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War Games [Worm/Polity Crossover]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Jun 6, 2015.

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  1. Threadmarks: Index
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    When a bounty hunter and a genetic adaptation from the Human Polity universe end up stranded in the Wormverse, things are going to get interesting.

    1) This story draws inspiration from the Wormverse, which is owned by Wildbow, and from the universe of the Polity, which is owned by Neal Asher. I make no claim on either property.
    2) I will follow canon as closely as I can. If I find something that canon does not cover, I will make stuff up. If canon then refutes me, I will revise. Do not bother me with fanon; corrections require citations.
    3) I welcome criticism of my works, but if you tell me that something is wrong, I also expect an explanation of what is wrong, and a suggestion of how to fix it. Note that I do not promise to follow any given suggestion.


    AG: Anti-gravity

    Amphidapt: a human who has undergone genetic modification to become an anthropomorphic frog, or similar appearance.

    Aug: Cerebral augmentation. A kidney-shaped device, several centimetres across, usually attached to the skull behind the ear. Acts like a full computer system and modem in one.

    Autodoc: Automated drone that can carry out any surgical need with speed and precision.

    avidapt: human with bird-like genetic adaptations.

    Catadapt: a human who has undergone genetic modification to end up as an anthropomorphic cat of one type or another.

    Centurion class: heavy Polity warship.

    Chainglass: a substance consisting of chained silicon molecules. Transparent as glass, tougher than steel plate.

    Ceramal: A ceramic/metal blend that makes for excellent armour plating.

    Chameleonware: a suite of different devices, which act to deflect light around a vessel, while cutting emitted noise and reducing other giveaway signs that it's there.

    Contra-terrene device (CTD): Antimatter bomb.

    Cull: planet where the original settlers had themselves genetically adapted to better survive the harsh environment. They consider themselves 'true humans', as opposed to those who weren't altered.

    Dragon
    (Polity) - A huge, somewhat enigmatic entity, composed of four interconnected kilometre-diameter spheres, capable of interstellar travel. Nobody knows quite what it's up to or what it wants.
    (Worm) - Earth Bet's first (and currently, only) AI, created by Andrew Richter.

    Etched sapphires: one means of physical currency. Eyeball-sized sapphires, with intricate designs cut into them. Each one is worth ten thousand New Carth shillings.

    EV suit: spacesuit

    Gecko-grip: Surface covered in extremely tiny hairs, which adheres to other surfaces using van der Waal forces, as geckos do.

    Golem: Skeletal metallic humanoid robots (not unlike Terminators). Can be covered in syntheflesh to appear human. Some are more human than others. 'Golem' is both the singular and plural of the word.

    Grant's World: A planet that was rendered utterly uninhabitable during the Prador Wars.

    Grav-planing: using momentum to skate along on AG.

    Grav-plate: flat plate which projects gravity directly above it. Usually, but not always, earth-normal.

    Grid: The Polity version of the internet.

    Haiman: A human with an AI built into his brain. This is not a direct interface, but a more powerful version of the near-ubiquitous aug.

    Hooper: a human inhabitant of Spatterjay (see the entry) who has been bitten by a leech. This infects them with a virus that makes them nigh-immortal and ever stronger over the years. The oldest hoopers are over three hundred years old.

    Ian Cormac: Main character of the first Polity series. Extremely capable secret agent.

    Jain: Now-extinct race that engineered a horrifying technology that eventually wiped them out.

    Jaintech: Inimical ultra-tech that infects living and non-living apart with terrifying speed.

    Kinetic kill, KK: Missile with no explosive warhead; it depends on pure kinetic energy to do damage to the target.

    Manufactory: Onboard automated mini-factory capable of turning out various replacement parts for the ship it's on.

    Maser: Microwave laser.

    Memplant: a means of recording the personality and memories of a human onto a crystal matrix implanted in their brain. After death, the memplant crystal can be removed and implanted in a clone body, another person or even a Golem body.

    Monofilament, monowire: cord or wire consisting of a single long-chain molecule. Very strong, very thin.

    New Carth: A human occupied planet. The New Carth shilling is a particularly stable currency.

    Occam Razor: a huge battleship, veteran of the Prador Wars.

    Polity: The Human Polity. AI-run human civilisation. It's run efficiently, smoothly, and without any interference by human politicians.

    Prador: An inimical crab-like species against which humanity fought a protracted and bloody war. They are guilty of several types of atrocity, including eating surrendered captives.

    Pulse pistol: one of several types of weapon that puts out a cloud of incendiary particles, then ignites them to form plasma.

    Railgun: Weapon that accelerates projectiles via pulsed magnetic fields.

    Reif: Short for reification. A human who has died but been revived, with mechanisms keeping his body going, and a memplant crystal taking over from his brain where needed. Essentially, a self-aware technological zombie. Given the fact that dying of old age is essentially impossible in the Polity unless the person chooses that fate, reifs are almost universally accident or murder victims.

    Runcible: Portal gates from one planet to another, via U-space. Travel time is instantaneous.

    Seadapt: Human who has been genetically altered so as to be at home in the ocean.

    Shimmer-shield: light, selectively permeable force field

    Skaidon-Craystein experiment: a ground-breaking event where a human genius entered into direct mind-to-mind connection with an AI. This led directly to the invention of runcible technology.

    Solstan: Solar (Earth) standard, usually referring to years.

    Sparkind: The word is a portmanteau of 'Spartan' and 'kind'. Sparkind are the ultimate evolution of Special Forces for the Polity, featuring enhanced humans and Golem in equal numbers. They are chosen for their ability to see the mission through, and to responsibly handle weaponry that's capable of destroying cities.

    Spatterjay: a planet with an insanely hostile ecosystem. Leeches there grow to ridiculous sizes, and are almost ubiquitous. Their bite will eventually transform the victim into a Hooper.

    Sub-mind: AIs in the Polity can split their consciousnesses into separate 'minds', in order to multi-task more efficiently.

    Telefactored: remote controlled. A robot being telefactored is called a 'telefactor'.

    Third-child, Prador: The Prador pecking order is very harsh. First-children are slated to succeed their parent, and only have their siblings and the Prador adult to worry about. Second-children can become first-children if they survive their siblings and elders. Third-children, as can be imagined, are extremely expendable.

    U-space: Underspace. The Polityverse equivalent to hyperspace. Travel time is much shortened, but still noticeable.

    Ursidapt: human with genetic adaptations derived from bear DNA

    Part One: Geneva (below)
    Part Two: Reynaud
    Part Three: Sean
    Part Four: Legend
    Part Five: Escalation
    Part Six: Immediate Action
    Part Seven: Sleight of Hand
    Part Eight: Snakebite
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2019
  2. Threadmarks: Part One: Geneva
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    War Games

    A Worm/Polity Crossover

    Amphidapt: a human who has undergone genetic modification to become an anthropomorphic frog, or similar appearance.

    Aug: Cerebral augmentation. A kidney-shaped device, several centimetres across, usually attached to the skull behind the ear. Acts like a full computer system and modem in one.

    Catadapt: a human who has undergone genetic modification to end up as an anthropomorphic cat of one type or another.

    Chameleonware: a suite of different devices, which act to deflect light around a vessel, while cutting emitted noise and reducing other giveaway signs that it's there.

    Contra-terrene device (CTD): Antimatter bomb.

    Cull: planet where the original settlers had themselves genetically adapted to better survive the harsh environment. They consider themselves 'true humans', as opposed to those who weren't altered.

    Etched sapphires: one means of physical currency. Eyeball-sized sapphires, with intricate designs cut into them. Each one is worth ten thousand New Carth shillings.

    EV suit: spacesuit

    Gecko-grip: Surface covered in extremely tiny hairs, which adheres to other surfaces using van der Waal forces, as geckos do.

    Golem: Skeletal metallic humanoid robots (not unlike Terminators). Can be covered in syntheflesh to appear human. Some are more human than others. 'Golem' is both the singular and plural of the word.

    Grav-plate: flat plate which projects gravity directly above it. Usually, but not always, earth-normal.

    Hooper: a human inhabitant of Spatterjay (see the entry) who has been bitten by a leech. This infects them with a virus that makes them nigh-immortal and ever stronger over the years. The oldest hoopers are over three hundred years old.

    Maser: Microwave laser.

    Memplant: a means of recording the personality and memories of a human onto a crystal matrix implanted in their brain. After death, the memplant crystal can be removed and implanted in a clone body, another person or even a Golem body.

    Monofilament, monowire: cord or wire consisting of a single long-chain molecule. Very strong, very thin.

    New Carth: A human occupied planet. The New Carth shilling is a particularly stable currency.

    Polity: The Human Polity. AI-run human civilisation. It's run efficiently, smoothly, and without any interference by human politicians.

    Prador: An inimical crab-like species against which humanity fought a protracted and bloody war. They are guilty of several types of atrocity, including eating surrendered captives.

    Pulse pistol: one of several types of weapon that puts out a cloud of incendiary particles, then ignites them to form plasma.

    Runcible: Portal gates from one planet to another, via U-space. Travel time is instantaneous.

    Seadapt: Human who has been genetically altered so as to be at home in the ocean.

    Spatterjay: a planet with an insanely hostile ecosystem. Leeches there grow to ridiculous sizes, and are almost ubiquitous. Their bite will eventually transform the victim into a Hooper.

    U-space: Underspace. The Polityverse equivalent to hyperspace. Travel time is much shortened, but still noticeable.

    Part One: Geneva

    The smuggler ship Gambler's Ruin emerged from U-space right where I needed it to be; that is, about five kilometres off my bow, where my forward-mounted maser arrays could neatly target it. For good measure, I woke up my missile pods and told them to look alive. Sean, I sent via my aug, time to start the party.

    Already on it,
    my ship AI responded. Inhibitor activated. They're not going anywhere.

    "Gambler's Ruin," I broadcast, observing the frantic attempts by the Ruin's crew to restart their U-space engines, "this is Geneva Hastings, registered bounty hunter. Do note that your U-space engines will not start without the lockout codes that I currently possess.”

    With a jolt, the Ruin's fusion engines kicked in. They were oversized for the craft, which would give the smuggler vessel quite an appreciable amount of acceleration. Of course, this required that the engines give more than an asthmatic cough before shutting down again.

    “Nor will your fusion drive,” I added pleasantly. “You will power down and prepare to be boarded before I do something even more drastic.” They wouldn't listen. Smugglers rarely did. Of course, I wasn't often sent after smugglers, which was probably a good thing for the smuggling trade, not to mention my boredom threshold.

    The next thing they did was power up their chameleonware. I wasn't sure why they hadn't done that first; maybe they had an issue with power drain. In any case, it didn't matter; I painted them with my targeting laser, and put a maser shot past their bows just to make my point.

    "I can see you," I warned them, quite unnecessarily. "Power down, now, before I decide to chop you up into bite-sized chunks and sift through the rubble by hand."

    Finally, I got a response. Incoming transmission, Sean warned me, via my aug.

    Sift the attack code out of it and give me the rest, I replied the same way.

    That there would be attack software appended to the message, I had no doubt. My caution was quickly rewarded; Sean whistled softly as he sorted through it. I don't think he likes you. How did you know?

    Long experience,
    I replied. He's not the sort to roll over and play dead.

    "Okay, you've got me."
    Kramer's voice was taut with anger and frustration, mirrored by his expression as Sean put his image on my virtual display. "What do you want from me now, bitch?"

    I grinned. “Now, is that any way to speak to your ex-wife?”

    His reply was sulphurous, bordering on the apoplectic. “Fuck you!” he screamed, after he'd calmed down somewhat. “You fucking led me on -”

    “You tried to kill me, Kramer,” I reminded him.

    You tried to kill me first!” he retorted.

    “I caught you cheating on me with those catadapt twins,” I snapped. “How was I supposed to react? Join in?”

    You didn't have to pull out a pulse pistol and start shooting! he bellowed.

    I rolled my eyes. The incident had been more than twenty years ago. Some people held a grudge for far too long. “I only wanted to scare the catgirls away. And maybe wing you a little.”

    He subsided, glaring. I glared right back. It took Sean clearing his non-existent throat in my ear to snap me back to my current purpose.

    “Okay, Kramer,” I gritted. “We've got history. But I'm not here about that. I'm here to take back something you've got on board. Then I'll go my way, you'll go yours, and we can each try to forget that the other even exists.”

    Do I even have a choice?” he asked, grimacing.

    “Not much of one, no,” I admitted. “Of course, if a Prador dreadnought emerged from U-space right behind you, I'd give you the codes so we could both get the hell out, but anything short of that, I am gonna get what I want.”

    Yeah, that much hasn't changed,” he muttered.

    “So,” I told him brightly, “you're going to open your main lock, and have your crew all standing in plain view when I come in. If I see one hand on one gun, the average number of hands per crewmember on your ship is going to go down.”

    So what is it you're after?” he asked. “If I can have it ready for you to take, it'll make your job easier.”

    Now he sounded helpful and cooperative. It made sense; the less time I took, the faster he could go elsewhere and sell off his shady goods.

    I didn't trust him for a picosecond.

    “It's stolen goods. Doesn't belong to you,” I told him flatly.

    Well, that doesn't narrow it down much,” he replied blankly.

    “Not supposed to,” I agreed. “Just have all your crew out in plain view. Unarmed. Combat mods powered down. I've got good analysis software; I'll know.”

    They'll cooperate,” he assured me.

    “Good.” I cut the com, and smiled slightly. He hadn't said 'we', he'd said 'they'. He obviously didn't intend to cooperate. That was fine; I didn't intend to trust him.

    As I climbed into the EV suit, I accessed my aug. Sean, make sure he doesn't try anything tricky outside his ship. Let me know if you spot anything wonky.

    His warm Scottish burr was always thicker when action was possibly imminent. I'll do that for you, lass.

    Checking to make sure that my pulse pistol was secure in its thigh holster – it wasn't the one I'd used to break up his threesome, all those years ago, but it was a close cousin – I picked up the other essential package that I'd need, and let myself out through the airlock.

    There weren't any grav-plates outside the Bond James Bond, but the suit's gecko-grip soles stuck nicely to the hull of my ship. Extending my arm, I called up a reticle in my mind's eye, centred the target, and let fly. There was barely any jolt as the launcher on my left wrist expelled a grappler, which reeled out monofilament wire behind it.

    It whipped across the intervening distance at what would have been somewhat more than sonic speed, had there been air to carry sound, and smacked into the Gambler's Ruin amidships. Molecular polarisation made it the stickiest thing around; when the reel began to wind in, I was drawn along without straining the bond at all.

    I didn't travel quite as fast as the grapple-head had gone, but then, nor did I need to. Behind me, Sean would be keeping a very close electronic eye on the Ruin, both inside and out. The inhibitor program that I'd bribed a tech to install in the other ship's computer was a useful thing; it would also be allowing Sean access to his internal sensors. Of course, as soon as I was gone, Kramer would be scouring it from his systems, and be immune to it thereafter. But I only needed it this once.

    It was almost peaceful, there between the two ships. No demands on me, nothing near me except two tiny ships in a big, big universe. Ahead, I could see the active paintwork on the Ruin's nose, depicting a pair of old-style dotted dice rolling and breaking into fragments, before reforming and rolling once more. It was a nice touch; I admired it.

    When I was close enough to the Gambler's Ruin, I twisted my body so that I was falling 'down' toward the ship, and slowed my rate with the compressed-gas thrusters that ran up each suit leg. I landed lightly on the outer hull of the ship, my gecko-soles gripping immediately, and reeled in the remaining mono-cord. Then I stepped over to the side of the lock, its door opened wide. Invitingly so.

    I trusted it even less than I trusted Kramer.

    All good your end? I asked Sean.

    Seems to be, he agreed.

    He opened the lock for me, I noted. Be a dear and see how he booby-trapped it for me, will you?

    You really do not trust the man,
    he noted.

    I was married to him for eleven years, I replied. I have a good idea of how his mind works.

    If you don't trust or like him, why did you stay married that long?
    His voice was curious.

    I was young and stupid, he's very persuasive, and we never spent much time together that wasn't in bed, I sent back, a wry smile twisting my face.

    Ah. Of course. Sean almost sounded embarrassed. But then, his emulation programs were very good. Sorry for prying.

    Hey, we're partners,
    I told him. We share the good and the bad. About the airlock?

    More bad there, I'm afraid,
    he informed me. He's managed to rig it so that when it pressurises, it'll fill to about ten atmospheres, then eject you into space. He's also got two people trying to aug into his systems, to get them back online.

    ETA for that?

    Not long,
    he admitted. Fifteen minutes, maybe a little less. He has some good people.

    I was impressed; I'd been given a verbal guarantee of thirty-five minutes minimum. Well, let's see if we can't be gone by then.

    What are you going to do about the airlock?


    I grinned. Not my airlock.

    Oh dear.


    Swinging myself into the airlock, I felt the grav-plates engage, and I went from looking down at it to standing in it. As part of the same move, I swiped something off of my belt and slapped it on the inner door. The outer door closed solidly, and I engaged the locking latch. Air began to blast into the airlock interior at somewhat over normal pressure; I could feel the jets from where I stood.

    My aug made the connection to the micro-mine that I'd slapped on to the door as I retreated to the far corner of the airlock; I told it to detonate before the air pressure could get high enough to transmit any sort of shockwave. The crack was sharp, almost shrill, in the tenuous atmosphere, and a loud buzzer sounded, along with a flashing yellow light. An abortive clicking in the inner lock door indicated that someone was trying to secure it, but the micro-mine had disabled that particular mechanism, and not by coincidence. As the air pressure reached E-normal and rose above it, I toggled the inner door and pushed it open.

    As indicated, the crew of the Gambler's Ruin was all standing in the main area. Kramer had obviously gathered that I would have scan data on the whole ship, so he wasn't trying to hide anyone. It was about the only thing he wasn't trying to hide; I had no doubt but that the few items of smuggled goods I could see were things he'd decided he could afford to lose. And of course he and his tech people were doing their best to pretend not to concentrate their every effort on breaking the grip the inhibitor program had on their computers.

    But that was fine. I gave Kramer a cursory glance; he still had the striking looks that had attracted me, back when I lacked any sort of good judgement in men. He still had it, I saw; there were several women among the crew who seemed to hang close to him, almost protectively. I almost smiled; in an emergency, Kramer would think about Kramer first, last and always.

    I let my eyes rove over the rest, while casually plucking my pulse pistol from the holster and letting it dangle negligently by my side. I knew what Kramer had tried to do to me; he knew what I'd done to circumvent it. We didn't even bring up the matter.

    Or rather, I didn't feel like bringing it up, and if he brought it up, I had a pistol at hand. That sort of thing tends to win arguments.

    Among the rest of his crew, he had two Golem that I could spot, a catadapt – male, this one – several nondescript humans of one stripe or another, a seadapt, a true-human from Cull, and what looked like a hooper from Spatterjay. I tilted my head in apparent curiosity. “You,” I ordered, gesturing to the seadapt, apparently a teenage boy. “Come here a moment.”

    The kid glanced at Kramer, who hesitated for a long moment; I twitched the pistol upward slightly, and Kramer grimaced. “Do what she says, boy,” he ordered.

    Reluctantly, the seadapt approached me. “What?” he asked me, glancing nervously at Kramer again.

    I jerked my chin upward. “What's a seadapt doing in a spaceship, especially one without a submerge tank? Long way from your preferred environment.”

    “I, uh, I'm working my passage,” he jerked out, swallowing nervously.

    This close, he was a work of art. I'd met a few frog-like amphidapts, but no seadapts, at least not in person. His skin was a glittery sheen of scales, and the thick-lipped gills on either side of his abdomen pulsed and gaped occasionally. He had nictitating membranes like mine, but his were thick and obvious; when he blinked, they wiped across his large, wide-set eyes like silvery polishing cloths.

    I noted fins on his arms and legs that were currently laid flat, but could probably be raised, along with one laying flat on his hairless head. His fingers were extensively webbed, as were his toes, but it seemed that he could retract the webbing for manual purposes. His only item of clothing – a pair of utilitarian shorts – concealed whatever the 'dapt process had done for his love life.

    “Huh.” I pondered a moment. “Not any more. Get behind me. Into the lock.”

    “What?” He was startled, but I saw hope and fear rising in his eyes, in equal quantities.

    “I'm your rescue, kid,” I told him, tossing him the flat-packed EV suit that I'd carried over from the Bond James Bond. “Get that on. We're leaving.”

    Startled he may have been, but he was also very quick on the uptake. He had the pack open and was stepping into it by the time Kramer realised that I was serious. “Hey, wait,” he protested, stepping forward. “You can't -”

    My arm snapped up and he was looking into the muzzle of my pulse pistol. “I can and I will. I said I'd be taking one stolen item. That's him. Reynaud James Klovis VII, heir to the Klovis billions.” I kept reciting, not even needing to access my aug. “Kidnapped from his family's estate three weeks ago, occasioning the destruction of several Golem and necessitating the restoration of half a dozen human security from memplant. There is a very large bounty out on each and every member of the team that snatched him.”

    “That wasn't us,” Kramer told me hastily. “We're just taking him someplace safe.”

    “I knew it wasn't you,” I agreed. “Which is why I'm just taking junior home again. The reward is approximately my weight in etched sapphires, which will set me up for quite a while.”

    “Look, if you want, we can cut you in -” he began; my pistol, which had begun to lower, raised to point straight into his face once more.

    “Not interested,” I told him flatly. “I'll be taking young Klovis, and I won't be telling anyone where I found him, and you can go your merry way.”

    “Ready,” reported the kid from behind me; I spared half a glance, and he was just fastening the last seam.

    Kramer tried to jump me in that instant; I shot him in the knee, low power, and he sprawled. But other crew members were reaching behind their backs, and I knew it wasn't to relieve lower back pain.

    “Into the lock, now!” I snapped, leaping backward, and fanning fire across the rest of the crewmembers. Some dived for cover, some went down, and some returned fire. I pulled the lock door to and engaged the latch; one or two shots made it in before the heavy metal door blocked them out.

    It wouldn't hold them long, but I didn't need it to. I slapped another micro-mine on the outer door, braced myself, and triggered it. The wave of overpressure wasn't pleasant, but Reynaud stood it better than me; of course, being seadapt, he would be better equipped to handle variations in pressure. At least, I hoped so.

    Airlocks normally didn't open until one side or the other was equalised with the outside pressure. I had defeated both safety measures by the simple measure of puncturing the door; as I had intimated to Sean, it wasn't my airlock. My mine had wrecked the mechanism holding the door closed, so I turned the manual latch, and it opened, spilling us into vacuum.

    Reynaud's suit inflated to full size in an instant; it was a cheap, minimum-feature piece of crap I carried around because it took up little room. It would hold one atmosphere indefinitely, but didn't come with air packs. As we tumbled slowly away from the Gambler's Ruin, I grasped him firmly, returning my pistol to its holster once more. Then I fed a line from my EV suit to a socket on his.

    “Can you hear me?” I asked him out loud; the line had a speaker and a microphone in it, as well as other things.

    I can hear you,” he responded. “What happens now?”

    “What happens now is that you hold tight to me and I correct our spin,” I told him pragmatically. He did as he was told; I used my leg-thrusters to bring us on to a heading where I could see the Bond James Bond, lying almost invisible against the starscape, five kilometres away.

    “Keep hanging on,” I told him. “But don't foul my left arm.”

    He obeyed; no doubt, he'd been through security drills before, and the one thing that had been pounded into his scaly skull was when you don't know what's going on, stay calm and do what you're told.

    Behind me, I knew that the crew of the Gambler's Ruin would be arming themselves and suiting up, and making their way to other airlocks; the one I had ruined would not be a way out for any of them at this moment. Those who I had not shot, that is. Those ones would be nursing very painful burns. But I wouldn't put it past Kramer to come after me anyway. That man could hold a grudge.

    My reticle firmed up and I loosed the shot, just as Sean's voice came up in my ears.

    Don't want to rush you, lass, but they're out of the ship now, and there's blood in their eye.

    I'm on it,
    I assured him, just as the grapple-head hit and stuck to my ship. Okay, if you can back up just a little while I'm reeling in?

    Roger that, lass,
    he replied; I felt the acceleration away from the Gambler's Ruin as I cut in the rewind function, and we started moving away faster than the mechanism was capable of pulling us.

    What?” gasped Reynaud. “What's got us?”

    “My ship,” I told him. “Just relax, and hang on.”

    He relaxed, and hung on. Several shots crackled past us, but we were small targets, and receding rapidly. We reeled in, and the Bond James Bond came closer, all the while we drew away from the Gambler's Ruin.

    If you'll detach now, I'll catch you in the main airlock,
    Sean instructed me. We may need to hurry. They've almost cracked the Inhibitor, and the crew are being recalled inside.

    That wasn't a good thing. The Gambler's Ruin was several times larger than the Bond James Bond, and the mess they could make of us, once free of electronic shackles, would be substantial.

    I detached the monowire and retracted it, then used my leg thrusters to bring us around once more. Reynaud didn't struggle, but his eyes widened as he saw my ship for the first time; it was apparently approaching us at a rather alarming speed. We were going to land feet-first in the airlock.

    We're going to hit -” he blurted, then shut himself up. I mentally assigned him another mark for clear thinking; he had obviously realised that I already knew what was going on.

    Seconds before we were due to hit, Sean propelled the ship sideways on thrusters, so that we seemed to slow abruptly; when we did touch down, my gecko soles adhering nicely, it was with barely a bump.

    I kept hold of Reynaud – his suit wasn't equipped with gecko-grip, and had I let go, he would have bounced out into the void once more – and grabbed a handrail. After a moment, he did the same, and we brought our feet down to the 'floor' of the airlock. The outer hatch closed, and we both felt the lock filling with air – to one E-standard atmosphere this time, not the ten that Kramer had intended for me.

    As soon as the pressure matched, I opened the inner hatch and headed for the cockpit. I felt the line I had attached to Reynaud pull free, but that didn't matter; we were both in atmosphere again. Popping my helmet, I lifted it off my head. “Unseal and grab a seat, kid,” I told him. “We're gonna have to make some high Gs to get clear before I can use my U-space engines.”

    There were a couple of acceleration chairs back in the body of the Bond James Bond, but Reynaud was obviously determined not to just be a passenger any more. As I strapped myself into the pilot's seat – not that I was really needed there, as Sean could run the ship just as well as I could – the seadapt climbed into the seat beside me, already reaching for the straps.

    The very instant his restraints clicked home, a warning buzzer sounded, and the ship bucked violently. For a moment I thought that the Gambler's Ruin had shot at us, but it was merely Sean turning tail and piling on the Gs.

    They've overcome it, Sean reported a moment later. Now they'll be coming after us.

    “Out loud, please Sean,” I requested.

    Certainly,” he responded. “The Gambler's Ruin has overcome the inhibitor program, and will be coming after us. By the way, I'm Sean, and welcome to the Bond James Bond.”

    “Uh, thanks,” Reynaud replied. “And thanks for the rescue. That was really smooth.”

    I smiled at the praise, pushing back the hair over my aug in an unconscious motion. “That's okay. Kramer and I have a history. It was nice to be able to kick him in the balls one more time.”

    “Wow, really?” he asked. “You don't look much older than me.”

    I had to admit, I was flattered. I like to think that I look good, and anti-ageing treatments are cheap. I prefer the 'elf' look; platinum hair, pointy ears, huge silver-blue eyes in a triangular face, the whole deal. This comes with a slender, waif-like build, but skeletal reinforcement and muscular enhancement means that I can still bench as much as your regular adult male. Unenhanced, of course. The weights that those high-G brutes can dead-lift is ridiculous. And don't get me started on hoopers.

    “Keep dreaming, kid,” I chuckled. “I parted ways with Kramer twenty-five years ago, and I was married to him for eleven years before that.”

    He blinked, assimilating that. “Huh,” he mused. “I can see it, but I've really got to look.”

    “Well, we're going to be spending a lot more time in each others' company,” I noted. “My U-space engine isn't the strongest, so until we can reach a planet with a runcible gate, we're going to be days in transit.”

    As I spoke, I was using my aug to call up data on the pursuing ship. They had more engine power; I had less mass to accelerate. Kramer must have been redlining his engines, because he was creeping up on me, despite Sean pushing our engine to what he considered to be our safe limit.

    A spark flared on the ship, and suddenly, we were rolling to the side, the conflicting forces making my inner ear slosh uncomfortably. Something shot past us, lighting up the void.

    “ … and they're shooting at us,” I muttered. “Wonderful.”

    “Can you shoot back?”

    I looked at Reynaud. “I could, but I don't want to waste missiles. Besides, we're almost there.”

    “Almost where?” he asked.

    “Almost ready to hit U-space,” I informed him. “Ready, Sean?”

    Ready when you are.”

    “Do it.”

    Barely had the words left my mouth when a siren sounded. Sean's voice blared from the speakers. “Contra-”

    The glare from behind us, and the tremendous jolt coincided with the entry into U-space. It felt like we were tumbling; certainly, it did not feel like any U-space transit that I had ever experienced before.

    - terrene device,” finished Sean. “I'm picking up some really weird energy readings.”

    “From the explosion?” I called up the data he was looking at, and he was right. The readings were really weird.

    Your guess is as good as mine. Uh, there's a fluctuation in the U-space engine now. It doesn't look good, and it's getting worse.”

    “How far have we travelled? Are we away from Kramer?”

    Undoubtedly.”

    “Good. Drop out of U-space and see if we can't do some repairs before we move on.”

    Good idea.”

    The return to realspace was almost as wrenching as the entry into U-space. The Bond James Bond was shuddering all over by the time we were fully back into the real. I drew a deep breath and looked around. Nothing seemed to be on fire, and I didn't hear any atmosphere leaks.

    “Well, that was fun,” I noted. “Gimme a full diagnostic and a location, so we know which way to run for a Polity planet.”

    That's … really weird,” Sean observed slowly.

    “What is?” I pulled up his data on my aug. Then I blinked. “Shit, that is weird.”

    “What's weird?” asked Reynaud.

    I looked at him. “I'll send it to your aug.”

    “I don't have one,” he pointed out. And it was true; he didn't.

    “Why the hell not?” I asked. “It's not like your family's not rich enough to afford one.”

    He shook his head. “Grandpa always said that we had to reach twenty-one without using one. That way we'd learn to think for ourselves before letting an aug take over for us.”

    “Huh.” That was almost as weird as what Sean and I had discovered.

    “So what's weird?” he asked again.

    “Well, we seem to have arrived in the Sol system,” I told him slowly. “But there are aberrations. Anachronisms. No sign of the Mars settlements. No space travel at all, in fact. Nothing in the asteroid belt, or around Jupiter.”

    I'm detecting electronic life signs from Earth, of course,” Sean put in. “But nothing of the volume I would have expected.”

    “It's almost as if we've arrived in the past,” I muttered.

    “But that's impossible,” protested Reynaud. “Isn't it?”

    Not … impossible,” Sean told us. “Just very difficult to pull off. It's called a time-inconsistent jump. More usually doable with runcibles, with the huge downside that you will destroy everything within a large radius of the starting runcible, depending on how far you go in distance and time. But all the evidence suggests that we've pulled one off with our U-space jump. Very likely with the assistance of Kramer's CTD.”

    “Well, fuck.” I let my head lower forward until my forehead was resting on the console. It was cool on my skin.

    “So, uh, how far back are we?” asked Reynaud practically. “A hundred years? Two hundred? A thousand?”

    That should be relatively easy to work out,” Sean noted. “Let me see … hmm. Relative positions … general state of observed technology … I would guess that it's on the extremely close order of five hundred seventy-three years. Plus or minus ten years.”

    “So what's the date?” I asked, without raising my head.

    For that, you'll have to land and buy a newspaper,” Sean replied with an electronic chuckle. “But my best guess at the year is … two thousand and eleven.”

    “Well,” observed Reynaud. “Damn.”


    End of Part One

    Part Two
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2015
  3. Rentoba

    Rentoba Shocked Panda

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    Well... it's certainly interesting. Alas I have never read this Polity series so I have no idea what the crossover means for Earth Bet. That said, it's very well written and I'm looking forward to reading more.
     
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  4. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Glossary of terms inserted in the index.
     
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  5. alethiophile

    alethiophile Shadowed Philosopher Administrator

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    Well, this looks fascinating.

    Never read Polity, though I think I've heard it mentioned. Be interesting to see how it runs into Bet.
     
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  6. daemonkeeper

    daemonkeeper Getting sticky.

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    To be blunt...

    This looks amazing
     
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  7. steamrick

    steamrick Wisdom is in pursuit, but I'm faster!

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    I'll admit I've never even heard of Polity. So far I've been able to keep up (it's just another scifi setting really) though I guess there have been a few spoilers should I ever get into it.
     
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  8. Threadmarks: Part Two: Reynaud
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    War Games

    Part Two: Reynaud


    AG: anti-gravity.

    avidapt: human with bird-like genetic adaptations.

    Centurion class: heavy Polity warship.

    Chainglass: a substance consisting of chained silicon molecules. Transparent as glass, tougher than steel plate.

    Grav-planing: using AG rather than thrusters to maintain altitude.

    Ian Cormac: Main character of the first Polity series. Extremely capable secret agent.

    Occam Razor: a huge battleship, veteran of the Prador Wars.

    Shimmer-shield: light, selectively permeable force field

    Skaidon-Craystein experiment: a ground-breaking event where a human genius entered into direct mind-to-mind connection with an AI. This led directly to the invention of runcible technology.

    Telefactored: remote controlled. A robot being telefactored is called a 'telefactor'.

    Ursidapt: human with genetic adaptations derived from bear DNA


    I had a little bruising on my shoulders where the straps had bitten in during the high-G manoeuvres, but I wasn't about to complain. Captain Hastings had performed a rescue worthy of the legendary Ian Cormac himself, and we were both alive and well, despite having had a CTD thrown at us just before we entered U-space.

    Of course, we were also kind of far from home, but I wasn't about to complain about that, either. Growing up as the Klovis heir apparent, I hadn't exactly been smothered, but there had been a distinct lack of adventure in my life. Where my peers were skydiving from orbit or doing endurance treks across Syrtis Major, the most my parents allowed me to do was get a seadapt genemod, so I could indulge in my hobby; that is, study of the evolving biology of the Pacific Basin. And even then, I had been shadowed by telefactored robots, alert for the slightest sign of danger.

    I had no doubt, now, that the telefactors were only the visible surface of the security that had surrounded me, that I had been under constant surveillance from every angle, just so that I could pretend I was alone at the bottom of the ocean. The cost must have been staggering, but Mother and Father had let me go ahead with it anyway.

    Ironically, the environment had supplied the greater part of the security around me; three kilometres down, unadapted humans could not come close without the aid of expensive tech, and any moving object more than a few centimetres in size would have been scanned to a fare-thee-well. It's hard to pretend to be a lost tourist when it costs hundreds of thousands just to be down there at all.

    Which was undoubtedly why the snatch team had waited until I was on the surface, relaxing at the family estate. It was not so much a chink in the security, as a gradual lowering of security levels from 'high' to 'medium', given that Mother and Father were away on a lunar vacation, that heralded the attack.

    I had not known much of it; my first intimation of trouble had come when I was hauled from the saltwater pool where I was trying to establish coral growth by one of our Golem security. Lacking an aug, I had to make do with a hasty explanation that a chameleoned craft had been spotted grav-planing in over the ocean, and was mere moments away.

    In fact the craft that the security scanners had acquired had dropped its chameleonware deliberately, and was the decoy for the other two to hit the Sardinia estate from the landward side. Even as the debris from the first craft was still pattering to the surface of the Tyrrhenian Sea, I was being hustled toward the bunker under the main house.

    But we never got there; the attackers ruthlessly used heavy weapons to mow down the Golem and enhanced humans who massed to oppose them. The security codes had been leaked, or someone had been sharp enough to infiltrate the security system and take them, because after taking out the decoy, the estate security systems simply shut down.

    A highly accurate burst of railgun fire served to obliterate the Golem – his name was Lance – who was trying to drag me to cover. I ran then, not for the house but for the perimeter fence. On the other side of that was a twelve metre cliff, overlooking the ocean. Primed for a dry-land grab, perhaps they would not be able to track and capture me in the ocean, whereas I would have been in my element, and I knew every centimetre of the undersea terrain for kilometres around.

    Unfortunately, they were ahead of me there as well; a stun shot caught me before I was well on my way. I passed out, and woke up aboard the Gambler's Ruin.

    Captain Kramer wasn't a cruel man, but he wasn't a good man either. Neither appeals to his better nature, nor offers of a reward greater than he was likely to be getting for this job, seemed to get through to him. I was set to doing menial tasks around the ship, never getting the opportunity to get close to the controls or communications. There seemed no chance of escape, and my own personal prospects had been looking grim, given that a couple of the crew had been showing more and more of a personal interest in me.

    The arrival of Geneva Hastings had overturned all of that, and I had begun to foster hope, hope that I would be allowed to return to the safe, secure boredom of normal life. This, of course, was not to be.

    <><>​

    “ … not to be,” I sub-vocalised, just loudly enough for the implant micro-recorder within my left cheekbone to pick up. It was a habit I had picked up in my research trips out into the Pacific, to narrate everything I saw and heard, and sift through it later with the aid of the house AI. The recorder was extremely minimal, not even picking up vision or any sound other than my own voice, for which it was keyed, but it was also very rugged, powered by my body heat, and would probably outlast me.

    Which, given our current situation, was looking more and more likely all the time.

    “So what do we do now?” I asked out loud. I was fairly sure that Sean had detected the recorder, and had relayed the fact of it to Captain Hastings, which was probably why neither of them had queried me mumbling to myself.

    Captain Hastings turned to me, her eyes slightly unfocused in the manner one learns to recognise as the mark of someone viewing aug projections in the mind's eye. “We get closer, but we do it carefully. Sean's picked up some extremely odd readings, and I want to see what the hell's going on before we stick our noses in and maybe get them chopped off.”

    I frowned. “Didn't you say this was a pre-runcible culture?” I knew, of course, when the Skaidon-Craystein experiment had taken place; it wasn't due to happen for another hundred seventy-nine years. “Surely they don't have anything capable of detecting us, even if we cruise in on AG.”

    I wouldn't be so sure, lad,” the AI responded. “Just to be thorough, I ran a complete battery of sensor scans, even for signals that should not normally be present in the here and now. Most such were absent. But this one is why Geneva and I were conferring while you updated your diary.”

    I let the reference to my recorder slide by while I focused on the image that Sean now projected up before the chainglass forward viewport. It was the planet, now half an AU away, that to all intents and purposes looked like the Earth where I had grown up. Minus, of course, the accumulated results of half a millennium of civilisation. And plus … I stared. On every continent except Antarctica, clustering where cities seemed to be located, were hundreds of thousands of tiny blue dots. Some of them were moving, visibly, across the face of the world.

    “What is that? It looks almost like … “

    “No 'almost' about it,” Captain Hastings told me grimly. “Earth or not, five hundred years in the past or not, that place is lousy with U-space disturbances. And I have no idea what's generating them. So before we make contact, before we even show ourselves, I really do want to get a closer look, see what we're dealing with.”

    It didn't make sense; I couldn't work it out. My nictitating membranes slid across my eyes and back; I felt my fin-crest erecting in my consternation, the blood vessels expanding to release waste heat to the air. “But … U-space technology means runcibles. And they didn't get invented this far back.”

    “As far as we know, kid,” Captain Hastings corrected me. “But something's generating all those signatures, and I need to find out what.”

    <><>​

    We crept closer, using the Moon for cover. Captain Hastings had a couple of drones on board – nothing sapient, each one telefactored by Sean – but she didn't want to release them too soon. The AI kept updating the scans, but could not find any active devices on the Moon, in lunar orbit, or even anything significant in Earth orbit. Dumb satellites only, with less processing power than in my implant recorder.

    I made myself useful by unstrapping and going back to the minuscule galley that had been crammed into the Bond James Bond. Captain Hastings preferred a New Carth blend of Darjeeling tea, whereas I mixed myself up a cocoa drink that Sean assured me was utterly free of caffeine. My genemod form has few drawbacks, but caffeine is one of them; it makes me violently nauseous.

    Once Captain Hastings was sure that we were totally hidden from Earth by the bulk of its primary satellite, she gunned the fusion engines; we fell swiftly toward the cratered landscape below. The grav-plates compensated for the surge of acceleration; the drinks barely rippled in their cups as we powered straight down, seemingly to our inevitable destruction.

    Not that I was worried; in the short time that I had known Captain Hastings, I had formed a strong impression of her. She was stubborn, fearless, competent, professional, and possessed a distinct sense of humour. I also suspected that I was forming a crush on her, not in the least bit hindered by our different ages. But that aside, I knew full well that she was neither careless nor suicidal, and that she knew the performance of the Bond James Bond to the last decimal point. So I relaxed, and drank cocoa, while the surface of the Moon leaped up at us.

    With barely a kilometre to go, the ship's nose eased upward, pulling us out of the vertiginous dive. In a holomovie, the struts would have groaned and lights would have dimmed; perhaps a minor system would have blown, sputtering sparks across the cabin. But nothing like that happened here; I felt perhaps a little heavier, the result of the grav-plates not being able to disperse quite all of the pseudo-Gs of the pullout, but nothing to worry about.

    By the time we reached level flight, we were hammering along at about three hundred yards above the undulating surface of Farside. The AG balanced the weaker pull of the satellite below us, and the fusion thrusters drove us along at speeds that would surely have seen us fined to a fare-thee-well, had Captain Hastings tried the same stunt in the same place in our time. She grinned at me; I grinned back. Despite the fact that we were not technically breaking any laws, this was fun.

    Abruptly, she cut the drive, and we coasted ahead, surfing on the AG. Tiny inconsistencies in the gravitational constant of the Moon provided wobbles and bumps, which gradually slowed us down. “Nearside coming up,” she announced, and Sean provided a globe of the Moon, with us as a red dot, approaching an invisible terminator line in the moonscape ahead of us.

    We drifted forward; the terminator slid beneath us.

    And the Earth slowly rose.

    <><>​

    With the merest application of forward thrusters, we hung motionless over the lunar surface, while the Earth depended in the void before us, just above a distant line of craggy mountains. I stared at it; so beautiful, so close. Homesickness arose in my heart, and I pushed it down. This might be an Earth, but it wasn't my Earth.

    “Can I get surface imagery?” I asked. “None of the anomalous readings, just the actual globe.”

    Certainly, lad,” Sean agreed, and the partial globe formed before me, formed from the visual data that Sean had gleaned. “You know, before this is over, we might need to fit you with an aug.”

    I glanced up. “You've got one, here?”

    “We do,” Captain Hastings replied, as she undoubtedly studied a virtual image of the same globe I was looking at, but from within her virtual workspace. “But we'll hold off on that. Don't want you falling afoul of your grandfather.”

    I nodded. “He does get a bit crusty. But I've only got two years to go. By then I'll need it, if I'm going to get into the really intensive study projects.”

    “Study?” she asked absently. “I would have thought you'd be preparing to take over the family business.”

    I snorted. “Not until I've passed my first century. I'm to get all of my 'enthusiasms' out of the way first, as Mother and Father put it. Also, that sort of thing apparently gives me 'valuable life experience'.” My tone of voice, as I turned the globe with hand gestures in the air, made it clear what I thought of that phrase.

    “Some of it more than others,” agreed Hastings dryly. “Whoa, that's interesting.”

    “So's this,” I responded, framing my fingers and then pulling them apart to get a closer look at the surface of the Earth. “This is … wrong.”

    She blinked, her nictitating membranes flickering across her eyes almost too fast to see. “What's wrong?”

    “This is the Japanese island chain,” I told her. “There are supposed to be three main islands. Hokkaido, Honshu and Kyushu.”

    She looked more closely. “I count two.”

    I nodded. “That's because Kyushu isn't there.”

    She blinked again, more slowly. “Not there?”

    He's correct, lass,” Sean put in. “The entire landmass has been displaced downward by roughly a thousand metres. I'm reading faint traces of what must be corroding buildings and other items in the area.”

    Captain Hastings' eyes were wide. “It wouldn't be too hard to do something like that back home,” she muttered. “But how would they do something like that here?”

    “Uh, some sort of natural disaster?” I ventured, then paused. “No, wait, it can't be. That never happened in recorded history.”

    It's not the only disaster that's happened here,” Sean noted. “I'm picking up areas of higher than normal radiation, devastated cities, some that look abandoned or nearly so. Some coastal areas look like they've been hit by highly concentrated weather effects. Far more than should be normal.”

    “Okay, that's weird,” I agreed. “What did you find, Captain?”

    “Eastern horizon, Sean,” she stated quietly.

    My globe disappeared, and the entire chainglass screen vanished behind the holopic thus created. It had depth; I felt that I could reach into it. It was the edge of the world, to the right-hand edge; what would be the 'east', if we were on the ground. There was a speck there, hanging above the atmosphere.

    “What is that?” I asked. “A satellite?”

    In answer, Sean zoomed in; the picture rotated, and we were looking at it. Or rather, her.

    I had no idea of scale, but what we were seeing was a woman, or something that looked like a woman. She had wings growing from her back, like an angel, or like an avidapt on a low-grav world or orbital habitat. But that was where it broke down; the wings had other wings sprouting from them, at odd angles and sizes. There was no symmetry, and when I tried to make sense of it, my head began to hurt.

    “That's no satellite.” Captain Hastings kept her voice low, despite the fact that we were in a spaceship cockpit, surrounded by vacuum, four hundred thousand kilometres away from the thing. “I'm not sure what it is, but it's a locus of some of that U-space disturbance. A big locus.”

    “It looks like a woman,” I burbled inanely, my brain obviously deciding that I had to say something.

    It's four metres tall, lad,” Sean informed me. “It's alive, or at least animate, but there are no organic life readings from it. Nor AG. Despite the fact that – hang on!”

    Instinctively, I grabbed for the arm-rests, and not a moment too soon. Sean rolled the Bond James Bond inverted and slammed on full AG, which resulted in us dropping out of the lunar sky considerably faster than a rock would fall on Earth. He rolled us out of the death dive bare metres from the rocky terrain, and slowly lowered us to the ground. As our landing gear crunched down, Captain Hastings carefully placed her cup on the console.

    “What was that all about?” she asked conversationally.

    When we began discussing the anomalous being,” Sean told us, “it was slowly revolving around its axis. It slowed to a halt, and then turned its head. To look directly at us.”

    At us,” she repeated flatly. “That's impossible. You were running full chameleonware.”

    I was, but it didn't seem to matter,” confirmed Sean. “Here, I'll show you.”

    Up in front of the screen, he place the recorded holo-image. It showed the female winged figure, slowly turning. Stopping. Turning her head. There could be no mistaking it; her viewpoint was directly towards us. Sean stepped the recording forwards, one-tenth of a second at a time, until the image was cut off by the mountains now hiding us from Earth. The last clear picture of the thing showed something that sent chills down my back.

    She had smiled.

    <><>​

    “What were you saying just before we ducked for cover?” asked Captain Hastings. I handed her a fresh cup of tea, and a plate of reconstituted cookies, and she smiled her thanks at me.

    Settling down in my own seat, I buckled my lapstrap before sipping at my cocoa. The desolate landscape rolled away beneath us as we skimmed over the surface, seeking a point of view near the lunar north pole.

    I was going to make a comment to the effect that the entity's orbital speed and altitude did not match with a stable orbit,” Sean replied. “It should have been travelling much faster, if it was even the density of foamed plastic. There was no AG trace; I couldn't see how it was staying up.”

    “I get the strong impression that we should not get in that thing's way,” stated Captain Hastings. I didn't disagree. “Not least because it picked us up from our AG trace from nearly half a million klicks away. But also that it spotted us, knew it had scared us, and smiled about it.”

    “And, of course, because it's a huge locus of that U-space disturbance,” I noted.

    “That too,” she agreed.

    “How are the drones going?” I asked.

    They're clear of the Moon now,” Sean replied; he was flying them, as well as the Bond James Bond. “I'm sneaking peeks at the entity, but it does not appear to be noticing them. At least it's not turning to look at them.”

    “Maybe it's sensitive to people looking at it, thinking about it,” I suggested.

    “I've heard of stranger things,” agreed the Captain. “I've seen stranger things.”

    I fought in the Prador wars,” Sean commented, his voice unusually subdued. “And I heard the rumours about what happened to the Occam Razor. I don't know what we're facing here, but I suspect that it might be at least equally problematic.”

    Chills ran down my back again. I hadn't been around for either event, but I knew enough about the Prador Wars, at least, that if that entity scared Sean, then I had every right to be terrified.

    “So what are we going to do?” I asked. Vaguely, I recalled asking that same question before we had begun our approach to this version of Earth.

    “We record as much as we can,” Captain Hastings decided. “We check over the U-space engine. We make a run for it as soon as we've got all the data we can, or if that thing makes a move toward us. And we see if we can't transit back home, running the solution in reverse.”

    That's technically possible, lass,” Sean told us a heartbeat later. “But for one tiny problem.”

    “What's the problem?” she asked, an edge to her voice.

    The U-space engine,” he reported. “I've had a sub-mind running a diagnostic on it ever since we emerged. It's found damage from the entry stresses. Some components we have. Some we can rig. And some we don't have and can't rig.”

    She looked irritated. “Can we jury-rig from something else on the ship?”

    No, lass,” he told her. “We're lacking the materials, and the manufactory doesn't have the wherewithal to smelt the available raw ore to make said materials.”

    Fuck,” she growled. “Rock, meet hard place.”

    “Uh,” I ventured.

    She turned to face me. “What?”

    “Down there,” I told her, gesturing toward the currently-hidden Earth beyond the moon. “Hundreds of thousands of U-space disturbance traces.”

    Her face closed up in something approximating pain. “Please tell me you're not suggesting that we … “

    Sean cleared his electronic throat. “The lad has a point,” he observed. “Our best chance of repairing our U-space drive might very well rest with whoever or whatever is generating all that disturbance down there.”

    Captain Hastings set her jaw. If I didn't know her, I would have said she looked adorable. Instead, she just looked tough. “So you're saying we have to go down there.”

    So it seems.”

    “And talk to the locals.”

    Probably a better idea than just taking what we want.”

    “And survive long enough to get the parts made, the engine repaired, before we can figure out what sort of jump we need to do in order to get home.”

    A succinct description of the task at hand.”

    Captain Hastings smiled slowly. “Well, then. Let's figure out how to do it.”

    <><>​

    Hours passed, during which time I folded down a bunk in the rear of the ship and took a nap; it had been a wearying day. Captain Hastings seemed to be able to get by on Darjeeling and recon pastries; she spent the time conferring with Sean via aug while they went over the data that the drones were collecting.

    When I woke, I felt somewhat refreshed, although I was suffering from a nagging headache. Not having to worry about having one's erstwhile shipmates trying to sneak into one's bunk area was a huge relief, although some part of me wished that Captain Hastings would. Not that she thought of me in that way, of course. I was just a callow, inexperienced kid to her. While she'd probably never gone through this exact situation, it was likely that she had been in tight scrapes before now, and was far more ready for it than I was. I just hoped that I wouldn't get too much in the way …

    Lad, we're about ready to go down. Something seems to be happening.”

    I sat up immediately. “Okay, Sean, thanks. I'll be there straight away.”

    Splashing water on my face, and drinking a litre straight down, woke me up more, and the headache started to fade; I hadn't realised how dehydrated I was. I didn't have as big a problem with that as amphidapts did, but it wasn't a great idea for me to go without drinking for any length of time.

    “What's happening?” I asked, heading forward to the cockpit.

    Captain Hastings didn't look around as I strapped myself in; I noted that she had all straps fastened, so I did the same. “Once we got a full globe, Sean did a search for other coastline anomalies,” she told me. “Good catch on that, by the way.”

    My crest lifted momentarily in the closest I could come to a blush, but she was already continuing. “Honolulu, in Hawaii, is more or less underwater as well. Newfoundland has likewise been submerged. And there's a really strange one, on the northeast coast of the United States; a whole section of coastline is entirely at odds with our maps of the area, around the region of New Hampshire.”

    “Some sort of catastrophe?” I asked, my mouth dry despite the water I had ingested.

    We can't be sure,” Sean noted. “I accessed the local data grid; you may recall that they used to call it the Internet. No indication that this particular area was ever any different to the way it is now. There are other geographical oddities around the world, but that's the most striking one. However, there's more.”

    “Of course there is,” I agreed. “What's the bad news?”

    Captain Hastings turned to glance at me; she half-smiled before replying. “We have a line on what's causing the destruction. Including what sank Kyushu and Newfoundland, and caused a lot of death and devastation elsewhere. There are three creatures that the locals call 'Endbringers', for reasons that will become readily apparent. Every few months, they appear, destroy property and kill people., before they are driven away.”

    “Endbringers,” I repeated. “No, that doesn't sound ominous at all. What do they look like?”

    Brace yourself, lad,” Sean told me. “We've already encountered one.” And not at all to my surprise, the image of the winged woman went up on the screen. Flanking her were two others; a blocky thing that looked vaguely like a cyclops-eyed ursidapt with insane combat mods, and a lizardlike thing with a weird flat face and a long whippy tail. A human form beside them gave me scale, which didn't comfort me at all; any one of them could stomp me into paste.

    “Driven away?” I asked. “By what?” If these things can devastate cities and sink landmasses, what would they have here that can drive them away?

    By way of answer, a picture came up on the HUD; this was a 2D image, obviously a recording. Humans, in imaginative costumes. Flying. Emitting brightly-coloured energy from their hands.

    “Wait,” I protested. “Grav harnesses? Pulse weapons? I thought we'd agreed that local tech wasn't up to that.”

    “Not grav harnesses,” Captain Hastings told me. “Nor pulse weapons. That is, to the best of our understanding, self-powered. All of it.”

    I frowned. “Self-powered? How does that work, exactly?”

    We're still figuring that out, lad,” Sean observed, “but it seems to have something to do with the fact that each and every one of these powered humans seems to be connected to a U-space trace.”

    “Great,” I muttered. “So they're somehow tapping into U-space as an energy source?”

    “Somehow without smearing themselves all over nearby space-time, apparently so,” the Captain agreed. She gestured at the screen, where the globe of Earth had been growing steadily larger all the time we'd been talking. “However, remember that anomalous area in New Hampshire?”

    I had a really bad feeling about this. “Uh, yes?”

    “Well, the U-space disturbances in that area have been going crazy over the last half-hour or so. In addition, the local weather patterns have been twisting out of shape, converging rainclouds over the area. This is probably not unconnected with the fact that one of our super-loci – the lizard-thing, that the locals call Leviathan – is on the move toward there. Have a look.”

    At her unspoken command, the screen changed, showing a section of coastline, with a city in the middle of it. There was a bright blue dot far offshore, but approaching rapidly. Filaments of blue energy curled throughout the region, almost appearing to be dragging the clouds into place.

    “That's U-space ripples, right?”

    She nodded. “It is. But look at the city itself, and tell me what you see.”

    I looked. It took me a moment to get it, but when I did, it was obvious. “Those powered humans are coming into the city. Gathering to oppose the creature.”

    Aye, lad,” Sean replied, his accent stronger than ever. “That they are. And from the information we've gathered, they're going to be taking approximately twenty-five percent casualties when they face that thing.”

    The bad feeling was back. “We're going down there to help them, aren't we?”

    Captain Hastings nodded. “We are. The Bond James Bond might not be a Centurion-class, but we've still got some throw weight. And if we step in on the locals' side, it'll hopefully make them more amenable toward helping us out with U-space engine parts.”

    But we're not going to force you into this conflict,” Sean told me. “We can drop you off someplace first, if you wish.”

    I looked at Captain Hastings, and she looked back at me. “You risked your life to rescue me,” I told her.

    “For a large payout,” she reminded me, a slight smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.

    “You still did it,” I insisted. “I can't stand by now. I'm in.”

    She smiled more widely and clasped my forearm. “Good to hear. Let's do this thing.”

    <><>​

    The clouds were gathering now, with unnatural speed, mounding up over the location of the coastal city which appeared to be the destination of the thing called Leviathan. I stared at the depiction of its progress. “It's moving fast,” I commented. “Supercavitating?”

    “Your guess is as good as mine,” Captain Hastings replied. “Ever handled the controls of something like this?”

    I shook my head. “Only my parents' grav-limo, and only with the AI watching to make sure I didn't do anything stupid.”

    “Hm,” she replied. “Well, how do you feel about search and rescue?” She tilted her head toward the display. “I can see a lot of water coming down in a short time. And that thing looks to be dragging seawater toward shore. There might be flooding.”

    “Flooding, I can handle,” I assured her. “I'm good for fresh water as well as salt. I dived on Europa once, and I know first aid. I can do search and rescue.”

    “Good,” she told me. “There's a backpack filter lung in storage. Take it with you.”

    I frowned. “I won't be needing that,” I reminded her, gesturing at my gill slits.

    She smiled slightly. “I know. But your rescuees might.”

    “Oh.” I felt stupid.

    “It's okay,” she assured me, clasping my shoulder briefly. “I'm making this up as I go along, too.”

    That made me feel a little better, but not much. I glanced at the screen. “Where's the bird woman one?”

    I have the drones tracking it,” Sean told us. “They call it the Simurgh. It's currently over the Pacific, heading west.”

    “Good, so we're clear for a little while yet,” Captain Hastings noted. “I do not want to share airspace with that thing.”

    “What do you think it is? What they all are?” I asked. “Some sort of rogue superweapon? Got out of control, and now it's attacking its creators?”

    It wouldn't be the first time I've seen that sort of thing,” Sean observed sombrely. I waited, but he didn't elaborate. “But even with whatever's causing those U-space disturbances, I can't see them having the tech to create things like those. They're just too sophisticated.”

    “Anything on the grid about their origins?” asked Captain Hastings as we entered the cloud layer. Winds buffeted us; we rocked slightly. I unstrapped and went back to fetch the filter-lung.

    Nothing that I can find,” Sean replied. “Most people seem to think that they're some sort of super-mutated parahuman.”

    I decided that 'parahuman' was what they called the costumed people with the impossible U-space connections. “You think that's true?” I queried, returning as I shrugged into the slimline harness. It wouldn't allow me to erect my spinal crest, but I could deal with that. The breather mask sat just over my right shoulder.

    Insufficient data to reach a solid conclusion,” he replied briefly. “I'm cracking the local comm nets now.”

    As we watched, the dot neared the shore; despite our best efforts, it would reach there before we got into position. And then a huge swell of water built up and rolled in toward the city.

    "You've got to be kidding me," breathed Captain Hastings, as the wall of water swept in through the shallows. "That thing can create tsunamis on demand?"

    I was too shocked to even reply as the gigantic wave broke over the buildings nearest to shore. On the overlay, a mass of U-space traces abruptly disappeared from the wave's path, to pop up again farther inland.

    "Did they just do a U-space jump in atmosphere, in a gravity well?"

    Sean answered Captain Hastings' query. "It appears so. I would really like to know how they're doing that – oh."

    "Oh, what?" I asked nervously.

    "They've got an AI running the show."

    "Huh," Hastings commented. "Normally, I'd say 'that's impossible', but I'm learning new definitions of the word. Try to integrate our efforts with it." She turned to me. "I've got life signs in the water. People got sucked out to sea when the wave receded. Ready to go?"

    I tugged on a strap unnecessarily. "As I'll ever be."

    "Good." The airlock opened both hatches at once; torrential rain attempted to blow in through the opening. The shimmer-shield situated outside the airlock for just such a purpose did its job, and the rain ran down it in heavy streams instead.

    Captain Hastings reached up; for a moment I thought she was caressing my cheek, but then I realised she was pressing a tiny U-space comm into my ear. "Be careful out there."

    I did my best to grin at her. "Hey, I'll just be rescuing people. You're the ones who'll be fighting the monster." Turning, I took two steps and dived out through the shimmer-shield. I emerged into open air; the heaving ocean was just twenty metres below.

    For a long moment, I fell, and then I cleaved the face of a rising wave, and was under water. Near-silent dimness surrounded me; distant booming bespoke surf upon the shore. There was silt in suspension all around, brought up from the sea floor by the turbulence. My gills would not be hampered by it; I had handled worse. I hoped that Captain Hasting's filter-lung was similarly robust.

    Reflexively, my hand and foot webbing extended, and my arm and leg frills rose to their full extent. My lungs emptied themselves in a rush of bubbles, and I took my first inhalation of salt water in far too long. Swallowing, I worked my jaw to kick in my cetacean hearing. The ocean around me was immediately filled with the multitude of sounds that mere human senses can never detect.

    Not far away I heard what I was listening for; a human struggling to get to the surface, to breathe. Triangulating the sound, I kicked my legs and shot away.

    Time to earn my keep.


    End of Part Two

    Part Three
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2017
  9. alethiophile

    alethiophile Shadowed Philosopher Administrator

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    Well, this is looking interesting. Simurgh is, as usual, creepy.
     
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  10. Beyogi

    Beyogi I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Well so they're fighting levi? Well, I guess that's going to be interesting. Shoot it from orbit with lasers, or what do they have planned?
     
  11. Dromeosaur

    Dromeosaur Know what you're doing yet?

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    It's quite depressing. A hero tryes to fight a monster only to discover that endbringers lolnope any conventional weapons. Also, Levi can punch her out of the sky.
     
  12. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Wow, and I haven't even written the next chapter yet.
     
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  13. Dromeosaur

    Dromeosaur Know what you're doing yet?

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    Please, just don't kill Dragon's future bestie, ok? He is way too fun to die. Though, him and dragon shareing a suit cause the ship is lost... Lewd. But I approve.
     
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  14. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    We shall see.
     
  15. nobodez

    nobodez Bringer of Context

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    Well, looking forward to more of this one, especially since it just won the vote.
     
  16. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Working on the post now.
     
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  17. nobodez

    nobodez Bringer of Context

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    Awesome, take your time to get it right.
     
  18. Threadmarks: Part Three: Sean
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    War Games

    Kinetic kill, KK: Missile with no explosive warhead; it depends on pure kinetic energy to do damage to the target.
    Railgun: Weapon that accelerates projectiles via pulsed magnetic fields.
    Sub-mind: AIs in the Polity can split their consciousnesses into separate 'minds', in order to multi-task more efficiently.

    Part Three: Sean

    Reynaud dived out the airlock, through the shimmershield; twenty metres down, he disappeared into the heaving ocean with barely a splash to be seen. The trace of his U-space comm hesitated, and then started moving off to the side, toward one of the life-signs we could detect in the water.

    Godspeed, lad,” I sent, and received a double-click in reply. Good; the boy seemed well-versed in underwater comm procedures. One click meant an accidental press, two meant 'yes', three meant 'no', four meant 'help'. If he wanted me to know anything more, he would speak; for now, it seemed, he was conserving his words. Or his breath.

    Shutting the airlocks and increasing power to the AG – no need to use more thruster propellant than absolutely necessary – I took the Bond James Bond up a few hundred metres, and in toward the beleaguered city of Brockton Bay. As I did so, I split off several sub-minds. 'Roger' was to watch the ship's systems, 'George' was to act as copilot and gunner for Geneva, 'Timothy' was to analyse all U-space signatures and try to work out a pattern, 'Pierce' was to keep an electronic eye on Reynaud's location and status, while 'Daniel' was to specifically break down the Leviathan creature's actions and fighting style, and pass on any tactical information to George. I assigned myself the task of comm analysis and local liaison, especially where it came to the anachronistic AI that I had detected.

    The first thing that I realised was that the AI – calling herself Dragon, using remote units shaped not unlike that mythical beast to fight Leviathan – had not revealed herself as such to those around her. This, I decided, was particularly strange. Why do you hide like this, and where do you come from, my lovely?

    As Geneva and George took the Bond James Bond into the mass of cloud heaped over the city, I deciphered the comm chatter more carefully, and began getting a series of text-only messages. These came, I realised, from a network of low-power devices, moving erratically around the area of the conflict. They were comm devices, being carried by the combatants. And the tale they told was grim indeed. People were falling, dying, even as we moved into position.

    Each name had a series of letters and numbers after it; these seemed more likely to be grid references than serial numbers for the parahumans, or 'capes' as they were sometimes called. Right. I conjured a map of Brockton Bay, placed the blinking dot that was Leviathan on it, then sent a request to Timothy. He returned the data within microseconds, and I overlaid the map with locations of U-space signatures that had winked out at the same time that the comms had announced the death of a particular cape. Within tenths of a second, I had a rough grid worked out; it could be refined as time went on, but this was good enough for the moment. I passed on the information to Geneva and George, assigned a sub-sub-program to firm up the grid as more data came in, then put it to the back of my mind. Time to liaise.

    There was already a query being sent my way by one of the dragon ships; as we watched, comm data indicated that another one had self-destructed, hopefully after inflicting enough damage on Leviathan to make it worthwhile.

    Hello,” I sent in return, the message aimed directly at the AI, and running at one-tenth compression speed, to save time. “This is the Bond James Bond, Sean speaking.”

    You are either an artificial intelligence, or an enhanced human mind,” returned Dragon, at the same rate. I liked her more all the time; she was obviously very quick on the uptake. “I am unaware of any Tinker with your capabilities. Please state your origins.”

    "We are friendly, we are armed, and we are ready to join the fight,” I replied. “Does it matter where we come from?"

    "No," she agreed; abruptly, another comm feed came in, video and sound together. I grabbed it, realising that it must be from a Dragon drone, and put it up for general perusal. It was our first real-time visual of Leviathan; the creature was fast, moving over the top of water flooding the city as if it were solid ground. Worse, it was utilising its U-space capabilities to somehow draw water into its wake, so that when it turned, the water 'shadow' moved on at lethal speed, killing and disabling the parahuman combatants harrying it. Tapped into the feed, Daniel's mindspace began to fill up with tactical data analysis. I left him to it.

    "Thank you," I replied. “We will be deploying maser and railgun. Please tell your non-Brutes to back off a little.”

    Thank you for your assistance,” she replied. “Relaying warning now.”

    The message went out to the capes; due to the compression we had used, only three seconds had passed. Three seconds, during which several more capes had fallen. No more; not if we can help it.

    While I continued to observe the comm chatter, I peeked in on Geneva and George. They had the Bond James Bond in a hover, and were targeting Leviathan with the railgun. Lightning-fast chatter lanced back and forth between the human and the submind, shorthand that passed on information almost as fast as I had with Dragon.

    Vitals? - that was Geneva, asking if we should attempt to target the creature's vitals with the railgun. Normally, this would be a ridiculous question; the weapon in question fired ultradense rounds clad in ferric-metal sabots. In vacuum, these would be travelling at near C, and would leave large craters even in a capital ship. Atmospheric friction necessitated a somewhat lower muzzle velocity, but it would be possible to nudge the boundaries; after all, the sabot wasn't necessarily needed after the round left the weapon, and a white-hot ultradense hypersonic projectile was still a projectile.

    The other aspect of the question was that the railgun fired at such a rate that any normal living target would be torn apart, not unlike the effect of a nano-edged chainglass blade in the hands of a berserk Hooper. According to Daniel, the creature seemed to be unusually durable, and appeared to have little in the way of weak points. Given that, George indicated a negation; there would be no attempt at a one-shot kill.

    Collateral? - that was George, asking in turn how much local architecture should be preserved. It went without saying that they would strive to avoid hitting the combatants with our weaponry; we wanted them friendly, after the fact. Mowing them down in droves would not go down well.

    I sent a quick query to Dragon. “Just out of curiosity, lass, do you really need any of these buildings?”

    Her answer was very blunt and to the point. “No.” I passed that on to George.

    A few more flickering thoughts later, and they were in agreement.

    Let's do this.

    It was time to see how hard we could hit the thing.

    <><>​

    George noted that the rainfall seemed to be increasing, and that this might put some of the projectiles off course; Geneva was in agreement, so we moved to within fifteen hundred metres of the thing. Knife-fighting range, as far as space combat was involved. Out there, where engagement ranges were measured in significant fractions of orbital distance, to attempt to get an eyeball visual of a target, except for ambush purposes, was the height of folly. And yet, this was exactly what we were attempting to do.

    I hadn't been fully truthful with Reynaud or Geneva, though I suspected that Geneva knew more than she was saying. I had indeed seen Jaintech in action, and what it could do to people, ships and anything else it could infiltrate. This was, I believed, a superweapon on a comparable scale, and I fully intended to treat it with all due respect. I did not like getting this close, but the circumstances militated against standing off and plastering it with missiles. So in we went.

    Just as the railgun opened up with a ranging burst, Pierce passed on a communication from Reynaud. I accepted it, and opened the channel. "What is it, lad?"

    "We've got another tsunami incoming. Big one." His voice had a hollow, echoing, gurgling quality to it, as if he were speaking through a drainpipe with water running through it; whatever he was using for speech, I was reasonably sure that it wasn't a standard human larynx.

    "Of course we have. Estimated time of arrival?"

    "Figure it'll hit in the next sixty to one-twenty seconds."

    As he spoke, I was cutting Timothy into the link. The sub-mind analysed the data and came back with a ninety-five percent chance of accuracy, given the U-space traces in the area.

    "Good lad. Go deep."

    "Going deep."

    I turned him back over to Pierce and switched my awareness to George and Geneva, aware that Daniel was also in communication with them. The railgun, in the chin turret, snarled and juddered as it spat out a long skein of depleted-transuranic projectiles, all targeted on the inhuman monstrosity at the far end of the street. Dragon's video feed showed quite a dramatic sight; our shots, lancing in from out of the sweeping curtains of rain, every single one a tracer, smashing into the creature's body. It moved erratically, trying to evade the barrage, but George's reactions were sufficient to keep the fire on target. Chunks were being ripped out of it, the holes spurting a thick black fluid.

    Blood? I asked Daniel.

    Perhaps an analogue, he replied. Wounds do not seem to be debilitating the thing.

    At that moment, Geneva opened up with the maser. It quite literally bored a hole through the rainstorm, the high-intensity microwaves boiling the raindrops as they encountered it. But it wasn't aimed precisely at Leviathan; rather, at the water shadow that followed the superweapon's every move. The bulk of water, moving as quickly as the creature, flashed to steam as fast as it came into being.

    I could already tell from local comms that Dragon had been as good as her word; some of the parahumans had pulled back, while others were piling on the ranged attacks. Our intervention had allowed search and rescue to get under way, with injured capes being pulled back from the fight. In the meantime, the railgun was doing damage, and the maser was limiting its ability to hit back at its tormentors. But the timer was ticking down, and I had to pass on the word.

    Opening a channel to both Dragon and George, I passed on a single-word message. Wave.

    "Thank you for the warning," Dragon replied.

    "You're going to have to hold on for a bit while we deal with it," I told her. "Tell everyone."

    "Oh. Wait. You're going to deal with it?"

    "That is correct. Have a going-away present. Fire in the hole."

    With that, Geneva okayed a missile strike; one kinetic-kill warhead, launched from the starboard missile pod. It crossed the distance between the Bond James Bond and Leviathan before our sensors could really lock on to it, and smashed into the creature while still in first-stage acceleration burn. The missile didn't have enough distance to really get up to speed, but the result was still reasonably impressive; while the monster wasn't destroyed, it was bowled over backward, demolishing a row of buildings.

    And then we could wait no longer; George kicked in the thrusters, pulling the Bond James Bond up and around. In order to do what we needed to do, we had to be above the buildings, but low enough that we could get a horizontal, or near-horizontal, shot at the shoreline. Fortunately – for a given definition of 'fortunately' – those buildings near the beach were either abandoned, flattened, or both.

    The rainstorm was so intense that we still had zero visual of the ocean. However, our sensors, as degraded as they were, still gave us an adequate picture of how the ocean offshore was already humping upward and moving toward the city. Timothy helpfully overlaid the U-space traces on to the image, giving us a good solid target.

    Anything out to sea? That was Geneva.

    Nothing in recorded data. I had already checked.

    Let's do it. Geneva sent the mental impulse via her aug.

    The particle-beam cannon hammered once, twice, three times, and three buildings along the waterfront disintegrated utterly, leaving nothing between us and the rising wall of water. Which was exactly how we wanted it. When the particle-beam cannon opened up again, it went into rapid fire. Each shot blasted chunks of ocean out of the belly of the beast, causing it to collapse into itself, disrupting the smooth power of the tsunami.

    And then the rain ahead of us … evaporated. George had taken the safeties off of the maser, and decohered the beam slightly, so that there was a little spread. Energies normally expended in the void of space, against ships tens, hundreds, thousands of kilometres distant, carved into the wave, barely five kilometres away.

    From left to right, we turned the nose of the ship, pumping dozens and dozens of terajoules of energy into the oncoming mass of water. It evaporated, boiling away into steam the instant the beam hit it. Ten million tons of water, more or less, smashed into vapour. We didn't stop it all, of course; but what reached the shoreline was a mere fragment of what had threatened the city; it barely reached the first street before slopping back. The rest of it was nothing but a cloud of steam, drifting to join the clouds above.

    <><>​

    Good work, Geneva sent to us. Let's get back to it. George engaged the thrusters, and the Bond James Bond swung once more on its axis and headed back toward the ongoing battle.

    I tapped into Pierce's channel; he was talking with Reynaud. “Are you still with us, lad?”

    Sure thing. I have one rather traumatised rescuee with me, but we're both fine. It just got a little noisy for a while there.”

    Stout lad. We'll keep you posted.”

    I switched away from Pierce; Dragon was trying to get back into communication with me. I opened the channel. “What's the matter?”

    He moved. As soon as you let up on him – and my god, I'm not sure what you hit him with, but I want one – he moved. We've lost track of him.”

    Oh, that's not a problem.” I looked to the gridwork on the map that I'd set out for Geneva and George; the subprogram had tightened up the lines a little. “It's over in C-3 … wait, crossing to D-4 … heading for E-6 ...”

    Christ, there's an Endbringer shelter in his direct line of travel.”

    People at risk?”

    There's always people at risk once they pass our lines. But there's eleven hundred twenty-three people in that particular one.”

    Understood. On our way.” I switched my attention to Geneva and George. Might want to hurry it along a bit. It's heading for a shelter. A thousand people and change. All trapped underground, at that monster's mercy.

    The thrusters flared as the Bond James Bond blasted away on the new course. We were on a race against time.

    <><>​

    Without my asking, Dragon sent through locations for each of the city's Endbringer shelters. I placed them on the map, and she was indeed correct; Leviathan's course, as zig-zag as it was, was on path for one of them. Under a largish building; a split-second of online searching got me the information that it was a library.

    Dragon, why is the thing zig-zagging like that?”

    He's zig-zagging?”

    Yes.” I sent her a visual feed of the map. “Like so.”

    Oh. Yes, I see. Sewer lines. He's underground.” In return, I got an overlay of the city's sewer outflow system, and sure enough, the U-space locus that was Leviathan was following one of them like a monorail on its track.

    George sent me a query and I passed it on to Dragon. “Do you care all that much about pavement?”

    Not in the slightest.”

    Good. We're there. And we're slightly in front of him.”

    We hammered past the library, then pulled an AG-assisted turn around it so fast that our sonic boom broke every window. I sent Geneva a chiding message. Clumsy.

    She sent me one back. They can bill us.

    And then the time for banter was over. We were hovering over the street in front of the library, at a nose down angle. Leviathan's trace was coming up fast, so fast that manhole covers were blasting out of the street, with water fountaining tens of metres high beneath. We opened fire with everything at once.

    The particle beam cannon blasted a crater in the street, one which immediately began to fill with water. Leviathan shot out of the now-exposed sewer pipe, into our concentrated fire. Parahumans, having been directed on to us by Dragon, began to arrive almost as precipitately, but they were wary of our firepower, having seen its effect first-hand on Leviathan. Those with force fields once more erected them, barring his way, while those with ranged attacks added their combined force to ours.

    Hit the wounds we opened earlier, Geneva told George.

    They're not as deep as before. The thing regenerates damage. From the inside outward, it appears.

    Fuck! The time taken for a deep breath. Well, fucking make some more then.

    Daniel contacted them. We need more altitude. He attacks fliers who fly too low.

    At that moment, we were fifty metres above ground level; George piled on the AG so that we added another hundred to that. And well he did, too; perhaps a fifth of a second after we moved, Leviathan erupted from the cloud of steam that our maser had made of the water, and swiped through the space that we had previously occupied.

    And then the railgun, which had previously roared nonstop at the brute, chewing chunks from its unearthly hide, fell silent. Why have you stopped shooting?

    Have a look, Geneva told me. It's inside the library. The people in that shelter are directly under it.

    So get it out of the damn library before it digs down to the innocents.

    There was a ragged hole in the frontage of the building where Leviathan had gone in; all the windows were gone, of course, but we didn't have a line of sight. As the Bond James Bond swung down to get a better angle of fire, I reviewed the last few seconds of imagery we had of the monster.

    The still images made it appear as though Leviathan was in a sorry condition. The railgun had been chewing at it, and apparently a particle beam cannon wasn't conducive to its health either. I wasn't quite sure what damage a maser would do to it, but it had certainly been doing a number on the water shadow, wherever the thing was pulling that volume of water from. Unfortunately, as Daniel had pointed out, the damage wasn't translating to debilitation; it was still as fast and dangerous as it had been before we started shooting at it. Now, it was fast, dangerous, and annoyed at us.

    It's getting faster, Daniel noted.

    Define, replied George.

    Reaction time is decreasing. We're going to have to be closer in order to hit with all railgun rounds.

    I'm not happy with that, George told him flatly.

    Nor was I, but before I could put in my contribution, Pierce got my attention. I accepted Reynaud's call. “Yes, lad?”

    I've found everyone who was alive in the water. Some drowned before I could get to them.”

    That happens, lad. I'm sorry.”

    I know. It's not what I called you about.”

    Another wave?”

    Yeah. Bigger than the last one.”

    Good lad. Get to safety.”

    Will do.”

    Wave coming, I told Dragon and Geneva both. Then, to Geneva alone, I added, When we get a line of sight, we're going to have to hit it with another kinetic-kill shot. Punt it away from the Endbringer shelter.

    Good idea.

    At that moment, Timothy broke in. It's not going down. It's coming out.

    Back up! added Daniel. Now!

    Again, we moved just in time. Leviathan tore its way out through the library roof, then leaped far and high. As it happened, the monster anticipated our retreat, leaping for a spot somewhat behind us. Had we simply retreated on a straight line, it would have landed directly on the Bond James Bond. But Daniel saved us; the submind anticipated Leviathan's anticipation and took control of the ship.

    As Leviathan leaped, water shadow streaming behind, we jinked to starboard and blasted upward; the creature lunged at us as we passed, but Daniel had calculated clearance to a nicety. AG on full power, we streaked skyward, bursting through the clouds and reaching clear air in mere seconds. In another few seconds, we had inverted, swapping end for end, the nose of the ship pointing downward, but still ascending fast.

    The only visual we had of Leviathan as it fell toward earth was from a Dragon suit. I watched as it plummeted at the end of its long arc, cheated of its attack on us. And then Daniel relinquished the controls, giving them back to Geneva and George. They understood his intent at once, and targeted another KK missile on the falling creature.

    I hailed Dragon. “Is there anything in Leviathan's landing zone that can be hurt by a really big impact?”

    No more than usual.”

    Thank you.”

    I gave Geneva the word, this time, the kinetic-kill missile leaped from the portside pod. We were five kilometres up by this point; the missile had completed its first acceleration burn and was commencing its second by the time it struck Leviathan. From the Dragon craft's point of view, a streak of light blasted down from heaven and smashed the creature to earth. I tried not to think about how many windows were broken, how many innocents deafened, by the sonic boom. Again, it did not kill the creature, according to Timothy, but the thing was punched into the ground. Hard.

    And stay there, was Geneva's only comment as we halted our upward movement, and headed toward the oceanfront.

    <><>​

    What are you guys hitting it with?” asked Reynaud, as we dropped into position. “I can feel it from here. Hell, I can hear it from here.”

    Capital ship killers, lad.” I replied. “And the bugger's not dying.”

    Well, that's cheering to know.”

    Isn't it, just. Keep your head down, now.”

    It's down. It's down.”

    Reynaud had not exaggerated. This wave was tremendous. Timothy showed us a chart of the U-space interference needed to bring it into being, and it was staggering. The wash would reach far inland, perhaps drag people out to sea who thought themselves safe. Sensors showed a huddle of people inside a building not far from shore; those whom Reynaud had saved, no doubt.

    Well, it's time for us to save them again.

    We opened up with the particle beam cannon once more, smashing at the wave over and over, all the while blasting it with the maser. The repeated assaults began to wear it down, bring it to a workable size … and then it built up again.

    It's reinforcing it, Timothy reported. Doubled the amount of energy going into it.

    Well, that's just rude. I looked again at the huddled dots on the sensors, each one representing a fragile, precious human life. We couldn't land and embark them in time, we couldn't kill the wave fast enough … or perhaps we can.

    Reynaud, lad!” I snapped, pre-empting Pierce's comm. “Out of the water, now!”

    Instantly, the tiny blue dot that showed up his U-space comm began to move. The boy – no, man, after today – knew when to not ask questions. He was on his way to the surface. But will he be fast enough?

    What are you thinking? asked Geneva, via her aug.

    Tac nukes, I explained succinctly.

    But the shockwave -

    Yes. Hold your fire as long as possible. Keep blasting it. Don't let the monster reinforce it any farther.

    Closer and closer the wave rolled, building higher and higher. Reynaud, previously deep down, as per instructions, rocketed toward the surface, then along it, his wake creaming behind him. Also behind him, towering like a mountain, its surface pocked by particle-beam shots and smoked away by maser blasts, the tsunami bore down upon him.

    We swooped low, close to the surface; as the wave got closer, so the water was pulled backward, and Reynaud with it. Still mostly submerged, he would be killed by any shockwave; he was being drawn to his destruction. Now below the crest of the wave, we looked up at it; a kilometre distant yet, it would roll over us when it came.

    Geneva leaped from her seat, dashed to the airlock. Inner and outer doors opened at her aug signal; she grabbed a handgrip, leaned out through the shimmershield into the torrential rain. I could see her running the numbers, working her aug. She straightened her arm, and triggered her wrist launcher.

    Impossibly small, the grappler shot outward. It was not meant for use in this sort of weather, this sort of situation. But we all knew that if she didn't make this shot, Reynaud would die.

    It was true that a huge reward awaited Geneva and myself when we returned him safely to his family. But neither one of us was thinking about that. Not at that moment.

    It struck the gill-lung he was wearing on his back. Struck, and stuck. Molecular polarisation made it as if the two were one thing. Geneva braced herself, and sent the command to the controls herself; not to George, as George was waiting for the moment to fire.

    The Bond James Bond began to reverse direction and lift at the same time … and George fired two separate missiles, one from each pod. They lanced out, directly at the oncoming watery wall of doom. And Reynaud was still in the water.

    Geneva was winding in the reel as hard as it would go. her other hand still clutching the handhold. Reynaud being pulled through the water so fast he was throwing up a bow wave. But he was still in the water.

    The missiles hit; each explosion a small tactical nuke, buried in the depths of the wave. The flashes of actinic light were dulled, the radiation pulses almost nonexistent. But the lethal shockwaves lashed out from each of them, rippling the water in all directions, even as the water at each point of impact flashed to steam.

    And then Reynaud lifted from the water, waterskiing barefoot; the shockwave passing beneath him.

    The tac nukes broke the tsunami's back, as intended; it was the work of a moment for the particle beam cannon and the maser to shred the rest of it. We landed; Reynaud herded the frightened refugees on to the Bond James Bond, saw them to their seats, then dived out through the airlock as the doors began to close.

    Lad, where are you going?” I called.

    You're going to need warning if more waves come.” He ran toward the water. “I'm useless on the ship. I can be of more help here.”

    I couldn't argue. “Godspeed, lad.” I could only hope that I would see him again.

    <><>​

    As we blasted over the city once more, Dragon was trying to get my attention. I accepted her call. “What did you just do?”

    Stopped another wave.”

    Was that a nuclear explosion?”

    Only a small one. Well, two, but let's not quibble.”

    How many people did you endanger with that?”

    Endanger – oh, the radiation. No. Relatively minimal. Your Leviathan was reinforcing the wave, trying to stop us from breaking it. That's why we had to use sterner methods.”

    Minimal radiation? How minimal?”

    Not a danger to human life. No fallout. No radiation poisoning. No cancer. No more than what's normal with the pollution you seem to prefer around here, anyway.”

    “ … all right then.”

    Did Leviathan stay in the hole we put it in?”

    At first, but he got out. And he's in the sewers again. I think he's headed for the aquifer.”

    Aquifer?”

    Where we get our water from. It's on the map.” She pulled up the map visual, and put a red dot on to the aquifer. “If he can make it collapse, half of Brockton Bay might fall into it.”

    Of course it might. Nothing was ever easy, fighting Leviathan. “We're on it.”

    We'll follow your lead.”

    “Ladies and gentlemen,” Geneva addressed our passengers. “Find a seat or find a bunk. Strap yourselves in. We may be undergoing strong manoeuvres. Our grav-plates may not compensate.”

    “Why?” This was a man. “I thought you were taking us to safety.”

    “We haven't the luxury of time,” Geneva told him bluntly. “We're fighting to save your city. Nobody is safe, here.”

    “The scaly guy got off,” objected a woman. “Where'd he go?”

    “To wait and warn us of more waves,” Geneva snapped. “Now shut up and strap yourselves in. I'm working.”

    Such was the tone of her voice that they obeyed; or perhaps it was because her hand rested on the pulse pistol at her hip. Such weapons should not be known in the day and age in which we had found ourselves deposited, but it appeared that stranger weapons might be known. We must not, I decided, assume the locals to be ignorant savages.

    Where is that son of a bitch? Geneva accessed the map; the locus marking Leviathan was more than halfway toward the aquifer from the spot where we had slammed him into the ground. I was seriously starting to wonder what it would take to put this creature all the way down; a glance at Daniel's tactical calculations indicated that he wasn't altogether sure, either.

    So far, the superweapon had taken everything we had thrown at it, including two kinetic-kill missiles, and gotten up again. I had seen other things capable of ignoring that sort of damage, but these tended to be warships. Big warships. Leviathan was smaller than the Bond James Bond. Nothing that size should be able to take that sort of damage.

    But then, I reminded myself and the others, that's the nature of superweapons. They have to be able to perform the impossible, or they wouldn't be superweapons.

    You are correct, Daniel reported. Analysis indicates that the more we wound it, the more resilient its body is.

    Of course it was. Had I a head, and a bulkhead to thump it against, I would have done so.

    It's still underground, reported Timothy.

    Where's a good ambush site? asked George.

    There. Daniel put a dot on the map. We don't flush the creature out. We hammer the sewer down on top of the damn thing.

    Sounds good. I put a call through to Dragon. “I'm afraid we're going to make some more holes in your streets, dear lady.”

    She snorted. “Not my streets, and if it helps get rid of Leviathan, be my guest.”

    Excellent. Ambush at this intersection.” I highlighted it for her. “Bring all the party favours you can.”

    Sounds good to me. Please don't use tactical nukes this time, all right?”

    No tactical nukes, got it.” I tacitly didn't ask about the other missiles the Bond James Bond had on board. If she didn't know about them, she couldn't tell us not to use them.

    <><>​

    We made it to the intersection just barely ahead of Leviathan; despite the cramped quarters, it seemed to me that the monstrosity was travelling faster underwater than it had above, and the thing was terrifyingly fast above. This time, the plan wasn't to hold it in one place, because that plan had simply not worked before.

    We had to hit it, and hit it hard. Keep the monster in tight confines, and harry it until it either died or left. The first, by preference. The second, if necessary; Daniel wasn't quite sure how much damage it could take overall, but getting it out of the city was an acceptable second option. If only barely so.

    Once more, the capes homed on us, arraying in rough formation to either side, treating our weaponry with the respect it deserved. I reviewed imagery of this world's parahumans with the images I was seeing; there was a woman wearing a black cape and a steel helmet. Alexandria. Another was a man with a blue and white costume, with lightning bolts on it. Legend. A second man with blue-green skintight suit, hooded with wide sleeves. A green glow came from the hood and sleeves. Eidolon. A flying woman, so bright the sensors blanked out around her. Probably Purity. She was listed as a villain, but was here to fight. Others were arrayed, and more arriving every second.

    It should have been here by now. That was Daniel.

    It's slowing … it's stopped. Timothy. There.

    Waiting? Geneva, as was typical for her, making one word stand in for a sentence. Was it waiting for us to make a mistake? Was it going to wait until the next tsunami drew us away, and then tear its way through more capes, more innocents?

    Possibly. Daniel. We've hit it hard, hurt it. If I was it, I'd pull some trick like that too.

    I remembered the wave that got bigger, the decreasing reaction time. It cheats. It doesn't play fair.

    Well, screw that. It doesn't want to come fight us? We'll go fight it. Geneva engaged the controls. We surged forward.

    There's something weird here. That was Timothy. I'm getting an odd trace.

    Is it moving? George's question was superfluous. We could all see that it wasn't.

    Record and analyse, I advised Timothy. Geneva, ready to rock and roll?

    Born ready. She kicked in the thrusters, and we streaked in for the attack.

    The parahumans followed, some keeping pace, others falling behind. They awaited our word to attack, given that Leviathan was still concealed beneath metres of concrete and dirt. We were the only ones who could track it, using U-space detectors. When our throw weight was factored in, this made us the biggest threat to it.

    George opened fire, blasting through pavement and sewer line alike, but mere instants before our shots would have hammered it again, Leviathan darted sideways, down a branching line. We pulled a hard ninety-degree turn, shredding more street with our weaponry, but Leviathan seemed determined not to come to grips, pulling another turn.

    Even underground, it's dodging too fast! George's statement was a curse.

    We have to get closer, Geneva ordered. Make it so it can't dodge.

    It's luring us in. Daniel.

    We'll have to be faster. George.

    We pulled closer to the fleeing monster; only one parahuman was able to keep up with us, the one called Legend. Again, we opened fire, blasting chunks of street aside, this time tagging the monster with the railgun. The maser boiled the water in the sewer, boiled the water shadow, and the particle beam smashed into the creature itself. Still it fled, seeking cover, but we blasted the cover from above it. Legend joined in the attack, red beams gouging at it from every angle. Others caught up, joined in. We were hitting it. I began to convince myself that we were hurting it.

    And then it stopped, and leaped.

    I had been anticipating the leap, as had we all. But given the direction it leaped, the ideal direction of evasion would have been toward Legend; in the other direction, half a dozen of his compatriots. We were forced to go upward, and Leviathan was moving faster than it had ever done before. One leap, to gain a rooftop, and then another, directly at the Bond James Bond.

    George cut in AG and thrusters both, and we shot skyward, the grav-plates straining to compensate for the sudden G-forces within the cabin. And then we felt the impact, the scraping against the hull, and the weight settled upon us. A whippy tail lashed around the nose, wrapping against the chainglass forward viewport.

    Shit. That was Geneva. It's got us.

    <><>​

    Acceleration warnings blared in the cabin as all thrusters fired at full blast. We leaped sideways across the sky, swinging around our own axis as the thing clinging to our hull unbalanced us.

    "Hold on! We're coming to help!" That was Dragon.

    Before I could even pass the message on, Daniel impressed our upcoming strategy on us, and I replied to her. "No! Pull everyone back!"

    The spinning of the Bond James Bond increased even more, to the point that the grav-plates were unable to maintain normal gravity in the cabin, and Roger switched them over to merely preventing our passengers – and Geneva – from being smeared against the bulkheads by the rotational forces.

    Hull integrity at 87%, Roger reported. The creature's claws are damaging our plating.

    Given that the hull plating was the best ceramal that money could buy, I was impressed. But only a little. Mainly, I was angry. Daniel, are you sure?

    As sure as I can be. It would have to be good enough.

    All the stresses that we had put the Bond James Bond through before had not strained the hull this much; neither the hard pull-out on the moon nor the rough U-space transit with the CTD detonating behind us had not done any real damage. But now, the entire structure of the ship – my ship – was creaking and groaning. Something was going to break, and soon.

    Need more power to AG, George sent to Roger. We're losing altitude.

    AG is fine, Roger sent back. The creature's getting heavier.

    It's increasing its mass?

    No, broke in Timothy. It's got a kind of AG running already; it's just turning it down.

    Emergency power to AG. Thrusters to max, ordered George. Immediately, there was a surge of power, and all non-essential systems died. By this time, we weren't over the city any more, but almost directly above a rather prominent hill to the west of the city. The map had it labelled as 'Captain's Hill'; they were going to have to change that.

    Hull integrity 65%. We've lost some exterior plating. Some sensor pods have been ripped off the hull.

    We'd lost some of our sensor arrays, but enough remained. At the moment, we were pointing skyward and ascending vertically, using AG and thrusters pushed to the redline and beyond to claw for altitude. Leviathan was clinging to our stern; the tidal forces incurred by our tumbling to that point had dragged him there, at the cost of hull plating and exterior fairings.

    Hull integrity 44%. AG and thrusters no longer able to compensate for the weight of the creature.

    Well, Geneva decided, let's say goodbye.

    And she ignited the fusion drive.

    <><>​

    Normally, fusion drives are not used within the atmosphere of an occupied planet, for various reasons. Noise pollution is one reason; the tremendous plume of heat and plasma is another. Given the composition of some atmospheres, this has been known to literally set the sky on fire. This being so, captains doing so tend to find themselves being fined – and in some cases, arrested – for such an offence. Normally, both Geneva and myself obey the statutes in this matter; of course, given the current situation, we figured the locals would forgive us.

    Stars aren't all that hot to most people, given that they experience them from behind the blanket of a nice thick atmosphere, from over a hundred million kilometres away in the Goldilocks zone; not too hot, not too cold. But a star is, when it comes down to it, the product of hydrogen fusion. Which is very hot indeed. One just has to be close enough to appreciate it.

    When Geneva activated the fusion drive of the Bond James Bond, Leviathan was definitely close enough to appreciate it. The creature was, in fact, close enough to appreciate the exact meaning of the phrase 'star-hot', with all of its nuances. All water within one and a half kilometres flashed to steam; the clouds around us simply evaporated.

    There is not much in the way of matter that can stand up to a fusion engine flare; even the combustion chamber is lined with specialised hardfields. Leviathan apparently belonged to that exclusive club; it wasn't possible to focus any sensors on the creature, but it was still clinging on, still clawing at our hull. Enough motive power to drive a thousand-ton starship at ten gravities, with all the heat that entails, was blasting at the thing, and it was still hanging on.

    Hull integrity 32%. It has its tail around the port-side missile pod. Jettisoning pod.

    Roger blew the explosive bolts on the pod; it came free, and with it Leviathan, as the creature lost its last firm grip on the hull of our vessel. The monster tumbled away, flailing its limbs briefly, before drawing its tail inward, the missile pod still clutched in its coils. For our part, we were blasting upward at the aforementioned ten gravities; Roger only just managed to pull enough power back out of the AG to energise the grav-plates before the accumulated G-forces would have smashed all of the passengers back against the rear bulkhead.

    Hull integrity 19%. We are no longer spaceworthy.

    Geneva cut off the fusion drive and flipped us end for end; using AG, she began to slow our upward progress. Sensors focused on the falling figure of Leviathan saw it grasp the missile pod, draw it back as if to hurl it at us …

    … only to disappear in the middle of a tremendous fireball as Roger sent the destruct code for the pod. All of the propellant, all of the warheads, went off at once; the explosion would have torn the Bond James Bond into a great many very small pieces. And yet, as it continued to fall, it was intact, for the most part. Still moving. Still a U-space locus of some serious power.

    Pierce got my attention; I accepted Reynaud's contact. “What is it, lad? Another wave?”

    No.” His voice was serious. “Three waves. One after the other.”

    You know the drill, lad. Get down on the sea floor.”

    You're not going to nuke these ones as well?”

    We've got another use for the rest of the missiles.”

    As I spoke, the ship juddered as Geneva ripple-fired the rest of the missiles from the starboard pod; they lanced straight down, to where Leviathan had just impacted with the summit of Captain's Hill. Instants later, they struck, turning the top of the hill into an inferno of fire and debris. George was already following up with our other ranged weaponry, targeting them on the U-space locus within the debris cloud. The particle beam cannon and maser were firing at full power now, accompanied by the railgun.

    I hate to tell you … I began.

    What, another wave? That was Geneva.

    Reynaud says three. One after the other.

    I'm really beginning to hate this bastard. Okay, let's go.

    Carefully, nursing the damaged ship, George brought us on to a course for the coast. In the meantime, I got on to Dragon, telling her what we were doing.

    <><>​

    Three waves there were indeed; one after the other, they were marching in to shore. Each of them was a little smaller than the original one, but once they hit land, the later ones would reinforce the earlier one, and the damage – not to mention the death toll – would be even worse. However, we had been here before; the particle-beam cannon blew chunks out of the waves before the maser mopped them up.

    The first wave went down relatively easily; the second was a good bit closer to shore before we finally managed to demolish it. The third was almost at the shore itself by the time we cut it down to size, and we had to use the maser to take care of the onshore surge. A little more damage, but not much in the grand scheme of things.

    Are you all right there, lad?” I asked.

    I'm fine,” Reynaud replied. “A little warm, but I'll survive.”

    We had to maser the waves. Until some cooler water comes in to circulate, it might be uncomfortably hot, especially near the surface.”

    I'll keep that in mind.”

    Good lad. We've got to go and beat up on the monster some more.”

    Have fun.”

    Our passengers were a little subdued as we started back over the city; they were talking among themselves, but quietly. I used a pick-up to ensure that they weren't doing anything stupid like plotting to hijack the Bond James Bond, but left them to it.

    Dragon was trying to contact me; I opened the channel. “Yes, lass?”

    Are you aware that Leviathan's making a run for it?”

    I glanced at the plot, which had Leviathan's location on it, of course. She was correct; the creature was making for the ocean in a direct line, at a frankly incredible speed.

    This is good news, right? Though I really would have liked to end the bastard.”

    Your map has a dot in the water. What is it? Because Leviathan's heading straight for it.”

    I looked again. Reynaud's U-space trace was indeed directly ahead of Leviathan's direction of travel. And I didn't think that was exactly coincidence.

    That's Reynaud, one of ours. He's the one who's been alerting us about the waves.”

    You might want to get him out of the water.”

    I pulled Pierce into the conversation, then connected to George and Geneva.

    Get back to the shore, now. Leviathan's after Reynaud.

    The ship creaked and groaned as we turned as hard as Geneva dared, then the thrusters kicked in and we shot back the way we had come. Already, Leviathan's trace was passing us; it was travelling a little faster than we were. And if we got low and attempted to hit it, it would draw even farther ahead.

    Emergency power on the AG, George ordered. We shot forward, as the cabin lights dimmed and most of them went out. We couldn't use the fusion drive; most of Brockton Bay was behind us, and the drive would set quite a bit of it on fire, rainfall or no.

    Gradually, we gained on Leviathan; ahead of us, at the shore, Reynaud had heeded Pierce's urgent warning, and was coming to the surface. The water was warm, but no warmer than the reception he was likely to get from Leviathan.

    Can't we go any faster? That was Geneva; she was actually clenching her fists in anxiety.

    Not without breaking the ship. Leviathan did a real number on us.

    Almost, she gave the order. Almost, she ignored George's advice. But there was more than her on the Bond James Bond to worry about. I saw her mind race through the decision trees, and the answer was less than acceptable. But it was one she had to accept anyway.

    The shoreline was in sight, and we tilted downward, aiming at Reynaud's U-space trace. Leviathan kicked on the speed, drawing ahead of us. It was going to reach the lad first. And I had absolutely no illusions as to what would happen to Reynaud then, as brave as he was.

    I've got him.”

    The outside voice - masculine, unfamiliar - broke in on my concentration. Legend streaked in past us, toward where Reynaud was on the surface, churning toward shore. A beam shot from his hand, and all the water between Reynaud and the shore froze solid; a moment later, the chunk of ice shattered as Leviathan struck it. But this had bought him a moment, and he swooped down, to pluck Reynaud from the ocean.

    Leviathan wasn't giving up, even now. The creature had suffered from our last attack; its torso was burned away on one side, its left arm was gone altogether, and its right leg was black bones held together by silver tendons. But it was still as ferocious as when we had first seen it. Bursting from the ocean, it lunged upward toward where Legend was lifting Reynaud to safety.

    But flashing past us came a second figure, this one wearing a black cape. Alexandria. She smashed into Leviathan's side, hammering the creature away from her teammate, away from Reynaud, into the unfrozen ocean beyond. It clutched at her for a brief moment, trying to drag her down with it; George blasted it with the particle-beam cannon. She was blown free; Leviathan disappeared into the water.

    For the longest moment, we paused, hovering. Waiting for it to return and renew its attack. But Timothy contacted us all. It's going. Leaving. Diving deep.

    Nobody suggested going after it. We had spent our all, nearly lost one of our own, just to drive it away. Above, to underscore our victory, such as it was, the rain ceased falling, and the clouds began to clear.

    All right, lads, I told my sub-minds. You want to stay apart, feel free. Those who want to come back in, come on in.

    One by one, we re-merged; I assimilated their different experiences, their different memories. I had done this before, and I would do it again. Each time, they had chosen to return to become one with me. In time, one or another would choose to remain apart. I would give that part of me its space, and in time, its own AI crystal.

    But for the time being, we had other concerns. We had won a victory, or at least, maintained a stalemate. Leviathan would survive, would regenerate, would attack again. But Brockton Bay would also survive, which had been our intent all along. As for Geneva, Reynaud and myself, we were strangers in a strange land. Whatever happened next would be up to the hospitality and gratitude of our hosts.

    Alexandria came to a hover in front of our forward viewport. Following the encounter with Leviathan and our particle beam cannon, her costume was scorched and her cape was a good deal more tattered than before. She could not help but know that our weapons could all be brought to bear upon her; it didn't seem to bother her. With a single gesture, she flew up and past us, and back over the city.

    The meaning of the gesture had been clear; follow me. Geneva shrugged and took over the controls. The Bond James Bond swivelled in midair and followed the superhero.

    After all, it wasn't as if we had anything better to do at the moment.


    End of Part Three

    Part Four
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2015
  19. Angush

    Angush I have no idea what I'm doing

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    That was awesome.
     
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  20. nobodez

    nobodez Bringer of Context

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    Awesome, and it's my permanent 4 spot from here on out.
     
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  21. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Very good action scenes there, gripping, emphasizing the technological edge without overpowering it - and letting the polis slowly discover the kind of monster they are truly facing.
     
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  22. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Oh, most definitely yes.
     
  23. Threadmarks: Part Four: Legend
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    War Games

    Part Four: Legend


    Autodoc: Automated drone that can carry out any surgical need with speed and precision.

    Grant's World: A planet that was rendered utterly uninhabitable during the Prador Wars.

    Jain: Now-extinct race that engineered a horrifying technology that eventually wiped them out.

    Solstan: Solar (Earth) standard, usually referring to years.


    I took stock of the young man I was carrying. He didn't seem to be wounded, but he was shaking just a bit. “Are you all right?” I asked.

    “I – yeah, I'm fine,” he assured me. “That was … that was really, really close.” Pausing, he took a closer look at me. “Uh, you're one of the, uh, superheroes, right?”

    I smiled. “That's right. You can call me Legend. What gave me away? The flying, or the lasers?”

    “Pleased to meet you. My name's Reynaud.” He paused. “Actually, it was neither one. Grav harnesses and pulse weapons are pretty common where I come from. It's the skin-tight costume and the mask that sort of gives it away. That and you're not wearing an aug.”

    “I don't know what an aug is,” I confessed. “Though I can guess what you mean by grav harness. And a pulse weapon sounds like something a Tinker would dream up.”

    “Tinkers – oh yeah, Sean pulled down stuff from your Grid – I mean, the internet,” he told me. “Tinkers are kind of your super-powered inventors, right? The guys who build the really weird one-off stuff?”

    “Weird one-off stuff is about right,” I sighed. “Actually, talking about one-off stuff, I don't mean to be rude, but are you … uh, normal where you come from?”

    “Uh, one second,” he stated apologetically. “Captain, is it okay if I talk to him?” I presumed that he wasn't addressing me, but whoever was in charge of the ship, via some sort of communicator. While I awaited the answer, I considered his appearance.

    I had already noted the scaly skin and the thick-lipped slits on either side of his torso, which I had tentatively assumed to be gills. There was also a fin-like crest that was now lying flat on his hairless head, as well as the fins doing likewise along his arms and legs. I suspected the presence of a similar crest down his back, but the low-profile backpack-like device that he was wearing would be covering it.

    His face wasn't ugly, just … odd. Almost no nose, ears flat to his head, thin lips on a wide mouth, large round bulging eyes with silvery membranes that wiped across them regularly from side to side. Also, no fingernails that I could see, nor any toenails, though there was prominent webbing between his fingers and also between his unusually long toes. His voice, though perfectly understandable, had a breathy tone to it.

    If I hadn't known better, I would have figured him for a Case Fifty-Three; of course, I did know better. He was connected in some way to the strange craft that was paralleling our course, almost certainly a spaceship, now sadly battered from its encounter with Leviathan. Who these people were, where they came from, how they spoke English so readily yet looked so odd, were questions that were going to have to be answered at one point or another.

    Of course, the fact that the crew of the ship had assisted in driving off Leviathan, keeping the numbers of injured and dead to a record low, meant that we were going to be treating them as friendly, as far as I was concerned. And given that I was the leader of the Protectorate capes, here and across the country, my word would stand for quite a bit.

    A moment later, he looked back at me. “Okay, it's all fine. She says, and I quote, I don't know enough to cause problems.”

    “I'm glad to hear it,” I replied, amused.

    He nodded. “Yeah, me too. You were asking if I was normal? Well, I guess I'm more normal than some. It's not like I'm a hooper or a true human or something. Those guys don't leave their home planets much. People tend to stare.”

    I frowned. “True human?” I wondered if we had divergent vocabularies. Then I wondered how much of our vocabularies were divergent.

    “Native to a planet called Cull,” he explained cheerfully. “The original colonists had themselves adapted to suit the local conditions and now their descendants consider themselves 'true humans' and everyone else to be weird and strange.” He rolled his eyes; given their size, he could do that very effectively. “Mouth tentacles. I ask you.”

    “Mouth tentacles?” I tried to visualise that.

    “Mouth tentacles,” he confirmed. “Like I said, they don't get out much. Me, I'm a seadapt, but I was born baseline human, right here on Earth.”

    I stared at him. “Wait, back up a moment,” I demanded. “You were born on Earth?”

    “Uh, yeah,” he confirmed, looking at me doubtfully. “Didn't they tell you?”

    “Didn't they tell me what?”Is he a Case 53 after all? But what's this talk about races from other planets?

    “Uh, we're from the future,” he replied, as if that explained everything. “About five or six hundred years, Sean says.”

    “The future.” I looked over again at the spacecraft. “Did you come back to help us? To warn us about something? Should you even be here? I mean, you have to be changing your past by intervening to this extent -”

    He shook his head. “No, uh, this isn't our past. We never had superheroes.”

    “Oh.” I blinked. “Are you sure?”

    “Sure I'm sure.” He nodded earnestly. “I think that's something we'd remember. Plus, I've dived around Kyushu. It's still there, where I come from. So's Newfoundland. And Honolulu.”

    I decided to accept what he was saying, for the moment. “So what you're saying is that you're from the future of an alternate Earth. One where all this never happened.” It made, I supposed, for a certain kind of sense.

    “Yeah. That's what the Captain told me anyway and it sounds about right.”

    “You mentioned the Captain before.”

    “Yeah. Her name's Geneva Hastings and she's awesome.” The amount of hero-worship in his voice was obvious even to me. “She rescued me from space pirates.”

    “You have got to be kidding.” I looked at his face; I still wasn't quite used to his features, so his expression was a little hard to read, but as far as I could tell, he wasn't kidding. “Space pirates? Really?”

    He shrugged. “Well, we were in space and Captain Kramer did talk about doing piracy every now and again, so yeah, I guess?”

    I sighed. “I guess some tropes just never go away.” Ahead, Alexandria was coming in for a landing next to the PRT building. Damage in the area was minimal, which was a blessing; the area was being cleared even now for the ship to land. I watched carefully, but there wasn't any jetwash as the vessel eased itself down for a landing, just an odd distortion in the air beneath it. As we watched, it settled gently to the ground, coming to rest on quite ordinary-looking landing struts.

    <><>​

    Once the ship was at rest, I landed beside it, letting Reynaud down on his feet. A hatch opened in the side of the craft, a short ramp extending downward. Looking up, I half-expected to see someone as equally striking as Reynaud to emerge, but the people who climbed out and gingerly descended the ramp looked decidedly normal, not to mention somewhat bedraggled.

    “Uh … who are you people?” I asked.

    “We got rescued,” a middle-aged woman told me bluntly. “By this guy. After the wave dragged us out to sea.” She stepped past me and hugged Reynaud fiercely. Oddly enough, the crest on his head rose erect as this happened. “Thank you. Just … thank you.”

    Awkwardly, he hugged her back; apparently to his relief, most of the other dozen or so people who emerged from the ship seemed happy to just say the words, or pat him on the shoulder. I had seen the ambulances when we arrived, but not paid much attention to them; the paramedics began attending to the rescuees, ushering them over to the waiting vehicles.

    “So that's what you were doing down there,” I realised. “Rescuing people.”

    “Yeah,” he agreed. “And alerting Sean to the tsunamis.”

    This was not the first time that he had mentioned the name but before I could ask, another person started down the ramp. She was just as striking as I had expected earlier; platinum hair cut to a shoulder-length bob and large silver-blue eyes in a triangular face. This, along with her distinctly pointed ears and petite frame, gave her a certain kind of elfin beauty.

    Her utilitarian clothing, being a black and orange overall in some synthetic material with a pistol belted to her hip, did nothing to detract from her appearance. I've never been attracted to women, but I could see how some men would be drawn to those kind of looks. However, I also figured her to be about nineteen, far too young to be the commander of this craft. Who's this? The captain's daughter?

    “Geneva Hastings,” she greeted me as she reached the bottom of the ramp. “And you'd be Legend. Pleased to meet you.” She held out one slim hand.

    Blinking, I grasped it, feeling the strength in her grip. “You're Captain Hastings?” I blurted. “Aren't you a little, uh, young for the job?”

    She snorted, amusement dancing in her eyes. “That's sweet, but I take anti-ageing treatments. I suspect I've got a couple of decades on you.”

    “I, uh, sorry,” I told her, trying to regain lost ground. “I apologise if I offended you. Reynaud here speaks very highly of you.”

    “Well, given that I rescued him from my idiot ex-husband, I'm not surprised,” she observed dryly. “Thanks for saving him, by the way. I'm kind of getting used to having him around.”

    “Well, it was the least I could do when Dragon told us that he was in trouble,” I pointed out. I looked around at the growing circle of onlookers, which included capes and civilians alike. They were standing a ways back from the ship, but not by choice; PRT troops were working to establish a perimeter as we spoke. “If you want, we can go and talk in a more private setting.”

    “We can do that,” she agreed gravely. “Just as soon as I get an assurance from you that nobody's going to be so stupid as to try to hijack my ship as soon as it's out of my sight.”

    “Uh, no, that's definitely not going to happen,” I assured her. “Those PRT troops will make sure of that.”

    One silver eyebrow hitched upward. “And will I be allowed to go back to my ship once we're done here?”

    “Of course, of course,” I agreed. “You did us a huge favour with Leviathan.”

    “That never stopped people from being idiots before,” she pointed out. “Just be aware that it wouldn't be as easy as it might seem.”

    I nodded, no longer inclined to think of her as a teenager any more. No matter her outward appearance, she was no naïve kid. While her clothing and accoutrements went a long way toward dispelling that initial impression, her attitude settled it once and for all. “I'll make sure of it,” I promised her.

    “Good.” Her lips curved in a smile. “Now, is this the point where I say 'take me to your leader'?”

    I had to chuckle; that line was as old as science fiction and definitely older than space travel. “It would be. But aren't you missing a member of your crew?”

    Turning her head, she glanced at the ship; as she did so, her hair moved aside, revealing a kidney-shaped metallic-blue object of uncertain purpose, an inch or so across, attached to the side of her head, just behind her ear. “Oh, you mean Sean? No, he's the ship's AI. He's one of the several reasons that it would be extremely stupid to try to hijack it.”

    “Sean? Really?” I didn't dispute the concept of an artificial intelligence. After all, it was a spaceship, there were two people who had almost certainly been heavily modified from their original appearances right in front of me and I wouldn't have been surprised if some Tinker had already created one in a lab somewhere already. “That's a kind of … prosaic name for an artificial intelligence, isn't it?”

    It most certainly is not, lad.” External speakers had come to life on the ship and I belatedly realised that the AI had probably been listening in on the whole conversation. Also that this 'Sean' had a strong Scottish burr. “After all, I chose it for myself.”

    “Oh, I see,” I replied hastily. “Sorry about that.”

    No matter, lad,” it – he – replied. “Geneva, lass, you run along now and talk to the locals. I'll see to what repairs I can.”

    “Okay, Sean,” she told him. “Let me know if anything comes up.”

    You know I will.” As he spoke, the ramp retracted and the hatch closed.

    She turned away from the ship and back to me. “Well, where do we go from here?”

    “We go talk to the people in charge around here.” I already knew that Alexandria had slipped away; I also knew why. So I looked around until I spotted the man I needed to see and walked in that direction; Geneva and Reynaud followed me.

    <><>​

    Armsmaster looked up as we approached him; his lips had been moving silently, no doubt sub-vocalising to someone on his helmet radio. I noted to my interest that he had two halberds on his back, instead of the one he normally carried; perhaps he had decided he needed a spare in case one was damaged in the fighting against Leviathan? It wasn't a matter that I was concerned about; I didn't know Armsmaster all that well, but he was a highly-regarded hero and a well-respected Tinker. If he wanted to carry two halberds, that was his business and not mine.

    “Legend,” he greeted me. “These are our visitors, I presume.”

    “You presume correctly,” I replied. “Captain Hastings, Reynaud, this is Armsmaster. He's the head of the local Protectorate contingent. Armsmaster, this is Captain Geneva Hastings of, uh … “ I hesitated as I realised that I didn't know the name of the ship.

    “Of the Bond James Bond,” Captain Hastings finished smoothly. “And this is my rescuee and currently my ward, Reynaud James Klovis VII.”

    The implications of the ship's name, coupled with the name of the AI and the Scottish burr, hit me all at once. I tried not to choke as Armsmaster replied. “What do you mean by 'ward'?”

    “I mean,” Captain Hastings responded sweetly, “that Reynaud is under my personal protection, right up until I can return him safe and whole to his family.”

    “I see,” Armsmaster commented; he seemed to be sizing Reynaud up. “What's that you've got on your back, son?”

    “It's a filter-lung, sir,” Reynaud told him. “I can breathe underwater. Other people can't.”

    I thought Armsmaster was being a little abrupt with them, but I didn't want to undercut him in public. “Reynaud was in the water, rescuing people and alerting Captain Hastings to the tsunamis,” I explained. “He's the reason we only suffered one of them.”

    “Hmm.” Abruptly, Armsmaster nodded. “The Director is waiting.” A nod indicated the pistol on Captain Hastings' hip. “You'll have to leave that behind, of course.”

    She folded her arms; that was an indication in any language that she wasn't willing to go along with his directive. “Really. Are you going to disarm as well?”

    “I'm not required to.” He indicated the ship behind her. “You've obviously got access to high-end technology and you're a stranger in town. You show up just as an Endbringer attacks. That could be a coincidence, or it could be something more.”

    Enough was enough; I cleared my throat. “Armsmaster, you're out of line.” Although my voice was mild, I thought I saw Captain Hastings wince. “She put her ship in harm's way to protect this city and she is our guest. You will show her the appropriate respect. Am I clear?”

    Armsmaster paused for a moment; I wondered if we were going to have to have a longer discussion behind closed doors. But then he nodded. “Perfectly,” he replied. “If you will follow me, Captain, Mr Klovis.” Turning, he led the way toward the PRT building. The automatic doors opened before him; Geneva shot me an appraising look, then followed on. Reynaud was trying not to grin as he entered behind the Captain. I brought up the rear and the doors closed behind me.

    <><>​

    Director Piggot sat in her office, watching her monitor screen; I stood behind her. On it, the second in command of the local Protectorate forces was seeing to the comfort of our guests in a conference room. Armsmaster, possibly still smarting from my reprimand, was outside, overseeing the security cordon on the spaceship.

    I knew about Miss Militia, of course; she was well-known both inside the Protectorate and out of it. However, it was still more than a little jarring to see her offering tea and coffee to Geneva and Reynaud with a nineteenth-century cavalry sabre slung at her hip.

    Uh, no, thanks,” Reynaud demurred. “I can't have caffeine. Kinda allergic.”

    Captain Hastings accepted the tea, but eyed the milk suspiciously as it was poured in. “Is that … natural?”

    I believe so, yes,” Miss Militia confirmed. “Is this a problem?”

    I don't know,” Captain Hastings replied. “I've never had natural milk before. Most everything I grew up on was biocultured.”

    Piggot cleared her throat; I looked at her inquiringly. “Yes, Director?”

    “You spoke at length with the boy,” she pointed out. “Brief me on what he said.”

    “He says that they're from the future, at least five centuries,” I recited. “Or rather, a future. But not ours. One belonging to an alternate.”

    “Like Earth Aleph?” She wasn't stupid, not by any stretch of the imagination.

    “Like that, yes.” I paused. “But not Aleph's, specifically. He said they didn't have superheroes in their history.”

    “A different alternate then. Right.” She paused, frowning. “Are they a threat?”

    “I … don't consider them so, no,” I told her honestly. “They are dangerous, yes; their ship did more damage to Leviathan than all of the rest of us did today -”

    “ - and turned Captain's Hill into a goddamn crater in the process,” she pointed out acidly. “Not to mention the damage to the city from those weapons. Buildings down, streets torn up, a hundred foot wide crater that keeps filling with water -”

    “I've attended dozens of Endbringer fights,” I reminded her, my voice hard. “What they did was nothing to what Leviathan would have done, if they'd given him the chance. Believe me, it could have been a lot worse.”

    My words hung in the air. She had to know I spoke nothing but the unvarnished truth; following the examples of Newfoundland and Kyushu, Leviathan's true capacity for destruction had never been in dispute.

    “... granted,” she conceded. “This story he told you; do you think he was being truthful? Is there any proof that she's not just some Tinker with a penchant for heavy weapons and wild stories and a Case 53 boyfriend?”

    “Well, for one thing, the ship is apparently equipped with an AI,” I told her. “I spoke to it. Or rather, him. He was quite personable.”

    Her lips thinned. “True AI is supposed to be impossible.”

    “Tinkers do the impossible on a daily basis,” I reminded her.

    She pounced on that. “So you think she might be a Tinker?”

    “I think that what a Tinker can produce today, a civilisation that's had five hundred years of technological progress might devise in the normal run of events,” I argued. “Besides, from the future or from right now, what they did is what matters. People are alive, the city is as intact as it is, because of them.”

    “It's still something that has to be faced,” she muttered. “The truth needs to be determined, dealt with, one way or the other.” Abruptly, she stood up. “Well, talking about them isn't going to help, until we get more data on the situation. I'm going in there to talk to them, face to face.”

    I followed her from the office; while I was the leader of the entire Protectorate and she was a regional Director under Rebecca Costa-Brown, the truth remained that the Protectorate was subordinate to the PRT and thus she was nominally my superior officer. While I didn't necessarily trust her attitude in the upcoming confrontation, I wasn't overly worried; I had an ace up my sleeve.

    <><>​

    As we entered the conference room, Captain Hastings was holding back her hair from the metallic nodule attached to the side of her head while Miss Militia examined it closely.

    “So what's it do, exactly?”

    “It's an aug,” explained Reynaud; he seemed to think that this was sufficient explanation, but Miss Militia looked blank.

    Uh, that's short for cerebral augmentation,” explained Hastings. “It's a computer, gridlinker, communicator, onboard datastore, you name it. They're pretty well ubiquitous in the Polity.”

    “The Polity?” asked Director Piggot. “What is that, exactly?”

    “Where we come from,” Captain Hastings told her, letting her hair fall back into place and turning to face the Director. She stood, offering her hand. “Geneva Hastings. You're the person in charge here?”

    Piggot shook it. “Director Emily Piggot, Parahuman Response Teams. Yes, I'm the person in charge here. Tell me more about this 'Polity'.”

    “It's … well, it's a multi-planet nation,” Geneva explained. “Each world is self-governing, of course, but the Polity oversees them all. Earth is the centre of it. We're not the only one out there, of course, and things aren't always smooth running, but … “ She quirked a grin. “Anyone messing with the Polity tends to end up regretting it. Badly.”

    “I see.” Piggot's tone was flat. I pulled out a chair for her; she sat down. I took a seat next to her, while Geneva sat down again as well.

    “Uh … are we in trouble?” That was Reynaud. “All we wanted to do was help.”

    I cut in before Piggot could speak. “No, son, you're not in trouble. As leader of the Protectorate, I can tell you that no legal problems will befall you as a result of your actions today.”

    Piggot didn't look thrilled. “Legend, a word?” She jerked her head toward the door into the corridor.

    “Of course, ma'am.”

    She stood and led the way into the corridor; without being prompted, I closed the door behind us.

    Her expression as she turned to me was coldly furious. “You can't just say that!” In deference to the fact that the door wasn't particularly soundproofed, she kept her tone down, but there was a certain amount of intensity there all the same.

    “Certainly I can,” I replied, striving for a voice of reason. “If nothing else, there's the Endbringer Truce to consider. The very worst of villains get a pass on a day like this if they fight alongside us. Why not these people?”

    “Because by their own admission they're not from Earth Bet. What if they choose not to abide by the Endbringer Truce, because they've never heard of it?”

    “You've met them,” I pointed out. “Do they look or sound hostile to you?”

    “That's not the point,” she insisted. “You don't just make sweeping statements like that, not without checking with me first. You don't get to make calls like that.”

    I could see something that she couldn't and I tried not to let myself smile; however, she must have spotted something in my expression. “What?”

    “You're correct, of course,” Director Rebecca Costa-Brown stated from behind Piggot. “He doesn't get to make calls like that. But I do.”

    <><>​

    Back in the conference room, Costa-Brown seated herself opposite the petite captain of the Bond James Bond. It was an odd name, with startling implications; I couldn't wait to hear that explanation.

    “I am Rebecca Costa-Brown, Chief Director of the Parahuman Response Teams,” she stated without preamble. “You are Geneva Hastings, captain of that craft out there. Is that correct?”

    Geneva nodded once. “All correct, ma'am,” she responded. She tilted her head, the skin around her eyes crinkling very slightly. “I'm guessing that you want to know what we're doing here and what our intentions are.”

    The Chief Director raised her head slightly, seeming to come to a higher level of alertness, although I couldn't quite see why. “That's correct.” She levelled her gaze at Geneva. “Would you mind enlightening us?”

    “Well, to start with,” the elfin newcomer observed, “I'd like to take the opportunity to ask you to pass on our thanks to Alexandria. If she hadn't tackled the monster when she did, Reynaud may well have died.”

    “I can do that,” I offered. “After all, she helped save me as well.” Or at least, she had saved me from a very hard decision, I amended silently. Had Leviathan struck me, I could have shifted to my energy form to save my life, but that would have left the boy at his mercy. Alexandria had taken the decision from my shoulders, for which I was profoundly grateful.

    Chief Director Rebecca Costa-Brown – otherwise known as Alexandria, as I well knew – nodded, seeming to relax very slightly. “I'm pleased that she was able to help,” she commented. “Now, about the other matter?”

    Geneva leaned back in her chair, clasping her fingers loosely in front of her. “We got kicked back here from the year twenty-five eighty-four solstan,” she began.

    Miss Militia tilted her head. “Solstan?”

    “Solar standard, I presume,” Costa-Brown noted.

    Captain Hastings nodded. “Correct. Young Reynaud here is the heir to a multi-billion dollar fortune; I took the contract to get him back when he was abducted for ransom.”

    “Wait,” I objected. “Reynaud, you said she rescued you from space pirates.”

    “I did,” Geneva told me. “The abductors handed him off to a bunch of spacefaring morons, run by my idiot ex-husband, to keep him out of the way until the ransom was paid. Kramer dabbles in piracy occasionally; in poor light he can pass for a dashing rogue. I intercepted the ship and pulled Reynaud out of there. Kramer objected, up to and including tossing a CTD at me.”

    “And a CTD is … ?” asked Miss Militia.

    “A contra-terrene device.” She paused. “That's what we call -”

    “An anti-matter bomb.” Costa-Brown's voice was flat. “Correct?”

    Reynaud looked deeply impressed; Geneva's expression was respectful as she nodded. “Yes, ma'am. That's correct. It went off just as we entered U-space -”

    I cleared my throat. “Sorry, but could you explain that term?”

    “Underspace,” Reynaud filled in helpfully. “I'm not really up on the theory, but if you enter U-space, you can get places a whole lot faster.”

    I could think of equivalent terms from the science fiction of my youth; subspace, hyperspace, and so on and so forth. “All right. So you entered underspace just as this anti-matter bomb went off.”

    Miss Militia frowned. “Wasn't that a little on the extreme side? I mean, if this bomb was as powerful as it sounds, it should have destroyed your ship and killed the both of you, thus depriving him of any share of the ransom.”

    “Yeah.” Her voice was dry. “You may recall, I referred to him as my idiot ex-husband. He never was one to think things through.”

    “I see.” The Chief Director's tone was equally dry. “I've known people like that. So I presume that the explosion of the CTD disrupted what would have been a smooth transit through U-space, somehow popping you out in our universe and our time.”

    “That's the long and the short of it,” Geneva agreed. “Sean is of the opinion that we've undergone a variation of a time-inconsistent jump, which U-space physics actually allows for, but like Reynaud, I'm not up on the theory. Personally, I'd be dubious, but the evidence is kind of overwhelming.”

    “Still, it does tend to strain credibility that you ended up right near Earth when you did come out of the jump,” I pointed out. “A random jump across time and between universes that lands near a civilised planet – any civilised planet – would be hard to believe, but you appeared near Earth. That can't be a coincidence.”

    Geneva's eyes lost focus for a moment, then she blinked. “Well, Sean says he has a hypothesis on that.”

    “Sean?” Costa-Brown's voice was sharp. “Who is Sean?”

    “He's the ship's AI,” I told her. “I've spoken to him.”

    “The ship has an artificial intelligence in it?” Director Piggot looked startled. “So it could be capable of independent action, even now?”

    “Well, yes,” Geneva told her. “He's the ship owner. I'm his partner. He has full autonomy at all times.”

    “Very well,” Costa-Brown decided, in the tone which said we will visit this again later, “what is this hypothesis?”

    “That the U-space disturbances which surround this planet somehow drew us here.”

    Silence fell in the conference room following Geneva's casually-delivered bombshell. Each of us stared at her in varying degrees of consternation, save for Reynaud, who seemed to know what she was talking about.

    “Huh,” he muttered. “That'd kind of make sense, wouldn't it?”

    “Explain.” Costa-Brown's voice was hard and flat. “What U-space disturbances?”

    Geneva drew a breath. “It's possible to detect disturbances in U-space. This lets us know when a ship's about to emerge. Really handy, in wartime situations.” She paused. “When we arrived, we detected numerous traces of various strength, all around the planet. Literally hundreds of thousands of them. Including several really, really powerful loci. There are two that we have directly observed. One was the Simurgh and one was Leviathan. I'm going to go out on a limb, and assume that Behemoth is another one.”

    “Wait,” Miss Militia broke in. “You're saying that we get our powers from this U-space?”

    “Sean doesn't think so,” Geneva replied. “He thinks the powers come from elsewhere, but the connection comes via U-space. And the uses of your powers that effect changes over a distance also propagate through U-space. Thus creating disturbances, which we can easily pick up. And which may have drawn us here, given that we didn't know which way was up after the CTD hit.”

    “ … huh.” I rubbed my chin. “Can your instruments tell if someone's got powers? Are they emitting a U-space disturbance even when they're not using them?”

    “If so,” Director Piggot stated, “that would be incredibly useful as a cape detector. Especially if it could be used at a distance.”

    Geneva nodded. “Yes, it would be. Which is why I'm not going to answer that question. Nor are we going to hand over specs for a U-space detector.”

    “What?” Piggot leaned forward. “Why not?”

    “Because I'm making an executive decision. You're not ready for that sort of technology.” Geneva Hastings, I discovered, could almost equal the Chief Director in icy tone of voice.

    “That doesn't make any kind of sense,” Piggot stated, sounding almost bewildered. “We already have Tinkertech that bends and breaks the laws of physics in ways that I don't even pretend to understand. You've stated that you're not from our future, so there's no chance of paradox. Why are we not ready for it?”

    “Because it makes a mockery of the entire 'secret identity' concept, that's why.” Geneva's tone was unbending. “That's an integral part of your culture. I'm not going to overturn that.”

    For a few seconds, I wondered why Director Costa-Brown had not weighed into the argument, then I realised what was going on. The earlier byplay between the two women had concealed a great deal of information trading hands; Geneva being informed by Sean that Costa-Brown was Alexandria, Costa-Brown realising that Geneva knew who she was, then Geneva reassuring her that she would not betray the secret. Alexandria would not, of course, want such technology to fall into the hands of the PRT. Geneva knew this and was thus holding out.

    “She has a point,” Miss Militia offered diffidently. “As a cape, I would vastly prefer that someone not be able to point some device at me in my civilian identity and determine that I have powers, thus putting my family at risk.”

    “Me neither,” I agreed. Arthur was the only family I was close to, but I loved him dearly.

    “I'm inclined to agree with Miss Militia and Legend,” Alexandria noted; I had to admire the almost casual tone of her voice. “This is not a technology that we want in the public domain.”

    “But it wouldn't be,” insisted Director Piggot. “If we kept it deeply classified, passed it off as Tinker tech … “

    “Which would work right up until it didn't, yeah?” That was Reynaud. Piggot glared at him and he shut up.

    “No, he's right,” Geneva stated flatly. “Unless you bury it so deep that nobody even hears of it, which kind of defeats the purpose if you ever want to use it, people will see it and hear about it. Pictures, sensor readings, analysis, theft … can you tell me for a fact that not one single person on your staff is immune to bribery or blackmail?”

    “Or, you know, super-powers.” Reynaud shrugged. “Pretty sure some of them could be used to get the information.”

    “They're right, you know.” I made my tone almost apologetic. “Right now, we six are the only ones who know of this. I'd like to keep it that way.”

    Piggot nodded reluctantly. “Fine. But given that the technology is contained on a damaged craft, I think that it should be at least sequestered until the craft is repaired and made more secure.”

    “Nope.” Geneva shook her head. “Nobody messes with the Bond James Bond.”

    “The … what?” Piggot stared. “Please tell me that you're kidding.”

    “I've been meaning to ask about that,” I put in, glad that the conversation had moved on to a less touchy subject. “The name of the ship, the name of the AI, the accent … does that mean what I think it means?”

    Geneva shrugged. “What can I say? He likes the classics.”

    “You do realise that the man is still alive, right?” I had no idea how the veteran actor would take to finding out that a sapient starship from half a millennium in the future had taken him as an inspiration. But I truly did want to see the look on Mr Connery's face when someone told him.

    From the look on her face, Geneva apparently had not yet made that connection. Oh god …” She began to chuckle. “No, I didn't … and nor did Sean. I've never seen him so utterly stunned.”

    “Wait, you're saying that those films are still considered 'classics' in five hundred years' time?” Director Piggot was trying hard to regain control of the conversation. “Because I find that hard to believe.”

    “No, they're around, but just part of popular culture where I come from,” Geneva noted. “However, they were classics when Sean was first constructed. He's over two hundred and fifty years old, solstan.”

    “And you've been with him all that time?” Miss Militia asked curiously

    “No, I'm only sixty-four.” Geneva shrugged. “Like I said, anti-ageing treatments, body mods and so on. I've been partners with him for the last twenty years or so. We get along.”

    “Wait, two hundred and fifty years?” Reynaud frowned, then his face cleared. "Oh, yeah. He did say something about -"

    “Yes,” she confirmed. “He was in the Prador wars. Doesn't talk about it much.”

    "I am going to have to ask him about that sometime." Reynaud looked around at the rest of us. “Uh, sorry. Didn't mean to interrupt.”

    “Hm. Well. As fascinating as a full discussion of your future history might be,” Costa-Brown observed, “we need to stick to the relevant details here. For instance, I've been advised that you used what's been described as a pair of tactical nuclear warheads to break up one of the tsunamis. I need more details, please.”

    Tac nukes? This was the first I'd heard of this. I sat up, as did Miss Militia and Director Piggot.

    “Yes, we used them,” Geneva admitted readily enough. “Dial-a-yield fusion devices. No fallout, negligible EMP and radiation. Clean bombs. Just big enough to break up the wave without showering all of Brockton Bay with boiling water.”

    “That's going to have to be independently checked, of course,” Piggot noted. “Irradiating the ocean could produce heavy water, which can cause problems in the environment.”

    “Only in significant quantities,” Reynaud interjected. “Sorry, but my area of study is the evolution of marine biota and man's influence on it. The effect of heavy water is one of the things I've looked at. You already had a crappy ecology out there in the bay, even before Leviathan came here; a dose of heavy water, in the quantities that we're talking about, isn't really going to have much of an effect.”

    “Fine,” snapped Piggot. “What about that other thing you did, over Captain's Hill? You could have blinded half the population.”

    “Unlikely,” Geneva told her. “And in any case, it was necessary. Leviathan was hanging on to the ship. The monster was quite literally tearing it apart around us. So we lit off the fusion drive. And then, when it let go, we gave it everything else we had.”

    “Which blew some of the debris far and wide,” noted the Chief Director. “There have been injuries, I understand.”

    “For which I am sorry,” Geneva responded. “But when you're fighting a superweapon like that, you don't use half-measures and you don't hold back. It's just not feasible.”

    I looked at her sharply and so did both Miss Militia and Chief Director Costa-Brown. Piggot was already not happy with either one of them, so I wasn't sure if she caught the significance of that particular word.

    “What do you mean, superweapon?” Miss Militia asked carefully.

    “I mean, its U-space trace was in no way the same as any other cape we spotted,” Geneva explained. “Like I said, the Endbringers seem to show up as huge U-space loci and wield massive powers. And Sean says that one of his sub-minds picked up something weird during the fight.”

    “Weird? What kind of weird?” That was Costa-Brown.

    She shrugged. “Just 'weird'. If I know him, he's subjecting it to deep analysis before talking to me about it. I'll find out when I find out.”

    “But you're saying the Endbringers weren't originally human?” Director Piggot didn't look as though she wanted to ask the question, or get the answer, but was doing so anyway.

    “That's exactly what I'm saying,” agreed Geneva. “When you get really high-end tech, you get superweapons. Things that are far more dangerous than they first look and are an absolute pain to put down once and for all. Back in the Polity, they've discovered that there were several star-spanning races before humanity. One has been named the Jain.” She spelled the word, then went on.

    “They died out because they developed a technology that infected living things and tech alike, turning it all to one end; producing more Jain tech. Think of it as a living, malevolent virus that could decimate a city, subsuming the population into itself, in a matter of hours. When this tech resurfaced in our time, it posed a serious danger to the Polity before it was put down again. That was a superweapon. The Endbringers fit the same pattern.”

    “But we didn't build them,” I protested. “Nobody did. Behemoth showed up in ninety-two. We didn't even know what he was, then.”

    “Endbringers have attacked all over the world, since,” the Chief Director noted. “Every continent, multiple times. No-one's been spared. It's hard to believe that someone's actively controlling them to do this.” But I could see that she was thinking. And while Chief Director Costa-Brown was known as a sharp operator, Alexandria was a Thinker par excellence.

    “Which would indicate one of three options,” Geneva suggested. “One, the controller isn't human. Two, the controller is psychotic. And three, the controller doesn't know he's doing it.”

    “Unfortunately,” mused Costa-Brown, “we do actually have nonhuman intelligences on Earth, as well as enough psychotics to write several large volumes on the subject. As for your third option, you think that it might be a cape doing it all unawares?”

    “It's just a possibility,” Geneva pointed out. “But I thought you didn't have any AIs here?”

    “Oh, I didn't say we had artificial intelligences,” the Chief Director told her. “But several of our more unusual capes probably don't count as human any more. Unfortunately, we have far too many suspects in all three categories to start narrowing it down to useful levels. But it's useful to know, at least, that they aren't human in and of themselves.”

    “I'd start looking to see who could have built them,” Geneva suggested. “If they're superweapons, then they're tech of some sort. What Tinkers do you have who could create something like that?”

    I blinked. That was an interesting line of thought. But it quickly came to a crashing halt.

    “While we do have some very high-end Tinkers, including some in the Birdcage,” Miss Militia noted, “none of the ones I can think of who could possibly have created something like the Endbringers were active before two thousand two, which was when the Simurgh appeared, much less ninety-two.”

    “Might be worth doing a bit of digging, though,” I suggested. “There could be some who flew under the radar for a while before making their marks.”

    'What if a cape created them with his powers?” asked Reynaud. “I mean, just as a hypothetical.”

    “That would require him to be either psychotic or incredibly stupid,” Miss Militia noted. “I mean, why would anyone even do that, unless they wanted to prove themselves to be the greatest hero of all time, by defeating them single-handed? And nobody's been able to do that yet.”

    “Hmm. There's something in that,” murmured Costa-Brown. “But we're arguing in circles now. Are there any other problems that we want to bring up?”

    “Yes,” Director Piggot stated. “Health. Specifically, diseases.”

    I could see where she was coming from, with the earlier mention of superweapons. Cultures meeting for the first time after long isolation could harbour diseases, each deadly to the other.

    “Actually, that's the least of our problems,” Geneva noted. “I get a boost to my immune system every time I get my body mod updated, and Reynaud's genemod is top of the line, so I'm guessing that you got the same?”

    “Sure,” Reynaud agreed. “Submerged, my mucous membranes are exposed to any pathogen that might have leaked into the water from a thousand different sources, so Mother and Father made sure that I didn't have any genetic weaknesses and that any bug that bit me was going to die.”

    “Also,” Geneva went on, “as a freelance spaceship operator, I've got to have my booster shots up to date, just in case I go someplace that's got something virulent going on. And Sean keeps the ship clean as a matter of course. If either of us had anything infectious, he'd know about it.”

    “Still, I'd like a second opinion,” Piggot stated. “With your permission, Chief Director, I'd like to bring Panacea in on this.”

    I saw Reynaud shoot a glance at Geneva – whom I still couldn't see as being over sixty, miraculous future tech or no – and she went introspective for a moment. “Oh,” she stated a moment later. “The healer.”

    “Believe me,” I assured them, “she's the best there is when it comes to healing.” There were those who said that Eidolon was better, though I had seen them both at work and I sometimes wondered if she could have saved Hero where he couldn't. I glanced over at Costa-Brown. “Though she still might be busy with the wounded.”

    “I'm not sure that it's the best idea to bring more people in on this,” the Chief Director mused. “She's not Protectorate, so we can't just order her to not talk about it.”

    “No, but she's discreet and I've had her in before to deal with injuries to the Wards,” Piggot told her. “She knows the identities of at least some of them and has never let that slip.”

    “There's a world of difference between keeping someone's secret identity and not telling anyone that the Tinkertech craft that helped fight off Leviathan is actually a time-travelling spacecraft,” Miss Militia pointed out. It wasn't a sentence that I had ever thought I would ever hear anyone say out loud.

    “Well, we don't need to tell her that,” the Brockton Bay Director stated impatiently. “Just that a couple of people need checking out. She's almost certainly met people stranger than these two.”

    “So you'll lie to your healer.” Geneva's voice was cutting.

    Piggot gave her a level stare. “We won't lie. She just won't be told all the information. Need to know. Surely you're familiar with that concept.”

    “You have a point,” Geneva agreed. “And she can check me over to her heart's content. But there's no way on Grant's World that she gets to go near Reynaud.”

    The Brockton Bay Director thinned her lips as she matched gazes with Geneva. “Health concerns -”

    “So check me out. Check out everyone he's come into contact with. Reynaud is my ward. If you want to put it in financial terms, he's worth millions to me. In any other terms, he's my responsibility. And he will remain so, right up until I deliver him back to his family. Which means I don't allow any medical attention that I don't personally believe to be absolutely necessary to get near him.” By the time she finished her speech, Geneva had both hands flat on the table, as if ready to leap to her feet.

    I cleared my throat. “Let's take it easy now. Director Piggot, this doesn't sound like consent to me, or anything like it.”

    “He'll have to go into quarantine then.” Piggot's tone was final.

    “Sure, that works for me.” Geneva's tension was easing off. “He can get back on the ship. Simple as that. We have an adequate autodoc.”

    “Captain Hastings,” Miss Militia asked. “What's your problem with Panacea checking out Reynaud? Healing is literally her power. She's saved thousands of lives.”

    She took a deep breath. “Okay, let me put it this way. Legend, suppose an Endbringer attacked your centre of government and you had to swoop in to save the President's kid, then some weird power thing happened and you found yourself in my time. You'd set yourself the job of getting the kid back home in one piece, right?”

    I nodded. “Certainly I would.”

    “Okay, then,” she went on. “Suppose the people you met in my time insisted that the kid, who wasn't even injured, needed to be looked over by an autodoc, which just by the way looks like someone built a two-metre spider out of scrap metal and scalpels. Would you consent to that, not knowing anything about how it worked?”

    “Well … okay,” I conceded. “I can admit that I would be just a little concerned in that situation, yes.”

    “Well then.” She stood up. “If there's nothing more …”

    The Chief Director cleared her throat. “Captain Hastings, I understand that your ship is in dire need of repair.”

    “That's true.” Geneva nodded to Costa-Brown. “We can handle most of the minor stuff. As for the major repairs, I'll discuss that with Legend, if you don't mind. Once we're back at the ship.”

    “Legend?” Costa-Brown raised an eyebrow. “He's not in your chain of command. He's in mine. Once I leave Brockton Bay, and Legend with me, Director Piggot will be the ranking PRT officer in this city.” Implicit in her voice was an unspoken statement: You don't give orders to me or mine.

    Geneva folded her arms. “Okay …” she replied cautiously. Her tone stated quite clearly that it would be a cold day in hell before Emily Piggot set foot on her ship, ranking officer or no.

    Costa-Brown hadn't finished. She turned to Director Emily Piggot. “Director Piggot. I am assigning Miss Militia the job of liaison with Captain Hastings, up until her ship repairs are complete. She will be sending her reports directly to me. You don't need to worry about the matter at all.”

    Director Piggot nodded jerkily. “Understood, ma'am.”

    “Good to hear. Now, this young man needs to enter quarantine immediately and I find myself curious about your artificial intelligence – Sean, was he called?”

    Geneva nodded. “Yes, ma'am. Sean.”

    Costa-Brown smiled slightly. “Well then. Legend, would you care to escort us down so that I can meet him?”

    I stood and pulled out the Chief Director's chair. “Ma'am, I would be honoured.”

    <><>​

    Meanwhile, in Toronto

    Mags!”

    What's up, Geoff?”

    Look! Look at this!”

    Dragon's chat logs for the Endbringer fight. So what?”

    Chat logs recorded at a ten to one rate. Nobody talks that fast.”

    You mean, nobody but Dragon.”

    Or another artificial intelligence.”

    Uh … you have heard about the spaceship that helped out against Leviathan, right? Chased him off with fuck-off heavy weapons.”

    Spaceship? With heavy weapons?”

    Yeah. I saw it on the news. They say it's crewed by a pointy-eared girl and a guy who looks like a fish. That might be where your AI is.”

    Geoff Pellick leaned back and looked at the screens. Slowly, he steepled his fingers. “Really.”


    End of Part Four

    Part Five
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2017
  24. Asheram

    Asheram Know what you're doing yet?

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    ... Fucking Saint.
     
  25. doomlord9

    doomlord9 Experienced.

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    Oh this is gonna be funny.

    Saint not having his free-pass and/or kill-switch vs a completely unchained post-singularity AI that has gone through interstellar war.

    Sean might just keep him around because he's just so damned cute with his anti-AI propaganda and impotent rage at having his over-inflated ego popped.
     
  26. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Good chapter! Lots of politicking, diplomacy, posturing, and some idiot just got a new target...
     
    Ack likes this.
  27. Beyogi

    Beyogi I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Well Piggot is making an ass out of herself. Does she really suck that much at politics?

    Otherwise I'm rather curious what the polity thing actually is that is being used in the crossover here. Some fiction, movie, computer game?
     
  28. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Not normally this much, no. But a) an Endbringer just performed some death and destruction in her city, and b) some people just flew a spaceship in and unleashed some really heavy weapons that caused a certain amount of urban destruction, including flattening Captain's Hill, and using tac nukes to kill a tsunami. So she may just be overreacting a little. or it may be jealousy along the lines of "Why can't I have big guns like that?" :p

    Fiction, by Neal Asher. A very good series.
     
  29. nobodez

    nobodez Bringer of Context

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    I loved Geneva's line about "some idiot wanting to be a great hero", perfect lampshade hanging there Ack
     
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  30. Slayer Anderson

    Slayer Anderson Orthodox Heretic

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    I second the motion, preferably with a variable-yield fusion device.

    I'm sure with twenty-sixth century technology they can make it fit.
     
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