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

11th April 2013
06:36 GMT -7

Applejack regards the bracelet on the table with deep suspicion.

"Y'all're saying that there piece a' fru-fru jewellery can turn one o' them bald monkeys Twilight turned into when she went through the mirror into an earth pony?"

Sunset shakes her head. "No, of course not. Transforming someone from one species to another is a whole lot more complicated. I'm still not really sure how Starswirl's Mirror manages it. Besides, they don't really want to turn into earth ponies."

That last point gets a slight raising of her eyebrow, but she appears willing to let it go.

"So what was that about earth pony magic?"

"The three main pony tribes each have their own innate forms of magic. But what type of magic a pony has is innate; it comes from the differences in their bodies."

"Uh-huh." Applejack thinks for a moment. "So yer sayin' this little thing kin do what it takes a whole earth pony body t'do?"

"No, it can't do that either. What it can do is give someone the strength and endurance of an earth pony whose cutie mark doesn't relate to strength or endurance."

Applejack nods. "Ah kin see how that could come in useful. So where's the pegasus necklace?"

Sunset wing-shrugs. "I can make one, but without wings, you… Wouldn't really be able to fly. And it's kinda hard to do weather work from the ground."

"So, just cloud walkin'?"

"You'd be able to move faster as well, but, yeah. The unicorn version has a similar problem: without a horn, thaumokinesis-. It's hard to control. Even if I built it into a horn-shaped headdress, it's like learning to use a whole new limb."

"But ah guess everypony's got legs."

Sunset nods. "That's the idea." She raises her right forehoof to her chin, frowning thoughtfully. "Though, actually… You should still be able to intuitively use one or two spells based on your special talent, even if you can't use thaumokinesis. Whatever it was, it would be unique to you… And maybe other members of the Apple Family."

"Ah don't need no fancy magic t'be an Apple." Then she thinks for a moment, and bows her head. "But ah guess some kinda tree-doctorin' spell could come in maghty handi."

"I, um…" Sunset looks around the empty Canterlot lecture theatre, then casts a basic privacy spell. "You got my letter, right? You're on the pre-approved list-."

"Ah did."

"And?"

She shrugs awkwardly. "Jes' plain don't feel raght."

Despite the fact that Sunset has proven her ability to turn regular ponies into alicorns, take up on that opportunity hasn't been all that high. And the few ponies who came forwards were so self-absorbed that Sunset had a moment of self-reflection about pony society, but that's about it. I'm assuming that it's some sort of religious thing. Celestia, yes. Celestia having a sister, okay. Cadence, well, she came out of nowhere and Celestia says that they're related, alright. Twilight… I really don't know what Applejack thinks makes Twilight worthy while she isn't.

Or maybe she just doesn't like change.

Sunset lets out a quiet snort. "You saved the planet twice and Equestia about a dozen times. The process isn't inexplicable, and alicornism isn't handed down by some sort of higher power when you jump through enough hoops. It's just magic. Magic I understand."

"Ah don't. An' ah ain't sure I'd be all too keen on outlivin' everypony ah know."

I raise my eyebrows at that. "I'm sure Twilight will be gratified that you've learned from her example."

Applejack wince. "Now, hold on there, partner-."

"Though if it helps at all, I remember reading something that said that even if people didn't age, they still wouldn't live much past eight hundred on average due to the risks of injury and disease." I look to Sunset. "Are alicorns immune to disease?"

"Not totally; we really just have a supercharged version of earth pony resilience. Eight hundred years, huh?"

"That was for humans. Equestria is a bit less perilous. Oh, and how are you doing for ovum?"

"No sign of regeneration. I'll be dry-firing before I'm fifty, while still having a menstrual cycle because I'm not aging."

"We all got together. When we got yer letters." Applejack sighs. "Fluttershah weren't too keen on standing out. Rainbow Dash didn't want to get too big t'be in the Wonderbolts. Said she might say 'yes' eventually. Rarity said somethin' about the artist overshadowin' the art, whatever that means."

I frown. "I thought she wanted to become a princess? Blueblood got publically humiliated dodging her first attempt."

"She got over that real quick. An' Pinkie said she weren't keen on outlivin' her sisters. Ah ain't, neither."

I shake my head. "Pinkie's sisters are about her age. Statistically, she's likely to outlive at least one of them anyway, not counting all of her clones. Of course, the obvious solution is to use the spell on her sisters as well."

"'bawt-." Applejack's eyes widen, then she gulps. "'bawt a hundred alicorn Pinkie Pies?"

Ah…

She… Does sort of have a point, there.

The door to the auditorium opens, and Tempest… Stands there, looking around imperiously. I find myself checking her restored horn. Initially, Sunset and I both thought that it would be simpler to just make her an alicorn, but Celestia had concerns about Equestria having an Alicorn of War. Instead, we recovered her horn point from the cave near her home village and -after getting a lot of scans of other ponies' horns- performed a gradual restoration. She's actually a great patient: after getting her heart's desire, she wasn't going to do something stupid like rushing her recovery.

The guards are torn between enjoying the relative holiday and dreading what she'll be able to do to them once she's fully fit and returns to duty.

Tempest's eyes rest on Applejack. "Why is she here?"

Sunset smiles at her. "We needed a volunteer to demonstrate what an unmarked earth pony athlete could do."

I nod. "And we'll be-."

There's a burst of teal light as Starlight Glimmer teleports into the designated alcove, and a gust of air as Lightning Dust swoops in over her superior. Tempest raises her head to give the pegasus pony an unimpressed look, which Dust is too busy looking at the new toys to notice. Tempest gives her mane a small toss, then walks down the central aisle to take a seat near the front.

With her away from the door, the rest of the audience begin filtering in. Guard officers, teachers and researchers from the School, and-

BOOM!

-members of the American security services who have just about kept their cool while surrounded by cute colourful ponies.

Yes, I did see that. Yes, I am going to put a picture on the staff notice board.

A flash of purple light as Twilight appears, Spike on her back.

"Phew! Not late."

Spike rolls his eyes. "Twilight, you set five different alarm clocks."

I trot off the stage, passing Starlight as she heads up to be the 'unathletic, non-earth pony' for the demonstration. I'm on safety duty just in case something goes wrong during the strength trials, but that shouldn't be necessary.

Sunset comes to the front of the stage.

"Thank you for coming, everyone. Please take your seats, and I'll begin the demonstration."
 
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11th April 2013
19:12 GMT +5:30


I don't know if India had any kind of genetics database before the Broadcast, but it definitely doesn't have one now. Closed circuit television cameras are also limited to wealthier areas. There are no road cameras at all, Indian road safety being the worst in the world. It would be like installing smoke detectors in Hell. The base did have cameras, but they've been destroyed, as has the server they transmitted back to.

"Orange Lantern to Watchtower. Given what I'm seeing in India, I'm going to suggest that it might be worth taking at least some strategic weapons out of peoples' hands until their countries are functioning properly. India lost at least one nuclear bomb under a week ago and I only found out today because someone detonated it."

"Understood." Batman this time. "Continue your investigation. Watchtower out."

"Should we be doing that?" Kara floats alongside me, scanning the ground with her eyes for anything that might be warded against my ring. "That sounds like stealing."

"It's more like finding a wallet on the street and taking it to the nearest police station. Imagine what the one that went off earlier would have done if we hadn't been there."

She purses her lips for a moment, then nods. "It wasn't much fun watching human bodies catch fire like that."

"You could see-? Oh.. gosh, Kara, I didn't realise."

"I know it only lasted a fraction of a second and they probably didn't feel anything, but my memory is really good. I'm always going to remember it. People just evaporating." She pauses for a moment. "Do you think it was like that on Krypton?"

"U-um." I only really know what killed the people of Krypton in broad terms. Specific causes of death? Pressure waves? Radiation? Most of Krypton's mass stayed in roughly the same place, but the air might have been thin enough to cause them to die from suffocation. Blunt trauma from pieces of flying planet? "I.. can't be sure."

"I assumed that was how my parents died. The ground shook for a moment, then 'poof', gone. It's a shame they couldn't build a bigger ship."

"Yes-yes, it.. was."

I float closer to her, trying to get some sort of idea-. Her voice didn't waver, her expression didn't change, and… I'm not seeing anything in particular with empathic vision. Even if she was using black humour after having processed her grief, she should-.

Or maybe she hasn't at all and she's not responding physically because she's having some sort of flashback. I cautiously lay my right hand on her shoulder.

"Ah, are-?"

Kara blinks, returning her vision to normal as she turns her head to look at me. "Are we not searching for clues?"

"I was-. You.. were talking about something really personal and horrible and I was concerned."

"Was I not supposed to?"

"Nono, you.. can. If you want to, if you feel that you need to."

She blinks, turns to look at my hand on her shoulder than turns her head back to me. "Were you going to hug me?"

"I.. was going to offer to, if-."

Kara's arms blur as she wraps them around me, chin on my left shoulder and head pressed against mine. "Yay, hugs! They're the thing about Earth I like the most!"

I hug her back, still concerned. I know that our Krypton was anti-tactility, but I didn't realise that was true for her Krypton as well. I'd just sort of assumed that hers was more pre-Crisis than that.

"Kara, if you ever want to talk about your family, or Krypton in general, or anything like that, I'm happy to do that. Okay?"

"Why would I do that?" She pulls away slightly, her face a few inches from mine. "They're all dead. Ooh!"

She darts down to the ground, into the scrub outside of the base, then flies back up with… Part of the bomb casing.

"I spotted this! This is the casing, right?"

I take it from her hands with a construct grapple, and start examining it in detail. "Yes.. it.. is. Well done."

Alright, they wouldn't really need an outer casing designed to not impede the airflow around the plane, but it still seems that it would be easier to leave it on. The wards are… Yes, the same Atlantean design that gained popularity in America, rather than something out of Hindu traditions. Someone copying what they saw somewhere else? I don't think that Lady Eve would do something like that, for the sake of her pride if nothing else. But it's not like I can claim to know the woman after one short conversation.

Finger print analyser? Partial prints acquired. Eliminate the prints from the corpses. Three-. Well, probably three sets. It's not like they wiped the casing down with alcohol and then carefully pressed their fingers against it. Hundreds of people have probably touched this over the years. File it just in case. No blood, no, that would be too easy. Skin samples? Yes, some of which are from people on the base and…

Okay, two have genetics that I wouldn't expect to see in an Indian. That doesn't necessarily mean anything, but I'll bear it in mind-.

Scan.

No, nothing. Alright, that's a bit more promising. Unless it was a suicide bombing, in which case that's because most of their genetic material was vaporised.

Bleez's ship zooms through the sky, coming in to hover over the base. "Found anything?"

"Some things. Not enough to actually learn anything."

Too many footprints in too many different directions to learn anything about who went where when. Same with vehicles. Sure, I can read tyre tracks, and I can eliminate the ones from military vehicles already at the base, but so what? Nothing stops Kobra agents acquiring military vehicles, especially now. Nothing stops a soldier driving their own car to work, at least as far as the outer gate. Or getting picked up by someone else. What was it Terry Pratchett wrote? 'The scream in the night was most likely to be someone stepping on an upturned hairbrush'? Lots of data and little actual information.

On.. the other hand… If the warhead design is standard -and it should be- then… All we need to do is-.

"Orange Lantern to Watchtower. Uploading preliminary findings. Request a few minutes of Doctor Mist's time to track any outstanding bombs via their warded cases."

"Do humans steal fusion bombs a lot?"

"No. And this is the first time that someone has successfully detonated a stolen bomb."

"He's available."

I generate a zeta tube. "Send him through."

"Recognised, Doctor Mist, Two Five."


Dr. Balewa walks through, raising his head to look at Bleez's ship with a slight raising of his eyebrows. I drop down, holding out the case to him and generating a map of India with the 'official' nuclear explosive locations marked.

"I'm looking for more of these in the wrong places."

He nods, waving his right hand at the case and then again at the map.

"There." Part of the map construct ripples. "But I do not think thet it is a bomb. I belief thet it is a settlement of some kind."

"Then that's where we're going next."
 
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11th April 2013
19:19 GMT +5:30

And that's a gunfight.

Mostly the old reliable AK-47, but a few sandbag fortifications have crew served machine guns and the combatants aren't shy about using grenades.

As I watch one woman takes a trio of bullets across her torso while throwing a grenade into an enemy fire team. She falls, and a shrapnel blast later so do they.

I have no idea who is fighting or why. They could be Kobra, but it's not like most of them go around with clearly identifiable tattoos or armbands. Mapping the area-.

"Hey, could you-" Kara is now carrying the woman in one hand and one of the men she grenadiered in the other. "-heal them?"

"Sure." / "I will-."

Dr. Balewa looks mildly puzzled as bullets and shrapnel are sucked out of wounds and bleeding is stopped. Scanning them with the default scan gets me nothing, but MRI and ultrasound still work just fine, as does power ring flesh melding. Still, it's the pain of the initial injury that rendered them unconscious, and my experience tells me that-.

Kara pulls the woman up to her face level. "Hey! Are you okay?!"

"U-gh?" The woman's eyes snap open, recoils at seeing Kara's beaming face, reaches up to her own chest to feel for bullet wounds that aren't there any longer and then starts to get a grip.

Then she sees the man in Kara's other hand, and goes for her pistol. Which is no longer there, because I'm not an idiot.

"I respect your eagerness, but now is the time to use your reason instead of your passion. Why are you-?"

"Could you-" Kara's looking at me. "-hold these guys for a minute?"

I take hold of them using construct restraint beds, binding them chest, arms, legs and head. "Sure. What-?"

She blurs away and then reappears with another wounded man in each hand.

"Can you-?"

"Just keep them coming."

"Can do!"

Well, sort of. I can't actually keep up with her full speed delivery service, but I don't delay her by much as she removes every single wounded person from the battleground below us, doing a good enough job that the remaining combatants opt to hunker down rather than continue and risk her displeasure.

Which is great, but it doesn't really help us.

"So, clearly whatever's happening down there won't be happening for much longer. And I think it's probably in your interests to get your lies in before whoever you're fighting gets their lies in. And please try to keep it at least vaguely plausible."

"I live here. They attacked us over minor religious differences. I would not expect you to understand."

"I don't like to boast about it, but Europe did spend about three hundred years continually at war over minor differences in Christian theology, so I'd give me a reasonable chance of getting it."

"It is about the significance of the… Evil presence."

"The Anti-Life broadcast?"

"If that is what you call it."

"It's what the people who made it call it. Want to tell me what the two sides believe about it?"

"One side believes that the evil presence was supposed to mark the end of the age of Kali Yuga, and the rebirth of the universe into the age of Krita Yuga. And that someone prevented it."

"And the other side?"

"Doesn't know. We try to divine its meaning, but they will not wait."

"So, you're Kobra and you're talking about Lady Eve-" She twitches and tries to inexpertly cover it up. "-trying to keep hold of the organisation. Do the others actually work for Jeff, or is this some sort of internal thing?"

She just shakes her head and clams up.

"You know that I don't actually have to take any of you in, right? You're a proscribed group. I have to accept your surrender if you offer it, but otherwise I can gun down every single one of you."

Kara waves her right forefinger at me. "But you won't because that's wrong."

"It's very hard to nuke people when you're dead. Not impossible, but hard."

Bleez's ship deploys some sort of rotary particle cannon. "I can do it."

Kara slowly turns her head upwards, eyes glo-.

"Kara! Kara, back to me. Back to me. Bleez, thank you, no. If I need to kill anyone-"

Kara is facing me, but her eyes are still glowing a little. "Which you don't, because that's wrong."

"-I'll do it myself, and Kara, we're going to review interrogation techniques after this. I think you'll make a great Good Cop-"

"Thank you!"

"-but you need to give the Bad Cop room to work as well."

"If you let them be Bad, then you're Bad too."

She nods affirmatively, but at least her eyes have dimmed. The woman is just sort of staring at us.

"Sorry about that. While I can kill you, legally speaking, I probably won't, but I might stick you and your friends on a barely habitable planet and forget about you. Or mind control you. So it really is in your interests to be forthcoming with me."

"I am not afraid to return to the wheel. Nor am I afraid of leaving a corrupt world to make a better one with my own labours."

"Doctor Mist and I were there when the Earth was purged of the Anti-Life. Heck, I'm the one who masterminded its removal. And while I'm fairly sure that we could arrest everyone down there, that wouldn't do anything to shut down the rest of Kobra. So let's have a civil theological discussion, hm?"

"If-. I can.. ask Lady Eve to meet with you."

"Neat. And you wouldn't know anything about anyone stealing fission bombs, would you?"

"No. Lady Eve has suspended active operations."

Not sure I believe her, but it's plausible. A Kobra splinter faction wants to establish itself, so it does something big to run up the flag. I suppose that it doesn't matter right now.

"Alright. I'm sending you down. And I've got a nice desert world picked out if you don't follow through. Good luck!"
 
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11th April 2013
19:23 GMT +5:30

Bleez's ship ascends into the upper atmosphere on autopilot while its owner studies the ground beneath us. And the giant pile of restraint racks I've fabricated for the belligerents.

"Who are these people?"

"That's… How much of that cultural briefing material I sent you did you actually read?"

"Most of it. I focused on the different political structures, because I… I'd like to find something that would work for us. Thanagar."

"Oh. Good. I was halfway convinced that you were just handing it all over to the intelligence analysts."

"They got copies too, but I did read it. I just didn't read about… These people."

"These people are part of a Hindu sect called 'thuggees'. Essentially, they believe that materialism diminishes the soul, so they destroy things that people value in order to liberate them from their own attachments. Specifically, they're part of the Kobra denomination of the thuggees, which means that they don't just limit themselves to individual spiritual liberation through destruction, but they believe that they can… Sort of flip the universe over into a… Higher, more glorious state if they destroy enough."

"What would that be like?"

"We poor creatures of the most diminished state of the universe could not comprehend it. But an improvement, of some sort."

"And is that true?"

"No, of course not. Reality inversions take far more effort than just destroying a load of stuff. Plus, the people involved have to be able to picture clearly what they're trying to achieve, which wouldn't be the case here. Definitionally couldn't be the case, if you think about it."

Her eyes go wide as they lock onto me, her wing posture-. She's not getting ready to lunge, she's getting ready to fly away.

"What do you mean by 'reality inversion'?"

"It's a bit like changing history through time travel, except you do it at one point in time and it changes everything into anything."

"Orange Lantern?" Dr. Mist strolls over, having finished examining the wards defending this place. "I think thet you should stop talking."

"The point is that they're basically just nuts, but enough crazy people being crazy in the same way can do a lot of damage." I turn towards the sound of footsteps with a grin. "And speaking of crazy!"

Lady Eve herself doesn't look anything special. The guards behind her are wearing the sort of clearly coloured uniforms that I'd honestly thought that minions had abandoned in the eighties, though it is armoured and the helmet does contain flash protection and an infrared mode. The tattoo-covered magician behind them is flashing the occasional nervous look at Dr. Balewa, because while Kobra magicians can strike above their weight class in Western countries due to the lack of opposition none of them are world-class.

Is this it?

I know that I wound up the much better resourced League of Shadows in an afternoon, but… Given that Jeff managed to make a decent fight of it back in Belle Reve, I sort of assumed that their home base would do better as well. Then again, if the infighting has been bad…

"The Life Wizard and the World Mender. What has brought you here?"

Dr. Balewa and I make eye contact with one another, and I bow my head a little. He is the Justice League member, even if there's… No real enforcement either way at the moment.

"You are Lady Eve? Head of Kobra?"

"I am Lady Eve. But Kobra has splintered."

"I understood thet loyalty to Mister Burr was a little stronger in other parts of the world. I did not think thet you had trouble here."

"They looked to me for answers, but I have none. Our prophesised saviour failed, and became just another power-hungry bandit."

I vaguely remember a comic where they started over with his brother, but… I don't want to suggest that.

"Why would they attack you, then? Why not leaf?"

"Sacred scripture is only shared with those who have proven their devotion. They think that I have some knowledge that I am keeping from them." She shakes her head. "I do not."

"Then what was your plen?"

"I planned to wait, observe, pray… I would hope that something revealed itself in time."

Dr. Balewa nods. "Were you able to shield yourself from the Anti-Life Broadcast?"

"No. And even if we could, we would not. It is cowardly to hide from suffering. We embrace it as we learn to reject temporal pleasure."

Kara perks up slightly. "Like Job!"

Lady Eve's eyes narrow slightly, but then she just sort of.. gives up on her sneer. "No, not like Job. The Book of Job is about the rightfulness of obedience to a higher power. We seek to elevate ourselves by becoming more than this weak flesh."

"I belief you also wish to bring an end to the period you call Kali Yuga."

"For the betterment of all."

"And to do thet, you must make the world as bad as it can be."

"There is more to it than that. But in essence, yes."

Dr. Balewa affects a puzzled expression, shaking his head. "And… What is it thet you imagine thet there is thet is worse than the Anti-Life?"

Oh, that's kind of clever. I'm not sure that she's on his wavelength. In organisations like Kobra, sometimes even the leaders have drunk the kool-aid. We've got no reason to assume that she ever went beyond 'suffering = good, follow the prophecy for maximum goodness'… But I suppose that if we're not just killing her right away…

"I have never experienced something worse."

"And, did you feel the energy as we ended the Anti-Life?"

"Yes."

"Then… What do you imagine thet the transition from one age into another feels like?"

"I-." She stares at him, and the other Kobra people are staring too. "I don't understand."

"Did you not picture what it would be like to live in the new age?" He raises his right hand, a small white sigil floating over it and even I feel it, the essence of existence. "Did you not feel the wave of spirit pass over the world?"

She gulps. "I.. did."

"You are a creature of the former, corrupted age. But for eh moment, you saw what it was like to be something else. Would you like to feel thet again?"
 
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11th April 2013
20:47 GMT +5:30


She would. Quite a lot, as it happens.

The soldiers of the Indian S.A.S. don't hesitate, shooting members of the Kobra breakaway group dead rather than bothering to take them into custody. The Indian government was perfectly aware of the nuclear detonation and had been scrambling for a response when I dropped by to explain things to them.

Bleez watches the scene calmly. "This is more like what I was expecting."

"Oh?"

"The Empire's government has been making a big deal of hunting down all of the Seven Devil cultists. I didn't even know we had gibbets."

Kara's back with Dr. Balewa and Lady Eve, guarding him while he keeps trying to talk them around to his way of seeing things. I don't personally believe in the Hindu epoch cycle… In fact, I don't think that it can be true, based on what I know about how magic works. But they do, and he can sort of connect what they believe to reality.

"They're not that hard to make."

I generate a construct digger and scoop up enough earth for a burial pit. I think Kobra-devotees prefer cremation, but if they wanted me to care then they shouldn't have helped their brethren acquire, prime and transport a nuclear bomb. The soldiers who had been going to fetch shovels wave their thanks and start throwing the bodies in the hole.

"I don't understand why you're treating Lady Eve differently. She's their leader, right?"

"One of them. And yes, I'm sure that she's been directly and indirectly responsible for a lot of deaths."

She keeps watching the disposal of the bodies, wingtips blurring to vent stress. "So why aren't you killing them?"

"Because Doctor Mist has command. Because we don't know where everyone in their organisation is and persuading her to tell us is easier that doing a neural trawl. Because if she spends the rest of her life doing productive work then she might work off a tiny part of her debt to civilisation. Because we could really do with the manpower. Because I'm interested to see if anyone else can use the sort of magic that Doctor Mist does."

"On Thanagar… We'd just kill them. On Havania, too."

"And I'm not completely sure that you'd be wrong to." I shrug as I pour the earth back over the impromptu grave. "I hope you would be… But I don't know."

"That's not a Thanagarian way of handling things." She raises her right arm to point at the soldiers who are marching back to their transport vehicles. "That is. Aren't these guys, like, basically your Seven Devil cultists?"

"No. The Seven Devils are very real and actively involve themselves in their worshippers affairs as much as they can. Kobra members are just violent criminals, with no more supernatural backing than anyone can get." Speaking of… "How is Vulcan getting on?"

"My mother wasn't sure about having him as a guest. And I was like, 'Mother, he's a god' and she just went on about him being a magical alien… It was a whole thing. And then he proved that he can make Nth Metal and suddenly she's a whole lot more polite."

"Can he teach people?"

"I don't think the government wants him to have acolytes? They're just taking a bunch of readings to see if they can copy what he does with technology. I don't really know how it's going."

"I'm glad to hear that he's getting on well." Hm. "You should probably have told your mother where you were going."

Her head jerks around, eyes narrowing. "No, I shouldn't."

"Oh?"

"If I told anyone, they'd be a record of what I said. I don't want to be-. I don't want him to make me his concubine, ugh, but if he knows someone else knows where I am then they're a target too."

"Is the fact that you're from Havania a secret?"

"No? But what's the point in going there if I'm not there and no one knows where I am?"

"Your mother's not an idiot, Bleez. She's already had her security people go over the footage of your concert, and she knows that you've been communicating with me." She pulls her wings in slightly. "The constructs of Sinestro Corpsmen are catalysed by fear. And if your homeworld was ravaged, occupied, your mother and other friends taken prisoner, tortured… That would mean more fear, and stronger constructs for him. And given the sort of person that I suspect Sinestro is recruiting-."

The tips of her wings are vibrating fast enough to hum.

"Do you want me to comm Sinestro and ask him what's going on directly?"

"BAnd… And he can just order the guy to get lost?"

"He can. Though I suspect that if he does it's more because he doesn't like his minions slacking off rather than out of any actual moral considerations."

"And what else might he do? I don't want to make things worse."

"He might attack Havania immediately. I don't know how big his Corps is yet or if he's planning on doing anything with the Thanagarian Empire. I am completely confident of my ability to kill a regular Sinestro Corpsman. I'm not confident of my ability to kill him, and most of my support is on the other side of the galaxy. Normally, I could put together a team on Earth, but we're all a bit busy at the moment."

"Then what-. Where should I go?"

"Tamaran is an option. So is J. I could drop you off on Maltus, though you'd have trouble getting back on your own."

"J?"

"It's a plant world. Nice enough place. Bit weird. Sort of like Alstair without the political awkwardness. I.. should probably check up on them at some point."

"Could they fight Sinestro?"

"Gosh no."

"How about Tamaran?"

"Maybe, if the stars aligned. Two Orange Lanterns over there, as well as a high-tier human psychic and some fairly sophisticated space fleets. And a couple of physical gods, but I've got no idea how to get them to do anything."

"I don't-. What do you think I should-?"

I frown for a moment, then look at my left hand. "Ring, call Sinestro."

"Calling."


"Wait, what?"

"The Sinestro Corps gets stronger the more afraid of them you are. So don't be afraid."

Sinestro's full body image appears in front of us.

"Illustres. I trust that you have things in hand."

"
Yes, your ring worked perfectly, thank you. No more Anti-Life on Earth."

His expression doesn't really change. "Interesting. It may be worth considering long-term cooperation where Apokolips is concerned."

"
Honestly, I'd be happy to cooperate generally. But perhaps that's a bit much. The other reason why I'm calling is-"

Send image.

"-this chap. Now, I realise that I don't know exactly what sort of discipline you've got your people working under, but I'd be surprised to learn that they were supposed to be stalking popular musicians."

His eyes narrow. "They are not. I will… Have a rather sharp word."

I smile at him. "Thank you, I appreciate it. Illustres out."
 
Last edited:
11th April 2013
20:20 GMT +5:30


There's a brief flare of light as Princess Celestia appears, making tired eye contact with me for a moment before taking her place in one of the extra-large seats I replaced part of the auditorium seating with. There are a lot fewer ponies here than there were last time I raised this topic. And far fewer than there were earlier today for Sunset's demonstration, and not just because the humans are getting a guided tour from volunteers from the Foreign Office.

But it's still not a small audience. And not just because I put an advertisement in the entertainment section of the local newspaper for a 'live action horror show'. Hopefully these ponies will have stronger stomachs, and if not then the ketamine drones are still on standby.

Twilight glances at her mentor for a moment, then looks away, head down and ears flat.

"Thank you everyone for coming." Starlight beams as she comes to the edge of the stage. "For those of you unfamiliar with my work -and don't worry, we don't lock the doors until after the-"

One green-grey stallion at the back chuckles twice, and then stops when no one else joins in.

"-introduction- my name is Starlight Glimmer. My work is on the subject of special talents, cutie marks, and the link between them." A few of the horror fans look a little disgruntled. "And what happens if either one is removed."

They perk up, while the actual researchers and journalists twitch instead.

Starlight's horn glows as she rotates a blackboard, revealing the complex thaumaturgical notation.

"Using Professor Sunset-" Sunset grins smugly. "-Shimmer's work on Equestrian thaumaturgy, I was able to isolate the parts of a pony's natural magics which correspond to their cutie mark. As yet I have not been able to isolate those parts of a pony's magic which correspond to their special talent prior to their cutie mark's emergence as that would require performing field experiments on foals while hoping that the equipment doesn't interrupt their manifestation."

And trust me, the difficulty in experimenting was the reason why, not the foal thing. I'm starting to think that Starlight could have gone down a very unfortunate path if she hadn't run into me.

"So today we're going to remove a volunteer's cutie mark and see what happens!"

The horror fans are enthralled, and one of the better educated ones has a notepad out as he tries to follow her equations.

The doors at the rear of the auditorium open and a large brown earth pony with a messy brown mane and a white nose carefully walks in. He hesitates for a moment at the gaze of the audience, then draws himself up a little and walks down the-

Something on the stage beeps, and Starlight picks up a purple healing ray in her thaumokinetic grip.

-stairs, only for the edge of his hoof catches on something and he trips, doing a full forwards roll onto his head before rolling down to the bottom of the steps. He actually ends up on his feet, swaying slightly, everyone staring at him. And it's then that I see his cutie mark: an upside down horseshoe.

Starlight shoots him with the healing ray.

"This is Mister Trouble Shoes. His special talent -as far as we can tell- is being unlucky. Almost everything he touches is destroyed moments later, and he himself is subjected to accidents like the one which you just witnessed almost every day. I've had physicians perform test to assess his physical and mental acuity, and he has the same hoof-eye coordination capacity as you and me. My thaumic detection array has picked up a minute surge in his cutie mark related magic just before every event."

"He is being sabotaged by his own cutie mark. Mister Trouble Shoes, please come up on stage."

I just float him up, just to be on the safe side, as Starlight stows her purple healing ray.

"As a result of his cutie mark sabotaging him, Mister Trouble Shoes has an extensive -if relatively trivial- criminal record. Five counts of common assault. A hundred and twenty six of criminal damage. Two of destroying a water course. I'd like to thank the Crown for issuing him a pardon for things over which he clearly had no control." She indicates a point on the stage. "Please stand there, side-on from the audience."

He complies with the care of a serial Jonah which Starlight starts wiring him up to the thaumic detection array.

"Originally, I intended to do a before and after demonstration, but I think Mister Trouble Shoes' tumble covers the 'before' part."

She flicks a switch, and various thaumic readouts come alive.

"As you can see, it's currently inactive. But I think Mister Trouble Shoes has suffered for long enough."

A tug of turquoise magic, and the sheet is lifted from a lump of crystal sitting on a table.

"The current version of the spell uses a crystal storage medium to both hold the cutie mark and special talent. This both anchors them away from the host, and.. allows them to be returned if something goes wrong. The spell itself is relatively complex, and I don't think that the current version can be made simple enough for wide scale use."

A couple of relieved sighs from the front benches, while Starlight gives Trouble Shoes a reassuring look.

"Are you ready?"

"Ma'am, ah've been ready since ah gaht this curse."

"Al-right then." Starlight sits back, horn flickering with turquoise light and her eyes totally focused. "Three… Two… Casting."

There's a pulse of turquoise light, and then both of Trouble Shoe's cutie marks flicker as the thaumaturgical readouts go… Uuh, it looks wild but I'm not an expert. And then they cut out completely as the cutie marks peel away from his haunches and float over to… And in to the crystal. It blinks once more and then stops, floating in the middle.

There's a sort of gasp from the back of the room, and someone in the middle grabs the complimentary sick bag before… Making enthusiastic use of it.

Starlight relaxes, her horn dimming as she looks as Trouble Shoes' haunches. They're blank, no sign that a mark was ever there.

"And there we go. No more evil cutie mark controlling your destiny." She smiles at him. "How do you feel?"

"A little light-headed, ma'am. Ah've wanted that thing gone so long, ah don't rightly know what t'do next."

"Anything you want. That's the whole point." She glances at the readouts, still showing nothing. "Now, we need to check that your 'talent' is inactive." Her horn glows, and a full length mirror floats over to him. He examines it nervously for a moment.

Nothing happens.

"Would you please try holding it?"

"'re you sure, ma'am? That looks expensive?"

"Oh, I'm sure."

He sits, taking hold of the mirror in his forehooves. Nothing from the monitors.

"Ain't had a good look at mah own face fer years now."

"You won't have to worry about that any longer. Now." She turns back to the audience. "I've had several volunteers from Canterlot Penitentiary who received crime-adjacent cutie marks which have driven them to a life of criminality. I'll have them do simple before and after demonstrations, and feed back to you all on their observed behavioural changes at weekly intervals."

I lean a little closer to Luna. "Still think she's crazy?"

She breathes out slowly, eyes locked onto Trouble Shoes' haunches.

"Think? No."
 
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Codominion New
Codominion

12th April 2013
08:33 GMT -5:00

"…wings like the lady outside?"

I shake my head as I remodel my latest patient's immune system. He had H.I.V., and without access to antiretroviral therapy drugs it was only a matter of time until things start getting really serious.

"I'm sorry, but she was born with those." Though-. "I can't do that type of wings without access to a type of rare magical metal, and the only person on Earth I know who can do it with lab-grown wings… The only woman he gave wings to needed to give up an arm so that he'd have somewhere to plug the nerves into her brain."

Ms. Parish wasn't one of the ones whose implants were 'reclaimed' by the Un-Titan, though she'd clearly not forgotten my part in that debacle last time we spoke. Cranius is a lot more sanguine about Uncorps' recent losses; most third generation Un-Men are such psychological basket cases anyway that the Anti-Life barely slowed them down. And the first and second generation have suffered so much already that it was basically just 'business as usual'.

"I'll… Keep my arms." He glances at my assistant. "And what's with her?"

**I wait for you to bleed.**

I close my eyes for a moment as the as yet unnamed G-Magtatangal next to me tilts 'her' head to the side, almost offended that there's nothing for her to do. G-Magtatangal are Dubbilex's latest attempt to be helpful; a genomorph type that can perform chirurgery. Unfortunately their specialised nature means that they're… Not good conversationalists, and since the genomorphs are producing as many of them as they can there aren't enough G-Pooka to go around.

"She's best at handing physical injuries."

My patient looks a little nervous. "Is she an alien?"

"She was grown on Earth. Her DNA originally came from krypton, then got modified a lot."

My patient's eyes widen. "She's kryptonian?"

"One of her ancestors was the kryptonian version of a rhinoceros."

He looks at her, his mouth slightly open. G-Magtatangals have downwards curving horns for a better telekinetic sense and can secrete biological anaesthetic, antiseptic and glue for sealing injuries from their disturbingly claw-like claws. Those can be used as chirurgical scalpels, syringes or just for grasping and pulling. Despite the fact that he referred to her in the feminine there's nothing obviously female about her physique, though her mental voice has a definite feminine sound to it.

"Huh."

"So, if there's nothing else..?"

"Can you do, like..? Super teeth?" He shrugs. "I get medicine's more important, but dentists aren't easy to get hold of either."

He's got a point, but…

"Teeth are a living part of your body. I could add some sort of super-tough coating, but anything else would involve fiddling with your body in ways I haven't studied."

"Sounds good." He opens his mouth slightly, as if I need direct access.

"Would you like to pick a colour?"

"Ah… I'll stick with white,-"

"Done."

"-thanks..?" He closes his mouth and runs his tongue around his teeth. "Feels..? A little bit different. So..?"

"I evened up their placement and structure, fixed the pre-existing damage, shrank them a little and added a layer of white everything-resistant armour over the top of the enamel layer. You'll still need to either brush or avoid sugar completely to maintain good gum health because if your gums recede then the lower unimproved parts of your teeth will get exposed."

He nods. "Sure, sure."

"Also -and this should go without saying- but they're still teeth. Don't try and bit through anything you wouldn't normally try and bit through, especially live electronics."

"I-. Okay, I wasn't gunna. But..? What would happen?"

"The top part of the tooth won't crack anymore, but the lower part can and will and then you'll be in a lot of pain and need to get the tooth removed. Same issue with electricity, only then rather than your teeth exploding your skull will melt. I mean, it's a serious injury either way, I just don't want you to think that you're Matter-Eater Lad or anything?"

"Ye-." He frowns. "Who?"

"Superhero from the future whose power is that he can eat anything without injuring himself. He can bite through a kryptonian's skin like it's made of marshmallow, and swallow molten iron without incident."

"…" He blinks. "That's messed up."

I nod. "Some powers can be pretty situational. Anything else?"

"No, I'm good." He offers me his right hand. "Thanks."

I shake it with a smile. "You're welcome. Ah, and while you can't contract H.I.V. again-."

"I'm not immune to anything else. I haven't forgotten." He nods and heads out of the door.

An interesting idea, that. My teeth are peak human, rather than anything particularly exotic. I've bitten the interior of my mouth far too often to want x-ionised teeth or anything like that. Lamprey had runes etched into his teeth, but I don't think-.

Karon knocks, then opens the door and sticks her head around it. "Are you ready for another patient?"

"Yes, bring them-"

She pushes the door open and-

"Hmpf!"

"-in."

Cranius walks in, or rather Otto does with Cranius perched on his shoulders. Cranius glowers at me, though his face softens for a moment when he takes in the G-Magtatangal.

I stand back up. "Doctor von Schadel. What brings you here?"

"Zo I understand zhet you are modifying people. Is zhis true?"

"In a few minor ways, yes."

"I do not belief zhet is legal."

"Yeah, but the government is barely functional so they're not in any position to stop me. It's… The only good thing about being a failed state." I shrug. "And what are they going to do, demand that people gouge their eyes out?"

"Unt your..? Colleagues?"

"They've got better things to do than stop someone consensually healing people. The world would have to be a very different place for the Justice League to spend time enforcing FDA regulations… At least, where there wasn't some substantial harm being inflicted. How did you even get here?"

"I am heffing difficulty contacting our government overseers in zhe Department of Energy, and thought zhat a personal appearance may work. But now… I em wondering whezher or not I want to."

"Well… Tell me what you've got planned."
 
Last edited:
3rd December 2282
09:02 GMT

Well. At least Pevensey Castle is still there.

If anything, I think that the walls had been built up a little. And the thing is… I'm not sure why. I don't have records on how the Resource Wars played out in Europe, because most of my sources are American and at that point they'd stopped bothering with Europe and the Middle East both and were only really worrying about their internal affairs and the threat from China. Britain and its neighbours had nuclear weapons, but in my original timeline they never built anything like as many as the United States and by the time I was born Britain had scrapped everything apart from Trident.

So who was fighting? When? Why? The North Sea oil fields would have been worth fighting over, for a while at least. I'm not sure exactly where they are -or perhaps were- but I suppose that would be a source of conflict. But landing troops on the mainland wouldn't get you access to them: they're off shore by definition. Britain's got coal, but so do Germany and France, and their mines would be more accessible for everyone on mainland Europe. Britain's geography means that we've got a little of almost everything… But not a lot of anything very much. Certainly I can't think of anything natural resource wise that would be worth landing troops and supporting an occupation army over.

Looking down on Britain from above, I can't see that many nuclear impacts. A few, yes, but quite a lot of infrastructure is still in one piece, even in the major cities. London is nothing like as damaged as Washington, even if the saucer's sensors are picking up elevated levels of radiation in a few places. Small bombs, perhaps? I'm a bit disappointed that despite the lack of an ideological conflict European nations used the same salted nukes as America and China, but maybe that was just the standard design in this timeline?

Major roadways are still in use, with none of the abandoned cars that characterise American motorways. No nuclear batteries replacing petrol here. There are a few abandoned… Steam lorries? Huge things, presumably designed for the efficient transportation of goods and people. A few of them are still in use, and I can see convoys billowing plumes of smoke in several places. Horse drawn vehicles are more common, which makes sense given the shorter supply lines required in a broken nation. Trains… Aren't running outside of the cities, though the fact that they're running anywhere at all is fairly impressive. Looks like they're all electrical.

Where to start? Somewhere isolated would be best, and… Without anti-air weapons and radar. I could try talking to the government in Westminster, or… I'm tempted to drop in on someone closer to-.

Closer to home, I was going to think.

Oh, I'm going to-. Rattle Road didn't get that name as a mere reference to history, the house I grew up in is far older than whatever caused the nuclear war. I direct the saucer to fly lower, mentally kicking myself even as I try to identify any landmarks that I might recognise, knowing that it's a foolish thing to do but needing to anyway.

I went to school there.

Reception class, with Missus Sykes. The rest of the school is… Different. The portacabins that served as the majority of.. the…

I can still see where the school pool used to be.

The pool itself has long since decayed to nothing, but the brick changing rooms and the paving stones covering the area close to what is still the main road…

The portacabins are gone, but the older brick-built parts of the school are still there. St. Mary's church still stands, two hundred years and a nuclear war nothing to a building that had already stood for nine hundred years.

I, ah…

I…

No. My parents might have been alive before things started diverging from the history I remember, but it wouldn't take… It wouldn't take much for them to just not meet. And there's basically no chance that any descendants live in this area. Even if they do, I doubt that they'll have the genealogical records for the last three hundred years that would prove how closely related we are.

But… But it doesn't hurt to knock.

Huh. Looks like they never built that weird roundabout in this timeline. The house… Some of the windows have had their glass replaced by smaller panes held together with lead cames. Easier to manufacture than larger panels, and cheaper as a result.

Leave the ship in stealth, or have it float openly?

I think… Stealth, for now. Openly displaying it is something I can leave for when I need to establish my affidavits. I fly it over to the strangely round cul-de-sac close to-. Close by the house, and clamber out of the saucer. I suppose… Given that the EU invaded the Middle East in 2052, I shouldn't be surprised if I started recognising more things. Honestly, I should be more surprised that Britain was still in the EU in 2052. Is that where the conflict came from? Other European nations blaming our lack of support for their defeat? It was the Middle East. What did you expect to happen?

I jump down and start walking. Down the slope, noting that the metal railing has been replaced by wood and that the brickwork has been repaired. Down the road, noting that there aren't any people around. I hadn't really given much thought to what the area's original industry was. I imagine that manpower-intense farming has made a comeback, since there's no real way to power tractors. Unless they break out the traction engines, which can be powered by coal. Except, where would they get coal around here?

No traffic, and the driveway is empty.

I walk up to the door, and-. No bell, but-. That's the exact same door knocker. I reach up, tap it against the baseplate twice and then stand back to wait.

I feel the minds inside. Three children and a woman, probably their mother. She's not worried about someone knocking, but-. Ah. That's a little more of that post-apocalyptic mindset. She's picking up a gun before walking to the door, and sliding a chain into the door before opening.

I smile as a blonde woman in her middle years looks at me in the crack between door and frame. "Good morning!" The harder lifestyles and lack of makeup result in people looking older so I find my guesses about how old people are thrown off a bit.

She sighs very quietly, and relaxes her guard a little. "Are you with the Brethren? Because I'm not interested. I wasn't last month and I'm not now."

"Ah, no? I don't actually know who they are."

"How do you not know who the Brethren are?"

"I've been in Nevada for the past few years. This is the first time I've been back…" I shrug. "For a while."

"Where's that?"

"Ah, America. On the West Coast."

"America-?" She blinks in surprise. "Oh, are you a sailor?"

"Pilot." Because the word 'pilot' can also refer to someone who navigates complicated waterways, and because I didn't detect a single flying machine when I over flew the country. Nice that she knew the word, when I've had to explain to even educated people in the United States what 'Britain' is. "I'm sorry to bother you, but I've got no idea what's been happening in Britain lately, and… Ah, well, my family came from this part of the country. I don't know if any still… Live in the area, but if they do then I'd like to trace them. I'm not sure.. where I should go for that…"

"Church records would have lists of Christenings, marriages and deaths. What's your name?"

"Ah, well…" I reach into my robes and pull out a copy of my family tree I prepared in case I wanted to tell someone my actual name, since business cards haven't made a comeback after the apocalypse. "I'd like to track any of those names, but my dad's family came from Ipswich and my mum's family came from Gloucestershire."

She looks at the sheet, frowning. Getting my real name on there took me cutting up newspapers for the letter and then hypnotising myself so that I wouldn't realise why I was assembling them in that order, then asking someone else to transcribe it. I'll be nice to have a country that doesn't know me as a living comic character.

"No, I don't recognise any of these names." She hands the paper back. "I'm.. sorry about that. What made you come looking for them?"

"I'm getting married, and I don't… I'm not in contact with any of my relatives, so my side of the church is going to be a bit empty. Obviously, they wouldn't be able to make the trip to Nevada, but I thought I could bring my wife here to visit when my.. schedule allows it." I shrug disarmingly. Oh well. It was a long shot. "Um. Look, I realise this is an inconvenience, but as I said, I've been out of the country for a while, and I've got no idea what's been happening. I can… Pay for information?"

She frowns. "I'm a dress-maker, not a newsagent."

"Sure, but right now I don't know anything. You know local news?" She nods cautiously. "Then you know more than me."

"Hm." She looks me over. "Are you armed?"

"Oh yes." I tug at my robe so that my plasma pistol is showing. "Two shots, then I reduce myself to penury getting a new fuel cell. Ah." I remove it from my belt and offer it to her, grip first.

She carefully takes it and looks it over, clearly not understanding what she's seeing. "I'm going to call a neighbour over, but… Alright. I could do with having someone new to moan to about those Brethren nutters, as well as his bloody nibs the Lord of Brighton."

I smile warmly, and give her a mental nudge which will make her think that she's making the right decision. "Thank you. I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."

"Sarah Williams. Missus Sarah Williams."
 
Last edited:
3rd December 2282
11:43 GMT

That was very useful.

'The Brethren' are a fundamentalist millennialist Christian sect that have been spreading out from their home in Portsmouth, and are the main competition for the Anglican church in the region. According to Sarah, if I didn't want to pay a newsagent (an information gatherer and seller, not a retailer of newspapers and magazines) then the next best place to find out what's going on is the local vicar.

When I asked about other Christian denominations I was told that Rome was completely destroying in the Resource Wars. Then there was too much fighting for a new papal conclave and once the EU fell apart each of the countries with a significant Catholic population nominated their own Pope. Even today there are occasional messages to the faithful from four different Popes, each decrying the others. Most Catholic diocese in Britain attached themselves to the Anglican Church until that mess sorts itself out, because while the national government is widely considered to have collapsed, the Church hasn't. And because our Catholic archbishop had more sense than to nominate himself.

And by 'widely considered'… It turns out that Queen Elizabeth III is still alive, a jolly impressive feat given that she was queen before the Resource Wars and is even older than Robert House. With no parliament, she's theoretically assumed supreme executive authority. In practice their writ runs pretty thin outside of London, but for some reason they sent a company of soldiers to install someone as Lord of Brighton.

Brighton, of all places.

And while I.. was sort of thinking as just picking up a priest who didn't mind travelling, I think that having a conversation with Lord Harold Windsor would be a productive use of my time. Because in terms of giving the country a functioning government, creating a parliament that acknowledges the monarch as sovereign but retains most of the power is a lot easier if there's only one possible monarchical candidate and they're someone most people recognise as being the monarch, even if that recognition is mostly theoretical.

Which is why the stealth system is off and I'm flying along the Brighton seafront, giving everyone a good eyeful. A lot more fishing boats than I remember there being, which I suppose makes sense. They've got to be getting food from somewhere, and with the various wars reducing the human population so much the fish stocks would have either recovered or been killed by the radiation-.

I blink as I see a giant carcass being butchered to on the quay, near one of the larger fishing boats. It looks like a.. large whale, with glowing nodules along its sides. Stand on guard nearby is a squad of Life Guards armed with.. German gauss rifles. Interesting choice, as they're dependant on European batteries rather than the fusion batteries which the American rip off uses. Still a very dangerous gun, as long as the power holds out.

Yes, they've seen me, and their squad leader is directing them to take aim. Have we got a radio frequency..? Yes, yes we do.

"Krono to Life Guard. Krono to Life Guard. Please respond."

"This is a restricted military frequency. And you're probably used a contraband radio, aren't you, you horrible little man?"

"I have an alien spaceship armed with giant cannons." I slow the saucer, angling it to that I can point the disintegrator cannons at them at a moment's notice, because I'm pretty sure that the gauss guns can pierce the hull and I'm relying on the saucer's inertial shield and my own ability to slam on the accelerator if they actually fire. "And I'd like you to take me to your leader."

"You some sorta goddam alien comedian? 'Take me to your sodding leadah' indeed."

"It seemed appropriate."

"It's a cliché. You could have said anything, and the best you could do was a 'The Day The Earth Stood Still' quote."

"You seem to be taking this rather personally."

"You just spoiled aliens for me. I'm over two hundred years old, and just when it looks like something interesting is about to happen for the first time in bloody ages, it turns out that the alien flying machine is being flown by a moron."

"That's-. That's a little hurtful, but I'll try and be more creative in future."

"No, it's too late, you ruined it. What do ya want?"

"Um. Well, I flew here from Nevada-"

"Of course you did. Area Fifty-One? You don't just quote clichés, you fucking live them!"



Canopy.

I jump down, falling through the air and landing in front of the Life Guard squad, inertia shield flaring as it absorbs-

"A superhero landing?!"

-the kinetic energy of my impact.

"Yes." I rise from my crouch, glaring at the sergeant with the portable radio. "It was."

Ah. That's something I hadn't spotted before. Not only is the sergeant a ghoul -which, yes, was the most likely explanation for him being over two hundred years old- but all of the Life Guard are. The dock workers and butchers are regular humans, and appear to be torn between grabbing improvised weapons and watching a piece of novel street theatre.

The sergeant marches forward, passing the closer soldiers who have their guns readied but not yet aimed, and glares at me.

"What's your name, son?"

"Krono."

He stares at me for a moment, then-

"Hah!"

-actually looks and sounds amused.

"You certainly committed to the sodding bit, didn't you? That's exactly the sort of thing he'd say and do in the bleedin' comics. Only question is-" He raises his gauss rifle and levels it at my head. "-what makes you think I won't do exactly what those idiots in the comics should do the moment they see him?"

"My ship's fire controls have a dead man's switch."

"You overestimate how much I want to be alive. It's been a boring and frankly painful two hundred years, and you've actually annoyed me."

"Because his lordship will be annoyed that he didn't get to make the decision himself?"

"But if I'm dead, how is that my problem?"

I reach out psychically for the gauss gun and detach the capacitor from the magnetic coil. And then I check for an alternate charging mechanism, just in case. No, I'm good.

I shrug nonchalantly. "I guess you better shoot me then."

"I guess I-" There's a 'click' as he pulls the trigger. "-had-?"

Slowly, very slowly, the coilgun round drifts down the bore due to the coil having been weakly magnetised, then falls out of the barrel.

The two of us look at it on the ground.

I suck in air through my teeth, nodding sagely. "Yeah, I hear that can be a problem for men your age."

A peel of laughter runs through the people watching, and more than a few of the Life Guard are smirking.

"Hm."

A fraction of a second and his sidearm is pointing at my face as my plasma pistol is at his.

"Just like the comics, huh?"

"Yes." I give him a very small nod. "And what do you think would happen in the comics if someone tried this?"

His eyes narrow. "What do you want, you living, third rate comic villain?"

"To find out what's been happening in my dear home country while I've been in America, to see if I can find any members of my family, and to acquire a priest to perform my marriage ceremony."

"That sounds convoluted enough to be a third rate villain plot. But if you've been to the States, his lordship probably does need to talk to you."

"Right then."







"So which one of us puts our gun down first?"
 
3rd December 2282
11:59 GMT


The sergeant and an escort detail marches towards a fortified hotel, which I assume is where Lord Harold is based. The sergeant himself is reviewing my family tree, and doesn't look all happy about it.

"King."

"Yes, my maternal grandfather's family name."

"And his wife was an Underwood."

"Yes, he used to make jokes about how untrustworthy they were."

"Did he have any brothers and sisters?"

Ah… "I… Don't remember. I think… There was a man my mother called 'Uncle Rolly', but I'm not sure exactly who he was related to."

"And what part of the country was this?"

"Gloucestershire."

The sergeant winces. "Holy Mary, Mother of.. God."

He shoves the paper back at me, and I take it with a frown. "What? There's no way you're old enough to have met him."

"My great grandfather was called Roland King, and his part of the family came from Gloucestershire."

I stop walking, staring at him with a growing grin. "Oh?"

He stops too, looking me over more carefully. Then he sighs, and starts walking again. "It's probably a common name."

I take a couple of rushed steps to catch up, still grinning. "Not really, cousin."

"And you expect me to believe that you were alive before the Resource Wars, do you?"

"I was born in nineteen eighty three. I'm almost certainly older than you."

"You're older than my father was. How can you be that old with you still having a baby-face, huh?"

"America invented cryogenic suspension pods before their war with China. There are more than a few people from that period still alive. Did you ever hear of Robert House?" He gives his head a small shake. "Founder of RobCo?"

"The Americans didn't sell robots to other countries. You were seventy when the Wars started? Your face isn't that old."

I shake my head. "Last year I remember before waking up in the now is twenty thirteen."

"Still doesn't mean that we're related."

"Give me a sample of your blood before I leave, and I'll get someone to run a genetic analysis."

His eyebrows ridges rise. "You've got someone with the equipment to do that?"

"America is rebuilding. Slowly. There are a couple of places with good enough laboratories to specialise in advanced medicine."

"Just so long as they don't nuke the whole planet again."

"What?" I frown as we're waved through the checkpoint and into the hotel. "I thought they just nuked China."

"And Russia and Eastern Europe. The Geiger counters still start shouting whenever it rains. I spent decades fighting giant mutant rats because of them."

"Oh? I'd been assuming that most of the damage came from the nuclear strikes on Britain."

"We took a few hits. Couldn't say for sure where they were from. Russia, probably, but it could have been China, France, Germany… Maybe even America. Mutual decapitations all over. Most of the actual damage came from ground invasions after the navy ran out of fuel, and no one was organising things. And that's where it all fell apart. There are still a few places in Britain where English is a second language. And I don't mean because they're speaking Welsh or Gaelic." He smiles cruelly. "But at least they aren't getting orders from Brussels or Berlin anymore."

"So where does your boss come from?"

"The royal family was at Balmoral when the rats attacked what was left of Parliament. They're in charge, as far as I'm concerned."

"Parliament was killed by rats? I assumed that it would have been nuked."

He shrugs. "If they were trying, they missed. Or it got shot down."

I look around at the soldiers and… Other people we walk passed. The soldiers are all ghouls. Actually, from the looks of things only the hotel staff are humans.

"I assume that Her Majesty is a ghoul as well?"

He glares at me. "A what?"

"Ah..?" Oh. "Sorry. In America, that's what people like…" I wave my right hand at my face. "You and your colleagues are called. What's the..? Proper phrase here?"

"Simons."

Ah. What? "Why?"

He rolls his eyes. "Because if we tell someone to do something, they have to do it."

"Heh, okay. Do we..? Have any other surviving family?"

"Not that I know about, if we even are family. My grandparents, parents and brothers died doing this and that. I was conscripted right out of school, spent the whole time moving from one fight to another and then turned into this."

"And you haven't had any children since?"

His jaw tightens, and several other members of the Life Guard glare at me. "That is not funny."

"No, seriously. There was a crazy doctor in America who studied it, and your virility is very low, not zero. It takes a lot of tries, but they proved it was possible for 'Simons' to have children."

His gaze gets a little distant for a moment, then he shakes his head and focuses on a group just ahead of us.

"Lieutenant Roper!"

A Life Guard 'Simon' steps away from a table where he was studying a map with two other members of the Life Guard. His uniform has a gold plated cuirass and those golden… Ropes that I don't know the name for.

"Sergeant King. Who's this, then?"

"He's the one with the plane, sir. Says he came over from America."

"I suppose that if anyone can still build planes it would be them." He looks at me. "How are the septics doing, then?"

"Government has been re-established at the state level in some areas. California, Denver, Oklahoma, Texas and Rio Grande are back. Other places are still a mess. No national government."

"I thought they'd have better contingency plans than that, what with all their vaults."

I shake my head. "Oh, it turned out that the vaults were never meant to save anyone. They were experimental prototypes for building off-world colonies. The plan was for a section of the government and some essential workers to evacuate off planet. In the end, they had to settle for an abandoned oil rig. Then they tried to wipe out the rest of the world with viral weapons, but that got stopped and most of them were killed."

"Oh no." Lieutenant Roper snorts. "A disease. Whatever would we do."

I shake my head again. "They made one that could affect atypical people such as yourself as well. We've got these things called 'super mutants' who are even tougher, and it killed them when they tested it."

He nods. "Good job it got stopped, then. Why are you here now?"

"I wanted to find out how my own country is doing, pick up a priest to officiate at my wedding and see if I had any family left. Turns out that the sergeant might be a distant cousin. Oh." I reach into my robes and pull out a letter of introduction from President Hayes. "And I've got this from the President of the New California Republic, authorising me to act as an ambassador. Could I speak to his lordship, please?"
 
Last edited:
3rd December 2282
12:23 GMT


A ghoul in suit topped off with a frock coat is sitting at a table reading a report as I'm lead into what appears to be a private dining room. There's a hat stand with a matching top hat on it in the corner of the room, along with a cane propped up by the base. He's either acquired the services of an expert wig maker or he's one of the rare ghouls who managed to hang on to most of their hair during the transformation process, possessing as he does a full head of black hair and mutton chop sideburns. He's-.

"My God, is that tea?"

His eyes move from the report to me without any other part of his body moving. He considers me for a moment.

"Yes, actually. Roper. Who is this?"

"An ambassador from California, My Lord."

"Really, now. I'd rather assumed that the Chinese would have thoroughly ruined the place. How on Earth did they miss California?"

I hesitate, then Roper looks at me and nods.

"They didn't, My Lord. But California was reasonably well served with Vaults, and RobCo undertook the defence of the Mojave region. Plus it.. has been two hundred years. Even salted nuclear warheads don't stay dangerously radioactive forever."

"Educated too, that's a welcome surprise." He lays down his report, though not his tea. "Roper, his affidavits."

Lieutenant Roper advances, my letter of introduction in hand, and holds it out to Lord Harold. Lord Harold takes it, unfolds it one-handed and reads it carefully.

"Mmpf. Hayes. I assume he's not one of us?"

"British, My Lord? No. There are very few British people in America."

He gives me a faint glare. "No, one of us."

"A Simon, My Lord?"

His lip moves in a mild expression of distaste at the word. "Yes, one of the… Gentry."

"No. Um, I'm.. sorry if I've offended, but I was told that 'Simon' was the accepted nomenclature."

Lord Harold looks at Roper, who nods. "I'll have a word with the sergeant, My Lord."

"See that you do. The term 'Simon' is informal slang, used largely by the lower orders. 'Gentry' is more polite, though only used to refer to those of us who predate the war and occupy positions of seniority. You can use 'ardens' for everyone else, as in homo sapiens ardens."

"'Ardens' is a good deal more polite than what they settled on in America."

"Naturally. And yes. It is tea."

"Does Britain have trade with India? I realise that it's possible with wooden ships-."

"A two hundred day round trip in a clipper. We tried it, but only a fraction of the ships made it back. It should be an easier journey from California."

"They drink coffee."

"Ah." He nods. "And I suppose that the Chinese reds mined the route."

An interesting point. As far as I know, even the Shi haven't tried to make the journey to China. I don't even think that NCR traders have tried to reach Hawaii. Their trade ships and warships mostly hug the coastline when they're at sea. I… Honestly don't know what the deep oceans are like. I would have assumed that the places that weren't sterilised by radiation would be mostly recovered by now, were it not for the fact that I've seen fog crawlers and the wanamingos. As it is, I've got no idea what might be happening out to sea.

"I don't know, but that's certainly a possibility."

"Very well." He tosses the letter across the table, where it is recovered by Lieutenant Roper and returned to me. "On behalf of Her Majesty's government, I recognise you as the Ambassador of this.. 'New California Republic', Your Excellency."

"Thank you."

"You're on the wrong side of the continent for us to trade with, assuming that America's successor states have abandoned the position of isolationism."

"Given how things have collapsed, it would be impractical to enforce it. Though I'm afraid that damage to America's shipping infrastructure means that we can't really initiate trades and won't be able to for some time."

What have we actually got to trade, anyway? Brahmin and big horners are useful food animals that are adapted for radiation, but I'm not sure how well either would do in Britain. Robots? They wouldn't have the infrastructure. Water?

I just about stop myself laughing at the idea of Britain needing to import water, of all things.

G.E.C.K.s? Yes, them and everyone else will want those. Weapons? They don't have America's nuclear energy supplies. Fusion cells? They don't have the infrastructure. Knowledge? Expert personnel? Seed samples?

Lord Harold nods. "I suppose that it's worthwhile just knowing that there are other survivors in the world. So: just what is the New California Republic?"

"The people in Vault Fifteen founded a town named Shady Sands in twenty ninety seven. At that point the radiation levels were low enough for them to use their seed reserves to start farming. As the years passed the village grew into a town and got into contact with other groups of survivors. They started trading; Shady Sands had food but was short of metal and machine parts, while the survivors in Californian cities needed fresh food. In twenty one eighty nine the towns had enough in common that it made sense to come together under a shared banner, using their combined military to eliminate outlaws, raider bands and giant mutant animals from their territory. Since then, the NCR has expanded across most of the old State of California's territory and into Baja California and Nevada. Mostly peacefully, sometimes with the threat of violence and occasionally with an actual war."

"War with who?"

"The Enclave, the Brotherhood of Steel and Caesar's Legion. The Enclave were a group of descendants of part of the old American government who decided to create a weaponised virus to kill everyone else in the world. The NCR allied with the Brotherhood of Steel to destroy their bases in California, but relations broke down afterwards when the Brotherhood started demanding that the NCR hand over all advanced technology in their possession. The NCR won, and the two groups have recently signed a peace treaty. Caesar's Legion are a group of tribes brought together under the leadership of a fascist historian. They conquered the entirety of Arizona before coming into conflict with the NCR, a war which is still ongoing."

Lord Harold's eyes narrow. "Did you just say 'Cai-sar's Legion', Your Excellency? Romans?"

"He styled them after a very jaundiced version of Roman history. It's not the most ridiculous thing in America, but it is the most ridiculous that's gotten too many people killed to laugh about." I shrug. "How have things been here?"

"A mess. The nuclear missiles flew early and often, and then what little was left was subjected to decades of raids that we lacked the infrastructure to respond to. Her majesty managed to return to London to take command, but it wasn't until twenty two thirty eight that we managed to destroy the insurgent groups in London alone, let alone reach out to anywhere else. I am here to restore the control of the government to the south coast; law and order, infrastructure, governance and nationhood."

I nod. "I stopped by my home village on the way here. There didn't seem to be any sort of overarching authority."

"That's our experience of how it works. People are too busy surviving to do anything else. I prefer that. I led men of the coastal rapid reaction force before things fell apart completely. Fighting our own people leaves a bad taste in m' mouth."

I nod. "I saw a mutant whale on the docks."

"Yes, they're reasonably common in these waters now. We're hoping that we can harvest their oil as a fuel source. Shipping coal this far south is difficult, and would be impractical for naval purposes anyway."

I frown. "Why? That's what we used to do, before we switched over to oil powered engines."

"Because it will take decades at best before we can restore the railway lines north to south, and we're not the only nation harvesting whales. The French are up to something, and not a man jack of us is prepared to let them get the jump on us again."
 
Last edited:
13th April 2013
15:22 GMT

"…out how you were getting on with it?"

The J-ian plant woman in front of me hasn't stopped staring wide-eyed since I landed. In fact, just about everyone I've flown past on my way here stared quite a lot, which… I mean, I like to think that if my kingdom was in the galactic minority and I knew that for a fact, I'd be a lot less surprised when an intelligent being from a different kingdom stopped by for a visit. It should be even less of a big deal when it's a Lantern, since they know for a fact that Lanterns can look like just about anything. Their Sector's current and former Lanterns may have been from J, but the ones before that certainly weren't.

"I say, are you alright?"

"Yes. Yes! I'm perfectly fine. Are you?"

I smile. "Yes, thank you for asking. But-."

"Are you sure? Your… Leaves look… Dead."

I.. blink. "Ah, my species doesn't photosynthesise. This-" I reach up with my right hand and run it through my hair. "-is fur. Keratin, mostly. It's a sort of built-in sunshade for my brain."



"Huuuuuuuuh."

"So, the computer?"

"Oh, that's great! We're in the middle of a-." She frowns. "Look, this is… Probably a stupid question, it's a big universe with lots of meat in it, but do you know the person who got it in the first place?"

"Yes." I nod. "It was me."

Her eyes widen. "Rea-?!" Then she calms herself. "Oh. Right. That's why you're checking up on things."

"Yes it is. So?"

"The speed of our computer stems and macro intelligences has increased a thousand fold, and the rollout's been surprisingly simple. The technology is so much like ours, while still being… Different? Alien? Where did you get it?"

"I bought it from an arms dealer, who got it from a stellar civilisation called The Dominion. I'm not sure why they started using plant-based computers; the rest of their technology base is more conventional. It's pretty old by their standards, but I'm glad that you've found it helpful."

I should probably investigate in more detail, because… Pamela hasn't, as far as I can tell. I suppose that her greater focus on plant-based magic means that she doesn't really need plant machines in the same way that the people of J do. And other than bringing himself up to full Alec Holland intelligence I haven't seen any sign that Swamp Thing has either.

"Thank you for bringing it here."

"And how about the people from Alstair?"

"They're… Weird and alien, but…" She stares at me again, then blinks as she realises what she's doing and who she's talking to. "Um."

"I'm familiar with how different our physiologies are."

"Right! Ah, they-. They're similar enough to us that the differences really stand out-. Physically, I mean. But they're good people, hard workers, and… There's been an increase people being interested in… Mysticism. Magic. Because of how much they use it."

"But no real friction?"

"No, not at all. In fact, some of the researchers, they-." Her bark hardens slightly. "Ah…"

"Say no more. I'll leave you to your work."

I

step out, focusing on the familiar desires of Alstair. There's some sort of blur in the way, but it's easy to

work through-.

Ships burn and break all around me as the four-way war for Antares hots up! I armour up right away and generate construct shields just as the first optimistic volley of flak fire heads in my direction.

Um.

Now, they've been fighting for a very long time. This doesn't mean-.

Incoming message.



Answer?

"Hell-"

"Orange Lantern! I am so glad that you're here!"

"-o, Queen Hyathis. Um."

A large and heavily armoured ship from Mosteel wheels out of control in space, some sort to… Lichen? Eating through its hull. Moments later its structural integrity fails completely, exposing the interior structures to space. Including the crew.

"What's happening?"

"I'm winning. I'm finally winning! And I have you to thank for it!"

"The Orange Lantern Corps-."

"Was kind enough to provide me with a trading partner, new and superior computers and weapons. A new generation of ships and a whole new-"

Something takes hold of my construct barriers and turns me around.

"-me."

Hyathis is… A giant. Or at least has created a giant avatar for herself.

She releases me and raises her right arm, hyper velocity seedpods launched from some sort of internal mechanism and smashing into -through in some cases- a destroyer squadron from Dhor.

"Thanks to your computer, my mind has been expanded. This is child's play now! Oh no you don't!"

Her head turns towards… A flotilla trying to retreat out of interdiction range. Her left arm waves and their thrusters flare and fail.

"Did you think you could fly into my battle space and not pick up a few spores! Fools!"

"So… This isn't them ganging up on you because you'd pulled a little ahead, an alliance that will fall apart the moment that you're beaten back?"

"No. Not this time. This is their last hurrah before my new fleet puts itself in orbit around their worlds and does as it will. I will seed their biospheres and make prisons of their worlds, and then concern myself with them never again! And then…"

Giant eyes glow.

"Thanagar."



Huh.

"I'm going to have to ask that you don't seek Diana out for a rematch."
 
5th December 2282
14:00 GMT


The Archbishop's face falls slightly as he gives me the bad news which, now that I think about it, I should have expected.

Getting a meeting with The Most Reverend Primate Calvin Robinson merely took a few surveillance pictures of French dockyards and a promise to relay a letter to any Anglicans in NCR territory in America. As expected, he's a ghoul, and also the man responsible for keeping the Church of England together during the Resource Wars and the post-apocalypse period. He was an old man when he turned into 'one of the Gentry', and…

"I think it speaks well of your character that you're prepared to have your marriage solemnised before God, but if you are not a Christian then I cannot perform the ceremony. And nor can I allow any of the priests in the Church of England to perform it in my stead."

"Yeah. No, that makes sense, actually."

He frowns in puzzlement. "Then why did you ask me?"

"Because my fiancée is a Christian, and a Church of England vicar would be a compromise between her denomination and my.. own preferences."

"You could accept baptism yourself. That would remove the obstacle."

"Yes, but I don't believe in God. I like the Anglican Church. I believe that Christianity has been a good and civilising influence on the world. I even met a demon once, and it was revolting. But when you get right down to it I'm not a man of faith and I have yet to see definitive evidence of God's presence in the world, so… Getting a baptism would involve lying about converting."

He nods, frowning faintly. "Which denomination does she belong to? They might be willing to modify their ceremony to accommodate you."

"She's a Mormon. Her whole tribe-."

He shakes his head. "Mormons aren't Christians."

"Are you-?" Heh. "Sorry, I just realised I was about to ask the Archbishop of Canterbury if he was sure what a Christian is. But… They sound fairly Christian? I'm not sure why you're making the distinction."

"The Old Testament is essentially the Jewish Torah. That doesn't make Christians Jewish, or Jews Christians. There is overlap of course, but the Mormons have altered both the beliefs essential to Christianity and the books of their version of the Bible too much to still be considered part of Christianity."

"Oh. Ah, alright. Well." I lean forwards, about to rise from my chair. "Thank you for your time. Oh, just.. one thing. What's the Church's view on magic?"

"Magic?" He sounds sceptical.

"Yes, magic. As I said, I've encountered a demon, as well as various.. strange phenomena. And pre-War America was experimenting with psychic abilities."

"That's not a question I've spent a great deal of time considering." He thinks for a moment as I sit back. "Attempting to communicate with demons is forbidden, for obvious reasons. Demons exist to tempt men to sin against God. Bargaining with them for any reason is completely incompatible with Christian morality. Similarly, there are no gods but God, if you'll forgive the Mohammadian phrasing. Attempting to communicate with 'spirits' is also forbidden, because they don't exist and the person doing it would either simply be wasting their time or in reality be communicating with a demon. As for things which are merely strange, well." He gestures to himself with his right hand. "I don't believe that Adam ever looked like this. And I haven't ever encountered 'psychic' phenomena that weren't simply confidence tricks."

I reach out with my right hand and telekinetically pull a book off his bookshelf.

"Ah." He blinks four times in rapid succession, his mouth opening slightly and then closing again. "Lord Harold didn't mention that."

I shrug as I return the book. "I didn't tell him."

"Is this ability natural to you?"

I-. I don't nod. "It's induced. There's a machine they built before the war, based on alien technology."

"But it's part of your body now."

"Yes."

"And it's purely physical?"

"As far as I understand it, yes."

He smiles faintly. "Then that's perfectly alright. Performing magic by using demons is a sin because it involves negotiating with demons, not because it lets you do something that men can't normally do. That doctrine comes from the early Church, when they had no way of distinguishing between 'magic' and chemistry, or other profane methods. Would you like me to put that in writing?"

Would I?

"You know what? Yes. I'll frame it and put it on the wall as a conversation starter."

"In that case, perhaps I could make something a little more artistic." His smile broadens. "How long will you be in Britain?"

"A few days more, unless my tribe needs me to return sooner. Lord Harold has asked me to help with tracking the whale pods, and the rest of the… Gentry?" He nods. "Are discussing how to handle foreign ambassadors. I'm told that there's a chance I might even get to meet Her Majesty."

"Yes." His smile fades slightly. "I suppose that would be appropriate. I will draft a Bull which lays out the theological case fully, with references to the writings of the founders of the Church and its greatest theologians. It should be an interesting challenge."

"Is there.. a problem? With the Queen?"

"The Queen…" He sighs. "I was one of the first people in Britain to change, like this." He briefly glances at a wall-mounted mirror. "I was working in London when the first missiles fell. I believed that it was the death knell of civilisation on Earth and I wanted to serve God and my community once more before the end, ministering to the sick and dying. When my hair fell out I assumed that I had radiation sickness and would soon be meeting my Creator. Instead, I kept going. When it became clear that the radiation wouldn't kill me, I went out into the most radioactive parts of the city to see if there was anyone I could rescue whom the emergency services couldn't reach. It was a grim time."

He frowns faintly at the recollection. "What disturbed me most was not the dead and dying, or the… People who looked like me but still possessed their wits. There were…"

"Ferals."

"Ferals?" He thinks for a moment. "That's not a bad name for them, I suppose."

"It's what they're called in America. Ardens who have lost their minds, either due to brain damage or due to their… Situation."

"I thought that there were in shock. They followed me willingly enough. It wasn't until we reached the aid station that… Their bestial nature revealed itself. You won't hear many of the Gentry making mention of them today."

I nod. "As I understand it, you've got an ardens aristocracy."

"Our pre-War leaders still remember when Britain was a nation. Outside of Cornwall, there haven't been any efforts to create new countries, but they're the people most strongly motivated to bring us all together. Our pre-War scientists are the best educated people in the nation." He shrugs. "Trinity College isn't what it was. And a soldier with two hundred years of experience is a very good soldier."

"And the mental decay?"

"Some… Some start to show the signs. I think that's why they haven't tried incorporating the Church into their organisation directly. I assign chaplains to make themselves available to any who need counselling. None of them want to admit to needing their help to keep going. None of them want to put someone with blackmail material in position to be their rival rather than their priest."

I nod. "Jolly decent of you."

"But the Queen…" He sighs. "She changed late. I'm not sure exactly what happened. I had already been sent to Canterbury to take control of what was left of the Church, and I've only spoken to her in person a few times since then. Mostly she was entirely lucid, but… Sometimes…"

"I… See. My abilities extend to probing minds. I usually don't look deeply, but if it's for her health, then…"

He nods emphatically. "Please do. She is a good monarch and a good woman and no one deserves to have that happen to them."
 
Last edited:
14th April 2013
17:47 GMT -5


Word's gotten out.

I didn't base myself in a hospital because while I'm de jure immune to prosecution or punishment, the doctors there wouldn't be. Probably. But several of today's chronic patients were brought here by ambulance, after their usual doctor mentioned that while they couldn't recommend that people come here, it was certainly an option that a private citizen could pursue.

I don't mind, but… I wasn't planning for this to be an ongoing thing, and it doesn't make sense in terms of utility. If internet connections were reliable I could just create a webpage where people could list their main ailment and what other modifications they were content to have-.

"Nonsense! Zhe human brain is more zhan capable of perceiving sound in three dimensions!"

"Yeah, but… I don't want my ear transplanted to the top of my head."


"Zhat is where owls have it! Do you zhink you know better zhan owls?! Can you catch moths mit your mouth?!"

Karon and I make momentary eye contact, both of us wincing.

"Unt what would we replace it with? Ah! Why don't we let you see sideways!"

As before, that announcement is immediately met with the sound of hurried feet and the slamming of a door.

"Ingrate!"

Karon winces as she watches the patients with cataracts blindly flee for the door and miss.

"Ah… I think you should see that guy next."

"You calm him down, I'll calm Cranius down."

"Sounds good." She affects a public service smile and walks over to help the man up, while I head into Cranius's work area-.

Then step back because Cranius was right behind the door.

"Ah! So!" … "Oh, it's you." He shakes his head… Or whole body, I suppose, then retreats back into the room. "Anozher fool who will not change."

I frown as I follow him, closing the door behind me as Karon escorts his former patient to an ice pack.

"Me or him?"

He rotates on Otto's shoulders, waving Otto's right arm dismissively. "Oh, bozh of you. Your ring gives you anyzhing you want, and you turn yourself into a swimsuit model!"

"Yes? Because looking like this gives me everything I want..?"

"But you could want more!"

"Yes." I nod. "But I don't. It took me a while to even reconfigure my own eyes."

"Even reindeer can see ultraviolet light! You cannot tell me that you could not modify yourself in zhat way."

"I could, but… I'd have to either reconfigure a bunch of things -and I don't know how to do that- or… Change how I perceive all other colours to make room. And even if I could work out how to safely change my brain, I'd be stopping myself doing other things with my time while I adjusted."

"Jah, it's always harder for zhe first one to untergo zhe process!" He sags, though Otto remains completely upright. The effect is to make him look like he doesn't have a neck, which.. is technically true. "But nobody wants to experiment!"

"No, people do want to experiment, they're just not as enthusiastic for-." I frown at him. "Okay, there's something about you that I don't understand. Your brain is made of human brains, right?"

"Jah? What of it?"

"Humans have a built-in sense of what's healthy. What things should look like. But assuming that your brain is working more or less like a normal human brain… With some extras, you should have that same sense. You may not like this intellectually but you should understand it empathically."

"Anton Arcane would not have left such a thing in any of us."

"So why don't you add it back in?"

"Because zhat would make me like everyone else!"

"But you'd be able to understand them better. Be able to understand what they'd accept better."

"Geh."

Some of the tension leaves-. Well, leaves Otto, but I assume that it was coming from his domitor. I can see Cranius's anger-. Ah. Something Anton Arcane did to compel his creation to do this sort of work.

"Have you..? Ever had yourself checked out by a professional magician? My friend Superboy, when he was broken out of Cadmus Laboratories, he had codes implanted in his brain that could be activated by speaking to him. Compulsions-."

"Yah, we had a compulsion to throw ourselves off a cliff when Arcane died."

"But are you sure that's the only one? Because I can see a very strong drive in you to-."

"Jah! I was made as a tool. I was not made as a man. Why are you surprised that my desires relating to zhe zhing I was made to do are strong!"

"If that's who you are then that's who you are. I just think it would be worth checking. But if you don't want to do that, then I suggest moderating your demands. Pick something that doesn't change their outside so much, or something that's more aesthetically pleasing. That's what I do. You can even suggest stranger things at the start to-."

"Clearly-" He puts Otto in 'drive' and storms past me. "-I em wasting my time here."

"Cranius-."

He turns on his heel and thrusts his face towards mine. "Unt your mole composition is all wrong!"

Huh?

Another set of slammed doors, and a brief intake of breath from the waiting room as he stomps through, and then out into the street outside.

What's wrong with my mole composition? I mean, obviously the sort of symmetry I have doesn't occur in nature, but so what? They can do their job if I'm not carrying my-

"Paul?"

-ring. "Karon?"

She comes back into the corridor from my workroom. "If Cranius has gone, would you mind fixing Kevin's cataracts? I don't think he's going to volunteer for anything experimental."

"Yeah, I'll do that."

He glances towards the front door. "Is he coming back?"

"I don't know. Maybe." I shake my head. "Probably not. He can't settle for less than radical physical transformations, and…"

"Not everyone wants to be a squid-man."

"Yeah. But, that's his problem. Let's sort Kevin out now."

Maybe I can sell him on reindeer eyes?
 
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14th April 2013
19:34 GMT -5


"Did you ever have to deal with anyone like that?"

Alan… Gives me a sort of hopeless frown coupled with a shake of his head.

"I suppose that depends on what you mean by 'deal with'."

"Ego management."

"No." He shakes his head, eyes dropping momentarily to his glass. "I came close to needing to have a word with Starman about his… Relationship, but he did the right thing before it got that far."

"Oh. I wasn't sure that you knew about that."

He shrugs. "Like I said, he ended it before it went any further. I didn't have any reason to bring it up with anyone. And that was still true after Interceptor brought it up in front of Dinah, because that was a parallel universe. How did you know about it?"

"Found the private detective's notes."

"Huh." He makes an amused exhalation. "I'm surprised they were still intact."

"I didn't say that finding them was easy. But you never had to deal with anyone like Cranius?"

"That's a fairly niche set of motives. Didn't..?" His eyes narrow in thought. "Didn't Batman fight someone like that? Professor… Pig?"

"Doctor Valentin turned people into living dolls under his control. It's… Really not the same thing." Hm. "Unless the person in question wanted to be a doll, I suppose. But even then, there's no improvement in function. It's more like… When Doctor Crane had his brain transplanted from his Robotman body into Charles Grayson's body."

He looks contemplative for a moment. "Huh. Yeah, I guess it is. I only spoke to him a few times afterwards, but I do remember him being a whole lot more cheerful about life."

"He never said anything about building robot bodies for anyone else?"

"No. There wasn't a whole lot of demand for it."

"Really? No polio patients stuck in iron lungs who were interested in giving it a try?"

"Ah… Don't take this the wrong way, Paul, but most people like being as human as they can be. Crane spent about twenty years totally numb to all sensation. And that was after… For a while after he first got put in that thing, he kept getting phantom sensations in body parts he didn't have anymore. And he had a lot of trouble sleeping… I suppose I don't know if it was better or worse than an iron lung, but I can understand people not exactly being eager."

"But Morrow already had realistic robot skin back then. If he combined the two, and maybe made a robot body with slightly more human proportions, it would have been much better."

"Except that he couldn't. Morrow was… Well, he was a lot of things, but he was definitely a genius. Crane could hit harder than most people because his body was made of metal. A lot of his joints weren't actually all that strong. One time, he clocked a regular guy across the jaw and needed to replace one of his fingers afterwards. If he was gunna do what you said, he'd probably be better getting Morrow to design the whole thing and just let him and Grayson handle the surgery and the interface." He chuckles quietly. "And if supervillains did things like that without someone walking them through it, you'd be a whole lot less busy."

"Ah, not right now."

I take a moment to look around the restaurant. Things are… Well, before the Broadcast I get the impression that this was a medium tier restaurant. The menu would be written in French, but they'd include a translation without sniffing at you. Now… They've had to rewrite their menu based on what's available, and the near-collapse of the currency means that things are a good deal more plebeian.

I sip my apple juice, and-.

Bring-bring! Bring-bring!

Alan and I both check our rings.

"It's me. Hello?"

"Did you put Guy up to this?"

"Hello Beatriz, lovely to hear from you."

"Yes, yes, hello. Did you?"

"I've had an influence on Guy for a while. What exactly are you talking about?"

"Do you know about… His… Family?"

"Ah, that's still not very precise, but probably. And I know that he runs an anger…" Huh. "Management class. Has he..?"

"Said I should come along? Yes."

"Well, it's almost certainly an honest attempt to help, because he's been in the same sort of situation. And I didn't put him up to it, as you put it. Oh, and I mentioned the tidying up thing, let me know how that goes."

"You really didn't put him up to it?"

"You.. know that Guy used to work as a prison therapist, right? His job was helping people serving custodial sentences get their heads on straight. If he's offered to help you, then it's a serious offer."

"So you've given up on curing me."

Ah… "What's Norway's position on marijuana legalisation?"

"Prescription only."

"Well, there's… That." Oh. "Or I know a specialist in metahuman medicine, but last time he worked on someone who could manipulate fire, they ended up without a head."

"That's supposed to be an expert?"

"He re-engineered their body so that they wouldn't need a head after they received a fatal head injury. The result.. isn't pretty, but it's functional. He's good, but he likes doing radical transformations."

"I'll make that my fourth option."

"Alright. Any news on the search?"

"No. Has the Justice League heard anything?"

"Too much. With medicine production and transportation well below normal levels, there are quacks all over the place."

"'Quacks'?"

"Fraudsters. Fakes. We can't find the one you're looking for because there are too many. I'll let you know-."

"Hang on, I've got another call."

"Ah-."

Beep.

I frown, and Alan raises his eyebrows. "Is there a problem?"

"She had another caller. I'm on-"

Beep.

"He proposed?!"

"-hold."
 
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15th April 2013
09:02 GMT -5


"So, um…" I shrug, turning my right hand palm-up in a hand-shrug. "I understand that LexCorp is now the biggest thing ever?"

Lex… Seems distracted. I spot three twitches as he is about to engage in displacement activity but stops himself. That's unusual. Lex is usually too in character for something like that.

"Yes. We've finally got energy supply contracts with the last few holdout countries, and legislators have informally accepted the fait accompli as far as the Earth Defence Force in concerned."

I nod, and raise an imaginary glass in a toast. "Congratulations on your status as Earth's first megacorp. I for one welcome our new corporate overlords."

"I admit that I find it a little frustrating, using products that LexCorp has to licence in order to advance this far."

I shake my head. "Knowledge and learning are nothing without application. The greatest physician in the world is useless if they never heal anyone. You've done with these artefacts what their inventors couldn't. And it's not as if you're resting on your laurels. LexCorp continues to lead the world in dozens of fields. Oh, and… How are things with Veronica?"

"They're going well. I think I'm going to ask her to marry me." He notices my raised eyebrows. "Assuming that we can negotiate a mutually acceptable pre-nuptial agreement."

"Remind me: is this your first stab at married life?"

"No, but… Now, I'm in a position to actually give the relationship the time it needs. No more eighteen hour days maniacally focused on building up my company while the relationship sours." He gives me a sidelong look. "As if I really needed to remind you of that."

I shrug. "Social conversation. You asked me here, you're clearly going somewhere with this… At this point I'm just keeping things moving."

He turns to look out of the window. "I didn't think it would happen this quickly. Though I suppose that's the advantage of using a fifty year old starship design and a seventy year old power source. When I first joined with our former colleagues, I assumed that it would take decades at least to come this far."

"Amazing what happens when the right talents come together."

He head snaps back to me. "You were right."

"I usually am. What about?"

"My… Paranoia. My inability to trust, my need to control… After you and Mister Truggs oh so subtly drew attention to it, I spoke to my sister. And… My alter-ego, you remember, the one with the golden power ring."

I nod. He needs to get this off his chest at his own speed.

"You all said more or less the same thing. You all have your own motives, but there was something in my mind that insisted you were all… Conspiring against me. I've had thoughts like that before, but I… I assuaged them by ensuring that any move against me would result in mutual destruction of all parties involved. But I couldn't see a way to destroy you, I didn't want to destroy my sister… So I forced myself to review the evidence. And everything that you've done says to me that you're genuine."

"So the problem was in my head. And that is not acceptable. Finding an acceptable psychiatrist was… Difficult, as was finding a telepath to suppress the memories of our sessions. I don't know if I'm… Fully recovered-. If I'll ever fully recover, but I've been advised that speaking to you directly is the next step in the process."

I nod. "Well… Thank you for your honesty. I realise that the way I dealt with our former colleagues wasn't likely to incite confidence, and I appreciate how difficult this must have been for you. I… Dimly remember my own time on Apokolips prior to my escape, how… Everyone around me was a threat, everyone… Would abandon any agreement we made just because. I couldn't function like that. I coped more by keeping my head down, rather than ensuring that whoever killed me wouldn't live to enjoy their victory, but I suspect that the general feeling was much the same."

"I suppose that your father was worse than mine."

"Objectively, yes. Relatively? No, no I don't think so. Mine actually had an affirmative use for me." I exhale sharply through my nose. "Still does. And hey, you got away without ritually uncreating yourself."

"Do you-? Still.. feel it?"

"Not when I'm here. But when I go back to Apokolips… Then it comes back. But…" I shrug. "Then I've got something healthy to compare it to. It can't be the same as it was."

Lex bows his head slightly. "I was hoping that I'd feel… Different, after saying this out loud."

"Not that simple, I'm afraid." I shrug. "Though if you want to speed things up, there are a few options."

He raises his eyebrows. "More telepathy?"

"Magic. There's a ritual that would let you directly experience my soul structures. Give you a complete awareness of my nature. I wouldn't be capable of lying to you like that, of hiding anything. And you wouldn't be capable of denying what you were experiencing. It bypasses some problems of normal psychotherapy."

"Are there any drawbacks?"

"It's a level of intimacy that you might be uncomfortable in engaging in with another man. Particularly if you're planning on getting married."

"Ah. Perhaps we can leave that as a last resort."

I nod. "Fungus is your best bet, then." He gives me a small frown. "Magic mushrooms, as we used to call them. Gives you a cognitive reset. Not much help if you're still in an unhealthy environment, but if you've got that fixed, it could help. Otherwise…" Hm. "I don't know. It might be something you can just work past, but the human brain isn't anything like as plastic in an adult as it is in a child. If the structures of your neural network is now predisposed to paranoia, you could be stuck with it unless you find a way to alter the physical structures of your brain. And while there are ways to do that, I wouldn't exactly want to recommend any of them."

"Send me a report anyway. I refuse to allow my father's legacy to color my life."

I nod. "Can do."

"The other matter I wish to discuss with you is your father."

I smile with the left side of my mouth. "Only fair, I suppose. Darkseid, formerly Uxas, looks like me only bald and worse."

"I haven't asked for specifics. I'm still not asking. But how close are you to being able to take action?"

I shrug. "I could take action now, it's just that the chance of winning is abysmally low. Not zero, but…" I sigh. "Apokolips doesn't have a large conventional fleet, and what it has is fairly specialised. If we continue building up the EDF according to current plans, we'll be ready to take it in a conventional fight in about two years."

He looks mildly surprised. "That soon?"

I shake my head. "The fleets aren't the problem. The problem is the Anti-Life. We could land an invasion force in the Armagetto, and even if they deployed no military forces in defence, everyone would be dead by the time it reached the Tower of Rage. The handful of people we have -myself included- who are resistant enough to survive that long would be driven mad as he gave us his personal attention."

"Then why not perform an orbital bombardment this.. Tower of Rage?"

"Because if we don't fight on his terms he'll actually start trying. He can easily destroy our fleet with the Omega Effect, or with ground-based weapon systems, or by boom tubing suicide troopers onto the ships. He doesn't care about the loss of life or materiel. The only thing he cares about is learning more about the Anti-Life Equation, and forcing our brains to run it for a while as it teaches him something. The best idea I've got for beating him involves hitting him with something that he'll want to get hit by, something he thinks he'll be able to beat but which he actually can't."

Lex nods, then looks at me curiously. "Like what?"

I snort. "I'll tell you when I find something."
 
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15th April 2013
10:21 GMT -5


Well this brings back memories.

Bleez awkwardly tries to navigate the bayou foliage in the air, mud still dripping off her boots where she briefly gave up and tried walking. Donna waves around a broken branch as she channels Gaea's magic to try and work out where Swamp Thing is hiding. Kara-

"Empty!" … "Empty!" … "Empty!"

-is busy flying around checking his abandoned bodies, which will at least make this faster than the first time we tried this.

Pamela and Euanthe aren't interested in helping with farming, but South America will have enough fruiting plants to ensure that starvation shouldn't be an issue. Though reclaiming land… Might be. I don't know, maybe I'm just too set in my ways to accept shamanistic culture as an equal to material technological culture even in a world where it can be. Adrianna will similarly prevent starvation in North Africa, with enough produce left over to take the pressure off the Mediterranean basin and central Africa. Swamp Thing… Could be really helpful. Even if he's not prepared to go all-out, we could stop worrying about a significant chunk of the planet if he could do a little reforestation. Or design a super fruit or two for us.

"Empty!" … "Empty!" … "Empty!"

"Kara! Kar-"

And she's right in front of me, arms folded behind her back and smile beaming.

"-a! Can you tell how old any of the bodies are? He's around here a lot."

"Um. Kind of? He makes magic-plants, and I don't really know how fast they break down or go mouldy? But you said in your report that he looked different last time you saw him because he had a computer plant-brain, and I haven't seen any computer plant-brain bodies."

"Drat."

Her eyes widen. "And double drat!"

"No, no, it's 'drat, drat, and double drat'."

"But then you've already got two drats."

"No one's calling Dick Dastardly a rational agent. Donna, anything?"

She shakes her head. "He's used so much green magic that this whole area is inundated with it. I couldn't tell you where he's been recently. Maybe… You should have asked for Zatanna."

"No, she's working on the Atlantis situation, Garth and Tula are inside Atlantis and Robert is actually doing farm work. If you can't find him then you can't find him."

Super strength's lack of utility presenting a problem again. Donna did a remarkable job of keeping peoples' hopes up after the Broadcast as well as engaging and defeating the Justifiers without inflicting a single fatality, but there honestly isn't much she can do to help fix things in the aftermath. Which includes using Cronus's blessing on farmlands because apparently being ritually castrated messed up his ability to do anything… Generative.

"Did his wife say anything?"

"Empty!" … "Empty!" … "Empty!"

I shake my head. "Hasn't seen him since the Broadcast. Which isn't all that unusual because he sometimes loses track of things, except that he'd stopped doing that recently thanks to his newly functional brain. Might have been the fungoids, might have been the Anti-Life, might… Actually have been something entirely unrelated."

Bleez awkwardly drifts a little closer. "I don't think I understand how big a deal this is."

"We don't understand how big a deal this is. The Parliament of Trees has been missing since the Broadcast, but earthly plant life has carried on just fine."

I very vaguely remember something from the Hellblazer comics about the Parliament being killed, and Swamp Thing refusing to allow plants to regrow in the place they died because he was tired of them messing him about and wanted to make a point. It could.. be that there's no problem because Euanthe and Pamela are doing the required part of the job. Euanthe was clear that she didn't think the Parliamentarians died, and I assume that she could feel that.

"So..?"

"So a head of state being kidnapped doesn't necessarily cripple the state, but they're probably going to know a lot of things you don't really want their kidnappers to know, plus kidnappers aren't usually particularly nice people."

"Okay, so what is he?"

"Empty!" … "Empty!" … "Empty!"

"Once upon a time, there was a man named Doctor Alec Holland. His life's work was the creation of a formula which would allow plants to grow in extremely adverse conditions. For that, he was repeatedly shot, doused in his own work, set on fire and then…"

Huh. That could work.

"'And then'..?"

"And then thrown into the swamp where he died. Then the semi-conscious magical world of plants copied his mind and created a new life form with that as its mind but with a body made of plant matter which it could control." I smile. "With me so far?"

"Why didn't they just use..? Him? If he was trying to help plants…"

"Because apparently that's not how it works, and I don't know anyone who wants to study a magical mechanism which involves burning someone to death. So he wandered around for a bit, survived John Constantine by being able to switch to new bodies due to being a magic energy based life form rather than an intelligent plant, killed the most evil man on the planet, married his niece, fought some other things and tried to make a life for himself." I sigh. "In theory, he should have been hit by the Anti-Life while the Parliament should have been at least a little insulated due to not being in the material universe. But it looks like something else happened to them."

Bleez frowns thoughtfully. "Does Thanagar have a Parliament of Trees?"

"Probably not. As I understand it, your thaumosphere is weaker than ours. You might have had a single weak plant god, but I imagine that the Seven Devils would have taken action to prevent a consciousnesses like that emerging."

"Can we borrow one of yours like we did Vulcan?"

Huh. Um.

"That might be possible, if your plant life is similar enough to ours for them to be compatible. I'm not sure they'd want to go, though. If we track them down, you're free to-"

"Empty!" … "Empty!" … "Full!"

"-ask."

The water in front of me erupts as Kara throws… A man-shaped mass into it.

"Found him!"

Ah. Well, that was simple enough. "Swamp Thing?"

The mass under the water moves slowly towards us, head breaking the surface-.

Hunched back, and a head that merges into the torso. Swamp Thing hasn't ever used a body that shape.

"Who am I talking to?"

Weakly yellow-glowing eyes take us in, what little emotion I can see in the face suggesting uncertainty.

"Can you understand me?"

The creature stops, focusing on me a little. "Yes. Around here they used to call me the Good Gumbo Man. When I was human… No. The human I was made from, he was called Alexander Olsen."

"Swamp Thing? The Parliament? What happened?"

"Ah yes. That. Nothing good, I'm afraid."
 
Last edited:
15th April 2013
10:26 GMT -5


"The oldest of us knew that the…" He unfocuses for a moment, raising his arms and growing leaves and garlands of vines. A human taking that posture would struggle to maintain it, but I suppose things are rather different for a tree.

He doesn't resume talking.

"Mister Gumbo Man?"

"Oh. Yes. I'm sorry. I've been a tree for so long that I've… Forgotten some things."

I glance at Donna, but she seems content to let me take the lead. "Like what?"

"How to be human. I've been a plant for longer than my memories tell me I was a man. Everyone I knew is long dead, now, feeding the roots. It feels natural to plant myself and watch the world. That is why Alec Holland was chosen. I struggle to move, but I can move slowly if I must."

Kara frowns. "Why did they pick you, then?"

"Speaking is something I remember where the rest of the Parliament has long forgotten. Choosing someone new on short notice would be too much of a risk."

I nod. "Not that many naturalists being burned to death." And… During that 'Sprout' mess, wasn't there someone random..? Bloke who got roped into it? "So where is Swamp Thing?" I frown. "And why aren't you going to Euanthe with this?"

"She is not one of us. She doesn't think like us. She does not share our responsibilities."

"But you don't work for a higher power. Do you?"

"Only the Green."

"Then aren't your responsibilities more.. self-appointed than anything?"

He stares at me blankly. "I suppose. But that doesn't mean that they're not important."

Literal jumped-up elementals. Marvellous. On the other hand, Swamp Thing has been nothing but helpful to me so far.

"And I don't know where Swamp Thing is. Before the Anti-Life spread across the Earth, the eldest of us called upon him to leave the physical world for a time. They were concerned that-."

"Wait a second." Donna holds up her right hand. "Are you saying that you knew that was going to happen?"

"I didn't. The eldest did. They dwell deeply within the roots of the world. Many things are known to-."

"And you didn't think about maybe telling the rest of us?"

"No. The affairs of meat are none of ours."

"And you thought that Swamp Thing was just going to abandon his wife?"

"It would have been better. He was powerless to protect anyone, and the creatures of the Grey nearly broke through."

"You're welcome, by the way."

"You helped them? Why?"

"No, I stopped them. I sent them back to their own realm."

"Oh." … "Thank you."

"So he couldn't cope with the Anti-Life, the fungoids attacked, and..?"

"He tried to flee, but he didn't arrive with us. We're not sure where he is."

"And the Parliament? Where are they?"

"Deep in the Green, repairing it and hiding it. The Anti-Life reached us, too."

I sigh. "They've already started work on a replacement, haven't they?"

Ah, that's new. I've never see a tree look sheepish before.

"Um."

"Is it called the Sprout? When we get Swamp Thing back, is the Parliament going to try and get him to eat it because they don't want two champions active at once? Again?"

Gumbo Man manages to frown in confusion. "Did one of the others get here first?"

"I read the script. Why are you even trying to get Swamp Thing back if you've already started on a replacement?"

His leaves waggle for a moment.

"Because we're vulnerable without him. It takes time to grow a new sprout. And because I like Swamp Thing, and he's not ready to move on from the material world yet."

"And the new Sprout?"

"The plant world is in constant conflict for water, soil and light. The sprout is just a bundle of green energy at the moment. Consuming it is perfectly natural. It may even make him stronger."

"That's up to him, though I doubt that he'll go for it. But you're sure that he vanished after the Anti-Life broadcast?"

"Yes."

"And you haven't heard from him since?"

"I have not. We have not."

"Did you see or feel anything that might let you know where he went?"

"No."

In the comics, Swamp Thing escaped being burned to death by the Sunderland Corporation while Lex Luthor's jammer preventing him from using floramancy by switching to a different 'frequency' and matching himself to alien plant life. If he's done that here, then we're going to need a serious magician to track him. Or we could just leave him; while it might be useful to have him around, it's not strictly essential.

Okay, it's not worth searching the galaxy, but if he's still in Sector 2814 then we should be able to find him. There are only so many planets with plant-like life.

"Do you at least know where he was when he left?"

"Oh. Yes."

"Can you take us there?"

He looks at me, and then down to where he's taken root.

Kara perks up. "No problem! I can pick up this whole-."

"Can you tell us where he was?"

"Yes. North of here. I will mark it out for you."

"In what-" His eyes dim and his tree-like body hardens. "-way." I sigh. "Kara, could you-?"

A blur as she flies away, and a blur as she flies back

"There's a really tall tree with really pretty flowers that wasn't there before."

"Then that's where we're going next."
 
Last edited:
15th April 2013
10:31 GMT -5


Huh.

Kara's eyes are unfocused, and I think that's because she's using her augmented vision to try and study the… Thing, we're looking at. Donna's taking a look at what is probably Swamp Thing's most recent body, which has fallen on its face after stepping off his… Throne? It's clearly a chair, and the complex network of underground roots and tubers suggest that it was built with far more deliberation than his usual structures. That's… That's a chemical power plant, effectively converting magic into electricity. If we can train up enough druids, that could be useful. Nothing geothermal… Maybe I should show him Mother of Mercy's design next time I speak to him?

And the headrest… Last time I spoke to him, he'd clearly incorporated elements of dominator computer design into his body. But this is actually an improvement on the design I gave him. And that's just the parts I can scan. The magic element might make it better still. I don't know if it's similar to actual dominator designs, but Alec Holland was a botanist, not a computer engineer. I'm honestly impressed that he came up with this, even with his improved processing speed.

And unlike his body, it's still alive.

We might need to plug Gumbo Man in.

Bleez just shakes her head. "What is it?"

"A plant-based supercomputer which he was using to increase his intelligence. I don't know why, and I don't know enough about biotechnology to know how big a deal that is."

Would dominators come after him over that? I know that Mr. Kharhi thought that they would come down hard on people creating knock-off versions of their technology, but… How would they even know about Swamp Thing using their computer? He…

I focus for a moment, scanning the world for any sign of Dominion technology or dominator biology. Nothing, but... But there are ways to dodge my scans, the dominators aren't stupid or too speciesist to adopt useful alien technology, and they're very advanced on their own. Dodging ring scans is something they would almost certainly be able to do on their own. And I remember a.. comic where they had a small research centre on Earth for a long time before Superman and Batman found it. And another where they had a base inside the moon and blew it up. They're good at sneaky-.

And they were interested in the metagene. And I think they'd be interested in seeing how much better than their current generation someone like Swamp Thing could make their computers.

"Bleez, does Thanagar have any particular relationship with the Dominion?"

"You mean the Girgurgian Dominion? I think-."

"No, the dominator Dominion." I create a construct image. "These people."

"I didn't know the name, but I think they tried buying Nth metal from us one time." She wing-shrugs. "But we don't sell to aliens. They didn't take that for an answer, so our manager told them that it needed special permission from the Thanagarian government so they should speak to them. I didn't hear anything after that. Are they dangerous?"

"To you, a bit. To us, quite a lot. They're ruled by a caste of evil scientists who'd think nothing of live vivisection to understand how Nth metal integrates into your body."

Bleez moves her eyes to Kara and then Donna. "And Earth has a way wider variety of things to study."

"Yes indeed we do. With the Thanagarian Empire, they'd probably just abduct a few dozen people and then leave you alone, because as well as being evil they're quite capable scientists. With Earth…" I nod. "Yeah. I'm not sure what they'd do if they found out what it's like here. We're too far away to be annexed, really."

Kara snaps back to the present situation. "And we'd beat them!"

"Kara, we beat the Sheeda and Apokolips. How is the Earth doing?"

She pouts. "Better than it would be if we'd lost."

I nod. I suppose that's true.

Donna shakes her head. "Before we assume that it's the dominators, who else could it be?"

"Doctor Jason Woodrue would probably like to nobble Swamp Thing, but he wouldn't leave this here. Not without using it. In theory, any sufficiently capable magic user could trap Swamp Thing, but it would be difficult. Swamp Thing might have just left the planet under his own power, or got stuck in the Grey, or dived too deeply into the Green to easily come out again."

Kara perks up. "Ooh! I know!"

"You know-?"

And she's gone.

And then she's back again, with the body of Gumbo Man in her arms, roots and soil dangling beneath him. But if-. No, from the way he's looking around it looks like he hadn't abandoned his body, he'd just gone to sleep. Either that or he's gone back to it, but given his startled expression that seems unlikely.

"Here you go!"

She lightly tosses him at Swamp Thing's chair, and… He doesn't fit. His hard bark-covered legs don't bend, and he's a little too big. The effect is like trying to put a toy from the wrong playset into the driving seat of a toy car.

"Hmm."

Kara drops down and takes hold of him, then tries to reposition him.

"Kara-."

"Nearly got it!"

She twists him a little to the left, then picks him up and sort of thumps him back down. And then she does it again. And again.

"Mister Gumbo Man, I think you-"

CRACK!

"-should-."

She hasn't-?

Phew. The chair's arms have given way, and in a blue blur Kara is back with vines to tie him in place. It's still not a great fit, but at least she isn't breaking his arms and legs off. I mean, he could easily grow replacements and probably doesn't have much feeling in them, but… Still.

Gumbo Man looks around at us, seemingly confused. "Why did you bring me here?"

Kara points to the headset. "We need someone to operate the plant computer chair, and you were closest!"

"Computer? I don't understand."



Right. He might predate electronics, in which case he'd think a 'computer' is a person who performs calculations.

"We think that Swamp Thing created a plant based device to make himself more intelligent. You're sitting in it, and should be able to connect with it. It might have a recording of what happened to him, and we'd appreciate it if you could try and use it."

"Oh. Alright."

His bark becomes malleable once again, and he flops into the seat. He looks up, and then grows his neck until his head is in line with the appropriate part of the seat back. Then vines extrude from the headrest and plug into his head.

"Oh. Oh."

"Mister Gumbo Man?"

"I… I hadn't thought of it like that. I-."

The vines retract and he rises to his feet, staggering forward on his newly flexible legs.

"That changes everything. I need to tell-."

He collapses onto Swamp Thing's body, light fading once more from his eyes.
 
Last edited:
7th December 2282
08:56 GMT


I didn't spend much time in London back on my original Earth. My first few times were with my maternal grandparents and sister, when we went from Westham to Leonard Stanley via London, which required getting off at the London Victoria station, travelling on the Underground to Paddington and then…

Leonard Stanley? No, Leonard Stanley didn't have a station. Gloucester? No, that doesn't… Sound quite right.

Point is, we didn't really do any site-seeing.

And then there were school trips to various museums, but again, those stayed inside the museums themselves. I… Do remember actually going to Buckingham Palace once… I don't remember why, and frankly the outside isn't that interesting. Didn't even have the Life Guards on duty that day, and I remember finding the police armed response units more interesting because they were actually guarding.

What was that trip… For?

Today, London is… It's not Shady Sands level of 'in good repair', and Shady Sands wasn't burdened with pre-War infrastructure. They could build new, and build things they knew how to maintain. I know that-. In Fallout Equestria: Project Horizons, there was a pony whose special talent was sewage systems. As a filly, she'd been understandably worried that she'd get a turd as a cutie mark. In the end, I think she got a faucet or something? And then in the first settlement where she and her team stayed for any length of time she built the first simple but functioning toilet that anyone there had seen in their lives. Probably saved a dozen ponies that year by reducing the instances excrement-related diseases, so say nothing of improving the smell.

I can see plumes of smoke where coal-fired industry has started up again. Most of the roads are clear, and the damage of two hundred years is being patched over. With cobblestones and bricks rather than tarmac due to the ongoing oil shortage-. Or rather, absence.

I look around to my travelling companions who are with me on the top deck of this nearly classical red bus. Given that it's December I'm glad that it's not one of the open-topped ones, though I'm a little curious where the fuel came from given that it doesn't appear to have a steam engine. Whale juice, perhaps?

"Hey, nephew-."

"Don't call me that."

"You never told me your first name."

"What's wrong with 'sergeant'?"

"Neither of us have a lot of other family. Who's going to call you by name if not me?"

"I don't believe that you've been able to have a genetic test done this quick."

I haven't, but psychic powers are a wonderful thing. And the thing is, a genetic test wouldn't be particularly helpful. Not enough samples from other family members to compare both of us to, and we don't have a particularly close genetic relationship anyway. But psychometry doesn't care about stuff like that.

"I don't believe that you're being this much of a baby about telling me your name. Worried I'm going to make a voodoo doll of you of something?"

"Fine. Its Peter."

I nod. "Thank you. So, Peter, what can you tell me about off-shore oil extraction?"

"What?"

"There are substantial deposits of oil under the North Sea, and near the Falkland Islands. I was wondering if they were expended. Given the war and all."

"How would we do that? It's under water."

I frown, looking at him directly. "Oil rig? Send a pipe and a drill down into the sea bed? It's not that complicated." He looks blank. "I'm... You don't..?" I shake my head, trying to get some sort of feedback. "Am I talking nonsense here?"

"I don't know. I'm not an engineer. It's not something we could do today, anyway." He frowns. "Is that something the Americans build?"

"Yes. They had oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and off the west coast."

If Britain never discovered North Sea Oil… I don't.. really know what that would do for our economy. Presumably… We were a bit worse off? We were still importing oil anyway… Maybe it undermined the Scottish independence movement if they knew for certain that they'd go bankrupt?

"How was France powering itself, before the Resource Wars?"

"Coal, gas and oil. Have you not been listening to anything I've been saying?"

Except… France used nuclear, back home. I remember because they put them all on the north coast so that if anything went wrong it would irradiate the south of England rather than France. Why didn't that happen here? I mean, I… Don't know where France got its nuclear fuel from. Maybe the differences in international relations made it impractical?

"I'm surprised that other countries didn't switch over to nuclear. Given how common it is in America. I mean, the basic principles were well understood, and with the oil crisis…"

"Don't American cars explode if you look at them funny?"

"Ah… It's not quite that easy. Yes, if you shot the engine after its been lying around for two hundred years, you can trigger a meltdown, but that is after two hundred years. When they were first built, they were a good deal more reliable."

He half-smiles. "Bloody good incentive to drive carefully."

I nod. It's true. I remember reading a newspaper article that pointed out that while modern cars protect their passengers and driver far better in the event of crashes than older models, the rate at which people have accidents actually increased. They couldn't reach a conclusion as to why, but the suggestion was that it was due to the fact that people felt safer in their cars and so were less careful.

Stick a contact-triggered nuke in the bonnet and people would drive exceedingly carefully.

I shake my head. "But I was thinking about power plants for generating electricity, not giving every individual vehicle a nuclear battery."

He raises his right hand and points to his face. "I'm not really the biggest fan of nuclear fuel."

"I though you got hit by a nuclear bomb?"

"What difference does it make?"

"A nuclear explosion is designed to be as deadly as possible, while a power plant is designed to be as safe as possible."

We drive past a team of builders pulling down a decayed building. Carefully, making sure to keep as many of the bricks as possible in one piece. Down a side street I see scaffolding around several buildings as they're put back into good order. Reminds me of the ongoing work in the Boneyard and New Vegas, both cities expanding now that the areas around them are safe and stable. Not 'expanding' beyond their pre-War boundaries of course. I doubt that there are enough people in the NCR to do that.

"What sort of contact do you have with Europe?"

"We have ships with radios just off the shore of most of their major ports. If they try sending a fleet against us again we'll know about it. It's hard, building centreline guns on wooden warships, but as long as our high seas fleets avoid their old beached warships they should be able to beat anything the Europeans have."

"I… Really meant in the sense of peaceful trading relations, but I… Suppose that answers my question."

This isn't the Great Britain of my time, dependant on food imports to feed its population. This Britain has been feeding itself for two hundred years, even if the yields were nothing like enough to feed the pre-War population. There isn't anything other countries make that we need. Plenty of things that might be nice to have, but nothing essential. And there's no peace with our neighbours, just a state during which active hostilities are impractical.

I'd rather civilisation rebuild peacefully, but…

It's not like I'd really miss France.

The bus comes to a stop at the checkpoint outside Buckingham Palace, a checkpoint that's operated by regular human soldiers I notice. Peter looks around.

"This is us, then. Let's go and meet Her Majesty."
 
Last edited:
15th April 2013
10:37 GMT -5


"Mister Mann?" Kara darts down and picks him up with her left hand while waving her right in front of his face. "Mister Mann? How many fingers am I holding up?"

No, he's not there any longer. "Donna, did you feel anything?"

"I felt him leave but I don't know where he went." She looks at me, clearly concerned. "What just happened?"

"Champions of the Green are magic-based intelligences. There's nothing stopping someone summoning or binding them, it's just that it's usually not worth the difficulty."

"Someone put a summoning spell on the chair?"

"That would be my guess." I hold a rune stone up to it. It's glowing, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything special. Of course it would glow in the presence of an innately magical-.

Kara drops Gumbo Man's husk and sits in the chair-.

"No!" / "Kara, don't do that!"

"I need to go after him!"

"Kara, you're not a plant elemental. That won't work. And even if it did, you'd be exactly as trapped as he is."

Or dead, because kryptonians can't live as disembodied souls any more than humans can.

"Huh?"

Donna flies over to her and pulls her out of the seat-. Then gets in-.

"Donna, what did we just-?"

"I'm not going to turn it on." She lays her hands on the interface unit. "I'm just going to see if I can feel… Anything."

Okay, John's barely functional but I think he'd probably feel enough of an obligation to Swamp Thing to make the… Effort. Was that patch of flowers there before?

No. Flowers appeared when 'Good Gumbo Man' left his body.

I float towards it.

Scan for other environmental changes.

Compliance.

I'm not scanning the whole of the world all of the time, but monitoring things within a couple of miles is the bare minimum for a competent Lantern. I see… A line of increased plant growth that wasn't there a moment ago, heading that way.

And I remember the comics, where when Swamp Thing returned to the material world and went to check in on Abby, he couldn't just appear wherever there were plants. Rather, he moved from patch of greenery to patch of greenery, causing a boost in plant growth as he went.

"I've got-" Donna floats up off the chair. "-no idea. I can't get anything, I'm sorry."

"Not to worry. I think we're going that way." I point in the direction of the newly grown plants. "And I wouldn't expect you to do the job of a specialist magician."

"That way?" She floats closer. "Why?"

I fly to the plant and hold out my rune stone. Glow, move it away, less glow. Good.

"That wasn't like that before."

Kara gasps in what I vainly hope is a sarcastic manner. "It wasn't. And that one-!"

And she's gone.

Donna stares after her. "Does she come with a clicker or something?"

"No." Breathe in, breath out. "No, she does not. Bleez, I suggest that you fly over the canopy and follow the orange glow."

She nods and flaps, shooting upwards… At a speed that is impressive for winged flight, but is basically nothing for Donna, much less Kara. I begin heading in the direction of the plant growths, because while Kara might already be there, wherever 'there' is, she might just as well have flown past it by the length of a continent because she just kept going after the trail ended.

There, a tower of grasses, there a bush in flower months early, there a tree entirely enveloped in vines. I slow to check each one with the rune stone and I get the same intensity of glow each time. At the same time I scan ahead, trying to see if there's any obvious ritual site or… Coven gathering? Not seeing anything, though my ring is picking out probable unnatural plant growths in areas where it wasn't maintaining constant awareness before. Looks good…

I transition a mile ahead, waving my rune stone at a pile of surprisingly fruity brambles-. Yes. Transition back to Donna and Bleez.

"I think we need to go faster. Mind if I tether you?"

Donna shakes her head and Bleez wing-shrugs. Okay then, tether and transition, check bush, move, check, move, check, move-.

And that's Kara, unconscious, and a large plant I don't recognise-. Ring?

Not on file.

I armour Donna and Bleez immediately, then tether Kara and pull her away from it. Back up everyone. Environmental shield and check vitals. She's… Breathing, slowly but easily. That and her heart rate suggests that she's asleep. Eyes… I can't open her eyes.

Darn super strong eyelids.

Brain activity can't read because kryptonian body tissues laughs at conduction, emotional networks can't read because someone's been practicing their Torquasm, magic...

I wave the rune stone at her and… Not a lot. Which suggest that this is basically normal if deep sleep. I know that in the comics Batman had kryptonite smelling salts but I also know that this Kara isn't bothered by local kryptonite and I haven't exactly made an effort to create a kind that can hurt her. I could block off the sun and wait for her to depower, but solar power makes kryptonians resistant to a lot of things that would otherwise flat out kill them, so that's out of the question until I know what this is.

Has she swallowed something? I can't open her mouth.

Darn super strong jaw muscles.

I can get into her nostrils though, and their interior…

Pollen. Not Earth-native. Doesn't look synthetic, but that's… That doesn't mean much. Most places just modify an existing-.

Close match found.

Kryptonian? A kryptonian spore? Records indicate that it had a soporific effect on animals, not that it knocked people out in a few seconds. Then again, it's a close match. Ring, analyse novel genetic sequences?

Minor changes modifying chemical processes relating to soil mineral extraction. No other significant changes detected.

But there are other changes?

Confirmed.

And I see them in my mind's eye, and… Yes, the residue of millions of years of 'good enough' evolution. That suggests that this is substantially natural change… Maybe from a colony or something?

Weird plant thing knocking people out?

I raise my left hand.

"Out you come, Gary."
 
Last edited:
15th April 2013
10:41 GMT -5

Gary 'falls' out of my ring, staggering a few steps as he reaches the ground. He looks up at me. I point at the plant thing. He looks at the plant thing.

"It doesn't look dead."

I focus, and his hunger grows.

He advances on it, his mouth distending. "But I'll soon fix that."

As he gets closer, a faint haze is visible-.

I pull everyone back a kilometre except Gary, who doesn't have any organic components and is literally incapable of sleeping.

Donna frowns. "Okay, what's happening?"

"Looks like knockout spores from the plant. Not sure what mechanism they're using; kryptonians are usually pretty hard to poison. Not sure how long they last or how dangerous they are. Could be that they're deadly with continual exposure-. Well, obviously they're deadly with continual exposure."

Donna nods but Bleez looks puzzled. "Are you sure? I thought you didn't recognise it."

"I don't, but humans need water at least once every three days or they die. Sleeping people don't drink." Hm. "There are plants in the universe that use things like that to enrich their soil."

Donna frowns in the direction of the plant thing as Gary gets to work. "Did Swamp Thing make that? Or whoever took him?"

"I'd lean towards the latter. It doesn't-." Hm. "Actually, it has a few points of commonality with his computer chair, but it's also quite different in other respects. It might actually have a common…"

Oh dear.

Alright, Dr. Woodrue might be able to create something like that based on data available on Earth. Maybe. And other Champions of the Green and probably a few druids. Dr. Isley could, though I don't think she would. Euanthe, again, might be capable but that isn't the sort of thing she does.

Those possibilities aside, this looks like it was made by someone familiar with Dominator computer systems. Which means either J, Alstair, or the Dominion itself. Dominators aren't known for using magic, but that might just be because it's hard to use in most places or that people just aren't recognising it to report it. Certainly they know about the Shadowlands…

Oh dear. Setting up a laboratory on a planet like Earth is exactly the sort of thing they'd do. And-.

Maybe I'm finally contracting apophenia from living in a superhero world for too long, but if they're interested in Shadow Champions… Collecting tissue samples from metahumans sounds like something they'd do as well-.

Donna has her right hand on my left shoulder and is shaking me.

"Yes?"

"You stopped talking and your armour covers your face."

"Oh. Sorry. I'm just having an attack of the paranoids and I'm wondering if we're being attacked by a Dominion research cell."

She thinks for a moment. "The thin yellow aliens with the teeth and the circles on their foreheads?"

"That's the ones."

She nods. "How dangerous?"

"I don't know. The Dominion isn't close to Earth or The Reach. I haven't investigated them in detail." I shrug. "Last time I blitzed one of their facilities it was easy enough, but it wasn't intended to be heavily fortified or disguised. I… Don't want to have to fight the entire Dominion."

"What are they likely to have?"

I shake my head. "Assuming that it is dominators, it could be anything from a small fleet to one scientist and a couple of bodyguards. And the fact that I've been scanning this system for dominators and Dominion technology and I haven't found anything suggests that… If it is them, they're doing something intelligent and hiding really well."

"Finished!"

Gary has partially merged with the plant. It's now covered in glowing orange veins while only his head, right arm and a small part of his torso are sticking out.

"Good work. Anything interesting?"

"There's a human in here. It's connected to them like I'm connected to it. Feeding on them as I feed on it." He frowns. "I don't usually feed on meat. Do you want me to try?"

"No." / "No!"

Did Donna really think I'd-? No, no, I'm sure she was just worried about him.

"Can you tell what it's doing with the human?"

"Nourishing the human. Growing in their brain."

Oh… Dear. I'd need an expert on parasitic growths to handle removing something like that, assuming that it can be removed. The sort of person who'd hook someone up to a killer plant probably wasn't all that worried about what it would do to them. Experts… Any of the Sivanas. Asking Thaddeus Senior would most likely result in the person in there getting dissected because 'ninety percent dead is basically dead, isn't it?', so it would have to be one of his children. Beautia… Should be free at the moment. Cranius might be able to help, though it's more likely he'd try to turn this person into a human/plant hybrid permanently rather than get it out of their brain.

I need to meet new people.

I don't know anyone with fungus magic other than Gary, and he has a bit of a problem comprehending human life. That-.

Alstair. I saw their fungoids the first time I visited. So either Hyathis can control fungus as well as normal plants, or she can command people who can. That's workable. I can get there in seconds, and back with help in… Minutes.

"Are they in danger of dying?"

"They don't feel like food."

She frowns and glances at me. "He's not good at mammal biology. And he doesn't have an education in thaumaturgy. Otherwise I'd have just told him to separate them."

Zatanna… That's an idea I'm not wincing about. She might be busy right now, but under the circumstances I'm sure that the others will understand. Ring, contact Zatanna.

Compliance.

"I'm calling Zatanna to see if-."

"Hey Paul."

"Good morning. Sorry for interrupting-."

I hear her sigh. "I'm on the Atlantis team, getting nowhere fast. What is it?"

"I've got a person with some sort of plant fungus.. thing plugged into them, and I'd like to remove it safely. Would you mind taking a look?"

"Sure! I could use a break. Can you pick me up?"
 
Last edited:
7th December 2282
09:32 GMT

"…as 'Your Majesty' the first time, but subsequently she should be addressed as 'ma'am'. Similarly, as you have been acknowledged as the New California Republic's ambassador, she will refer to you as 'Your Excellency' during the initial introduction, and as 'Mister Kr-'."

The Personal Secretary giving me the remedial etiquette lecture pauses in his rote spiel.

"I apologise if this is a personal question, but is 'Krono' really your name? I can well understand an agent-at-large using a nom de guerre, but this is an official meeting."

I find myself looking around the room. The palace itself is in fairly good repair, paper and paint replaced or being replaced where age had damaged it. The upholstery is worn in places but I can see where furniture had been added recently too. Some things… Well, we don't have any native natural cotton or silk production, but wool is plentiful and nylon shouldn't be that hard to put back into production. And if you can't keep the palace looking nice then your civilisation is in big trouble.

I return my attention to the Personal Secretary. "It's-. I had it legally changed. My original name was different, but I…" I waggle my right hand vaguely at the side of my head. "I can't say it anymore. Does Her Majesty read comics?"

"I do not believe so, but your meeting will be recorded for obvious reasons, and some of those who watch it will." He give me a look such as an indulgent dog owner might give an incontinent puppy. "Why on Earth did you select that for your new name?"

"I was trying to integrate into a tribal group and I didn't know their naming customs. I asked a small child what he thought was a good name, and… Here I am."

His brows raise by about half a centimetre. "My word."

I bow my head slightly. "Quite."

"Well. The Gentry won't mind and the citizenry most likely won't remember. So I think that's everything-. Ah. Except the dogs."

"Dogs? Oh, Queen Elizabeth the Second had a pack of corgis. Does Queen Elizabeth the Third maintain the tradition?"

"Yes, the Queen's dogs have been her companions for a… Long time. They also underwent the… Change, you understand?"

Ghoul corgis? Huh. I suppose… Really, it's more strange that there aren't ghouls of other species than that there are.

"Canis familiaris ardens?"

"Just so."

I nod. "Are there any behavioural quirks I should be aware of, or should I just treat them like normal dogs?"

"Without… Fur, they don't respond quite so well to being stroked, but they'll still sniff you and otherwise engage in typical dog behaviours."

"Alright." I nod. "I think I'm up to speed. Please let Her Majesty know that I await her pleasure."

He hesitates for a moment, reviewing me.

"I suppose it works for a trial run. We're a little out of practice at receiving foreign dignitaries."

He takes a deep breath, sighs, then turns and walks out of the room. I can track him telepathically if I have to, but I think it's best to let things play out without exotic effort. Instead, I turn to Peter.

"So, you're a sergeant."

He looks at me as if I just said something stupid. "Yes?"

"I was wondering how promotions work in the Life Guard, given that you're all two hundred year veterans. I mean, Lieutenant Roper is a lieutenant, and I assume that he's got the same level of experience that you do."

"Promotions fill gaps only. Honestly, at this point most of us could do the job of junior officers. And junior officers could probably do the work of senior officers. When we work with the Tommies-. With the regular army, you know, we get attached to headquarters so some child with a tenth of our experience at best doesn't try giving us orders."

"And recruitment?"

He shrugs. "We've had other Simons join up. People who weren't in the military before the Resource Wars. At the point there's not much difference. And a few who turned later. We weren't sure about them, but they did alright."

"Thanks, Sarge."

"Quiet in the ranks." He shakes his head. "But really, you've either got two hundred years of life experience or you haven't. I've been in charge of 'young people' before, but we just don't gel."

"Would you consider recruiting American Simons?"

"Why?" He frowns. "Don't they have better things to do?"

"Some do, but others… Have trouble dealing with their situation, mentally. And… In a lot of places they're not well regarded."

"Why?" He thinks for a moment. "Oh. Because America had more survivors. They don't need Simons for the pre-War skills like Britain does."

"Partially that, and partially because a far greater proportion have mental breakdowns. And I haven't seen a glowing one since I arrived, so I assume that you don't have those."

"What's that, then?"

"A glowing one is a Simon who's absorbed enough radioactive material that they glow green and irradiate anyone near them. It acts as a bit of a pick-me-up for other Simons but is pretty dangerous for everyone else."

He stares at me in puzzlement. "They glow.. green..? What-?"

The double doors at the end of the room open, and-.

"Ruff."

The first thing I see is the swarm of ghoul dogs trotting into the room. They're small animals and normally I wouldn't see them as threatening, but the lack of fur, peeling skin and the odd look of their ghoulified eyes makes them more disturbing than I thought they'd be. With human ghouls, you can usually tell from their behaviour whether they're compos mentis or not. But with animals?

My eyes pass over the two Life Guard leading the Queen's party. If she's the one keeping the realm together it makes sense that she'd need an escort at all times. I'm not sure how commonly available guns are here compared to back home, but that's only sensible. Then the Personal Secretary, holding out his right hand to indicate me to-.

A short ghoul woman, slightly stooped, wearing a blue jacket over a cream dress. Permed white hair sticks out slightly from underneath a blue hat. Her skin looks relatively healthy for a ghoul, missing nose notwithstanding, and there's a bit more of a spark in her eyes than in most ghouls I've seen. And those eyes narrow a little as Queen Elizabeth III takes me in in return.

I bow as I was instructed as she and her Personal Secretary approach.

"This is Ambassador Krono, ma'am. From California."

"A pleasure, Your Majesty."

"The pleasure is all mine, You Excellency."

Oh. I take her hand for a moment as protocol directs, but-.

"Is something the miss, young man?"

"No ma'am. Ah, for a moment I was-. Surprised, by how greatly you resemble your namesake, Queen Elizabeth the Second. You even sound like her."

She smiles, not an inherently pleasant visual display in a ghoul, but a psychologically reassuring one as it indicates that there's still a sense of self in there.

"I think that I shall take that as a great compliment." I can feel the corgiswarm pressing noses into my legs, but it's such a dog thing to so that it's reassuring as well. "I'm an admirer of my great grandmother."

I nod. "She was a great woman. I-. I mean no offence, but I honestly struggle to imagine the country without her."

"Oh? Did you know her well?"

"No, not at all. But I do know a few stories, if you're interested?"
 
Last edited:
7th December 2282
09:39 GMT

"…ashen-faced minister frantically apologises. Then the Queen leans forwards and says… 'I do hope it wasn't anyone important, dear'."

In front of me, her great granddaughter starts giggling. And I really hope that she's sufficiently entertained because I don't have that many Queen Elizabeth II stories and I've already done the tourist photography one and the photobomb one.

I take the opportunity to have a quick look inside her head, but… Great War era ghouls are never entirely mentally healthy-. Even compared to normal wastelanders. The human brain is simply designed to work within the confines of a small tight-knit hunter gatherer community, and taking it outside of that results in problems. Two hundred years of being in charge of a badly broken country following the violent deaths of her parents, aunt, uncle and cousins… That does damage. Similarly, the obvious damage to her face -particularly her nose- that comes with being a ghoul greets her in the mirror every morning. The human brain knows what a healthy face looks like.

"However did you find out?"

"Years later, after the minister in question left office, she told the world about it in an interview. She was still embarrassed, but she was grateful that the Queen had just made a joke of it."

And then there's the fact that she's been doing the same sort of thing for two hundred years. I'm not completely convinced that changing jobs every decade or so is the trick to remaining sane, but some range of stimuli would certainly be helpful. But that's not.. really something that I can help with. I'd be happy to set up a state visit to Texas or California, but she is actually needed here, overseeing the upper levels of the British government. She's a good deal more hands on that her great grandmother, but… She has to be. It's not a titular head of state usurping power from an elected body, it's the lynchpin using the power that's hers usually in theory to keep the nation functioning.

She glances at Personal Secretary, who gives a small shrug.

"You wouldn't have any more stories about her, would you? I barely knew her, and I could only learn so much from my Uncle William's stories."

"Only one, really. One of the official duties of the royal family was entertaining foreign dignitaries. Queen Elizabeth the Second was particularly good at charming foreign heads of state, so the foreign office sometimes asked her to step in when they were out of ideas. So on one occasion they ended up with her, Prince Philip and a group of foreign aristocrats at Balmoral, and the Queen… Who must have been in her sixties or seventies at that point… She asks one of the younger members of their group if he'd like to go for a drive around the estate. Well, naturally he's honoured, so he says 'yes', assuming that she'll call over a chauffeur and conduct the tour herself."

"But she doesn't. Instead, she walks over to a Land Rover and gets into the driver's seat. He's a bit surprised by that, and looks around to see if anyone else is reacting to it, but no one is, so… Not wanting to look like a total bore, he gets into the passenger seat. She's the Queen, in her country on her estate. If she wants to drive herself, she can drive herself."

"At which point the Queen slams her foot on the accelerator and hares off down the road like a bat out of hell, and his face is like,-"

I grimace, eyes staring widely in front of me.

"-and she starts conducting the tour while looking at him and speaking in a calm and conversational tone while driving around at top speed because she learned to drive on those roads and has been driving on them for fifty years. She doesn't need to watch where she's going because she's memorised the whole thing, but he doesn't know that and so he's squeezing the armrests as tightly as he can, clearly terrified, but he can't quite bring himself to ask her to slow down. He endures the whole thing, not able to focus on anything she's saying, and when they get back to the manor he's left there, sitting in the seat and-"

I take the pose again, this time adding frantic panting.

"-trying to recover."

Queen Elizabeth III starts chuckling again. "And what did she say to him?"

I shake my head. "I'm afraid that I don't know. If I had to guess, she would probably have noticed that he was in a bit of a state and suggested that everyone give him a moment to pull himself together."

I can feel it as something stirs deep in her memories. It's a positive association, but so fleeting that I can't get a good look at it. I could dive in after it, but I'm not good at splitting my attention to do things like that while keeping up my end of a conversation.

"What country was he from?"

"Saudi Arabia, I think. The Queen got on well with their royal family due to their shared love of horses. That was the other reason he was surprised she was driving; in their country-"

Something's… Wrong. Their minds-. I don't know what-.

"-women weren't allowed to.. drive."

"Llleeeeeeeehhhhhh!"

The Queen's whole posture changes, hunching over, mouth distended and teeth bared! A woman who was chuckling merrily a moment ago has now-. Ghouls don't go feral that quickly! That's not how it works!

"EEEEeeeeeeeeee!" / "Rauw!" / "Har-rauw!"

And the corgis are looking decidedly less friendly, teeth bared and prepared to charge!

"Ah?"

I make momentary eye contact with the Personal Secretary as he shepherds the Life Guards out of the room and closes the.. doors.

Okay, my body armour isn't good enough to protect me from frenzied ghoul bites indefinitely. My inertia suppression field will help, but biting and dragging tends to drain the battery. And using it will show that I have it. Plus I don't.. seem to have triggered whatever it is that would make the Queen attack yet and the corgis are following her lead.

I reach out mentally for the Personal Secretary-.

"…mentioned the Saudis. I know. We might be able to reach them on long wave radio. … Well, we'll have to. This isn't an uppity newsagent. If the Californians can make aircraft-."

And I get the thought associated with the words. The events concerning the start of the Resource War traumatised the Queen, and when someone brings them up-. She's killed people before, and they cover it up for the good of the nation. The mental images-. She blanks the whole thing after it happens.

Okay, but those doors aren't that thick. I should be able to break through with telekinesis and brute FEV-augmented strength. She'll pursue me, and… What happens when they restrain-? They've lost guards doing that before, and it takes a long time for her to come around. Workable for me, but hardly ideal.

Right. Scan the corgis-. The corgis are just picking up the stress from their mistress. That, and they've learned that when this happens they're supposed to attack. The Queen is still waiting for the pounce trigger. I could grab her telekinetically, but that would probably trigger her to attack and the corgis will almost certainly notice. The Queen isn't feral, she's traumatised, which means that her current mental state isn't normal. Telepathic intrusion doesn't have the best success rate for curing mental illness but I should be able to switch her from one mental state to another, especially knowing what the trigger is. Reach out

Agh, it's like she's having some sort of seizure! My own pulse and respiration rates start to increase in sympathy, and-. No, no, stop those pulses because something is detecting what I'm doing and sending attack signals. Quieten that part down because it seems to be where they're coming-.

Turn it back on because that nearly caused a stroke!

Ah…

Okay, that positive feeling I felt earlier, where is..? There, but forcing it is probably going to cause another stroke, so… Ah, auditory cortex connection is there

"Of course, your great grandfather had a substantially cruder sense of humour." Attack impulse suppressed, keep trying to connect via the auditory cortex. "Once, when visiting some British students in China, he warned them that if they stayed too long they'd end up with slitty eyes."

A tiny pulse of recognition in the auditory cortex, connecting to memories and emotions-. There! Grab it, connect the positive feeling and push down on the feral impulses..!

"Oh." The Queen blinks, straightening up as the corgis look around in confusion. "I'm sorry, I seem to have lost-." She looks around. "Where have all the guards wandered off to?"

"I think they ate something that didn't agree with them. Probably be a queue for the toilets a mile long, poor chaps. So, um, look, I'd love to reminisce more about your great grandmother, but I am supposed to be on the job."

"Hm?" She hasn't quite come fully out of it, but… Mental nudge there. "Oh. Oh yes, I quite understand. It's all go, sometimes."

I nod. "I'll be happy to report to the President that Britain is recovering, but I imagine that he's going to be interested in trade: exchanges of technology or resources. So I'm going to need a list of things that Britain wants, and what if can offer in exchange."

"To be honest, we need all manner of things. As to what we can offer…" She frowns for a moment, then nods to herself. "Tell me, young man: do you know what a 'transistor' is?"
 
Last edited:
15th April 2013
10:53 GMT -5


"Nepo ylluferac dna ylefas, tuohtiw gniregnadne eht nam edisni!"

The plant construct peels back like… Like a facehugger egg, revealing the… Sleeping man within. The sleeping man inside with 'vines' plugged into his body at various points, eyes closed and body slumped forwards in a sitting position.

I nod. "Good work. Can you see how to remove the fungus?"

Her eyes are glowing faintly gold. "It's all connected. I think the system is designed to let them swap people in and out when… When the last one dies."

"Efficient. They wouldn't want to wait for a novel fungus to grow naturally."

She nods. "The vines in his skull have a switch… Wardhtiw!"

The vines at various points on his body twitch, then start to pull themselves out of his body. I wince and squint as the brain-vines pull out from his eyes, causing his eyelids to flap open slightly. They're only thin and his eyes are… Fine-. As fine as regular human eyes get. It's a little puzzling that they didn't just cut them out. Kara still hasn't woken up and anything that can do that to a kryptonian would keep a human down through traumatic maiming.

If I had to guess…

Either the insertion is automatic, relying on someone to trip over this thing…

"Zatanna, can you see any commands relating to subject acquisition?"

She looks at me askance. "That's a little cold."

"'Grabbing people' just sounds imprecise."

She doesn't seem entirely happy, but she points at it again.

"Wohs em lla ruoy sdnammoc!"

The glow in her eyes flashes for a moment.

"There's not a lot here. I think it needs to have people… Lowered into it."

"Not a modified carnivore, then. How does the command for hooking someone up work?"

She gives her head a small shake. "There's no decision-making ability. It's basically just 'implant-run-withdraw'."

"No monitoring of the subject? And it's not sending information to somewhere else?"

"No." A bigger shake. "Not that I can see. I've had a… Really.. strong reminder lately that I'm not an archmage. They… Whoever made this could have made it so I couldn't get past the security."

I briefly consider my records on Dominion security procedures.

"I don't think they'd let you get this far if that was the case. So… Any idea what this setup is for?"

"Could you..?" She points to the victim. "Pull him out? He's fully disconnected now."

I nod, sending out a flight aura and gently lifting him out. And then cleaning him up a little, because he'd clearly been in there a while and… Nature had taken its course. No significant health problems, brain… Appears to be dreaming, but undamaged.

"As far as I can tell, he's in good health."

Zatanna walks up to him.

"Wohs em tahw ti saw gnisu mih rof!"

This time her eyes flash green, and she-.

I catch her before she hits the ground. Purple healing ray-. Rays, and I play one over her and the other over the man who was trapped in the plant device.

"Zatanna?"

"Whoo." She blinks, her eyes focusing after a momentary delay. "Sorry, that-. That can happen if there's a lot of magic involved."

"So what was it?"

"You know that-" She straightens up, standing on her own feet. "-game you used to play, where the spaceships fly through Hell to go faster than light?"

"Yes?"

"Turns out it's not just Hell that works with. This thing uses people to make a portal through the Dream."

"A physical portal?" I'd considered that, but-.

"No, but it can transmit magic energy just fine. Swamp Thing, Gumbo Man… I don't think there was anyone else, but it was… A lot overwhelming."

"Can you track it?"

She gives me an arch look. "Did you hear me when I said that I'm not an archmage?"

"Can you tell if it stayed in the Dream, or came out somewhere?"

"Ah…" She closes her eyes for a moment. "I think it came out somewhere. But I've got no idea where… Aaaand I could be wrong."

Identifying the victim… Benjamin Stratham. Agricultural labourer and odd-job man. A couple of fines for littering but no significant criminal record. He should… Probably keep being monitored in case this has messed him up on a magical level, but with hospital occupancy and resourcing being what it is… Not that America ever had a lot of magically qualified physicians, but I don't have anywhere to put him.

"Thank you for your-."

"What?" She looks at me, surprised and a little irritated. "Hey, are you sending me back?"

"We need someone with magical skills to look after Mister Stratham and Kara. Donna doesn't have your precision and if Doctor Mist doesn't have something better to do with his time then he blooming well should. So it's you or Doctor Isley, and I think she might be even more traumatising for someone who just had plants symbiotically grafted to him."

She looks him over, and… Regretfully nods.

"Can I hand Kara over to you as w-?"

"-out of-" Kara suddenly sits up, head blurring as she takes in her environment… And wrecks the construct armour I had around her. "-there, mister! Um." She floats to her feet, looks at Mr. Stratham and then looks at me. "Did you just rescue-steal me?"

"Yes. Kara, you have microscopic vision. You shouldn't have flown into that sleep spore cloud."

"That doesn't mean I see everything. Darn it!"

She kicks a small stone, sending it flying into the sky at supersonic speed. Then she stills herself, sheepishly staring after it.

"Go and catch it before it hits som-" She goes with a blast of air. "-ething. So it looks like I'm keeping Kara, but can you take Mister Stratham?"

Zatanna nods. "Yeah, I'll make sure he's okay. Taolf." His unconscious body rises from the ground. "Zeta tube me back to Mountain?"

I create a tube, and… "Donna, it might be a good idea if you go with her."

"Why?"

"It's always a good idea to have someone super strong around a potential booby trap. And since the Green's other Champions couldn't find Swamp Thing, I'm probably heading to Mars next and you need air to breathe, and you're coming to the end of your work hours. Am I right?"

She sighs. "I do like air."

"I'll let you know how it went when we get-"

Kara appears in front of me, stone in hands and offering it to me with a winsome smile on her face.

"-back." I don't pat her on the head. "Kara, up for a trip to Mars?"

She thinks for a moment, then shakes her head. "That sounds a bit… Investigatey? I mean, I didn't really help with this and there's a tonne of things I could be doing instead."

Huh. That's a surprisingly sensible answer.

I nod. "Alright. How about I take you sight-seeing there once Earth is functioning again?" She nods, smiling, as I attach a tether to Bleez. "Then we'll see you when we see you."
 
Last edited:
7th December 2282
10:58 GMT


Across the table from me, the Private Secretary takes a moment to get his thoughts in order. I do him the courtesy of not reading them. No guards inside the room, I notice, but the doors have a surfeit.

I made sure to give Peter a disappointed glare.

"Look, you've-. Let's not beat around the bush. You've got me by the short and curlies. But-. Please. How? How did you do that?"

"I sat very still, then shared an anecdote about Prince Phillip. I make no promises that it would work again. Does she know?"

He shakes his head. "We could hardly tell her."

"You could. Mentioning the Saudis set her off. She blames them for the Resource Wars?"

"No, I don't think so. You were right about the royal family having good relations with the Saudi royal family. The alliances that were formed in the run up to the Resource Wars were… Byzantine, to put it mildly, but after the Americans became isolationist the Saudis needed a new best friend." He snorts, a distinctly unpleasant sound from someone with no nose. "But just because you're someone's best friend, it doesn't follow that you're a good friend. Their treachery… Or perhaps incompetence, it amounted to the same thing and at this point we'll likely never know for sure, it cost of the lives of King William and Prince Alfred. The Queen was very close to both of them. Now it seems, that whole… Period, that whole part of the world… Mentioning it…"

"Sends her feral."

He sucks in air through his teeth, then slowly lets it out. Then, he nods.

"Look, you did that whole etiquette briefing thing with me. Why not just say 'don't mention Saudi Arabia, she's very sensitive about it'?"

"Because we don't want it getting spread around. Why would I think that someone who by his own admission spent that whole period in cryogenic suspension and is working for the government of California would bring up Saudi Arabia of all places?"

"Because I was doing anecdotes about Queen Elizabeth the Second! Of course the Saudis were going to come up!"

"That doesn't follow!" He sags a little. "Or perhaps it does. I was born after she died, and I didn't study her life in any detail. I-." He bows his head. "I apologise."

"For your lack of comportment, or for leaving me in the room to be eaten?"

"Both, though more the former. I doubt that there's anything I could say or do to make up for the latter."

Hm. "She can't do public engagements. Given the collapse in the education system it's unlikely that anyone would mention anything that could set her off, but if they did and she went feral in public…"

"I know. And we can't tell her why she can't do them. If it wasn't for that we could have her visit towns and cities as we reintegrate them."

And they can't make use of normal counselling services because she goes feral the moment the issue gets raised. So… One of my telepathic specialists is… Essentially the only option. I'm not a specialist in that area -or any area, really- so while I could sort of muddle through it would be far from ideal.

The best cover I can think of is a proper trade mission. I know that Hayes will be interested in transistors, because while the factories he's had built in Dayglow can produce new vacuum tubes, making new micro vacuum tubes is still beyond the NCR. Their most advanced machinery has to be repaired using salvaged components which are becoming increasingly hard to source. Switching to transistors would increase their vulnerability to electromagnetic pulses, but in the core regions of the NCR and for civilian use, that wouldn't be much of a problem.

How to get them here? The Brotherhood has a few transportation dirigibles, but they're slow and not particularly resilient. Our zetan fighters are one-man craft, we don't have any high seas sailors… The most obvious route would be to negotiate passage on Mothership Zeta, which would be quick and safe for however many people we wanted to send.

I'll have to check in with the salvage team to see how far they've got on recovering parts from the wreck of the other Mothership and how far they've got in understanding Zeta's controls.

But if we're going to have to reveal-. No. No quite.

"Tell me: have you ever heard of a device called a mesmetron?"

"I can't say that I have."

"The American army developed them, during the food riots. They take the form of a gun, but when someone is hit by one, they become very calm and unusually suggestible for several minutes."

"Oh, that's remarkable. We could-."

"When it works properly."

"And when it doesn't?"

"Berserk rages or head explosions."

His face can't pale, but I imagine it's trying to. "Ah."

"But I have… NCR special forces occasionally use them for taking prisoners for interrogation. Sometimes they really don't want to talk, and constantly causing head explosions tends to reduce morale. If you fine tune them, you can guarantee getting the result you want. I could send a specialist over here as part of a trade mission or a permanent embassy, and you could have them on standby in case of… Incidents."

"At the risk of making Her Majesty's head explode-. How does that work? Surely the skull would contain things even if the brain was cooked?"

"If things go wrong, the skull becomes very brittle. It can't contain the vaporised high-pressure brain matter. Though under controlled circumstances, the chance of that happening becomes next to nothing."

"It's still a rather visceral picture that you paint."

"The next best I can do involves sending either a psychologist or a cybernetics specialist. Look, I doubt very much that the Queen is the only ardens afflicted in this way-."

"We executed the rest."

"Oh."

"And we've found that more conventional counselling is sufficient to prevent anyone else decaying in such a way."

I nod, wincing faintly. "Yes, the Archbishop said. I'm sorry, but I don't have any better ideas."

"Do you use it on… Californian ardens?"

"Not to my knowledge. The mesmetrons are relatively rare, and… Well, the ardens who've lost it lost it long enough ago that I doubt they can find it again, and the ones who have it don't need it. None of the NCR's enemies use ardens soldiers to any significant extent." I shrug. "I can ask for volunteers and ship them here so your people can observe the process, if that helps?"

"It would. I don't have the authority to make any decisions, but I have been assigned the duty of 'managing' Her Majesty's condition. It falls to me to review any possible treatments."

I nod. "I'll set something up when I get back. Will you handle the export permits for the transistors? We'll probably want to talk to the researchers who worked on them."

He nods. "I can certainly do that. And… Wool?"

"The NCR has been using cow and goat fur for softer clothing, and variously leathers for outerwear. We're starting to get some shipments of cotton, but with the collapse of transportation infrastructure and government, the old cotton farms rather died off. There would actually be a pretty decent market for softer fabric."

"There's no difficulty in exporting wool."

I nod. "Then I'll head back to California, and put together a full delegation. Thank you for receiving me."
 
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15th April 2013
18:25 GMT -5


"Nothing at all?"

Ma'alefa'ak shrugs first with his left shoulder and then with his right. "My reserve and a handful of others like it contain all of the surface plant life on M'arzz. If any of us had seen an unexpected surge of growth it would have been reported."

He's right. With a planet of telepaths, it's not easy to keep anything a secret. Certainly, a group of aliens popping by would attract more than a little notice, and unless they were shielding their thoughts really well…

The Dominion probably has the technology to do that, but I'm not sure that they have the technology to avoid detection by the telekinetic spines built by Mother of Mercy and maintained by the locals. They're actually making an effort to accelerate their atmospheric restoration by grabbing asteroids and harvesting them for useful gasses. Might be worth keeping half an eye out for recruits...

For a moment I consider Ma'alefa'ak himself. He's completely devoted to the project, but… I don't think that his evil alter-ego is a concern. He doesn't want to go back to being that, and he's not really more vulnerable to mind control than anyone else. But whatever the Martian judicial system did to who he was to make him who he is now disrupted his connection to the orange light. I… Could fix it, but… I know that it's possible to store part of yourself in the orange light, because I did that to recover from my second death.

I just can't take the risk with him.

"And private gardens?"

"We don't have privacy in the way that humans do. Someone would have reacted."

I look out across his nature reserve. A lot of the systems he used to create enclosures the first time we came here have gone, and I can see… Five? Of the giant telekinetic spines that Mother of Mercy created erupting from the ground and rising up out of the thickening atmosphere. The main difference is that there are plants around the place, not just in neatly planted allotments but as weeds anywhere their seeds can find soil. Which is nice, but suggests that alien plant magic researchers now have a lot more places where they could work.

I turn back to him with a nod. "Do isolated caverns have the same setup?"

"Any that have people living in them do, yes. Since… M'gee's revelation, a lot of caverns which didn't have anyone living in them have been settled by new communities."

"By Whites?"

"Usually, though not necessarily. And… It's not always Whites who are resisting their third class citizen treatment. One of the new communities formed with a more formal caste structure, and enough Whites wanted to be a part of it to make it viable."

"Couldn't they just live in an existing city?"

"They felt that the uncertainty harmed the soul, and they wanted a tightly defined legal code setting out the rights and responsibilities of each caste. Not something that could change." He considers me for a moment. "I expect that you're disappointed-."

"No, no… It would be unrealistic to expect everyone to embrace the anti-colourist movement in the way I'd like them too. And… I generally think that the problem with caste systems is that there's usually not much of a mechanism to enforce the rules against the upper castes. Maybe it works with telepathy."

"Usually. Sometimes it makes it worse."

"We have a saying on Earth: you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. We gave them the option. If they're happy living like that then they're happy."

The Mars situation is chaotic, but… Mostly peaceful and mostly stable. The Manhunters are very visibly limiting themselves to light-touch policing of demonstrations and… Prelate J'emm is making a point of spending time in places mostly frequented by Whites. And because of telepathy, they know why he's there so it doesn't come off as condescending, and because he's not elected it doesn't look like electioneering. I'm reasonably hopeful about the whole situation and since the surface is now habitable, anyone who isn't happy has the space to move away and do their own thing.

"How are the priesthood handling things?"

"I have no idea. I haven't even seen one for years. There have been no announcements that have reached me, and I have been getting a few more visitors than I used to." He thinks for a moment. "You want to check with them?"

"Belts and braces. They're the only people who can do magic on Mars, and as far as I can tell your people have a tighter grip on who is allowed to learn magic than we do on Earth. If they haven't noticed anything odd then there probably isn't anything odd happening." I give the reservation a quick scan. All appears to be in good order. "Is there anything you need here?"

"No, I'm more than content. Thank you. And please thank Mother of Mercy for me when you see her."

I nod. "Will do. Thank you for your help."

I

step out, appearing

next to Bleez's ship as she takes in the closest spine. We're high enough up here that she needs to be inside the ship, and if her insurance company wasn't happy with her exposing herself to Earth's environment then I imagine that Mars would give them a stroke.

"Like it?"

"It's so… Alien. Your species are… Thanagarians without wings and your architecture is like Thanagarian architecture but flattened. This is… Completely other."

"You should have seen the Lantern who built it. That was a… Hopeful time. If you ask, the locals could probably share their memories of it."

"What's their music like?"

"I… Have no idea, actually. I only really come here on business, and M'gann's always been more interested in human music. If you're interested, I'm heading to Mel'dilo'rn now. Do you want to come along, or keep taking the place in?"

"I… How safe is it?"

"Not safe against an attack by an entire Lantern Corps. I'd bet on a couple of Manhunters or a Sorcerer Priest against an average quality Lantern."

"And was he..? 'Average quality'?"

"I don't know. I'd have to see him myself, and I imagine that Sinestro is intelligent enough to move him away from Sector Two Six Eight Two. I can go and have a look once this case is over, if you like?"

"I'm not in any hurry to get back." Her ship tilts forwards, beginning to descend in a spiral pattern around the spine. "I'll come with you. What's the dress code?"

"Well, they're telepathic shapeshifters, so there isn't one. Do you have any training in resisting telepathic intrusion?"

"Only in noticing that it's happening and getting away. How deep do they go?"

"Usually, not that deep, but they'll be getting everything on the surface pretty much all the time. If you focus on what you're interested in then it shouldn't be a problem; they're used to aliens and young children not being able to regulate what they think."

"I'm going to write a song about this… But I've got no idea what it's going to sound like."

"Then you can surprise us both."
 
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14th June 2014
03:23 GMT


"I-I can't believe this." Next to me, Slipstream twitches. It's a little disconcerting to watch, as rather than twitching her muscles it's like she's starting to transform and then reversing it after about half a second. It makes her look like she's starting to fall apart. I'd be worried if not for the intense hope and joy I'm feeling through our bond. "I didn't think they'd ever-. I didn't think I'd ever-."

I look around, actually having to look down in order to make sure that I'm not missing something. I'm used to being taller than most humans around me, but being taller than most transformers is still new.

No, no one else around.

My 'Pull' body responds appropriately, the mind impulse unit turning my neural activity into giant robot motion. I haven't asked if Shockwave just happened to have a transtector body laying around or if he built it from scratch, but from the way Kyansa has described every piece of open-chassis chirurgery Shockwave has done as 'wicked cool' I'm not sure I'd like the answer either way.

"Why not? They said that they would."

I've been acting like 'Pull' is someone distinct from me, as Decepticons aren't exactly friendly to other species and we're still recruiting for our eventual exploration team. Having someone big and strong around encourages other Decepticons to not try leaning on Slipstream, while having 'him' be a bit mentally slow prevents him seeming threatening in other situations. My new body is painted in dull brown and transforms into heavy goods transport vehicle: not bright enough or unusual enough to draw the eye, but visible enough not to surprise someone in the dark. I'm supposed to be able to fit in with a crowd, and it seems to have worked so far.

Slipstream glances down towards my feet, remembers that I'm not that short any more and then looks up at Pull's face.

"Because you know the ratio! They hardly ever resurrect Decepticons. Particularly late-War Decepticons."

Something which was generating a degree of ill-feeling, though most Decepticons weren't really expecting their friends back in any case and the few who got them back were too grudgingly grateful to make a fuss about it. It wasn't until the newly returned Emirate Xeon pointed out the huge advantage that the Autobots were getting and the potential threat it posed that there was any sort of organised outrage. Relations between the two returning factions were getting dicey until Megatron came back from… Wherever he went, and negotiated with the Autobot Provisional Council for better access.

"Sometimes knowing the right people helps."

Because while Prime's old team don't like us, they do recognise that we're not a threat to the truce. And if they're going to resurrect anyone on the Decepticon side-

"I can't believe they even found her!"

-it would be someone with a good social support network away from Cybertron. The Autobots have been carrying out recovery operations all over Cybertron and near-Cybertron space so I don't know exactly where they found Nova Storm's mortal remains or how those remains managed to avoid being infected with Dark Energon and turned into a Terrorcon, but I'm certainly not going to complain-

My auditory sensors pick up the sound of someone trudging nearby.

-about it.

Slipstream hears it too and immediately goes into hunt mode. Not a lot of transformers live this far from the newly built synthetic energon refineries, which isn't an issue for us as we mostly use energon shipped in from Earth. It's mostly just anti-social loners and-.

Ahead of me, Slipstream turns a corner with weapons drawn, then immediately lowers them.

"Hey Munition. You get beat up again?"

I trudge after her, careful to dim my eyes as I get a clear view of one of the local vagrants. Munition is a dull grey tank transformer who's been dossing in the area. I'm not exactly sure what he did before or during the war, but these days he spends his time preaching his particular variant of the pre-War Decepticon creed to anyone with the patience to put up with him. And with Decepticons increasingly rallying around Xeon and Megatron, that's increasingly fewer people.

This time he got off lightly. A few of his panels are dented, but there doesn't appear to be any serious damage.

"I did. But the Truth will not be silenced! We should not be defined by our brands any more than we should be by our alt-modes! Xeon rallies people with an outdated fear, which only-"

Slipstream waves a flask of energon in front of his face.

"-serves to separate us from those who-!" He focuses on what's in front of him. "Oh. Thank you."

"It's not that I don't agree, Munition." Slipstream takes a relaxed posture as Munition takes a gulp from the flask before connecting it to the emergency damage port on his badly dented right arm. That feeds it directly to his local self-repair system, a modification that a lot of heavy infantry Decepticons have made. "It's that if you keep going then Xeon is going to have someone kill you."

"Oh, I'm not worth his time. Besides." He looks down at where his battered copy of Towards Peace is chained to his waist. "I imagine that a recording of his limb-wrenchers shooting through that would do more damage than a street preacher no one listens to."

I rotate my head slightly, checking the street behind him for pursuit. "I listen."

Which mostly involves standing there and staring at anyone who looks like they're about to move from political disputation to 'political disputation'. Decepticons might have settled their disagreements peacefully once upon a time, but that was a long time ago. It's interesting, but without Slipstream to explain things I miss the context for about ninety percent of it.

Slipstream looks up and me, rolling her eyes at 'Pull's' foolishness. Munition detaches the flask and passes it back to her before checking the movement in his damaged arm. Looks alright to my inexpert eyes, and I can see the panelling start straightening out as his repair system gets to work.

"Thank you. I think I should spend some time working on my delivery. Where are you two going?"

Slipstream considers, but… While I think Munition is pretty trustworthy, I didn't spend a million years at war. "Recruiting, hopefully. An old friend I got separated from. I think she'll like Earth."

Munition nods. "I'm glad to hear it. Give her my regards."

"I-." Slipstream's arm pings with the 'ready' signal, and she immediately sends the 'acknowledge' reply.

Phh-tchhwuhwuhwah.

The ground bridge opens and Slipstream sprints towards it, despite knowing that they're not going to close it on her. I hesitate, watching her go for a moment and then striding after her just as she disappears on the far side. Pull's body isn't really made for running, and while I can transform like this it feels really weird. Besides, it's not like it takes long. Maybe twenty seconds pass and then I appear in the workshop where Ratchet is finishing reassembling Nova Storm's body to the best of his ability while Slipstream lurks at his side, staring at the face of the friend she thought she'd never see again. There are a lot of rooms like this, because while they can supply The Last Autobot with energon he has a throughput limit and the more power he has to spend on repairs during the resurrection process the fewer transformers he can resurrect.

This place has to have its own energon refinery to keep him going anyway. And a ground bridge jammer to stop people bridging inside and demanding or begging that their friend or team mate be brought back first. Or that they be allowed to watch for theological reasons. Or attacking to try and stop it.

Ratchet straightens up, clearly not entirely satisfied but without anything else to really do. Slipstream gets closer, standing next to Nova Storm's left shoulder. Aside from Nova Storm's lighter colour and a slight difference in the structure of her face, they look pretty much identical.

"She was quite badly damaged when we recovered her. I couldn't access her t-cog's records, so I used my record of your internal structures as a guide to her layout."

"Nova."

The ground bridge collapses behind me and… Ah, Ratchet knows who I am. "What will she remember?"

"Going by past experience, almost everything. The actual events of her death should be a little blurry, but she might remember it once she gets over the shock. I suggest several weeks of rest at the very least." He turns his head to look at the heavy doors at one end of the room. "He should-."

The colossal doors slam open at the far end of the room and The Last Autobot walks through, right hand raised towards Nova Storm's recumbent body. And in that moment I suddenly gain a new appreciation of exactly how big he is. When you're human, all transformers tower over you so he didn't really stand out; I didn't really notice that most of the transformers I know are about as tall as his head. He doesn't look around as yellow energy crackles around his right hand, then flows over Nova Storm's body. He keeps walking as she suddenly sits up, eyes focusing and hands grabbing at her chest as Slipstream hugs her. And then he lowers his hand as he exits through the door at the far end of the room, into a room where for a moment I see another bier, another medical and another hopeful transformer waiting for the return of the departed.

After assuring herself that her torso is in one piece, Nova Storm moves her hands to return Slipstream's hug. "Hey, Slippy. What in the Pit just happened?"
 
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14th June 2014
08:28 GMT +5:30

Phh-tchhwuhwuhwah.

Slipstream leads Nova Storm through the space bridge portal and into our quarters on Earth, left arm wrapped around her torso. Nova Storm isn't pulling back exactly, but she's obviously far from comfortable about what's happening. The sudden sunlight from the windows around the room in particular has her blinking as her eyes try to adjust from Cybertron's darkness to Earth's daytime. Her next blink has her trying to make sense of the relatively luxurious decorations of our home. That surprises her enough to make her stop walking.

"Slippy… Are you working for an Emirate?"

Slipstream stops a moment after her team mates does, left arm sliding from Nova Storm's back to her right arm as she turns to face her. "Hah! No. We own this place."

I walk in behind them, moving my Pull body towards its docking gantry.

"You and..?" She looks at me as I slot myself in and make sure that the diagnostic systems are properly connected. "Pull, was it?"

I nod. "Yes."

Nova Storm frowns in confusion. "How?"

Slipstream shrugs, giving her team mate's arm a tug to get her moving. "It's a long story, and it'll sound better in an oil bath. Come on!"

Nova Storm smiles faintly as she allows herself to be pulled to the rim of the transformer-scale Jacuzzi. Only then does Slipstream let go of her arm and drop down to sit on the rim before sliding in.

Nova Storm looks around nervously. "Are you sure-?"

"Yes!"

Nova Storm looks me over. "The big guy not joining us?"

"Don't make me pull you in." Slipstream manoeuvres over to the far side of the tub before taking a sitting position, her head only just over the top of the liquid. "I thought you were dead, Nova. Permanently dead."

Nova Storm pats her torso again. "Yeah, I… Kinda did, too. I-." She turns away from me and makes eye contact with the softly-glaring Slipstream. "Okay."

She awkwardly drops to a crouch before shifting her legs around and sliding into the oil, causing waves to slop across the tub and splash over Slipstream's face. Slipstream smiles, raising her left hand into the air and wiping the worst of it off. "See?"

"Uh…" Nova Storm remains standing for a moment, then slowly lowers herself in. "This is… Nice?"

"Come on, Stormy, is that the best you can-?"

"Why aren't I dead, Slipstream? I… I remember the attack on Moon Base One. I remember the anti-air emplacements opening fire, I-." She raises her right arm. "I got torn apart. My right arm came off, light was… Leaking out of my spark-"

Oh.

"-case! You don't come back from that!"

I can feel her distress. Not as.. intensely as I can feel Slipstream's emotions, but their bond is still functioning even after… However long it's been. And that indirectly connects her to me. I wonder if she's noticed? Or maybe she just assumed it would and my feedback feels off to her?

"I felt-!"

Slipstream leans forwards and lays her right hand on Nova Storm's torso. "That big blue and gold guy? He's called The Last Autobot. He pulled your spark out of the All-Spark and put it back in your body."

"So I… Did die?"

Slipstream shrugs. "What is death but another transformation?"

"Oh." Nova Storm finally sits down, still sounding a little stunned. "Just as long as I didn't imagine it."

"Imagine what?"

"The glowing… I was glowing, and there was.. glowing all around me, and a… Presence. I was.. part of something. Something… I made… Complete? Something… Huge. I don't… Know…"

Slipstream looks past Nova Storm to me, and I feel her worry that she's doing something wrong. I don't know if there's a right way to handle something like this, but I'll always help whenever I can.

"The All-Spark. The spark of Primus, of which all transformers possess a small fragment." Nova Storm turns her head my way. "It's where transformers go when they die."

"Oh." Nova Storm slumps slightly in the oil bath. "I thought maybe I imagined it."

"Hey." Slipstream wades across the pool and takes Nova Storm's hands in her own. "I know it's a shock, but you're alive, right? And we're here for you."

Nova Storm nods slowly. "Yeah. Ah. Just y-? Ah, just the two of you?"

"Right now? Yeah. I don't know if we'll get any of the others back. I doubt it, but then I didn't think I'd get you back."

Nova Storm nods again. "The medic was an Autobot, and the Last Autobot… I guess we lost, then."

"It was really more of a draw..?" Slipstream shrugs. "Optimus Prime died killing Unicron, and Megatron gave up. We found a way to make new energon so we don't need to starve any more… There wasn't any more reason to fight, so the War just sort of… Stopped happening."

"Oh. Well that's… That's good." Nova Storm looks around at the room again. "How did you afford this?"

Slipstream nods at me. "Like Pull says: 'one man's trash is another man's treasure'. The local species are really primitive compared to us, but there's lots of them and they're easy to keep fuelled."

"What's this planet called?"

"The locals call it 'Planet Earth', but it's really more of a layer of rock that built up over… Something else."

"Something else?"

"Let's-." Slipstream looks awkward. "Let's not worry about that right now. It's not a problem anyway. So, ah, this is-."

"Pull." Nova Storm nods. "You.. said. I guess he's your new team mate..?"

"Conjunx Endura, actually."

"Oh." Nova Storm turns back towards me, looking at me more closely. "H.. uh. I suppose with the.. War over… I though I felt something."

"But there's something else you should know about him."

"He's an Autobot? Is that why I'm-."

Tsche-chuuuu!

Pull's helmet snaps open as my plugs retract, letting me see daylight with my own eyes as I pull myself free. A bit sore as usual, but nothing a few minutes moving around-

"I think he needs the oil bath more if he's got organic parasites."

-won't fix. I clamber out onto Pull's right shoulder and wave to Nova Storm.

"Allow me to re-introduce myself. I'm Slipstream's husband." I half-turn and point to the implant in the back of my neck. "These let me mimic a normal transformer bond, and that-" I nod towards the transtector body. "-lets me mimic being a transformer."

"Oh." Nova Storm is staring, clearly unclear how to respond. "How… Interesting."

"It gets better." Slipstream's voice comes from the back of the gantry as her purple-skinned and grey-suited proxy unit walks out of its maintenance module to lean against my back. "I had a new sub-module made so I can interact on their scale. You would not believe the things this body can feel."

I would. Shockwave knows his business.

By Primus does Shockwave know his business.

Nova Storm is staring blankly at us. "So the little one… Lives in the big guy's head… And is made of meat."

Slipstream blinks. "Yes?"

"That sounds like something Shockwave would make."

"Uhhh…" Slipstream's main head glances at me with a wince. "Funny you should say that..?"
 
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15th April 2013
23:55 GMT


S'yrra leads us towards Mel'dilo'rn's main shrine, having intercepted us just out of the main hangar. We've also got an escort of four Manhunters, and from the way their eyes keep lighting up I'm going to assume that they're the reason the various Martians of various colours who keep floating towards us immediately back off.

"Is..? That one..?" Bleez points to a Martian at the back of one of the huddles. "Trying to make wings?"

"It's possible. Between J'onn J'aarkn's memories, J'onn J'onzz's reports and M'gann's visits, Martians are more curious about the rest of the universe than they used to be."

S'yrra glances back, her face in Martian-neutral. **And the presence in our skies of a new planet which enabled us to reclaim the surface of our world may have had something to do with it.**

I shrug. "I suppose. I've yet to see a Martian fat enough to shapeshift into a planet."

**[Polite amusement] Some have assumed a scaled down version of Mother of Mercy's form, but her internal structure is difficult to replicate.**

"So, no civil war?"

**No.** She appears to consider what to say for a moment. **In normal times, what the Prelate has done to ensure that would see him stripped of his position and sent to a hermitage, but in times such as these no one knows what the correct course of action is.**

I smile. "In doubt, freedom."

**What do you mean?**

"When the 'proper' course of action has already been decided, you get in trouble for not going along with it. Even if you had a better idea. But if you're in a new situation where there is no established way to act, the uncertainty is enough to stop anyone stopping you." I shrug. "Well, that's one of the meanings."

**And what is the other?**

"If you are certain of the right thing to do, the only thing stopping you doing it is cowardice. If you don't know, you aren't obliged to do anything in particular."

She stops flying for a moment, causing the Manhunters to spread out around us.

**Which meaning did you have in mind for the Prelate?**

"Both, really. Though the first one applies to the Assembly more than Prelate J'emm. Ah, anything I need to bear in mind when meeting a Martian priest?"

**Be polite…** Glowing eyes consider me for a moment. **Be as polite as you can manage.**

She starts flying again, the entrance to the temple just ahead of us and… A Red Martian wearing a rune-inscribed stole standing on the steps. The Martian crowds who had been following us at a distance fall back, apparently unwilling to approach. Curious.

S'yrra lands first, and… There isn't really anything in the way of body language, but I feel the edge of a transmission of reverence and respect. The Red priest lays one hand on her head, one on each shoulder and another on her chest-. Four arms by default? That's a little… Interesting. The gesture is clearly a benediction of some kind, but… I don't know. Martian culture is… Alien, to me.

S'yrra pulls back, and the priest turns to me. I guess that's my cue? I float closer, generating a couple of construct arms to better match my host.

"Do you prefer spoken communication, or-" **-do you prefer telepathy?**

The priest appears to squirm slightly, runes on their stole shimmering weakly. Then their mouth and throat change shape slightly. "Spoken is better."

"Right, short version: our-."

"What happened to Earth? It felt like the Anti-Life Equation spoke to the world's soul."

"Because that's basically what happened. A mob boss made a deal with Darkseid, got a fragment of the Anti-Life and built machines to broadcast it across the planet. It took us a month to get a good enough grip of the… Life Equation, I suppose you'd call it, to expunge it. Sorry for any spill-over, but we've been busy fixing… Everything, since then."

"You have studied the Life Equation?"

I nod. "Yes. Bit of an odd head space to get into, but… Ah… Revivifying. Anyway, the reason I'm here is that two of our plant elementals are missing and appear to have been transmitted through the Dream to somewhere. Given how thaumatic fields work, Mars is the obvious place-."

**Nowaitstop.** The priest raises their arms in an awkward warding gesture. **You have seen the Life Equation?**

"Well, I don't know exactly what you mean by that phrase, but probably."

**You mastered it in a month.**

"Sort of. Look, we're trying not to spread that sort of thing around for security reasons. Can I just ask my question?"

"No. The great undermind that links all life, and you gained the ability to channel it within a month, while exposed to its antithesis."

This… Sounds like something I need to ask M'gann about. Because I have no idea why this priest is so excited.

"It is-."

I raise my right hand. "I'm sorry, but my standing orders from the Controllers do not allow me to discuss that issue further. But if you're really interested you could either try talking to the Guardians of the-" Ugh. "-Universe, or travelling to Earth to get a closer look."

I get the impression that the priest is very far from satisfied.

"What is your question?"

"Two powerful plant elementals were recently abducted from Earth, transported through the Dream to somewhere. I don't think they're on Earth, and Mars is the only other significantly thaumically active planet in the system. The farmers on the surface haven't noticed any unusual patterns of plant growth, but I wanted to check whether or not you'd detected anything unusual."

"A plant elemental from Earth would not be compatible-."

I shake my head. "It turns out that they can change their… Frequency? To switch over to other plant analogues."

"Please wait."

The priest touches the stole with two hands, which the other two make a series of arcane gestures. A few moments pass, then:

"No. No such intrusion has been detected by any of our watchers. Unless they have found Z'onn Z'orr, they are not on M'arzz."

"What's that?"

"The lost keep of Karmang the Good, the first sorcerer among Martians."

"Is it a place that actually existed at one point, or is it just a legend?"

"We do not have good records from those times. I believe it is a literal place, but I could not convince a disinterested person with evidence. I cannot think of a reason why Karmang would keep your elementals if he had them. He has no need of such things."

"Okay, then-."

Actually… There's one more place that should be easily accessible through the Dream.

"Ah, thank you for your time. Would you like me to transport you to Earth?"

"No. I must… Contemplate this discussion." The priest considers me for a moment. "I might normally perform a benediction now, but to one who has touched the essence of life, that feels shallow. Go, and be as the life web would have you be."
 
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