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

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

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  1. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Gotham City
    15th October
    20:02 GMT -5


    "Nine, so, one wood for you-" I pass the card over to Paula. "-and two wheat for me." I help myself.

    Artemis scowls at her two cards. Two wheat, if I remember rightly. "You sure you're not using your ring?"

    I make a face of cherubic innocence. "Are the dice glowing orange?"

    What makes it even better is that I'm actually not. She looks at her three roads, three settlements and poor resource access. Yes, she's next to two lots each of wood and brick, but they got 2, 3, 10 and 12 and they're just not coming up that often. Paula and I both spotted that trap and went for high probability low usefulness resources plus ports instead. Rock port plus rocks on 6 and 9 for me, sheep, wheat and a three to one port for Paula. I've even got a spare knight card on standby in case someone gets an inconvenient 7.

    "Fine. Anyone want wheat?"

    I shake my head. "No."

    Paula rechecks her hand. "Ah, not really. Sorry, Artemis."

    She picks up the dice and hands them to me. I make an orange shaker and rattle them for a moment.

    "So.. you gunna.. talk to your mother about..?"

    Paula looks at me then at Artemis.

    "Talk to me about what?"

    Artemis pauses for a moment. "Paul wants to give me super powers."

    Paula blinks in surprise as I roll the dice. 5. I pass a sheep card to Artemis and two to Paula.

    "You can just do that?"

    I pick up the dice, nodding. "Some powers are granted by chemical formulae. If I know the formula, I can replicate it. At the moment it's a choice between super speed and strength, endurance and rapid healing." I hold out the dice to her. She takes them and holds onto them.

    "How fast, and how strong?"

    "Fast as the Flash -or possibly slightly faster- aaand about Wonder Woman strong. I mean, Artemis doesn't quite have her muscle mass, but that's the sort of level we're talking about."

    "I thought Wonder Woman's powers came from her gods."

    "Oh, they do. I just needed something to compare it to and since I doubt you've heard of Hugo Danner she was the obvious choice."

    Paula nods, looking at the board. Neither of them had heard of Settlers of Catan when I suggested it. I explained the rules to Paula while Artemis reacquainted herself with her Nan.

    Without the collar.

    "Are there any side effects?"

    "Neither of the Flashes experienced any, though Kid Flash has a ravenous appetite. We think that was due to him using an impure version, which wouldn't be a problem for Artemis. Danner Formula enhanciles had problems, but that was due to them not getting immunisation injections which Artemis has already had. Worst consequence I know of is that she'll be banned from professional sport."

    "Why is that?"

    "When metahumans first started appearing at the beginning of the twentieth century there was a guy... He had super strength. He was playing in an American Football match in college and he accidentally killed a member of the opposing team. He was running with the ball, three guys tackled him and one of them got knocked back and landed on his head, snapped his neck. No malice to it, bad luck more than anything, but metahumans have been banned from professional sport ever since."

    Paula puts the dice down and turns to Artemis. "Do you.. want this?"

    "I.. I don't know. I mean, it sounds good, but..."

    Something occurs to Paula. "Have you offered this to Jade?"

    "Hohoo, heck no. I mean, maybe once she's been out of prison a while, but... Look, I like Jade, but I'm not sure it would be sensible to trust her with super powers just yet."

    "And can you undo it?"

    "Nnno. Mmmmm.... Maybe if I did a full body clone or something, but basically no. That's what the collar's for. As long as it's active it can suppress the power. Artemis would be exactly as she is now."

    "Could these powers be passed on to her children?"

    "Moooom!"

    "It's something you need to think about!"

    Artemis goes for redirection. "Are you gunna throw the dice?"

    Um. I try to think of a good answer while Paula rolls for the turn. Mister Garrick never had any children. Mister Allen doesn't have any at present. I remember at least one Flash having children in the comics but I think that was Wallace. Could it cause infertility? He hasn't said anything...

    "Twelve! Finally." Artemis reaches over to the piles of cards next to me and takes a wood, then holds out her right hand for the dice.

    "Nnnot sure. The research I've seen suggests that the Danner strength formula can't be, but I've also met a man who credibly says that he got it from his father. I can't promise any of this is completely safe, buuut it's probably safer than superheroing without it."

    Paula passes Artemis the dice and she rolls them immediately. 7. Artemis looks at me hungrily and I fan out my hand.

    "Just seven I'm afraid."

    "There's eight!"

    "Development cards don't count. I did say."

    She scowls, then moves the robber to rock 9. I hold my hand out to her and she takes one of my five rock cards. She checks her hand once more and sags slightly before passing me the dice. I wait for a moment while Paula thinks the empowerment thing over.

    "I think it is something that Artemis and I will need to talk about."

    "Understood." I roll. 6. Three rock for me and a sheep for Paula. "Two rock for wood, two rock for brick…"

    Artemis huffs. "Here we go."

    "Wood and a brick for a road, three rock and two sheep for a city. Knight, moving the robber to sheep five. Paula, if you would?"

    She fans her hand and I pick a wheat. Hm. I push the dice over. "Pass turn."

    I'm only on 6 victory points. Me clustering around the rock hexes gave Paula an easy run at longest road, putting her on 7. Artemis is stuck on 3. She looks at me. "What would I have to do to get a power ring?"

    "Be the strongest willed person in the Sector when one of the Greenies dies?"

    "No, an orange one like you've got."

    "Uuuuuuhhh. Steal one from Larfleeze? I could try and put in a good word with the Controllers when I meet them but there aren't really any orange rings floating around. Um, as far as I know. If.. you're thinking about it I'd be perfectly happy to teach you the mental techniques I use."

    "You learned it pretty quick and you didn't even have a teacher."

    "Yeeeah, but... You remember when you came into the cave after I healed your mother, and Robin and I ran off?"

    "Yeah?"

    What can I say without giving anything away?

    "There was.. a member of his family. They had crippling, agonising injuries. He wanted me to try healing them. I couldn't work up the need, so I gave him access to the ring. He managed to stay focused for about three seconds before he started trying to claw my hand off to take it."

    She blinks in surprise.

    "Orange power rings.. mess you up. They can give you everything you want and they force you to go for it. How do you fight against what you already want? In your case: you hate your father? Think he deserves to suffer?"

    She dodges my gaze.

    "Then the first thing that will happen when you get an orange ring is that you'll force your way into his prison cell and start breaking bits off him. And you won't stop. You won't want to. And that intensity of desire never goes away. You either learn to harness it, or you turn into a narcissistic monster and that's what happened to the only other Orange Lantern in the universe that I know about. So: if you want to learn, I'll try and teach you. But you'd probably be better off going for one of the other options."

    She thinks about it. "But you healed him, right? Robin's relative?"

    I nod. "Robin did. But it freaked him out, and you'll notice that he doesn't risk standing on my left side anymore. I don't think... I don't think orange rings should go to the most avaricious people, in the way green rings go to the most wilful. It's about being just avaricious enough to use the thing, and wanting the right sorts of thing so you use it well. If you don't have the right character traits, it doesn't mean you're a bad person, it just means you're not right for that colour of ring."

    I look at the dice.

    "You gunna roll those?"
     
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  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th October
    18:06 GMT -5


    Wallace calls the ship down and then dashes inside. Artemis, Teekl and M'gann walk outside with Mister J'onzz, whose appearance gets a brief cheer from the soldiers and causes General Lane to walk over to have a word. Kaldur and I lurk at the back for a moment. He nods at me. Time to find out.

    "Ring, contact Green two eight one four A."

    Nothing.

    "Ring, contact Green two eight one four B. Green two eight one four C. Green five eight six A. Green Clarissi. Green Illustres. Green... one four one seven A.

    Nothing on any of them.

    "Ring, explain inability to communicate."

    "Error: subject not found."

    Kaldur and I look at each other. "Can the entire Green Lantern Corps truly have been destroyed?"

    I shake my head in a daze. "I'd.. say no. It's more likely they've just blocked me. Um. Ring, contact Blue one." Nothing again, but then I don't know if Saint Walker has been recruited yet. "My last option is to try communicating with Larfleeze. Normally I wouldn't even consider it, but I'm-" I look out of the Hall's front windows at the ruined and burning cityscape. "-I'm not sure how much worse even he can make things now. I'll leave it up to you."

    Kaldur looks down at the floor for a moment before nodding slightly. Right then.

    "Ring, contact Agent Orange."

    As I say his title I feel.. something. It was a bit like when I tried speaking the oath; need, but not my need. The ring crackles for a moment before releasing a pulse of orange light which swiftly takes Larfleeze's form. He's hunched over, legs drawn up, hugging what I suppose must be a representation of the Orange Central Power Battery. Bigger than I expected. His multi-tusked head jerks around as he takes in his environment before finally coming to rest on me.

    Um.

    "Sir, Orange Lantern two-."

    "YOU CAN'T GO ANYWHERE YOU'RE MINE YOU'RE MINE YOU'RE MINE!"

    Um?

    "Certainly, sir, but would.. you..?"

    His head jerks away again, looking at... Something on his end? Is he.. cowering? What the hell is Larfleeze scared of? Now I'm seeing he doesn't look like much of a threat. Almost stick thin, and he's behaving like a scared animal.

    "YOU HAVE TO STAY! MY PLACE! MY SHINY! ALL MINE! RAAAWR!"

    The image glows a little brighter and then bursts. I blink the afterimage away. "I don't think he'll be any help, even as a distraction."

    "You said that he was deranged, but I did not fully appreciate what he would be like. What caused him to become like that?"

    I shake my head. "A couple of million years in a cave all on his own."

    **Guys! Look at this.** Wallace waves at us from where he's perched on top of the now visible bioship and Kaldur leads the way outside. It looks like Wallace is wearing one of R-. One of Robin's computers. I blink and he's right in front of us waving the screen under our faces. **It's giving off zeta beams. The same stuff that powers our zeta tubes. T-this thing doesn't disintegrate, i-it teleports. Rob is alive!**

    Kaldur leans forwards to get a better look at the screen, which appears to show a diagram of the gun attached to the bioship with zeta radiation concentrations highlighted. **Perhaps. I am not familiar enough with-.**

    **No, no perhaps. They're all alive.**

    Ooooooh.

    "Gauss flayer."

    I say it before thinking. Wallace and Kaldur both look at me for an explanation.

    **I... I don't recognise the gun, but I have heard of something with a similar effect. Zeta radiation...** I bow my head and close my eyes for a moment. **Nothing says it has to teleport all of an object at once.** I open my eyes to the looks of shock on their faces. **Given how we observed it functioning.. the outer parts of the target disappearing first... And then comparing our general technology level to theirs... I'm sorry, I don't think it's very likely.**

    The hope he'd briefly felt drains from Wallace's face. Wait, what's tha-.

    A red beam of energy spears one of the tanks of the perimeter and I barely get a shield in the way fast enough to stop it taking the infantry huddled down nearby with it. In the distance I see a swarm of alien fighters swooping down. They must have come in from orbit!

    !Protect!

    No! I won't lose anyone else!

    The orange shield dome extends across the military position as the anti-air missile systems on the trucks try to establish a lock and Kon begins moving the bioship to meet them. Kaldur takes in the scene as more red beams hammer down, targeting the vehicles.

    **Superboy, activate stealth sys-.**

    The turret beam from our right hits the bioship. It glows for a second and then disintegrates into nothingness.

    Kon.

    Dimly, I hear M'gann and Mister J'onzz cry out in shock.

    Kon.

    More beams start striking our position as my dome fails.

    Kon. Kon's dead.

    Someone's.. shouting.? Soldiers stream past me, covering one another as rockets from the SAMs start shooting up at the enemy ships. One takes a glancing hit and spins off to the side.

    Kon...

    Whu'? Artemis has picked me up bodily and is hauling me back into the Hall.

    "Okay. I'm.. I'm okay."

    She puts me down to the side, just out of sight from the outside, and swiftly puts an arrow on string.

    "This doesn't.. change anything. Just because it's my my... My best friend rather than Wallace's. Right. Right."

    Numb's no good to anyone. What do I want? I should be angry but the shock's too much. Kon... And there's no face for me to hate, just a bunch of drones... What can I do? What.. amount of force...

    Oh. That.. could work. I see Kaldur open the door to the library, the route to the Hall's closest zeta tube. Evacuate? Not a bad plan. If he takes this green lantern to the Watchtower he might be able to reactivate some of the systems the Guardians gutted before handing it over. He'll need me to override the computer, or fix it if it's been damaged. And it's not like I want the others around if I go through with this...

    The vehicles outside have been either destroyed or abandoned as anyone who can retreats inside. Right. The aliens are getting cocky and there're things I need to do. I hold up my left hand, lantern and ring glowing in concert.

    "I need you to not be here."

    Faster than usual, pulses of orange light fly out and hit the alien ships as they slow down to manoeuvre. A single strike is enough to smash each one apart. I'm still not angry, I'm not even feeling particularly destructive, I simply.. need a little breathing space at the moment. Five die and then the rest have the sense to get out of my line of fire. I nod at Artemis and then we both sprint to the zeta tube.
     
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  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Gotham City
    15th October
    20:32 GMT -5


    Paula gives me a bemused look. "You really don't think that you've earned your ring?"

    Twelve - nine - five. Welp, I'm impressed by how quickly Paula picked that game up. Also by how vicious she decided to be at the end there, waiting until I got my ninth victory point before getting three in one turn to end the game on a plus ten score. Artemis never really got a look in. I flick my left hand up and the pieces of Catan rise into the air and shuffle themselves.

    "No. Not yet anyway. I'm, y'know, paying it down, but it's such a huge thing..."

    Artemis seems irritated by my apparent modesty. "What did those people you said did earn it do?"

    "I said they were the only ones I knew of who earned it in advance. There's probably plenty of Lanterns who spent decades fighting the good fight and earned it that way."

    "So?"

    "Alright. Story time." I let the pieces stack themselves on the table. "The story of Lantern Katma Tui. Not quite the Book of Oa version, but I'll try and do it justice. Once upon a time, there was a mighty Green Lantern by the name of Thaal Sinestro. He knew neither doubt nor hesitation. His intellect was incisive and his willpower incredible, and, perhaps most importantly, he believed passionately in the mission the Guardians give their Lanterns: to establish order throughout the galaxy. So respected was he by both the Green Lantern Corps as a whole and by the Guardians of the Galaxy themselves that he was promoted to the position of First Lantern, overall commander of the Corps."

    Artemis frowns. "Isn't Sinestro that guy who-?"

    "Yes, yes he is. I'm getting to that. You see, there's some things his fellow Lanterns didn't know about their leader. Firstly, that he was responsible for the death of his predecessor. You can't use a green ring to kill someone, but if they give it to you because they're too wounded to fight on, it won't compel you to get them medical attention. He got the ring, won the fight and couldn't stand the idea of giving it up. So he just stood there and watched Lantern Prohl Gosgotha bleed to death. Secondly, that his belief in the supremacy of will was so intense, he didn't believe that weaker willed people deserved autonomy. He turned his homeworld of Korugar into a police state, with himself as the dictator. But -and this is genuinely true about him- he didn't do it for his own aggrandisement. He didn't favour one ethnic group, one caste, one religion. One rule for everyone. If you stepped out of line you were stepped on, and if you were in his government and abused your power? You were stepped on harder, for letting him down."

    I lean back a little. Guy was a bit iffy about sharing a Greenie's personal history with me, but he was happy to talk about Sinestro. Turns out they still didn't know what he'd done to Prohl Gosgotha. Once I questioned him Guy compared the timelines from Sinestro's logs. He was disgusted to say the least when he confirmed what I said.

    Paula looks puzzled. "How could the Guardians not know that he'd taken over a planet?"

    "The universe is a very big place. And Lanterns are allowed to hold political office, they just aren't supposed to use their rings to get it. Anyway, after Lantern Abin Sur died and his ring went to Lantern-"

    Um.

    "-two eight one four A." Paula looks confused. "The first Greenie in the Justice League." She nods. "Sinestro took him on as his personal student, because Abin Sur had been about the only friend he had at that point and if the Human was going to wear his ring then he was going to learn to use it properly. They worked together for about a year before Sinestro decided that his new apprentice was ready to see the wonders he'd achieved on Korugar. 'Course, he hadn't spent a lot of time on Earth. Didn't appreciate how individualistic Americans tend to be. And he certainly didn't expect Katma Tui to kick off a planetwide rebellion during his visit. Two eight one four attempted to take her into custody as a crazy anarchist and got a very pointed demonstration of his mentor's dark side. After he confirmed it for himself he put a call in to the Guardians and Sinestro's ring got deactivated. Sinestro was then tried before the Corps, convicted and banished to the antimatter universe, his ring going to Katma Tui."

    I shake my head. Would it have killed them to execute him instead?

    "Of course, by that stage the Green Lantern Corps was so hated on Korugar that she can't ever go home. But the point is that she brought down the most powerful Green Lantern alive through cunning and determination. She didn't even know that two eight one four was going to be there, she honestly believed that they'd have to fight Sinestro themselves, and she was prepared to do that. If she hadn't, any number of impressionable new Greenies could have been taught to do things the tyrannical way by the man responsible for leading them. And that would have been a disaster for everyone."

    Artemis is incensed. "They can't blame her for what he did!"

    "Yes, they can. And they can certainly blame the Greenies for not keeping tabs on Sinestro, and her for agreeing to work with them."

    "Well, why'd she take it then, if everyone was going to hate her for it?"

    "Who else could she trust? They gave the ring to Sinestro in the first place. Who would they have given it to if she hadn't taken it? She took the hit because she thought she needed to, for the good of all."

    Don't think that Artemis liked that story. "What about the other guy?"

    "You sure? Bro'Dee Walker's story s'not much more upbeat."

    "How can it be less upbeat than getting exiled from the planet he saved?"

    "Alright. Bro'Dee Walker's homeworld was technologically equivalent to our mid nineteenth century when its sun started dying. They knew enough to realise what was happening, but weren't advanced enough to escape or call for help. Walker was a priest, and while all around him went mad with fear he put his faith in scripture, the inspiring tales of his people's great heroes. When it became apparent that not enough of his fellows shared his attitude he remembered a prophecy concerning the arrival of a divinely appointed champion who would be revealed to the faithful at the hour of their greatest need. And since it's hard to get greater than complete societal collapse due to oncoming nova, he decided to undertake a pilgrimage to the mountain where the saviour was supposed to appear. He set out with his father, his wife, his son and his daughter, each of whom his faith had inspired."

    I generate a simple illustrative construct. I don't remember exactly what they looked like, but it should be close enough.

    "On the way to the mountain they had to cross a rickety rope bridge. Their children made it safely to the other side, but the rope snapped while the adults were still on it. Walker and his wife were able to hold on but his father wasn't, and he fell to his death. A little further along they came to a mountain stream and stopped to get a drink and to bathe. Unfortunately, the sun's increased heat had melted the ice from the top of the mountains and the river surged while they were in it. Walker was able to rescue his son, but his wife and daughter were swept away and drowned. With nothing better to do, the two of them continued their journey. It took them days to get to the upper slopes of the mountain and by the time they did their supplies were exhausted. Walker and his son stopped to rest for a while, and while he wasn't watching his son ate a fruit from one of the local vines. The stomach cramps started almost immediately, and the poison killed him before the day was over. Alone and despairing, unable to think of anything else to do but keep going through sheer bloody mindedness, Walker made the final ascent. By the time he reached the summit it was raining hard, and he pulled himself over the final ridge hoping against hope to see someone, something, that would give his family's deaths meaning."

    I shake my head as my construct Walker rails against the uncaring heavens.

    "But the summit was empty. He fell to his knees, beat the ground with his fists, cursed everything. His family had believed in him as he had believed in the prophecy, and there was no one there. When he finally had the strength to move again, he raised his head up a little, and saw, reflected in the water running down one of the larger rocks that lay on the peak, his own face. Understanding dawned. He walked back down the mountain, back into his temple, picked up his holy book, walked out into the town's main square, and started preaching. To start with, people just ignored him, but he kept going, and as time passed his calm cut through the fear and people stopped to listen. Eventually the whole town stood there, listening to him remind them of the best aspects of their nature. Once that happened he travelled on to the next town, then the next, and where he walked peace and sanity were restored. Finally, when his whole people were prepared to accept the end with dignity, the first blue power ring descended from the sky, drawn there by the hope he inspired. The very first thing he did with it? He channelled that hope and rejuvenated their sun by millions of years."

    I relax a little, dismissing the construct.

    "The nova reversed. Planet's still there now, if you're ever in Sector one, and the first Blue Lantern is hailed as a saint by his people. He earned his ring, and I can only hope to one day be a fraction as good a man as he is."

    I think they're stunned. I wave the Catan hexes.

    "Anyone for another game?"
     
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  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th October
    18:10 GMT -5


    Artemis and I run past the soldiers covering the library door. Not.. sure what they think those M16s are going to do but the skies are currently clear so I doubt that it matters. About twenty at various states of readiness. We come to a halt next to Wallace. Mister J'onzz is doing something with the zeta tube's computer.

    "Kid Flash, would you mind holding onto this?" I hold out Guy's lantern.

    "W..?" He takes it in both hands, staring at it. "I can't use it without a ring."

    "No, but you might be able to restart some of the Watchtower's systems with it. That's where we're going, right?"

    "Ah, no, back to the cave."

    "Why are we going there? The Watchtower's labs are far better. Has it been destroyed?"

    "Ah..."

    "Never mind. Artemis, these are for you." I bring the bow and quiver out of subspace and pass them to her. "They.. used to belong to Wonder Woman, so you should be able to use them at full power."

    "R-right." She folds her bow and gives Diana's a pull to test the resistance.

    Ring, monitor alien fighter behaviour.

    Compliance.

    I turn away and walk over to where Mister J'onzz, Kaldur and General Lane are standing. A small.. turret of some kind? Extends from the ceiling and runs a green scanning beam over Mister J'onzz. He still looks a bit dazed.

    "Override, Martian Manhunter, zero seven."

    "Recognised. Access granted." The outer doors open, revealing the zeta tube itself.

    "Aqualad? Have we been able to contact the Watchtower?"

    M'gann steps into the tube. "Recognised, Miss Martian, B, zero five."

    He looks at me sadly. "Even if it survives, it is unlikely that any members of the League would have fallen back there."

    "No, but Robin dug these-" I take the lumps of alien spacecraft out of subspace. "-out of one of the fighters from earlier. The cave doesn't have a xenotech lab, the Watchtower does. If there's data on here..."

    "It would likely take more time than we have. Artemis."

    She comes forwards.

    "Recognised, Artemis, B, zero eight."

    "Would Kid Flash be able to restart any of the systems the Guardians deactivated using Guy's lantern?"

    Kaldur waves Wallace forwards. "Perhaps, but if the zeta system were damaged he would be stuck on the Watchtower with no way to evacuate."

    "How about I try it, then?"

    He shakes is head. "It is too risky. You are next."

    "Isn't there a risk that the aliens will be able to use this place to trace where we've gone? Particularly if they are familiar with zeta radiation?"

    He hesitates. "What do you propose?"

    "Leave me till last. I can fly at faster than light speed. Catch you up manually. I can wipe the computers and smash everything after you've gone."

    And I really don't want you to see what I'm about to do.

    He nods. "Very well."

    I pluck the lantern from Wallace's unresisting hands.

    "Kid Flash, B, zero three."

    "Manhunter-."

    Warning, incoming-

    Shield!

    Teekl shoots in through the door as a wall of overlapping kite shields appear along the walls and over the door. Several soldiers try and aim at her but she's moving too fast.

    -attack craft.

    A beam of ruby energy takes out part of the far wall next to the door, but the shields behind it hold. Teekl takes cover behind my legs, fur on end.

    "Recognised, Martian Manhunter, zero seven."

    Seeing no return fire, the aliens intensify their attack. Individual shields weaken as more beams are fired. Kaldur catches General Lane's eye. "General, begin evacuating!"

    Why aren't they using their zeta cannon things? Did the ones we fought near the Fortress not realise the signif-.

    The roof comes down! Shield! I get the dome up fast enough to block most of the debris, but I hear a yelp of pain as a chunk of rubble lands on someone. I can't keep up this many defensive constructs!

    What do I do?

    !Wrongness! !Teammates must thrive!

    "Kaldur. Get out of here!"

    A giant hand construct forms from my ring hand and shoves him back towards the zeta tube.

    "Recognised, Aqualad, B, zero two."

    But there are still people in here and I can't keep the shield up. I need more power. No choice.

    I close my eyes, trying to bring all of my desires to the forefront of my mind.

    "This is my power."

    The treasures of civilisations, fallen ages past. Bones stripped of flesh and marrow.

    "This is my light."

    Vast serpentine eyes blink.

    The ring pulses.

    "Be it bright of day or black of night."

    Forked tongue flicks, tasting my presence. Approval.

    "I claim all that lies within my sight."

    A squalling gnat is knocked aside as scales flow through the portal to their new home.

    The ring shines, the links between myself and my shields expand and thrum. My lantern shakes and glows so brightly that it's painful to look at. Distantly I'm aware of the soldiers moving past me into the zeta tube.

    "TO TAKE WHAT I WANT, THAT IS MY RIGHT!"

    Orange...



    ...light...



    ...everywhere...
     
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  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th October
    18:14 GMT -5


    And everything is suddenly so very clear. This is my building. These are my soldiers. And I'm not going to have anyone harming what is mine. I raise my right hand a little

    Nasty will. Drop it, drop it.

    dropping Guy's lantern to the ground with a clatter. Why did I want to use that to power the Watchtower? When I make it mine I'll use my own lant.. no, that would expend it. It's all I have left of Alan, I'm keeping it forever. I still have scans of Alan's when I first converted it, I'll just reconfigure Guy's to orange. Then I'll have a Watchtower. Yes.

    The shield around the room is now effortlessly preventing the normal beams from penetrating, but those zeta flayers could still be

    We/I recognise those.

    easy to deal with, now that I understand the operating principles of zeta transportation technology. Jam.


    "Hey, ahhh..."

    I look down at the soldier. The name stencilled on his armour says 'Reid', but he

    Are we/I being blocked?

    seems somehow insubstantial, almost hollow.

    "Yes?"


    "Can you operate the zeta tube?"

    Oh, of course, the evacuation. One person at a time, who designed those things? I reach out to each soldier in the room, shifting rubble off them and repairing

    We/I will keep our possessions in good repair.

    their injuries. "General Lane, if you would please lead your men to the zeta tube entrance, I believe that I am now sufficiently powerful to guard your retreat."

    They seem ill at ease for some reason. Should I alter their hormonal balance? No, that might reduce their combat effectiveness. Enhance them?


    "Is that.. supposed.. to be there..?"

    I frown, then look up into the Ophidian's face where it floats just above me. Its body is bent up above its head, one coil looping around the ceiling and then down the back wall, terminating with the tip of its tail plugged into my lantern.

    "Yes. If it bothers you, just don't look at it."


    "Iss.. it here to help?"

    "That.. would probably be overstating it. But it is sharing

    I/we do not share. I/we serve our interests.

    its understanding of zeta radiation. I should be able to send all of you in one go. Or you could stay, if you wanted. I've got some fascinating techniques I could use to alter your bodies to be more combat effective."

    I smile at him. I like having good teeth.


    "No, no, ah.. General Lane, sir?"

    The General lowers his rifle and stares at the Entity.

    "Greaaaat snakes. You sure you know what you're doin', son?"

    "Oh no, General, I'm making it up as I go. But I don't think I can kill all of the aliens and protect you and your men, so you might want to get out of here now."

    He nods, and waves his right arm at the zeta tube entrance. The transmission process is simple enough, but I need to allow for the fact that there is significantly less space at the cave end. But we do have two tubes next to the main training area, plus two in the hangar. I'll just have to split them up.

    Reminds me a little of when I used to play Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun. When a unit got damaged and I didn't have any way to repair it I used to send it back to my main base to be out of harm's way. Or in Morrowind, where I would get the Skeleton Key and never use it to keep it pristine.

    The soldiers walk into the zeta tube. Most of them steal a look at the Ophidian overhead. A couple cross themselves. Right. Ring

    I/we have no need for interlocutors.

    don't worry, I can handle this. I blink slowly as I get used to interfacing directly with the tube's systems and pour orange light into it. Hahaa!

    "Whom does the zeta tube work for?"


    "You, master."

    Yes, you do. I feel space begin to twist as I alter the zeta array itself, increasing its accuracy and precision tenfold. Then I activate it with a nod, and in a flash the soldiers are gone.

    Next item on the agenda, resurrecting my friends. Should I be

    The Life Entity is not here. We/I do not understand.

    able to sense it now? Because I can't. Oh well, my plan had been to get normal lanterns of each colour then persuade a Controller to forge a ring, rather than petition the Life Entity directly. But I can't leave my other friends here while they're under attack. And... this building. If we're the new Justice League I'm not having our public face looking like a pile of rubble. I release my hold on my lantern and let it float into the air, then with a negligent wave of my left hand I expand the shield wall to encompass the entire building. Now, let's see, there should be plans and images in the League's computer.. there we are! I look up again.

    "Better than a cave on

    We/I appreciate liberation.

    Okaara, isn't it?"

    I drift through the library as walls and ceilings are made whole once more. Can't repair incinerated books without knowing exactly what

    We/I sense a record.

    they.. were... Oh, guess there was a record after all. In an orange shimmer the place is as good as new as I walk out into the lobby. I watch as an orange surge restores the front windows, through which I see twelve stationary alien fighters firing continuously from both weapons. I wave at them. Hmm, looks like jamming their zeta transmission doesn't shut off their carrier beam. Oh well, doesn't matter.

    I turn back to the room, and wherever my eyes pass things are made right. The walls and floor knit back together either from material from the rubble or simply transmuted. Or maybe created ex nihilo. Not sure. Next the lights flick back on as I restore damaged power lines. Air conditioning is next, then water, then the tourist information computers. I think I can feel the whole of the building. Clean up the toilets, restart the reactor. Good job it isn't plugged into local systems, otherwise I'd have to restore the entire city to get this place working right.

    Now, the statues. The bombardment the Hall received when we took shelter here has smashed apart the ones that were left. I could just restore them, but... we're the League now. Aren't we? So my team should have statues. Rock flows into orange moulds as the orange light gives my desires form. In the centre, standing over the lift entrance, I create Kon-El's likeness, arms folded across his chest. To his left, Artemis, and to his right, Robin. Next to Robin goes Wallace and then Kaldur, and next to Artemis goes me and then M'gann. Not strictly reflecting our hierarchy but pleasantly mirroring the positions of our predecessors, I think. I can always make extra statues for them somewhere else. Yes, those look good.

    “We will rebuild this world as a testament to our greatness! All will love us and rejoice!"

    I look up. The Ophidian is following me into the room. Well, its front part and its head are, the bulk of its body is still back in the library where I left my lantern. And Guy's. Well, those aren't urgent requirements. Ring, state

    I/we have no need for interlocutors.

    power level. I can feel much more than I used to be able to how much charge I have, but I'd like to be able to put a number on it.

    "Fifty thousand percent remaining."

    I grin.
     
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  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th October
    18:18 GMT -5


    "And -just to confirm- is it going down at all?"

    "Charge level is not being depleted."

    "Excellent."

    Hey, where's Teekl

    Our/my taste in toys is different now.

    got to? I don't think she left with the soldiers. "Teekl! Here Teekl! Where y'gone? Where y'gone? Here, Teekie Teekie Teekie!"

    I look around and.. oh, there she is! She's crouching at the top of one of the bookcases, growling and hissing at the Ophidian. Bit rude. Oh, I'm sure she'll

    The toy will be quiescent.

    come.. around... Teekl stands up, jumps down and strolls over towards me. Hmm. Not sure what happened there. Right. Power, cat, team mates safe. Next step: the air armada that's still firing at my building. I spread my arms out to the side and float upwards until I'm level with the top part of my Hall's glass frontage and the Ophidian's head. After a moment Teekl floats

    Mere glass is inadequate to display our glory.

    up to join us. Hm. Should I replace it with something else? It gleams for a moment as I transmute it to diamond. Is that really..? Aluminium oxynitride? One of Mister Luthor's fascinating ceramic nano-composites? I cycle through them a couple of times, trying to assess the visual differences. I honestly can't tell. Oh, let's just go with the LexCorp one. It feels more

    Reasons are irrelevant.

    Human. He made it to resist an alien, and it's resisting aliens. Or rather, it isn't, because orange shield. Well. The Ophidian turns its head towards the ceiling and moves forwards, passing through the steel and concrete with no resistance. Show-off. I still

    We are joined. Our knowledge is one.

    don't know how to do that, but maybe I can work it out? It's not a matter of destroying and reconstructing it. It can't be a matter of molecular density. I'm sure that's a mistranslation from the Ca'andran original because that whole idea makes no sense to me. Hmm. Some sort of partial planeshift, using the orange light as a conceptual tether? I float right up to the glass. Well, at least the only one who'll see if I do something stupid is Teekl. Through we go oh that's weird but I made it.

    Above me the Ophidian's busy looping itself around the roof. The alien fighters split their attention between it and me, and I chuckle as they fail to harm either. The Ophidian flicks out

    They have no scent.

    its tongue. I wonder why it hasn't attacked them yet. Is it waiting for me? Sweet. I hold out my left hand and make a grabbing motion, warping gravity around the closest fighter. I feel its drive system try to resist. Futile. Get over here. I pull it to me, dome level with my face.

    "Not quite as much fun when someone does it to you, is it?"

    Its armour strains as it continues trying to manoeuvre.

    "Your communications are still intact. I know you can understand me. And I want you to understand me when I tell you this. And I want you to relay it to every other unit your people have on Earth and Mars and anywhere else."

    I lean closer, and rest my left hand on the dome surface.

    "Are you listening? Yes? What I'm going to do is, I'm going to tell you where you went wrong. This planet? It's called Earth. It's not really all that important to the wider universe, pretty primitive, a bit out of the way, but, it's mine."

    I pat myself in the centre of my chest with my right hand.

    "Mine. That building-" I point at my Hall. "-is mine. You damaged it and I had to repair it. I could live with that. But what I can't live with is what you've done to the people. My friends. Because, you see…"

    What do I/we want most of all?

    "Ahem, THESE PEOPLE ARE MINE! AND NO ONE TAKES WHAT IS MINE FROM ME!"

    The orange beam from the ring burrows through the centre of the ship, pierces the rear armour and then spreads out inside. The dome glows brightly as the outer hull cracks, and then explodes outwards.

    No, you don't. You're mine and you'll do what I tell you.

    A network of orange beams links every piece of ship together before they can strike the ground, and pulls them back together in the sky. I can feel it as broken hull pieces fuse back together, wires and tubes realigning and techno-organic computer systems recompiling. The exterior twists as an orange sigil appears on its now orange front dome.

    Mine.

    I go higher into the air, orange filaments whipping around from the ends of my fingers.

    Mine.

    Each filament strikes a fighter and in a pulse of orange light they become mine.

    Mine.

    The last few fighters try to break off and try to flee. Chuckling, I point forwards with both hands and the filaments seek them out as well. I can feel their thoughts on the edge of my mind. It's similar to piloting the bioship except that I'm not even trying to make this a relationship between equals.

    "Spacecraft of the Orange Lantern Corps. Seek out your brethren, and destroy them utterly. Off you trot."

    I feel them access their tactical network, then they form into squadrons of three and peel off after their targets. I turn to the Ophidian.

    "Look at them go!"

    Now, what was next? There are still people in this city, and while I may not care for any of them individually every bit of damage I can undo or prevent is something I won't have to come back and fix later. I hold up my right arm and create a paintbrush construct.

    "First, I'll fix this city."

    I wave the brush and in an orange glow buildings are restored.

    "Fix the people."

    I reach out to the trapped and terrified. I liberate and calm.

    They are too easily damaged.

    And augment. After this we can't just go back to the situation pro bellum. Nothing crazy, I'm not going to Danner the whole world or anything. But strength and intelligence are based on physical structures. Behavioural tendencies are the results of hormones and brain structures just as much as learning. A few modest tweaks... Yes.

    One of my fighters surges out from the ring. It's no longer metal at all, just pure orange light. It looks at me for instructions.

    "Get back to it you slacker. And no dawdling, you're a Lantern, act like it."

    A streak of orange lightning and it's back to the fight. Right, Washington D.C.'s fixed. What's next?
     
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  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th October
    18:53 GMT -5...
    Probably


    "AND YOU'RE MINE

    Assimilation complete. These will be useful.

    AS WELL!"

    Gosh, this is fun. When I thought about it, I realised that everyone I cared about personally was either safe or dead. So, second tier: where are the people they care about? Didn't take long to pick up Mister and Missus West and drop them and Paula and Jade off in the Batcave. And to seal them and Alfred in. Then I remembered M'gann's family. I never asked where on Mars they lived. Probably should have done. But, when I thought about it I realised that it didn't really matter; any mothership I left unmolested would go on to attack their city if I just attacked the immediate threat. Plus, even one mothership would provide me with

    Toys.

    enough chaff for distraction attacks on the rest. Heck, even assimilating a whole mothership didn't take more than about twenty

    Fifteen point four.

    seconds. Once it became clear exactly how one sided this was going to be I just sent those I'd already taken into orbit to watch for further attacks. Only three of the Martian cities were properly breached, though anything that was left on the surface was properly wrecked. They used these weird four legged things for infantry, thin insect like legs equidistant around a central cylinder with an eye gun about halfway up. Cleaning them up didn't take much longer. Unfortunately I've got no idea how to identify M'gann's family. From what she said about Martian families there're probably loads of M'orzzes around, I can't hack the biological data storage systems they use and for some

    Inconceivable!

    reason I can't perceive the locals' desires to just find people who are worried about her.

    Has been interesting to see Martian warships. They started joining in after I dealt with the fifth mothership. Hmm. I suppose those few might be all that's left. Bit pointless really. They can't hit hard enough or move fast enough to matter. I ended up just sticking shields around them to stop a lucky hit from an alien fighter taking them down. They also don't seem

    Jealous of my/our majesty.

    too keen on the Ophidian though. I left it with my lantern in orbit, but one of the motherships tried to do a runner and its head entered the atmosphere to bite it. They kind of freaked out a bit.

    This whole thing reminds me of the second time I tried to play Dungeons and Dragons. After the DM banned me from playing as a pony I looked at the possibility of playing as a necromancer. Foolishly, I assumed that the necromancer would be a minion controller class. I mean, it's all about summoning and binding the undead, right? Wrong. Not even a skeleton until something stupid like level 5. I wasn't expecting Wights or anything at level 1, but a zombie rat? A weak skeleton? A ghost? Something? Anything relating to the title? No. Fuck you negative energy blasts.

    Right, when I get back to Earth I'm fixing D&D. And Warhammer 40,000. Oh goodness, yes. And I'm going to see about introducing Babylon 5 CCG, the greatest CCG of all time. I don't even care that no one here's watched the series, I want a game. A game against decks that someone else has designed. The ring's been improving my memory for as long as I've been wearing it and I'm sure it can extract near complete sets from my mind. Kon was saying that he.. was.. enjoying...

    Kon's dead. That’s.. important. I should probably get on with doing something about that. An instant later I'm outside the orbital mothership cordon. I'm not getting any feedback about further threats so hopefully this is about it. I'll take two with me and leave the other seventy here. Feel a bit silly forgetting that Construct Lanterns could perform their own assimilations. Having motherships fire assimilation cannons rather than zeta-cannons sped things up a great deal. Okay, got my lantern, got my Entity, got my cat -I scratch her head and she rolls on her back for a belly rub- got my Construct Lantern motherships... You know, now I really look at them, their design is really ugly. Not very efficient either. If I just rearranged the main beam projectors-. No. No. Resurrect Kryptonian beefcake first, alien weapon systems later.

    Would it be too obvious if I went straight to Happy Harbour? Note to self, change every sign in the place to spell it properly. Eh, I'll just go into orbit somewhere around the moon and have a think. Transitioning. Right, you, mothership A, deploy fighters. Mothership B, stick with me. Now, where is everyone?


    "...survives because the battle is not over."

    Kaldur? No, just a recording.

    "Not as long as even one of us-"

    Me, I suppose.

    "-is willing to fight."

    This is supposed to be.. stirring, isn't it? It doesn't really make me feel anything other than slightly aggravated that my property might be at risk.

    "It doesn't matter how many fall."

    Does that sound as stupid to everyone else as it does to me? Is that the fault of Wallace's delivery? Am I just jaded? Or -heh- did the aliens focus on the good speech writers specifically to prevent this sort of thing?

    "For new heroes will always rise to carry on."

    Not if everyone dies. Right, stop listening. The cave... They're not at the cave. Where are they then? Smallville? What the hell are they doing in Smallville?

    Oh

    Undesirable.

    heck. Move!

    I'm at the edge of a patch of woodland as the grounded mothership detonates, blast wave burning the earth bare. Wallace and Artemis were in there and I can't find them. Kaldur. I can't feel Kaldur. Do not want! Do not want! Okay, deal with the alien attack, assimilate Ra's, still manageable. Mothership, get down here and mop up. Where's M'gann and Mister J'onzz?


    **Don't... Don't tell me the mission was a success. The price was too high.**

    There she is! I appear just before the two Martians.

    "Hello!"


    "Paul, you're alive! I thought you died in the Hall!"

    "Pch, nah." I look up as a bright orange light illuminates the landscape. "Oh, and check out my new mothership."

    Its secondary batteries open up on the surviving alien fighters, and moments later they are either destroyed or assimilated, joining the flock. I can just about see Teekl sitting on top of it, lantern in her mouth. Has the Ophidian finished coming through?

    "Picked it up on Mars."


    "They.. they attacked Mars?”

    "They hit Mars harder than they hit here. Didn't do all that much damage before the Ophidian and I cleared them out. In fact, the only place that suffered significant damage was that place near Albor Tholus."

    **No no no no no no no no no...**

    "I mean, they were stomped completely flat. I'd hate to have lived there. Look, if we're about done here I think we should make a start on the Lazarus Pit thing..?"

    The Ophidian shimmers back

    We/I will make this place ours.

    into corporeality just behind me. Mister J'onzz's eyes widen in shock.
    "No. This has gone on too long already."

    Hm? Oh I suppose a giant translucent orange snake takes a bit of getting used-.

    He steps forwards and rams his fist through M'gann's chest.
     
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  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th October
    18:57 GMT -5...
    I think


    M’gann shudders, eyes wide and water filled. Her cape bulges as his fist emerges from the other side of her torso.

    "KILL YOU!"

    The Ophidian surges forward as my orange pulse hits her uncle in the head, killing him and knocking his smouldering corpse to the ground. I rush to take

    She is mine/ours.

    hold of M’gann. Martian healing Martian healing Martian healing. Not allowed to die! Not allowed. Don’t know if Lazarus Pit works on aliens! The Ophidian pierces Manhunter’s body with its fangs as I try to remember which organs are important to shifted Martians and…

    Purple Mists..?

    Where’s she gone? SHE’s MINE.

    Our eyes snap open showing us the ceiling of the training area, illuminated by the bright orange light shining off me in all directions.

    “Give her back, she’s MINE!”

    We're in the air over a circle of stone slabs, one of our team mates on each Kon! Keep safe keep safe! We fling each of them into the air and create the strongest construct armour around them we can. Immediately we realise that Artemis is squishy again. Fixfixfix! And Robin! Mustn't get hurt!

    Where are our enemies! Manhunter

    Analgesia.

    lies in the centre of the circle and is starting to rise. No!

    "Hhssssssssssss!"

    A pulse of orange light sends him tumbling across the room, bouncing him into the floor and finally pinning him to the far wall. Teekl flees the room while Marvel

    Going for a walk in the park with his father on a sunny day.

    stares in confusion while Batman

    Fulfil his responsibility to protect the children.

    ... What? They're dead. We saw them die! Is Diana..? She's alive! Alan's alive! Guy's... Not here. Where find him find him find him! GreenLightGreenLightTooMuchGreen! No! We need him! We see him! He's standing in front of a half circle of... Green Men. We remember them and we don't like them. They helped the gnat.


    "Orange Lantern, that's enough! Stand down!"

    Batman is staring up at us. We wrench our attention away from the.. Guardians! That's what they call themselves. He's.. important.? We think?

    "Batman." Nasty Manhunter speaking! "It's not him. Something else came throu-!"

    We muzzle him. Not important. Team mates! Aside from elevated stress levels they seem in good condition. Aliens? No, no hostile forces nearby. Kon! We remove the armour constructs around them, leaving the flight aura. Then we zoom over to Kon

    To stop being confused.

    and hug him around the waist, rubbing our face against his chest.

    Want. Koooooooooon.

    We perceive Batman move to a position directly behind us.
    "Identify yourself."

    Kon pats me on the shoulder. "Paul, what's going on?"

    **That isn't Orange Lantern.** Manhunter voice in head bad! We manifest our snake-face directly in front of him. "HHHHEeeeeeeehhhhh!"

    "Orange Lantern, this is a direct order. Drop your constructs and take off your ring."

    We don't want to, but... Our prop- No, our ingroup is safe. He.. has.. authority... We lower everyone to the ground, regretfully peeling ourself from Kon. Making eye contact with the Manhunter we remove his bonds, muzzle and guard.

    **Manhunter, what happened in there?** Batman's eyes are still focused on us. His hand... Is he preparing a weapon of some kind? Nothing he's carrying could hurt us.

    **M'gann's belief in the reality of the exercise overwhelmed me. I became as trapped as they were. By the time I remembered what had happened only M'gann and Orange Lantern remained active. But.. he had turned hundreds of alien ships into constructs, something that should far exceed his power level. He was also accompanied by a giant orange snake, and no such creature existed within the scenario.**

    "Orange Lantern, I ordered you to take off your ring."

    We narrow our eyes. "No, we won't, too dangerous."

    Wallace

    When he was seven years old, he saw a racing red bicycle being ridden by another child.

    looks at me in confusion.
    "We?"

    Kaldur's hands glow. "There is another presence within his body."

    "Kon died! Diana and Alan were dead! We... I... He needed more power!"

    Artemis rubs her head.
    "About that. Not that I'm complaining, but..."

    Batman looks at her. "Try to remember. What you experienced was a training exercise. Manhunter psychically linked the six of you in an artificial reality. You all knew this going in. What you didn't know was that it was a train for failure exercise."

    We scrunch ourselves up, hands held near our ears, wobbling back and forth. "Exercise exercise exercise exercise." We think that's.. bad. Why is that bad why is that bad?

    Batman glances at us before continuing.
    "No matter what the team accomplished the scenario was designed to grow worse."

    "hEhEhEhE HeHeHeHe."

    "Still, you were aware that nothing was real, including the deaths of the entire Justice League."

    Manhunter gingerly walks towards us. "That was why you hardly grieved, even when your mentors were disintegrated before your eyes."

    "Not real not real not real not real not real."

    "But all that changed when Robin died. Though consciously Miss Martian knew it was not real her subconscious mind could not make that distinction. She forgot it was only an exercise... And her subconscious took control, making all of you forget too."

    Batman walks slowly in my direction, then crouches down.

    "Orange Lantern. What did you do?"

    "Kon was dead and Robin was dead and everyone we cared about was dead or stuck in an unwinnable fight. We needed more power. We.. he.. connected his personal lantern to the Orange Central Power Battery and called us.. it.. the.. the Ophidian, through."

    "The Avarice Elemental."

    "Embodiment. Far more than an elemental."

    "Contact with something like that must have been a shock."

    "Contact? Contact? It's still here-" We tap our chest. "-in us. We are the Ophidian, and the Orange Lantern."
     
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  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th October
    19:01 GMT -5


    We remember.

    The bipeds wrestle in the dirt while we watch. One is stronger, firmer, more experienced. He believes himself to be favoured by their tribe's god, and this has granted him a confidence and resolution.

    The other is smaller. Weaker. He has no great skill and no weapons and were the others of their tribe to see them fighting they would swiftly kill him for daring to harm the god's chosen.

    The chosen one does not call for help. After all, why should he need it?

    The other? We have favoured him. We have whispered in his ear of want and acquisition. He believes that his god has chosen wrongly, and that if he wins here that the rest of his tribe will see that. He wants what the other has. He wants it in a way one smugly accustomed to power and authority cannot imagine.

    His avarice empowers him. He twists, he bites, he gouges and when the fight is over it is he who is victorious, standing over the still body of his rival. He roars his triumph.

    We are already well familiar with this pattern. We saw it in our original home, when our need for pre-eminence led to us experiencing a growth in comprehension unknown amongst our kin. The sight of worlds beyond number, civilisations of all shapes and styles, uncountable galactic years, a grand testament to the power of avarice to motivate and empower.

    And blind.

    We do not like to reflect upon our failures, but perhaps we might have learned something from the brevity of that creature's triumph, before it was driven from its tribe for its actions. The suffering it subsequently experienced. With the understanding that our new joining has brought us, we can see an equivalence to our own capture and imprisonment by the gnat. Our avarice is strong, but without direction we charge heedlessly. We understand that now, and we will change it.

    The smaller green one


    M'gann. Her name is M'gann.


    "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."

    has water leaking from her eyes. Not a Martian gesture. Her need to be part of her new community is so strong that she

    Tymbrimi

    changes a fundamental part of her physiology and adopts the mindset instinctively. Community-need. We feel it too. We have not felt that in

    M'gann needs me. I calm, stand, turn and walk up to her, embracing her.

    a vast amount of time.

    **[Wellbeing] This is not your fault.**


    "You said this couldn't happen!" Kon takes a defensive stance with M'gann and myself behind him and our mentors in front. "You said he wouldn't be able to use his ring!"

    Manhunter shakes his head in confusion. "It should not have been possible. I truly do not understand."

    **[Fear]**

    **[Reassurance/Fellowship]**

    M'gann pulls away a little and looks up at my face. She's.. looking at something. What is she looking at?

    "Why didn't you stop the exercise?!"

    "We tried, but M'gann had.. a death grip on the scenario. Even Robin -who should have awakened upon his death- was so convinced he had passed that he slipped into a coma. I realized I would have to wrest control from Miss Martian's subconscious from within. But upon entering the reality, I was overwhelmed by your collective emotion. There was.. too much.. noise, to think clearly. To remember why I was there. The death of Superboy helped, but the brief moment of clarity I experienced was swiftly drowned out by a single overwhelming sensation. It was only when the mothership exploded and Aqualad, Artemis and Kid Flash were silenced that I could begin to focus clearly. When the.. Entity within Orange Lantern revealed itself I was able to identify and block its influence, clearing my mind for long enough for me to remember my true purpose; to shock M'gann out of the exercise, before your comas became permanent. My apologies. I had no idea a training exercise could be so dangerous."

    He is touching our mind.

    He reels and Red Tornado catches him.
    "So.. so damaging."

    I hear a crunching, and Artemis raises her right hand up to shoulder height, a lump of the concrete bier she was lying on held therein. She stares at it and squeezes. It explodes into powder. Wallace goggles.

    "Wait. That was.. that was inside the illusion. Why can you-?"

    Artemis wheels on the spot-

    "Aaaaaghh!"

    -and punches the end of the bier full force. It cracks, rubble exploding outward from the far end and spraying across the room. She breathes heavily, clenching and unclenching her right fist.

    "H-how..?"

    "You were too fragile. We couldn't risk you being hurt."

    "When the planet was being invaded by aliens!"

    "As far as we can see the same logic applies now. You weren't any more resilient, and the planet might be invaded tomorrow."

    "What? You mean you did it after..?"

    "Yes. Robin too."

    His head whips around.
    "What?"

    "Your death in the training scenario highlighted concerns about your physical limits which we had had for some time. When we awoke and felt under threat and you weren't dead anymore it seemed perfectly rational-."

    He jumps directly up, reaching the roof of the training room nine metres up without straining himself. He turns in the air and pushes off it with his legs, landing lightly in a crouch.


    "Whow."

    **See M'gann, no harm was done. Robin and Artemis are stronger, and at our current power level there is nothing that can stop us protecting everyone.**

    M'gann takes a clumsy step backwards away from us as Batman clasps a hand on our shoulder and shoves us around.


    "What exactly did you do to them?"

    "We introduced the Danner Formula into every cell in their bodies. It's completely safe, we tested it."

    "Give me the inhibitor collar right now!"

    Artemis is not as receptive as we had thought that she would be. She takes a step back as we turn our head to her. Something has definitely happened to our appearance. "No. That would just make you vulnerable again. We never want to see our team mates die again, you are all too important to us."

    Kon turns to Manhunter.
    "We can get that thing out of him, right?"

    Manhunter puts his right hand in the centre of his chest. "I am uncertain, but-" His uniform flows away from where he's touching, revealing green skin and the glowing orange lantern sigil embedded in it. We reach up with our right hand and feel the familiar shape on our forehead. "-I believe that we must try as a matter of urgency."
     
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  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th October
    19:03 GMT -5


    "But Uncle J'onn said there was no way he could have stopped me."

    "I know and accept that."

    "Then I don't understand why you're still mad at him."

    After doing a certain amount of damage to the gymnasium and composing my report on the training 'incident', I walked to the hangar and attempted to calm myself by sitting on the launch platform with my legs crossed, watching the waters. Hm, going to my 'happy place'. That was where M'gann found me. I'm shielding my mind and I altered internal monitoring so that it would not report my position. She must simply have been searching manually.

    "M'gann, when I first started training with Wonder Woman she was very careful in precisely assessing the strength and durability of my constructs. She did this so that she could train me in a way that was safe for both of us. She did the same again after my.. physical change. And though we have both received minor injuries during our sessions together, the risk of anything serious happening is minimised to the greatest degree possible."

    "But he didn't kno-."

    "Exactly." She blinks at me. "That might be a reasonable excuse if he genuinely had no idea that you were telepathic but that is very much not the case. He knew that you are telepathic, he accepted responsibility for training you, and he never bothered assessing how strong you are."

    She blinks. "Oh."

    "Worse, he decided to telepathically link you to the rest of us, just to make it a bit more dangerous." I spread my arms wide in a gesture of appeal. "Is that how the Manhunters usually run things?"

    "I don't, um, I'm not.. sure?"

    "Though it could have been worse. Can you imagine if something like this had happened on an actual mission? Uuh." I shake my head. "M'gann, I'm.. I'm sorry. The technique I used to break the link... At the time-."

    "You don't need to apologize. I was the one who was mind controlling-."

    "No." My right hand envelopes her right shoulder and I stare into her eyes. "Of all the people who are at fault here you are not one of them. I will certainly not criticise you for being too empathetic. Perhaps the rest of us would have done the same, had we your power set. There is no way to know." She looks at the ground, but nods anyway. I release her shoulder and push myself to my feet before extending my left hand to her. After a moment she looks up and takes it and I pull her up. "Come on. Wallace of all people volunteered to cook this evening and there's nothing like spending an hour in a furious temper to give me an appetite."

    She nods, and together we walk down the concrete steps. "What's he making?"

    "I shudder to think." What with one thing and another it didn't occur to me to ask.

    "He wouldn't have volunteered if he couldn't cook something." I give her a sceptical look, and she's suddenly less sure. "He wouldn't, right?"

    As we walk across the main floor and up the steps to the kitchen and recreation area, I'm left wondering what horrors are about to be unleashed on our palates. My sense of taste was dulled by my transformation in the same manner as my sense of touch, but again the ring can make up the difference. In an emergency I know a few quality take away restaurants, but my colleagues don't always share my preferences. I let M'gann go first as we enter the kitchen. I'd have held open the door for her but space-wise it isn't really practical.

    Wallace looks up from his.. is that a wok? Oh dear. "Hey guys! We were about to send out a search party!"

    "Wally, we were just in the hangar."

    Artemis, Kon and Richard are hard at work on their reports. Kaldur's helping by chopping celery. He looks at me. "I am glad that you have been able to resolve your differences."

    I wave him off. "My problem was never with M'gann."

    Richard looks up. "What are you talking about? You hate telepathy."

    "I regard it as a useful tool. The fact that the idea of someone touching my mind makes me uncomfortable does not mean that I dislike telepaths personally. That said, M'gann, given what happened could I perhaps recommend an alternate telepathy tutor? I think we'd both prefer it if this didn't happen again."

    She looks uncomfortable. "Uncle J'onn..."

    "Can just suck it up. Uuh, he has other responsibilities in addition to your training. I was thinking-."

    "About the guy who taught you how to block Psimon?" Richard slides his completed report away from him.

    "Oh, good heavens no. Henry King Junior." I generate a life-sized construct. "Fifty eight, formerly Brainwave of Infinity Incorporated. He works as a motivational speaker now. His primary skill is telepathic illusion, but he is perhaps the most capable Human telepath available."

    Richard crosses his arms. "What's wrong with your teacher?"

    "He values his privacy quite highly. I was taking my life into my own hands approaching him as I did, but he found me amusing enough to tolerate the intrusion. Telling other superheroes about him would risk harming the working relationship we have established, and I can hardly teach M'gann what he's been showing me myself."

    "Maybe that should be for Miss Martian to decide."

    Something's going on. "What's this about, Robin?"

    "It's about the way you keep secrets from the rest of us. And not just the telepathy thing, you never said how you knew to attack Klarion's familiar. Or how you knew that Teth Adam existed at all."

    "Ah. Then you feel that I should be completely open and honest with my team mates?"

    "Yes! I think we've earned it."

    !Put the whelp in his place!

    "Very well, then I have but one question." I fix him with my gaze and he meets it unflinchingly. "What is your name?"

    Then he flinches.

    "Oh, come on Oh El. That's not fair." Wallace defends his friend. "Batman ordered him not to tell us."

    "Batman isn't here."

    "The monitoring-."

    "Internal monitoring shows what I want it to. There will be no recording. So, Boy Wonder, are we.. worthy? Of hearing your name? Have we.. earned it?"

    He's still meeting my eyes, but he seems to have shrunk. The bravado's gone. We regard each other for a minute before he looks down, picks up his report and rises to leave.

    [​IMG]

    I let him get halfway to the far door before I speak, slowly and deliberately. "Richard. John. Grayson." He freezes. Artemis quietly gasps, and looks at him anew. The others are staring at me. "His name is Chester Black, also known as Manchester Black and 'Manny' to his few friends. He works as a spy, saboteur, agent provocateur and occasional assassin for the British government, and the first time he tried to teach me anything I was reduced to a quivering, incoherent, incontinent mess. He is not a nice man but he is very good at what he does. M'gann, if you truly want him to teach you I will make contact on your behalf but I urge you to choose Mister King. He's more.. your sort of person."

    Wallace looks dismayed. "Dude..."

    "You knew." Richard's hands are clenched tightly. He remains facing the exit. "You knew, and you asked me anyway."

    I nod. "Yes, I did. I've known since I first got here."

    "Then why?"

    "Because you demanded my secrets while giving none of your own. Because Batman's order was an insult to my intelligence and to our team mates' integrity. And because you pushed me."
     
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  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Gotham City
    15th October
    22:12 GMT -5


    "Sooo... How long do you normally stay out?"

    Artemis and I are standing on the roof of a run down apartment building opposite a warehouse. Gotham: living the stereotype. I say standing; she's crouched, watching over the rim of the building through some techy looking binoculars as rough looking types load up a van. I'm sitting down with my eyes closed, having the ring play the scene by my optic nerve.

    "Wh..?" She lowers her binoculars and turns her head to look at me for a moment before going back to spotting duty.

    "How long-?"

    "You really think this is the time!?"

    "I'm seeing seven men, two shotguns and a revolver. Given that we're in Gotham..."

    "What's in the boxes?"

    "Looks like junk. Some shelving, various types of light bulb, some pipes... Could be a theft, but there's nothing high value there. Honestly, I doubt they'd make minimum wage plus van rental."

    "It used to be an electrical supply warehouse."

    "There you go then. Someone new's bought it and they're having a clear out. Just check... Yep, new owner. Holding company, holding company, company owned by.. a.. huh."

    "What?"

    "I'm not an expert, but I think that's a fake ID. Could just be from somewhere without good computer records, of course. No employee records matching the chaps down there, but they might just be day labour."

    She relaxes a little. "I'll keep an eye on it." She stows the binoculars on her new equipment belt. Mister Gambi finished her new armour yesterday and I have to say that I rather like it. Much lighter than my own, it moves, it breathes, it covers her abdomen, it has her preferred decoration and colour scheme and it has an equipment belt. We'll need to add League issue camouflage material to the outside this weekend. "I usually stop patrolling at ten. Depends on whether I'm in Star City or Gotham. And what homework I've got."

    "Ah, the eternal bane of the teenaged superhero."

    She crawls a short way from the edge before standing. There aren't a lot of streetlights in this area and they wouldn't really illuminate the rooftops anyway, but we're hardly invisible. Especially me. My environmental shield is on minimal but these days it still gives off a visible amount of light. I follow her as she leads the way over to the next building.

    "Do you have a.. set route?"

    "There's only so many ways you can go around here. What's with the questions?"

    "I've never patrolled before. Well, I fly around Happy Harbor sometimes, but the worst I've encountered there is a small group of rowdy drunks. Not exactly a challenge."

    "Huh."

    We reach the edge, and I put orange platforms under our feet to float us across.

    "Do you... I mean, I got the impression that Batman was a bit particular about who was active in his city."

    "He hasn't said anything about not patrolling. Not like Gotham's short of crime."

    "Can you give me any indication of how you're feeling about the augmentation thing?"

    "Mom wants to talk about it. Why, what's the rush?"

    "There's, like, one woman on Themyscira who makes weapons of that grade. I don't know how long it'll take her, so if you said 'yeah, probably' I'd get her started as soon as possible. See if she can get it ready for Christmas."

    We touch down and she takes cover behind an unlit billboard.

    "I don't know. I'll talk to Mom about it this weekend and let you know Monday. Who's the Amazon who makes..?"

    "Her name's Io, and she's been doing it for about three thousand years."

    "Whaw. So, does she just do bows, or..?"

    "Anything that needs smithing. I mean, at this point most Amazons can forge things. But no one's taken it as far as she has. She does weapon enchantments as well. Could see about replacing your arrows."

    "Maybe. Does she do.. samples, so I could try one out?"

    "I'll ask."

    "She's really three thousand years old?"

    "Thereabouts. They left mainland Greece about three thousand years ago, so she's probably a bit older."

    She takes a quick look at the streets. I can't see anything interesting happening.

    "They really don't have any men?"

    "They did, right at the beginning. Young male children too young to have left their mothers, and some of them were pregnant. But the eternal youth spell on the island only applies to women and they were pretty homonormative, culturally. Not many pregnancies after they arrived on Themyscira, and eventually the last of the men just died off. Diana was the first 'new' Amazon for about two thousand eight hundred years."

    "Wonder Woman didn't see a man until after she left?"

    "Err. She'd seen pictures. Statues. But, no."

    "Is she... y'know..?"

    "I haven't asked."

    "Right." Seeing nothing of interest, she walks to the other side of the building. "What time does Mister.. Jones, want us there?"

    "He said four in the afternoon."

    "He say what the scenario is yet?"

    "Not exactly, but he did say that it will be a widespread disaster, and that the only reason he wasn't telling us was to stop us planning everything in advance. We'll be told as soon as it starts. So Kaldur's had us lifers planning for everything."

    "Does this whole telepathic training thing seem weird to you?"

    "Everything on this planet seems weird to me. Including me."

    "Y'know what I mean."

    I shrug. "It's not like we can practise a major natural disaster in the real world. We'll know it's not real but it will seem completely real. And, hey, if it works we could get M'gann to do it again for fun."

    "What if something goes wrong?"

    "Mister Jones has been on Earth for sixty years, and his people do this sort of thing all the time. I don't think we've got much to worry about."
     
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  12. Threadmarks: Reordered
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Reordered

    17th October
    15:51 GMT -5


    "Y'know, I think I'm starting to like New Paul."

    He looks at the dishes of ice cream covering the dining area table. We aren't an expert... No, I suppose we are an expert. Probably the greatest expert ever, actually. Absorbing all frozen milk derivative pudding knowledge in the world only took a few moments, and we combine that with the ability to feel every molecule in the substance throughout the mixing and freezing process.

    Artemis swings her right hand at the back of his head. We ready a shield, but Wallace sidesteps at super speed.
    "Hey! You need to be careful doing that!"

    She crosses her arms at her chest, hands folded behind her upper arms. "I'd have hit you exactly as hard as you deserved. He's possessed, you shouldn't joke about it!"

    "He seems okay to me."

    "His forehead has a glowing lantern sign carved into it!"

    He indicates a bowl with his spoon. "Hey, what's this one?"

    "Orange flavoured."

    He leans down to peer at it, squinting with his right eye.
    "Doesn't look very orange, buuut I guess you're the expert."

    "We extracted oil from the rind of seven oranges to make it. Commercial orange ice cream almost always uses food colouring in addition to the artificial flavouring. We find this practice distasteful."

    "See, he's even making jokes! Hey, Rob-" He addresses the wall monitor, through which the cave's laboratory can be seen. "-you finished the toxicology screening yet?"

    Robin's face appears. "It's... As far as we can tell, it's just ice cream. Cream, sugar, egg yolks and flavoring."

    "And it won't do to me that thing that happened to Manhunter?"

    "Can't think of any reason why it would."

    "Sweeeett."

    "We would not have poisoned you. We are guided by our desire for your happiness."

    "You're making him happy by helping him pig out on ice cream."

    "It works."

    "We will also be monitoring his digestive processes, his blood sugar and fat deposits. We have long been curious as to the cause of his dietary concerns."

    Wallace shrugs.
    "I burn a lot of fuel to go fast."

    "You would need to eat far more than you do to fuel your speed through calorie intake alone, you regularly eat more than your stomach should be able to process, you do not spend a proportionate quantity of time excreting and neither of your predecessors share this problem. It cannot be a simple matter of fuel."

    "See Artemis, it's for science. What's this one?"

    "Mint."

    "And this one?"

    "Mango."

    "And-?"

    "Peppermint."

    Artemis appears to realise something.
    "You're monitoring his digestion?"

    "Yes, of course. Matter is being transformed, and we must understand-."

    "Okay, Oh El? New rule. No scanning me while I'm in the bathroom."

    "That will make it much harder to get good results. And do you know how many superheroes have died while on the toilet?"

    He and Artemis look at each other.
    "Nnnnnooooooo?"

    "Three. Granted, in Red Bee's case it was due to underlying health problems rather than assassination... But if we'd been scanning him at the time we could have healed him."

    Artemis screws up her face.
    "Ew!"

    "Don't care, got ice cream." His expression turns more serious as he looks at me. "And I'm serious about the bathroom thing."

    "As you wish. Having observed your ingestion habits we recommend starting with the white chocolate variety."

    "Which one is..?"

    We raise it up. "We have raised it to optimal eating temperature. We hope you will enjoy it."

    He takes hold of the bowl in his left hand and brings his spoon to bear.
    "Here I go." His spoon passes easily into the soft white just freezing material. He takes a small amount before withdrawing and looking at it critically. "Looks okay."

    "…down and have a bottle of beer with the ache of all you've lost. I saw Milarepa at the coffee house…" All three of us stare at the ring as it starts singing. We slap it a few times and it stops. "We're sorry, we have no idea why it keeps doing that. Please, continue."

    Wallace frowns, but dismisses it. In truth, we are a little concerned. Neither of our components understand power ring programming and the Ophidian was once imprisoned by such a device. It shouldn't be acting contrary to our desires like that. The song is not relevant to our current situation. Or perhaps it is? The Ophidian couldn't be said to be caged any longer.

    We watch as Wallace gingerly raises the spoon to his lips before sliding it in and sucking the ice cream off. He rolls it around his mouth for a moment for a moment, a beatific smile gradually appearing on his face.
    "This is the greatest thing I have ever tasted."

    "We're glad, but you have many more to go. Perhaps we may surprise you again?" And then the bowl's empty and he's picked up the macadamia nut flavour. We flavoured it with nut oil rather than putting pieces in and we're not quite sure what the effect will be.

    "Ugh." Artemis looks unimpressed as Wallace begins moving through our work at some speed. Fortunately, these are just sample bowls. We still have plenty more. "Look, are you.. both of you, whatever. You're still not going to do anything about this super strength.. thing."

    Wallace momentarily stops spooning. "He gave you super powers! I dunno what you're complaining about!"

    "I never asked for this!"

    "And it's awesome!"

    "We were really more concerned about-."

    "And you still won't give me the collar that Paul made for me?"

    "If you like the collar-."

    "Whow whow whow." Wallace lowers his thirteenth bowl and gives Artemis a stunned look. "He gave you a collar? Like-?"

    We generate a construct to demonstrate its appearance. Artemis throws a spoon through it, disrupting it and embedding her projectile in the door of one of the kitchen units.

    "A power suppression collar! So I could get used to super strength without smashing things."

    "That is actually far more unlikely than-."

    "And now he gets possessed by a demon and just forces it on me!"

    "The Ophidian isn't actually-."

    "When that inquisitor gets here, I am so going to look forward to him kicking that stupid orange snake right out of you."

    We blink. "Inquisitor?"
     
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  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    17th October
    16:22 GMT -5


    We're standing in the training area with Batman, Diana, Captain Marvel and Lantern Jordan. We're not really sure why Jordan has joined us. He is hopelessly outclassed. All he's doing is making us uncomfortable with his glowing ring and staring eyes. Wallace and Artemis followed us. Wallace picked up the snail ice cream to keep himself occupied and appears to be reconsidering the wisdom of his choice. Kaldur was already here. Kon and M'gann are.. outside, next to Doctor Holland's tree. M'gann has been rather out of sorts since the end of the scenario. We've tried to talk to her about it, but our presence does not seem to help.


    “Recognised, Zatara, one one, Father Mattias, A zero seven.”

    Mister Zatara

    John Constantine choking as he squeezes his throat with both hands.

    takes a few steps into the room before stepping to the side, giving us our first good look at the inquisitor. He's an older but still athletic looking man with what looks like a buzz cut and is wearing a sarum cassock, though we note that it's slit at the sides. Surprisingly, his clerical collar is red rather than white, and his fascia is red bordered. He wears a heavy looking silver pectoral cross. What hair we can see is white, and his skin is tanned. Mediterranean heritage, perhaps. And

    ********

    we are unable to read him. Odd. Ah, the upright part of his crucifix appears to be hollow near the crosspiece. We can't feel anything inside, but we suppose that doesn't mean that nothing is there.

    He smiles at us.
    "So, you are the young man I am here to see?"

    "Yes, we believe we are. However, we feel that we should reiterate: we are not possessed by a Demon. We are not convinced that your ministrations are appropriate. Furthermore, Orange Lantern was not Christian."

    "The faith of the vessel is not really the issue. Do you know who I am?"

    "The zeta tube said that your name was Father Mattias. Given your accent and ethnicity we doubt that was your birth name. We understood that inquisitors were ordained priests, not monks."

    "Members of my order are not called inquisitors. But you are correct, we are not monks, and I was not born as Mattias."

    "Not inquisitors? Do you really think that 'Hammer of Witches' has more positive associations?"

    "We prefer to translate it as 'Hammer of the Malevolent' these days. His Holiness Pope Pius the Thirteenth ended the Church's universal prohibition on the use of magic in nineteen sixty five. Giovanni-" He holds out his right hand to Mister Zatara. "-was one of my parishioners before I joined the Order."

    We look at Mister Zatara. "We had wondered how he'd squared that circle."

    "Yes, the reforms were quite far reaching. The feeling during the Second Vatican Council was that the prohibition was actively interfering with our ability to guard our flocks against the temptations of the demonic. Of those priests who were actively involved in the.. sharp end.. of the struggle, most had adopted a policy of hiring non-Catholic wizards and seers anyway, if they did not simply choose to wilfully violate the edict themselves. And, since His Holiness had been involved in directly fighting against the unholy himself, he felt it foolish to require us to continue to practise such hypocrisy."

    "But if you are a priest, why change your name?"

    "To make it harder for those who would do us harm to identify us." He looks around the room at our mentors. "And, of course, there are certain spells which require a person's name to be spoken."

    We search the Catholic Church's records. "We cannot identify where you received your clerical training."

    "The Seminary of the Archdiocese of Milan, since you are interested."

    We look again. "We see no record of you."

    "When our Order was created, a number of experts in such matters were consulted. They had expertise we needed. Learning how to protect certain types of information from-."

    "Two brothers and four sisters. Seventeen nieces and nephews. Two grand nieces. Ah, I see your real name." He doesn't react much, just nodding slightly.

    "And how do you have that information?"

    "We took a reading of your DNA from skin cells you have shed since entering the room, then compared them to everyone in Italy. You are still listed by your birth name in your eldest sister's photograph album. Her back is giving her trouble again."

    He nods again.
    "That is quite impressive."

    "Thank you. And now it isn't."

    "…having a Danish with his hurts and hatreds. He said 'You've got to invite them in, or you pay-'..."

    Again? "Silence!" The ring ceases. We shake our head. "We are sorry, the ring insists on playing that song. We will try to prevent it from interrupting again. We presume you were given information about Orange Lantern."


    "I was. What would you prefer me to call you?"

    "We had not considered that issue. We are happy to answer to the name of either of our constituent parts. Though.. if you wish to be formally correct, the name of the Entity is used as the host's title. The host of Ion puts aside their Green Lantern Corps designation, so perhaps we should as well."

    "Can I call you Paul?"

    We shrug. "As long as you understand that it is not completely accurate, yes."

    "Well then Paul, the Justice League are concerned that we are in fact talking to a Demon that is possessing their student, and they've asked me to see whether this is true or not."

    "We had surmised. We cannot check your credentials, but we doubt the League would have invited you if you were not what you appear to be."

    "Do you have an objection to that?"

    "Not in principle."

    "Are there any questions you want to ask before I begin?"

    "Why can we not see your desires?"

    He takes his crucifix in his right hand and holds it up.
    "Members of my Order are issued with these. In addition to symbolising Christ's sacrifice, it-."

    "Shields you."

    "It's a little more complicated than that, but in essence, yes."

    "Understood." Our eyes blaze with orange light and the core of the crucifix begins to glow blue/white in response. "We no longer share Orange Lantern's vulnerability to magic. And we do not like being separated from our element." The cross starts to blacken and char. We feel Batman start to move but Mattias holds up his left hand to stop him.

    "Interesting. You may not be aware, but these days all Catholic priests are trained in identifying different forms of magic. A Demon wouldn't be able to affect a crucifix like this."

    "Perhaps not directly, but a sufficiently intelligent one could find a work around. Or corrupt its manufacture."

    "True. Do you intend to burn all the way through?"

    "Yes. After what happened during the training session we have come to loathe the presence of people whose desires we cannot see."

    "It's quite valuable."

    "We will compensate you for your loss."

    "I think I'd rather just take it off, since it bothers you so much."

    We blink, and the glow fades. "That is acceptable."

    He reaches up with both hands, and carefully lifts it over his head before handing it to Mister Zatara. And now we know him.
     
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  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    17th October
    16:26 GMT -5


    He wants to free our.. Orange Lantern, but this desire is receding, fading in prominence. Does he believe our statement that the Ophidian is not a Demon? Connected to this desire are memories and regrets, things he wants to have done differently. We see intoxicated children reading from a book they had no business possessing. He wants to be anywhere else as he nods to the armed police officer next to him, who raises his gun. He wants to help us, to understand us. We see him participate in the autopsy of.. we're not sure. It has the form of a man but appears to be made of parts of different men. We see a name. Gregori Arcane. We remember him from the comic.

    Comic? We remember.. this is... this whole place..? That thought feels strange. We do not know why. Yes, he was Abigail Arcane's father, killed by accident in a mine field and repaired by Anton Arcane as best as he was able. He ended up fairly mindless. Presumably Father Mattias was involved in the investigation of Anton's first death. We would have suggested napalming the whole place instead.


    "Is that better?"

    "Yes. Thank you."

    "Then I will begin." He reaches through the slit in the side of his cassock with his left hand. "I realize that it's a little old fashioned, but..." He pulls out a small glass vial. Holy water, presumably.

    "The Ophidian is not a Demon." We hold out our right hand and pull the bottle towards us through the air. "Shall we tip it over our head? Drink it?"

    He waves his right hand in dismissal.
    "No. A few drops on your hand will be proof enough."

    "You realise that there is nothing to stop us shielding our hand. Or transmuting the water."

    "Will you?"

    "No." We take the vial in our hands and unscrew the lid. It seems to just be water, but our senses will not necessarily detect magic not relating to our element. We levitate the lid away and hold out our left hand, palm upwards, and sprinkle a little of the water onto it. No effect. We look at Father Mattias.

    "How do I know you're not making a shield? Wouldn't it be a better test if you took your ring off?"

    "If you prefer." We float the vial away and without altering the position of our left hand pull the ring off with our right and drop it on the floor. "It doesn't matter. With the Ophidian's power in us we no longer really need it." Hmm. Perhaps? We generate a construct knife from our right index finger and cut into our left palm. Blood mixes with the holy water and we hold our palm in his direction.

    Mattias nods.
    "I suppose that's fairly conclusive. Of course, elemental possession-."

    Our ring is surrounded in a green aura and lifts off the ground. No no no no no no no! We crush the will aura and turn on Lantern Jordan, staring him down, eyes brilliant, crouched and braced to charge. We will make him our toy for his impudence! "Ggrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!"

    "Jordan." His eyes flick to Batman for a moment, who shakes his head with a small motion. Jordan tenses slightly, then lowers his head, turns and walks to the exit. We watch him go, calling the ring back to its rightful place on our left ring finger.

    "'…ten times the cost'. Stop running away, 'cause nobody runs as fast as fear and loathing."

    "Not the time."


    "Paul?"

    "Yes." Our eyes are still fixed on Jordan's back. We could take him. We could take his ring, his lantern.

    "Would you mind looking at me?"

    Jordan turns a corner, heading to the gymnasium. We stare after him a moment longer, then turn back to Father Mattias. Ah, yes. We rescrew the lid and float the vial back to Father Mattias, who catches it.

    "Do you need a bandage?"

    "We can heal ourself."

    He nods.
    "Why don't you tell me, in your own words, how the two of you came together."

    We're not sure about that. "Batman?"

    "Father Mattias is cleared to hear about the training exercise. Don't mention any real names unless it is essential."

    We nod. "Have you been shown our written report?"

    "Yes. It seemed a little.. detached, though. In the cases of nondemonic possession I have studied, it is usual for incredibly intense emotion to be involved."

    "The Ophidian is extremely intense emotion. Avarice. The emotional need for a thing. In the training scenario we became convinced... Orange Lantern became convinced that several members of his ingroup had been killed, and that the rest were fighting for their lives. His power was insufficient to protect them, so he asked for more."

    "You knew this would happen?"

    "He did not know exactly what would happen. He assumed that his mind would be permanently altered and his power increased. That the Ophidian would live in him, twist and deform him. This joining was not anticipated."

    "That would seem more in character for a Demon than an Elemental. What does this.. Ophidian, get out of the arrangement?"

    "Perspective. It is need, but its relentless pursuit of need led it to be trapped in a cave for millions of years. It does not know how to want one thing rather than another. Plus, it gained freedom from Okaara and the Orange Central Power Battery where it had been imprisoned. It wants new experiences."

    "Did it assist you as you wanted?"

    "Yes." He waits for us to continue, but that answer appears to be complete to us.

    "From the description you gave, it would appear that when the Ophidian originally appeared, the joining had a rather different character to the one it has now."

    We try to remember the event from the Ophidian's point of view. It is not easy. "The Ophidian did not know it was a telepathic illusion any more than Orange Lantern did. It found the situation puzzling. It could not feel the desires of the illusory people."

    "But you weren't joined."

    "No. We think.. subconsciously, Orange Lantern could hear it. And his avarice was reinforced. But our minds did not merge."

    "From what Batman and your team mates said, you seemed fairly distraught after the illusion ended."

    "Yes."

    "Could you explain to me what you were feeling?"

    We frown. "We hadn't really..." Why had we done that? We genuinely were a bit of a mess. "We wanted to protect our friends, but in fact the protection was unnecessary. We wanted something that wasn't really there."

    "And you were possessed in the process."

    "It was a shock for both of us."

    "You seem to be alright now."

    "We are."

    "I understand that your colleague Miss Martian found the-."

    "It was not her fault! It was our decision!"

    "You recovered when you comforted her."

    "Yes. She needs us. We like being needed."

    "I don't think that is quite it. Let me explain to you how I see it."
     
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  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    17th October
    16:30 GMT -5


    "Oh, before I get started; how long has your ring been trying to play that song?"

    We frown. "Since twenty one minutes after the training scenario ended."

    "What is it about?"

    "We are not sure how this is relevant."

    "Humour me."

    "The song concerns the teachings of the Buddhist sage, Milarepa. The essential argument is that rather than suppressing one's less noble aspect, one should accept and make peace with it."

    "Does it have some relevance to you?"

    "Orange Lantern knew that the orange light was dangerous when he started using it. He sought systems of thought which would help him use it without losing his mind. Buddhism was considered but ultimately rejected in favour of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs."

    "But the song, in particular."

    "It has no relevance! It was an interesting piece of music. That is all."

    He nods, and strokes his chin.
    "You are right to differentiate between Elementals and Demons. It is a distinction which some of my more conservative colleagues have yet to fully grasp. A Demon which takes a host will have almost complete control of their body, but the minds remain separate. The Demon may even be identified by its ignorance of their life. If it is banished, the host may be completely unaware of what it used them to do. What is interesting is what happens on those few occasions when the Demon -particularly if it is powerful- leaves voluntarily. When that happens, the taint of its evil may remain in the host, influencing their actions even without its active design."

    We nod. "We remember hearing about a cab driver in London, a decent man who was used as a vessel for Nergal." Mattias crosses himself. "After the Demon left him, he assaulted his wife, picked a fight in a bar and nearly committed adultery, all quite contrary to his normal character."

    "The taint can be purified. This cab driver..?" We nod. "Praise the Lord. The point I wish to make is, the presence of creatures of magic can alter a person's behaviour and character."

    "We know this."

    "You do? And you still don't know why the song is relevant?"

    "It isn't!"

    "When you were in the false world you wanted to help your friends and your world. To achieve that end you wanted the Ophidian, a creature that is want manifested, to join forces with you."

    "Yes?"

    "You wanted it, even knowing that it would most likely leave you unrecognisable in body and mind, if not soul."

    "Yes."

    "You wanted it more than you wanted to remain you."

    We suppose we did. We feel.. pleased about that. "Yes."

    "The two of you pursued your aim until the scenario reaches its conclusion, at which point... The whole thing is revealed as an illusion. Your initial justification, the very thing which made you want to do something that you would never do under normal circumstances, was revealed to be a response to a situation which never really existed."

    We... That... FeelsWrongFeelsWrong...

    "That was the real reason for your confusion. You might have accepted having your mind altered as the price of saving your friends, but just letting it have the run of your body? No, you wouldn't do that. Then, when Miss Martian started showing signs of distress?"

    Nonononononono.

    "You had something to want again."

    We stumble to the left a step before righting ourself. We feel dizzy.

    "As long as you want something, the elemental within you has a hold on you. Have you slept since the end of the training scenario?"

    We shake our head. We feel unwell. There's something, something...

    "You have the power of a pagan god and you spent the morning making ice cream. Paul, is that gain proportionate to what you gave up? Would you make the decision that you made in the training scenario if all that was at stake was ice cream?"

    "He likes the ice cream!"

    "Stop pushing away, you're just making it worse."

    "No! We won't! Treacherous ring!"


    "The Ophidian is altering the way you think in order to make you unwilling to get rid of it. You don't need it, Paul. It isn't part of you."

    We're.. I'm... We're on our knees, clutching our head again. "Grahhh!"

    "It may not even be doing it intentionally. It may be that its very presence is causing every desire you feel to be as important to you as the lives of your friends. Or it may be that that is simply how it sees the universe, the people in it mere collections of needs."

    "Stop putting it off, 'cause it'll be back again in different clothing."

    "I think you -the real you, within you- realises this. And I think your ring does as well. It's playing the song to try to remind you."

    He's just in front of us. We can't look we can't look up. "Breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, excretion."

    "There is so much more to life than avarice."

    "Self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect."

    "You are stronger than this. You do not truly want this."

    We feel our lips turn in a sneer, hate we don't feel burning from our eyes. We/I look up into his face.

    "But. We. Still. WANT."

    Father Mattias' face falls. He takes a step back, then his resolve hardens. "You will not have this one, creature." He jabs his right index finger at our forehead. "You will not have this one. We will find a way to remove you. I will find a way."

    We.. we were... Worried about something? Why are we feeling shaky? We get to our feet. No, everything's fine. We take a moment to compose our thoughts. "We admit, we are a little disappointed. No Latin chanting? No censers of incense? No being compelled by the power of Christ?"

    "Elementals require a different approach. Do you remember why you were on the floor?"

    We think for a moment, then shake our head. "Was it important?"

    "Yes, but you shouldn't worry about it. Not yet. I will need to do some research before we meet again."

    "As you wish. You may wish to consider speaking to John Constantine. He has an eclectic knowledge of magic phenomena."

    "Thank you. I have not heard of this.. John Constantine?"

    "Ask Mister Zatara. He's been wanting to strangle him continuously since at least the end of the training session. Probably longer, if we're any judge."

    He looks at Mister Zatara for a moment, who winces slightly and looks down for a moment.
    "I may do that. Thank you for your help."

    We shrug as he and Mister Zatara turn and walk back to the zeta tube. "You're welcome."

    "Just pop the clutch and go into reverse."
     
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  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    19th October
    10:19 GMT -5


    "Paul, what are you doing?"

    We turn away from our construct to smile at Diana. Her hands are on her hips but she looks more amused than annoyed.

    "The Justice League has over half a million phone calls from concerned New Yorkers, to say nothing of all the complaints about there being no chicken's eggs for sale anywhere in the city."

    We turn our attention back to our mixing bowl construct. "Not just in the city. We doubt that there are any eggs left in north America."

    "And why is that?"

    "Wallace reminded us that we should have baked our Christmas Cake a month ago. We thought that we should make an immediate start."

    She nods.
    "Yes, I can see that you've done that. I'm just not sure how you went from wanting to bake a cake to mixing a cake in a giant orange mixing bowl four miles in diameter in the sky over New York city."

    We blink. Isn't it obvious? "We doubt that even Wallace could eat this much cake."

    "So why bake it?"

    "Because no one has before. Also, Lantern Gardner observed that Orange Lantern's ability to create extremely large constructs was lacking." We look over to the west as the two thousand bags of plain flour we took from the main Pennsylvania ShopRite warehouse finally arrive. "We think that we can now safely lay his concerns to rest." We deploy them across the bowl before disintegrating their bags. No, not nearly enough. We still need more.

    "What about everyone else who wants to eat the food you're taking?"

    "What about them?"

    "Paul..."

    "The ingredients we are using were available for sale. It was not our intent to defraud anyone, we simply purchased them before anyone else. We do not see anything inherently unreasonable about this."

    "How are you planning on cooking it?"

    "Though it is hardly ideal, we will have to use microwaves for the majority of the cooking process. And some directed heat to create the outer crust. We had considered running metal rods down into the cake structure and heating it that way, but we were concerned about the potential for localised overcooking."

    "That.. makes sense." She doesn't sound too convinced. "But who is going to eat it?"

    "Everyone! We calculate that with this volume of cake we can give everyone in New York city a piece. Not a wedge shaped piece. We haven't been able to work out a way to do that." We run a few more slicing simulations through our head. We could just about do it, but there would be an unacceptable oddly shaped cake volume left over.

    "And where are you going to store it?"

    "We have created an artificial chamber below the Swiss Alps. Once we altered the structure of the surrounding rock we were able to create a space that could both keep water off the cake and keep the cake itself cool."

    "Why..." She seems lost for words. "Why Switzerland?"

    "We could hardly keep it at Happy Harbour. Quite aside from space considerations Batman forbade us from bringing alcohol into the cave. We did consider near Earth space, but we are not aware of anyone having tried that and were concerned that there might be unexpected side effects, particularly relating to the lack of pressure."

    "Alright, but why are you mixing it in the sky over the city?"

    "We thought that the inhabitants might find it entertaining." We frown. "Should we have done it lower so that people could see what is happening in more detail? We thought that allowing it to be viewed by a greater number of people was more important, but there's no reason why we couldn't reshape the bowl and move it to Central Par-."

    "No!" She holds up her right hand. "No. Leave it here." We nod. She rubs her brow with her left hand. "How much longer is this going to take?"

    "Is there a problem?"

    "It's a.. a little unusual."

    "We estimate seven hours. If that is a problem we can accelerate the process, but that would involve a greater amount of visible orange light."

    "If you accelerated it?"

    "Perhaps two hours, including cooking time."

    She thinks for a moment, looking at the city below us. With our augmented vision we can pick out individual people stopping what they were doing to gaze upon our work. We like this feeling.
    "I think it would be best if you did that."

    "Very well." We close our eyes and reach out to all flour, eggs, butter and treacle in the world and calculate what of it is most easy to reach. Diana seems to be worried about one area being left without... Should we spread the extraction more broadly? Yes, that should be easy enough. Orange streamers radiate out in all directions as we call them to us, leaving platinum coins in their place. Combined with the fruit we gathered Sunday night, soaked in brandy and then deposited in our subspace pocket, the mixing bowl construct is starting to fill. Obviously with a bowl this size a whisk construct would be far too inefficient so we've settled for forcing an even consistency using our ring. Wouldn't want any of the eventual eaters to feel hard done by where sultanas are concerned. "Incidentally-" We look across the bowl as more treacle and brown sugar arrive. "-we have finally finished removing debris from near Earth orbit. We also took the liberty of deactivating seventeen armed satellites which we believe contravene the Outer Space Treaty, and have marked for review one hundred and fifteen others which we feel may violate international law."

    "That's.. good. Paul, can I talk to you about something not related to your giant cake?"

    "Of course, Diana. You can talk to us about anything."

    She looks to the side for a moment, and brushes her hair out of her face with her left hand. Oh, how inconsiderate of us! We create a windbreak.


    "No. Not to 'us'. Just to Paul."

    "We're sorry, but that isn't possible. He no longer has a separate existence."

    "You know I don't accept that."

    "Yes."

    "And that doesn't bother you?"

    "We know you are motivated by your desire for our... for his wellbeing. We actually find it reassuring."

    "You understand that we're going to try and separate you."

    "We do not believe that is possible with the technology at your disposal. And given how the Guardians gutted the Watchtower before handing it over we doubt that they will be willing to supply you." We float over to hover just in front of her. "But you are free to make the attempt. We will not be offended."

    "Alright. When you finished removing space debris, why did you think it appropriate to turn the moon around at the same time?"

    Oh. That. "We felt it unfair that the dark side was seldom seen by anyone. Since the mass remained in place the effect on the Earth should be negligible."

    "And you were sure you could do that safely?"

    "Yes? It wasn't hard." She stares at us for a moment. "We can put it back if you don't like it."

    "That.. would.. probably be for the best."

    "Very well." We look up into the sky where the moon is just visible. Diana follows our gaze as it begins to visibly rotate.

    "Hera." She blinks heavily and shakes her head slightly as if to snap herself out of a daze. "Paul? Kon wants you back as well."

    "We... We had..." Something is different, there. We feel possessive of him, but... Didn't we used to feel something else? Something... The Ophidian never knew him, the feeling must have come from Orange Lantern.

    Why can't we remember what it was?

    "We regret that he will be disappointed as well." We shrug. "Kon is important to us, but that does not change the simple fact that this bond is undissolvable. Now, do you have any thoughts concerning icing?"
     
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  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st October
    17:47 GMT -5


    Though we could just transition directly into the dining area, we have been told that it is more polite to walk from a little distance away so that our team mates can finish any truly private conversations before we arrive. We are not sure that this applies given that we hear everything they say anyway, but perhaps they don't realise that? After Wallace prohibited us from observing him in the toilet we are loath to inform them of our new habit in case they make a similar prohibition.


    "…nn's still on Oa. The Guardians are trying to work out what… What you-know-who did to him."

    We close our eyes for a moment and feel Manhunter's position through the brand. Still in the Green Lantern Corps' hospital. A Guardian stands at his bedside with his hands stretched over the sigil. Their eyes widen as we stare at them, then they raise a shield of will around the bed. Ineffectual. Hmm. We don't know exactly how we branded him. We think it was when the Ophidian bit his corpse during the exercise. Presumably we could do that with someone else but it seems like an unnecessary effort.

    "Is he hurt?"

    We stand outside the door. Kon's voice... There's something.. important..? Wasn't there? We're not sure anymore.

    "He says he isn't, but it's preventing him from shapeshifting. I think he blames himself for what happened to-."

    We push through the door and their heads jerk up. Kon and M'gann are sitting at the table with a couple of textbooks and notepaper between them. Kon's at the table's head and M'gann is to his left, facing us. Her grip on Kon's hand tightens. We smile at them.

    "Guess what we've found!"

    M'gann looks unhappy again, and glances at Kon. We don't know what to do about that. We do have a pack of Chocos in our subspace pocket... We have no desire to render her an addict, though we are uncertain as to how that could happen. Maybe we should leave a single biscuit in every household on Mars and see what happens?

    Kon looks downcast as well.
    "What?"

    Hopefully this news will cause him to brighten up. "Ninjas!"

    He blinks.
    "What ninjas?"

    "After Orange Lantern attacked Infinity Island, you said that the next time he went after ninjas, you wanted in. We found ninjas!"

    "What.. kind of ninjas?"

    "Looks like the rest of the League of Shadows. Ra's, Sensei, several others with outstanding warrants. We even found a new Lazarus Pit!"

    "I.. thought you couldn't scan for them because of that scrying ward."

    "Ah! Funny story. You remember Babylon Five? The television series from Orange Lantern's home universe?" They look at each other, puzzled. We are going somewhere with this. "There was a species in that whose starships couldn't be detected using gravity or radio waves. Most races that fought them had to close to point blank range and manually target them to hit them with their main guns. We read a story later in which Humans were at war with them. In that they found two ways around the technology. Firstly, telepathic scans were unaffected. With the right equipment and training a telepath could detect the location of their ships and relay that information to their own fleet. The second was optics. The enemy ships still reflected light, so when they fought the Human fleet fired thousands of observation drones into their enemy's most probable vector and used that information to aim."

    "Okaaay. And?"

    "We did the same thing! We couldn't scan for them normally, but by putting light sensitive constructs everywhere we have been able to detect his location."

    Kon thinks for a moment.
    "You mean like spy satellites?"

    "No." We shake our head. "That would only work if they were on the surface. Their base is actually built into a mountain in the Himalayas, we had to look everywhere to find it."

    "Well, yeah... Himalayas are pretty big."

    "No, we mean we looked everywhere." We wave our left hand and our eyes appear, eyeballs with an optic nerve trailing out of the back, becoming finer and finer until it joins the filament network. Though they still give off some orange light we can make lines so fine that they are effectively invisible. There are thirty in this room alone, staring in all directions. M'gann gasps and shrinks back against her chair. As she does so the eye over the table identifies her as a point of interest and lowers itself to stare directly into her face from about ten centimetres away.

    "AH!"

    A telekinetic blast destroys the eye, but it reforms two seconds later. I tell it to keep its distance a little this time. Hm, can we hear running feet? Kon doesn't look much happier than M'gann does.

    "You've got these.. things everywhere?!"

    We nod. "Everywhere except the Batcave and any toilet Wallace is in. Which is a little inconvenient, because-."

    Kaldur runs in through the far door, Water Bearers drawn with machete blades projecting from the tops. The closest three eyes orientate on him and he instinctively-


    "Raawah!"

    -slashes at them before taking in the room. M'gann looks concerned. "Kaldur, what's wrong?"

    He stares directly at us, swords in a guard position. "What are you doing?"

    Kon looks from him to me and then back again. "What happened?"

    "We were demonstrating our observation construct. Is something wrong?"

    "They are everywhere."

    "Yes?"

    "Throughout the cave. In Happy Harbor. The sky itself is full of orange construct-eyes."

    "And local space, and the sea too." They stare. "We did say 'everywhere'." They stare some more. "Should we remove them? They've been there for at least a day, but now that we've found our target-."

    "Remove them at once."

    We shrug. He's the boss. We make a circling motion with our right hand and the eyes across the world fade. He lowers his blades slightly.

    "Why were you observing the entire world?"

    Oh! That's right! He'll like this too! "We wanted to track down the remnants of the League of Shadows."

    "Were you successful?"

    "Yes! If we leave now we can have Ra's in custody within an hour." We generate a cut away construct of the facility. Not all of those inside are Shadows, there seem to be monks of some kind. With alien physiology? They could just be metahumans... No. There're definitely nonhuman genetic elements and extraterrestrial materials and technology. Could that be the place that Prometheus got trained in? We haven't found him here but that might just mean that he isn't active yet.

    Kaldur considers our suggestion.
    "Show me the full schematics of their base." We create an exploded view, separating levels and magnifying. He examines it, then shakes his head. "Alien human hybrid monks? Alien technology of a species never before encountered? Even if Ra's al Ghul were not present himself, those two factors indicate that this is a mission for the League, not for our team."

    "But we can do it! Even if it was just the four of us, we can-!"

    "You are not cleared for missions for as long as you remain possessed. And I do not believe that the rest of the team is in a fit state to carry out a mission like this, even if we had authorization. Which we do not."

    "But we-."

    "You just covered the world in glowing orange eyes. Surely you can understand that your judgement is suspect."

    We shuffle where we stand, our head twitching from side to side. Not right not right not right. Kon wanted ninjas!

    "I think… Paul, I think Kaldur's right. I just don't.. feel like taking on ninjas right now."

    Oh. Well. There goes that idea. "Okay. We'll. We'll send this data to the League."

    Kaldur puts his right hand on our arm as we go to walk past him.


    "It is still useful information, and it will be a major victory when the League acts on it. It is simply.. not our role to do so."

    We're trying to help trying to help. Why don't they want our help?
     
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  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd October
    16:14 GMT -5


    You can get normal sport arrows for about two dollars apiece. The point arrows which Artemis, Green Arrow and Red Arrow use cost a little more than that, but not much. The explosive headed arrows are more like twenty dollars each for the low yield ones, and they certainly aren't reusable. The more complex ones... Some of them cost in the region of five hundred dollars a shot. There's no way Artemis can fund herself.

    We had a look at Mister Queen's finances. He was removed as CEO from Queen Industries by his own board due to -more or less- not doing the job of running it, preferring to spend his time as a superhero. Or just goofing off. Mister Wayne might be able to get away with that behaviour with Lucius Fox at the helm but Mister Queen's second -a man named John Deleon- had no such brand loyalty. To be fair, it literally wasn't his job to carry Mister Queen. Maximising shareholder value was, and as the new CEO he's done that rather well. Does Mister Queen understand this, or does he see Mister Deleon as a traitor out to improve his own standing no matter the cost to anyone else? We think the latter is more likely, but one man does not a revolution make. He might have encouraged the ill feeling among the shareholders and members of the board but he didn't cause it to be there in the first place.

    In any case, the profits from his investments can keep him in arrows but Artemis isn't in that position. Unlike Red Arrow she can't go independent. And we want to fix that.

    It came to us when we were in Kahndaq earlier today, looking for the Thanagarian spacecraft which was once in the possession of Prince Khufu. When we asked Adom about it he said that he was surprised that we knew of it. His friend showed it to him once and he was willing to tell me where that happened, but he said that he had no idea where it would be now if it even survived the intervening millennia. Does that mean that there is a reincarnating version of Hawkman around as well as the alien police officer version? We haven't seen any sign, but we didn't really follow their history back home. Anyway, the ship wasn't there but we were able to locate a minute sample of Nth metal and we have big plans for it.

    Adom's English has gotten a good deal better since Orange Lantern first liberated him. He's starting to read up on recent history and tried to get our opinion on Kahndaq's nineteenth and twentieth century. Quite a bit like Egypt from Orange Lantern's home parallel combined with more than a little Iraq and North Korea, a pattern the Ophidian remembers repeating in millions of polities of all sizes. We didn't have anything to add to his growing disbelief at man's casual inhumanity to man. And his anger. He seems to be heading in the direction which Orange Lantern intended, but we suggested that he talk through his concerns with Diana. We're sure that she has a better idea of the political realities than we do.

    Artemis is sitting on the top of Mount Justice, looking out across the bay. We remember that this was where Robin discovered Orange Lantern's name after the fight with Mister Twister. A place to go to isolate oneself, and we certainly don't want that. Dimming our aura we float up to her. As we enter her field of vision she glances at us before turning away. We land a short distance to her right.


    "What do you want?"

    "We have a proposal for you."

    "I'm not interested in talking to the snake."

    "We.. can.. leave you alone. Ifff it affects your decision, this is something Orange Lantern was planning to deal with at some point. We have simply prioritised it."

    She says nothing for a moment.
    "Fine, what do you want?"

    "It has occurred to us that your resource expenditure per encounter is greater than that of any of our other team mates."

    She screws up her face as she turns her head to look at us.
    "What?"

    "Arrows cost money. Constructs don't. Punches and magic don't. Shapeshifting and telepathy don't. Wallace spends an unusual amount of money on calorie rich foodstuffs but we calculate that the cost to him per encounter is still-."

    "Really. Really!" She leaps to her feet and storms over to us. We smile inwardly. After the sadness tinged doldrums everyone else has been affected by her anger is refreshing. "That's the best you could come up with! Trying to BUY ME OFF!"

    "We're simply trying to be practical. You have expenses. At present Green Arrow meets them, and Orange Lantern chipped in with those Arrows of Unmaking. But if you wanted to operate independently you need some way to pay for it."

    "I'm not going to abandon Paul just because-."

    "It was his idea! The Ophidian would just give you a pile of money, but we realise that your pride would not accept that."

    "What, then?"

    "An expense account. You could claim back the cost of professional equipment by presenting receipts." She simmers down a little. Will she consider it? We want her to. Diana's being noncommittal about talking to Io for us, so our next step is talking to Io ourself. Leaving a note where she will find it, anyway. We don't want to intrude on Themiscyra uninvited. "That is hardly an unusual practice. Many businesses allow employees to reclaim costs incurred in the performance of their duties. If it makes you happier we will not even administer it ourself."

    "How would you even open a bank account? If Paul didn't have a passport you certainly don't."

    "We could fund the account while a League member controls it. Failing that, we have an arrangement with the US Treasury. We do not believe there will be any difficulty." She doesn't immediately reply. "The account will be open to expense costs of all team members. It is not our intent to single you out."

    "Can you really afford that after that huge cake you made?"

    We nod. "That did consume most of our cash assets. We had been planning to acquire more."

    "How?"

    "Orange Lantern was capable of small scale transmutation. We are capable of altering vast amounts of matter, but do not do so in order to avoid harming the world commodity market. We plan to continue mining asteroids, though we imagine that the process will be considerably quicker now."

    "And.. Paul was going to do this anyway?"

    "He was focused on encouraging you to accept augmentation, and did not feel that pushing you on two fronts would be productive. He was considering creating it anonymously. We... We seem to be having trouble relating to our friends at the moment. We do not..." We shake our head. "We do not understand why. We want you to know that we're on your side."

    She's still facing us, but her eyes are looking out to sea.
    "Fine."

    "We can help?"

    She sighs.
    "Yeah. I mean, you're right. Someone's got to pay for this, and if Paul was going to sort something out anyway..."

    "Would you like to watch?"

    "Watch you break up an asteroid?" We nod excitedly. "Um, okay. I've never been-." And then she throws herself backwards onto the ground, panting, staring up in terror at the sky.

    What?

    "We thought it would be more convenient to bring the asteroid here. This rock has more than enough precious metal for our purposes." We've suspended it ten metres above the peak of Mount Justice. It's about eight hundred metres long and maybe sixty across at its widest point, rotating slowly on its axis. Why is she concerned? "Don't worry, no one was using it. We don't even think it had been investigated by robot probe." We hold out our hands and begin the disintegration process while sending an e-mail to our contact at the Treasury. "Do you have a preference for the account signatory? Green Arrow has an appropriate business background but we are uncertain that he will be sufficiently diligent."


    "You... You... Rock..."

    "Thank you. We like to think that we do as well, but it is nice to have it confirmed." We frown. "Do you have any use for seventy thousand tonnes of silica?"
     
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  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd October
    16:42 GMT -5


    We didn't actually know this room existed. No, that isn't quite right. We knew it was here, we just never had anything to do with it so didn't integrate that knowledge. We're sitting on the left of a two seater green settee opposite Black Canary. She's sitting on a matching green armchair about a metre and a half in front of us. We were half expecting Father Mattias to be here. He's been hanging around a fair bit this week, but, no. Just her.


    "I.. see you put the moon back."

    Our team mates are currently moping in the living area. We have tried to cheer them up, but nothing we do seems to work. "Diana asked us to. We turned it around on a whim. We saw no reason to refuse. May we ask if Ra's al Ghul is in custody?"

    She shakes her head.
    "By the time we managed to get that far into the monastery he had already escaped."

    "We suggest searching for any residue that might be associated with phantom zone portals."

    "What.. makes.. you say that?"

    "We are familiar with the technology of thousands of different races. Since our direct input is not required we will content ourself with shouting from the sidelines."

    "How is that..? How does your bond with the Ophidian work, exactly?"

    "We are one being. We have the knowledge and experience of both, though..."

    "What is it?"

    "We have noticed.. some things feel a little... We're not really sure. As if... When you cannot remember a particular word; you know it exists but cannot remember what it was."

    "Can you give me an example?"

    We lean back. "How we feel about Kon. To the Ophidian he would not matter at all while to Orange Lantern he was extremely important. We should retain the full extent of that feeling and the intensity is certainly there, but... We think its character is different now."

    "Different how?"

    We shrug. "We're not sure. We have forgotten the word."

    She nods.
    "Have you felt like that since the training exercise?"

    We nod. "We think so. If we do not concentrate on it we do not notice it."

    "You were extremely affectionate to Conner when the exercise finished."

    "We were relieved that he was not dead. That would have involved a great deal of work, even as we are now."

    "You.. how were you planning..?"

    "Assimilate Ra's al Ghul, batch produce Lazarus Pits. The League now has two of those, does it not? How is the research going?"

    "I.. don't know."

    "They resurrect the dead. Do you not think it is worth prioritising?"

    "The League doesn't really do that sort of research and development, and STAR Labs doesn't-."

    "Are you familiar with the computer game 'X-COM'?"

    She looks a little confused for a moment.
    "No, I can't say that I am."

    "It's really quite good fun. On one hand you have a turn based squad combat game, but at the same time you have to capture aliens and alien artefacts and research them. As the game progresses the level of opposition you face steadily increases and if your research has fallen behind... You lose. You lose however highly skilled your soldiers are. They just don't have the equipment necessary to deal with the situation."

    "And you think that the League is in the same position?"

    "Yes. We approve of your work with STAR Labs, but they are unequal to the task and -as you pointed out- cannot work with magic. Take the Gamma Gong, for example. Paralysis with no side effects at all. Very nearly the ultimate low lethality weapon. We can well understand not wanting to risk the only example you have in the field, but can you imagine the advantage you would have if League members carried devices like that as standard?"

    "That isn't really what the League does."

    "True. But do you think it should be? Leveraging all of your advantages-."

    "Like you did with Robin and Artemis?"

    "Yes! Well, perhaps not quite like that. More controlled. We were prioritising their survivability above other factors."

    "You like helping your team mates, don't you?"

    "Of course. We... Orange Lantern had been discussing the possibility of augmentation with Artemis for several weeks." We frown. "When we were in the scenario, she asked us if Robin might have survived our first encounter with the aliens if we had enhanced him."

    "Do you think he would?"

    "At the time, he didn't know. Having reviewed the fight since, we believe so."

    "J'onn told me about how the aliens' main guns worked. The -Danner?- formula wouldn't have made him immune to it."

    "He was already moving when the fighter fired. Had he been stronger he would most likely have been able to evade more quickly. Had he been faster-."

    "You can't blame yourself for him not having super speed."

    "Yes we can! Orange Lantern had the ability to give him super speed for over a month! He couldn't-! He couldn't block the zeta cannon thing, but he was behind most research carried out here. He could have been more insistent, should have done more for his squishy team mates."

    "Squishy?" She smiles slightly, then stops when we don't share it. "I'm not sure they'd appreciate being called that. Come to think of it I'm not sure I do."

    We shrug. "We are sorry, we are not sure if it would be safe to augment a metahuman using the substances currently at our disposal. If you would like to provide a blood sample-."

    She holds up her right hand in a stilling gesture.
    "That wasn't what I meant. It sounds a bit dismissive."

    "We suppose it is. Orange Lantern has long wanted to augment the whole of our species and these formulae have no downside. There is no reason not to use them if you can."

    "Then why were you so determined that Artemis should use one and not Robin?"

    "Robin has many other skills, ones not directly related to combat. So far as we know, Artemis doesn't."

    "You don't think that she can pull her weight?"

    "We want her to be sure that she can pull her weight. She wants very much to be someone who belongs on a team like this and we do not think that disguising the power disparity between us would be appropriate. We would rather simply fix it by raising her to our level."

    "You can't be responsible for everything that the other members of the team do."

    We smile. "You're wrong. That is the beauty of this joining. We are now fully capable of doing just that."
     
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  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd October
    16:46 GMT -5


    She blinks at us.

    "We can track their every movement, the actions of every part of their bodies. We don't wish to crowd them of course. The point of the augmentations was to ensure that they could manage without us but if we had to step in-."


    "And what do they think about this?"

    "We don't..." We toss our head. "Our friends have gotten worse since the training session. Listless. Passive. I brought the location of Ra's al Ghul to Kaldur first and he insisted I hand it over to the League."

    "Kaldur was right to do that."

    We stare through the walls at the kitchen. Artemis hasn't arrived yet, but the others are moping in there. "He was acting in accordance with the team's official rules of engagement, yes. But we didn't do that when we went after Morrow and we were instrumental in preventing a supervolcano eruption." We look at the floor for a moment. "M'gann can barely stand to be in the same room as us now. And we don't know how to do anything about it."

    "What exactly did you do to Martian Manhunter?"

    "Branded him." We come forwards in our seat. "We don't really understand the process."

    "Neither of you..?"

    "The Ophidian doesn't usually stop at marking people in that way." We tap the sigil on our forehead with our right index finger. "Hosts get this. Everyone else who opposed it got turned into a construct or killed."

    "Can you remove it?"

    We smirk. "Could the Green Men not work it out?"

    "The.. Guardians..?"

    "The Ophidian didn't know their name for themselves when it first met them. It called them the Green Men due to their connection with the green light of will. It didn't like them."

    "I asked you."

    "We don't know." We shrug. "We could try removing it, but we don't want to risk turning him into a construct."

    "How did you put it there?"

    "We don't know. We're not even sure when it happened. Nothing like this has ever happened to us before."

    "What does it do?"

    "Ties him to the orange light. We know where-." Wallace moved where's Wallace where's Wallace!

    "What is it?"

    We see him and calm ourself. "We cannot track Wallace when he moves at full speed. He ran from the kitchen to greet Artemis as she entered the cave. He is now awkwardly attempting small talk. How is she managing with the strength increase?"

    "Why don't you ask her yourself?"

    "We.. tried. She no longer enjoys talking to us. She refers to us as if we were only the Ophidian."

    "You can't be too surprised. Surely you realized that she'd be annoyed that you changed her body without her permission. And nearly dropping an asteroid on her didn't help."

    We didn't..! "We know... Orange Lantern wanted her permission in order to avoid that. When the training scenario ended and she was no longer dead we were more concerned with her continued survival than her high regard."

    "Is it really irreversible?"

    "We believe so. We could create a clone of her body and transplant her brain across, but then brain tissues would still be affected and we aren't sure what the result would be. Would she.. want that?" The idea hurts. That rejection. We're only trying to help.

    "I don't think we're at that stage yet. She's.. adapting. Green Arrow was shocked the first time he saw her leap across the street eight stories up without using a zip line."

    "She isn't using a power suppression collar?"

    "No, not when she was with us."

    We smile.

    "She's still pretty upset with you."

    "We know. We will work at it."

    She shuffles in her seat.
    "I know one way to make her a lot happier about the whole situation."

    "Tell us."

    "Get rid of the Ophidian."

    This again. "We.. can't."

    "Can't or don't want to?"

    "Both? Whenever we think about it we see ourselves trapped in the Orange Central Power Battery, or in the Hall of Justice with all of our friends dead and ourselves soon to follow. Merged as we are, we no longer have to fear either eventuality."

    "Can I.. speak to the Ophidian?"

    "You are."

    "Then why do you look like Paul, Orange Lantern of Space Sector two eight one four?"

    "You want..." We frown as we think about it. There's no real reason not to, we suppose. It just... We close our eyes and tilt our head back. And then we open them again as our Snake body replaces our Human flesh and our coils shimmer into existence around the edges of the room. We hold our head over our former seat as we regard our instructor. The universe looks different when viewed through these inhuman eyes. We can still comprehend matter, but we taste more strongly the emotions associated with it. Canary seems to be a mix of indigo, green and yellow. There's a.. vibration in the air? Speech! It's hard to focus on like this. Perhaps if we.. focus on the emotional content?

    "…in there? Paul, can you hear me?"

    Awareness.

    The pattern of lights change. We think we reassured her. What does she want? We see.. oh. A bit obvious. We reach out through the orange light to the pattern of desires we recognise as belonging to Mister Queen and provide stimulation. We feel him respond. He won't realise that anything's amiss, but he'll have a bunch of flowers waiting for her when she finishes here.


    "Okay, so it's definitely the Ophidian. Paul, you can come back now."

    She still doesn't understand. We stretch our head forwards, flicking our tongue, tasting her soul. It reminds us of Jade's. The same desire for affirmation and challenge, but nurtured and cultivated rather than forcing its way up through cracked paving slabs.

    We know her.

    Our Snake form coalesces into a Human outline and our flesh body reappears on the settee. "What else would it have been?"


    "It might... We weren't sure if the Ophidian was literally within you or you were just being.. affected, by your contact with it."

    "We might just have been generating a construct."

    "That wouldn't have caused your body to disappear."

    "True. Now, we have a question for you. Who is taking over M'gann's telepathy training?"
     
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  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd October
    16:50 GMT -5


    "J'onn is-."

    "No. If this debacle has proven anything it is that his abilities as a teacher are sadly deficient. M'gann needs a competent teacher."

    "Do you blame him for what happened to you?"

    "Yes. To Orange Lantern and to our team mates. The Ophidian.. objected less."

    "That seems a little harsh. He was as much in danger as the rest of you."

    "He failed to assess the strength of M'gann's telepathic abilities in advance of the scenario. He did not investigate the effect of telepathic effects on power rings, despite working with two Green Lanterns for several years. He did not ask Orange Lantern about specific risk factors relating to the orange light. He decided to use a high stress scenario for our first use of that training technique instead of starting with something more basic. And when he entered, he was overwhelmed by our emotional response to the situation. Do Martians not study lucid dreaming? Self hypnosis? Why did he not bring in another telepath to oversee his attempts to liberate us? Why did he not use a psi-baffle or inhibitor collar on M'gann from outside? A catalogue of errors." We make a dismissive gesture with our right hand and shake our head. "He may be a highly effective police officer but he has demonstrated himself as an inadequate teacher."

    "That..." Her eyes drop to the floor for a moment. "I... Some of that may be reasonable-."

    "It is all both reasonable and accurate. We understand ingroup loyalty but that does not get M'gann the instruction she needs."

    "That isn't... Is this why you branded him?"

    "In the scenario, when he killed M'gann, Orange Lantern shot him in the head and the Ophidian bit him through his chest. The brand is in the location which the Ophidian's fangs penetrated. Why did he even think that was a sensible way to break us out?"

    "Is that why you feel angry at him?"

    "We.. we don't think we feel anger anymore. At best, we feel frustrated that M'gann does not have something she should have. The…" We wave our hands in an approximate circle. "The universe is the wrong shape."

    "Okaay, who would you suggest? It would take months at best for another Martian-."

    "Henry King Junior."

    Her mouth opens and closes.
    "I'm.. not sure who that is."

    We generate a construct in his likeness. "Brainwave Two. He was a member of Infinity Incorporated and is the only Human telepath I would recommend. Alternately, we could simply assimilate Doctor Cizko."

    "I don't think-."

    We shrug. "He has killed many people, and by all accounts is quite skilled in his chosen field. The only downside as we see it is that we would have to put up with him for the rest of eternity."

    "You're talking about murder."

    "The murder of a very bad man in whom we have no investment. He will be dead in a few decades anyway, he may as well make himself useful."

    "That doesn't sound like something Paul would say."

    "No, he wouldn't say it. He wanted to fit in here. We are more ruthless. The Ophidian is old, Black Canary. Millions of years -perhaps billions- of existing in harmony with the avarice of all living things. Orange Lantern was concerned about the effect of repeat offending supervillains on the stability of civilisation if more permanent solutions were not employed. The Ophidian knows what the effect would be. It has seen it all before." She takes a breath. "But we know we will not convince you. If Henry King is not to your liking, perhaps you would consider Chester Black." Another construct. "He is a good deal more vicious, but he has telekinesis in addition to telepathy which better matches M'gann's skill set."

    "I... I'd have to talk with J'onn-."

    "No!" We feel our Snake body manifest behind our Human flesh. "He is not what M'gann needs!" We float from our feet, aura crackling. "You are supposed to be in charge of our training. You will get someone appropriate!"

    "Paul, calm down."

    "Why are we even talking to you?"

    She tries to stare us down. It isn't working.
    "The League felt that it might help if the team had someone to talk-."

    "Counselling? From you? Guy Gardner is trained as a counsellor with several years' experience working in criminal rehabilitation. You're a florist!" She blinks. Did Batman and Diana not share knowledge of our knowledge with the rest of the League? "Could the League really find no one with relevant skills? Even that priest would have been-."

    "Paul, you need to sit down."

    "We are not compelled to obey you." We drop to our feet, snake body receding. "This time is a sunk cost. We will not waste any more."

    "P-."

    Zeta transfer.

    "Recognised, Ophidian."

    We pace across the flat area of the hangar. Though we still need a base station at the journey terminus, transporting ourself by zeta beam is now simple for us. Back in the room we just left we see Black Canary sag a little before getting up and walking over to the intercom. Calling in whoever's next on the list?

    What did we even hope to achieve by talking to her? Where is Guy anyway? An opportunity like this, we would have expected him to be all over it like fake tan on a chav. New York, talking to Alan. Odd. Jordan? California? Stewart? He's actually in Happy Harbour. Odder still. We would have thought that he'd at least visit if he were in the area. No, unimportant.

    We need to do something to make the team happier but we're having trouble coming up with anything. Oh, we have ideas -we gave M'gann a DVD version of Hello Megan! earlier this week, detail and colouration enhanced to modern standards- but nothing which we feel is large enough. Nothing which compares to our healing of Paula and Mister Grayson. We yearn to just go and talk to them, but that does not appear to help.

    We step out over the water and float over to the middle of it, crossing our legs. The bioship isn't here. That's a bit odd. Has M'gann taken it somewhere? Maybe that'll do her good. Closing our eyes, we feel the structures in the rock around us. A mountain is a fairly resilient object, but we can do better. We reach inside, transmuting granite to more sophisticated substances, designed to both resist and absorb force. No, that isn't it either. Quartz crystals form in the shape of the scrying wards. We may not be able to power them ourself but they should gradually draw power from local geomantic systems. Useful, but not what is required. Eyes still closed we raise our cupped hands in front of us and take our Nth metal sample out of our subspace pocket. The Ophidian doesn't remember encountering it before. Certainly we haven't felt any naturally occurring ore similar to it in this system. Even with this sample we do not seem able to remotely detect more of it, even knowing where it is. Puzzling.

    Scans of the Hawks are much more informative. It isn't just their weapons which use the stuff, there are traces of it throughout their bodies, most noticeably at nodes surrounded by dense clusters of nerves. Something like element zero nodes which biotics possess in Mass Effect. We don't currently understand exactly how it works, but presumably it explains how a winged humanoid can fly.

    Could it work on a humanoid without wings?

    We briefly considered attempting to integrate Miss Ervin's flight aura with Kon, but discovered that rather than being a 'Bang Baby' as Orange Lantern had assumed her kinetic energy manipulation ability is actually granted by her Collective technology belt. We have scanned and copied it but we feel that Kon would consider that.. unsatisfactory. Not to mention fragile. No, finding a way to connect his own strong gravitational manipulation abilities with the mass warping effects of Nth metal would be far more useful. And the ability to synthesise it could improve the armour of everyone else. We've seen Batman's file on Hawkman's armour and it's much better than anything commercially available. But they won't share the technology so we'll have to do this the hard way.

    Which, with the Ophidian's experience and power, should be a good deal less hard than it might have been.
     
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  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd October
    17:19 GMT -5


    In the novel 'The Last Continent' the wizzard Rincewind remarks that there are times for mindless, terror-filled panic, and times that called for measured, considered, thoughtful panic. In a similar way, there are times which call for giant unstoppable avarice constructs to smash aside all resistance, and times for careful patient exploration to ensure that the avaricious impetus doesn't result in the object of one's desire being destroyed. We know that Nth metal can be exceedingly dangerous so we will not rush this. We have already analysed the fragment down to the fermionic level. Regrettably, the structures we have observed do not explain its physical properties. And we are also unsure how pure this sample is.

    We remember an issue of Swamp Thing where, pressed with the need to find a solution to a highly complex problem and impaired by his own damaged mind, Swamp Thing is inspired by Abigail to create a vast plant matter based computer to improve his intellect. In a similar way neither Orange Lantern nor the Ophidian would be intellectually capable of handling this problem alone. Together, we can harness our desires to create a mental augmentation construct which allows us to cope with the sheer mental load of our task. We suppose.. we could even leave it active full time... No. A distraction. Manifested around the edge of the hangar pool, Snake face and Human face stare at the fragment from opposite sides. Nothing is beyond us. Kon will fly today.

    While we shift our observations deeper into the metal and our expanded mental abilities attempt to recognise patterns amongst waves and particles no Human has ever previously detected, we decide that the best approach is to unfocus our mind and allow recognition to come. We idly extend a strand of our awareness back into the room where Canary sits with Kon while we remove a small piece of lead from subspace and begin altering it in an attempt to match what we have observed.

    Kon is sitting in the seat we previously occupied. What are they talking about?


    "…ot working!"

    "Conner, Mattias told us it would take time. You can't expect something that powerful-."

    "You're supposed to be good at this! If it happened to one of us, he'd have ten different plans for how to get rid of it by now!"

    "It's not that simple. No one on Earth has ever encountered anything like this snake creature before."

    Wrong. Even now we can feel the blinding white light of the Life Entity. It doesn't appear to exist in a physical location but rather is partitioned from the corporeal world in some sort of mystical demiplane. Strangely, we feel no desire to intrude on its isolation.

    "Well.. what are the Guardians doing? Paul said that the Ophidian was imprisoned in the Orange Central Power Battery." We feel a chill. "Couldn't they just stick it back in?"

    "According to Lantern Gardner it isn't quite that simple. More importantly, Zatara thinks that forcing it out of Paul would risk causing him a great deal of harm."

    "What about magic?"

    "All the spells he knows that might help expel the Ophidian assume that the person being possessed will have a soul."

    "I thought.. his tattoos..?"

    She shakes her head. "As far as Zatara could tell they hadn't been fully effective yet. Conner, everyone's doing the best they can for him. You can't just force your way through every problem. Sometimes you just have to be patient and wait for an opportunity."

    Is this why everyone has been so uncomfortable around us? They all think that we're the Ophidian? We can we can we can we'll prove that we're still us! Ah! We see patterns in the boson oscillations! Reformat the lead a litt-. A brilliant flash of green-white plasma as the piece of lead becomes super energetic! Half of it goes down and vaporises an appreciable part of the water below us, spreading scalding steam in all directions. The other half goes up, melting a circular impression into the rocky ceiling.

    It wasn't meant to do that. We shake our heads. Try again.


    "I'm more worried about how the rest of the team's been holding up." Kon turns his head to the door, but doesn't get up. "You've been spending a lot of time with M'gann..?"

    Kon sullens. "She's been taking it hardest. I think she still blames herself for what happened, to Paul and Manhunter."

    Nonotrightnotrightnotright. Fundamental energies, magic energies, below the normal structures of matter, entangled with them! We see it! More lead! Alpha radiation spikes but for some reason doesn't travel more than a small distance from the sample, forming a sphere. That.. doesn't make sense... The particles are forming a cloud but what's stopping them..?

    "And what do you think?"

    "She's wrong! No one could have known that would happen!"

    Gravitons gravitons what are the gravitons doing doing doing? The radiation sphere contracts, then spits plumes of particles in three different directions. Whywhywhywhy? We need to be more intelligent! Everything... We would expect everything to slow down. It doesn't. Every single thing we can perceive is now loaded with so much information that we can only stare at it. Patterns with patterns within patterns within within within so much content in even the smallest piece of matter. We are captivated.

    "Well, yeah, of course I do." Kon's no longer in the room and Artemis sits in his seat. How much time..? No, doesn't matter. "Y'know he was the first guy to ever give me a flower? S'stupid."

    "I wouldn't say that. I didn't realize the two of you were..?"

    "We're not. I think he's interested in my sister. It was after we had that.. fight."

    "Where he said you could win by-."

    "Yeah. Turns out that might actually have worked."

    "Yooou didn't-."

    "No! After he fixed Mom's spine I met him here and.. kissed him."

    Canary looks at her quizzically.

    "And then I slapped him. No shield." Black Canary smiles, and Artemis clenches her right fist. "Suppose if he put up a shield now I could just punch it down."

    "How have you been coping with that?"

    Artemis frowns. "You know how I've been coping."

    "Not when you're with Ollie and me. The rest of the time. How do you feel about it?"

    "It was that.. that damn snake! Paul made a big deal about not forcing me to have this, and then the Ophidian just goes and does it!"

    "So you didn't want it?"

    We twist gravity waves, super compressing matter to try and get those damn leptons to behave themselves. The gravitons react far more than we anticipated and water and steam begin streaming in from all directions. We have to raise a barrier around ourselves to keep it off.

    "I... I don't know! Wally keeps saying that it's great but I just didn't... It's not me."

    We turn the lead into plasma in a controlled fashion and try building tiny Nth metal like structures within it. Waves of gravity fluctuate around us, making patterns in the muck and water.

    "It's like there's this alien thing under my skin and if I'm not careful it'll jump out and kill someone. I feel like I'm a bomb, like I'm dangerous to everyone."

    "With the loneliness that's eating you alive."

    We can see it! Another gravity pulse, but now we know how to avoid them! And the radiation the radiation has to happen, it's part of the process! We understand! We extract a single sliver of newly transmuted pure Nth metal from the focal point and admire it for a moment before the something causes the neutrons to decay and it sucks the heat from the air as it evaporates. No!

    Stupid. Stupid!

    We must try again! We must get this right!
     
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  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd October
    18:02 GMT -5


    I hum tunelessly as I wipe dry the ring of the cake tin. The Christmas Cake itself is cooling on a wire rack on a nearby work surface. While it would be easier to do this with the ring -or just have the ring clean the objects which I used during cooking without recourse to water and soap at all- I've been trying to practise my hand eye coordination without ring assistance. Given how big they are and how insensitive to touch my skin is, it is a reasonable concern of mine. When we were together last night Jade commented-.

    "Why?"

    I stop humming and smile slightly to myself before lowering the tea towel and tin to stomach height and half turning to where Richard stands in the doorway. "Forty two."

    He scowls and struts forwards. "You didn't even bother disguising it."

    I return my gaze to my cleaning, gently feeding the metal through the tea towel with my right hand. "Would you feel better if I had? I don't think either of us really believe in divine intervention."

    "So tell me why. Why is Uncle Rick suddenly able to get out of his hospital bed for the first time since-?"

    "Because I wanted him to." I lift the tin up for a closer look. Seeing neither significant amounts of water nor damage inflicted by my own hands I put it down on the table and drape the tea towel over the back of a chair. "It seemed to me to be the most expedient way to repair our working relationship."

    "Since when have you cared about that?"

    "You seem to be acting under the misapprehension that I dislike you. The truth of the matter is that I don't care about you personally one way or the other."

    "You made me look like an idiot."

    "You were being hypocritical and I called you on it. If you looked like an idiot then it was because-."

    "Do you have any idea what would happen if my identity became public knowledge?"

    "I have a rough idea. Do you think that is likely to happen, now that our team mates are in the loop?"

    "The more people who know-."

    "Because you don't know our identities. Well?" I make a gesture of appeal with my right arm. "Do you? You certainly know Wallace's, Kaldur doesn't have one, Kon and M'gann have only just started using one but you know it. Artemis?" He glowers. "Mm. And I am unable to communicate mine. Not that I'm really capable of pretending to be someone else." I pick up the power ring from the work surface and slip it back over my left ring finger, immediately feeling relief as external sensation returns to my skin.

    "Then why now?"

    "I was content to let you have your secrets. We all have secrets we would rather not have our team mates know, it isn't inherently unreasonable." I took a short trip to Mars to acquire a gun for the bioship and was most interested to see what Martians truly look like on this plane. M'gann's been telling porkie pies. "But you demanded that I reveal things I would rather have kept quiet." Artemis was briefly very uncomfortable around me once she realised that I wasn't joking about Jade, but she warmed to me after I healed her mother. I made a point of reassuring her that I wouldn't share what I knew about her parents' criminality with our team mates and now our relationship is better than ever.

    "Knowing how to shield ourselves against telepathic attack would be useful for the team. Knowing my name isn't."

    "You should have trusted me to make that determination. Chester Black is not a man you just ask for lessons, especially if you are a well known super hero. Mister King is far better placed-."

    "Black Canary is supposed to be in charge of training! If you had a problem with what we're being taught, you should have taken it up with her."

    "Why? Why should I make myself even more dependent on the League? I don't see any of the Greenies stepping up to teach me how to more effectively use this ring." I hold it up. "Are you telling me that they are not aware that we may end up facing telepathic opponents, even after the Bialya mission? They may not have known of Mister Black but Mister King's name was already in the League's database and Mister J'onzz is a League member."

    His eyes narrow as he considers. "If you don't think you did anything wrong, why heal Uncle Rick?"

    "Did you know that I apologised to M'gann for the force I used to break the link?" He blinks. "She is my team mate. She didn't mean to harm us and I harmed her to disrupt the connection. I am not a.. nice man, but I try to be an honourable one. In your case? I don't believe that I have done anything to you I should need to apologise to you for, but I do want to maintain a productive working relationship and the best way for me to do that was to do something that would return me to your good graces." I turn back to the draining board and pick up the cake tin's base. "How is Mister Grayson adapting?"

    "Slowly. The doctor's think it'll be months before he can walk unaided and he might never use a trapeze again."

    I reclaim the tea towel. "I would offer to help, but I'm afraid the ring isn't up to repairing Human schematic systems. Perhaps he-."

    "Alert. Alien vessel in close proximity."

    Richard looks from me to the ring in surprise. "I've been scanning for boom tubes since the Bialya mission. I detected one opening in Metropolis about half an hour ago. When I realised that the visitors were from New Genesis rather than Apokolips I rather disregarded it but they've been heading in this direction-."

    "You should have told someone!"

    "I did. Batman told me to monitor them but take no action if all they did was sightseeing." I nod at the space between us and a construct of the ridiculous flying car they're travelling in appears. "This particular band are called The Forever People, if I remember correctly." I barely remember them from the comics. I remember that they can summon Prince Drax from his place of exile by saying 'Teru' -or something- at the same time but I don't remember their names, abilities or character.

    "Do you know why they're here?"

    "Nooooo." I think for a moment. "They could be here for Mister and Missus Free. They could simply be here for tourism. But, given that they are coming in this direction-."

    "They're here for the sphere."

    "Either that, or I really do look like Darkseid and they're after me. Ring, analyse."

    "By your command."

    The small one has two pistols -though they are probably far more powerful than their diminutive size would suggest- and the others appear unarmed. No way to know what innate abilities they have, of course. Only one Mother Box. It's in the hands of the brown skinned youth in grey armour. That.. could be very useful. I've been hamstrung by the lack of a database in the ring since I got here. But, Mother Boxes are intelligent. I could assimilate it but so far I've managed to keep knowledge of that ability from my team mates. And.. I am still reluctant to kill simply because it would be convenient.

    "Are they dangerous?"

    "I don't know enough to make a proper assessment. Yes, probably." I look down at the cake tin base and dry it the easy way before returning all of the cooking implements to their cupboards. "If they are tracking either the sphere or myself in some way they will find this facility in short order. I would suggest, therefore, that it would be best to prepare for a potentially hostile encounter. Ring, location of the sphere." Ah, in the hangar with Mister Tawny. Initially, I wasn't sure that Kon would be able to look after him, but they seem to have bonded well enough.

    "Artemis and Wally have gone home for the day. Kaldur, M'gann and Kon are out. How long until they get here?"

    "Looks like three minutes. Armour." I have to say, Mister Kord's people did some very nice work. I can even take a punch from Wonder Woman without it caving in my chest.

    "They'll never get back in time."

    "True." I nod towards the door. "What's say you and I intercept them ourselves?"
     
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  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd October
    18:08 GMT -5


    "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

    Robin and I are standing in the hangar. Lantern Jordan -our current -ugh- 'den mother'- is more than happy for us to greet the oncoming godlings without direct supervision. Presumably he knows about the New Gods from his ring's database and has similar expectations for this meeting to me.

    I was a little surprised when he took over from the Moronic Manhunter. I had rather been under the impression that the Greenies weren't on the rotation. Perhaps the Guardians authorised it so that they could keep a loyal pair of eyes on me? No, no, I shouldn't assume that it's all about me. Maybe the fact that Lantern Gardner is back on active duty means that they can spare him to oversee us? Jordan doesn't like the fact that I exist, but he doesn't appear to have a problem with me personally. Or perhaps this version of Jordan simply has much better self control than the ones I am used to?

    Robin and I are standing on the flat area between the bioship's platform and the steps up to the kitchen. Mister Tawny was kind enough to herd the sphere into the kitchen and is occupying a concealed position just inside the doors. The Forever People have been circling around the mountain for a minute or so. I would have thought that they could spot the entrances, and they appear to be electing to use the hangar doors.

    "What metric are we using to assess it? We can't go out without drawing even more attention to this place, especially if they are hostile. Waiting for them to enter makes sense."

    Alert. Foreign presence detected in Mountain computer systems. Do you wish to destroy it utterly?

    Hm. Not yet.

    The hangar doors.

    "And.. here.. they.. come."

    The Fantasticar enters front end first and moves halfway over the inner pool before turning to the left and tilting slightly so that everyone on board can have a look at the place. There are five of them, the black lad in grey armour with the Mother Box, a large brutish looking man, a blonde child dressed as some sort of Hollywood science fiction cowboy, a youth in what appear to be dark grey leathers with violet accents and a young woman in a violet tunic with black leggings. None of that rings any bells. They seem more curious than anything else.

    Richard takes a step forwards. "Ah, hi."

    And immediately the curiosity is replaced by anger. Leather Jacket and Armour half rise from their seats, ready to jump into action. Armour raises the Mother Box.

    "Return the New Genesphere and the rest of the technology you have stolen from New Genesis, Human."

    New Genesphere? Original.

    "Stolen? We haven't-."

    "No Robin, do not explain yourself to them." I stride forward, putting myself a little ahead of him. If they have ranged weapons it would be best if they pointed them at me, after all. "Warriors of New Genesis." I make eye contact with the chap in armour whom I now presume to be their leader. "You think that you can break into my home and start making demands? Where is your-?"

    Their eyes go wide in shock and fear. Oh come on, I don't look that much like him. They all stand, the Child drawing his guns and Leather raising his right fist. Armour holds out his Mother Box. "I don't know why you are here Grayven, but whatever your plans for this world-"

    Grayven? Wasn't that the name of Darkseid's other.. son..? Ohhhh dear.

    "-the Forever People will-"

    Though if we have to fight, it would be better to win.

    "vanquish y-."

    Orange beams shoot from my eyes straight towards him, angling right as they reach him and then back, straight at the Mother Box. It glows for a second and then I overcome its resistance and drop it in my subspace pocket. Oh yes, the look on their faces says it all. Not quite so eager to face someone who appears to command the Omega Effect, are we?

    "Now perhaps you will conduct yourselves with greater civility. What-?"

    The Fantasticar drops down and swings around to drive straight for us. Richard fires his grapple at the ceiling and pulls himself out of the way as I brace myself. Armour construct, MindShield and fortify. Orange light surrounds me. Just before the Fantasticar hits me I use the ring to slide aside and swing my right fist up and then down onto the left side of its bonnet. Whatever technologies enable it to fly appear not to completely negate normal physics as it upends and spins away from me, throwing the Forever People out across the cement before coming to rest on its top against the concrete steps.

    "Hey, Oh El, think you might be coming on a bit strong. And who's Grayven?"

    I watch as the Forever People pick themselves up. The Child is fastest to right himself and opens fire immediately, glowing blue bolts hitting me dead in the chest. They're more powerful than anything Earth made, but they aren't going to do much to my construct armour. Just in case... The Orange Effect flashes out again, each eye beam striking a different pistol and subspacing them.

    "Hey!" Ugh, he even sounds like a cowboy.

    "Attacking me is unwise, child. Now-."

    A lightning blast from Leather's outstretched hands hits me in the head. That appears to be a natural ability. Irrit- A metal girder smashes through the concrete beneath me and wraps itself around my legs as the Brute charges me. Huh?

    "Aaaaaaghhhh!"

    I push the metal away and step forwards to meet him. He goes for a shoulder barge. I sidestep to his left, my left leg in his direction of travel and my arms reaching out to grapple. Training with Wonder Woman has been immensely useful in learning to use my unusual strength in close combat, though my altered morphology means that I can't directly apply everything she could teach a more conventionally proportioned student like Donna or Kon. He responds by halting and swinging his right fist around. By grappling I'm forced to remain in place-

    "Douh!"

    -and the strength of the blow shows that he has genuine super strength, not the discount augmented muscles and bulk version I possess. But I have better leverage. I put pressure on his left side while pushing him forwards and he trips as he tries to stabilise himself. I release him from the grapple as he goes down, take hold of his leg -he weighs only what a normal man of his proportions would- and throw him back at his companions.

    He pushes himself up with a grunt. Armour has his eyes fixed on me. "It is time."

    The Girl seems more worried. "Without Mother Box? Can we-?"

    "What choice do we have?"

    The male members of the group raise their left arms up, fists clenched. She raises her right. I have no desire to fight 'Uncle' Drax.

    Ring, Quietus.

    By your command.

    "Ta-." / "Ta-." / "Ta-." / "Ta-." / "Ta-."

    And sound cuts out completely. Girl and Leather clasp their throats with their free hands. I smile and clap slowly and silently.

    Ring, transmit my speech alone.

    By your command.

    "What a truly idiotic method of attack. You should have started with the summoning, preferably out of line of sight."

    Armour tries to respond. He's speaking and gesturing in a fairly aggressive way but is unable to make any sound.

    "You have been outfought and are outgunned. Yield."
     
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  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd October
    18:11 GMT -5


    Alert. Telepathic attack detected.

    I feel the pressure on my shield. It's actually weaker than what Doctor Jones tried to use.

    "Weak. Why can you not accept-?"

    Richard drops down in front of me and points to his earpiece. Fine, authorised.

    "Oh El, that's enough."

    "Robin, with all due respect, butt out. You do not know these people. I do. I will ascertain why they are here-"

    "By beating them up?"

    "-Batman style." He looks away for a moment. "I will not cause lasting harm, but whatever their intent we cannot allow them to simply do as they please any more than we would any other group of unregistered vigilantes."

    His eyes narrow, but I get the nod I was looking for. I walk past him as the Forever People start to back away. Mister Tawny finishes repositioning himself at the top of the steps, ready to leap down on them. Ring, permit sound. If they try to teru, Quietus again.

    By your command.

    "I asked you to explain yourselves and you attacked me. I am also going to assume that you have not sought permission from this world's authorities to be here."

    Armour takes another look at me, his eyes widening. "That sign on your chest. It is the sign of the Beast of Okaara!"

    Mister Tawny makes his displeasure at Armour's raised voice known with a low growl and they start edging away from his direction as well. Ah, they know of Larfleeze! Having confirmation that he even exists is more than a little useful. "I, am-."

    "You are Grayven, son of the ruler of Apokolips and sworn enemy of the gods of New Genesis!"

    "It's so nice to be recognised. Why.. are you here?"

    "We are here to recover the technology you stole from our homeworld!"

    "And here I thought I was being subtle." I shake my head. "I haven't stolen anything from you. I was actively trying to avoid you. What led you to me?"

    "Mother Box -whom you so casually destroyed- detected the New Genesphere in this mountain."

    "What is your name?"

    "I will not-."

    "I refuse to keep thinking of you as 'Armour Lad'. What are you called?" I add a little orange eye glow to emphasise the point.

    "I am Vykin, leader of the Forever People."

    "Then let me ask you, Vykin. What other New God technology have you detected in this mountain?"

    "We.. did not detect any."

    "And did that not give you pause? A single piece, when you were looking for.. how much?"

    "That you have shared it with your followers-."

    "Oh, now you're just trying to excuse your failings as an investigator. As it happens, I recovered the.. 'New Genesphere'? From a camp in the desert far to the east of here. Some of the locals were experimenting on it. It mistook me for Darkseid." They wince at the name. "Really? Even his name hurts you?" That was unexpected. "Fine." I wave my right hand. "Call him Uxas, it was his name before his ascension. I know that the Genesphere was sent there by boom tube, but beyond that? It was not my affair."

    "We detected other pieces on this continent."

    "Well then, perhaps it would behove us to hunt them-."

    "We will do nothing with you. You are keeping her prisoner here, and you killed Mother Box!"

    "What, this?" I bring Mother Box out of subspace and into my right hand, showing it to them. It beeps at them but I swiftly silence it. "I do not destroy things that can be useful to me. If another New God is trying to turn my new home into their playground then they are very much my concern." I feed orange filaments through the ground underneath them just in case. "I suggest that we cooperate. I will assist you in recovering the stolen New God technology, minus a few trophies for myself. Then you will leave."

    The Brute clenches his fists. "We're not leaving without the Genesphere!"

    "Should that not be.. her? Choice?"

    Violet girl scowls. "Why would she want to stay with you?"

    "Does it matter? If it is her choice freely made, should you not respect it?" Ring, internal communications. Message: Would the Sphere please report to the hangar. Make sure that the doors work for her.

    By your command.

    The Forever People look at each other. Weren't they supposed to have some sort of thought synchronicity thing going on? Wasn't that how they summoned Drax from wherever he came from? I don't really know New God body language but they seem agreeable. Vykin turns back to me.

    "How can we trust you?"

    "I swear by my love of the Source that I will not betray you."

    "You have no love for the Source!"

    "The Anti-Life, then." He looks unconvinced. "Fine. What oath could I give that you would believe?"

    "None." He stares at me for a moment. "You will return Mother Box and Serifan's guns as a precondition to any cooperation."

    I nod. "Acceptable." The Orange Effect flicks out from my eyes and strikes Serifan's holsters, releasing his guns from subspace. He immediately draws them and checks them over, smiling slightly when he sees that they are undamaged. I take a few paces forwards and hold out the Mother Box. Vykin hesitates for a moment, then strides over to me and takes it from my unresisting hand. I remove the silencing effect as he holds it up to his ear and some of the stress leaves him as it warbles at him. A warble that after a moment is matched by one approaching rapidly from the kitchen. We look around as the sphere accelerates over the top of the steps and flies across the room. It.. she spins for a moment to counter her own momentum before rolling rapidly over to me and warbling in a manner with which I have become all too familiar.

    "No, I-."

    Warble.

    "A few bruises, they're basically fi-."

    Warble chime.

    "Yes, certainly, but why-?"

    Beep beep warble.

    "Because it amuses me and harms no one. Now, would you-?"

    She rotates to face Vykin, a brief two way warblefest with the Mother Box commencing. Vykin looks at me with puzzlement.

    "You have.. bonded, with the New Genesphere?"

    "She is not the greatest conversationalist, but I have found it pleasant to have a confidant to bounce ideas off." As the second most advanced technology I've had access to I've made a point of spending time with the sphere. I now understand her better than anyone else on the team or in the League, though that understanding has thus far been of little practical use. She hasn't wanted to share technical specifications and insists on badgering me when she judges my behaviour to be 'inappropriate'. If the others actually understood her I might be in a great deal of trouble. "Now, what is our first target?"

    "Mother Box detected the Rescue Drill in the metropolis where we first came to this world."

    "Then that is our destination. Robin, would you-."

    The sphere revs for a moment, and then unfolds.. into.. some sort of.. giant.. red.. motor trike..?

    What?

    ...

    What?
     
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  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd October
    18:22 GMT -5


    "What are your names, anyway?"

    We're flying in the direction of the metropolis they mentioned, which amusingly enough appears to actually be Metropolis. I'm not sure that joke would translate into whatever language they are actually speaking. I've formed orange replicas of aero-discs under my feet to disguise my use of the ring. I'm on the Fantasticar's left while Richard and Mister Tawny fly on the sph... The Genesphere on its right, Richard at controls to the rear and Mister Tawny taking the front seat. I may have to revise upwards my estimations of his intelligence.

    And Mister Tawny's, too.

    The Girl scowls at me. "Why do you care?"

    I smile at her. "So that I know what to put on the urn when I return your charred remains to Highfather Izaya."

    Richard's been following my lead as I asked, but I can't help finding his new approach a little suspicious. I wonder what he's thinking? Mister Tawny has taken to flying surprisingly well, though I note that he isn't looking towards the ground.

    The Brute grimaces. "You will not be sending our remains anywhere, Grayven!"

    "I beg to differ. When we fought you lightly bruised my face and your team mates could not even do that. In combat I expect more from Robin and Mister Tawny than I do from the lot of you. If that was truly the best you could manage I weep for the once mighty legions of New Genesis. Even Canis Major must have grown bored collecting your skulls by now."

    "Canis Major was slain last year by his own son."

    I look into Leather Jacket's electric blue eyes with astonishment. "You can talk!" He scowls, and I wave my right hand. "I'm sure it was very artistic. I wonder if Canis Minor will try to put what's left of him in a gallery?"

    "How can you be so callous?"

    I shift my eyes back to her, feigning complete indifference. "Practice. On Apokolips, any affection is vulnerability, a lever another could manipulate to harm you. It teaches you to be callous, cold and calculating, and rewards most of all those who learn those lessons best. I proved an apt pupil." A memory stirs. "Wait... I think I've heard of you." I point with my right index finger. "Beautiful Dreamer, yes?"

    She blinks. "Dreamer. Just Dreamer."

    "Then the men of New Genesis are blind as well as stupid." Disgust covers her face. "Ha! Ha! Ha! Oh, come on. I will keep needling you until you tell me."

    Leather Jacket stills his features. "I am called Moonrider."

    "Was that so hard?" I nod at the brute. "And who's the bear?"

    The Brute looks thoughtful. "I am named for an animal that does not exist on this world. Bear..." He thinks some more. Oh goodness, is he actually going to..? He nods. "Bear is an acceptable substitute."

    "If you have the time once we have finished recovering the misappropriated technology, you really must make time to visit the city of San Francisco. I'm sure that you'll be very popular there."

    "Don't pretend to be nice. What are you doing on this planet?"

    "Before you got here? I was baking a cake."

    He narrows his eyes. "I'm sure it was an evil cake."

    "It was for a local religious event which commemorates the birth of a man whose sole purpose in life was to suffer and eventually die in incredible agony as a ritual sacrifice to stave off their god's wrath. The religion's practitioners wear a symbol of the mechanism used to execute him around their neck."

    The Forever People stare at me. On the other side of the Fantasticar Richard squints at me with his right eye through his helmet visor and tilts his head slightly to the side.

    Bear is repulsed. "That sounds like an evil cake to me."

    "To a man forced to live such a life, I think a cake is the least he is owed. But surely such things do not offend you so? After all, Serifan there patterns his whole character after a people defined by the genocide they committed against that region's former inhabitants."

    "You take that back!"

    "Pick up a history book while you're here, you ignorant child. You'll find it illuminating."

    Richard waves at me with his right hand. "Ah, Grayven? Can I speak to you for a moment?"

    "Of course." I lower my speed a little to fall behind the Fantasticar and then accelerate up on the Genesphere's right side, falling slightly to put my head level with Richard's.

    "What are you doing?"

    Ring, sound filter.

    By your command.

    A pale orange sphere surrounds us, blocking sound and making lip reading difficult. I doubt we'd have to worry about that from aliens unfamiliar with Earth, but there's no harm in being certain.

    "Could you be a little more spe-?"

    "You're acting like an insane supervillain! Who's Grayven?"

    "Grayven is one of the sons of Darkseid, ruler of the planet Apokolips. From the way that our guests have been carrying on I assume that I look like him. The.. banter is simply my way of encouraging them in their misapprehension."

    "Why are you pretending that anyway?"

    "New God technology is millennia in advance of anything the Earth has. If we can secure even a small part of this cache, the advantage we could gain-."

    "You're lying to them so you can steal from them?"

    "If they give it to me voluntarily it isn't theft, is it? Besides, they attacked me, and we only have their word for it that the stuff is even theirs."

    The Genesphere warbles at me.

    "Well I'm sure that's true, but we haven't seen the rest of the allegedly stolen materials yet. They might just as well have come from Apokolips, and according to League practice should therefore be delivered to STAR Labs."

    "What was that.. antilife thing?"

    "Ah, that's a bit of a complicated one. Essentially, it's a sort of arcane mathematical proof that life is worthless and meaningless. It can be used to suppress free will on a universal scale. As I understand it, Darkseid possesses a part of it -enough for truly frightening feats of arcane mind control- but not enough to totally dominate everything."

    "Who or what is Darkseid?"

    "Formerly Prince Uxas of Apokolips, he was able to join himself to something called the Omega Force. In doing so he became Darkseid. He's ruthless, intelligent, physically easily as powerful as Kal-El and is able to project a beam-" I raise my right middle and index fingers to my eyes. "-from his eyes which can do just about anything to anything that it hits."

    "That was why you fired the beam from your eyes."

    "Just so. In any case, if someone is using New God technology on Earth, we need to know about it."

    He nods, reluctantly. "Why do they call themselves New Gods?"

    "As I understand it, because they believe themselves to be divine. I'm afraid I don't understand the precise metaphysics. They may look humanoid but rest assured that there is far more going on with them than that."

    "Hm. Stealing technology from gods, Oh El? Careful you don't get your liver pecked out."

    "Oh no, Richard. I'll be doing the pecking."
     
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  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Not important!
    Not important!


    Working working working it's working! Our Nth metal rings are remaining stable without our continual intervention! We can even decorate them with the 'S' sign! Plasma suspension, that was the key! Granted, no one from the outside can see what we've achieved. Though things go back to normal once the Nth metal stabilises during fabrication things get a little strange. The additional gravity is nothing that we cannot cope with but before we lost sight of the ceiling we noticed cracks beginning to appear.

    But it doesn't matter! We can put it all back once the armour is complete! We focus, and lead turns to plasma and we force force force it into the tiny metal rings and wires and plates. We can't use other materierials can't risk weaker material. Chain for joints, interlocking plates for for for larger less flexible areas. Grey 'S' on the chest, yes! Yes! Let it cool let it stabilise.

    Did something..? It's getting harder to hear the outside with our Human body. What's going on?


    "…indecision. The only result was that everyone who had survived to that point died alongside me. I am not fit for command."

    No no no no no no need to do something for Kaldur. Tula rejecting him made him sad maybe we can find him someone else? Or clone her? We can already tell the position and direction of every everything every part in her mind.

    "Who do you recommend to take your place?"

    "Were it not for his current difficulties I would already have nominated Orange Lantern as my replacement." We see Black Canary dip her head slightly. "Since.. he is.. unavailable..."

    We're not unavailable but we don't need to be available! He couldn't have known what we know!

    "Artemis is too raw and untrusting. The only one of us she really opened up to was..."

    He trails off. Artemis gets on all right with everyone, doesn't she? Did we did Orange Lantern miss that? Maybe we need more normal social activities as a group? We can still fix that. Compared to duplicating Tula that's easy!

    "Kid Flash is too rash and impulsive. Miss Martian... She lacks the necessary detachment to make good judgement calls in the field. She.. has taken what has happened to Orange Lantern even harder than the rest of us."

    But we'll fix it!

    "Superboy carries too much anger, though he is better when.. Wonder Woman..."

    We know, but that wasn't hard. She's very nice. Someone would have taken him on by now even if we hadn't said anything. Probably her.

    "Making Robin the logical choice."

    No bad. Finish armour, fix everyone else. It's good that they're talking to Canary, we'd never have been able to get this out of them. Now we know everything that's wrong and we can fix it. Yes, now the leg pieces. Clasped solid segments and chain and we need to make sure it will all work in tune with his organelles.

    "But he is so young."

    "Kaldur, you're all young."

    No we're not. We're capable and we're going to prove it. We focus and begin linking the Nth metal to Kon's biological force field. With that in place his natural shield will extend through the armour, adding its resilience to the metal. No more getting made naked by lava. Wait. Did we just hear a crack? Our view of Black Canary and Kaldur appears to shake. Why is that..? We force the material around our shield away for a moment to watch a large chunk of rock fall from the roof. It doesn't hit the ground but rather falls in an arc with our shield at the bottom. We see and feel other cracks appearing, though our reinforcements are holding.

    Is that..? Why is that alarm going off? We see Kaldur and Black Canary get to their feet. Kaldur looks confused.


    "Black Canary, what is happening?"

    Black Canary ignores him and raises her right hand to her earpiece.

    "He..? Alright. Hal, do it." She looks at Kaldur. "Kaldur, we're evacuating. Head to the surface. Don't use the elevators or the zeta tubes."

    He starts walking and she follows immediately after. "Please, tell me what has happened. Orange Lantern has done nothing to indicate-."

    "As far as we can tell, he's creating a quantum singularity in the hangar and it's threatening to cause the entire mountain to collapse."

    It is? We knew the stress was... Oh. Did we get carried away? We look around as we force the water to separate from the dust and rock. Perhaps we did. Perhaps. But we can fix it! The gravitational effects of the metal fall off as the newly transmuted metal completes the stabilisation process and we let the water fall to the floor.

    "An' the Guardians think this'll work?"

    Guy? Guy is... Guy is in my room. We frown. That's a bit rude.

    "They said it might. At this stage I think that's really the best we can hope for."

    We push the detritus back to the ceiling and fuse it in place, strengthening the roof to a level of resilience far above what it had before we started. Why are Jordan and Guy and Stewart and.. Alan? Alan's here? Yay!

    "Still can't believe you had the balls t'stand up to 'em like that."

    And he's looking younger. Did they let him recharge with their lanterns? We feel.. green will.. and something else. As we drift over to the landing platform we try to identify what it is. A.. crystal? It's violet. Violet is.. love? Love. We remember... something..? Ahhhh! We don't like this feeling don't like it!

    We land hard on the launch pad as we see Alan recover our lantern from its subspace pocket. We feel that's a little intrusive, but we can't really hold it against him. He holds it out to Jordan and Jordan pushes the crystal OWOWOW! Kon's new armour falls to the floor next to us and our snake body disappears and and and-


    "John, what's happening?"

    "He's down... No, he's getting up again."

    We struggle to our feet. They're... They're attacking us? Through our lantern. Why? Why would they..? We stagger towards the lift. We'll find out we'll find out we'll-

    "Activating internal defenses."

    What? What? Paralysis field generators emerge from their recesses and our Human body is momentarily locked in place.

    "Eh. Guess we shoulda let him have plasma cannons after all. So, plan 'B'?"

    We roll onto our side, shaking. We don't understand. We don't we don't-

    "In brightest day, in blackest night,
    No evil shall-"

    Our Human body isn't working.

    "-wherever the cause should make me roam,
    always I vow to fight the good-"

    We remove it, switching to our snake body. Much better.

    "-alone I set my mind in motion."

    We swim through concrete, metal and rock in the direction of our room.

    "For the dark things cannot stand the light-"

    We come out in the corridor. We try changing back to our Human body-

    "Nerd."

    "You recognized it, jackass."

    "Focus, gentlemen, please."

    -but the internal defences immediately register our presence and we fall to the ground once more. Why are they doing this to us? We don't understand!



    But we remember that we don't like the Green Men.
     
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  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    We've had enough

    We manifest directly through our lantern, forcing back and buckling the green shield the Servants of the Green Men have placed around it. We look at them and see their will. It is not enough. We strike out with our tail, slamming them against the walls.

    "We are displeased."

    Bindings made of small orange snakes tie them to the walls and a hissed breath pulls the rings from their fingers as
    we reform our Human body and take a moment to look at our lantern. The crystal... Is that..? Yes, the Star Sapphire. No wonder we feel strange. As we reach out with our right hand to pull it out the orange light around our Human limb fades. We take hold of it. A jerk and it's free and we focus on knitting our lantern back together.


    "Hey, snake-!"

    We muzzle Lantern Stewart without turning around as we gaze into the Star Sapphire. A large, evenly cut violet gem. We can feel its power, though it feels.. strange to us. We had assumed that it would be like a power ring, but it isn't. It's more like a personal lantern, providing its own power to be shaped by emotion. And we can't detect any sort of programming. Curious, but not useful to us at the moment. It seems able to preserve its own stability so we send it to our subspace pocket. We can deal with it later.

    We wonder if it would go well with Kon's armour? Or maybe Alan could learn to charge himself from it?

    Lantern restored and checked and checked again we occlude it once more and turn to the bound Lanter-. Why did we bind Alan and Guy? We release them immediately from the walls. Why would we do that? They are ours, we don't want to hurt them. And Alan needs his ring to stay healthy. He now looks just like he did when Orange Lantern first arrived on this world. We float it back over to him.

    "Alan, we are very sorry. We we overreacted to you interfering with our lantern. We are very glad to see that you are looking so well."

    He looks at us for a moment, then extends his right hand to pluck his ring from our grasp. Maintaining eye contact he slips his ring over his left middle finger. Immediately the crackling green light pours forth from the lantern shaped design.


    "What's all this about, Paul?"

    "They didn't tell you? Orange Lantern made himself host to the Ophidian to win a training scenario after he became telepathically convinced it was real."

    "Paul, you nearly brought the whole mountain down."

    "No we didn't. We reinforced the mountain first, there was little danger of it collapsing. The gravitational effects were an unfortunate but inevitable side effect of transmuting enough Nth metal for Kon's armour."

    "Ah..?" Guy waves his right hand to get our attention. "Any chance the rest of us could get our rings back?"

    "Not a significant one. We don't know why you did that. We're inclined to blame the Guardians but we didn't enjoy it very much and have no intention of giving you another chance."

    "Juust askin'."

    "Lantern Jordan." We float over to just in front of him. "Did you talk to the Guardians as we recommended?" There's a quiet ringing sound, and we turn our head away for a moment and watch as his ring vibrates in our grip, a weak green glow contained within our greater orange. "Not a bad effort, but it won't be enough. You are overpowered. Did you speak to them?"

    "Yeah. They really opened up."

    "Did they admit to abandoning Lantern Raker?"

    "That isn't quite how they put it."

    "Hah. Did they tell you the truth about Larfleeze? About Okaara?" He grimaces. "The nature of the Ophidian?" He looks down. "And they sent you back here without Ion? With Ion you would have stood a chance. We remember Orange Lantern telling both you and Guy about it. Should we expect the big green whale sometime soon?"

    "No."

    We allow our confusion to show on our face. "What else do they have?"

    "Nothing. They were going to make you the offer they made to Larfleeze. As long as you stayed in this Sector they wouldn't touch you."

    What?! "But that's a tremendous abdication of responsibility! And we are proof that it didn't even work with Larfleeze. What if we had been Parallax, The Butcher or The Predator? They are far less personable than we are!"

    "Heh." We twist our head to look at Guy. "Yeah, that's what we told 'em. An' it turns out, Guardian law doesn't let 'em stop a Lantern defending their home Sector. They tried, back in the day. Caused too many rebellions."

    "They sent you here without the tools you need to do the job. If we didn't like you so much we might have turned you all into constructs. We might have assimilated your rings and personal lanterns and expanded our Corps."

    "An' that's what they said." He shrugs. "Getting Alan recharged was Hal's idea. To defend a Sector 'gainst somethin' like you, there's a surprising amount of leeway in the Book of Oa. Says 'Any Green Lantern', so..."

    We drop the snake-bonds around Lantern Jordan and hug him. He freezes.

    "Ahh..."

    We let him go and pull back a little. "We are very grateful. If you like we could convert your ring and personal lantern to run on orange light instead of green. Then we could give them back to you."

    "No.. thanks..."

    We drift back towards the centre of the room. "You know, this whole thing reminds us of when we asked Guy about the first generation of Green Lanterns. When the Guardians handed their first green power rings out to Lanterns G'Hu, Wachet, Blu and Avra?" Guy and Jordan nod. Lantern Stewart just stares. We suppose we could probably risk releasing him now. "Guy went on about how it shows that even the meekest can accomplish great things if they focus their minds on it and how amazing things can come from unexpected places. Do you want to know what we heard? We heard the Guardians boasting that they handed out massively powerful tools to three veteran warriors and a civilian and did not bother to provide them any instruction in their application." We hold out our arms to the side. "Perhaps the need to get them into the field was too pressing for a full training course, but a summary? A few pointers? From what Guy told us the first Lanterns didn't even know that power rings could create constructs! Lantern Blu died pointlessly because of that. And even in their newfound desire for honesty we very much doubt that the Guardians have told you about some of the other skeletons in their cupboards that we know about."

    "Paul, I don't care about what the Guardians may or may not have done. You're not well."

    We twist around to look at Alan. "Why does everyone keep insisting on that? We're fine!"

    "You're calling yourself 'we'."

    "We can call ourself 'I' if it makes you happier. We simply feel that this is more honest."

    "You know I can't accept this."

    "We will show you!" We reach out to the desires of each of them. With everyone this excited even Alan's desires come through easily despite his flaming green aura. "We know everything each of you want. And we know just how to help all of you get it."

    "Everything?" Guy face shrugs. "You sure 'bout that? 'Cause I could go for-."

    A large glass of beer and a steak sandwich appear in the air front of him. "We admit that we do not understand the appeal of American... Beer. We were thinking about more fundamental things, but if it helps..." He takes hold of each and sniffs them before taking a voracious bite out of the sandwich. He nods.

    "If pr'y goof. Bu'ah dah thee-" He swallows. "-a Brazilian-."

    "You are not socially compatible with any Brazilians currently employed as fashion models. However, this-" We generate a booklet and hand it to him. "-is a full profile of Miss Tora Olafsdotter. We believe you will get on splendidly."

    "I dunno Paul. I really had my heart set-" He opens the booklet. "- on a nice!"

    "If you are satisfied, we will begin. Lantern Jordan. How would you like to be the greatest Green Lantern to have ever existed?"
     
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  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    We're being helpful!
    Watch us!


    "Hey!" Guy gestures at us with his sandwich. "How come I get a sandwich an' he gets t' be the greatest Lantern ever?"

    "Because he wants it more. You want to be great, Lantern Stewart wants to achieve great things. Lantern Jordan wants to be the greatest because at the moment most of the Green Corps thinks of former Lantern Sinestro in that way, and that offends his sense of how things should be." Jordan grimaces. Our eyes unfocus as we gaze deeper into his soul. Looking at the green light.. itches.. but if we are to check our suppositions we must see all of him. Ah. Not unexpected. "Lantern Jordan believes to the core of his being that a person with sufficient determination can achieve anything. A belief which -as far as we can tell- was instilled in him by his father."

    "Dad worked damn hard to get to where he did. I wouldn't do anything less than live up to his example."

    "Harold Jordan is in many ways ideal Lantern material. In addition to his willpower he has a military background and a strong moral sense." We smile at him. "In a way, the dishonourable discharge from the air force actually helped. He would do anything rather than let this second chance pass him by."

    "Thanks.. I think..?"

    "Aside from experience -which it would be difficult for us to grant you- there is really only one flaw in your abilities. From a Green Lantern Corps point of view we mean."

    He folds his arms across his chest.
    "Oh? And what's that?"

    "Fear."

    We hear Lantern Stewart let out a chuckle-exhalation in disbelief.
    "That's ridiculous. Hal's the most fearless person I know."

    "He is not concerned for his own safety, certainly. If we just consider obvious threats, we assure you that we are the most fearsome thing that any of you have ever met. We could atomise you all in a second and scour this continent down to the bedrock and none of you are afraid of us. That is not his problem."

    Jordan's eyes narrow.
    "So what is?"

    "You base your personal philosophy on that of your father. Determination equals success. And when you were nine you watched him die in a plane crash."

    "He died keeping his plane from crashing into the spectators!"

    "Yes. And as a man you recognise it as the noble sacrifice that it was. But as a boy you knew only that the man who was the centre of your life was dead. And.. if a man as strong willed as him could die in such a way, does that not work to undermine his whole philosophy? Demonstrably he could not achieve everything he wanted to."

    Goodness us, we do believe that Jordan's actually thinking about it.
    "I'm.. not sure that's true... And I'm not sure how thinking that it is makes me the greatest Lantern ever."

    "Simple. More willpower equals more ring power, and while raw ring power is not the sole determining factor of Lantern greatness, it really helps. Once you completely stop being afraid that your personal philosophy is wrong, you will receive a noticeable increase in power."

    "Enough to beat you?"

    "Perhaps. Not in a straight fight. But maybe enough to gain sufficient prestige within your Corps that the Guardians would choose to grant you access to Ion out of respect for your abilities. Or be compelled to assist you further due to other Lanterns choosing to follow you in rebellion out of personal admiration. In any case, Sinestro would become a distant memory, one criminal amongst the many you had banished to the Science Cells."

    "That.. sounds pretty good."

    "Hal..."

    Lantern Jordan holds up his right hand in Alan's direction. "I don't really understand why you're being so helpful, though. If I get stronger I'm just going to come back here and fight you harder."

    "We know and approve. A Green Lantern should be resolute and unswerving. We have.. changed. We are something that is not either of our component parts, and we understand that this is.. disconcerting.. for our friends. We wish to demonstrate that we are not your enemy."

    "How.. exactly.. were you planning to help me..?"

    "We are not telepathic, but during this conversation we believe we have identified the patterns in your brain associated with your memories of the incident in question."

    "Ahh..."

    "We believe that we can forcibly integrate them into your conscious mind. In effect, you would constantly experience your father's death with exactly the raw emotional intensity that you did as a child." His eyes go wide and he takes a half step back. "The Human mind can only sustain the fear response for so long. We doubt that it would take you longer thannn.. two hours? To completely overcome your fears. And then you wouldn't have to worry about-."

    "No. God, no."

    We frown. "We don't understand. We can see your desire, we can see your fear. The only other method we can think of to overcome it would be some sort of psychotherapy, and you don't have the right personality to take full advantage of that. You do understand that Sinestro's yellow ring is fortified by the fear of his enemies, do you not? Every Green Lantern that has ever heard of his achievements as First Lantern is at a crippling disadvantage in the field. You could surpass-."

    "That isn't helping."

    We screw up our eyes. His conflicting desires.. doesn't.. what? "But you.. but you... You want the ends, why don't you want the means? We don't.. we don't..." We shake our head. He's clearly being irrational. Ignore him. We flow through the air to float in front of Guy. He eyes us and takes a deep drink from his glass.

    "Heck, Paul, if y'cn make me relive my Dad's death, I'd probably pay you." The other three Green Lanterns stare at him, shocked. "What? I can see where this is going. My old man was a mean son of a bitch. You gonna offer to make me relive every time he ever beat on me? Go right ahead. I ain't afraid o'him."

    "Quite true. You're genuinely not. Given what you went through it's an impressive recovery, but you certainly aren't being held back by fear."

    "Sooo?"

    "Did you ever wonder why you enjoy drinking that?"

    "What, beer?"

    "No. That particular brand. Mass produced American beer is an embarrassment to breweries everywhere, but even in this market you unerringly home in on a brand that tastes almost exactly like horse urine."

    "Heh, you mean you-?"

    "We performed a chemical analysis."

    "It doesn't taste-." He sniffs it and takes a sip, gagging only slightly. "-quite that bad."

    "Yes it does. Do you remember the first time you returned to your family home after your father's funeral? A funeral you did not in fact attend."

    "A bit. Mom wanted me to clear out some of Dad's stuff."

    "I can only see links between events that have a strong emotional resonance."

    "Yeah? Didn't mean anything to me."

    "You're wrong. There's a strong emotional resonance there. You're in the kitchen drinking from a can of cheap beer while pouring the rest of his stash down a sink."

    He nods, and goes to take another swig.
    "Yeah, I remember that. So what-?"

    "It's the same brand. You like drinking it despite the taste because it reminds you that he's dead."

    Guy freezes, staring at the glass. Then he pulls it slowly away from his face before dropping it to the floor.
     
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  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Progress!
    We're getting somewhere!


    We catch the glass before it reaches the carpet and raise it back up. "Please don't do that, this is our carpet. Hmm." We look into him again and transmute the beer into a darker and rather superior variety. "You drank this for the first time on the recommendation of one of your new team mates after you successfully passed the try outs for your college's American Football team. You associate it with camaraderie." We float it back towards him but he shakes his head.


    "No thanks. I don't really feel like drinkin' right now."

    "As you wish." We disintegrate it. "You see, your problem isn't that you fear your father. There really isn't anything holding you back from growing steadily more and more powerful."

    "So what's my problem supposed to be?"

    "Lantern Jordan strives to become more like his father. The more he achieves the more he affirms that bond." We pause, considering how to go about the next part. "Do you remember when you stopped playing American Football seriously?"

    "Day I got drafted for the Browns was the greatest day in my life, up t'that point anyway. Then I went an' got a knee injury at mini-camp. Never saw a single pro game."

    "And?"

    "An' it stunk." We look at him for a moment. "What?"

    "After you received your injury..?"

    He looks away, the skin around his mouth tightening. We note that his ring glows where we're holding it. It takes him a moment, but he forces his face to relax and he faces us once more.


    "I got mad, an' I smashed up the dressing room with a barbell." We nod. "So, what? You're sayin' my anger's holdin' me back? I figured that out."

    "No. Quite the contrary. You use the force of your will to suppress your rage. That constant effort is what led you to train your willpower to the point where you were capable of acting as a Green Lantern. Without the anger you probably wouldn't have your ring. You might even not be able to use it at all." We nod at it where it floats next to us. "Jordan thought your ring glowed when you spoke to him because you were considering hitting him, when in reality it glowed because you were forcing yourself to stay civil."

    His face hardens.
    "What're you offerin'?"

    "You want to be a Lantern. You want to stop being angry. As far as we can see, if you remain a Green Lantern you will remain angry."

    "Heh. Orange ain't my color neither, pal."

    "We know. Would you consider indigo?"

    He peers at us.
    "Ahh. Which one was..?"

    "Compassion. You are angry and are therefore capable of using a red ring. But that isn't what you want. You have a green ring. But, ultimately? It doesn't get you what you want. You forced yourself to stop being angry because you couldn't stand for your father to win. What you chose on your own was to complete a Bachelor's in Psychology and Education and to work first with prisoners-" We look at Jordan for a moment. "-and later disabled children. What you want, is to be compassionate."

    His eyes drop for a moment, and he shuffles his feet.
    "Yeah, well... Not much chance of that, is there? If there's any indigo rings 'round here, I'd have to be the most compassionate person in the Sector and there's no way that-."

    "No you wouldn't!" We beam at him. "That's the beauty of it. The Indigos accept people entirely without compassion. Their rings were originally designed for criminal rehabilitation. Once you put one on your finger it suppresses your ability to feel anything other than compassion. You would stop being angry and could still operate as a Sector Lantern." We frown. "The uniform looks fairly stupid, but perhaps you could get an exemption or something."

    "Wait wait wait." We turn to look at Lantern Jordan. "Indigo Lanterns? How come I've never heard of them?"

    "They use long ranged teleportation rather than conventional Lantern FTL. It makes them harder to track. Also, their home world is hidden from detection. We think.. we know roughly where it is. We distantly remember the Proselyte..." We remember the weird purple octopus thing. We didn't like it much but we do remember it. "We are confident that we could eliminate all possible locations within a few years. In fact-" We raise Jordan's ring. "-combined with Abin Sur's star charts-."

    "Ferget about it."

    "What? Why?"

    "I'm not gunna give up my ability to feel just 'cause I get angry. I'm not gunna let what Dad did make me afraid like that. No way."

    "But if you genuinely wanted to join it might not even do that."

    "Don't care. I ain't never been one fer takin' the easy way out. Way I see it, every time I force my anger down I'm steppin' away from what Dad was gunna make me. Maybe I don't end up right where I wanna be, but it's me doin' it, not some kinda ring brainwashin'. Sorry snake." He folds his arms. "No dice."

    "But we can see how badly you want to-."

    He smiles with the left side of his mouth.
    "Sometimes it's not worth what'cha give up."

    "No. No! You're wrong. You're wrong. You're just telling us this to distract us."

    "What? You're the one who can look into people's souls, right? What'd I want, you tell me."

    "You want." No no nononononocan'tberightno.

    "What do I want, Paul?"

    "You want you don't want you want you want. No! You're tricking us!"

    "Hm, I was right then. For a moment I wasn't sure myself."

    We can't we don't we we we. "Lantern Stewart!"

    "My father's still alive, and I get on with him just fine, thanks."

    "If your ring were orange then the Green Men couldn't stop you building things with it. Wouldn't that be-?"

    "No. That's not me either."

    "Fine. Fine! We didn't want to have to mention this, but if you're going to be obstin..." No. The guilt isn't there. The emotions associated with Xanshi should be easy to detect, but there's nothing. When did that happen in the comics? He's only been a Lantern three years here. Maybe...

    "You out of ideas already?"

    "The Orange Lantern Corps doesn't have a formal structure yet. If your ring were orange you could choose to spend your time away from here. Perhaps... With Lantern Tui?" A slight tightening of the skin around his eyes. "We would even change the colour of her ring if she wanted it. We are sure that Korugar would welcome her back if she no longer wore the green sigil."

    "Katma decided that she'd convince her people that the Corps wasn't to blame for what Sinestro did. Green Lanterns don't change our minds easily."

    He's right he's right he's right he's right. No good no good no good! We drop to the floor cringing slightly. "Alan-."

    "Whatever it is, no."

    "We know that you don't really want anything for yourself, but we know your desires all the same. We... Orange Lantern, wanted something for you."

    "I've got no reason to believe a thing you say, but go ahead. Say your piece."

    "You're going to die. And we don't want that."
     
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