt with this 'splicing' business. I'm going to be visiting."

    "Fine."

    "And by 'visiting' I-."

    He hangs up.

    Alright. If that's how you want to play it.
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2023
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th March 2013
    07:23 GMT +3


    I fly over-

    "Paul!"

    -Shiruta on the way to my appointment with Adom, slowing as Amon flies up to greet me.

    "Amon, how are you?"

    He slows down as he reaches me, and… I glance down, following his gaze as he looks at the people below us. People who are bowing in his direction or making other genuflections. I can see… Not just the hope, but there's an association with… Sagacity. They've come to revere him.

    He glances sideways at me, noticing that I've noticed.

    "It is… Strange. Before, my brother was the focus of our people's awe. And now I am." He sort of shrinks in on himself for a moment. "Almost as much."

    "Do you find it unpleasant?"

    "Adom… He could do little during the crisis because he was fighting to keep the misery from our people. They could not see what he was doing. For-. For a day, when he needed to speak to the leaders of our neighbouring countries, I offered to take over for him."

    "How did it go?"

    "I… I lived, but it…" He shakes his head. "I do not think that I could keep doing it for as long as he did." … "No. I know I could not."

    "You survived Intergang."

    "I had an enemy when I survived Intergang. With this, all you have is your own thoughts. I could survive for myself, but I could not have shielded everyone else."

    I shrug. "That's why we call him 'Mighty One'. You've got a few decades to measure up all the way. And don’t sell yourself too short; I know that Mannheim sent Justifiers after you on several occasions."

    "They were slaves, like I was." He shakes his head. "I cannot take pride in defeating them."

    "'Defeating'?"

    "I killed-. Some. But once we learned what they were, I-. I tried to save them. I tried to take off their helmets, disarm them…" He looks over towards… A maximum security prison? "When the White God appeared, we-."

    "White God?"

    "It was white like milk, and it looked like a god?" He looks uncertain. "What was it?"

    "It's something that I'm trying to avoid thinking about. I've heard it being called 'the White God' before. Did-"

    "Oh."

    "-you come up with the name?"

    "No, it was on the internet. But it.. makes sense."

    "It hasn't spoken to anyone around here has it?"

    "I don't think so. Should it?"

    "We… Effectively used its power to remove the Anti-Life. I owe it a great deal-."

    "If it did that, then we all owe it."

    "Not in the sense of a general obligation. I mean in the sense of 'you will now do this or I will reverse what my power wrought'. It might not given that it just turned up at the end, but since it was my decision I'd rather it be me who pays."

    He smiles. "If you wish. How is the rest of the world?"

    "Oh, good grief. Between politicians getting Anti-Lifed or killing themselves or both, governments are bodged together where they exist at all. And the legitimacy of the ones that do exist is basically non-existent but the League and Company are too busy getting basic infrastructure working to worry about it. And it's… Especially a concern in places where we're… Frankly not sure if we want to put their government back together."

    He nods. "My brother has… He has expressed certain views about some of our recent allies."

    "Shape up or ship out?"

    "In slightly more words."

    "He's always impressed me with how moderate he's prepared to be, and how open about it he is. I prefer it his way to lying about it."

    "Some of those he intended to exile have asked to do penance instead. They were… Moved by the White God, who they think was an angel." He frowns. "Was it an angel?"

    "I'm trying to avoid characterising it. If it's spurring them to better themselves then I doubt that the Silver City will complain." I raise my left eyebrow. "Are you forming some sort of North African Union?"

    He shrugs. "Perhaps. Many countries were interested in receiving the blessing of Isis, and Adom is far stronger than any of the superheroes in the region. We were simply negotiating trading and defence agreements before the Anti-Life. But as I said, everyone knows that Adom was keeping it from touching them and that I was leading our defence. I think that we are the leading partner. Except-."

    "Except?"

    "Israel is not interested. Our relationship with them is not… Bad, not compared to Lebanon. But the Jews have taken a harder line against 'pagan magic' than most Muslims. They do not like my brother or my sister or me."

    "I'm not sure how welcome they would have been with your other allies anyway."

    "They would not have been. But I like to think that we could all become friends eventually."

    "So you don't really need any Justice League help?"

    "No. We can feed ourselves easily thanks to my sister, and we can make all of the electricity that we need. We have some infrastructure projects that it would be nice to have help with, but compared to the rest of the world our needs are small. Is..? That what you came to ask?"

    "Partially. With everything that's happened… Superman is thinking about using kryptonian technology to… Improve somewhere. I thought that we could talk Adom into letting us work on an impoverished area of Kahndaq, but if everything here is basically fine that would probably be a waste of time."

    "Yes, but…" He looks thoughtful for a moment. "Have you heard of Tynanda?"

    "Yes."

    "The country collapsed under the effect of the Anti-Life. My brother extended his power there, but there is no government to organise things. No government which could authorise us moving in to help people. Some Tynandans have come here to ask us to, but my brother has hesitated."

    "I understand. He doesn't want to look like an opportunistic warlord."

    "I do not know what Superman intends, but I do not think that he could make the situation worse. They have little infrastructure as it is."

    "I'll take a look. Thank you for the suggestion."

    "You..? Cannot stay for breakfast?"

    "I'm sorry, but we've covered what I wanted to talk to Adom about and with everything else that's happening..."

    "I understand." He nods. "Perhaps when things are more calm?"

    "Thank you. I would like that."
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2023
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  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th March 2013
    06:58 GMT +2


    "Good morning, Georgios."

    The bare-chested man nods at me, but doesn't otherwise react. Looking at him is interesting. He's actually a little under six feet tall, but he… Feels larger. And not just because of the additional bulk his muscles lend him. And those muscles look like they're both in perfect proportion to form the masculine ideal and absolutely massive things capable of crushing bricks between them at the same time, like a picture that can either be a vase or two faces. Spiritually-enhanced martial arts: not just for the Orientals.

    Georgios and his fellow Sons of Kratos did sterling work in keeping Greece functioning, though… Unlike Amon they simply weren't strong enough to fight the most powerful Justifiers. But they could fight and keep the people around them from being overwhelmed, and they used that to tour the country to stop any one place getting too bad. The Greek government is actually… It wasn't functioning, but it started up again fairly quickly.

    "Any news on your teacher?"

    A slight head-shake. About what I was expecting.

    I haven't been able to establish perfect timelines, but Kratos, Ploutos and Hera all disappeared from their civilian lives at some point after the Anti-Life hit. Naturally, the Sons of Kratos weren't exactly helpless without their god. Their whole philosophy involves being willing to tough problems out and push on through regardless of the opposition. Still, it would be helpful if I could get in contact with an Olympian. Zeus implied that he didn't know where they'd gone, but I'd understand if he's not really inclined to answer my questions helpfully.

    The Anti-Life is gone. They shouldn't still be under attack. I don't want to try taking an elf-path back because, firstly, I don't have a guide, and secondly because I don't want to wander in blind if something else is going on.

    "I'll let you know if I hear anything."

    That gets me another small nod, then he steps aside and lets me into the Prime Minister's office.

    There's a desk next to the main window, but at the moment the most powerful people in Greek government are seated around a medium-sized table off to one side. Paperwork is mixed with the detritus of breakfast as they try and get the country into shape.

    "Mister Prime Minister. Defence Minister. Finance Minister."

    The Prime Minister raises his coffee cup in greeting. "Orange Lantern. On behalf of the Republic of Greece, thank you for freeing us from the Anti-Life."

    "Sorry it took so long. Ah, look, you're all busy people, so I'll get on with it. The Justice League -which in this context means Superman and me- are thinking about releasing some very advanced technologies to human civilisation, and we want some places to volunteer-"

    The Defence Minister blinks as he works out what I'm offering a little ahead of the other two.

    "-to be our canaries."

    The Finance Minister, possessing the bloodshot eyes of a man trying to fill in for a God of Finance and finding out that it's impossible, blinks in confusion.

    "Canaries?"

    "In Britain, miners would take small birds in cages down the mines with them as carbon monoxide detectors. If there was carbon monoxide, the canaries died before the miners and they knew to evacuate."

    They all stare at me.

    "Sorry, I have a fairly black sense of humour. My point is that we don't know what the economic effect of this will be, so we're asking for volunteers."

    The Prime Minister takes a moment to regain his equilibrium. "What exactly are you offering?"

    "Improved power generation is the obvious thing. I can give you enough bleed torsion generators to replace everything that you use now, and I can-. Well, I can't explain the physics, but I can give your physicists a full written explanation written by other people so that you can learn to build your own. I think Kal-El has some sort of improved recycling technology he wants to share, along with graphene-producing towers that pull carbon out of the air and make a super-strong building material out of it."

    I shrug.

    "I'm afraid that my Dolmen Gate project is on indefinite hiatus until Atlantis drops its shields, but Superman and I both have teleportation technology that doesn't use magic. We're.. probably going to want to black box those, but it will still make it much easier to transport goods around. Or if you want something that you can build without us, we've got all sorts of aircraft designs that are generations ahead of anything on Earth."

    "What..?" The Defence Minister glances at his colleague for a moment. "What about magic?"

    "Sorry, but with Atlantis incommunicado we don’t have the spare magic capacity to use magic industrially. Even KordTech's weather control system production line has shut down, and we have no idea when it could be started up again. Is..? That a problem?"

    "Nnnno." The Prime Minister shakes his head. "No. It will make things easier. Will you also be offering anything else?"

    "We don't really have a plan. As I said, we've never done this before and we don't know exactly how things will work out. I've got-. There's basically nothing that we can't improve, the challenge will be actually integrating it with Greek society rather than just giving people technological hand-outs."

    He nods, slightly stunned. "I will need to discuss that with the full cabinet, and with parliament."

    "Of course. I appreciate that this is a big deal."

    "Is anywhere else under consideration?

    "Tynanda."

    He looks blank.

    "It's in north-west Africa. Civilisation sort of passed it by, its exports are narcotics and people and we couldn't really make the situation worse. We might talk to other places as well but this is a radical departure from how we normally work and there's a high degree of institutional inertia."

    He nods cautiously.

    "Ah, thank you for your time. Is there.. anything you wanted to ask me?"

    "What has become of Themyscira?"

    "Oh! Ah, firstly, they're all alright. The island got moved to serve as an outer defence for Olympus. I'm not really sure why it hasn't reappeared yet, but that's… That's something that I will investigate once things are a little more stable."

    "I would appreciate it if you could make it a priority. There are… Creatures in the water around Themyscira which are still here. We are concerned what they will do without the Amazons to watch over them."

    Ah. Yes, that's a reasonable concern. And there aren't really a lot of people who those creatures might recognise. Actually, it's basically just Donna and maybe Kon.

    I nod.

    "I'll get on that today. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. Was there anything else?"

    The Defence Minister nods. "What would happen if whoever sent this… 'Anti-Life' did it again today?"

    "Ah, well, that required a whole broadcast network that doesn't exist. It would be unpleasant in a small area, but that's about it. If you mean 'are we immune now', no, I don't think so. I think that planetary defence is something that governments should look at once they… Ah… Start existing again."

    The Prime Minister nods. "Thank you, Orange Lantern. That is all."
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2023
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  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Earth 12

    21st September 2039
    09:43 GMT -5


    So this is what Gotham looks like now? Can't say I think much of it. As far as I'm concerned it's just a cyberpunk dystopia without any of the interesting parts. We've had teleportation for over forty years and the roads are still jammed with traffic, the growing density of the city resulting in ridiculous-. Overpasses, the Americans call them. Insane multi-layer roads on stilts.

    They rebuilt Gotham after an earthquake levelled half of it and rendered the other half structurally unsound, and they built these?

    I look out of the bus window at… They actually built an elevator for taking people from ground level to the upper portion of the city. It's exposed to the wind on both sides. Anything more than a breeze and it would sway-.

    This place hasn't gotten any less insane in the last forty years. It's just that the insanity has gotten more spread out, infecting more people so that none of them can notice it. I pat the case on the floor between my legs and try to work out whether I'm still spry enough to open it before we hit the ground, or if I need to get someone to build a quick-deploy mechanism for ease of use. Could go either way, though I will say that I appreciate how far apart the rows of seats are. Definitely wouldn't be able to fish it out fast enough on most buses.

    The driver brakes a little hard, but I suppose that's one of the perils of inner city driving. The plethora of morons around you in fast moving lumps of metal. I rise to my feet, taking my case in my left hand as I reach for the rail with my right. Still in better nick that most people my age but there's no sense in taking unnecessary risks. I walk-.

    Wait, we're not at the stop. Why is-?

    The driver shrinks back as a large and heavily muscled man wearing mostly faux-leather roughly shoves the door open and stomps on board. Ah, yes, I see that his similarly buff confederates are setting up barricades across the road, having gotten up here by… Don't know. They're armed with automatic rifles, and a couple of them have rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

    The more things change, the more they remain the same, I suppose.

    "Everybody! Hands where I can see 'em! This vehicle now belongs to the Envenomed!"

    I sigh, half-turn to put my briefcase on my seat and open it. Good job Doctor Knight built things to last. I-.

    Glass shatters and there's a roar of rockets behind me and I turn around as fast as I can with my fingers around the activator as-.

    Duck!

    As Terrence McBatman flies over my head, pushing the thug who had been holding up the bus driver in front of him, smashing him into -and through- the rear window before throwing him into the traffic jam behind us!

    Terrence hovers just behind the bus on… Rocket feet? As the Envenomed thug jumps back up. He's got a few scrapes from the impact but if he's a venom user then I doubt that he can feel them.

    "Leather convention was last month."

    "Bat-MAAAAAN!"

    The thug leaps at him, and Batman easily darts to the side before throwing-. Before hitting him with an electrified bolas which wraps itself around him before trying very hard to shock him unconscious. It doesn't quite manage it, but it does enough that he can't muster up the strength to free himself. While he's doing that Batman is launching batarangs, targetting the guns being carried by the other gang members-.

    RPG launcher woman takes a look at her weapon, pulls the rocket grenade out and throws it at-.

    I'm on my feet, pressing the stud for 'flight' and flying for the shattered front window of the bus. Land and oh I'm too old for this, flight off and shield up and plant my feet because it doesn't soak all of the kinetic-.

    PWOOOOOOF!

    Urgh, kinetic energy.

    Ugh.

    As the smoke clears I watch Batman rocket punch the Envenomed woman, sending her spinning across the road and over the edge. Ah, heck, flight-.

    No, Batman's already on it, flying over to the edge and firing a grappling line down to catch her before she can hit anything. Other Envenomed are sporting various injuries but most of them are still more or less on their feet. But this location means that there isn't really anywhere for them to run to. Two try running down the road anyway, and get their legs bolased for their trouble. Another makes a leap over to another road a few levels down from us and is promptly the focus point of a five-car pile-up. The drivers were trying to avoid him so he mostly took glancing hits, but that looks like it earned him a few broken bones at the very least.

    "Are you okay?!"

    Batman is standing in front of the bus, looking up at me. I wave my free hand dismissively.

    "Yes, fine. Carry on. I-."

    "Ain't too clever, huh?" Someone grabs me from behind, one arm around my chest and the other-. Ah, holding a knife to my right eye. "Guess peripheral vision get real bad when you get old."

    "Let him go!"

    "Heh. That line ever worked, batty-boy?"

    Ah, let's see. Personal shield is there, slip the gravity rod up my sleeve, and I'm good.

    "Batman, just shoot him."

    He jerks, clearly surprised at what I said, but returns his full attention to the thug an instant later.

    "At the moment it's assault and robbery. Make it murder and I throw you over the edge to be with your friends."

    "I don't think you'll do it. You're not even the real Batman."

    Er… Let's see. I can see people running out of the bus. Twist my thumb

    "I'm real enough for-."

    Force blast.

    The man who grabbed me goes flying backwards into the driver's compartment, knife flying out of his hand as he does. Batman's on him an instant later, beating him around the head until he finally loses consciousness. Batman then shoves him to the ground and cuffs him before turning to check on me.

    "Sir, are you alright?"

    "Perfectly fine. Hardly my first one of these. I wasn't in any danger."

    "Ah…"

    I let the gravity rod slide into my hand and hold it up. "Peter Wynne. I used to work with your predecessor."

    Batman checks over the thugs he's captured, but none of them appear to be interested in offering further resistance.

    "Aren't you the second richest guy in the world?"

    "I doubt I'm more than seventh, honestly."

    "What's a guy like you doing riding the bus?"

    "Trying not to draw attention. Then Gotham happened." I look at the bus, and… Yes, that's not going anywhere. "The police are going to need a statement, aren't they?"

    In the distance I hear sirens, as one of those flying police cars starts heading our way.

    "On the plus side, it looks like your appointment with the Commissioner got moved up."

    "That's something. I won't keep you, but I will need to talk to you and the other one some time this week. I-."

    And he's gone.

    I head back into the bus to stow the rod in its case before the police arrive. For a country that recognises gun ownership as a constitutional right, American police can get surprisingly shirty about me having it. Ugh, even with the meeting effectively being moved up I'm going to be delayed longer. Where's that phone

    "Message to Samuel Young. My apologies. Delayed by gang activity. You're the D.A.. Do better."
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2023
  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Earth 12

    21st September 2039
    10:24 GMT -5


    Now there's a woman I haven't seen for a while. Always thought that it was a shame things didn't work out with her and Grayson. And that she never had children. I used to say that I was disinterested in that myself, but after Barbara 'cured' herself that… Ah… That was almost the first thing we did.

    And if the amount you love your children can be measured by the amount of their excrement you have to clean up… Well, I know that most of my alter-egos use their power rings for that sort of thing, but I think that doing it manually was a bonding experience.

    "…a hero."

    Oh, she's… Looking at me.

    "Sorry, miles away. What was that?"

    "You took a hit from a rocket that would have totalled the bus and everyone on it. Then you didn't break a sweat when they took you prisoner."

    "It's not the first time."

    "You wanna fill in the blanks for me?"

    I look at her for a moment-. Ah.

    "You don't recognise me, do you?" She raises her eyebrows a little. "We haven't seen each other for over forty years, so it's… I just sort of assumed that Mister Young might have mentioned that I was visiting." I hold out my right hand. "Peter Wynne."

    "Oh." She takes my hand loosely for about half a second. "And you came on a bus?"

    "I assumed that it was possible to drive through Gotham safe from highway pirates." She looks unimpressed. "Look, it was either drive all the way here which would take hours, fly in and rent a car or fly in and use a bus. The bus was less hassle."

    "You don't think you were the target?"

    "They didn't say anything about wanting me in particular. And… Most criminal gangs who actually know who I am realise that… Ah… If anything happened to me…"

    "Your employees would take it personally. Your supervillain employees."

    A couple of uniformed officers look around from interviewing the other bus passengers.

    "Ah…" I reach up to rub my neck with my right hand, feeling the small scar. "It's not a completely reliable defence, but it does mean that some people think twice. Apparently, not venom-users."

    She glances back to where the more heavily armoured police are frog-marching the Envenomed into police transport aircraft.

    "We don't know it's venom. Unless there's something you wanna tell me?"

    I shrug. "Venom has virtually no medical uses. My laboratories could make it, but so could most modern secondary school chemistry labs."

    "Why are you in Gotham, anyway? Recruiting again?"

    "Oh, ah… I'm here to talk you and Mister Young into resigning before I sue you."

    "Tcha-." She blinks, her eyes widening. "Excuse me?"

    "That drug you had your police force use on the splicers. Where do you think it was developed?"

    She frowns. "That was-." Her frown deepens. "You made it?"

    "My late wife and her team made it. What I'm curious about, if you didn't know that, is where you got it from."

    She considers me for a moment. "There's no way you don't know. And there's no way I'm giving you ammunition for a completely frivolous lawsuit."

    "No, this is what we can do instead of a lawsuit. So far, my legal firm is just gathering information. But if it turns out that anyone that you used it on suffers any ill-effects because you didn't share information with the company that actually knows how it works, that's off the table, and you would be responsible for whatever those consequences were."

    "Like what, they turn into regular humans?"

    "And it was intended to be used in a controlled medical environment, after taking a full genetic workup of the person it was being used on. The risk of negative effects if you don't take proper precautions is quite high. In our tests, brain damage was actually quite common, because the brain isn't really designed to have parts grow or shrivel up in a few seconds and it doesn't recover. Losing the body parts responsible for magnetoreception can actually cause strokes due to the electrical discharges. Rapid changes to blood chemistry-."

    "Fine. Do you want your doctors to have access to the suspects?"

    "The question is: do you? Because the moment that my people have access they will use that to gather evidence of your department's negligence."

    "I don’t want them dead."

    "Good. Good. And then there's the decision that you made in using it in the first place."

    "I'm not going to apologise for taking down violent criminals."

    "You and Mister Young gave yourself the authority to rewrite the DNA of Gotham citizens at will. Administering drugs like that to unwilling patients requires a court order for each instance that you did not have."

    "I do have the authority to do whatever is necessary to stop them when they're in the middle of committing crimes!"

    "Whatever is necessary, yes. But it's an objective test. Injecting yourself with sheep DNA doesn't make you immune to standard stun rounds or gas grenades. Barbara-."

    "What?"

    "No, not-. Barbara Minerva. Cheetah. Was arrested by normal police three times, and that was with the equipment police had forty years ago."

    "Your wife."

    "So as you can understand, I know her case very well. Being as strong as an unusually strong sheep does not necessitate a full genetic rewrite, if for no other reason than accepting it gives the police the right to rewrite any genetics that they don't like."

    "I can't believe-." She shakes her head and turns to leave. "You can deal with our lawyers."

    "Alright. I will."

    I take a breath, then let it out. That was always a long shot. But it's always sad when good people end up doing things like this. She's probably done a lot of good work, but…

    What am I saying? This city is the hub of a network of Joker-themed criminal gangs. If Gotham -the place that suffered most from the Joker's attention- has that, then the person who is supposed to be policing it clearly isn't up to the job.

    The police are blocking off the road, and the traffic jam is already large enough that there's no way that I'm going to get a taxi here. I could charter an aircraft, but…

    But I have a small aircraft pilot's licence for a reason.

    I pop open my case and fish out the gravity rod. Bit of a risk if there's a sniper watching out for me, but I doubt that's the case here. No one.. looking…

    I press the 'flight' button and hold the gravity rod aloft, rising above the road and leaving the crime scene below me. I've got my meeting with Mr. Young where I'm going to cover those exact points again, and then…

    Convincing Dr. Cuvier to accept my firm's legal representation.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2023
  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th March 2013
    08:05 GMT +3


    Yes, that's definitely the place where Themyscira isn't.

    The waves lap gently below me as I stare at the sea.

    It's not even as if the island was ripped off the bedrock. Examining the sea floor… If not for the fact that I've been here before and I can compare the shapes that the flows of the water have dug into the sub-aquatic detritus to what used to be there. The water is flowing differently now that the islands aren't there, but I can see where things have started shifting.

    And down, down in the deeper parts, I can see Scylla.

    It's a little like a magic eye picture. Scylla is so big that I spent a little while trying to work out how an aquatic mountain that shape could have formed there, and that's with power ring scans. Something about her nature makes her respond in an irregular way to scans. Either that or I just can't get my head around the idea of a creature that big.

    Fortunately, she's not doing much, and I don't think that poking her and saying 'are you okay?!' would help the situation. Instead, I fabricate a monitoring drone and set it loose. Any change in the position of that giant pile of supernatural meat, it'll ping-

    I frown as I notice a winged shape to the west.

    -me. Yes, we're not far from the harpy's home islands here, but it's not exactly a short flight and-.

    And she's wallowing in the air. I transition closer and create a perch for her.

    "You're a way from-"

    She starts, blinks, focuses on me and… And smiles.

    "Pavlos!"

    That's… Rather nice.

    "-home. What brings you here?"

    She holds her wings open while she checks my construct, harpy flight being more about using magic to manipulate air currents than about raw muscle. Satisfied, she flaps down and locks her claws around the perch.

    "I need to talk to Princess Diana."

    "She's…"

    Her eyes widen. "Has she died?"

    "No, no, but she's pretty busy. Is there anything I can do? Ah, how is everyone?"

    "Yes! Yes! I need-. My brother."

    "Okay, what does he look like?"

    "No, he-. The great misery. When everyone..."

    "It was the same everywhere."

    "It did something else to him. And now it is gone, he blames himself for what it made him do. But if it was the same everywhere then it was not his fault! You can tell him!"

    Yes, I can, but depending on what the Anti-Life did to him, he might not listen.

    "I can certainly try. Can you take me to him?"

    "Um." She flaps her wings lethargically, and winces. "Could I rest here for a moment?"

    "You're from Santorini?" She nods. "I'll take us back."

    Ring, plot course.

    Compliance.

    "Stand by for transition. Three-."

    "Transition?" She frowns. "Like a play?"

    "Yes. Our surroundings will be one thing one moment, and another thing the next. You shouldn't feel anything, but if you do then tell me immediately, alright?"

    She nods.

    "Three, two, one."

    The sea where Themyscira should be vanishes, and is replaced by the island of Santorini. From what I can see the harpies have either carried on or gone back to their usual way of life. An advantage of a simple existence is that each part isn't dependent on a hundred other things happening just so. The only change I can see from my last visit -aside from the absence of the cruise liner- is that they've built a small jetty.

    I frown as I try to work out how they could have done that with foot claws and without… They wouldn't even have saw blades. I could see them making a raft and anchoring it, but those are clearly sawn planks.

    "Oh! The water-path! Yes, some humans from Greece built it, so they would have somewhere to tie their boat when they visit!"

    "Why were there humans here?"

    "They were sent by the ruler of Greece. They want to be able to talk to us regularly to make sure there aren't any more problems."

    I nod. "How often do they visit?"

    "In spring and in autumn."

    Huh. A bit odd they bothered building a jetty, but maybe they wanted a boat big enough to make the trip at least somewhat comfortable, rather than a small boat it was practical to drag up the beach? We're not that close to the mainland here. Good on the Greek government for being proactive. Maybe they thought that they could charge extra for taking a select few tourists here?

    "That way." She gestures with her wing towards a barren hillside. "There's a cave in the cliff. He's been living there."

    "Rightoh."

    I fly us in that direction, waving at a small flock who are out fishing for breakfast. Taking a look… Hm. I can see the residue of the Life Entity's touch, but more than that, the Anti-Life doesn't appear to have penetrated all that deeply into their psyches. And now I'm remembering my college psychology textbook, the part about under and over social regulation. The harpies know that the rest of the world exists, but they don't really interact with it. So the only culture they have is their own. The only lifestyle they know is their own.

    Reject humanity. Return to birdie.

    Scan-. Yeah. He's in there, lurking in the back. It's not a very deep cave, and if I'm reading his physiology right he's got absolutely no intention of attacking anyone.

    "I assume that you've tried talking to him."

    "Yes! And so has our younger brother and our parents."

    "Alright." I lower the construct she's standing on onto one of the rocks outside. "I think I should talk to him on my own, so if you could just wait out here?"

    She nods and hops off, claws clacking against the rocks as she grips them.

    "What's his name?"

    "His name is Dorian."

    "Thank you." I land and walk over to the cave entrance. "Dorian? It's Orange Lantern. I was here with Diana a couple of years ago?"

    My rings shows me him ruffling his wings slightly, but there's no other response.

    "I'm coming in."
     
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  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Dorian's feathers look pretty dirty as he mantles himself and tries to press himself backwards into the wall.

    "Dorian?"

    "Leave me."

    "I'm afraid that I won't be doing that. Your sister only gave me a vague idea of what happened."

    "Daphne should not waste her time. What I did was unforgivable."

    "Since she appears to have forgiven you, I'd say that you're factually wrong-."

    "She hasn't forgiven me, she just lies to herself about what happened."

    "Alright, ah…" I nod. "Why don’t you tell me what happened?"

    "Everyone else on the island rejected the evil voice. I was the only one who listened. The only one who it… It made sense to."

    "That might be the case around here, but on the mainland a lot of people went with it."

    Though it raises the question of what's different about him.

    "But I am not from the mainland. I am from here." He's spiralling. "None of my people-."

    "So what's different about you? What is it that you do that the others don't?"

    He shuffles awkwardly. "I look-. I was interested in the human ships."

    "Okay?"

    "Even before… Before you visited, I used to fly over to look at them when they were sailing nearby. I was probably the reason why they kept coming."

    "Did you actually land on any of the ships?"

    "I-. It-. No. I flew over them, or landed on a rock and watched them. It wasn't-. I was the first of us to land on the ship we stole. And after that I flew over to any ship that was in the area. I liked talking to the people-. Even if I couldn't understand them."

    "Ah."

    "Was that it, then? Was I wrong to do that?"

    "No, but-. The Anti-Life has larger effects on people who aren't… Moored. Most harpies don't know other ways of life. But you saw a lot more."

    He looks directly at me for the first time.

    "So it was my fault."

    "No, you just-. You were unlucky. Different people think in different ways, and you had the bad luck to encounter something that your way of thinking made you more vulnerable to. What did it tell you?"

    His wings relax slightly. "The.. evil voice?"

    "Yes."

    "It didn't-. Tell me, it-."

    "I understand. I heard it too. It's more like it's your own thoughts coming back at you. Things you don't like thinking about-."

    "But you know that it's true. Yes, it was-. I… I said…"

    He starts shrinking back in on himself.

    "Please. Tell me."

    "My own voice told me that I wanted to learn about humans because I recognised that we had done nothing for three thousand years. We live on the same island as our ancestors, we do the same things, tell the same stories, and nothing changes and nothing will until one day the humans will destroy us and it will probably be by accident. We rely on the fish, and they nearly drove them off without realising that we rely on them. There was no malice, but the big boat they use to sail around for fun did that. And-. And once they were no more able to make things than we are, but now they make things that we cannot imagine. That we physically cannot make."

    His wings are fully drooping, his muscles relaxed.

    "They will always become more than they are, and we… We may as well not exist."

    "Mm. Yeah. Honestly, I'd go crazy living on an island this this."

    "What?"

    "What did you expect me to say? Just put it out of your head and stop thinking about it? It's not that simple. We both know that. What has been learned cannot be unlearned. The white light might have gotten the evil voice out of your head but you still know what you know."

    "So, what? I just stay in this cave until I die?"

    "What were you planning on doing?"

    "I don't know! I don't.. know. It's like there's something missing in me, and I can't-. I don't know."

    "Okay. So if you've got no real idea, any idea's better than what you're doing now. Right?"

    "I-I don't know." … "Yes."

    "We found the man who did it." His eyes widen. "He was a bandit chief trying to get weapons that would let him steal better. He made a pact with a god, and that god's magic gradually took him over."

    "What happened to him?"

    "The white light freed him too. So we put him to work as a wagoner."

    "But he-. He did-."

    "He didn't mean to, and the god's magic overwhelmed him. We could punish him, but he genuinely hates what he did and wants to make up for it. So we put him to work."

    "Oh."

    "If you did anything while you were under the influence? Whatever it was, it can't have been as much as him."

    "No, I-. I stole-. I tried to steal a boat. The humans on it were-. They didn't seem to know what they were doing. I learned enough New Greek to give them some orders and they… Often, they obeyed. That was something else the voice said was normal."

    "The strong give orders, the weak obey them."

    "We don’t obey our elders because they are stronger than us, we obey them because they know more, they have more experience. Because they care for our community-. I was so sure I was right. A-and I want to say I wasn't, but…"

    "I have a suggestion. Come with me. I'll put you to work fixing things, and you can see some of the drawbacks of human civilisation. Once you know a bit more, you can have a think about whether you think your people need to change the way they live or not."

    "That would be too arrogant of me."

    "Have any of the elders ever been to mainland Greece?"

    "I…" He frowns thoughtfully. "Think that Iolus did once."

    "For long enough to learn how their society worked?"

    "No."

    "Then you'll know something that they don't, even if all you do is tell them about it. So how about it?"
     
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  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    "Dorian!"

    The female harpy-. I should have asked her-

    "H-hello Maia."

    -what her name was. She flap-hops over to hug him, nose wrinkling only briefly at the smell.

    "If you like, I can fix your feathers."

    He makes eye contact with me over his sister's shoulders. "Yes. Please."

    Okay, scan his sister so that I know what feathers look like when they're in good condition, then remove whatever dust, skin cells, sweat and other detritus has accumulated on his body, remembering that feathers need oil. Okay, that-.

    Maia pulls away slightly as the orange wave finishes its work, sniffing curiously. Dorian frowns and sniffs his right wing. They make eye contact, and Maia laughs.

    "It's better!"

    Dorian ruffles his feathers and then steps past her. "I will-. Please tell our parents that I am leaving the island for a while."

    "But-."

    "I will be coming back once my head is clear. But I.. need to leave for now."

    She nods.

    "Don't worry, he's in good hands." I turn to Dorian as I rise into the air. "Shall we?"

    He flaps his wings, rapidly gaining height as he rises off the cliff.

    "Where are you going?"

    "The Themysciran embassy in New York is still there, and the staff both speak Ancient Greek and know how to introduce people from the Greek mythos to modernity. But first we're going to spend a few hours doing a search of the area. The Greek government is concerned that without Themyscira around some other peoples might start getting rowdy."

    "You should check on the sirens. I do not know if they are actually doing anything, but they had very bad habits in the past."

    I nod. Despite some depictions showing them mermaids -and the notably weird one in Ducktails where they're giant angler fish lures, the sirens are actually demi-god harpies. A bit larger, a bit stronger, much longer lived and possessing a knack for manipulating the air to create entrancing sound. Diana wasn’t entirely sure if the hypnotic element was inherently magical or if the hypnosis was just the result of exposing the human brain to that noise. Ancient Greeks didn't really distinguish between magic and feats of extreme skill.

    I wonder what they'd think of Werner Vertigo's device? Wouldn't hurt to show them a copy.

    "Are they still living on the same island?" Maia nods. "Then that's our first stop. Thank you."

    I transition upwards, pulling level with Dorian.

    "You sister wants us to look in on the sirens. Are you alright with doing that, or would you rather wait while I handle it?"

    "I will come. They are less likely to be violent if I am with you."

    "Rightoh. You may experience a moment of disorientation as we appear near their island."

    He nods, continuing to flap. I attach a filament and-.

    And we're there. What was once a series of small rocks sticking out of the ocean but is now a siren-made island of wood taken from wrecked ships. The sea is fairly shallow, strong currents easily able to smash a ship into the barely-submerged rocks.

    Huh. So maybe the harpies could have built that jetty. It wouldn't have been easy, but the main issue would be getting the metal ore to make the saws-.

    They're mind control specialists. They could just have gotten the surviving crew to build things before they ate them.

    Not a lot of metal. Their action in grabbing a British ship during World War Two was what led to their first confrontation with Diana, and after that… No fibreglass either, so I suppose that they're behaving themselves. Scans show nothing, because they've had plenty of time to ward this place.

    "Hello!"

    "WHAT?!"

    That.. was interesting. The air around me trembled, but there wasn't any entrancing property. And the air between me and the island didn't vibrate, so she wasn't just shouting.

    "I said, 'hello'!"

    The door of a structure that looks like a cabin that was ripped wholesale from the deck of a eighteenth century warship opens, and a somewhat dishevelled siren stalks out.

    Though when I say dishevelled… That's a t-shirt. A printed t-shirt, long enough to serve as a nightie. Harpies don't bother with clothing. Their island is too small for raising wool animals or planting cotton, and their feathers cover… Well, the essentials.

    "And I said 'what'?" She rubs her eyes with her wings. "I'm still on American time. What do you want?"

    "To.. check that you were in good physical and psychological health."

    She blinks up at me. "Yeah?"

    "And your sisters?"

    "Probably? They're all-. Wait." She appears to become more alert. "Do you think we all live here?"

    "I hadn't researched the topic in detail, I just… assumed so."

    "We don't-. Get down here." Dorian flies down at once, and I follow a moment later. Is that… Mascara? And lipstick? "We don’t live here. After our fight with Diana, it didn't take us long to realise that the world had gotten a lot more interesting. So we talked about it, and then we went on a journey."

    "Just… Wandering around, seeing the sights?"

    "We paid our way by singing. Not hypnotic singing, just the regular kind. And it was a lot better than living on a pile of rotting wood."

    "So… Why are you here?"

    Her talons clench, gouging a furrow in the wood.

    "That Anti-Life stuff-. They tried to make us sing it. It-." She ruffles her feathers. "I wanted to sleep somewhere familiar." She looks around. "But it turns out a mouldy pile of wood is a mouldy pile of wood. Next time I'm going to the Hilton."

    "And please understand that I'm only asking this at the request of the Greek government-."

    "We're not entrancing anyone-. Not ships, anyway. Not to wreck them. Once the music industry starts up again, we'll be back to work. But if you're looking for someone who isn't doing so great, I saw some statues of people on the mainland that-" She points. "-way."

    "Greece does have a lot of stat-."

    "As in petrified people. I think one of the gorgons is on the run again."

    I nod. "Thank you for that information. Is there anything you need?"

    "How fast are the banks going to be working again?"

    "We're not prioritising it, so maybe a few months if you're talking about anything beyond local banking? Though if you and your sisters are interested in a commission, I could probably sort something out."

    "I'll talk to them about it. You're with the Justice League, right?" I nod. "And who's the mute?"

    "I'm Dorian."

    "And why is the mute?"

    "He got hit hard by the Anti-Life, and wants to see society outside of the islands."

    "I can do that. My sisters and I can teach you modern human languages, show you around. How about it?"

    Dorian looks at me for confirmation, and I just shrug. His choice. They've probably got cultural knowledge and time that I don't, but if he's reluctant then I'll do it.

    He thinks for a moment, then nods. "Thank you."
     
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  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Unusually new statues are easy to detect once I know what I'm looking for, and for the second time in my professional career I disconnect my own eyes. Diana has fought Medusa before, and the petrification gaze definitely isn't a Laundry Files-style transmutation effect, or a metaphor for an instinctive response to extreme ugliness. It's a magic effect, and she needed direct eye contact to petrify her targets.

    And… Their clothes, apparently. That's a Justifier, and his helmet and armour are fully turned to stone along with his flesh. There's a small house built of stone and mortar up ahead, and I smile as I consider how much easier having a power ring makes something like this. Perseus did this with a blindfold and a shiny shield, and he was up against all three of them.

    "Hello!"

    "Just a moment!"

    There's a strange sort of echo to the shout, but I assume that it's because the shout is travelling through an irregular space or something. I frown at the petrified goat leaning against the wall. Scan for-. Ah. A small scale farm, isolated location… Ah… Scan for-. Yes, several places that have been used to site an outhouse.

    And then she steps out of the house. Unlike with the siren, there's nothing here disrupting my scans, but it still takes me a moment to get my head around what I'm seeing. She's wearing a mask, one with no eye holes and a gorgon decoration on the front.

    "Who is it?"

    "Orange Lantern, one of Princess Diana's students."

    She pulls back slightly. "They attacked me!"

    "Yes, I suspect that you're telling the truth. That's a Justifier, someone whose sense of self was destroyed by the Anti-Life to turn them into an obedient thug. Ah, I already deactivated my own eyes, so if you want to you can take the mask off."

    "Deactivated-? No, I'll leave it on. I can't afford to keep petrifying my own goats. What do you mean, 'deactivated'?"

    "I got into a fight with a man called Johnny Sorrow a while ago. He has an ability quite a lot like yours, but by severing my own optic nerve I was able to bypass it entirely."

    "You blinded yourself?!"

    "I can undo it. I just didn’t want to take the risk of making accidental eye contact."

    I hear a quiet hissing, as if from a dozen different mouths.

    "Alright, Orange Lantern. What do you want?"

    "Are you alright?"

    "What?"

    "The Greek government is in crisis, and the Amazons are absent. They're concerned that certain powerful individuals might take advantage-."

    "No no no.. no. My sister-. I've made something of a life for myself here. How could I rule a country where everyone who makes eye contact with me turns to stone?"

    Hm. I had considered this earlier, but with Medusa in Tartarus and no idea where the other two were, I never put it into practice.

    "Does your power come from your eyes, or does that just trigger the connection? Or if you don't know-."

    "No, it comes from our eyes. Circe checked for Medusa, many years ago. Why?"

    "I could just replace your eyes as I've replaced mine several times. Either with cloned eyes, or with mechanical ones."

    "Cybernetics?"

    "Ah, I'm sorry. I wasn't sure whether you'd know the term or not."

    "Hephaestus-. Hephaestaean sends me letters. Sent me letters. I don't get a lot of visitors."

    "You do live out of the way, here."

    I land in front of her, holding my hands out to the side palms upwards and fabricate both a cybernetic and an organic eye. Cloning tissue from innately magical individuals is a risky business, as what you get either isn't magical -and hence inclined to not work- or is magical -and so does the exact same thing as the original- but I think I know what I'm doing. If it's part of the spell Athena used, the swapping out the original eyes should be enough. In theory, it might even trigger her to turn back into a human, but magical inertia would usually prevent that.

    "I can install either, but-."

    "Come inside so that I can take a look without turning something to stone."

    "Lead the way."

    She walks back into her house, reaching up to pull off her mask the moment she's through the door. I follow her, letting the ring fill in for my eyes. Simple, well-construct furniture, the result of having unlimited time and… Well, hands.

    "Huh."

    She turns around to face me, laying the mask on a table as she does so.

    "I thought you and the others were supposed to be ugly."

    "Oh gods, tell me you're not some sort of snake-cultist. What were they called…? Cobra?"

    "Kobra."

    "That's what I-. With a 'K'?" I nod. "That doesn't even make sense. They're Hindu. Their original holy texts were written in Kannada."

    "I thought they were from India?"

    "No, 'Kannada' with a 'K', the Indian language."

    "Ah, right. Well, their prophesied saviour was an American."

    "And suddenly it makes sense."

    "I'm not a member, though I admit to being familiar with the appearances of other species. Your face is still symmetrical, your scale-pattern is regular and-. Okay, the snakes are a bit disturbing, but I'm sure they could grow on a person."

    "Yes. They did." She takes a step closer and picks up the cybernetic eye. "And this… Works?"

    "Assuming that your body is mostly normal flesh, yes, they will work. I'd offer to implant one in myself as a demonstration, but that would risk turning me to stone. Oh! Ah, semi-related issue, I can also fully upgrade your house if you want. I imagine that you find getting work done a little difficult."

    "New eyes and a new house. You're kind of leaning into the snake-fetishist thing…"

    "I like fixing problems. And I'm affianced, so that’s not an issue. Though… I do know a few people who might be, if you want me to put you in contact? You're basically human on the inside, and this sort of isolation isn't psychologically healthy."

    "I'm… Not sure. I've had my eyes for a long time."

    "Heh. To quote the author Sir Terrance Pratchett, 'my bum has been a bum for a very long time, but I don't have to listen to anything it says'."

    "Hah! Uh. I don't think that one of Diana's students would lie to me, I just-."

    I close my eyes and reconnect my optic nerve. Then I step close enough that her snake hairs could bite and deactivate my environmental shield.

    "I'll replace them one at a time, and you can bite me if it doesn't work. I'd swear an oath to Gaea again, but the grove went with the island."

    "Uh." Oh, I-. Probably violated her personal space there. "Uh. Okay, then. I've never liked my right eye anyway."
     
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  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    I wave my rune stone around another part of Mount Olympus that should register as thaumically active. No reaction, not even something indicating a residue of an old spell. Whatever happened was surprisingly thorough.

    Euryale blinks excessively hard as she looks around the mountainside.

    "Managing alright over there?"

    "Some-. I'm seeing things that I haven't seen before."

    "Do you remember what your vision was like when you were a human?"

    Whatever Athena did to transform her it wasn't bound to her eyes, though we proved that the petrification effect was by testing it on a sparrow.

    "I thought that I did. Is this how humans see things?"

    "The cybernetic eyes can see a far wider range of colours than human eyes, but by default it just has a slight expansion on the normal visual range so that your brain can cope."

    "Do they need to be cleaned or maintained?"

    "They're designed to be cleaned in the same way as organic eyes. Just blink every so often-. Not like that; I mean naturally. As for repairs, I'd normally say 'no', but given how long gorgons appear to live…"

    Ring, appointment calendar.

    Compliance.

    "You should be able to contact me by the Themysciran embassy at any time, but I'll make a note to seek you out in fifty years and make sure that they're still working properly."

    "Thank you."

    Her eyes-. She's sort of trying to look at me with three thousand plus years of instinct telling her not to make eye contact with the helpful human. But since we tested this I just fly directly in front of her and stare into her eyes. Her eyes momentarily widen in shock, then she realises what happened and smiles, bowing her head slightly.

    "Can I offer eyes like these to my sisters?"

    "To Stheno, certainly. To Medusa… I'm not sure whether she has a material body or not, but I don't think that Lord Hades is going to be moderating her punishment anytime soon. Whatever offence the gods gave her, she took it out on a lot of people."

    "Offering it to Stheno would be difficult as well; she was on Themyscira."

    "Um. Did they know that she was there?"

    "Princess Diana did; I don't know who else she told. She wanted to live somewhere with people who wouldn't forget to avoid her gaze."

    "Bit of a shame that there isn't a simple reversal for it, really. It would be easy enough for me to track down the parts of old and broken statues."

    "I-. No, it doesn't work. Even if you turned them back into flesh they would still be dead. Circe tried that once."

    "She undid your petrification spell?"

    "No, she created a spell that did the same thing and then reversed that."

    "I'm… Assuming this was some time ago…"

    "Oh, yes. This was back when Circe had only recently become immortal. She wouldn't have visited us without being sure that she could avoid petrification herself."

    "Okay. Did you have any other ideas about getting into Olympus?"

    "I never studied magic in any detail. I can tell you where most of the old paths are-. Or, were. But that's it. It's not like any of the gods like me."

    Yeah, that's… Fair. Huh. I wonder-.

    "ERIS HAS A FAT ARSE!"

    Euryale shrinks back. "What?"

    "She's nominally my patron. I haven't actually spoken to her directly for a little while so-."

    Splat!



    I wipe the custard pie off my face.

    "I know that's a classic, but this isn't really the time-."

    There's writing on the foil case. I-.

    The pie is construct-proof.

    That would be interesting to study if not for the fact that the construct-proofing means that I can't put it into subspace. Instead, I shake the remains of the pie out and read it.

    "'To: Pavlos. If you're reading this, then you've become too predictable. This is automatic. Try harder. Eris.'"

    Okay, and true, but that doesn't actually help me-.

    The pie case isn't construct-proof, so I can put it into subspace and get a wizard to try using it to track her. That's very nearly progress.

    "What?"

    "Eris and I have an irregular relationship. She-."

    "She p-p-hah-hah-hah-haha!"

    "It's a classic for a reason-. I've still got some on my face, haven't I?" Fabricate a damp flannel and a mirror, wipe… "Right, ah… This has been fun, but the world's in a pretty sorry state at the moment and I need to get back to work. Are you aware of any other Greek mythos persons of interest who might need 'managing' after being exposed to the Anti-Life?"

    "How many people do you think I meet in a year?"

    "Yes, that's a reasonable point. Anything else I can build for you?"

    "No, I'm fine with just the oven. I wouldn't know what to do with modern appliances."

    I nod. "Transition in two, one." And we're back at her house.

    "Thought… Ah." She looks awkward.

    "Do you want me to show your picture to men who might be interested in snake women? I could just give you a computer so you can set up a dating profile."

    "Those things are a terrible way to meet people. I'm not saying-. If there was someone you could refer personally?"

    "No one springs to mind immediately, but I'll ask around. Good day."

    I transition upwards, to the edge of the atmosphere. I'm glad I could help her, I really am, but the rest of the world-. And I haven't found anyone who might be causing magic-based trouble in Greece. Ah. Maybe they didn’t have a specific individual in mind, and it was just an in-case thing?

    Ring, scan the country, and if you don't find anything then I'll just give them an emergency beacon-.

    Missus Hall? What's sheshit!
     
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  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th March 2013
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    Hippolyta Hall, also known as Fury due to the fact that the Erinyes granted her the same superstrength, speed and toughness as her mother at the same cost: when she gets properly angry one of them takes over her body. There was a very good reason why she was so adamant about her retirement and didn't want to visit Thanagar. Her self-control used to be pretty good, but then she spent a month exposed to the Anti-Life.

    "…couldn't help it!"

    The young man thrusts out his hands, electricity leaping out of them and missing Fury as she blurs sideways.

    "You can explain yourself to Hades."

    My ring tracks her lunging faster than my eyes can keep up with, and my construct barricade is there blocking her path. She slams into it, cracking construct cement and bending construct girders, standing still for a moment before looking up at me.

    "Keep out-."

    "Of this, Lantern?" I roll my eyes as she bares her teeth. "Which of the Erinyes am I talking to?"

    "I am Tisiphone, and I deal out righteous punishment to murderers."

    I look at the young man, who appears torn between fleeing and keeping still to avoid drawing attention to himself.

    "Him?"

    "I-I wanted to be a hero."

    "Many heroes were murderers." Her eyes narrow at me. "This one, for example."

    "Fortunately, my murders weren't committed on Earth and so are outside of your jurisdiction."

    "If I did not have a better target I would come for you anyway."

    "Your host will reassert herself eventually. You don't have time to come after someone who can avoid you by flying away." I turn to the lightning-wielder. "You were a Justifier?" He nods. "Come on Tisiphone, you can't punish someone for what the person controlling them made their body do."

    "His mind was still his own. A drunkard can still be punished for killing while drunk."

    "Oh, that's not the same."

    "The Anti-Life added nothing to their thoughts. It granted no one control of their minds."

    "Then how do you explain the fact that they all started acting completely differently?"

    "They changed their minds after being shown the Anti-Life."

    "Right, so-."

    "It counts."

    Which is probably all of the consideration I'm getting.

    "So your plan is to kill everyone affected by the Anti-Life?"

    "I would like to. But I am willing to limit myself to their leader."

    "Mannheim?"

    "Alpha Centurion Marcus Aelius."

    Marcus… Is on the missing persons list. The very long missing persons list, that also has Vincent Edge and my clone on it among many others. He was effectively 'leader' of the Justifiers, hunting down anyone Mannheim took exception to but who wasn't powerful enough to warrant sending Finality Man after or hunting down himself. He killed a lot of people, and I'm not sure if we actually found him it wouldn't be as a corpse with his own sword through his chest.

    But as far as I'm concerned, it's not like being drunk. It's far more than that. It's an arcane power messing with your thoughts, and it's well within the bounds of what should pass blame onto the ultimate source and not dump it on their proxy.

    "So what are you doing here?"

    "This wretch worked with him. He has information for me."

    "I don't know-."

    "And I shall shrive his body until he produces it."

    "I don't know where he is! When-when we were Justifiers, we didn't-. It all just-. It just flowed-. We knew what we were supposed to do, where we were supposed to be… When it-. When it stopped, I was-. I was so horrified that I didn't pay any attention to what was happening. He could be anywhere! He has a spaceship!"

    Ring, contact the Pax Romana.

    Compliance.



    Anything?

    Communication protocols for instant communication in use. No acknowledgement received.

    "Tisiphone, I disagree with your assessment of the Anti-Life. I would like arbitration."

    "By who?"

    "Lady Themis."

    Missus Hall's face curdles even further. Yes, Themis and Tisiphone don't have the best relationship, what with the former's insistence on due process and fairness and the latter's psychotic rage. But hers is the penultimate word on divine justice in the Olympian pantheon and the ultimate word is Hephaestaean, who would be likely to accept my counsel. The question is, how much does Tisiphone actually care?

    Why is she smiling?

    "I will give you three days to get her decision. If she does not countermand me, I will kill every 'Justifier' on the Earth. Do we have an accord?"

    "No, that's asinine. You know perfectly well that the Olympians have become disconnected from Earth. I'm not going to agree to something that would bind me from acting against you when you go psycho. Or something that would help you keep control of that body because 'I will kill' requires you to be around."

    "Then I will simply kill them anyway."

    "Have you killed any already?"

    "Yes."

    I smile. That's that little mystery cleared up, then.

    "You killed them?"

    "Yes."

    "And Lyta Hall didn't."

    "No."

    "But all she has to do is not be angry and you can't control her. Drunk murderers are still murderers."

    "You might have a point. But with the gods absent there is no one who can order me to stop. So I don't care."

    I form a construct railgun and load mage slayers. "The stupid way it is, then."
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2023
  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    When fighting certain types of magical opponent, it's important not to do things that make them stronger. For example, when fighting a being who embodies retribution, don't strike the first blow unless you've got really good lawful authority.

    "By the authority vested in me-"

    My girder-constructs shatter as she tears them apart.

    "-by the government of the Hellenic Republic-"

    I drop a swarm of x-ionised knives between her and her target just as the rock she threw at my face shatters on my construct armour because I'm not a moron.

    "-I am placing you under arrest."

    And obviously you have to state it clearly in a way that the person you're talking to can't pretend they didn't know about, because the point isn't to make you stronger but to make them weaker.

    Tisiphone jumps the knives, putting her in line with my railgun in a position where she can't dodge.

    Fire. At low power because I'm trying to knock Tisiphone out of Mrs. Hall, not kill her.

    And there's a knife in front of my eyes! She-. She grabbed a x-ionised knife and threw it-.

    Construct lost.

    One at me and another through the mage slayer and into the construct hard enough to wreck it. X-ionised weapons don't work especially well as throwing weapons but if she takes it upon herself to use them in melee then that might be a problem.

    So I lift the lightning-thrower off the ground and out of 'super jumping' range before she can throw all of them at me, and stick construct armour around him as well. Now, this will be easiest if I can just break her out of whatever rage let Tisiphone take control in the first place, but since I don't know what that is… Quick check on the 'persons of interest' list…

    "Missus Hall, Hector and Daniel are doing as well as can be expected. I'm sure they'll be-"

    And there are the rest of the knives, biting into the armour but failing to penetrate. And…

    And she's gone.

    Ring, where is she?

    Not found.

    Darn it. I turn to my rescuee. "If you know anything-?"

    "I don't know where he went! I am… Ugh. I'm not cut out to be a superhero. I would have-. Would have sold him out if she-."

    I nod. "Is she focusing on particular people?"

    "She said something-. She's working through.. everyone who actually worked with Alpha Centurion. But-but most of us barely met him!"

    "It's-."

    "She knew him better than we did!"

    That makes an unfortunate amount of sense. I don't know what the Anti-Life would have said to Mrs. Hall to make her fall under its sway-. Or…

    "Do you know where your former comrades are?"

    "Some of them. There was only one Alliance base in Greece, but I worked with a lot of people from other places and…" He twitches. "When we were Justified… Personal stuff didn't matter."

    So she almost certainly doesn’t know either, unless-.

    "Was she teaching classes?"

    "I don't know. She was.. there, though. I remember because I thought it was strange that an American superhero spoke Greek."

    Which means that Mrs. Hall probably does have a list. Does Tisiphone get everything in her head? Don’t know.

    Ah. It's a long shot, but, ring? Access Alliance records.

    Partial records recovered.

    Did she teach any classes?

    Hippolyta Hall taught 'Introduction to Super Strength'. Recorded attendees list available. Warning, list is incomplete.

    Compare list to post-Anti-Life confirmed deaths?

    Updating.

    There aren't that many people with superstrength in the world. And jokes aside most of them don't accidentally rip their surroundings apart, except when under stress. But if you want to be a superhero then you have to avoid accidentally ripping suspects apart while under stress. Or if your small child develops superstrength like Cassandra, whenever they're over-excited. So it was a great class for her to teach, as she'd had superstrength for most of her life as well as plenty of experience of living around superheroes.

    "What can you do?"

    Okay, she's fast but she's not Flash-fast. Next closest person I know that she met-

    "I can throw lightning. I can-. Sort of fly, but I'm not very good at it yet. She knocked me out of the air and I couldn't get up again."

    -is in Thessaloniki.

    "What are you calling yourself?"

    "Son of Zeus?"

    I raise my eyebrows. "Are you?"

    "No. Not literally."

    "Alright Zeusson, I don't know where Fury went, so we're about to check a lot of places really quickly. If you think of anything relevant, pipe up."

    "What do you want me to do?"

    "Avoid dying. Two, one."

    A house-. The street is completely intact. One woman inside matching the description. Not under attack, not under stress.

    "Hey, that's-"

    Next location. And start monitoring news sites and street journalism sites. If she's wrecking places then there should be signs.

    "-Titaness."

    Another street in another part of Greece. No Mrs. Hall. Another. Another. And that's it as far as Greeks who are still alive go. Access police reports. Compare autopsies to the results of Tisiphone's prior rampages.

    Matches available.

    Compare to Alliance classes. Did Marcus pick his co-workers from anywhere in particular?

    Matches available.

    Great, basically pure luck. Nothing from media sources. Try anyway. Transition. Nothing. Transition, nothing. Transition, nothing. Tran-.

    I slam face first into the ground!
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2023
    Ardy, Muyyd, dxdragon and 19 others like this.
  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th March 2013
    08:56 GMT +3


    Armour! And phone-!

    Someone yanks on my arm and throws me-. Uh, throws me into a wall. Solid stone. My kinetic barrier flares on impact, and then… Shuts down? Causing me to drop to the floor.

    Phone Daniel Hall.

    Compliance.

    Arms into a defensive pose prepare cold gun-.

    "Lantern?"

    Take in my environment and lower my arms. "Centurion?"

    Marcus's armour had… Visibly been upgraded with Apokoliptian technology, and there's a young man with a lighter version behind him sharing nervous looks with Son of Zeus.

    "Yes." He looks around the room. "Automator, you must reset your traps as quickly-"

    The young man nods and darts over to.. some sort of sparking device built into the wall.

    "-as possible."

    "You were trying to trap Fury."

    "To trap and calm her, yes. I was too slow to save-."

    "I've read the reports. Why are you still wearing Apokoliptian armour?"

    "I've been… Busy. Was Fury following you?"

    "No, she got away from me and I was trying-."

    "Trying to-" He nods. "-get ahead of her."

    "Y-yeah?"

    "Excuse me. Daniel? Orange Lantern here."

    "What is it?"

    "We've found your mother. Unfortun-"

    "Where?"

    "-ately, she's being controlled by Tisiphone. Greece."

    "You need me to try and talk her down? It's not always that easy."

    "I'd appreciate it if you could try anyway. Please stay on the line."

    "Sure, yeah."

    "Centurion, do you know what set her off?"

    "Yes. She was useful. To me. When I was leading the Justifiers. Strength, endurance, speed… And the magic of one of the Eumenides. One of the few acts of true initiative I was permitted was to try to infect Tisiphone herself with the Anti-Life."

    "Were you successful?"

    "I was never certain, but I made her suffer greatly."

    He pauses for a moment.

    "She has killed other Justifiers, hasn't she?"

    "Apparently her idea of what constitutes a murderer doesn't make allowances for mind control. They're valid targets."

    "I do not believe that."

    "Learning her motive might help get her out of Fury. What do you think?"

    "I hardly think that Fury murdered anyone before the Anti-Life took her. Do you know what happens when a person blessed by the Furies offends against them?"

    "No."

    "This."

    Marcus flies across the room, smashing into Automator and whatever he was building! Son of Zeus steps back so that his back is against the solid stone wall and generates a plasma field around himself. Good. I throw out construct cables and electrify them, because power armour is insulated while Fury is-

    "Eh."

    -wearing her usual minimalistic costume.

    Construct lost.

    Though it's not enough to take her down, given how tough she is.

    "Lyta, Daniel for you!"

    "Mom? Are you there?"

    Construct lost. / Construct lost. / Construct lost.

    My construct armour fractures and the armour beneath deforms from the force of her strike! As my ring speeds up my thoughts I can sort of make out the blur that is Mrs. Hall's face, and send out cables-.

    Construct lost.

    She's moving position, not staying still to hit me because she knows that speedsters can be caught in area attacks like that. Marcus is picking himself up-.

    He's down again, his helmet cratered by a kick.

    "Mom, lots of people did-. Did stuff when the Anti-Life got into their heads. Going crazy isn't gunna help. And you know Tisiphone just likes killing people."

    She hits me and the outer armour around my left arm fractures, held together by the flexible inner layer. Another strike is angled at my neck but is partly deflected by the fact that my armour has a dome rather than a helmet.

    I try-. Agh! Right, shielded, goddess of vengeance. What else? Can't use gas because Son of Zeus isn't wearing a gas mask and Mrs. Hall would need lots of gas to put her down.

    Perhaps trying to calm Mrs. Hall down is the wrong approach?

    "Tisiphone, you shouldn't hold yourself responsible for what the Anti-Life made-"

    Alert! Construct Lanterns-


    Orange hands grab me and shove me to the ground, the Construct Lanterns faces contorted into expressions of murderous wrath! I didn't even kill those-.

    "-you do!"

    Tisiphone slows, picking up-. Picking up the demonically enhanced Nabu helmet and walking towards me.

    "They should."

    "You saw Darkseid's wrath as being righteous, didn't you? That's what it did to you, how it got to you."

    "Go on, put me on him. We can make everyone suffer as they deserve!"


    Tisiphone shoves her left hand through the base of my dome helmet and rips it off!

    "We've all felt it. We all know what it's like. I've seen other gods be taken by it as well. There's always a stronger power out there somewhere, and you ran into one that likes to use other people as tools. Likes to make them go against their most cherished ideals."

    Her face twitches, but she stops moving.

    "Marcus was in the same place as you. The others as well, for the most part. Do you really see Marcus-?"

    A lightning bolt hits her in the side of the head, and she collapses to the ground.
     
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2023
  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th March 2013
    09:00 GMT +3


    "Was..? That right?"

    "No it wasn't ri-!"

    I pull my rogue Construct Lanterns back into my rings as I push myself up, armour flickering with orange light as it knits back together. Oh, so apparently they believed that they were murdered. It looks like the magical definition of 'murder' is a lot more subjective than I thought it was.

    "Mom?! Orange Lantern, what happened?"

    I use constructs to pick up Mrs. Hall's recumbent form and check-. Good, good, heart still beating and still breathing on her own. Hard to get good readings on brain activity with someone as tough as her but from what I can detect she's still functioning.

    "She's alive. Took a lightning bolt to the head. I'll check that Tisiphone's gone and then take her to a hospital."

    "Thank God. I'll tell Dad. Call me back with the name of the hospital?"

    "Of course." I hear the click as he rings off. "Did your lessons cover aftermaths?"

    "Huh?"

    I bind Fury's arms and legs with kinetic neutralisation manacles. "What you're supposed to do when the fighting is over."

    "Hand everything over to the police?"

    I raise my right arm and point at Automator. "Check your friend isn't dead."

    "Shi-."

    He darts over and helps the other youth up. Since Automator's armour doesn't have any sort of anti-magic system, I can see perfectly well that he's still alive. He'll have some nasty bruises and his armour's going to need some work, but that's about it. Marcus on the other hand… Well, he's unconscious, so the shattered jaw isn't hurting him, but that's not the only injury he's carrying.

    Add an extra layer of super strength bindings to Mrs. Hall. Now, strength feat-wise she's never demonstrated anything on the level of Superman -who I know for a fact can bust out of this restraint system in thirty three seconds flat, because he let me test it on him- so it should be enough even if Tisiphone comes back… But that's barring exotic effects, and she's a minor goddess so barring them from consideration would be stupid. On the other hand, I'm not going to try removing the super toughness of someone who just got lightninged in the head. She might be fine with it, or it might kill her.

    "Alpha Centurion?"

    Automator's helmet is off-. He's a teenager, a young teenager. I'd say something about that, but it would be a bit hypocritical. I send my own armour to subspace and march across to Marcus, politely pushing Automator aside as I send filaments into Marcus's armour. Releases are there, there and there. Send filaments inside to… Hold the parts of his face together, not technically necessary as I can just replace them but it will probably stop the other two being sick, and remove the helmet.

    "Oh God. Is he dead?"

    "No. Help me remove his armour, both of you."

    Again, not necessary, but if they're going to make a career out of this they should get into good habits.

    "Right!"

    Hold his jaw in shape and then take a purple healing ray out of subspace and shoot him with it.

    "Is that a healing ray?"

    "Yes. You're familiar with the technology?"

    Automator nods as he removes Marcus's pauldrons. "I've read up on everything you and Mister Kord have released. Ah, should his mouth be bleeding like that?"

    "Bleeding from anywhere's not really ideal. See where his cuirass caved in here?"

    "Ooh. Hey, Micha-." There's a quiet 'clank' as Michasomething slaps him across the cuirass before Automator can say his whole name. "Son of Zeus?"

    I remove the cuirass and start-. There are a lot more scars than last time I scanned him, and it doesn't look like much care was taken in the chirurgery. I briefly consider leaving them in place, but since everyone I've made that offer to has turned it down and he's unconscious anyway I just patch him up with my ring. Arms and legs get the same treatment a moment later. The purple healing ray has mostly dealt with the concussion, so that's not so much of an issue…

    "Hm."

    "What happens now?"

    "Automator, how good are you at power armour?"

    "Oh, this isn't the best I can make. I've just got a small workshop. But I.. don't know alien technology. I can't fix his armour."

    "Fair enough."

    I try transmuting the Apokoliptian technology components, but they're… Resisting, still. So I settle for cutting through the virmiru components around them and just dumping them. I'll stick them on the research pile when I get back to the Watchtower. Fortunately, virmiru technology is considerably less arcane, and between the ring's database and previous scans I can restore his armour to its old functionality.

    "Are you lads going to be alright if I send you home?"

    Son of Zeus shakes his head. "We should stay until we see what she wakes up as. She killed people, and it's not-. She got freed from the Anti-Life at the same time as the rest of us. Tisiphone should be punished."

    "True. Unfortunately, she's not actually in Fury's body, she's just connected to it."

    "So where's her real body?"

    "Don't know. Olympus, probably. And that's been cut off from the Earth." I shrug. "There's no real way to hold her to account now, and there might not ever be one. I'll ask if it comes up, but…"

    He frowns. "That-. That's not right."

    "I suggest focusing on what you can fix."

    "Oh no." I turn around as Mrs. Hall blinks at the world. "She-she-."

    "Yes, I'm afraid that she did. Are you yourself?"

    She nods as much as her harness allows her to, and I begin the process of unlocking it.

    "H-how's Alpha Centurion?"

    "He's physically fine. He should wake up within the next hour."

    "And the-. The others? She killed them, didn't she?"

    "She did. She took the fact that they used the Anti-Life on her personally, even after it was removed."

    "God, God I should have got rid of her years ago, I just-. I had it under control until… Until this."

    "Well… Not much to be done, now. Why don't I take everyone home?"
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2023
  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Earth 12

    21st September 2039
    14:54 GMT -5


    "Uh-h-h-huh."

    Silly old fool.

    I wince as I try clearing my throat, despite knowing perfectly well that there's no obstruction. This is what happens when you overdo it. You know it does, it does every time, but rather than bring a bodyguard you just have to do it yourself.

    And once again, I…

    "Mister Wynne?" The lawyer -Steven Carmichaels- looks at me solicitously. "Would you like a glass of water?"

    "No, no, it's…" I shake my head, looking over to the police officers guarding the ward where Dr. Cuvier is recovering from his overdose. "An interesting story, actually."

    "Oh?" He smiles like the perfect corporate relations lawyer that he is. He isn't forty and yet he's the junior partner who gets sent out when I get 'creative'. One of the senior partners will handle the case, but the initial fieldwork doesn't warrant them turning up in person. On the other hand, I'm a significant enough part of the firm's income to get someone who's in the ascendancy. "Do tell."

    "You're probably too young to remember thalidomide. It was-."

    "Oh, no, Mister Wynne. I wrote a paper on it in college. From the point of view of class action law."

    "Oh, very good. Did you go into the human trials they did before it was cleared for commercial use?"

    "Not in detail, no. I know they would have had to do some-."

    "They did, they did." I nod. "But because the testing was done on volunteers, it was skewed towards the sort of people who would volunteer for medical trials. Which resulted in the test batch being entirely comprised of male medical students. For a drug they wanted to use to fight morning sickness in pregnant women."

    "Je-sus."

    "Didn't test it on a single pregnant woman. Hm." I look aside as the images of some of the drug's first and second wave victims pass through my mind. "Sample bias. You draw conclusions from… Your tests, and it turns out that there's another set that behaves differently in the same situation."

    I reach up with my right hand to feel my scar again. Yes, still there.

    "When I got into the business of working with recovering supervillains, I made a point of reading up on psychological literature relating to… Extreme personalities. So that I could recognise warning signs, people who… Could learn to fit in, but couldn't properly be rehabilitated. Unfortunately, the sample of the general population which the literature covered had some fairly large holes. Psychopaths who come to the attention of the police are overwhelmingly male, so the literature tends to cover their behaviours. And as anyone who's studied autism can tell you, disorders can manifest very differently in men and women."

    I sigh.

    "I didn't recognise the warning signs, so I got a knife in my throat. Bloody thing actually went through one side and out the others. Sheer luck that it didn't hit anything vital, but the scar tissue still causes a few issues."

    "You've… Certainly had an interesting life. What..? Happened to-? Her?"

    "Ms. Smith was arrested, sent to a secure hospital… Someone broke her out eventually, and she turned up dead a few weeks after that. Not due to one of my employees, in case you were wondering."

    "Mister Wynne, I'm a lawyer. As far as I'm concerned, even if it was one of your employees, it wasn't one of your employees."

    "You'll go far with that-" A police sergeant steps out of the ward and gestures for us to enter. "-attitude."

    We rise from our seats and walk inside. Dr. Cuvier is laying in bed, his face… Since they 'cured' him, he doesn't look quite like his publicity pictures. His face is a little rounder, his skin a little darker and his eyes actually look normal.

    He must hate it.

    "Mister Wynne." He pulls on his right arm, handcuffs rattling where they're clamped around the bed rail. "I wasn't expecting… I didn't think you were interested in splicing."

    Mr. Carmichaels raises a hand. "One moment, doctor." He turns around and sticks his head out of the door. "Since I am now meeting with my client, this conversation is covered by attorney-client confidentiality. I understand that you need to stay on guard duty, but nothing you hear can be used in evidence."

    He pulls his head back in and firmly closes the door. I put my case down on a side table and open it, pulling out a sonic barrier. Set it up.. and on… There, that should do it.

    Dr. Cuvier frowns faintly as I sit down next to him. "I'm a little surprised that you're interested in supporting me. You've had access to splicing technology for decades, yet you never used it."

    "Barbara would have hated it if I had. She found her own transformation quite traumatic, the blend of instincts, the dysphoria… And I'm not sure how well my body would cope with a radical physical transformation at my age."

    Dr. Cuvier nods. "While we're on the subject, I always wondered why you never employed Doctor Emile Dorian-."

    I snort. "Why I didn't offer the cat-splicing obsessive a job? That was because of the hundreds of disturbingly creepy letters he sent Barbara, before and after she and I were married."

    "Oh."

    "I mean, I thought that she looked good as Cheetah too, but I knew when to back off. But… But the reason why I'm-. We're here."

    "Yes."

    "I was pleased to see that your company developed a splicing technique that was properly patentable. Barbara only tolerated researching strictly medical applications, but-."

    "But the whole point is to transcend human limits! I feel so-. Slow like this. Do you think they'll let me splice myself back to… Me, before the trial?"

    "No." I shake my head. "Even if you could -and after what happened you need to be seen by specialists before you even think of splicing again- the optics would be terrible."

    He looks away, then nods. "Fine. For now."

    "So, broadly, this is how we're going to approach this. Splicing using your technique is safe. A small number of people carried out crimes after being spliced, but they represent a small minority of the total number of people who used the technology, and since they were overwhelmingly from demographic groups disproportionately inclined to commit crimes relative to the general population it's hardly surprising that the crime rate was similarly elevated."

    He nods cautiously. There's actually a little more to it than that. The sort of people who actually want to alter their bodies like that are… Well, usually people unhappy in their own skins. People alienated from their own lives, and projecting that onto their own bodies. And those are just the sort of people to get completely fixated on their 'true' bodies. Really, Dr. Cuvier's biological screening process was good but he did very little psychological screening at all, and that would have become a problem eventually whatever else happened. Just look at the D&D satanic panic for an example of what can happen when a mentally ill person gets hold of a perfectly harmless product and people decide to blame the set-dressing.

    "The attack on the District Attorney was an impulsive act carried out by some of your supporters after they found out that he would be illegally and immorally forcing them to revert. He unlawfully ordered attacks on them first. When you injected Batman you used the first weapon that came to hand on someone who broke into your office, and anything that happened as a result was his fault. You went into hiding because the District Attorney was clearly acting unlawfully against you and you feared for your safety, and your final rampage happened after Batman forcibly injected you contrary to good practice when using splicing serums."

    He nods slowly. "Do you think that will work?"

    Mr. Carmichaels shakes his head. "No. Not in Gotham. We're going to have to take this to a higher level to get the individual autonomy issues settled. The State Supreme Court, or perhaps the Federal Supreme Court. Realistically, we should be able to get you released on bail inside a week or two, but a final verdict could take up to five years. Depending on whether or not the Supreme Court agrees to hear the issues involved."

    "Are you handling the cases of my employees as well?"

    I nod, and he relaxes slightly.

    "Then I will have to be patient."
     
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2023
  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    6th March 2013
    03:15 GMT -5


    Dr. Balewa crouches down, holding his hands out towards the Lazarus Pit like a man warming his hands on a fire.

    "There are not many of these places in the world."

    I nod. "And?"

    "Your surmise was correct. The site is rejuvenated and can be used again. But I am not convinced thet this is the best use for it."

    "We can resurrect maybe… Thirty people? How would you make that choice?"

    "I would not. I am not God."

    I nod. "Zauriel?"

    "I am reminded of the Book of Job. Though the absence of those we love may be painful, the Lord of Hosts does not promise that the universe of His creation will be free from strife. These are tests for mortals to endure in life, with the certainty that it is in His most holy realm that a full accounting will be made."

    "But you can't see any reason why this would cause any sort of demonic problem?"

    "That is not the sole metric by which you should evaluate your actions, but no. That will not happen here. Those who died were heroic Christians, and their souls are moving towards unification with the Most High."

    "And no one is going to throw a wobbler about this?"

    Zauriel shakes his head. "No. A delay of a few decades is not offensive to the divine order. But even by your standards, I am not sure that their lives are more worth saving than others who have died. If it were my choice, I would give the damned a second chance, having seen the consequences of their decisions."

    "I am afraid thet is not possible." Dr. Balewa pulls his hands in and stands up. "The bodies of all of those who died while they were exposed to the Anti-Life, their bodies were not purified. Restoring them to life would not be safe."

    "That is unfortunate."

    "You're sure that the Kings won't have a problem with it?"

    "Unlike you, we accept the nature of the universe. That includes things that may temporarily remove things from the Lord's loving embrace. But have you reflected upon your own motives?"

    "I don't need to. I'm doing it because I don't want Missus Hall to feel guilty."

    "And not the minor divine Tisiphone?"

    "Gosh, no. She could do with feeling more guilt. Might make her hesitate more before killing people for what they were because someone mind controlled them."

    Zauriel nods slowly. "Yes. Guilt can be a powerful tool for moral education."

    I turn towards Dr. Balewa. "Doctor, this hit me in the face earlier." I take the pie dish out of subspace and offer it to him. "Can you use it to track where Olympus is, and where Themyscira is?"

    He moves it around in his hands, studying it carefully.

    "No. The sudden removal of the Anti-Life and its replacement with the White Light has caused an upheaval in the thaumosphere. The old paths between realms are no longer stable or secure. Once things are calmer, then I can use it to track the gods of the Hellenes."

    "Okay, thank you, keep it with you until then. I'll go and-. Go and get permission from the next of kin to attempt the resurrections."

    6th March 2013
    17:34 GMT +5


    The young woman flails at me as I use a construct to pull her newly-reanimated body out of the pit. Empathic vision shows… Her mind is intact but confused, which is perfectly in-line with expectations. There isn't much point in trying to get through to her while the initial shock wears off a little, and… There isn't much that she could do to me. 'Naiad' has a small water-manipulation ability, most likely as a result of non-human heritage, but she's only ever been able to move relatively small volumes at not particularly high pressure. Honestly, she could do more working as a leak inspector for the Greek water authority, but if she wants to be a superhero then I suppose that I would be a bit of a hypocrite to tell her not to.

    Perhaps this experience might make her reconsider.

    I deposit her on the solid ground at the side of the now-exhausted pit and use my rings to remove as much of the residue as possible before recreating her costume around her. It's a bit basic -a wet suit with a logo sprayed on- but with a little luck the point of familiarity will encourage her to realise where she-.

    I wince slightly as she pulls at the liquid inside my eyes as she stumbles to her feet. I can keep it in place using my rings but there's a slight delay and it feels really weird. Blinding suspects by making their eyes explode is discouraged in Justice League rules of engagement, but is not technically forbidden. I just don’t do it to other people because I have better options, but for a water-manipulator it's distracting and makes it hard to see.

    A flash-bang would still be better.

    "Naiad? Are you there?"

    She's staring at me, not quite seeing but not looking particularly happy with the situation.

    "Naiad?"

    "Gwuh..?" The water in my eyes stops moving and her eyes become a little more focused. Good. "Wha..?"

    "You were rather badly injured, and-."

    "Fury! She wanted to know where Alpha Centurion is! She's going to kill him!"

    "Thank you for the warning. You'll be pleased to know that the evil spirit that was controlling Fury has been removed and everyone is safe. You're the last to recover."

    She stares for a moment, then reaches up to feel her neck.

    "We fixed that. You should be fine, but if you feel any remaining injuries, let me know."

    Zauriel was right. All of the resurrections went off without issue. Which I suppose means that I can assume that we can use these on non-damned monotheistic people.

    Naiad looks around. "Where are we?"

    "The Russian Federation." I transmute the material of the pit into soil. "Don't worry, I can take you home in a few moments. Your parents are expecting you."

    "Okay. But… What happens now? I mean-. You know, right?"

    "To Greece, or the world in general?"

    "Superheroes. People who joined the Alliance because we-. We wanted to help."

    "There's nothing stopping you from doing that on your own initiative. Fury… Isn't going to be available as a trainer for a while, but if you're interested I can have a word with Alpha Centurion. But I suggest that for now you just get on with normal life."

    I send another message to the Pax Romana, to go with those of everyone else I've resurrected. These people got Anti-Lifed, died and when they got back up they still wanted to get back to it. Just looking for a little guidance.

    "I'll take you back now."
     
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2023
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  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    6th March 2013
    22:21 GMT


    I pull open the door to-

    "Are you looking for a book?"

    -a reading room off the library of Queen Triskele's domain.

    Hm.

    The man in front of me has pale skin and black hair, slightly receding. He's wearing a well-tailored black suit, jacket open and showing a white silk shirt beneath. He's holding…

    Ah.

    "Yes. That one."

    "It's a good read." He closes it and looks at the front cover. The other books on the bookcase next to him don't look disturbed. He knew what he was looking for in advance. "'The Expunged Memories of Children?' That's not something that most demons would trouble themselves with."

    "Oh, how clever you are. Clearly it has some particular value to me." He raises his eyebrows very slightly. "I'm not in the mood for messing about. What do you want in exchange?"

    "Direct." He looks mildly upset, and walks away from the bookshelf where their mother hid their memories and sits behind a desk decorated with the spine of a snake, bones wrapped around the edge of the upper surface. He lays the book under his right hand, fingers drumming on the leather. His left rests on what looks like a human skull. "I was hoping for something a little more thought-provoking."

    "I've been here for five days. Nothing about Hell recommends it to me and I really just want to get this over with."

    "It's not really supposed to recommend itself to you. If it does then we're doing something wrong."

    I nod. "True. So?"

    He tightens his grip on the skull, tilting it and then tapping the jaw against the table three times. "What do you know about demon society?"

    "It's a brutal bastardocracy with as much order as the people with the most power choose to impose. There appear to be certain built-in limitations on the locals -the no lying on contractual issues thing is mildly surprising- but that's a matter of the structure of the demons' own magic rather than a sign of actual morals."

    "But what's it all for, do you think?"

    "Hell? Demons? Let's see…" I frown. "As the New God of Conquest, I'd say that the realm is monstrously inefficient at achieving any purpose. As such, what it's for cannot be any particular end. As an educational example of how not to do things, it fails because few people can actually see what goes on and are instead forced to rely on rumours and ancient texts of dubious authenticity. I am aware that demons are alleged to like the setup and find beauty in it, so I suppose it could be an installation art piece where the audience are the participants. And of course the dull option of a place of punishment for the souls that have done something to offend the Source. Or perhaps it doesn't really have one and the people confined to it are just doing whatever."

    Something about that provokes a smile.

    "Inefficient?"

    "Souls don’t last, torn apart for parts or just falling apart when overstressed. Demons are inevitably short-sighted people more dependent on mortal stupidity than really being capable of corrupting someone who wasn't heading that way anyway, and they both love and hate the place by turns. If it was up to me I'd just tear the whole place down."

    "It's been tried. Hell was reopened by popular demand."

    "Turfing everyone out isn't tearing it down, it's inflicting it on other people. No, no, if you've decided that the point is to tempt the souls you don't want in Heaven into disqualifying themselves, don't keep them around to slowly break them into parts. Just get rid of them."

    "Render them down straight away?"

    "What are you making machines for? Making artefacts for? Home improvements? In Hell? Please. Frankly, it looks like Hell is over-staffed to me. There aren't so many summoners that you really need more than… What, a few thousand Succubae? And they're the popular sort of demons. Half that many financial specialists, and then a mere handful of other classes, focusing on the most powerful and flexible. Everything else can just be expunged from the universe at essentially no loss."

    "I see you've got plenty of ideas."

    "Oh, and communications. If you want to let anyone who feels like getting damned get damned then you need to get the word out. As it is, most of the people who would take a deal can't make direct contact."

    "The sort of people who would make a deal would be coming here anyway."

    "Right, but they might wise up as time goes on. Better to get things on paper. And speaking of paper, have you finished with that book?"

    "This?" He picks it up one-handed. "How would you like to make a deal?"

    "I would like to make a trade, but I suspect that you're talking about something more complex."

    "Humans can be impressive innovators. I've never had a New God down here. Are you as creative as they are?"

    "Within my domain, no. I'm not creative, I just do it right. Outside of my domain, it varies. Are you going somewhere with this?"

    "Have you heard of 'outsourcing'?"

    "In theory, it means a company contracting specialists to deal with a subject outside of their core competency. The idea is that a company that has focused on something can do a better job than someone for whom it's only a part of their job."

    "You disagree?"

    "It's a question of motivation. If they make a mess of things and your company collapses, they can shrug, walk away and say 'got your money'. Someone who works for your company directly can't. Or, at least, can't as easily."

    He nods. "Are you a gambling man?"

    "No."

    "Alright." He lays the book down and pushes it slightly towards me. "A deal, then. I will give you this right now. You can even use it on your children if you want. No payment up front."

    "That sounds pretty darn dodgy."

    "In return, you become Hell's efficiency consultant."

    "No."

    "You should hear me out."

    "I have a job and a life and my nature won't let me deliberately half-arse it. You're trying to give me a job that is probably literally impossible."

    "But you'd take it for a time."

    Hm. Would I?

    "I'd want to see a written contract, with deliverables and end point clearly stated. But yes, I think I would. If the Source had an actual problem with this place existing, then it wouldn't exist."

    He smiles, and offers me his right hand. "Then we have a deal."

    "Written. Contract. Oh, First of the Fallen."

    "Glad to see that you're on the ball." He pulls his hand back but leaves the book in place. "I think you'll fit in fine."
     
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2023
  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th March 2013
    11:23 GMT -5


    I hear a thump as Dr. Roquette falls out of bed. Her apartment had somewhat fallen into disrepair during the period between the Anti-Life being expunged and now, so I've given it a quick power ring clean. Her laundry is stacked just outside her bedroom door and her… 'Short term companions' have been escorted out so she could sleep it off alone.

    She's not the only one-.

    No.

    She's far from the only one to be coping poorly with her memories of what she did while under the influence of the Anti-Life. It's a minor mercy that Mannseid didn't need all that many specific individuals supporting him to maintain his control. Certainly the Justifiers numbers in the tens of thousands and he got control of the military and political establishments in most countries easily enough, but all of the individuals were replaceable.

    We even persuaded Henry Knight to stay on as President, but it's pretty clear that he's… Not coping. Frankly, resisting the Anti-Life requires a solid moral foundation that a deeper look at him made it clear to me that he doesn't have. Jonathan Horne was actually doing better, psychologically speaking, but I don't think that he has the skills to do the job under circumstances like these.

    Then again, that didn't stop him getting elected the first time. The late vice president shot himself and we could get Knight to give Horne the job before resigning. That's just… Even I think that would be contrary to the democratically expressed will of the American people in a way that's even more coup-adjacent than just temporarily giving Adams the job. As things stand, our best bet is to just bear with Knight looking like a Chuckles-addict while in public.

    There's a bang, then Doctor Roquette works out how her door works and throws it open, glass of what she thinks is vodka in hand. She tosses it back, then carries on walking out into her kitchenette for several steps before the fact that she just drank a glass of water filters into her conscious mind.

    "Hair of the dog isn't actually a good idea, Doctor."

    "You didn't complain last-." She stops talking as she actually looks at me. "Orange… Lantern."

    Then she takes in the improved state of her apartment.

    "Ah. Thanks. Where.. did..?"

    "Back to their homes."

    She raises her right hand to her face and wipes her eyes.

    "Shit."

    I slide a larger glass of water and a couple of aspirin tablets across the counter towards her.

    "I've got a job for you."

    She looks away, shoulders slumped.

    "Do you want an entirely platonic hug? I will warn you now, I don't have the best people skills, so while I'd like to comfort-" She picks up the glass and the tablets, puts the tablets into her mouth and starts drinking the water. "-you, I'm not really sure how to handle this situation."

    She keeps drinking. It's a pint glass, so this might take a few seconds.

    At last, she finishes it. She takes a deep breath, then puts the glass down on the work surface.

    "You could fix my headache with your ring, couldn't you?"

    I nod. "While she was a student, my former boss used to end a night of heavy drinking by hooking herself up to a saline drip. No hangovers, apparently."

    "Too big a risk of pulling it out during the night. God." She looks towards her bathroom.

    "I cleaned it. Go right ahead."

    "What's the job?"

    "Earth's economy has reached a level of collapse where we've sort of given up on working within established economic systems. Is your fabricator ready for the big time?"

    She looks around-.

    "I already transmuted it all into water. I think you've had enough."

    "Right. And-. Yes. The nanoclouds can transmute anything into anything. You still need to program complex designs and they die if you breathe on them hard, but there's no practical reason why it-." She winces, staggering to a chair and sitting down while supporting herself by holding onto the counter with both hands. "Why it couldn't be used commercially."

    "Are you suffering from any underlying-?"

    "But you know it works, because I'm the one who made all of Mannheim's equipment! Nowhere else on Earth could manage to make his.. weird alien technology! It was.. me."

    "And Leonard. And me. And… Darkseid, while we're at it."

    "Dark… Side?" That seems to ring a bell. "I think he… He talked to Darkside, or… Thought he was Darkside? Sometimes. When it was… I wasn't really listening to what he was saying unless he had orders for me."

    "We're still not totally sure what happened there. It looks like Darkseid inserted part of his soul into a crime boss named Bruno Mannheim, which gradually turned him into a sort of mini-Darkseid."

    "That was a mini!"

    "Yes. And we're pretty sure that he'll do more in future. So we need to get things up and running-."

    "I mean, at least you dealt with-. That, didn't you?"

    "I hope you can understand that we're reluctant to test that, but our current assumption is 'no'."

    "He could be coming here now?"

    "In theory, yes. In practice, if his plan was to come to Earth personally after Mannheim fell, he'd already be here. It's a big universe and it's unlikely that he'll prioritise us. But he will turn his attention back to us eventually."

    "And real Darkside is worse."

    "Yes. So-."

    "I blew my fabricator rig with dynamite."

    "It would have been difficult to move it anyway."

    "Okay. Am I building the new one at KordTech?"

    "No, we're… Setting up in Greece. Superman's chipping in some kryptonian technology and I'll be donating power sources."

    "Greece."

    "You dynamited your laboratory, and… I think a change of scenery might do you some good."

    "O-." She sags a little further. "Can I at least have an energy drink?"

    "Once you get out of the shower." I waggle my right hand in the direction of her bathroom. "Go on. I'll make you breakfast."
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2023
  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Earth 12

    23rd September 2039
    19:27 GMT -5


    Terrence looks at me curiously. "Do you wanna explain to me why two of the richest guys in Gotham are meeting at a low-rent diner?"

    "The food." / "Privacy."

    I pull a sonic scrambler out of my coat, prompting Mr. Wayne to roll his eyes and tap his cane against the floor. The sound around us quietens and distorts as his scrambler activates. I shrug and return mine to my coat.

    "The food? Seriously?"

    "Restaurants are a case of diminishing returns. A meal that costs two hundred-. No, wait, inflation. A meal that costs two thousand dollars isn't a hundred times better than one that costs twenty."

    Terrence blinks, most likely at the idea of a two thousand dollar meal. "How much better is it?"

    I flick my eyebrows up for a moment. "Somewhere between point eight and three, in my experience. Mister Wayne?"

    He glowers at me. Honestly, I'm not sure that he doesn't just glower at everyone and everything these days. "Why are you defending Cuvier?"

    "Because I agree with most of what he's said and done, and I don't want him getting railroaded. The case against him is actually very weak. Frankly, it looks to me like the only reason it could have worked was because the District Attorney had his assets frozen to prevent him hiring a lawyer."

    Terrence looks like he wants to say something, while Mister Wayne is continuing to stare at me.

    "Mister McGinnis? Something you want to ask?"

    "Point eight? So it's worse?"

    "And just like that, I find out that everything I'd been told about the American education system is wrong. Yes, Mister McGinnis. It turns out that preening prima donna chefs can achieve levels of mediocrity with things that are weird and expensive but don't actually taste nice that a place like this-"

    I look up and smile at the server as he hands us menus.

    "Thank you. -wouldn't bother trying."

    "They have paper menus? Guess you two aren't the oldest things here."

    "No, this is deliberately retro. They switched to… Ordering on smart phone back in…" Ah… "Twenty-twenty-seven? Gosh, only twelve years ago. But it turned out that they got more customers with the added social interaction so went back to physical menus." I open my menu. "I certainly prefer it."

    Mr. Wayne grunts, laying his menu on the table and opening it. I think the arthritis is getting to his hands. Just a little, but it's one of the things I've been looking for in myself. And the eternal question of whether it's worth trying something… No. When it becomes worth trying something radical.

    "So were you ever a superhero?"

    "I wore a costume for about five minutes. I've used the odd piece of exotic technology-. You saw that rod I used?" He nods. "But I never had the drive to get really into it."

    "I heard you were on the Justice League. What was that like?"

    Mr. Wayne glowers harder.

    "At the time, the Justice League let just about anyone join up." I try making eye contact with Mr. Wayne, but he makes a point of studying the menu. "They've gone back to the small-team version now, haven't they?"

    "Cheeseburger. Coffee."

    "Regular burger, regular fries, large banana milkshake."

    Terrence blinks. "Wait, are we actually eating? I thought both of you were gunna glare at each other for a couple of minutes and then storm off."

    I shake my head. "We're both too old for that sort of thing."

    "Speak for yourself."

    "Combo-meal for me, I guess. Did you mean they let you in 'cause they let anyone in?"

    "No, they let me in as a consultant because a parallel universe version of me beat up six of the founding seven in a fight and they thought I might have useful strategic input."

    Mr. Wayne's back to glowering at me. "How did you find out about that? You shouldn't have had access to those files."

    "You should have been nicer to Michael." He grimaces. "Oh, don't look like that. It took some work, but I made him a far more effective hero than he was before."

    "I should track him down just so I can discipline him for violating security."

    Terrence blinks. "Michael..?"

    Smiles politely. "Booster Gold."

    Terrence smiles back, looking genuinely pleased. "Oh yeah. I had a tonne of his merch when I was a kid." Mister Wayne hunches his shoulders in distaste. "So which one couldn't he beat?"

    "Hm."

    Terrence's eyes widen while a very small amount of smugness enters Mr. Wayne's expression.

    "Seriously?"

    "Oh, don't be too impressed. He realised that the mission profile was stupid and didn't take part. Which is actually relevant to what's happening with this case. Given all the other crimes happening in Gotham, why did you prioritise people volunteering for cosmetic genetic modifications?"

    "When he turned me into a man-bat it didn’t sure feel cosmetic."

    "You were an intruder, not a patient. Ah. Hm. Actually, you should pay a visit to my clinic. We've got specialists in the process who can make sure that the 'cure' worked properly, if you have any concerns."

    Mr. Wayne's eyes narrow. "I already cleared him."

    "Did you test a semen sample?"

    Terrence looks concerned. "Ah, what?"

    "Barbara and I waited to have children because splicing can modify the genetics of your gametes. Splicing and splicing reversal is supposed to be undertaken in a medical facility where they can check that everything is working properly. You don't look like a bat, but… Ten years from now, if your newborn baby comes out with claws and wings-."

    Terrence jerks his head towards Mr. Wayne. "I think maybe I should get checked out."

    "It's not a complicated test. I'll give you a cup when we get back to the cave."

    "How's a cup gunna test-?" Mr. Wayne glowers at him. "Oh. I shoulda stayed a bat."

    "But getting back to the main question?" Terrence gives me his attention, though I note that he squirms a little in his seat. "You were concerned about illegality in the clinic and so you broke in to steal data. You broke the law."

    "Because-."

    "There was no smoking gun. If he'd had test subjects chained up in the basement or something then you would be in the right. He didn't. He was doing something that had been perfectly legal before District Attorney Young decided on the basis of what our initial discovery requests seem to show was pure personal prejudice and nothing that could be called good statistical evidence that it should be illegal. And that isn't his job and he broke the law with how he had his wife carry out his decision. If you're going to be a superhero you need to consider what government officials tell you with a degree more scepticism, because they aren't above breaking the law either, and they can hurt a lot of people when they do."

    "Gordon wouldn't break the law."

    I shake my head. "That's for the jury to decide."
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2023
  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    10th March 2013
    12:36 GMT -5


    "Hey, man!"

    Thomas smiles in relief as he spots me, ill-fitting suit adding to how out of place he looks. It's hard for men as muscular as him to look good in suits, and… It certainly doesn't happen with off-the-peg.

    "Good afternoon, Thomas."

    I offer him my hand, and he uses that to grab me and pull me into an embrace.

    "Man, how long they want me to stay here? Ah feel like a catfish prayin' to get thrown back."

    "Give it another hour to be safe." I hear a slight intake of breath. "Yes, I can stay that long."

    "Thanks, man." He pulls back, looking decidedly relieved. "'tween the monkey suit and alla the… Ah…" His eyes alight on the rictus grin of President Knight, who is thankfully talking to other people. "Folks… This ain't mah scene."

    "You survived the Anti-Life, you can survive a party. Especially as you fought it off the whole time."

    "Ain't lahk ah did much figh'n. Tuppy did more."

    "And you persuaded a lot of people to keep going. Places that saw you looking after them had much lower suicide rates, and the people who you helped were perfectly happy to talk about it."

    "Weren't a thang, man."

    "No, Thomas, it most certainly was a thing. You're a free man, and you earned it."

    "Yeah. And ah ain't got no clue what to do with it. Guess no one wants ships broken up raht naw."

    "Ah… It's not that there are fewer ships to break and more… Supply chains. Once the ships are broken up they need people to buy the metal and other people to man the smelters and… Other people to buy the metal ingots once they're done. Things are… Chaotic."

    He nods. "Yeah, tell me abawt it. Boss Atom got me an' Tuppy doin' road clearance in cities."

    "How are you finding it?"

    "Seen more countries this month than ah new existed. Folk… Most folks 're pretty friendly."

    "That's one of the benefits of helping people. And we're not exactly going to run out of things for you to do anytime soon."

    He frowns thoughtfully. "Hey, ah bin wonderin'?"

    "Yes?"

    "Is Boss Atom joinin' the Justice League? Ah'm callin him 'boss' 'cause a'how he's givin' orders, but one time Captain Marvel tole me he weren't."

    "Ah… Honestly, I don't know. He's a little hard to predict. And he still wants to conquer the planet."

    "I guess…" His frown deepens. "Ain't lakh Knight's really runnin' things now."

    "Government isn't as essential to human existence as government likes to think it is. There are countries in Europe who've gone without a government for over a year without any real problems."

    "Yeah, but… Did Atom win? Ah mean… Everyone's basically doin' whut the League says anyway…"

    "Um…"

    Did..? He..?

    I never really thought that an AI would be happy just sitting on a throne and lording it over people. Obviously he'd want to actually be controlling things. And… A lot of places are coordinating their crisis restoration through the Justice League. Even China, which surprised me. Guess that thing with the nuclear reactor made them appreciate that they're going to need us, for a while at least. Mister Atom isn't in sole control… Technically it's a Justice League thing and he's supposed to run everything by Batman or Mr. J'onzz, but… Is that happening?

    "I.. don’t.. think so… But I'll check just in case."

    "Looked lahk he was doin' okay. Ah'd vote fer him. If'n ah could vote."

    I frown. "Where are you registered as living?"

    "Why?"

    "I realise that you've been convicted of a felony, but from what I gather America takes armed robbery as less serious than ballot fraud where federal elections are concerned. And since you've had your whole sentence commuted you probably can vote."

    "Oh. Ah. Louisiana, ah think? But…"

    "That's because that's where Belle Reve is. And if you're moving from place to place it doesn't make sense to register you anywhere. Well, let me know when you do settle down somewhere and I'll help you with the application." I look around, frowning. "Where is Tuppence, anyway?"

    Thomas chuckles. "Hell, man. She split the second they gave her the certificate. Oh, hey."

    I half-turn, following his gaze as Abra walks over, wine glass floating along besides him.

    "Abra. How does it feel to be a free man?"

    "The transition was less traumatic this time. I doubt that my life will change a great deal in the immediate future."

    I wince. "Yes. Ah. With Atlantis still out of contact-."

    "I understand."

    "I can get you a pupillage with one of the Atlanteans working for N.E.M.O., but they might not be able to offer you something in your preferred specialty. Most of them are working with Mister Zatara on making contact with their home country-"

    "I understand."

    "-and you'd probably rather study there anyway." I generate a data stick. "This has got all of my records-. Everything I can legally give you, and it should let you get a head start. I'm deeply sorry for not being able to follow through on my end of our deal properly right away."

    "I understand." He takes the data stick and vanishes it. "I could do with a holiday. Perhaps visit some old friends…"

    I squeeze my eyes shut for a moment. "Please don't visit old friends."

    "No, not like that. I thought that I could persuade some of the Rogues that they could make more money legally. At least, for now."

    "If you're sure. With Leonard out, they've lost a very rational voice. I don't want you dying either."

    Thomas smiles. "Hey, I can take a day awf too. Why don't ah come along? Jus' bein' safe."

    Abra nods. "Thank you, Tommy. That would be appreciated."

    I smile. Not everyone got their sentences commuted to nothing, but everyone I've been working with is now free. Even if they're going to keep working for the League for the moment. And even with all the damage still to undo… I'm feeling optimistic.
     
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2023
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  29. Threadmarks: Hellish Content
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Hellish Content

    Day 1
    12th March 2013
    07:00 GMT


    The small green mucus-covered demon in front of me cringes as I give… It? Him? My full attention.

    "Thank you for coming in today, Blarg. I've just got a few questions for you, and then you can get back to whatever you usually do, alright?" Take Subordinate's Measure

    I raise my eyebrows and smile pleasantly. Blarg cringes a little more. Not a lot, then.

    "Blarg, at this stage in the proceedings, I'm not making any conclusions. I'm certainly not carrying out any decisions, which even if I had made them I would have to run by the First anyway. I'm simply gathering information. But if you don't give me the information I'm asking for quite politely, then I am going to use your battered remains as a lesson to the next demon I speak to that I do actually expect answers."

    I paid for lawyers and magicians. The contract was drafted and redrafted, the First arguing very little. The only real point of contention was that I wanted to only take possession of the book once my side was completed where he -for whatever reason- wanted me to take it from the start. Some sort of obligation ritual component, I suppose. And… I signed, and my nature… Set An Example.

    He only gets a month, and no trickery can be used to make that month longer than the least of all the places it could be a month in. I'm obliged to do my best, but… I'm a long-term planner. Ultimately, if I create the best plan and it isn't a plan that can be implemented within a month, that's his problem. Like a sales consultant who recommends a new sales technique, if the salespeople won't use it, that's their managers' problem.

    And the First doesn't bother keeping precise records I could just ring-scan or use divine power to intuit.

    "YyyesLord."

    "So. What do you do? In your own words."

    "I'm a Slime Demon, Lord."

    "Y-. Yes, that's what you are. I'm asking what you do."

    "Slime, Lord. I do.. slime."

    "I wasn't aware that slime had any particular spiritual presence."

    "It adds ambience, Lord. And things stick to it."

    "Corporeal things, or..?"

    "Thoughts. Feelings. Little fragments of self left behind."

    "And you subsist on that?"

    It… 'Shrugs'. "It's a living, Lord."

    This is… Literally, a bottom-feeder. Excellent! Or-. Ugh.

    I went into this agreement intending to fulfil it while at the same time helping Hell as little as possible. But… Now that I'm here, the same sort of thing that drove me to order the digging of a network of canals across the continent of Africa in order to make the place more navigable means that I'm… Really interested. In the ecosystem, in the people, in the magic systems, everything. And while my contract means that I can't use further resources other than myself and my personal equipment, I saw the way Sunset was looking at it. The Alicorn of Magic is interested, too.

    "What proportion of your time would you say you spent on Earth? Or-." I fan out my hands, shaking my head. "Or anywhere else in the mortal universe."

    "Um." Five eyes blink at me uncertainly. "I have been on Earth…"

    I nod encouragingly. "Good."

    "As a proportion, it's not very much. It was more in the beginning, but after Crulk had his.. fall from grace I've… Most senior demons have their own pools of spies to draw on, and they don't like bringing in less reliable outside help."

    "So you're a spy?"

    "I have spied. It's more of a default thing than… Something I'm good at. I'm not really good at… Much. But I don't need much spiritual power to keep going, to stay on Earth, and… Who really notices slime?"

    "So… Crulk was your former employer, and he would arrange for you to be sent to Earth and put into positions he wanted observed. You would absorb ambient power to feed and report anything significant you observed."

    "That's the size of it, Lord. And tried not to get set on fire."

    "Did that happen a great deal?"

    "Slime isn't all that mobile, Lord. If a fire happened there wasn't much I could do about it. And it's a pretty good purgative. If someone couldn't do spells to purify a place, a little fire would do the job. And modern cleaning agents can be nasty."

    "Personal experience, or..?"

    "Sort of, Lord, sort of. Leave a little bit of me in Hell, so if my body gets destroyed I can recover. Eventually. With what my slime absorbs."

    "Hm." I nod approvingly. "So you do little with even less. Efficient. I approve."

    "You… Do?"

    "Frankly, yes. Take.. Nergal, for example. A powerful lord… Undone by a mortal wizard a fraction as powerful as he was. You on the other hand have a tiny fraction of his power, and yet you fulfil a useful role as an observer. Tell me, do mortals ever summon demons like you?"

    "Hardly ever, and then it's mostly by accident."

    "By accident? So they don't bind you?"

    "Bind me against doing what, Lord? I'm a Slime Demon. Even if I got down their throats, they could just cough me up. And that would be really hard."

    "Do Slime Demons go through with a lot of summonings?"

    "I don't know. But there are usually a couple of others who go through when I do, so I'd guess so."

    A plan occurs. Have standardised no-obligation summoning rituals. Whatever the terms are, sneak a few Slime Demons through. Yes or no, the main demon does its things or comes home and the Slime Demons hang around.

    Though that's inefficient. It would be better to have secretaries listen to requests and match summoner with an appropriate demon. No sense in getting someone important involved if the summoner isn't going to be able to make a big enough…

    Sacrifice.

    Ah.

    Okay. It's true, but… I mean, if they were going to sacrifice something anyway, all I'm really doing is preventing them from making more trouble.

    "Thank you, Blarg, you're being quite helpful. One final question. What do you want out of existence?"

    "Existence, Lord."

    "Yes, what do you want out of it?"

    "Existence, Lord. To continue to exist. There are a lot of Slime Demons and we're all very easy to destroy if something powerful turns its attention our way. I don't want to be destroyed."

    "A reasonable desire, but have you ever considered..? Anything more..?"

    "A dark hole no one else can go in would be nice."

    Which ties back into the 'existence' thing. Yes, demons like this aren't going to really threaten the material world. I might be able to build something with them.

    "Thank you, Blarg. That will be all. Please send in the next interviewee on your way out."
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2024
  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Day 3
    14th March 2013
    11:12 GMT


    Someone thinks highly of themselves.

    Apparently, this is Purgatory. The realm where souls who committed no significant sins but didn't have faith in any gods and failed to make other arrangements for their soul come. A privilege for the dominant afterlife services provider: becoming the default option.

    To be honest, it doesn't look so bad.

    I mean, that's part of the basic idea. If the afterlife is what you make of it, people bad enough to go to Hell aren't going to be the sort of people you'd want to hang around with. Here on the other hand you might well be surrounded by morally righteous secular humanists. That has more options. People could build things without slave-drivers forcing them to.

    And what they've built appears to be… Heaven. Of the Greco-Roman architecture with added fluffy clouds variety. Peasants work the fields with primitive tools while… Cyborg? Angels? Stand guard. I don't recognise the guns they carry, but they look a bit more sophisticated than the simple slug-throwers that the more technically inclined demons in other parts of Hell carry.

    Speaking of which… I'm not… Seeing any demons. I mean, okay, Purgatory. In the uncharitable reading of the nature of Heaven, the punishment for people here is just being excluded from the light of God, which implies that the Source is so arrogant that it can't imagine a punishment worse than being away from its company. To my mind that says more about the writer of that little gem than the Source, but if this place runs on those rules... Demons would have almost no role here. Certainly, the people here wouldn't be due any extra punishment. And they'd only mill around in mists as Dante appeared to think they would if they wanted… To.

    Though that would explain the cloud aesthetic. Just bundle the mists up into specific places to clear room for a pre-industrial idyll.

    Five mecha-angels approach me, two hanging back with guns ready to be put at the ready. The leader appears to be an Asian woman, though her eyes appear to have been replaced with arcane cybernetics.

    "Hello, stranger. Have you just arrived?"

    "No, I've been here a few days, now."

    She nods. "We don’t get a lot of aliens around here. Where are you from?"

    "Apokolips. But I.. don't want to give you the wrong idea. I'm alive."

    She nods in the patient manner of a woman who has had to break the bad news to people who've said that to her before.

    "No, seriously." I pull out the scroll containing the First's Writ of Passage. "The First has commissioned me to study his domains, and I wanted to meet the ruler of.. this place first." She looks nervously at the scroll, some sort of spell effect emanating from her artificial eyes. "Seems to be doing a pretty good job, as a God of the Dead. Not sure it's what the First had in mind, but it's nice to see someone making something of the place."

    She blinks as the spell ends. "I've confirmed.. your authority. Lord Satanus will see you immediately."

    "Good show." The squad shifts orientation as they move from border guards to escort detail. I fall in behind the squad leader. "So how long have you been here?"

    "I'm not exactly sure. We don't have days here, but I think it's been about eighty years. I was born in eighteen eighty three, if that's any help."

    "The current year is twenty thirteen, so happy one hundred and thirtieth birthday."

    "My birthday is in April."

    "Belated one hundred and twenty ninth, then. Whereabouts are you from?"

    "America. San Francisco."

    "Not my kind of place, but it's still in one piece. Mostly. Anyone you want me to take a message to when I go back?"

    "No. I doubt that my children are still alive and I never knew my grandchildren."

    "Ah. I'm sorry to hear that."

    "Not everyone lives a long and happy life. I have to say that my afterlife has been more fulfilling."

    "How did you end up here, anyway?"

    "I'm from a Chinese-American family. Too cut off from the land of my parents to believe in their gods, not American enough to go to church."

    "I.. understand what you mean, but there's no actual requirement to be American to be Christian. There are plenty of Christians who are ethnically Chinese, though the ones in China tend to keep quiet about it if they've got any sense."

    "I never even visited China."

    No, I suppose… Travel would have been a bit expensive while she was alive. Not impossible, but not something she would have been able to do for a quick visit.

    "So what's with the cybernetics?"

    She raises her right hand-. Ah, yes, I see that she probably wouldn't be able to fit a normal human limb inside that. "This? This is to give us the strength to fight demons."

    "Is that something you need to do a lot?"

    "I've had to do it a few times. It's not a constant battle, but everyone is on watch for the next time they find a way in here. Demons are a lot stronger than the souls of humans."

    "I don't know about that. I spent a few hours talking to Slime Demons this week and they die if you hit them with a lit match. It's probably just that coming here takes more strength, so you only get raided by the stronger ones."

    "I suppose. We can go into Hell from here, but as far as we know there's no way back. Not a lot of people are interested."

    "If you're interested, I could probably work-. Mother Box?"

    "Ping."

    "Okay, not quite yet, but Mother Box is very good at making portals and as long as I'm doing it to better understand the functioning of Hell the First's Writ lets me do a lot that's normally politically unwise."

    "So I could choose to go somewhere terrible and full of suffering and monsters?"

    "Ah. Well, that doesn't-. Yes?"

    "Thank you, but no."

    One of Sir Terrence Pratchett's earliest works was an essay where he advised the devil that while no one actually wanted to go to Hell permanently, it was possible that people would choose to visit for a little while for much the same reason that they choose to go on roller coasters without actually wanting to be in a train crash. But… This…

    Yeah, this wouldn't be a bad place to spend eternity. Or however long they get.

    "What do you know about Satanus?"

    "Nothing that he doesn't choose to share, which is little to nothing."

    "Has he mentioned his father or sister at all?"

    "I didn't know demons had those."

    "He's a little unusual. Honestly, this setup he has here clashes with everything I've heard about him. I guess he's intelligent enough to embrace the dual moral standard."

    "What does that mean?"

    "That he treats his own people well, but is ruthless and cruel to other peoples."

    "I haven't seen how he treats other people. He sometimes leaves to visit other places, but he doesn't take anyone with him and he doesn't talk about it. I think he finds being here relaxing."

    "That makes…" The clouds part and I get a good look at his palace. It's the flipping Parthenon at the front with statues of the master of the place dressed like a hoplite instead of those of the Olympians. "Sense. Please, take me to him."
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2023
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