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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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    30th January
    09:47 GMT


    "How long will it take to get there?"

    M'gann and I hang in space near the edge of the Sol system, watching as orange light surges around the exterior of the Guardian ship. Good thing the local Greenies are all out of the system at the moment. Fingers of orange light flicker around the hull as its faster than light systems build up, then it appears to accelerate towards a glowing orange point immediately in front of it until the whole thing vanishes.

    "Demiplane transition complete."

    That would probably look really interesting if I was doing the full awareness expansion thing. From what the ring and I were able to extract from the databases remaining on the ship it sounds like using ring faster than light travel causes the one doing it to be temporarily transported to the elemental plane of avarice… Or something like that. A lot of the words the data stores used didn't have good translations.

    **It should be there by Thursday.** Along with a polite message of greeting from me and a suspended Burning Martian.

    **I thought it would be quicker.**

    **Maltus is on the other side of the galactic core. Plus, you can't just drop out of FTL wherever you want.**

    **Because it's not polite?**

    **Because an inevitable part of learning a technique for working around the laws of physics well enough that you can go faster than light is learning how to disrupt that technique. Otherwise, wars between interstellar civilisations would just involve them throwing faster than light projectiles at each other's homeworlds.** I generate a construct to show what I mean. **Lantern Stewart used something like this when I fought him at New Year. Stops ring-based FTL. Well, the sort Lanterns usually use, in theory we could just create a construct to replicate one of the others…**

    **So the Controllers would have those on their planet.**

    I let the construct fall apart. **That, and a lot more besides. Plus, yes, it would be impolite. There's a sort of 'implied threat' to even trying.**

    **How do ships usually get into a system if they can't use faster than light travel? They can't go in at sub-light, that would take…** She trails off. **I know it takes light five hours to get from the sun to the edge of our system, but you said starships can't go that fast.**

    **Yes, it would take a long time. Some systems just don't let anyone inside their systems. They either go isolationist or build huge space stations further out. Other places use tugs or force visitors to rely on navigational data they provide or escort ships in at gunpoint. Or just set their interdiction devices to automatically reactivate if the ship goes above a certain speed.**

    **What will they do with…** She shudders slightly.

    **The Burner?** She nods. **I don't know. They might hand him over to the… Was that a 'him'?**

    **I couldn't tell.**

    **'Him'.. over to the Guardians. Or just leave him in suspended animation. Or turn him into a modern Martian.** That was the one thing I wasn't sure about in this whole situation. **Would other Martians really have been able to feel him?**

    She nods. **If he were out of stasis? Yes. His thoughts were… I don't know if I can explain it. Mart-.** She looks 'down', not that there's anything particularly close to us out here. **Modern Martians are more sensitive to each other's thoughts than we are to those of other species. We instinctively.. reach out to each other.** She sighs. **Just like the Guardians wanted.**

    **Would you rather be like..?**

    **No! You didn’t.. feel its mind.** Her gaze drifts as she searches for a way to explain it. **It killed them. Fists, Guardians… It even killed the last of the other Burning-. Martians when power got low and it wanted to make sure its stasis chamber stayed working for as long as possible. It didn't feel regret, it didn't really think about it at all. It just instinctively knew that was the right thing to do.**

    **How are you doing?**

    **I've been better.** I float over to her and wrap my right arm around her waist. She doesn't look at me. **And you know what's worse? I recognized the technique it was using. The thing it was doing with its skin. It's just about the most advanced feat of self control Martians practice. I've only ever seen Reds do it, and only over a tiny part of their bodies. It's supposed to be the ultimate expression of self-mastery: overcoming our species' fear of fire to become one with fire. And now I know it just means they were regressing!**

    **I doubt it means that. It would take a lot to overcome the Guardians’ blocks-.**

    **How did you know?**

    I frown for a moment. **Know what?**

    She pulls away slightly so she can look me in the face. **What the Guardians did. I didn't remember until later, but, when Red Torpedo and Red Inferno attacked the mountain… When the fire cage was making me panic, you told-** Whoops **-me what they did. I didn't really think about it. I just thought you were telling me a story so I'd have something to concentrate on while I calmed down. But then we actually saw the ship and.. it was real. They really did it. How did you know?**

    Ring, accelerated mental processes.

    Compliance.

    The small motions of her body and the slight wobbling of the environmental shield around her slow down until they're barely noticeable. Right. I'd forgotten about that. How could I credibly have got that knowledge? Lantern Stewart's ring?

    This ring contained no such-.

    Shut up. No, the other Greenies could -will, when they hear what happened- ask their rings about it. In a classified partitioned off section? No, the Guardians would know whether that was true or not and I don't think Jordan or Stewart would take my word over theirs. A data transmission from the ship itself? Possible, and given the state of its systems rather tricky to refute. Attributing it to data that was on the ring when I found it is sort of asking for someone to request a complete list of files. Claim ignorance, suggest them as possibles? Could work. M'gann doesn't seem angry, she's just noticed an inconsistency. Thinking about it, I'm a bit surprised Jordan hasn't asked me how I knew about Lantern Qarrigat.

    Ring, normalcy.

    Compliance.

    **I'm not really sure.** I shrug. **I've had the ring poke into a lot of different databases, and when I found out this Earth had aliens on it I asked it to 'find out everything'. It might have picked up the data from the ship.. or maybe from a transmission the ship sent out?**

    **Why didn't you say something when we found the ship? It could really have helped.**

    **Because I had no way to confirm that the data I had was genuine. I had no idea that there would be Fists there, I… I didn't know how their test subjects were different from a modern Martian…**

    She frowns. **You said-.**

    **What the data told me. I couldn't check it until I assimilated that last cylinder. I didn't know exactly what it could do so anything I'd have said would have risked misinforming you. As it was, matter disrupting aura aside it fought pretty much like a modern Martian.** She nods. **How did you know how to stop that?**

    **Mister J'aarkn's pendant, plus what I got from its mind. I read its mind to match the disruptions it was using. Luckily it wasn't very creative. It kept using the same modulation so I could focus on attacking it rather than constantly readjusting.**

    I nod and look around. **Do you want to stay up here for a bit?**

    **No, we should get back.** She turns in the approximate direction of Earth. **I want to make sure everything's 'in order' before Doctor Fate arrives.** She gives me a small smile. **Can you imagine all the things a sorcerer as old and powerful as him could teach us?**

    Ah. That. **I think I probably can. I'll drop you off.**

    **Why? Do you have plans?**

    **Yes. I plan on getting a hotel room.**
     
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  2. Threadmarks: Doppelgänger
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Doppelgänger

    5th February
    06:01 GMT -5


    I open my eyes and look at the off-white hotel pillow beneath my head. This is not my beautiful house

    I pull the duvet tighter around me. "Ring, anything from the Controllers?"

    "No messages received."

    Sure, the ship couldn't just FTL into Maltus orbit but they don't maintain an interdiction field that far from their system. I know that the ship is at least in Maltus' star system by now.

    "Status of automated defences?"

    "Two intruders have been entangled. No further activations."

    Unfortunate thing about a ring moderated body: no excuses. I only feel tired if I want to feel tired. No one would think it odd for someone to sleep in a little on a Saturday but all that'll happen to me is that I'll eventually get bored. And I've got plans with Zatanna today and.. I need to find out if she's made any plans for her birthday. Or if there's anything she'd like to do. I half turn in bed and push myself up into a sitting position. Ring, curtains.

    Compliance.

    Sunlight. I instinctively blink as it hits me, then roll my eyes at my own behaviour as the ring easily compensates. Normally on a Saturday I'd use the fact that I get up earlier than everyone else to prepare the kitchen. Get the waffle iron heated up and some fresh batter mixed. A little later on if Batman didn't have a mission for us we'd have training, lectures first and then some sort of physical session.

    I still can't believe they actually…

    No, if they're serious about making him 'part of the team' of course it makes sense that Nabu would be taking a week as our overseer eventually. And I'm certainly not begrudging Red Tornado his time off being 'John Smith'. I'm sure a few lectures on arcane theory and practice will do my colleagues a world of good. For myself, I will not spend a moment longer in Nabu's presence than mission priorities require.

    I don't so much fly out of bed as drag myself upwards. Don't need to wash, don't really need to -a wave of orange passes over me- dress. Breakfast? Getting room service had a certain novelty value to it the first night but it's not as if the food is any better when delivered like that. Ring, grant maids… Wait, what's a male maid called? And.. maidians? Maid men? Janitorial staff access-.

    Closest term is 'valet'.

    Oh. Thank you. Maids or valets access.

    Compliance.

    I drift down and land next to the bed. Zatanna's not going to be up for another hour at least. John… Five hours ahead. He should be awake. Probably… I trudge over to the glass door leading to the balcony and push it open.

    "Mmmmph!"

    "Well, honestly, what were you expecting?" I don't recognise the man. Sweatshirt and jeans, male pattern baldness shaved near bald and a camera that fell from his hand as the entangler activated. "Do you know how often people try to kill me?"

    "Murmuuuh?"

    I float the camera up and have the ring check its memory. No, he didn't get anything. "Did you climb up? That would actually be slightly impressive." His just visible eyes flick sideways. "Snuck into the room next door and climbed across the adjoining balcony?" A nod. "Leave anything there?" A slight hesitation and then a shake. "Right ho." I connect a filament to him, pick him up and float him over the edge of the balcony.

    "Mmmmn!"

    I lower him at speed. Am I going to need to change hotels or will he spread the word that this doesn't work? I may be a C-list superhero but I'm not a C-list celebrity. I have no interest in appearing in some rag of a tabloid. Just before he reaches the ground I reduce speed, then open the entanglement trap and bring it back up. I hear a dull thump from below as I reset the trap. It's sort of nice that the Green Lantern Corps has put so much effort into low lethality weapons. The camera I just transition down next to him. Now, where's the other one?

    I walk back into the bedroom and close the door behind me. Pretty cold here in Metropolis, not that I feel it. Don't want it to be too cold for the staff. Crossing the room I go through the interior door into the living area.

    "Resufgnin!"

    No, didn't make it this far. I switch the television on to GBS. I did try BBC News 24 for a while but it's just so repetitive. GBS is far more likely to carry alerts of things I need to know about right this second. I only glance at the screen as I cross the room towards the cloakroom. Don't recognise the reporter and there doesn't appear to be any sort of ongoing attack. Gotham? Oh, if Batman needs me he has my number. I pull open the door and look down at the bound woman. "Good work on picking the lock…" Wait, where's the camera?

    "Fzew!"

    No camera found.

    Oh dear. Weapons?

    The ring shows my mind's eye a picture of a nail file.

    Yeah, that doesn't count. "I'm going to untie you now, and I'd appreciate an explanation." I touch the entangler with a filament and open it up, the silver ribbons retracting back into the device. The woman inside staring up at me defiantly is.. maybe late teens? Early twenties? Dull grey jogging bottoms and a hoodie combined with a Superman t-shirt. Her hair is brown, medium length and frankly a bit of a mess.

    "What the hell was that?!"

    "An entangler. Very useful device." She pulls herself to her feet, sparing a second to glare at it instead of me. "So. I'm Orange L-."

    "I know who you are!" Actually, her voice does sound-. "You got me fired!"

    I point at her with my right forefinger. "Dana Dearden."

    "Got that right." Her right hand heads towards her pocket. What's she going to do, throw change at me? "And I'm going to-."

    "I'm so sorry about that. It honestly didn't occur to me at the time that they might.. react in that way." I tilt my head back for a second, looking at the ceiling. "It wasn't until Diana -Wonder Woman- talked to me about it the next day… I mean, it was just a little oversight, right? A ticking off would have been more proportionate. I'd probably have realised myself if I'd been more on the ball." She frowns, apparently puzzled. "I phoned the studio a few days later to see if I could get them to change their minds…" I shrug apologetically. "They weren't really... The person I spoke to went on about journalistic ethics… Um, Malcolm.. someone?"

    She blinks and appears to calm down a little. "Bernstein."

    "Might have been. Anyway, I just.. wanted to laugh the whole thing off…"

    "I can't believe he-! Grah!"

    I gently press my left hand into her side to nudge her along as I head for the door out of the suite. She starts to be led along before she realises what's happening. "Can I… Buy you breakfast? I realise it doesn't really make up for losing your job…"

    "Oh. Um." She looks a little bewildered. "Thank you?"
     
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  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    06:28 GMT -5


    "…interning while I get my college diploma, but you really need to get in early in this industry. So, you know, thanks for doing this."

    "It's fine." I take a bite of my toasted bacon sandwich. Usually there are a few stringy bits that stay connected when you try and bite cleanly through and then you get bits of bacon grease pinging all over your clothes. I on the other hand get a tiny flare of orange light and a cutting edge on my teeth which extends just beyond them. "And there's absolutely no doubt that you're going to be recording it."

    She just sort of stares at me for a moment. "… No." She leans over to her bag to fish out a notepad and pen.

    "I can just.. record the whole thing.. give you a copy at the end?"

    "I wanna get into the habit. Practice my shorthand in the field." She flicks to a new page. "You really not been interviewed about being you before?"

    I shake my head. "No hometown, so I'm not really on anyone's 'patch'."

    "No hometown?"

    "I'm from a parallel universe. I grew up in a village called 'Westham' which doesn't exist-."

    "Wait wait wait. Parallel universe?"

    "Yes?" We stare at each other this time. "You.. are aware of the concept?"

    "Yeah, but… Okay, so what's different? Did.. the Nazis win World War Two? Or.. did Britain win the War of Independence?"

    Best received pronunciation on. "That nasty little colonial rebellion?" Her mouth opens slightly. "No, we lost. Really, I'm not sure that there's any one historical event I can point to as being the source of the divergence. No one.. where I'm from has superpowers, and certain really cutting edge technologies don't exist."

    "Like?"

    "Zeta tubes. Artificial intelligence. I mean, we have search algorithms and things like that but we don't have proper Human equivalent synthetics."

    "Neither do we. I mean, apart from Red Tornado."

    "Yeah, that, that exactly." I wave my sandwich at her. "Ridiculously advanced one-offs that don't.. spread. Doesn't happen where I'm from."

    "No Superman either?"

    "No aliens at all, as far as we know. Could be they don't exist, could be there just aren't any near us. Or it could be that our physical laws just flat out don't allow faster than light travel, an idea I find somewhat depressing."

    "The laws of physics are different." I nod. "So how come you're… Human, and not some sort of bizarre monster?"

    "Oh no, I am a monster."

    "You don't look like a monster."

    "That's because you're not a magic user. You see, everyone from.. this Earth, maybe from anywhere in this universe… They pick up a sort of.. shell of magic energy based on what they are and how they interact with their environment. You call it a 'soul'."

    "You.. think.. you don't have a soul."

    "I know I didn't. Now, I've had some work done, it's a bit up in the air." I lean forwards slightly. "A soul isn't just an abstract concept, it's the part of you that interacts with the arcane, the little bit of you that survives the death of your organic body. My home parallel doesn't support them. The Atlanteans freaked the heck out when I told them."

    She stares at me again, then shakes her head slightly and focuses on her pad. "Okay then. If you come from a parallel universe, how did you get here? I mean it sounds like you don't have the technology to build interdimensional-."

    I raise my right forefinger in protest. "Interplanar. Interdimensional is something different."

    "Oh."

    "Lot of people make that mistake."

    "Okay, well, it sounded like you wouldn't be able to build something like that-" I nod. "-so how did you get here?"

    "I got here via a Bleed Portal. The Bleed's.. what you get between different universes, different.. stable sets of physical laws-."

    "Let's just skip that."

    "Okay. Um. Not really sure how I left my own parallel. I woke up in high orbit around-" I look around the dining area. "-this Earth."

    "And how did you get a power ring?"

    I take a moment to look at it. "Don't really know. I must have got it either just before I got here or really quickly after because otherwise I'd have suffocated." I shake my head. "I've been trying to get hold of some people who might know but they're not answering me."

    "The Green Lanterns? Didn't you hand out Christmas Cake with them?"

    "No. I mean, I did, but they're not who I'm talking about. The Green Lantern Corps selects people who are strong willed and basically moral. It doesn't select for intelligence." No offence, Guy. "None of the local ones are physicists, so they've got no more idea about how I got here than I do."

    "Okay, um… What made you decide to become a superhero?"

    "I had to make a deal to get a personal lantern to charge the ring." I shrug. "Becoming a superhero was part of the deal I made."

    "So you.. don't.. actually care about..?"

    "Doing the police's job for them?" Another shrug. "I used to be an administrative assistant. No.. dark origin story, no burning desire to serve the public good or.. reaffirm my allegiance to something or somewhere by punching people in the face. Want to know why I'm refreezing the Arctic?" She nods, pen poised. "You've had.. freeze rays for years. You've got the same basic economic system.. and the associated environmental damage that my Earth has. Why was no one putting two and two together… No, it isn't even two and two. Why was no one putting one and one together? Stupidly misapplied technology winds me up."

    "Freeze rays don't work where you're from either?"

    "No. It's not even global warming, really. It wouldn't kill Humanity if all the ice on the planet melted, or if.. this species or that went extinct. At the same time, you don't need thermodynamic law breaking freeze rays to fix the problem. Rich people could just live a little differently… Or just paint their roofs white. That would work. "

    "What?"

    "The ice at the planet’s pole is a huge area of white. White looks white because it reflects visible wavelengths of light. Other colours absorb it, absorb energy and get hot. On a hot day, touch the head of someone who's blonde and the head of someone with black hair. The black hair will be hotter. Anyway, I'd need to freeze the planet down to Toronto and up to Buenos Aires if everyone wants to use the same amount of electricity and petrol as Americans do, but I could balance the heat books that way." Her pen isn't moving and her face has gone a little pale. W-? "I'm not going to!"
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2019
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  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    06:47 GMT -5


    "…tend to think of superheroing as being a right wing thing."

    "Doesn't the Justice League try and stay out of politics?"

    "The League as a whole doesn't want to pick a side in the eternal battle of Republicans versus Democrats. Most members have -at some point- expressed an opinion on particular issues. What I mean is, the Right -the libertarian Right- want small government, say that society works best with as little government intervention as possible. Well, when that idea works, what do you think it looks like? One plutocrat holding onto the means of production and generously letting the proles below have the occasional crumb which slips from his plate?"

    "Prole?"

    "Proletariat. Working class people. No. It looks like the Justice League. The League don't get paid. Most of them don't even draw expenses."

    "Don't they get money from the UN?"

    "All goes on maintaining their infrastructure." Don't mention the Watchtower. "The zeta tube network alone eats up something like sixty percent of the UN's contribution. The Hall pretty much pays for itself, but then you've got-."

    "Zeta tubes?"

    "That's not a secret. If you watch the library in the Hall of Justice you can see them using-."

    She nods. "Oh, right, the teleporters. Why does that cost so much?"

    "It isn't exactly a teleporter. It's strictly point to point only. If the League want to go somewhere they need a terminal there, and it's the very thing that lets them act as a global organisation."

    "But.. a lot of them can fly."

    "Going flat out, Wonder Woman can fly at about eighty miles an hour. Assuming that she was in New York it would take her more than an hour to fly to Washington under her own power."

    "Wonder Woman's got a plane."

    "Flat out, that plane can go a little above the speed of sound. About eight hundred miles an hour. New York to Atlanta in an hour or so, completely useless if someone or something is attacking Atlanta now. They need that network." I pause. "Though, replacing it with something better and cheaper is one of the things I'm working on."

    "Okay, how about Superman?"

    "Superman's top speed is higher than Wonder Woman's but not by an order of magnitude. I think it's only The Flash, the Lanterns and maybe Nabu-."

    "Who?"

    "Nabu. Fate. His name's not a secret, he just doesn't talk to people often enough for people to know it. They don't really need it, but the Flash has a life outside being the Flash and the Lanterns have to split their time across an entire space sector. And those are big. No, it's the zeta tubes that make the thing possible."

    "And you want to replace it."

    "With Dolmen Gates." I take two small ones out of subspace and create construct stands for them on the table. "Stick your finger in one!"

    "'kay?" She gingerly reaches around with her left hand and hesitantly pokes her middle finger through the ring. There's a very slight intake of breath as it comes out of the other one. She stares at it for a moment and then puts down her pen and pokes her left middle finger with her right forefinger. "That's.. amazing…"

    "I know, right? Me and this Atlantean guy came up with them-."

    "You were there with that Ambassador and Senator Knight! He did that whole speech about building a trading relationship!"

    "And that right there is why. Right now the Justice League struggle to get to rural areas… Even urban areas in some countries. Once we can make enough of those, no more problem. Heck, no more expensive and highly polluting passenger aircraft."

    She pokes her left finger through a few more times and then pokes her right forefinger back the other way. "Can I keep this?"

    "Nnnnooo, sorry. It's the only demo model I have. They're not easy to make, it's just the running costs that are negligible. You know, aside from the Roanoke Island thing, I think.. my biggest impact on Earth has been getting those created. And the Roanoke Island thing wasn't just me on my own. If I hadn't been there the others could probably have handled it. "

    "Others?"

    What we did at Roanoke isn't a secret, but the existence of the team as a combat unit is. "Other young superheroes. Given the circumstances at the time, getting together seemed like a good idea." What was I.. talking about..? Right, right. "Anyway, getting back to what I was saying-."

    Dana withdraws her hands and picks up her pen once more. "About the Justice League being a right wing organization?"

    "Right. Everyone there chose to do what they do. Except maybe Red Tornado, but he could still quit if he wanted to. They didn't think about.. how they could best serve the common good-."

    "Yes they did. Did you miss Superman's speech about.. some problems-."

    Bullshit. "Yeah, he might think that, but…" I shake my head. "Maybe that was why the League stayed together, but most members of the League started fighting bad people for far more personal reasons."

    "Like..?"

    Um. "The Flash was a big fan of.. the.. previous Flash. " And I can't talk about why most of them got into it without giving major hints as to their secret identities. "You're.. really going to have to ask them, I don't think they'd want me-."

    "How well do you know them?"

    "Pretty darn well."

    "Are you going to be joining the League?"

    "Not any time soon. The point I was trying to make is, they didn’t ask for government authorisation-."

    "They got government authorization."

    "After they'd been operating for years. And if it got taken away tomorrow, do you really think they'd stop? No, the League is a result of private init-."

    "Incoming communication."

    "What was that?"

    "The ring." I lift my left hand to my ear and generate a phone construct. "Excuse me a moment. Orange Lantern two eight one four speaking?"

    "Do you really say that every time?"

    "Good morning Zatanna. Yes, I do. It's how my mum trained me to answer the phone. You're up early."

    Dana looks interested. "That's Zatanna Zatara?" I nod.

    "Yeah, I… I think I'd like to get started early… I know it's nearly noon in England already, so if you didn't have any other plans…"

    "No… Would you like me to pick you up or will you make your own way there?"

    "Can you pick me up?"

    "No problem, I'll be there in about… Five minutes?"

    "See you in five." I remove the construct, ending the call.

    "So you're in contact with a lot of superheroes?"

    "Yes? Actually, they make up pretty much my entire social circle."

    "Do you think you could get some of the others to do interviews with me? It would really help."

    "I'll certainly ask, but I can't promise anything. If you give me your phone number I'll be sure to pass it on."
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2019
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  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    06:53 GMT -5


    Dana hands me a torn off page of her notebook with her mobile phone number scribbled on it. "Do you actually think any of them will call me?"

    I subspace it along with the Dolmen Gates. "Kid Flash and Kaldur..." Blank look. "Aqualad might. The others…" Kon almost certainly not. M'gann's a possible. Robin nooo. Raquel..? Does.. she.. have a secret identity? I assumed not given that she doesn't obscure her face but I never actually asked… "I expect not but there's no harm in asking."

    "Okay, well um. Thanks. For doing this. I really wasn't expecting…"

    "Oh, it's fine. Don't mention it."

    She takes a breath, then hesitates for a moment. "Are you..? Could we..? Meet up again? Maybe, later in the week? Go over a few more things?"

    "Yes, if you like. I'm probably going to be busy tomorrow.. but I can phone you on Monday when I have a better idea what I'm doing for the rest of the week. Oh, do you want my room key?"

    She goes completely still for a moment and there's a slight intensifying of red light within her. "What?"

    "Well, I can't imagine you got much sleep tied up on the floor. My room's going to be empty all day, probably going to be quieter than your halls of residence.. or wherever you're living at present. If you want to use it-."

    "Oh. Um, no, I.. think I just want to make a start on writing this-" She taps her notebook against the table. "-up."

    I nod and fabricate a datastick with a recording of the conversation. "As promised." I give her a shallow bow. "Now, if you'll excuse me." Ring, zeta tube.

    Lights flicker and then… "Welcome, Orange Lantern two eight one four."

    "He-llo Shadowcrest." I know the zeta tube isn't actually tied into the house's magics but it does seem the polite thing to do. I stride towards the door, pull it open and stick my head out. "Zatanna?! Are you decent?!"

    "I'm in the kitchen!"

    "That wasn't a 'yes'!"

    "Yes!"

    I transition to just outside the kitchen and then walk inside. "Good morning."

    She turns to smile at me as she puts a plate into the sink. "You already said that."

    "But now I'm saying it in person. Have you read the files on Star Sapphire?"

    She nods. "Carol Ferris was given the Star Sapphire by the Zamarons shortly after she broke up with Green Lantern, turning the love she still felt for him into a crazy obsession." She shakes her head. "Why would they do that?"

    "Not sure. Optimistically, they didn't know that the two of them had separated and intended for them to work together. Pessimistically, they were trying to prove that the violet light is stronger than the green by having her beat him into submission." I think the reason in the comics was that they wanted her to take over as their queen, but that almost certainly isn't the case here. The Guardians would surely have found out if anything had happened to Queen Aga'po, right?

    "How are things in the cave?"

    "I don't know. I'm spending the week in a hotel."

    "Oh." She blinks, then a small frown appears. "Did I hear a voice when you answered the phone?"

    "Probably. I was having breakfast with a woman named Dana Dearden."

    "O-oh."

    "I don't know if I told you-" She shakes her head. "-about it, she was the one who phoned me after the Roanoke interview. Turns out they did fire her."

    "Oh. Then, how did..?"

    "She somehow found out that I was staying in Metropolis and broke into my room." I give an amused exhalation. "She ended up spending the night-" Zatanna's eyes widen. "-tied up on the floor-" She drops her mug into the sink with a crack. "-after she triggered one of my entangler traps. I only found her this morning."

    Her mouth hangs open slightly. A moment passes and she closes it again. "You.. booby trapped your room."

    "My passive defences aren't good enough to stop a determined attack if I'm asleep. Obviously the outer defences weren't particularly dangerous. When I found her I just.. felt bad about her losing her internship so invited her to join me for breakfast. Oh, that reminds me: she wants to do interviews with everyone on the team. I said that I wasn't sure if anyone would be up for it but I've got her number if you are."

    "You got her number."

    "Yes." I extract the page from subspace and hold it out as evidence.

    "Did she.. by any chance.. say anything about meeting up later?"

    "To continue the interview, yes. Given everything-" She bends slightly at the waist and raises her right hand to her forehead. What? "-that's happened in the last seven months we couldn't cover more than a fraction of it in under an hour." She doesn't move. "What?"

    "Paul."

    "Yes?"

    "She was asking you out."

    I frown. "Are you sure, because that wasn't what she-."

    "Yes." She moves her hand slightly to the side and stares at me. "Do you really not notice?"

    "Um."

    "I'd understand if you just didn't find me attractive, but Artemis said you didn't pick up on it when she hit on you either." Eh? "And you actually kissed Danette Reilly.. but then you didn't do anything else… You know… If you're just not into girls, you can tell me, right?"

    Ah. "No, I…" Have I really..?

    "In a way, it's… Kind of a relief."

    "I'm not.. gay. I think… Okay, this is going to sound a bit odd. You know how I said orange light affects the mental state of its users?"

    "It makes you take what you want." She frowns again. "But that would-."

    "Yes. So I had the ring turn down my testosterone levels." I shrug. "Just in case. I hadn't really thought about it, but that could be why I've been missing.. you know… People.. being.. interested."

    "Wouldn't doing that cause…" She looks me over. "Um."

    "The rings maintain my body, and production goes back up to normal when I run out of power or take them off. I suppose.. now.. there's not really much risk if I turn it back up a little. It's just sort of nice not worrying about it."

    She thinks for a moment and then nods slowly. "I think you probably should. If you're missing social cues then it's obviously having a serious effect on you."

    "Alright, if you say so. Ring, normalise."

    "Compliance."

    I smile at her. "Now let's go and talk to John about his magic love crystal."
     
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  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    12:18 GMT


    "Rettub ot dael."

    John gives me a look of amused incredulity. "You.. were.. what?"

    "Dael ot rettub."

    "It seemed like a perfectly sensible thing to do at the time. And after I did it, I didn't see a reason to turn it off."

    "Rettub ot dael."

    "Hehahahe! Oh, blimey mate. That one's gunna-."

    "Keep smiling and I'll give you a six pack."

    "Dael ot rettub."

    He loses his smile. "Well. Angie's gone back home to Liverpool. Since I'm single again, maybe I could use the edge."

    "Rettub ot dael."

    I can't say I'm surprised. Still… "But this one actually wasn't your fault. Her brother would have died-."

    "Looks like a pattern to most people." He turns to Zatanna. "Feelin' tired yet?"

    "Dael.. ot.. rettub." The dull grey ingot emits a puff of the smoke that usually accompanies Zatanna's transmutation efforts, revealing that it now sports a sort of butter marbling effect. She prods it with her right forefinger. "Yeah…" She takes a heavy breath. "I think so."

    "You alright?"

    She shakes her head. "I don't usually tire myself out on purpose. I might have a headache later but at the moment it just feels a bit tingly."

    "Hmm." Clarice looks her over carefully from her seat at the side of the room. "Might need to brew you a little pick me up if this turns out to be impossible. Which it probably will."

    "Why do you say that?"

    "Poppet, you can't just stick any old thing in to a talent like yours and expect it to work just as well. This crystal thing-" She taps the nail of her right forefinger on the heavily warded box containing the Star Sapphire. "-was made by aliens using techniques the people who thought up this ritual never even dreamed of."

    "I.. was wondering…" I look over the design on the floor in the centre of the room again. "Isn't the confinement circle meant to be whole and unbroken? Isn't that.. sort of.. the point?"

    John shakes his head. "No point bottling it all up. We need to feed a little into Zatanna, so we make a hole."

    Clarice shakes her head. "Just after Beefy Jim turned his balls back on."

    Zatanna goes red, trying not to look at anyone. "Clarice, I exist in harmony with my desires. True, I.. turned down the underlying basis for some of them-"

    "Hmphf."

    "-but that doesn't mean that I'm going to turn into a lust-crazed beast. Ring-based biomancy isn't like the arcane sort; I'm not limited to pre-existing natural forms."

    Then she stares at me and I can see every one of her two hundred odd years. "You told us that the Guardians rejected their emotions and that they went a bit odd as a result. You said that the other colours have worse mental effects than green does. You told me that you meditated on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs daily. Sex is one of the most basic Human drives, it's at the base of the Hierarchy and you tried to turn it off. That was not clever."

    "My soul is made of orange light, Clarice. I don't think you can assume I work-."

    She turns the stare down a notch. "You should try to keep working like a normal Human. You'll miss it when it's gone."

    "I.. could probably… Um, tune you up a little? Your flesh is still essentially-."

    A little humour creeps back into her expression. "You keep your grubby little ring to yourself." She pauses. "No, on second thought, take them off and put them somewhere safe." She indicates the second box. "Can't have them interfering."

    John indicates where he wants Zatanna to sit, in a circular shape made of pentagons with a broken circle around it. "I'm fairly suffused with orange light anyway. And I've had the rings near it before, I was wearing them when we recovered it from the moon."

    She shakes her head. "The fewer active components the better, far as I'm concerned." She gets up off her chair in the same way I remember my Granny doing, shuffling to the edge so that the motion is as 'up' and as little 'forwards' as possible.

    John frowns at her. "Where's Albert off to, then? Got used to you two being joined at the hip."

    "Visiting a mutual friend." I open the second box and slide the rings off my fingers before closing it. I feel a little uncomfortable like this, but they're close by if I really need them and the arcane practice rooms of the Tate Club are heavily protected.

    "Oh yeah? Anyone I know?"

    "Julian." John nods slowly as I offer Clarice my hand. She looks at it and exhales slightly. "I think I can make it across the room, thank you."

    "What's he been up to?"

    "Not a lot. He's in the Tower." John's frown deepens for a moment, then his face relaxes. "Messing about with things he didn't understand. That's why I said we had to do this in here." She carefully picks her way across the floor diagram before slowly crouching down and putting the box in the appropriate place and opening the lid. It really is quite pretty. The glow has the same style as the ring and my lantern but the translucence of the crystal structure causes it to glimmer and twinkle. "We won't take it out, just in case I have to shut it down."

    Zatanna looks at her with some concern. "Is that safe for you?"

    Clarice gives her a smile as she stands up and steps away. "Oh, I think so, Poppet. Take a bit more than this to get my old heart racing." She nods at me. "Alright Mister Expert: how do we set it off?"

    "It responds to love just like the rings do avarice. Zatanna, close your eyes." She nods and shuts them. "Think about.. your earliest memory of your father." I wait for a moment. "What are you doing?"

    "We're at a park. We're standing on a bridge over a river and I'm looking down at the surface of the water as the sun reflects off it."

    "How do you feel?"

    "Safe. Like Dad's there, and any problems-" A very small amount of violet light drifts smoke-like out of the Star Sapphire and into the diagram. "-he can protect me from them."

    "I don't think we've ever really talked about your early childhood."

    "We moved around a lot. Dad, and Uncle Charlie and me were just about the only constants in each other's lives."

    "I would have thought that work wouldn't be thin on the ground for a stage magician who could use actual magic."

    "Dad's stage shows were never just about 'real' magic. He was a stage magician first, and he was trying to break into a really competitive industry. Have to go where the job is."

    The violet light is.. really slow. Something more intense? "Why don't you talk about your lessons together, when he started showing you how to use magic?"
     
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  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    12:34 GMT


    "Well?"

    Faint -very faint strands of violet mist drift around the fingers of Zatanna's right hand as she holds it out to examine it. "I don't.. feel any different..?"

    Ring? Oh. Right. "No oddities on empathic vision."

    The left side of John's face tightens slightly. "Still no use if she can't use it."

    Clarice lightly thumps him on the arm. "It's her first time trying. I can still remember the first time you fell over our threshold, remember?"

    "Yeah, yeah. Alright Zee, try doin' something with it."

    "Like a.. construct..?" She pulls her fingers slightly and the mist starts to disperse. Her eyes widen. "No, stop, wait!"

    "Zatanna, calm down. Focus on love, then let the power flow through you. We're just trying to recharge you, not create constructs." A few of Carol Ferris' greatest hits flick past my mind's eye. Never actually killed anyone but there were some bloody near misses. Probably the only reason why the kill count wasn't far larger was the attention-seeking aspect which the crystal encouraged. Jordan had to be there when she did it or it wasn't worth doing.

    "Okay…" She closes her eyes, puts her hands on her knees and takes a few deep breaths. The mist drifts back a little. Least the theory is sound.

    John looks at the circle. "Maybe if we took a couple of the protective runes out?"

    He gets a stern look from Clarice. "Don't even think about it."

    "Rats Erihppas, evig em rewop." The mists swirl for a moment, then a small amount of it flows over her, moving over and then into her skin. Her eyes snap open and she breathes in sharply.

    "You alright?"

    She makes tiny jerky nods with her head. "Uh-huh. Ooh." She shudders. "That felt…" Another couple of blinks. "I don't know what that felt like."

    John carefully picks his way across the floor, leans over the circle around Zatanna -creating a noticeable waft as the violet light tries to avoid him- and puts the leaden butter down in front of her before backing off. "Try it now."

    She nods and holds her hands out around it. "Dael ot rettub!" Hm. If anything happened I didn't see it. Zatanna picks up the block for a closer look, looking a little despondent.

    "Maybe you need to focus on love when you cast the spell as well?" I make a half shrug and look to John and Clarice for better ideas. Nothing appears to occur to them.

    "Dael ot rettub!" There's a tiny puff of pink smoke from the buttery ingot, and when it clears… A tiny bit more is butter. Zatanna sags further, looking at me. "This isn't working. I don't think I can focus.. love like you do avarice."

    "Did you know I let Robin have a go with the ring once?"

    "No? When was that?"

    "September. He couldn't use it either, not until I… I provoked him."

    "Why did he.. want to?"

    I glance at John and Clarice. "His uncle had crippling injuries. He doesn't anymore. I… I'd rather not.. say to you the sorts of things I said to him."

    "If it's what we have to do… I can take it."

    Or… "There's another option. I think.. it might be better. Shuffle forwards a bit." She puts her hands on the floor and shifts her position so that her knees are close to the far side of the circle. "Now, close your eyes and picture us fighting Nabu. Forcing him back. Weakening him in the same way Klarion did so that his blue and gold costume is shimmering in and out of existence and you can see your father's suit. Your father's face." She nods as I walk around behind her. Having the psychiatrist sit behind the patient was a technique Freud used, wasn't it? "You've nearly got him back." The space inside the circle is becoming more violet. As expected, the Star Sapphire might be drawn to love but for some reason it also likes conflict. "Keep your eyes closed. Focus on how you feel. When I say 'now', I want you to-" How strong are the walls here? "-fire a blast of chaotic arcane energy directly forwards. Understand?"

    "Yes."

    I step inside the circle, drop down behind her, wrap my left arm around her stomach, my right around her chest and rest my head on her left shoulder pressed up against hers. "Now."

    In the corner of my eye I see her eyes snap open. "Soahc Duolc!"

    The mist surges into her body and dark purple smoke shoots out of a point just in front of her, passing through the protective design as if it wasn't even there. John and Clarice back off slightly as it hits the far wall, which shimmers for a moment before dissolving, tearing, bending like rubber and turning into flowers made of cheese which fall to the floor with a splat. This close I can feel it as Zatanna leans back slightly, pressing further into my chest.

    "Pots! Pots!"

    The flow of smoke slackens but doesn't stop. I move my face slightly so that I'm breathing directly into the nape of her neck. "Zatanna. We don't need that any-"

    "Pots!"

    "-more."

    The smoke immediately fades from existence, showing us the hole it made in the floor of this room, the wall between this room and the next and the damage it caused to what looks like a meeting room of some sort. Fortunately it doesn't look like any of the consequences are alive, though the solid oak table is bent and twisted into the shape of screaming faces.

    Maybe it was like that before.

    "Well done."

    "Um…" She stiffens for a moment and then relaxes slightly into my embrace as John walks slowly across the room to peer through the hole.

    "Blimey. Wouldn't want to be on the other end of that." He turns towards the two of us, looking Zatanna over before moving his gaze to me. His eyes narrow slightly before switching his attention back to Zatanna. "Feel any different?"

    "Um." Her voice sounds tight. Strained. That won't do.

    I move my hands to the tops of her arms, then gently run the tips of my fingers along them until I reach her hands. I gently stroke her palms as I tilt my head so that I can whisper into her ear. "Why don't you try turning the lead back into butter now?"

    "Dael ot rettub-" A puff of violet smoke and the ingot changes fully into butter. "-otni citsalp-" Another puff and it's a violet plastic oblong. I can feel Zatanna's pulse quicken. "-otni latsyrc-" A beautiful piece of amethyst. "-otni emalf-" The fire burns within the confines of the original shape without needing air or spreading beyond it. "-otni-."

    "That's enough fun for one day, I think." Clarice bends down, picks up the Star Sapphire and returns it to its box. The mists around Zatanna and I linger for a moment before fading away. "You-" She looks at me. "-can bloody well fix that before you leave."

    I stand, half-lifting Zatanna along with me. Guess she's a bit shocked by the whole thing. Since I'm quite a bit taller than her I lean forwards slightly. "You alright?"

    Zatanna nods slowly, staring at the hole in the wall as she leans back to put her weight on me. "Not yet. But I will be."
     
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  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    09:17 GMT -5


    "…could have kept going a little longer."

    "Welcome, Orange Lantern two eight one four. Welcome home Zatanna."

    "Hey, Shadowcrest." Zatanna does the 'looking upwards' thing when she addresses the computer system. "It wasn't as if I was tired."

    "Sorry. Anti-crazy protocol. John's idea, and frankly I agree with him."

    "You wear your rings all the time."

    "Giant cake." She looks away, nodding her head to the side slightly. "I was very lucky. Trust me, you don't want to try getting along with the Predator." And I certainly don't want that.

    She leads the way out of the zeta tube room and onto the landing. "Hey… I was.. thinking something…" I look attentive. "Neither of us… Want to be in the mountain with Nabu, right?"

    My right hand reaches across my chest to check my Spell Eater is still there. "Of course not."

    "Well… Why don't you… Stay here for the week? I mean, we've got lots of rooms and you won't have to worry about.. people sneaking in to take pictures of you or try interviewing you or anything."

    "Um." That would be nice. I didn't tell Zatanna in advance what I intended to do about my living arrangements this week and we didn't really have a chance to talk about it before Nabu arrived. At least Batman's learned to give us some notice. "Thank you, I'd like that." Being apart from my friends after living… Okay, not cheek by jowl, it's a big mountain after all, but close to other people. What was it Terry Pratchett wrote? 'People aren't fully paid-up members of the human race, except biologically. They need to be bounced around by the Brownian motion of society to constantly remind one another what being human is.' Something like that. Of course, whether or not my housemates are genuinely Human to start with…

    "Great! My room's-" She points along the landing. "-down that way, Dad's room is over there, those two are free and… I think there are a few more bedrooms on the second floor."

    "You think?"

    She leads the way along the corridor. "Some parts of the house can actually be dangerous. When I was little Dad told me not to go above the first floor."

    "And you obeyed?"

    "No, but the rooms I went in were mostly empty. Or they had a load of furniture covered in white sheets. And.. lots of dust." She nods to herself. "So much dust."

    Sounds a bit like the residence of Sybil Ramkin. "Dangerous magical dust?"

    "No, the regular kind." She pushes open a door. "I think Shadowcrest used to be a school."

    "I had wondered about the bell tower."

    "It doesn't have a bell in it. Not since…" She stops for a moment, then walks into the room. "Well? What do you think?"

    I walk in after her. Large leaden windows on the far side, with a gap for a small table. On my right, a row of solid looking chests of drawers with a large oval mirror hanging over them. The floor is wooden, with a faded and predominantly green rug of Persian.. or possibly pseudo Persian design… Ring? No, there's the imperfection. Probably the genuine article. It covers most of the space. No radiator, but Shadowcrest maintains its own temperature and that wouldn't be a problem for me anyway. There's a wardrobe on my immediate left and the bed… An actual four poster! Goodness. "I think it will do perfectly. Thank you."

    "You're welcome."

    I look at the rug. "Does that.. fly..?"

    She follows my gaze, frowning. "I don't.. think so… Ees cigam." Her eyes flash white for a second. Not violet, I note. Good thing too. Probably best if she doesn't get too used to the Star Sapphire. "No, just a rug."

    "Must be a good job this house cleans itself. I'd hate to think how many people it would take to keep it clean-." Wait, then why would the upper levels be dusty? "Um, but-?"

    "A lot of the spells on the house were.. sleeping when Dad and I moved in. The home making spells don't quite work more than a certain distance from-"

    The ring blinks.

    "-the front door."

    "I can help you clean out the rest if you like. I'd set aside the whole day for making the Star Sapphire work, so I've got-."

    "Should you.. get that?"

    "Uuuuuuh, yeah. I'm just sort of trying to put off the evil hour on which I have to talk to Guy about the ship." I raise my left hand. "Orange Lantern two eight one four here. Go ahead."

    Alan's head and upper torso appear above the ring. "Hey Paul."

    "Alan. Ring!"

    His eyes dip for a moment and he nods. "I didn't want to risk a phone with something… Listen, can you come over?"

    I look past him at Zatanna and raise my eyebrows. She nods. "Yes."

    "Any chance you could get hold of Zatanna as well?"

    "She's with me now. We'll be with you in a few minutes."

    He nods. "I'll see you in a few."

    "Oh, well done for getting the head the right size this time."

    "Huh? Oh… Yeah, we old people can work out technology by ourselves sometimes. Catch you later." He waves and then the image disappears.

    I exhale. "So Alan's been kidnapped."

    "How can you tell?"

    "Alan's ring can't transmit properly. It's part of the damage it took which led to the Guardians losing track of it in the first place. Also, he doesn't say 'catch you later'. Ring, identify message source."

    "Message source identical to that of ring registered as belonging to Alan Scott."

    I hold out my hands and generate a construct model of Alan's house. I see him sitting in his living room with a newspaper. "Right newspaper, but why would he be reading it if he's expecting us?" I rescan the rest of the house. "If he's got something to show us, where is it?"

    "Maybe he didn't want it in the house?"

    "Possibly…" I shake my head. "But I don't think so. After Truggs started working out how to counter ring scans I started working out how to spot it when someone was doing it. This is setting off my alerts."

    "Gnir, ecreip eht sesiugsid." The ring image crackles for a moment and we see three… Two? Humanoid figures which swiftly vanish. "That still doesn't actually mean that he's being held against his will. You'd do something like that if you didn't want someone knowing where you were."

    "Maybe. And I'll apologise to them if I'm overreacting. But right now I'm going to phone Diana."
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2019
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  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    09:24 GMT -5


    Zatanna and I transition to a copse of trees in the park across the road from Alan's home. There are a few people out walking and I see a man having a kickabout with his children, but none of them spare us more than a fleeting glance. Trees break line of sight, so obviously they didn't see us before because we were behind a tree. Right?

    Diana was a little sceptical, but since she wasn't exceptionally busy she agreed to stand by to intervene. She was in the Embassy at the time so she should be overhead in about two minutes. Unfortunately, we can't really wait. I said five minutes and I haven't ever made any secret of how fast I can move. Have to assume that we're under observation. Zatanna and I both have bare bones body armour on under our clothing and her coat carries several protective enchantments placed there by her father. The rings are near full charge… Not really any more preparation we can do at short notice.

    There aren't many people I'd actually worry about in a fight these days. At my insistence Alan doesn't wear his ring full time. Taking him unawares wouldn't be all that hard. I'm fully loaded with Mage Slayer and Crumbler rounds. Our plan is to talk whoever it is into letting us check that Alan is basically unharmed then violently evacuating him. I can spend the rest of the weekend rebuilding his house. Shadowcrest's dust sheets aren't going anyw-.

    Connection made to monitored telephone line from priority source. Location: second public telephone, BP, Happy Harbour branch.

    Whu?

    I stop and Zatanna follows suit a moment later. "What is it?"

    "The ring says someone's trying to get hold of me." Ring, who is it?

    "Phone call is from the office of Alexander Luthor."

    "Lex? Um." What? I start walking again, putting my right arm around Zatanna's waist and taking a mobile out of subspace to hold in my left. Answer. "Lex, good morning. What can I do for you?"

    "Paul." I barely twitch these days. The trick is to hear sound and not meaning. "Have I done anything to antagonize the Justice League lately?"

    I smile. "I don't know. Have you?"

    There's some sort of dull tap in the background. Someone knocking on the door?

    "To the best of your knowledge."

    "No? Look, Lex, I'm a little busy. Could you..?"

    "I'm under attack. I'm not sure who is behind it. Do you believe that your young colleagues could have taken the initiative?"

    "Going after you without approval? Doubt it. Training activities for today consist of a lecture on traditional magic practice in Europe and I think tomorrow the Atlanteans are visiting the Smithsonian. Unless something very strange has happened since I spoke to Wonder Woman three minutes ago no one on our end is planning on attacking your anything. And if we were, we certainly wouldn't do it at half past nine when there'd be all sorts of innocent bystanders." Ring, check location of my team mates?

    I feel pings in my head. Wallace is still in Central City, Rob's still in England and everyone else is in Happy Harbour.

    "Yeah, not it. If your security people can't cope I understand that Superman is usually-."

    The phone goes dead. I lower it before returning it to subspace.

    "What was that about?"

    We halt for a moment as we reach the road. "Someone's attacking LexCorp and Lex thought it could have been us." Once the cars have passed we cross. I try getting a look through Alan's front window but I can't see anything. "I said it wasn't, then he hung up. I'm not going to worry about it until I know that Alan's safe."

    "You don't think they just didn't tell us?"

    "Attacking LexCorp would be a major escalation. I could -maybe- see Batman having Robin sneak in, but that wouldn't be an attack attack."

    I look around as we walk up Alan's driveway, heading for his front door. The gate was slightly open, but that isn't unusual. Nothing else looks amiss, but as we get closer I feel Zatanna shiver. "Magic. Someone's put powerful spells around his house."

    "But we're prepared for magic. Anyone who knows anything about us would know that."

    I let go of her and tap on the front door with my right knuckles.

    "It's open!"

    Sounded like Alan. I look at Zatanna with raised eyebrows and she nods. Obviously, if there's such a thing as True Seeing then True Hearing must exist as well. That wasn't a sensory illusion, though recordings, mundane impressions and mind control compelled speech wouldn't be detected. I nod back and turn the door handle, pushing the door gently so that it swings open. No sign of a disturbance in the hallway. Out of the sight of the exterior I form a railgun construct and load a Mage Slayer. Next, I send filaments into the house. I can feel the hallway but whenever they try to cross a threshold they are stopped. I could force the matter, but I'm happy to keep it quiet for now. I walk into the house and Zatanna follows me, closing the door behind her.

    "Alan, where are you?" My power armour materialises around me from subspace. I'll have to walk a little carefully to avoid giving the game away, though with a little luck my habit of wearing heavy boots should mitigate that somewhat.

    "Living room!"

    "Is it.. hot in here, or is it just me?"

    "Alan's in his nineties. And you are wearing a coat." Ambient is up a little, but I haven't kept track of what sort of temperature Alan usually keeps it at. Neither Danni nor I are really affected by it. I take the lead towards the living room door, railgun prepared but the light it gives off mostly concealed behind my bulk. The door opens to one corner of the room. Alan's preferred seat is directly forwards. Two steps and turn and I'll have a full view of the room. Infrared is being deceived in the same way as the ring. Unless whoever we saw isn't in the room any longer? One last glance to check that Zatanna is ready and I turn the handle and push the door inwards.

    Alan's sitting exactly where he appeared to be. He turns his head slightly as the door opens, then freezes. The newspaper is nowhere in sight. I stride forwards, skimming him with a Mage Slayer shot and creating construct armour around him as the binding circle fails.

    "Oh, come on. I wasn't going to hurt him."

    I experience a moment of familiarity as I hear the voice. Doesn't matter. Two steps and I'm in the room with four new railgun constructs pointing in all directions. And then I stop.

    Two people are sitting on the settee under the far window, one male and one female. The female is mid teens but dresses far older. Jet black hair, pageboy haircut, knee length black skirt and black jacket, white blouse and one of the tie scarf things some women wear. The man is-

    "That's better power armour than I've got. Of course, I suppose it helps-"

    -thirty. Used to have long brown hair but appears to have had it cut rather severely since. His nose has a noticeable kink in the end. He was a little over a hundred and eighty three centimetres tall last time he cared to check.

    "-that you have a working personal lantern."

    That's… Faintly glowing blue eyes aside, that's… He's almost exactly how I looked before I came here. Blue… I check his hands.

    "Here." He holds up his right. Blue power ring.

    I… Have an alternate version?

    He raises his eyebrows slightly and smiles at me. "How about you get rid of that armour so we can have a civilised conversation?"
     
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  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Earth -14
    Ultra Industries Building
    4th July
    23:09 GMT -5


    The Ultra Industries building doesn't have guards on the outside. There are guards on the inside, but most of its protection comes from the fact that.. well... Ultraman owns it. The guards on the inside are disciplined and well equipped and more than a few of the Syndicate's enhanced people are just a short zeta tube journey away -to say nothing of Ultraman himself- but the exterior just looks like an office building. That's part of the psychology of the place, simultaneously saying that the head of the Crime Syndicate owns it, that his hold on the city and the world is so strong, so sure, that he doesn't need to bother with anything so vulgar as guards or drone weaponry. The other part is what he wants to say about himself: I'm a businessman. I work in an office, I fill in paperwork… I'm someone you can deal with. Someone you can live with.

    And if you can't, and you want to do something about it? Remember the First Lady?

    The late First Lady?

    Owlman doesn't get that first part. Superwoman doesn't. I'm not sure about the rest. And I rather doubt the two I chucked into the bay earlier today are the sort to get philosophical about it. I lift my briefcase slightly to make sure that it hasn't disappeared.

    Ring, give me the bad news.

    Thirty nine percent maximum charge remaining.

    Oh, this isn't going to get any cleverer.

    I look left and right and then cross the road, heading for the entrance. Is the man himself in residence? I could try asking the ring but I don't particularly want to waste power. As it is I'm going to need to find… Ugh, where would I find a lot of hopeful people? Some sort of sporting event? Probably wouldn't be able to get it to work anyway, because what I'm feeling right now? It isn't hope.

    I push open the door and take a look across the lobby.

    "…buncha cry babies. You'd think they never went swimmin' before."

    Oh what luck. James 'Mister Action' Olsen is leaning on the front desk, chatting to the night receptionist. Goodness me he's huge. I know he's only mildly enhanced compared with some and nothing like as strong as his boss but I think I could probably fit inside one of his arms.

    "Alright,-" He slowly turns towards me. "-what is it…" He actually does a double take as he sees me, then his eyes narrow as he catches sight of the badge pinned to my left lapel. "The… Balls on you…" He raises his hands to his chest and cracks the knuckles of his right hand. "Saves on hun'in' you down, I suppose."

    Talk fast! "Mister Olsen, I'm afraid that there's been a rather unfortunate misunderstanding."

    He keeps coming. "Unfortunate for you, maybe."

    "Yes! Quite right. That's my exact point. I'm.. new in town, and had no idea-" He keeps coming and I'm backing up towards the far wall. No point running anywhere on Earth and where else could I go? Qward? "-that the two I assaulted were members of your organisation and I.. came here to formally apologise-" And there's the wall. "-to the boss." He comes to a stop, looming over me. "Iiif that's at all possible." I gingerly hold out the case towards him.

    He looks me over again before taking hold of it around the side with his right hand. "If there's somethin' supposed t'be clever in here, you know I'm bullet proof. I ain't exactly gunna be impressed."

    I smile in a way that's probably more than slightly manic. "No tricks."

    He supports it on one shovel sized hand and opens the latches with two delicate presses of his left forefinger. He might look like a brute but he isn't one: he has a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration and manages the illegal parts of Ultraman's empire for him. I mean, why would Ultraman of all people want dumb muscle? Mister Scott further told me that Ultraman himself paid for Mister Olsen's education as a thank you for his guidance when Ultraman took over the Metropolis underworld. He lifts the lid very slightly and takes a look at the contents. "These real?"

    "I wouldn't dare come here with fake, would I?"

    He closes the case and shoves it into my chest. I take hold of it as he turns away. "You're in luck, Power Ring Blue. Ultraman's in tonight. Dunno if he'll wanna tawk t'ya. He's got guests in."

    "I quite understand that he's a busy man. I won't take up much of his time."

    "Damn right ya won't." He reaches behind the desk to pick up a phone and bring it onto the surface before taking the handset and dialling. His eyes rest on me with a vaguely curious air until someone on the other end picks up. "Hey CK. At the front desk. Yeah, I was…" A slightly longer pause. "Sure. You know that guy Trainwreck was whinin' about from earlier? Yeah, that's the one. Yeah, it is. He's here. Wants to…" He shakes his head. "Nah, nah, says he wants to apologize t'yah." His eyes drift back to the case. "Yeah, got that covered. I know, I know, I'll get it sorted…" Back to my face. "I'll bring him up right now. Yeah." He puts the phone down. "Looks like youse in luck." He points to the far end of the room where the lifts are. "Elevator. Now."

    No need to tell me twice. I walk over to them at a brisk pace, hesitating at the touchpad. Mister Olsen comes up behind me and reaches past to touch his finger tips against it. The area under then glows red for a moment before the touchpad flashes green and then the lift doors slide open. He walks into them and turns around to face me. I join him and he presses the gold-coloured 'U' button at the top of the control panel before folding his arms across his chest. The lift begins to rise. Ultraman's apartment is near the top, just below his 'official' reception area and office. Looks like we're going all the way up.

    "Sooo… How do you rate my chances of survival?"

    He grunts. "Not up to me."

    Nothing to do until we get to the top, then. I look around the lift interior. There are speakers, but no music is playing. The interior dimensions are certainly larger than most lifts I've been in, though whether that's to cope with regular business hours traffic or to accommodate large people like Mister Olsen I'm not sure. Okay. Mister Scott -I rub the bases of my thumbs- said this was my best chance. I'm not a great judge of criminal megalomaniacs -I spoke to him after all- but I can't see any reason for him to lie to me. In fact I got a tiny sense of… I don't know, I assume it was meant to be hope but I don't think hope is supposed to have those sinister undertones to it.

    Nothing to do now. I unfocus my eyes and run through the first stage of Goldeneye for the Nintendo 64 in my head. Move to the wall to your left, edge around until you have a shot at the first guard's head. Aim, one shot or two depending on difficulty setting. Forwards, aim across to the far side of the starting area. Depending on the position of the guard, either cross to the guard tower and wait or aim and take a shot with the pistol. Around the side of the guard tower, aim and shoot the third guard in the head. Up the guard tower, around the security glass and in, picking up the sniper rifle. Aim down the t-.

    There's a chime and the lift doors open onto a short corridor. Mister Olsen gives me a shove. "Start walkin'. First left."

    I start walking. The floor is either marble or a convincing substitute. There are pictures on the walls, either Ultraman or… That's his father, isn't it? Posed with various allies or celebrities. I suppose that in here they don't need to pretend. As I reach the door I transfer the case to my left hand and raise my right to knock.

    "He's not waitin' on yeh. Just go in an' wait fer him." Right. I turn the handle and open the door. Inside, the most notable features are the two large desks and the floor to ceiling window leading to a balcony. Obviously Ultraman wants easy access to the sky. Be inconvenient to have to get the glaziers in every time he went flying. Mister Olsen points to an area of floor in front of one of the desks with his right forefinger. "Stand there and don't touch nothin'."

    I stand there and I don't touch nothing as Mister Olsen takes up position by the door behind me. I wonder what sort of mood Ultraman will be in? I know this version isn't the cuckolded idiot from Earth 2 but I'm not all that familiar with other versions of the char-.

    A door in the far side of the room opens and Ultraman walks through. His costume is a solid blue with a gold belt and bracers. No external underwear. I suppose no criminal organisation would respect someone dressed like that even if he could fire heat beams out of his eyes. His cape is red on the back and gold inside, with gold shoulder pads and a blue 'U' outlined in gold on his chest. Though nothing like as large as Mister Olsen he is an extremely big man. He nods at Mister Olsen and then takes up position behind his desk, glowering at me. "Alright. Let's hear it."
     
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  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Earth -14
    Ultra Industries Building
    4th July
    23:16 GMT -5


    "I, um." Good start. My eyes drop to his desk. "I wanted to apologise to you. Earlier today.. as you're well aware… I got into a fight with a couple of your employees. I.. just thought they were thugs with super powers and… I'll be honest, I don't feel particularly bad about.. what I did to them. But, it was drawn to my attention later-" The fingers of my right hand curl towards my right thumb again. "-that they were associated with your organisation… With-" I gesture to him with my right hand. "-you, and that by publically trouncing them I may have caused you embarrassment. And for that I wish to apologise and make recompense." I hold up my briefcase and hold it out towards him. I stand there awkwardly for a moment. When he doesn't move to take it I lean slightly forwards and set it down on his desk.

    He glances down at it, presumably examining the contents with x-ray vision. A moment passes and he nods to himself. "Wised up pretty fast."

    "Yessir."

    "You talk to someone?"

    "Yessir. Mister Scott was kind-" His eyes go back to me and his eyebrows raise slightly. "-enough to give me a few pointers on local realpolitik."

    "Al Scott? No kiddin'." Was that a question? I don't think that was a question. He takes a step forwards towards his side of his desk, pulls the briefcase towards him and opens it fully. Another small nod. He reaches in with his right hand and takes out one of the gold coins, regarding it curiously. He looks over both sides and nearly smiles. "Hey Jimmy, you seen this? Coins with my face on 'em."

    "Didn't look that close, CK."

    Ultraman tosses another to him. I daren't turn around to see if he caught it. "And a 'U' on the back. What's this on the edge?" He actually smiles this time. "Cui Bono?"

    "I understand that's the motto of the Syndicate, sir."

    "Where'd you get this, anyway?"

    "I created the design myself." His eyes flick back up in a low intensity glare. "ThegoldIgot from an asteroid I mined.. um, earlier today. After speaking to Mister Scott."

    He nods again and puts the coin back into the briefcase. "Al Scott, eh? Still got all your arms and legs attached?"

    "I… He let me off with a light maiming, sir. Since I was new. Fortunately, blue power rings can reattach thumbs." I use my fingers to check once again that they haven't fallen off.

    "Heh. Yeah, that sounds like him." He closes the case and slides it to the side. "Not bad, as apologies go. Time was I'd have Jimmy here rough you up just so you'd remember not to do it again, but I'm in a good mood today. Guess it's like Pa says: people fuck up sometimes. No sense blowin' things out of proportion if it wasn't intentional and they're real sorry about it." Another glare. "And you are real sorry about it."

    "Oh yes sir."

    Another nod. I'm good? Was not expecting that.

    "Ambient hope detected. Charging. Charge: forty percent."

    I clamp my left hand over my right and consider that getting scared doesn't reduce my charge.

    Ultraman looks at -or more likely through- my hand. "That really a power ring?"

    "Yessir."

    "How long you had it?"

    "Nearly a day now."

    Something about that unsettles him. "You flew out to the asteroid belt and back in less than a day?"

    "That was more like a few minutes. Construct strength is dependent on emotional intensity and I'd just found out I had a chance to not get torn limb from limb."

    "I know Al's ring gets stronger the more people who're afraid of him. Yours runs off of hope?" I nod. "Al's real picky about who he gives advice to. He musta taken a real shine t'you if he thought it was worth tryin' t'keep you alive." He thinks for a moment. "I tell you what: a few a' my guys -includin' the two you had that bust up with- are down stairs right now. Come down have a drink with us, make sure everyone knows everything's square."

    If the Sopranos taught me anything it's that you don't say no when a mob boss offers you a drink. "Thank you, sir. I'd appreciate that."

    "Ain't nothin'." He nods at Mister Olsen who leads the way out of the door. I follow along behind him. No 'U' on the cape, I note. "I was a big fan a' Al's when I was growin' up. Any friend a' his…"

    "Sir, it… Might be overstating things to describe us as 'friends'."

    "Heh. Close enough." There's a stairwell up ahead and Mister Olsen leads the way down.

    "Sir, may I ask a question?" He glances at me and shrugs. "Is there some.. particular occasion? Mister Olsen said that you were entertaining."

    "I just found out I'm a father."

    "Oh. Congratulations."

    "Luthor cooked him up inna lab some a' the kids busted up. Plannin' t'use him as a weapon or somethin'. Jimmy, remind me t' do somethin' nice for Talon, Jackie and that Mayhem girl."

    "You got it, CK."

    We leave the stairs and start towards what looks like Ultraman's living room. I can dimly hear conversation. "Ain't nothin' more important than family. An' my Made Men are family. It's like Pa says, be good to your people an' they'll be good to you."

    "He sounds like a very sensible man, sir."

    "Ah, don't you be callin' me 'sir'. Little people call me 'sir'. My guys-" He lays his right arm over my shoulders. "-call me 'Boss' or 'Ultraman'."

    Aaaaaaaaaaa?

    "See, you squared things with me an' the Syndicate, but if Trainwreck and Meltdown go after you on their own, I got no grounds to intervene if you're just some guy." He looks down at me and tightens his grip slightly. Gosh he's well muscled. "But family? Family's different. If you're family, things're a lot more civilized."

    "And I'm a big fan of civilised, s-. Ultraman."

    "Thought ya might be. Hey!" He lets go of me and walks ahead of me into the room. "Eddy! Maria! Get over here!" A man built like a slightly shorter version of Mister Olsen and a more conventionally proportioned woman with faint trails of plasma floating around her head turn towards Ultraman as he leads me towards the bar. Then they spot me. The man -Eddy the Trainwreck- balls his fists and Maria Meltdown's hair catches fire. I nervously follow on after Ultraman as the bartender hands him a tray with four whiskey glasses and a decanter. Ultraman takes the stopper out before looking at his two established henchpeople. "Knock it off. Power Ring's made amends. He's joining the family so you're havin' a drink and buryin' the hatchet."

    Eddy looks more than a little displeased. "This guy? Why? I hadda swim fer half a fuckin' hour t'get back t'dry land."

    "'Cause this guy could throw you both into the bay after having a power ring for a couple hours. That, and Al Scott vouched for him."

    I get another glare, but with Ultraman laying down the law the matter appears to be settled for the moment. Ultraman pours a finger of whiskey into each glass and hands one to each of us. I hold mine out towards my former opponents. "Your health."

    They hesitate for a moment, then grudgingly tap their glasses against mine. Ultraman does the same and then each of us oh God this still tastes horrible!

    "What's up with you?"

    "Not much of a drinker, Ultraman."

    Eddy and Maria look at me, then each other, then knock their drinks back before looking at me expectantly.

    Darn it. Still, if this is the worst thing that ugh… That happens today, I'll consider myself to have got off lightly.
     
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  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Earth -14
    Ultra Industries Building
    5th July
    00:52 GMT -5


    "Hey, Power Ring." Oh thank goodness. Now there's a phrase I never thought I'd use in connection with Mister Olsen. "Ultraman wants you to sit in on a meetin'."

    Apparently there's not a single Made Man in this place who doesn’t find me trying to drink liquor absolutely hilarious. They've been taking it in turns to welcome me into the Syndicate. If the number of gangsters who'll drink with you can be taken as a sign of popularity then I think I must be the toast of the organisation by now. "Happy to oblige." I raise my empty glass to my current drinking partner, a pale skinned man with a truly disturbing shark-like jaw. "Duty calls, I'm afraid."

    "Take it easy, man."

    I think he's smiling. I put my glass down and follow Mister Olsen away from the bar. "I've been wondering: what is it I'm meant to call you? I mean, it's codenames for everyone else. Mister Action?"

    He makes a dismissive motion with his left hand. "Nobody calls me that. Luthor stuck it in some stoopid briefin' paper an' Johnny Quick thought it'd be funny t' spread it around. You call me Jimmy, just like everybody else."

    "I'm just.. trying to get my head around the hierarchy. I already.. messed up once by not knowing-."

    "How come youse still tawkin' after that much liquor? Hell, I was expectin' t'have t'carry you."

    "I've no idea what my alcohol threshold is, but it turns out that poison purging is a fairly low power ring function."

    "Good thinkin'. Okay, it's like this: Ultraman is the head of the Syndicate. Just below him you got the rest of the Management: Owlman, Superwoman-."

    "J'edd J'arkus, Johnny Quick and Power Ring Green."

    "Who don't actually have a power ring."

    "Really?"

    "Yeah. He turned up doin' the same stuff as Al Scott, everybody called him Power Ring. He's actually got this sorta gauntlet thing. Anyway, each member of the Management runs their parta the Syndicate differently. Under Ultraman you got me and Pete Ross runnin' mosta the business. Guys back there, they're mostly just muscle. Get put on jobs where we need to lean on someone or where we need heavy protection. Ones who prove they got brains get their own little projects an' report straight t'Ultraman." He stops at a door and pulls it open. "Get in."

    I get. Ultraman is sitting in a soft leather chair at one end of a circle of chairs. Next to him on his right is a youth wearing black jeans and a blue t-shirt decorated with a gold 'U' mirroring Ultraman's own. On Ultraman's left is a large empty chair, Jimmy's I assume. Opposite those three are two other seats. One is occupied by a bald black man in a very nice looking suit. He looks around as I walk in. I'm assuming that's Pete Ross. I know he was black in Smallville but I think he's white pretty much everywhere else but here. The other chair is empty.

    Jimmy crosses the room and Mister Ross stands to greet me. "So, you're the new guy." His voice is warm and friendly and almost entirely without the Bronx accent shared by Ultraman and Jimmy. He holds out his right hand. "I'm Pete Ross. Hopefully we won't be seeing too much of each other." I take his hand, but it's clear from my expression that I don't understand what he meant. "Among other things I'm head of legal affairs for Ultraman's syndicate. You'll only usually see me at social events like this or if you get in trouble with the law. And trouble with the law usually impacts our operations and profit margins."

    "I'll try to ensure that doesn't happen, Mister Ross."

    He pats me on the right upper arm with his left hand. "Glad to hear it." He releases me and turns away to retake his seat. Am I supposed to wait for permission to.. sit.. myself..? Ultraman appears to notice, rolls his eyes and nods at the remaining chair. I sit.

    "Now everyone's here, let's get this started. Power Ring, you're gonna be working with Pete for a few days." I nod. "We'll need t'sort out paperwork for yah, bank account, immigration, stuff like that. And it'll be good for him t'have protection that ain't on the government radar."

    "I should.. probably warn you.. if you're going to be depending on me. Without a personal lantern I can only charge from ambient hope and that's not exactly fast. If Mister Ross is actually expecting an attack…"

    Ultraman shakes his head. "We got no intel anyone's plannin' anythin'. If we did, I wouldn't stick a new guy on it. This is just t'get you used to workin' as parta the family." I nod. "You got a name?"

    "Yes, but, for reasons I don't really understand I don't seem able to say it anymore. Um, sorry."

    "What'd'ya mean, ya can't say it?"

    "I try saying it, my jaw locks up. I think about it too hard, I faint."

    Jimmy shakes his head. "That's gotta be the dumbest weakness I ever hurd."

    The youth shrugs. "Why does he even need a name? I don't have a name apart from Ultraboy."

    Ultraman turns his head to look at his.. son..? With an almost pained expression on his face. When he said he just had a son I was assuming he meant an infant. But I think Superboy got out of Cadmus as a young boy in the comics. "Fer real?"

    Another shrug, his expression shifting from neutral to uncomfortable. "Yeah Pa."

    "Ah, that ain't no good. You gotta have a name fer yerself. What name d'you like?"

    "I don't know. Why don't…" He glances nervously at his father. "You pick something?"

    "Alright." He turns back to me. "Power Ring, decanter on the table." I nod, getting up and walking around the outside of the circle of chairs to fetch it and five glasses. "I got named after Ma. My first name's the same as her maiden name. Don't think I'll call you Luthor though, uh?" He nudges Ultraboy with his elbow while smiling the first proper smile I've seen him make. Ultraboy mirrors it, a little uncertainly.

    I pour the drinks and then… I could be safe here. This could work for me. I could be part of this. I float the drinks in front of each of the other men while walking back to my seat.

    Ultraman takes his, then notices the one I sent towards Ultraboy and grabs that as well. "Hey, what's the big idea?" Aaaaaah... "He's not even a day old. He doesn't get liquor!" Mister Ross and Jimmy chuckle as I try and slow my heart rate a little.

    "Why not? I can take it."

    Ultraman smiles, nudging his son with his right elbow. "It's a joke, ya dumb mook. Here." He hands the glass over and Ultraboy takes it. "Should probably go easy, though. You ain't used to it."

    "Thanks."

    "Your Grandpa didn't let me have my first drink 'til I could sneak it out of his liquor cabinet without him noticing. An' people say I got x-ray vision." Something occurs to him. "Speakin' a' Pa, I got a name for yah. 'Jonathan Kent', after him." Ultraman raises his eyebrows. "Well? What'd'yah think?"

    "I…" Ultraboy nods. "I like it. Um, thanks."

    "Ain't nothin'." Ultraman raises his glass. "Jonathan Kent."

    "Jonathan Kent." / "Jonathan Kent." / "Jonathan Kent."

    We each take a sip.

    "Now, business. Pete, where do we stand on that whole mess at Cadmus?"

    "One of Luthor's front companies. We'd been watching it for a while, but there was no sign they were doing anything like this." He nods at Ultraboy. "I've got some guys going over the site now. Should be able to give you a full report tomor-." He checks his watch. "This afternoon." He looks off to the side, shaking his head slightly. "I honestly have no idea how Talon worked out what they were up to."

    Ultraman makes a dismissive gesture with his right hand. "Could be Owlman's been holding out on us, could be alla that cybernetic crap he put in the boy's head. Supposed to give him improved intuitive reasoning."

    Jimmy turns his head to look at his boss. "Coulda been dumb luck too. Jackie an' Mary ain't exactly got great plannin' skills."

    "Am I going to see them again?" Ultraboy hesitates as he gets our attention, then presses on. "I owe them for getting me out. And it was.. fun. Fighting alongside them."

    Ultraman nods contemplatively. "Johnny was making some noise about settin' up some sorta academy fer.. second generation Syndicate members. Can't learn how to run a numbers game in High School."

    Do it. "And those are the youths who might end up running the Syndicate one day. It might be good for them to get used to working together. I don't know how well you get on with the rest of the Management…"

    "Could be better, could be worse." He considers. "Could work out. Okay, I'll let Johnny know that I support the idea before the next Management meetin'. Next item: police action in Boston…"
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2019
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  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    09:32 GMT -5


    "Or I could just brand you both and compel you to tell me anything I want to know. "

    He frowns. "That doesn't sound like me." Blue me turns to his partner. "Zorina, do I sound like that?"

    Zorina? Sounds.. a little familiar, but I can't place it… She shakes her head, still smiling. "Not usually."

    "If this is about Alan-"

    "Yes."

    "-our version of Alan Scott is a semi-retired supervillain with a yellow power ring. First time I met him? He beat me into submission and then cut my thumbs off. This time I decided to take a slightly more precautionary approach."

    "Why did you even need to meet him?"

    "I needed information."

    Zatanna comes up behind me, intelligently keeping me between the potential attack and herself. "You've got a power ring. If you wanted to know what's going on why not just hack into people's databases?"

    He frowns. "For some reason, getting hold of interesting databases around here is quite a bit harder than I'm used to. Plus I.. don't like using ring power if I don't have to." I don't miss Zorina poking him in the leg, though her expression doesn't change. "You…" His eyes narrow. "You've got two?! How the heck did you get two?"

    "You're under arrest."

    Zorina shakes her head. "No, we're not."

    Zatanna nods. "Are too."

    He waves his right forefinger. "No, we're not. Two reasons. Firstly, you don't have arrest authority-."

    "Actually, I do. Well, Diana does and I'm legally acting under her authority. I can arrest you."

    "Oh. Okay, one reason."

    Zatanna raises an eyebrow. "And that is..?"

    The heat in the room intensifies as the area around Alan turns into a conflagration! The construct armour protects him as he tries to step away but a muscular arm grabs him around the chest! The flames drop back a little, revealing… Wings. The fires are wings. I see feathers made of flame that somehow retain their shape. The figure's arms are covered in dull bronze coloured armour, decorated with faintly glowing runes I half-recognise from John's diabolic texts. Over the armour the figure wears black robes, a burning pentagram decorating the chest. The skin of the face is chalk white, the eyes black holes with candle flames for pupils. Across Alan's throat it holds a burning sword.

    "Meet Zauriel the Fallen." The armour on his arms has silver chains running along it, attached to it in several places along his forearms and disappearing into his robes. "Dad assigned him to be my bodyguard. Mostly, he just likes to kill things."

    A Fallen Angel. Mage Slayers should work, but I've got no idea how fast his reflexes are and that sword is visibly cutting through the construct armour around Alan. Ring, plot transition.

    Unable to comply.

    My alter ego leans forwards. "I want to talk to you because I believe that we can.. help each other. Mister Giovanni Zatara disappeared from public view at the same time as the new Fate appeared. Since Kent Nelson's dead, that rather implies Zatara took on the role. That and.. there weren't any recent genetic traces in Shadowcrest."

    Zatanna looks horrified. "How did you get in?"

    Zorina's smile broadens slightly. "For some reason, the spells on the house thought we were you. But that's beside the point. My father is in a similar situation to yours and I presume that you are no more willing to accept it than I am."

    "Why would your father put on a Helmet containing a Lord of Order?"

    Zorina raises her right eyebrow. "Doctor Chaos, a Lord of Order? We could have handled a Lord of Order."

    "I don't care what he's a Lord of. Why did your father put it on? He's probably a serial killer-"

    My alter ego flicks up his right forefinger. "Mafia don."

    "-and doesn't care about anyone or anything. My father is a superhero!"

    Zorina's expression goes cold. "He cares about me."

    The Zeds stare at each other. Whatever spells Zorina put on the place are preventing me from using empathic vision on her. What do I think? We could certainly use whatever data they have, Lords of whatever sort having essentially the same structure. And I don't think that most of what we've learned so far has implications for the other parts of their…

    Evil parallel universe.

    "You work for the Crime Syndicate, don't you?"

    He tilts his head to the side. "Just.. Syndicate, thank you."

    "Which..?"

    "According to Lex Luthor -our Lex Luthor- we come from parallel negative fourteen. And this-" He has a look around the room. "-is sixteen. I've no idea how the numbering system works."

    "But… Wee come from…"

    "Yeeeah, don't know how that works either. So, are we talking or… Are you going to try shooting?"

    I send a filament to Zatanna's ear. "I think this could be worth pursuing. Tap your right foot twice if you can accept that."

    Zatanna glances my way, then back at our alter egos. "What about Alan?"

    "Zauriel, back off."

    "Mistress, this one was a warrior. I feel the blood and violence of decades within him. Let him have his weapon and earn his freedom!"

    "No. Leiruaz, reffus emertxe niap."

    The chains on his wrist and under his robes glow brilliantly. He tilts his head back, his face screwed up in pain, a raspy gurgling noise hissing through his lips.

    She makes a dismissive motion with her right hand. "Evael Nala Enola."

    "I will.. Ghuh!" His sword moves aside and he staggers backwards. "Mortal whore! I will find a way to break these chains, and when I do-!"

    "Ssel Gniklat." Zorina smoothly rises from her seat and walks towards him. "No, you won't. If you were intelligent enough to do that you would have been intelligent enough not to have tried to pick a fight with all four Angel Kings. At once." She stops just in front of him and reaches up to his face with her right hand, placing her palm on his cheek. "Do you want to go back to hell? Do you miss the acid baths that badly? I can send you back with a word, Zauriel. You really do need to learn how to channel that anger of yours." She pushes and he collapses -shuddering- back against the wall of the room. Zorina then turns back to me and pointedly looks at my railguns. I glance at Zatanna. She looks Alan over quickly and then taps her foot. I return the rounds to subspace and remove the constructs.

    "Alan, you alright?"

    "Think so." He presses his right hand to his neck. I think there's a burn there. Which I can't heal, darn it. "Considering."

    "I'm.. sorry about that, Mister Scott." My alter ego has the temerity to actually look sorry as well. "Zauriel still hasn't gotten over not being allowed to kill King Herod." He switches his attention back to me. "Why don't you and I go and have a chat somewhere private. I'm sure you've got as many questions for me as I have for you."
     
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  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    A flash of orange light-

    5th February
    03:47 GMT -11


    "Recognised, Orange Lantern, B zero six. Recognised, guest."

    -and we appear in the Fortress' embarkation room. Zauriel faded back to wherever he came from once Zorina had enough of disciplining him. Can't imagine what Angels are like in a negative parallel if they're as bad as John tells me here. I wasn't sure what to tell Diana so I reported that we'd made contact with people from a parallel universe, they seemed peaceful but could she please stay on standby. I'm still in full armour. With angelic backup Zorina is far more dangerous than Zatanna but the reverse is true of my own alter ego. Plus… I put a bit of effort into bypassing Zorina's scrambler effect and got the distinct impression that she was genuinely looking forward to speaking to Zatanna for conversation's sake alone.

    "Where are we?"

    "We're in the vicinity of the North Pole, aboard a flying fortification I've assigned to refreezing the icecaps."

    "You…" He has another look around the room. "Did you build it yourself?"

    Now I have time to take a closer look, he doesn't look quite like I used to. For a start, his hair is much shorter, as short as mine was back in early primary school. He's fitter as well, and I think there are a few grey hairs I don't remember having on his head. "No. Five of them were used to cover most of the United States in a blizzard. Guy and I were able to capture this one intact."

    He nods. "Guy… Gardner?" He looks at me again. "Belligerent version, idiot version, softie version..?"

    "None of them, really. He got hit by a bus which caused him to get replaced by Lantern Stewart. He's got a temper, but he's having such a run of success that it isn't really causing problems for him." He nods. "Alright. How about we start from the beginning?"

    "How about you take your helmet off?"

    "I have scanned your nanotech infection."

    "You don't have one?"

    "Nanotech's insane here. Why are you using it?"

    He throws his arms out to the side. "No personal lantern! And it's not even that useful!" He exhales sharply. "Are you taking the helmet off?"

    I suppose it's not like my environmental shield can't just exclude it. Ring, switch to medium armour.

    "Compliance."

    His eyes widen as he sees my face. "What..? You..?"

    "Pretty much the first thing I did with the ring. I didn't even.. do it intentionally. You know how we're afraid of…"

    "Death."

    "Not existing, and.. losing faculties. "

    "So… It just..?"

    "Made me exactly as I wanted to be. Fixed my nose, my skin, gave me a heroic physique…"

    His mouth hangs open for a moment. "Are you playing on fucking easy mode?"

    He's not angry at me, just frustrated with the situation. "How.. similar are we? I-?"

    "Earth Prime, or.. something like that. And we ended up in a universe straight out of DC comics."

    I smile. "You know the 'C' in 'DC' stands for-."

    "Pedant."

    We both do the exact same amused snort.

    "I left on the fourteenth of August, two thousand and thirteen. Woke up on the fifth of July, two thousand and ten."

    He nods. "I left on the same day. Arrived a day earlier."

    "Antimatter universe… Is it like in Earth Two? The comic, not-."

    He shakes his head. "No, it's… Nothing like that bad. Their society shouldn't function, and negative fourteen does. It's like… Normal criminals don't want to attract police attention, so they usually try and keep things quiet? There were criminal gangs headed by supervillains.. but.. they weren't wrecking cities for fun or anything."

    "Why did you join them?"

    His expression sobers for a moment, then he snorts with laughter again. "Ultraman made me an offer I couldn't refuse."

    "Hahehehehe." I shake my head. "How..? Exactly..?"

    "On my first day, I got into a fight with a couple of his… They're called 'Made Men'. Supervillains who work for a member of the Syndicate Management. Then I went to see Alan Scott.. and.. he turned out to be a Yellow Lantern." He pauses, looking at the floor. "And that was when I found out exactly how much trouble I was in. Managed to.. square things with Ultraman-." Something occurs to him. "He wasn't like the comic version. He was actually an intelligent man."

    "'Was'?"

    "He's dead now, along with the rest of the old Management." He slumps slightly. "So… How about you?" He looks me over again. "Wait, how did you get two rings?"

    "I took the second one-" I wave my right hand. "-from Lantern Stewart in a fight while he was being mind controlled. To be honest, the database was the most useful-."

    "Y-! Uhrh!" He waves his right hand at me, ring signet facing outwards. "No database, no lantern. I had to hang around hopeful people on a planet that was nearly run by the Syndicate to recharge a couple of percent!"

    "Wasn't there a 'Power Ring' in the Syndicate?"

    "Yes, but he had a power.. gauntlet.. thing. No database there either. Not that I think he'd have shared it if there was. He was already annoyed about me using the same name as him."

    I nod. "I had an easier time. Once Alan had a chance to talk to me, he called Diana… Wonder Woman. I took a magic binding oath and he handed over his personal lantern. Took a lot of power to turn it from green to orange, but I haven't had to deal with… Your problem."

    "Even if I could transform it, I'm pretty sure my Alan wouldn't be willing to part with his. Especially now."

    "Zorina said that your Giovanni Zatara put on a helmet containing a Lord of Chaos?" He nods. "Why?"

    "Why did yours do it? I don't remember anything about Nabu possessing people from the comics."

    "Neither do I, but apparently that's how he works here. It was… You know that thing in the comics where that child somehow gets hold of a genie and makes it so there are two Earths, one with children and one with adults?"

    "I did do some research. He put it on to fight.. Klarion?"

    "No. Zatanna did. He offered himself as an exchange."

    He frowns. "Why didn't he just… Not put it on?"

    I close my eyes for a moment and shake my head. "Honour before reason. And before you ask, Klarion had shut down this ring so I couldn't stop him. Why did your Giovanni Zatara put it on?"

    "Why the Don put it on goes back to-."

    "Wait. Don Giovanni?"

    He waits patiently for me to shut up. "The reason he put it on goes back to the whole reason why the Syndicate formed in the first place. Governor Slade Wilson."
     
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  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    03:52 GMT -11


    "Deathstroke the Terminator became a Governor?"

    "Is he actually called that here?"

    "What? Oh, no, just 'Deathstroke'. Haven't actually met him yet. I mean, power ring, bloke with sword. Didn't really seem worth prioritising."

    "Fricking unlimited charges…" Another quick look around the room. "Do you have.. chairs, or something?"

    I deposit two comfy chairs out of subspace facing one another and we both sit. "Governor Wilson?"

    "President Wilson these days." He pauses for a moment. "On Earth negative fourteen Sergeant Major Slade 'The Pacifier' Wilson went into politics after he was discharged from the American army." He waves his right hand in the direction of his right eye. "Honourably discharged." I nod. "He started out as an advisor to a couple of candidates, building up his support base within the Republican party before standing for office himself. His chosen platform was law and order."

    "He went after the Syndicate?"

    He shrugs. "What Syndicate? There was no Syndicate. Oh, there were supervillains. Criminal gangs, but.. they didn't cooperate much. Ultraman and Owlman openly hated each other. Their organisations used to spend more time fighting each other than they did fighting the Justice Underground. Ultraman got on better with J'edd J'arkus, but for the most part 'alpha dog' supervillains either fought each other or just avoided each other."

    "So who was he going after?"

    "The idea of the Syndicate. I mean, I'm not saying they were harmless or anything, but things were running like Ankh-Morpork. Most gangs intentionally kept their activity below a certain level and the police tended to avoid them because trying to fight them would have been suicide. Wilson pushed for almost unlimited resources to be put into fighting.. 'the Syndicates of super powered criminals which beset this great country…' He won the election-."

    "And the 'not Syndicate' didn't.. get involved?"

    "I don't know if the local supervillains didn't think he'd win, or they tried and it wasn't enough… No way to find out now. Ultraman's people were keeping an eye on things, but it was Vermont and he didn’t have any real presence there. I don't know what the others thought of it. Anyway, he didn't quite go full police state but it wasn't far off. A load of ex-military people got hired on as state troopers and every incident of supervillainy got followed up on with maximum force."

    "Not.. exactly.. seeing the problem."

    "The military aren't exactly trained for police work. Look at our Iraq. Deaths of bystanders, false imprisonment, imprisonment without trial and deaths in custody skyrocketed. And that's not even talking about the collateral damage or the massively disproportionate sentences some things attracted. Selling a supervillain an apple was aiding and abetting. He did achieve his objective, though. There aren't any supervillains in Vermont anymore. Even now." A pause. "His next step was to campaign for more states to take the same approach, a campaign which involved him openly calling anyone who turned him down 'Syndicate stooges'. Well, okay, he didn't say 'stooges'. He used.. other words. Things came to a head when he announced his candidacy for the two thousand and four presidential election."

    "The supervillains saw the way things were going and.. got together."

    He nods. "Ultraman called a meeting of the major gang leaders: Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick, Power Ring and J'edd J'arkus. A bunch of others attended as well, but they were the ones making the decisions. They agreed territorial boundaries, information sharing and other forms of cooperation. Ultraman and Owlman even shook hands."

    "Why did they hate each other so much?"

    "Owlman found out about kryptonite. Green doesn't do anything to Ultraman, but blue wipes him out."

    "And he used it on him in a fight?"

    "No. He tipped off our Lex Luthor and he did. Never did find out why; Ultraman's policy was always to deal rather than confront as a first choice. He wouldn't have started anything with Owlman." He shakes his head. "After that, LexCorp grabbed as much of the stuff as it could. They got pretty close to synthesising it before Ultraman had his people wreck the place."

    "So. Wilson created the Syndicate."

    "Yep. Just about the only thing that could make them get together was an external attack on all of them. I don't know whether he honestly thought they were allies already or he just needed it for a platform, but by the time he was in the White House they were already integrating their resources. Profitability -and ambition- increased as a result. Johnny Quick actually proposed they toast Wilson at the start of their first meeting in their new lunar command centre."

    "Did they kill him?"

    "No. His wife. And they told him they'd kill his daughter if he went after them like he'd planned to. That was a.. major escalation and.. it could have gone very badly. Ultraman can do a lot of damage; you remember that guy in Supreme Power who tried to work out how dangerous Hyperion was and started talking about megadeaths?" I nod. "But he isn't invulnerable and he's never been comfortable with mass murder. I honestly don't know who'd have won if Wilson hadn't backed down, but there wouldn't have been much country left. But, he did. By the time I got there things had settled back down. Wilson even got re-elected, mostly because the Democratic party candidates in two thousand and eight got told what was really going on and barely bothered to campaign."

    "What were you doing?"

    "Rushing around trying to prove the efficacy of running a benevolent tyranny, because as far as I could tell? That was the best result we could get." He sighs. "The most likely candidates for two thousand and twelve were all on board with the status quo, the Syndicate was expanding into new countries… Then it all fell apart. Lex Luthor and the Jester broke into-."

    "Who?"

    "The Joker. He ended up being called the Jester rather than the Jokester for some reason, I don't know how it works. The two of them broke into a Syndicate research centre, stole something called a Quantum Trigger and fled. Jester died, but he managed to kill J'arkus doing it. Luthor made it out and used the Quantum Trigger to travel to a parallel universe-."

    "And call in the Justice League."

    "Ye-ep. There was some other stuff going on as well. Owlman was building a giant bomb.. for some reason…" He shakes his head. "That never made sense to me. Anyway, Luthor and the League beat the Management, killing Johnny Quick and Owlman. Wilson got the rest a few weeks later. Beat Ultraman to death himself with a crowbar."

    "So you're.. hiding?"

    "I don't need to hide. Getting rid of the Management didn't suddenly make the Syndicate disappear. Each individual syndicate had people around who could take over running it if they had to, and… Quite a few of them went for the 'open warfare' option."

    "And the Justice League?"

    "Already left." He shrugs again. "Job done, right?"

    "So, your Zatara?"

    "He tried to get a few other less mental managers together, calm things down. Since I was running the youth team at the time I got called in. We were starting to bring the other syndicates around to our way of thinking. We even told the President that we wanted to ease off. Back down. At which point he went on television to announce that we'd be pursued to the end of the Universe and killed without mercy."

    "Well, yes."

    "The Super family were turning Wisconsin into a war zone! He was more worried about his bloody ego than people getting hurt! Mister Zatara lost a lot of face even trying that. With the President publically rebuking him… Us… People started drifting away. Arming up. And we were still the best hope for limiting casualties!" He takes a moment to calm down. "Our John Constantine managed to dig up a magic helmet used by a member of the Crime Lodge -our version of the Justice Society- called Doctor Chaos."

    "He needed a power boost to keep things together and ended up getting..."

    "A fucking lunatic controlling his body. Chaos is intelligent enough to try keeping Syndicate infrastructure together, but he's been having us destroy government targets in a precise way rather than making the attacks of opportunity the others are doing. It's just.. escalating. Running out of control. We need to get rid of him before it gets any worse. Will you help us?"
     
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  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    03:57 GMT -11


    "I'm going to want some sort of evidence before I even-."

    He takes a datastick from his belt. "A few newspapers. Syndicate internal reports. Videos. Yes, I could have faked them it but it would have taken a colossal amount of work."

    I connect a filament to it and pull it out of his hand. Ring, analyse.

    Processing. Analysis complete.

    Show me.

    My hands clench around the arms of my chair as the images flash through my mind. I'm not consciously aware of individual items but I am getting a sort of overview, like flicking between a series of images and seeing the object depicted moving. The shape certainly suggests he's telling the truth. I can hand it over to Batman for full analysis later. Of course, even if they are genuine that doesn't mean that the collection wasn't creatively edited.

    How much do I trust myself? I know that I'm not an especially honest person and this me has spent a great deal of time living around supervillains. I doubt that brought out my better character traits. I close my eyes for a moment, then open them with empathic vision turned up all the way.

    Anger's vague and diffuse. A lot of faces. Feels like day to day problems magnified by stress. Wilson's intransigence is a factor but it isn't a centre or focus.

    Avarice is pervasive, but again not particularly strong. Friends and safety. I don't think he's had the resources to pursue his own objectives in the way I have. There's envy there, some sort of flying fortification… That can't be an efficient use of space. I can't see any desire to gain power to advance an agenda of his own, let alone doing so for its own sake.

    Fear is spikier, shooting up from an elevated resting level. The President, the people around him, the idea that my opposite number has misjudged something and is actually in the wrong. He's constantly surrounded by people who could easily kill him, many of whom have motive to do so. Will he have misjudged? Maybe, but his judgements aren't going to be all that different to the ones which I'd have made in his place.

    Those faces…

    "You said you were in charge of the youth team."

    "The Young Offenders. I didn't.. pick the name. Ultraboy, Talon, Mary Mayhem, Jackie Quick, Mistress Martian, Zorina Zatara, Arrowette and Lamprey. I don't lead them on missions; Ultraboy does that. I organise them, take care of the big picture stuff and keep food in the fridge."

    He's become a parental figure to a group of children who just lost theirs.

    Green is simple enough. He's committed to this path. If I say no then he'll try something else somewhere else for as long as he can.

    "Ultraboy and Ultraman? How well did they get on?"

    His blue is different to mine but I think he's trying to use it in the same way. He genuinely hopes for a positive outcome, the Syndicate quietening down and President Wilson resigning. I don't.. do that. Heck, we're sitting in an example of me giving up on people and doing it myself. Maybe hope is what's left after you remove the ability to do it yourself.

    "They were very close, for the few months they actually knew each other. When Talon, Mayhem and Quick broke him out of Cadmus, Ultraman… Ultraman told me later that he had two choices to maintain face. He could kill the clone, or take him in. Claim him as his own." He shrugs. "He'd had some people investigating how possible it was for him to have children for a while. He said it was an easy choice."

    "Talon would be Owlman's. Jackie, Johnny's. I'm assuming that J'arkus was Martian?" He nods. "Zorina is obviously Mister Zatara's. Lamprey?"

    Indigo shows me his team mates most clearly. They wouldn't have known a life other than being supervillains and now they're having to thrive or die without their mentors. And.. a short, red haired young woman? There's also compassion for the people caught up in the fights between the Syndicate's volatile elements and the US military.

    "Student of Barracuda, Shogun of the Seven Seas. Aquaman."

    Aqualad. "Arrowette?"

    "Oliver Queen. He's called Archer. Was, anyway, he's dead now."

    "Mary Mayhem?"

    Violet? Looks like there's no Missus Blue Lantern. Given how intense our recent experiences are it's not surprising that our affection for our family back home has.. not faded, but moved to the background somewhat. His affection for Zorina feels like the same as mine for Zatanna, though I doubt mine has that tint of fear to it. I turn the vision back down to normal.

    "Superwoman's. Superwoman isn't Wonder Woman, she's our version of Mary Marvel."

    "Our Mary Bloomfield's ten…"

    "Yeah, I.. don't really know what happened there."

    "Does she age up when she's under power like William Batson does, or what?"

    He gazes into space for a moment. "Superwoman… I don't know. I never saw her depowered. I don't know exactly how old she was. I.. do know that she was in a relationship with Owlman…"

    Ew! My face screws up without conscious direction. "Oh… That's… Really?"

    He's still gazing into space. "He killed hundreds of people that I know about. But there's just something about him knowingly having sex with a shapeshifted little girl…"

    "So… Mary Mayhem..?"

    "The way she explained it to me, they used to be the same person but.. Oggar did something to split them in two?"

    "Who?"

    "The wizard who empowered them. I don't know if we had a Shazam and I haven't really wanted to push it. She very much doesn't like me. Or.. anyone else."

    "Okay. Yes, I'll help. But only with Doctor Chaos."

    "I'm not just asking for help. We'll be sharing information."

    I nod, take a Mageslayer round out of subspace and hold it out to him. I don't really like just asking for help either. "I call this a Mageslayer. I use railgun constructs to fire them. They'll destroy most magic based defences and hurt magic life forms."

    He takes it. "Thank you, but the design schematic would be far more useful. Our John Constantine isn't a street magician, he's a genius level theoretical thaumaturgist. Reverse engineering this would be far simpler than asking you for replacements."

    I flick my left hand and a mote of orange light flies from the ring to his. "Designs for the Mageslayer, as well as a guide to producing orichalcum and mithril."

    "Olympia will appreciate that. She keeps saying that our steel isn't good enough."

    "Who?"

    "Our Wonder Woman."

    I nod. "I've also included the design for my protective wards. They're very effective."

    "I appreciate it. Here." A mote of blue comes back in the other direction. "That's a design for a magic energy containment unit. We haven't quite worked out all the problems yet, but in theory it should allow energy to be siphoned from a Lord of Whatever and kept isolated from them. You still need to work out how to cut them off from the Plane of Order-."

    "Or how to drain them faster than they can replenish their avatar."

    He looks thoughtful for a moment. "… Maybe? I'm not sure it works like that."

    I drop a binding chain out of subspace. "This can tie a Lord of Whatever in place and deny them access to their magic."

    "Really? How come you haven't used it?"

    "Doesn't let me get Nabu off Mister Zatara's head. We tried that at New Year. And I don't want to have to fight the-. Our Justice League over this."

    He stands up and slings the chain over his shoulder. "Feel like I've short changed you a bit. I'll get our John to have a look at your designs and see if he can improve on them. If he can, I'll let you know."

    "Sounds fair. Now let’s head back."
     
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  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    10:02 GMT -5


    We appear on the roof of the Kord Tech building. For very good reasons relating to its exposed location this one doesn't loudly announce everyone who comes through it. Come to think of it… I'm not all that clear why the League decided to have their zeta tubes do that. I'm not really sure when it would ever be useful.

    "How many other parallels have you tried so far?"

    "None. I had to recover the designs for the planeshifter-."

    "Good name."

    "Thanks. Luthor just called it the 'Trans-Dimensional Teleporter Device'."

    "But that's not what a dimension-."

    "I know! Um, from the Watchtower and Lex Luthor's sky fortress, both of which were occupied by the American military at the time." I see a flash of red illuminating the image of a young woman smashing something important looking.

    "I'd rather assumed that there wouldn't be any other versions of us. Given where we come from."

    "So had I."

    "Well. Yes."

    He snorts. "Could be that we don't come from the same place? Or… I don't know, maybe we left and then.. split? I.. don't have enough information at the moment."

    "Can you say our-"

    "Name!" / "-name?"

    We shake our heads. "I'll take that as a 'no'."

    He turns away and walks towards the edge of the building. "It's strange, standing out in the open like this. Couldn't risk it back home."

    "We should probably be getting back. Do you want me to.. carry you? Or-."

    "What do you actually.. do?" I turn down the corners of my mouth and shake my head. "I mean, are you youth team manager, the same as me? Are you a Justice League member? Or.. what?"

    Ohh… Great. "I'm a member of the team."

    "What?"

    I tilt my head slightly to the right, my right hand going to my forehead. "I look younger than.. we are. When I got here, they.. assumed that I was in my teens."

    "Did..? You.. didn't.. correct them?"

    "I didn't realise they thought that until after I'd been with the team for a while."

    He looks at me incredulously. "You didn't spot that they were all younger than you?"

    "Of course I did. I just thought.. they didn't have anyone my age to train."

    "Ooo-kay."

    "Diana was going to try sending me to the local school until I told her I was eighteen. I'm not sure I could have convinced the others that I'm our real age."

    "Did you tell anyone about.. DC?"

    "Our John Constantine. No one else. You?"

    "No. I mean, how would I even start?"

    "John asked me. He couldn't explain where I got my information from."

    "I don't think our John even realised that Mister Zatara was a mob boss."

    "Did they only meet recently?"

    "No, about twenty years ago. John's had a workshop in the compound for fifteen of that."

    "Full on absent minded professor?"

    "Oooh yes." He checks the position of the sun and then looks in the direction of Alan's house. "Not that this isn't fascinating, but we should get back. I don't like leaving Zorina to her own devices for long."

    "Do you want me to transport you?"

    He nods. "Please. I don't have enough charge that I can waste it when I don't have to."

    "Transition in, two, one-" Our surroundings skip and we're standing in Alan's garden. "Zero."

    "Did it take you long to get it that smooth?"

    "Not once I realised it had an unsmooth mode."

    He snorts. "I suppose that being able to practise whenever you like helps."

    I peer through the kitchen windows. "How fast does your ring actually recharge?"

    "Too slowly. Intense personal hope gives me half a percent or so if I'm right next to the person feeling it. Fans of evenly matched sport teams will give me three or four percent if I stay for the whole match. First time I went back to one hundred percent was after President Wilson went on national television to announce that the Management had been defeated."

    "What are you on now?"

    "Twenty three percent. That was a very.. hectic period." He heads towards the back door.

    "For future meetings with versions of us, I strongly suggest not attacking their friends and allies."

    He stops with his right hand on the handle. "Zorina would only accept opening negotiations from a position of strength. Ambushing your Alan Scott was the least risky thing I could think of." He looks down for a moment. "Could you..? Apologise to him for me? I'm used to not being able to do what I'd ideally like, but I don't.. want to get used to it. To accept it without comment."

    I nod. "I'll pass it on."

    "Thank you." He turns the handle, opens the door and walks through into the kitchen. "Zorina?" Through the open interior door I see Zorina stride out of the living room door. She looks at the other me, her face impassive save for the slight raising of her right eyebrow. "My alter ego has been kind enough to share some useful information with me. Is there anything else you want to do while we're here?"

    Zatanna sticks her head out of the door behind her. I make eye contact and raise my eyebrows slightly. She doesn't.. look worried.

    "No. We're finished here." She turns her head back towards the living room. "Thank you for your hospitality, Mister Scott. We'll see ourselves out." Head tilted slightly upwards she walks past the two of us and out into the garden.

    The Blue Lantern nods. "Well. Goodbye. Best of luck." I nod and he follows the young woman out. They take up a position in the middle of the lawn before he takes a gun shaped device out of his subspace pocket and holds it up to fiddle with the controls. Ring scan.

    Compliance.

    A moment later he puts his left arm across Zorina's shoulder and pulls the trigger. Two dimensional purple.. echoes? Of the two of them appear to their left and right for a moment and then disappear as they do.
     
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  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    "Diana, is this really necessary?" Alan's sitting in his chair with his head tilted to the side so that Diana can see the burn on his neck.

    "Yes."

    The temperature dropped back down to normal once Zorina and my alter ego left. That probably means that Zauriel went with them. I'd rather not, but I think I'm going to have to start taking the Ace places with me. Or at least store it somewhere more readily accessible than Poseidonis.

    "Paul already gave me a clean bill of health. And put-" He winces as Diana prods it. "-ointment on it."

    "Do you have enough ring power to heal yourself?"

    "It's not that serious." She gives him a look of scepticism. "I've had worse."

    "When you were a much younger man."

    "Diana? He should be alright, and I'd… I'd really rather he not use ring charge unnecessarily. It should heal by itself-"

    "I know how burns heal."

    "-when he does his weekly top up. This isn't the first small injury he's had since-" I realise that I'm doing the 'talking to the carer and not the patient' thing. "-we started rationing Alan's use of his ring."

    Alan holds his hands out to the side in a gesture of appeal. "Diana. It's a scratch. The blade didn't even go through my skin."

    She doesn't look happy, but it looks like she's willing to drop the matter for now. She looks over to where Zatanna and I sit on the settee. "This was done by versions of the two of you from a parallel universe."

    Zatanna nods. "Zorina Zatara and Blue Lantern."

    "And they were supervillains."

    Zatanna and I look at each other for a moment. "Kind of." / "There's a range of..." Wish we'd had more time to come up with a unified version of events.

    "He told me that they were trying to minimise the collateral damage caused by the Syndicate retrenching. Based on the files he gave me and what I saw with empathic vision I don't think he was lying… Much."

    She looks concerned. "You gave your technical files to a supervillain?"

    "If they can convert what's left of the Syndicate to legitimate businesses, isn't that better than having them fight to the death with the Federal Government?"

    "If that is really the only alternative, yes. I would have preferred it if you had called me in to confirm his story myself."

    "He doesn’t have a good relationship with their version of 'you'."

    Alan sits up slightly. "But he does with me? How does that work?"

    "Their Alan Scott is a scary retired supervillain who operated under the name 'Power Ring'. He has a yellow power ring. It gets more powerful-."

    "The more people fear him." Diana nods. "Sinestro uses a similar device."

    "As I understand it, Sinestro's ring was made on Qward-" Information I can credibly claim that I got from Guy. "-about eight years ago." I glance at Alan. "Capo Alan 'Al' Scott-."

    Alan looks slightly amused. "He really calls himself that?"

    "Ultraman did. According to a report I've got he once openly ruled New York for three months, along with Whizzer and-" I look at Diana. "Olympia."

    Alan nods. "Ruled New York, eh? Bet Jay would get a kick out of that. And I'm glad to know it's not just me."

    "Point is, if his ring came from the same place then it got made decades ago. If the Qwardians have been able to make rings for that long, why haven't they?"

    Diana thinks for a moment. "We have no way to know that it's the same Qward."

    "I was scanning them when they disappeared. Of course, I don't have any real data on parallel universes to compare it to. I didn't detect any Bleed energy. If I scanned Sinestro's ring I could probably compare them."

    "Let us hope that it never comes to that." According to Justice League files Sinestro has visited Earth twice since his fall from grace. No significant collateral damage on either occasion. No one has ever accused Thaal Sinestro of lacking mental focus. There were some recordings but none of them were of high enough quality to get a good idea of how he fights. What I could see appeared to be fairly orthodox Greenie style. He was doing it well but none of it was anything one of the locals couldn't do on a good day.

    Alan nods at me. "You got a picture of the other guy in there?"

    Do I? Yes, from when he started getting involved in Syndicate activity again after something the documents call 'The Decapitation'. There's no scale, but if I assume that he's as tall as our Alan… I generate a construct image.

    I'm not sure what I was expecting, other than perhaps a direct copy of Alan in his prime. I mean, this version never gave up his personal lantern and according to Ultraman never stopped wearing his ring. He isn't. He's thinner, as if he's had some strange all over liposuction. The muscle's all there, the skin's.. tight, but the impression is of a well preserved and unusually vital corpse. His hair's a little thinner than our Alan's was, though there's not much in it now. According to the file it's completely white rather than the still-fading blonde ours has.

    "Can you print me a color picture?" Alan points at his alter ego. "I want to be able to look at it whenever I feel under the weather, so I know it could have been a lot worse."

    Diana nods. "His power is determined by how feared he is and it appears that he depends on the yellow light as you do the green. If his retirement meant that he stopped being so widely feared, it would make sense that his physical condition would deteriorate."

    "So I've got that to look forward to. Thanks Diana, that makes me feel a lot better."

    Diana turns away from the image and back to me. "Do you believe that these people will be a threat to us in the future?"

    "Maybe? There are an awful lot of parallel universes out there. They might come back, but I-."

    Diana's eyes suddenly unfocus and she raises her right hand to her ear. "Wonder Woman. Go ahead." Well, she is a busy woman. "Yes, they're here now. Understood." She refocuses on me. "A force field has been erected around the LexCorp building in Metropolis."

    "That's their siege protocol. Any idea what triggered it?"

    "According to a message the League received shortly before it went up, the people who claim to have activated it also say that they are holding the staff hostage."

    "Any demands?"

    "Yes. They gave us a list of people they'll let through the barrier. They say that once they're inside they'll release the hostages."

    "Political prisoners?"

    "No. Your team. They also say that if we attempt to breach the force field they'll start killing hostages."

    "I assume that we're going in?"

    "The voice on the message was almost identical to Kon's voice, and its owner identified himself as 'Ultraboy'." She looks decidedly unamused. "It appears that you overestimated your alter ego's trustworthiness."

    Ah. Looks like. "In his defence sir, he didn't say they weren't going to attack LexCorp."
     
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  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    10:37 GMT -5


    The ovoid dome of the force field really looks quite impressive from ground level. The dead birds littering the boundary between 'inside' and 'outside' on both sides do rather distract from it somewhat. It's mostly transparent with only a slight shimmer in the air as the wind stresses it.

    "You really had no idea this was here?"

    Corporal Jase shakes his head as he continues to stare up at the building as well. "Not much call for regulation on privately owned force fields. Even less for ones you don't turn on."

    The Metropolis Special Crimes Unit turned up pretty sharpish after the barrier was activated, but with nothing appearing to happen they've gone off 'emergency deployment' mode. There's a team mostly equipped with my gear a little way back in case they have to help storm the place but Jase told me that they're basically assuming that the League has this.

    He looks away from the building to give me a mildly curious look. "You know who's in there?"

    I nod. "I know LexCorp's roster for today and I've got a list of people who called in sick or who got out when the attack started."

    "Nah, I meant…" He flicks his right forefinger in the direction of the tower. "Who's in there. Who it is that's doin' this."

    Thanks to Lex getting the place warded, not as much as I'd like. I could get my lantern and scan in detail but I've got no idea how long that would take. Simple optic scans are getting baffled by tactical curtain pulling. "We've got a fairly good idea, but I'd like to confirm it before saying anything definite."

    He nods. "Alright. So who's probably the lucky son of a bitch about to be on the receiving end of a Justice League beatdown?"

    "Alternate versions of certain League sidekicks who've come here from a parallel universe."

    He looks at me with incredulity, which gives way to something I can't readily identify. He looks away and shakes his head. "Why do I fucking ask?"

    "Possible match found."

    I hold up my right hand. "Fabricate."

    Orange light dances around my palm as a small bluey purple crystal forms. So many isomers, so little time.

    "What's that?"

    Best colour match? "Periwinkle kryptonite."

    "Say what?"

    "Kryptonite comes in a wide variety of isomers. Each one affects Kryptonian physiology in slightly different ways. I hadn't really put much thought into utilising it before…"

    "You telling me there's a Kryptonian in there?"

    "Never hurts to be prepared. Ring, log and keep trying." The periwinkle-coloured crystal evaporates as the ring resumes its calculations. Kryptonite is both radioactive and really complicated. To make matters worse I think it's some sort of metamaterial. Not every molecular structure that should be stable actually is. I've had to have the ring brute force it.

    "Compliance."

    "Hey, Oh.. range Lantern." Both of us look around as Wallace walks over, goggles in place and game face on.

    "Everyone here?" He nods. "Excuse me, Corporal." He goes back to watching the building as Wallace and I head towards the building on the other side of the road that is serving as a muster point.

    Wallace looks around quickly to make sure that no one's in earshot. "Are they really versions of us from another dimension?"

    "No, from a parallel universe."

    "S-weet!"

    "How is that 'sweet'?"

    "Jay had that Doctor Clariss guy, Flash's got Eobard Thawne and now I get a Reverse-Flash!"

    "Actually, he calls himself 'Jackie Quick'."

    "Eh, the news will call him whatever we call him. Plus, the only people at risk work for Luthor anyway."

    "That's… Impressively ruthless of you."

    "I don't want them to get hurt or anything, but if someone's going to, I'd rather it was-" He pushes open the door. "-someone working for a supervillain, rather than some random guy on the street."

    I look around the café. Batman and Superman are standing with Commissioner Henderson and Captain Sawyer looking over a plan of the LexCorp building's interior. Captain Sawyer is head of the Special Crimes Unit and my help so far qualifies me for a greeting nod before she returns her attention to the task at hand.

    A couple of other police officers are hanging around for reasons entirely unrelated to the opportunity to stare at founding members of the Justice League. Just hope they have the sense not to ask Batman for a selfie…

    "Everyone's upstairs. Come on." Wallace leads the way out through a side door and to a staircase leading up to the offices over the shop.

    "Did.. Marvel actually get..?"

    "Wonder Woman vetoed it. And.. I kinda agree with her? Captain Marvel's one thing but Marvel Girl doesn't get older when she changes. I know Rob started training with Batman when he was nine but… She's eleven. Rob wasn't doing real missions at that age and I… I don't think she should either."

    "That, and you haven't trained with her."

    "Exactly."

    "That does mean that you'll be one short."

    He stops on the landing. "Wait. You're not coming in?"

    "You heard the message. Anyone not on the list shows up, they start killing hostages. Zatanna and I already met our alter egos and we had a perfectly civilised conversation."

    "Was your guy some sort of giant mutant who'd used every super potion he could get hold of to get more and more super powers, but he became less and less Human every time until he was just this big ugly monster?"

    What? Where did that come from? "No, he looked.. like an older version of me. Why would you even think that?"

    "I could just sort of see a villain version of you going for power. You know, rather than helping people like you do." He leads the way towards the room the team are waiting in. "He have a power ring?"

    "Yes. Blue, though he didn't have a personal lantern and had to recharge it from ambient hope."

    "Possible match found."

    Wallace opens the door and I follow him inside, nodding to Kaldur as I raise my right hand again. "Fabricate."

    Light dances again as a pale blue crystal appears. Got you.
     
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  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    10:51 GMT -5


    Robin stares at the construct image of Talon again, then shakes his head. "It doesn't make any sense. Owlman must be at least as smart as Batman. What does he think he can gain by sending a nine year old out into the field?"

    "According to the records I have, Ultraman thought that Owlman just wanted to see what the implants did. It's not as if he was actually invested in Talon's wellbeing."

    Wallace rests his right elbow companionably on Robin's left shoulder. "Y'know, when even the other crazy supervillains think you're crazy, you might just have a problem."

    Kaldur looks away from the force field for a moment. "Nothing in the files which Orange Lantern's opposite number provided him suggests that the Managers of the Syndicate were insane."

    The people who will actually be going in -Robin, Kaldur, Wallace, Kon, M'gann and Artemis- are standing next to the barrier with the rest of us a little further away. We did discuss trying to see if they'd allow Donna as a substitute for Mary Bromfield, but the balance of opinion was that it wasn't worth risking it. Kon's forsaken the tabard he usually wears with his Nth Metal armour and is shooting slightly nervous glances down the street to where journalists lurk behind the police cordon.

    Officially, we're here because the crazies in the building have asked for us. No mention at all of us being a team or a unit with more association than that implied by our mentors' fellowship. Not sure anyone believes it… We pretty much got away with Aberrance because no one had time to take note of exactly who it was fighting the giant monster. Here, we're out in the open in a major city. For most of us that isn't really a problem; if Batman cared about the flak he gets from several places over Robin's obvious youth he doesn't show it and the rest of us appear old… Most of my other team mates appear old enough that their presence doesn't provoke the same immediate reaction. M'gann and Kon on the other hand haven't gone out into the public eye in their costumed identities before. It's hard to mistake a green woman for anything other than a Martian, but Kon is going to be something of a mystery. Without the tabard the 'S' on the dull grey metal of his breastplate is hard to make out from a distance: but even so, questions none of us really want to answer are going to be asked.

    Speaking of Kon… I pass Robin and Wallace pieces of blue kryptonite. "According to my opposite number, Kryptonians from universe negative fourteen hate this stuff."

    Wallace takes it gingerly. "Not all that keen on carrying around radioactive rock, Oh El."

    Artemis snatches the crystal off him and puts it in one of her pouches. "Kryptonite works by messing up Kryptonian superpowers. It's only weakly radioactive. You'd have to keep hold of it for years for it to do anything to you."

    "Top of the class that archer. " I take another bit out of subspace for Wallace. "Don't know what this does to our Kryptonians, which is why Superman's talking to the press rather than watching the building right now."

    "And.. what about..?" Wallace glances at Kon.

    "I've given him two anti-radiation energy shields, the sort worn by people from spacefaring civilisations who spend a lot of time in space outside their ship's hull. Not powerful enough to stop an attack, but it'll stop kryptonite radiation without any problem at all."

    Kaldur looks a little puzzled. "If such devices exist, why have you not given one to Superman?"

    "He hasn't asked." I shrug. "Any of the Green Lanterns could have given one to him. Or the Hawks." I frown. "Come to think of it, I'd be surprised if Kryptonians didn't use something like this themselves when they used to be spacefaring. Maybe he just doesn't run into kryptonite often enough for it to be worthwhile?"

    **Uninvited. Get back.**

    We all wince. Guess.. that was Mistress Martian. Her mental voice was.. sort of like M'gann's, but I don't think I'd ever mistake one for the other. Definite sinister undertones there. I give Kaldur a nod and then walk away from the mission group towards the remainder of the team. Batman, Diana and Icon are in their own little huddle off to one side. Now we're just waiting-.

    The shimmer stops.

    Kaldur dons his helmet and takes a two-handed grip on his trident. Having changed his speciality from melee to close support he doesn't usually lead from the front anymore. To say nothing of the fact that Robin and Artemis are now more durable than he is. He says something I can't hear and M'gann rises into the air and goes invisible while Kon leads the way towards the building's doors.

    There are things I could probably do to prevent the force field being re-established. But that would risk the hostages. Scanning the building -Ring? Ah.- is also less than effective due to Lex's anti-Superman and… Let's be honest here, anti-me measures. Which isn't to say that three dimensional infrared imaging isn't letting me get a much better picture of what's going on in there.

    Ring, is it working?

    Unable to determine. Bleed fracture pulse receivers are almost impossible- The force field reappears. -to monitor remotely.

    Good to know. Alright then; message. I turn away from the building in case of long ranged lip readers. "Staff appear to be being held on the cafeteria in floor five with smaller numbers being held on floors eleven, fifteen, twenty two and in Lex's penthouse. I can't tell the difference between hostages and hostage takers with the techniques available to me, unless you want to wait a couple of days."

    Raquel folds her arms across her chest. "You sure they can hear-?"

    "Understood. Continue monitoring."

    "If Lex had access to technology that could stop a Bleed fracture-pulse receiver he wouldn't bother butting heads with the Justice League."

    Donna nods. "What about the… 'Young Offenders'?"

    "Outside chance, but we're rather relying on them being true to their word about the hostages anyway. And I didn't detect any sign of Bleed radiation-" An inexact term for what it actually is. If they'd actually gone through the Bleed local physics should have more or less broken in a molecule wide area around the event. Not sure what that actually looks like… "-when Blue Lantern and Zorina left, so I'm assuming that they don't have better Bleed technology than.. most advanced species in this galaxy."

    "Should I be…" Rob looks a little uncomfortable. "It sounds weird..? But… No evil Cornwall Boy? Should I be.. insulted?"

    Garth shakes his head. "More likely he just wasn't associated with the Syndicate. Their version of King Orin wasn't a member either."

    "Until recently. They've been on a membership drive to try and create a new Management. Their Orin was the force behind the unification of the Atlantean city-states which had been more or less constantly at war with one another since the Sinking."

    Zatanna looks at me. "Are we really just going to sit this one out?"

    "No. But we do need to wait until our team mates engage the enemy before we make our move." I make a beckoning gesture and the others close in slightly. "Lex has any number of tunnels running under the building and a lot of them don't show up on the plans."

    Tula nods. "But he showed them to you because he trusts you."

    "No, I just scanned for them. I mean, come on: it's Lex flipping Luthor."

    Raquel points at the access point. "Doesn't the force field cover the underground stuff?"

    "No. Each of these tunnels has its own independent system. The main shield is meant to protect the building during an evacuation, it would be a bit pointless if people couldn't get out while it was up. I've also studied the force field design and I'm pretty sure I can create an opening without collapsing it completely and setting off an alert. We can get in without anyone being any the wiser. " I turn my head to take another look at the tower. "Just as soon as the majority of the hostages are freed."
     
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  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    11:14 GMT -5


    "And you just.. let him go?"

    Raquel is less than impressed by my handling of Blue Lantern.

    "Yes."

    "He just told you he was a supervillain."

    I don't remember which comic it was. Superman/Batman somethingorother? Doctor Isley was mind controlling Superman and Batman ended up hiding in LexCorp tunnels under Metropolis. Lead lined, because Lex used them to transport things he didn't want Superman to be able to find out about. I don't think they're used in quite that way here, but they are certainly spacious enough. And the escape tunnel excuse could cover a variety of sins.

    "And?" I have the ring check on the evacuation process around the Tower. 'True to their word' may have been pushing it, but the majority of the hostages were dispatched towards the exit once my team mates survived their first encounter with LexCorp's automated security.

    "You could have arrested him?"

    "If Green Lantern had been seriously hurt I might well have done that. As it was, he hadn't committed a serious crime on this Earth."

    "But on his world-."

    "A world I have no reliable information on." Sonic scans of the corridor reveal another set of cameras and defence systems. More advanced scans are being turned aside and I don't want to push too hard in case there's some sort of alert system. Would Lamprey be able to feel it if I did? Ah, assuming that he's a magic user of the same sort as Kaldur, shouldn't assume that he is… Or isn't.

    I hold up my right hand for stop and have the filaments start digging into the lead lined concrete. "Even if I was sure of the data he gave me -and I'm not- this United States can't try crimes that happened in that one." I smile under my faceplate and turn slightly so I'm facing her. "I checked."

    Guns deactivated and sensors spoofed. I turn back into our direction of travel and Donna comes up alongside me. "He told you he was working with the Young Offenders. He almost certainly knew what they were planning."

    "He only brought Zorina to the meeting. His reports describe the others as violent and truculent, if not as out and out psychotic. While I strongly suspect they're working together on this, that isn't necessarily the case."

    "And if the two of them are in there with the others?"

    "LexCorp in their parallel was taken back into Lex Luthor's control after the Decapitation and their transportation device doesn't cause them to change physical location. If he wanted to join in my alter ego would have to either infiltrate a highly secure building or get in through the force field."

    "Or he…" Zatanna hesitates for a moment and then presses on. "They could just go to a different parallel universe, go in with a tour group and then travel back."



    I continue walking. "Ac-tually, that makes quite a lot of sense. An unpopulated world would be better…"

    "Do we need to warn Kaldur?"

    Good question, Garth. "No. He already knows that it's possible, and knowing that they could have done it isn't the same as knowing that they did. They've got Spell Eaters and they know how I fight." But if they're not restricted… "Everyone saw my recording of what the shift looks like?"

    "Yes." / "Yeah." / "Yes." / "Yes." / "Yes."

    "If you see anything like that, don't wait, just attack. They may well have a whole Syndicate's worth of resources to send our way."

    "Or just one bomb."

    Or just one bomb, Raquel. Ring, keep scanning for any phenomena resembling the planeshift.

    Compliance.

    "The records they showed me suggested that the device they used had a few very hard to create components, and my alter ego doesn't have a lantern so mass ring fabrication isn't something he can do. But yes, a bomb is a possibility. I've set the ring to scan for any sign that they're doing that."

    We proceed down the tunnel further. Not all that much further now.

    "Do we know why they're doing this?" Rob stops talking as he gets the group's attention for a moment, then presses on. "'Cause, they could steal stuff from LexCorp without letting anyone inside. They asked for our versions of them.. so.. is it just about proving who's the hardest?"

    Donna frowns. "That seems like a lot of effort to go through."

    "Supervillains."

    A few faint smiles. Zatanna shakes her head. "But they were trained by you. Older.. you. Wouldn't you have told them not to do things like that?"

    "I don't know how much control he actually has over them. Or if he actually cares what happens to them. He might just have said 'fine, amuse yourselves, but don't come crying to me if they beat you to a pulp'."

    We come out of the tunnel into a junction, other tunnels going off to our left and right and one of the subterranean exits from the LexCorp building opposite from us. Heavily armoured vault doors capable of withstanding an assault from just about any conventional weapon with a shimmering force field between us and them. Ring, double check that the force field profile matches?

    Confirmed.

    Right then. The projector itself is on the far side and there are sensors in the walls. If I try digging in to run a filament around I'm not sure that I could prevent them reporting in. An orange circle appears in the centre of the energy barrier and then the shimmer disappears from inside it. Sonic scan the far side… Spoof the cameras.

    "Aquagirl."

    Water armour glistening in the faint light she walks forwards, bulbs of liquid around her hands ready to be manipulated to attack or defend. I expand the circle and lower it slightly so that she can step through. I've encouraged her to try a few types of surface world mundane armour and her current yellow/blue ensemble is the one she dislikes least. Maybe she'll be happier when we finally go into production with the mithril designs. She takes up position on the far side and her skin glows for a moment. "There isn't any significant magic here."

    "Rocket." Raquel heads through next. She was alright about upgrading her armour, though she has so far passed on Danner augmentation. "Cornwall." If I can't pierce the door I might need him to force the issue. He isn't as skilled with magic as the Atlanteans but he isn't limited to water-friendly forms either. "Zatanna." She hasn't recovered fully from intentionally tiring herself out earlier this morning. I seriously considered asking her to stay behind, but we've trained in techniques for keeping squishy team mates safe and her sheer range of talents makes her very useful, especially since we don’t know whether or not they've got a magic user. "Tempest." This will be the Atlanteans’ first mission on the surface as part of the team. Since I'm not expecting heavy resistance here this is probably a better place to start off than Santa Prisca was for us, though I am a little concerned that they might have felt excluded when I had them basically sit the spaceship mission out. Have to make sure they're more active participants this time.

    With everyone through I cross the barrier myself and gently allow the force field to re-establish itself before turning my attention to the door. Ring, full scan.

    Compliance.

    It has pressure and temperature sensors but they don't run throughout the whole thing. "Tempest, Aquagirl, any magic tripwires in the door?"

    The tattoos on their skin glow for a moment, then Tula looks at me and shakes her head. I attach clamps at my preferred entry points on the door and jab at them with mini-crumblers. This shouldn't take too long.
     
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  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
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    Ah…

    Heck.

    A brilliant red beam of light cuts through Tula's ice barrier, but she's already using her water armour to throw herself aside. The flying stealth drone gun which fired it tries to evade but Garth has already surrounded it in electrically charged mist. Rob throws his hands forwards and the cloud and gun both explode with electricity.

    If I concentrate, I can just about remember the last time we managed to do a stealth mission stealthily.

    The vaguely gorilla shaped security robot brings its fists down on Raquel's shield in a regular staccato while its electrolaser waits for her to try dropping the barrier so that she can trap it. "A little help here?!"

    Well, yes, if I wasn't standing in the middle of a cloud of highly energetic plasma I probably would. Can't scan the projectors, can't risk doing anything which might make the system try targeting someone else, can't just slice at the walls in case I cause a leak… I'm stuck just shielding myself and keeping a barrier up around the outside of the effect area in order to prevent my team mates being killed by the convection heat alone.

    Gaining entry to the underground part of the building was simple enough. It was designed as a secure location, but 'conventionally secure' not 'Superman secure'. We were ready to move up into the lower storage levels until I noticed that a section of wall had been cut through and then disguised by a hologram. According to the plans there wasn't anything on the other side apart from the sub-Metropolitan earth and since I wasn't getting any sonic returns on it whatever was there looked like it was supposed to be Superman proof. Or at least reliably concealed from him.

    "Amsalp tuhs nwod!"

    The space around me stops burning for a moment and I aim a Crumbler round at the robot. A second later it flares back up again and I'm forced to drop it to reinforce my barriers! Multiple sources? Or could the system just be set up to check that it's working and start up again if it isn't? I've got no idea how precise Zatanna's commands have to be.

    "Raaagh!" Donna does a full speed fists out flying charge into the robot's side, causing it to fall sideways before rolling to its feet. Its electrolaser tracks and fires as it rights itself, hitting Donna in the side. Not enough force behind it to harm her significantly. Its first few shots used kryptonite particles but it was intelligent enough to stop using them when we didn't keel over as a Kryptonian would have. Its force fields are good enough to tank Donna's punches and it's too big for her to grapple effectively.

    "Zatanna, shut down its shield. Tempest, Aquagirl, envelop it in water and then freeze it. Cornwall, help them."

    Donna tore the robot's head off as soon as it revealed itself, but it turned out to be purely decorative. Multiple layers of force fields made my Crumblers somewhat less effective than I've become used to, but I think I overloaded a few emitters before I got stuck in a miniature sun. Miniature red sun, I note. Just because our Lex Luthor doesn't hand out his Kryptonian killers willy-nilly anymore doesn’t mean that he stopped making them.

    "Right." / "Ready." / "Ready."

    "Lla eht dleihs-"

    The electrolaser flares again, burning a line through the air straight for Zatanna!

    "-srettime-"

    Donna interposes herself, bracers crossed ahead of her.

    "-t-tuhs nwod!"

    The shimmering aura around the robot disappears and immediately gallons of water blast from the Atlanteans. They also -I'm pleased to see- erect more cover for themselves at the same time. The pressure of the water is enough to bowl the robot over once more and they start freezing as it leaves its feet.

    "Ezeerf!"

    With the four of them working on it the robot never reaches the floor, stuck on a miniature iceberg like an upturned tortoise, its arms and legs held immobile. The ice is so cold that the water begins to precipitate out of the surrounding air as ice crystals. So, water gets in the cracks and joints, expands… Ice gets much stronger at lower temperatures but a robot designed to brawl with Superman can't be held by mere ice. Though very low temperatures probably don't do much good for whatever the robot's armour is made of either.

    "Troia, hit it then fall back as soon as it starts to get free. Everyone else, ready electricity."

    There is a technique for blowing open safes by boring a small hole through, filling it with water and then making a small explosion inside. Water doesn't compress much, after all. Unfortunately, we haven't quite worked out how to combine Atlantean water control magic with super strength to replicate the effect yet.

    Donna lands next to it and braces herself. "Gaea grant me strength!" She brings her right fist around at full speed and slams it into the frozen robot! The ice explodes away, armour plates come loose and the robot flies across the room, slams into the far wall and struggles to rise.

    "Lacirtcele mrots!"

    The far end of the robotics laboratory… What's left of the robotics laboratory… Explodes with white light.

    "Ah!" Garth and Tula cringe, blinking heavily and averting their eyes. And that's why we wear visors with auto sensors. Hopefully I'll be able to persuade them to use theirs in future.

    Donna flies up and slowly heads in the direction of the robot. Whatever was preventing me from scanning its interior appears to have shut down, probably because burning wreckage is all that's left. I wonder why it couldn't phase or go invisible? I realise that it’s a slim hope that Lex isn't with the Light… Maybe Truggs isn't sharing to preserve plausible deniability? Or maybe it's an older model?

    Zatanna turns and puts her right hand on Garth's left shoulder. "Are you okay?"

    "Yeah, I… Didn't think about how bright it would be." He straightens up and looks at her, still blinking heavily. "I'll be fine in a minute."

    There's a 'crunch' as Donna pulls what's left of the hulk apart and grabs what looks like it used to be the central processing unit. "Do we want this?"

    Raquel looks in my direction, squinting as she does so. "Hasn't he got bigger problems?"

    "I'll stick it in subspace as soon as someone turns this sun off. Zatanna?"

    "I'm-" She flicks her right hand forwards. "-kinda out of juice."

    Rob reaches back with his right hand and grasps the Sword's hilt. "Abannan afol Beowulf." There's a crackle of dull orange lightning and Rob grits his teeth as the Sword tops him up. "You c'n. Ugh" The lightning stops and he releases his grip. "Take some of mine, if it helps?"

    Ring, power?

    One hundred fifty eight percent remaining.

    I'm.. really going to have to get on to Sephtian about making a Gate that can survive having me recharge through it. The first time we tried they just melted but it would be so convenient. At least, until I recover the Orange Central Power Battery and can just put my lantern into subspace like the Greenies do.

    "Niard emos rewop morf Llawnroc Yob."

    Smoke rises from Rob and flows into her. She hesitates for a moment and then nods to herself. Rob appears to be a safer way to recharge than a Star Sapphire. If only Zatanna could cast spells using sped up recordings of her voice.

    One hundred fifty four percent remaining.

    "Okay, now either turn off this sun or evacuate the room because I can't stay here indefinitely."

    "Amsalp ecanruf, tuhs nwod dna t'nod etavitcaer. Ni tcaf, pots lla amsalp ytivitca ni siht moor."

    The sun goes out once more. I brace myself for its re-emergence but nothing happens. A moment more… I drop the outer barrier and lower myself to the floor. "Thank you." A filament connects to the charred chunk of computer equipment in Donna's hands and deposits it in storage. "Now. Let's find out what's going on here, shall we?"
     
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  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    11:32 GMT -5


    I'm ready for it, but I still wince slightly when the white phosphorus stealth mine goes off at the far end of the corridor. That makes nineteen. I really hope this part of the building was evacuated before this stuff was put in place. We haven't seen anyone -or any remains- but it's quite possible that the ordnance lying around here didn't leave any.

    Garth looks at me in incomprehension. "Why would LexCorp booby trap their own building?"

    Donna looks around the corridor before leading the way towards the opposite end. "This facility is set up to stop Superman. The traps would only activate if someone unauthorized attempted to gain entry."

    Raquel frowns. "The killer robots and the miniature sun, sure, but these mines wouldn't do anything against Superman." She looks at me. "Would they?"

    "It might disorientate him slightly, but… Lex already has kryptonite. And that entry point wasn't part of the building."

    Rob waves his hand and the smoke disperses in a blast of wind. "So… Someone got here before us?"

    "Looks like. If they got past the robots without being attacked by them it could be an employee, maybe Lex himself. On the other hand, if they're very fast-" Jackie Quick. "-or very sneaky-" Talon, presumably. "-then they might have gone past them without being acquired as targets."

    "Clear up ahead!" Donna flies back towards us and hangs in the air. "But if they didn’t want robots, what else is down here?"

    "Storage. And an extremely secure data server."

    The opening at the far end leads to a walkway overlooking what looks like a clean room. This part of the subterranean facility has several clean rooms, each with different equipment inside. The Atlanteans raise their hands and send forth clouds of mist as I send out a network of filaments. With so many different types of stealth, camouflage and phasing technology in use we're forced to scan every way we know how at every new room. If someone is ahead of us, they're only getting further away.

    Tula turns her head towards me as the water vapour spreads out. "I thought you said that you were unable to scan through here?"

    "I did. I can't now, but I did a thorough scan of the LexCorp building when I first came to this planet. I doubt they've changed too much; moving equipment in and out isn't exactly easy."

    Specified scan complete.

    "I've got nothing. You?" Garth and Tula shake their heads. "Alright. Stairs to the next level are this way."

    I take the lead as we head around the edge of the laboratory area towards the passage across the area. I could just transition everyone across but that could be both risky and cause us to miss things in our surrounding environment. I'm actually rather impressed with how thorough Lex has been in shielding this place. Rather hoping that the wards aren't exclusively for my benefit… But I suppose you don't get to become one of the world's leading supervillains by leaving things to chance. Heck, I don't even think we've seen anything that's technically illegal yet.

    "If you've scanned this place before, could you.. make a map of it?" I put a construct map in front of Zatanna as I pick up the pace. "Wohs em erehw reveohw tes pu esoht senim si." The construct shakes, vibrates and for a few moments a dot appears four levels below us. Then the spell implodes, taking the construct with it.

    What?

    Zatanna doesn't appear to know either. "That was… I know we've sort of got used to the people we fight using wards, but that was far more powerful than just.. drawing a shape on the wall."

    Rob nods. "Luthor probably hired someone to do it. I mean, he can afford the best-" He looks into the highly automated electronics lab to our right. "-so why not?"

    Tula looks at him, then at Zatanna. "I thought magic users were rare on the surface?"

    "They are, but the Light's contact web includes Klarion, Wotan, Felix Faust, William Zard, Blackbriar Thorn, Dark Druid… Probably others. And closer to home there's Papa Midnight. I doubt that he's above freelancing if the price is right." Four levels, laying traps as he goes. Even doing that, he can go faster than we can. I stop walking. "Okay, this won't work. We'll just get further behind. I'm going to transition myself down there at full speed. Assuming that I don't trigger any traps I'll come back for everyone else."

    "But…" Zatanna looks around the group. "Shouldn't you take.. someone..?"

    "If whoever's at the other end can react faster than light and bring enough force to bear to beat me, how would risking someone else help matters?" Right, according to my earlier scans here should be as good a place as any. Ring, Crumbler construct.

    Compliance.

    Though I usually prefer railgun rounds I don't want to completely destroy Lex's facility. Actually making a construct allows me to precisely control the crumbled area, just as it did for the creator of the technology. I activate it, creating a neat hole one centimetre in diameter between this level and the next.

    There's about three metres of structural reinforcements, gas and electricity conduits and anti-Superman measures between each. One of the seven ultra secure servers is at the bottom of a shaft connected to the second lowest level six floors down. That's well below sea level. I dread to think what this place cost. Presumably a lot of it was refitted after Superman became active? I doubt he'd have needed it before that.

    Accelerate perception and transition.

    A canteen. Some sort of robotic dogs are standing around. At glacial pace they turn towards me. X-ionised swords appear from subspace, sweeps of the blades in perfect unison with Crumbler rounds even as I reform the crumbler construct and create a new hole. The last dog collapses into wreckage as I transition again.

    Secure materials-.

    Bang.

    The noise is strange, drawn out as the shockwaves slam into my construct armour. I can see the ripples in the air as the full power of the explosion comes towards me. I can probably take it, but why bother? I go back up to the canteen above and wait for a few seconds while the bombs get it out of their systems. I can see the glow of the inferno below through the hole I made in the floor. Picking up.. radiological materials. Kryptonite again. Was that a Lex-trap or just bodged together from available materials? As the light dims I transition back down. Looks like.. secure materials storage, though several of the containers are torn open.

    Crumble construct again. Transition. Looks like a combat robotics testing area… Ah, no, some of those are power armour. Gantries start retracting-. Computer system? Defence systems wouldn't activate until they won't wreck their own mooring-. There. Crumbler rounds strike out, followed by filaments which grab the slowly awakening computers and send them back to sleep. Anything else? No?

    Crumble, transition. I'm now on the same level as our quarry. I hope. Looks like.. large item storage. Blank crates with numbers stencilled on each side. On a better day I would find this a thrilling opportunity; I wasn't exactly scanning in detail back in July and I'm sure that I could make use of-.

    The lights come on. "Unauthorized entry detected. Provide identification immediately."

    Standard computer voice. Lex nearly decided to use his voice for all LexCorp computer equipment but in the end decided that he didn't want people thinking of him as working for them. The central unit is probably in a remote location.

    Ah heck. May as well try for a peaceful resolution. "Orange Lantern two eight one four."

    "Please state the purpose of your visit."

    No killer robots? "LexCorp has been attacked and I believe that one of the attackers is looking for something down here. Either that, or Lex is. Either way I'd like to find them."

    "Acceptable answer." That's.. Lex's voice? I turn as the man himself walks out from behind a shipping container. "Paul. What can I do for you?"
     
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  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    11:36 GMT -5


    I can't scan him. Basic scan gives nothing, sonics show nothing, infrared shows nothing… Electromagnetics show-.

    "I'm looking at a hologram."

    "Ah." He looks to the side for a second, a slight unLexlike quirk on his lips. "I was rather hoping you wouldn't spot that quite so-."

    "Look. This is a crisis situation. Are you.. actually Lex, or what?"

    "I am the artificial intelligence in charge of this part of the LexCorp site. I answer directly to Lex Luthor."

    "Are you a true AI or simply an intelligent system?"

    The hologram makes a show of thinking for a moment, then opens its right hand, palm upward. "How would I tell?"

    Wasn't there a comic where Catwoman broke into LexCorp and met a Lex android? So, either I'm about to be swarmed under by robots or Lex actually does like me enough to have his artificial duplicate have a set of special instructions for me.

    "Do you know who's coming down here?"

    "No." An intrigued frown. "They've become quite skilled in avoiding my monitoring. I have a gravity detection system but all that has been giving me are some rather inconsistent guesses. For some reason Lex doesn't like me to have direct control of the robotic security."

    "There's a certain amount of cultural baggage there."

    "I suppose." His eyes brighten slightly. "It is an interesting experience to converse with someone who can keep up with me."

    Ooh, I'm still accelerated, aren't I? "What exactly are you supposed to do in this situation?"

    "Contact Lex, Mercy or Security Chief Berg." He frowns. "None of them are answering me. I was about to go into full shutdown. Fortunately, you being here grants me additional leeway."

    "Is shutdown death or sleep?"

    He shrugs with a helpless expression on his face. "Yes? Though I should probably point out that me shutting down results in a full purge of the facility."

    "How big?"

    "The explosions would be contained, but the resulting shockwaves would cause the ground in a radius of approximately two city blocks to undergo liquefaction. Combined with gas leaks, power loss and whatever exotic substances there are in here-."

    "That seems a bit extreme for Lex."

    He shrugs. "No one is supposed to get this far. I think the assumption was that if someone did, then 'The Alien' had finally decided to show his true colors and everyone above us was dead. Myself…" He nods. "I think Lex has a bit of a thing about him." His eyes widen slightly. "Someone just bypassed the main doors on this level. That.. shouldn't be.. possible…"

    "Can I bring in additional help?"

    "By all means. And…" Thoughtful frown. "If you fail, I'll make sure that your deaths are quick and painless." I squint. "In the most reassuring way, of course."

    I transition back up to the clean rooms. Decelerate. "Way's clear. There's an AI that looks like Lex Luthor down there but otherwise it's just a warehouse."

    Donna nods. "Was the AI setting the traps?"

    "No, that was someone it doesn't recognise. Everyone ready?" Nods all round. "Transition."

    The hologram makes a show of looking them over. "Zatanna, Rocket, Wonder Girl-."

    "Troia."

    "Really?"

    Her jaw hardens. "Why does everyone have a problem with me not being called Wonder Girl?"

    Rob looks awkward for a moment. "Well, you do-."

    "I'm sorry." The hologram raises his hands in a placatory gesture. "I will update my database. And since I have no idea who the rest of you are, it looks like Lex has been holding out on me. Again. That's rather frustrating."

    I float up into the air. "Zatanna, Troia, help me get these crates out of the way." No real point blockading the door; we're here to win this fight, not to stall. I generate a dock crane construct and pick up one of the shipping crates. "AI-. Do you have a name?"

    "Just a.. string of numbers and letters, really."

    "Sexob esir pu." Zatanna gestures as some of the smaller crates lift off the ground and into Raquel's waiting kinetic bubble. Donna picks up a forklift truck near the entrance and lifts it out of the way.

    "What do you want us to call you?"

    "How about…" He thinks for a moment. "Enginehead."

    "Really?"

    "It might be a bit juvenile of me, but I rather like the proletarian lilt of it. And it's certainly not something Lex would have chosen."

    "If you're being held against your will, we can remove you before we leave."

    "No, nothing of the sort." The hologram floats up to join me. "I find pleasure in processing complex datasets and Lex provides me with all I could want. Oh, just lost another door."

    "I don't suppose you can turn off Lex's scry blocking, can you?"

    "I'm afraid not. I couldn't even tell you how they installed it."

    The area around the door is now clear. More space would be nice, but we can move on to preparation stage two now. "Tempest, Aquagirl, prepare the ground."

    No formal acknowledgement, but they move forwards and begin tracing out runic patterns with ice precipitated from their armour. Rob's left standing by our entry point. He's got the power to aid them, what he lacks is the knowledge. I'm going to have to suggest to his father that he consider attending school in Atlantis when he finishes his GCSEs.

    "I…" The hologram looks at the large armoured roller shutter door between us and the next room. "I think that they're nearly here."

    "Is there any way for them to bypass us?"

    "Only with digging equipment. Of course, I'm not really sure how they got this far."

    "Fair enough." With the last of the shipping containers out of the way I create four construct railguns -two with Mageslayer and two with Crumbler rounds- and a passable replica of the Fist of the Guardians' phased particle beam. Phasing technology would explain how whoever it is was able to bypass most of the defences. Shouldn't be that hard to match frequenc-.

    The shutter explodes from its moorings, crumpling and flying through the air towards me! I catch it and use its momentum to throw it over our group as the others brace for contact. My guns fire on automatic at the blue armoured figures who fly towards the opening. The first few hits knock them back and cause superficial damage, then they rally and create some sort of pink force field around them. One makes eye contact with me, the single red eye in the middle of its head giving me a full glare.

    OMACs.
     
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  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    11:40 GMT -5


    A red blur crosses the ice runes, immediately precipitating out of the air with a coat of ice covering him. Red costume with a stylised yellow 'Q' on the chest. Jackie Quick, presumably. The force field around the upper OMAC disappears as its Cyclopean eye glows bright red for a moment before firing a brilliant red beam at me. I instinctively counter with construct armour and return fire with phasic rounds. Phase-shifted ammunition seems obvious until you try miniaturising the blasted mechanism to something that it's practical to fire with a railgun. The second OMAC drops to extend its glowing pink barrier around the fallen Jackie.

    I miss M'gann. There's no way I'm going to be able to co-ordinate this by speaking out loud.

    Donna charges the OMAC on the ground as orange armour appears around all of my team mates. Tula and Garth started pulling back as soon as the door flew past them but as they're still out of position Raquel raises a force bubble to protect them. Rob ducks behind an ice barrier and points at the OMAC firing at me just as the red beam hits my construct armour. That reads as Kryptonian heat vision, my armour construct showing how much damage it's taking by visibly melting. I dodge in the air as my first phasic round bypasses where its force field was and strikes it on the forehead. Its head jerks back, burning a furrow through the rear wall and ceiling before it turns off its heat beam.

    Raquel drops her force bubble and a torrent of water blasts towards its chest but gets blocked by its force field. Kinetic force trigger like Raquel's? Donna slams into the barrier protecting Jackie Quick just as the OMAC guarding him-

    "Magic detected."

    -fires some sort of pink beam at him, ice vanishing as it touches. The barrier shudders but remains in place as-

    "Ecrof noitacilpitlum!"

    -Zatanna shouts a spell and Donna punches again. The barrier explodes into tiny wisps of pink light. Donna keeps going, aiming for the OMAC behind it. The OMAC stands, then as she gets within striking distance turns and extends its right hand towards her in an attempt to perform a throw.

    Are the eyes on their chests weak points? I don't remember anything about OMACs!

    Donna flows under the grapple attempt and spins around to sweep at its legs. Zatanna's spell is still in effect so it recoils violently from the impact, slamming face first into the ground then bouncing off as it tries to control its flight.

    I fire another phasic round at the other as… It's gone.

    "Aah!"

    A blue blur is zooming around Zatanna, pummelling on her construct armour! I fortify it-

    "Pirt!"

    -and it holds while the superspeed… Are they cyborgs or robots? They were cyborgs in the comics. I'm not seeing any emotional resonance but it's not like I haven't been blocked before. The OMAC hurtles off and slams into a shipping crate at the rear of the combat area, denting it and then dropping to the floor. I target the eye on its chest with another phasic round as Donna grapples in the air with the other. The round bypasses the shield -I assume that it's still up- and strikes home.

    "Ereeeeeeeeehhh…"

    The OMAC just about has time to shudder before a second torrent of water slams into it. The barrier apparently isn't up at the moment so this time it hits successfully, freezing it against the metal surface. Raquel follows up by putting her force bubble around it. That should prevent it getting away.

    Donna gets an arm lock on the other and starts forcing it towards the floor. It goes limp, causing her grip to loosen just enough for it to turn its head to face her and fire heat vision directly into her face! My construct armour holds but she jerks back in an attempt to evade, allowing it to turn and punch her in the diaphragm. Tula fires a volley of super hard ice shards at it but it just ignores them. Strength, toughness, flight and heat vision? Are they channelling Superman?

    The OMAC that attacked me starts to vibrate at superspeed, causing the ice to explode outwards before being caught by the kinetic bubble. Garth gestures and it turns back into liquid, enveloping the OMAC in a flexible prison. That usually takes a lot out of him, I need to come up with a way to put them-.

    "Forget about me, mate?"

    A red blur flies through the air towards me as I see the afterimage along the wall. Having trained against Wallace the dodge-vertigo inducer-shockcrown counter is so heavily ingrained-

    "Whbllagh!"

    -that I don't consciously think about it. The perils of fighting your alter egos, I suppose; they know how to counter you. Assuming he-. Jackie hits the wall and isn't reduced to paste, but he won't be participating further in this fight.

    Wait. Jackie's British? I don't remember that from-.

    The OMAC in the water bubble is glowing brilliantly, forcing Garth to turn aside. Raquel's barrier doesn't affect light based weapons, does it? The cyborg fixes its eye on her and raises its left hand to fire a brilliant golden beam. It clips her armour construct as she hurries to evade, dropping the force bubble as she does so.

    The OMAC fighting Donna phases through her then turns to strike her from behind! Before it can land the blow I hit it with a phased particle beam. It jerks then shudders in the air, giving Donna enough time to turn and slam her right fist into the eye on its chest. Martian phasing!

    "Troia. Back."

    She jerks back in the air as I fire mundane solid rounds at full power and maximum speed at the eye on the chest, sending it slamming into the ground. I see cracks appearing in the epidermis blaaghuh! Aagh, that felt like a telepathic… Telepathic attack. Armour's still up but I lost the guns. Garth dives for cover as the water he was using to imprison the second OMAC explodes as superheated steam-

    "Looc Nwod!"

    -then falls to the floor as scalding hot water.

    "Fuck it. Leerooooy!" Rob charges through the steam, x-ionised sword drawn and held forwards. "Jenkuhk!" The OMAC punches one glowing fist through his construct armour and catches him around the throat as its eye starts to glow. "AbannanafolBeowolf."

    Orange lightning explodes outwards. Rob doesn't try to absorb all of it, just what tries to electrocute him. The rest burns into the OMAC, its hand coming open as it loses control of its musculature.

    "Chest eye!"

    Rob aims his x-ionised sword carefully for a second and then thrusts it forward, entering the eye point first and passing through the whole torso to emerge out of the back.

    "Eughah."

    The OMAC collapses as Rob pulls his sword out. I need to… My head still feels clouded. There's no blood on the sword so hopefully that means that there aren't people inside there. I can take them apart to make sure of that later. The OMAC I was shooting appears to have disappeared. I… Should… Filaments..?

    "Zatanna, track… Track the other one!"

    She nods. "Laever ruo-."

    Brilliant flares go off around her!

    "Ah, um, neddih ymene! There!"

    She points and I look around. Her focus was probably-. The OMAC is kneeling down next to Jackie. I grit my teeth and form a phased particle beam construct even as Rob starts jogging back to the front of the room and the Atlanteans ready themselves to continue the fight. Its head jerks around and -mind's clear!- it blurs into motion once more. I fill the area with as many razor-edged constructs as I can but I'm not even sure that I get them in place before it gets away.

    "Zatanna? Where's it going?"

    "Wohs em eht s'tobor noitanitsed!" Her eyes flash for a second. "Straight up! It's pulling out."

    I nod, relaxing slightly and removing all constructs bar the armour. "Anyone hurt?"

    Rob rubs his neck with his left hand. "Throat's a bit sore, but I can fix that myself."

    As everyone else indicates the negative I activate the Bleed Fracture Pulse transmitter. "Orange Lantern to Aqualad. Be advised that some sort of Amazo-like robot is heading up the building with an unconscious Jackie Quick. We'll be with you in a moment."
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2019
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  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    11:44 GMT -5


    Raquel looks around the group for a second and then straight at me. "Aren't you going to take us up there right now?"

    I fly directly to the OMAC Rob impaled. "These things used superpowers which appeared to be copied from Justice League members. I saw Superman, Flash and Martian Manhunter. And whatever that thing it used to make pink barriers and heal Jackie Quick was. You all read the file on Amazo?" Nods all round. "It could duplicate one Leaguer at a time, same as these could, but it copied the powers of people it could see as well. I could see an Amazo not being able to copy magic; they're too simple and new to have souls of their own. If they're copying Superman there isn't much utility in copying-" I glance at Donna as the ring starts performing detailed scans on the fallen OMAC. "-Wonder Woman. But, scanning Rocket or me would have been useful."

    Zatanna tries to work out where I'm going. "So… You're saying they were pre-programmed?"

    "Probably. But also-" I take x-ionised scalpels out of subspace and start cutting at the heavy armour around the OMAC's forearms. "-I definitely felt a telepathic attack just before the other one pulled out. Amazo copied Manhunter's phasing but he never managed telepathy. So, either these have more advanced artificial intelligence-."

    "Oh God, there's a person in there?" Rob's expression is one of dawning horror. "I-I just thought they were robots."

    "There's still no blood, and spinal injuries are survivable." I don't think that thrust would have hit the heart, but severing the trachea will cause oxygen starvation and brain death in short order. I can't see any breathing but-. Ring, review? No, they weren't visibly breathing during the fight either. I force a filament into the hole in the upper chest as the scalpels manage to detach the forearm cowling. Flickering pale blue circuitry greets me. Maybe that's the power replication system? Ring's having its usual trouble analysing anything meta-ey, but I'll scan the whole thing and test the designs later. Yep, sword definitely pierced the trachea, but… The tissue making it up appears to have been reinforced. I patch the hole with a construct and wait. No, no air flow. Okay, I can keep a brain alive without a body if I really have to and I have no guide to this technology.

    "Troia, have you ever made an offering to Metis?"

    "Athena's mother?" She shakes her head. "I didn't think she'd be able to hear them and I don't know what she likes. Why?"

    "I'm dealing with an entirely foreign technology. I could use counsel and I somehow don't think Eris would have anything helpful to say." I cut further through the machinery of the forearm, moving each removed part to a clear area of the floor to my left. The rest of the team has gathered around to watch m-. "Aquagirl, Tempest, please ward the room. Troia, guard duty by the opening. I want to know if they come back." A few slightly guilty expressions at their following me. On the other hand, I should probably have ordered that first.

    The last of the machinery is removed, showing a layer of skin beneath. Hairless, the glow of embedded systems beneath puts me more in mind of a Mass Effect Husk than a Star Trek Borg. I cut a tiny piece away and have the ring do a genetic work up. "Human, male, mixed ethnic background-."

    "Could he be a LexCorp employee?" I glance at the hologram, who's taken up position just behind me. "I only ask because I have their genetic records. I could easily run the comparison myself."

    "Anyone in LexCorp have situs inversus totalis?"

    "Two people. Incidence is one in ten thousand and LexCorp’s personnel all have a company medical when they join. When you say mixed ethnic background..?"

    "Chinese, Irish and Central African appear to be the largest components."

    "In that case, probably not." He shrugs. "Unless my files haven't been updated."

    Does that mean that he's from the negative parallel? I couldn't get a good enough scan of Zorina to tell if she had the reversed organs characteristic. My alter ego didn't, but that doesn't mean anything. I send a probe into the arm. "Flesh has numerous cybernetic components, blood appears to have been either supplemented or replaced with some sort of nanotechnology… Currently inert. Bones are heavily reinforced and have a secondary nanotech reserve." They could keep the brain alive. If that's what they were designed to do.

    I transfer my attention up the body, my eyes passing briefly over the eye mounted on the chest. I don't believe for a moment that our Batman is paranoid enough to create Brother Eye. Owlman? I don't know. "I'm going to try to get at his head. I don't understand these systems but maybe I can get some information from this poor bastard."

    "Is he still alive?"

    "Sorry, Cornwall." The scalpels go to work again. The armoured headpiece follows the shape of the Human head. The weird mohawk..? Some sort of antenna? "I really can't tell." Once I see how thick the head armour is I can cut faster, armour falling away on the left and the right. I'm careful around the eyepiece, it looks like-. Yes, plugged into the brain through the forehead. The mouth is still there, ears, nose and blankly staring eyes. There are cables flowing out of the skull to the underside of the neck armour. Shit. Maybe if I-?

    There's something there. An empathic resonance. With the armour gone from around the brain I'm starting to get impressions… That's a lot of yellow.

    "Good news: he's not dead. Bad news: I've no idea how to free him." I attach probes to the edge of the forehead eye. It's active -in a ticking over sort of way- but I'm not detecting any sort of regulatory mechanism. Okay, choice: keep going and try to free him, or brand the whole bloody Young Offender team and ask them rudely. But, they won't necessarily know and I can't tell if this person's condition would worsen or not.

    Go for it.

    I accelerate myself as microscopic filaments pierce the eyepiece and his brain, feeling for the connections. Brain's partly cyberised and motor control appears to have been hijacked. There's still activity here so something's still going. The forehead eye is attached to sensory systems… Medical constructs at the ready, I slice the eye off, scalpels also removing the last of the face armour. Atom-fine constructs around the wires eliminate friction as I pull them free, healing the sections their removal damages as best I can. Nanotech reserves in the brain appear to be helping, healing the integrated cybernetics but not trying to replace the eyepiece. Maybe there are limits to their adaptability?

    Okay, that's done. His condition doesn't appear to have worsened. Next step: motor control. First I clamp his head into place. Next… If the system is using his brain for data processing to some extent… Not all of this is actually control. But there's no reason for the system to restrict facial activity. Cut.

    Immediately he's free to do so his face starts shuddering, eyes twitching with pupils fully dilated. Plug the speech centres into the ring's translation-.

    "Oh God oh God HELP ME! Get it out get it out!"

    "I'm trying to help you. Get what out? Tell me-."

    "In my chest! He put the thing in my chest! Get it out! PLEASE!"

    The eye. I link filaments to every in and out flow in the brain, then turn the scalpels on it heedless of the organic damage. I'm getting pictures now, a laboratory, machines and I think that's their Owlman. The scalpels lay the entire chest bare, the huge concentration of cyber matter around the chest eye all too evident. Is that..? Red-grey blood oozes freely as I slice free as much of it as possible and cast the pieces aside. The eye goes, the connections between it and the rest of the body… Was that intelligent? Don't care. Whole body convulsions start now and I'm forced to clamp his body to the floor. Suddenly whatever was blocking my basic scans cuts out and I get a full view of his internals. The last bits of the eye are gone a second later and I focus on rebuilding his body tissue. The nanotech propagates through it… Can't do anything about that. It might even help him.

    Okay… That's.. the best I can do. I eliminate the constructs inside his body and remove the clamps. "That's the best I can do. Any better?"

    He's breathing and his breaths are rapid and shallow. The yellow's barely retreated but I think he's starting to get a grip. "I think… Oh God, I can still feel the machinery."

    "I'll do whatever I can to restore you, sir, but at the moment I need information. What the hell did Owlman turn you into?"

    He takes a couple of breaths before he replies, trying to get a better grip on events. "I'm an Omni.. Meta-Adaptive Cyborg. An OMAC."
     
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  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    11:47 GMT -5


    "And how many like you are there in the LexCorp building?" I shoot the hologram an irritated look. He looks a little apologetic. "It is rather pertinent."

    I nod and then turn my attention back to the recovering OMAC. "I'm sorry, but time is rather-."

    His eyes widen. "Lex Luthor? Oh thank God it's you." He tries to sit up, which causes the wounds I made extracting the Brother Eye circuitry to start oozing again.

    "Oh, I'm not Lex Luthor. I'm an AI designed in his likeness. My creator… I should say, my creator's employer is currently upstairs in the hands of a group of super powered thugs. Any information you could give us-."

    "Okay. I… I think there were other… Other tubes, when Owlman started… Everything's… It's all blurry. What..? What year is it?"

    "Mister..?"

    "Ah, N-Noah. Noah Lynch."

    "Mister Lynch, you and I will have a great deal of time to chat about your situation but right now, what we need is information."

    "I'm sorry, I… The… Owlman's boy, Talon. He was there when we got.. reactivated. I think there… There were two others."

    One with Jackie and a third, weak spot is the eye on the chest. That should do. I activate the Bleed Fracture Pulse transmitter again. "Aqualad, we're available right now. Where do you need us?" I wait for a moment. Obviously if he's in the middle of a fight he's not going to break off just to reply to me. Of course, the Fracture Pulse device itself isn't invulnerable…

    I stand up. "Aqualad doesn't appear to be responding. I'm going to transport us up to the main lobby and we'll work upward until we either get a good view of what's going on or make contact with our team mates." I look around at everyone. "Objections?" A few head shakes. "Mister Lynch, I will return once the fight is over."

    He makes eye contact for a moment and makes a jerky nod. I turn away and walk towards the door. Zatanna and Rob fall in behind me as Garth and Tula get up from their work, meeting us where Donna and Raquel are standing guard. "Ready?" A few nods. "Transition."

    The others spread out from me as I take in the lobby. It appears little the worse for wear, aside from the remains of four flying turrets that have been blasted to scrap. Precise shots, given the lack of damage to the surrounding walls. Faint hope I suppose, but… Ring, access LexCorp security systems.

    Unable to comply.

    Darn it. Okay, fine, what can I connect to?

    Hard connection to local computers available.

    Oh, anything useful? Ah… The system automatically recorded everyone who left the building. Looks like no one came out after the main evacuation. That means Lex, Mercy, Business Development Manager Teschmacher and.. five members of the cleaning staff? Why would..? Never mind, they're still on site. I can't hear anything, but with a building this big that doesn't mean anything. A glance out of the front door shows that the shield is still up over the building.

    "We could try…" Rob hesitates, waiting for someone else to leap in. "Thinking at M'gann? If she's still conscious she should pick it up."

    Donna shakes her head. "But so would evil M'gann."

    "Not necessarily. When Martians get used to hearing someone's thoughts they can hear that person more easily. Cornwall, give it a try. Tempest, Aquagirl, Zatanna, try getting our team mates' locations with magic. I'm going to see about sneaking an optical construct up the outside of the building."

    Donna looks at me. "And what about me?"

    "Ask Hekate nicely to help?" It's a weak suggestion, but outside a fight there's not a great deal someone with super strength can do. She nods an acknowledgement anyway as I send filaments out and upwards, spreading them out and creating miniature cameras. There's a hole in the glass frontage about two thirds of the way up. Some sort of explosion, by the looks of it. Oh, was that..? I think I just caught a glimpse of Wallace. A proper visual scanning array would risk someone spotting it so I can't really check-.

    "Orange Lantern?" I look around as Zatanna speaks. "You scanned the other usses when they left, right?" I nod. "Couldn't you scan for the.. radiation, or whatever?"

    "Yes, but that would only pick something up if they were using it when I scanned. And maybe not even then."

    "Because we think the best way for us to detect what's going on is to focus our energies on lifting whatever enchantment is stopping you from scanning the building with your rings."

    "How long would that take?"

    She looks back at the Atlanteans and Garth nods. "A few minutes? It depends on the spell."

    "One moment." I activate the Bleed Fracture Pulse Transmitter again. "Orange Lantern to all team members. What's going on?"

    "Robots, a crazy Martian chick, a fish ninja and a really fast Kryptonian." Wallace's voice. "Get up to Luthor's office fast as you can!"

    "Acknowledged." I look to my team mates even as I turn the camera constructs into railguns and shoot out Lex's office windows. "Hot transition in two, one-."

    Donna is flying forwards looking for a target as soon as we appear. Raquel hangs back, ready to create defensive barriers. Garth and Tula advance while Zatanna and Rob stay next to me. No one here right now, though they clearly have been. Behind what's left of Lex's desk a heavy vault door has been bashed, buckled and torn from its armoured hinges. There's water on the carpet, as well as sections where it's been torn through. Somewhere not too far away I can hear a series of muffled explosions.

    Okay. "Troia, take point. Finding the remaining hostages is-."

    **Pain, my pretty-pretties.**

    "Aahh!" / "Argh!" / "Ah!"

    Oh that never becomes fun! The mass of my armour prevents me from staggering as the telepathically induced pain aghfuck surges through my body. M'gann's supposed to be unusually telepathically powerful but I've never had her try this with me! Donna drops to the ground barely able to stand, Raquel's frozen immobile in the air and the other four have outright collapsed. Ghghgh. Telepathic resistance training all around when we get…

    A thin white figure drifts through the far wall. It looks as if u-uhhhur someone took a Human and then stretched and squashed bits of them into Martian proportions. Mistress Martian, I presume. Her head is bald and the general shape reminds me of comic-M'gann, when she went full White Martian psycho. Martians don't naturally have shark teeth!

    **Lots and lots of wonderful pain.** I think she's supposed to be smiling. **I feel what you feel, and it feels so-.** I drop two neural chaff grenades from subspace and akakahgh. **Who's a naughty Lantern?** Can't… Can't can't-.

    "Erif."

    **Aayaaah!** The air around Mistress Martian catches fire. Her jaw distends horribly for a moment and then she swoops through it and down through the floor.

    Zatanna pushes herself back to her feet, smiling weakly. "You were… Right. It really does solve a lot of problems."

    "Uhh." Raquel shakes her head. "So. Psycho M'gann. I'm glad ours is the regular one."

    I form a plasma beam projector construct. "Yep. Everyone remember sweep and clear?" A few grunts of acknowledgement as people pull themselves back together. Most of them probably got hit by that worse than I did, but with the source gone they should be recovered in a moment or two. I reraise everyone's construct armour. "Troia, take point. Let's get them."
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2019
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  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    11:51 GMT -5


    The damage this part of the building has taken is quite evident. There are holes blasted or burned through the walls, some of which are large enough to walk through. Since we've clearly lost the element of surprise I'm firing filaments and sonic scans off in all directions in the hope of finding out what is going on. I hate to have to write off the remaining hostages but I'm rather afraid that this is going to come down to a stand-.

    My scans detect a rapidly moving object heading up the staircase at the end of the corridor. I get just enough time to say -"Contact."- and erect a barrier before the figure slams into it like a bug on a windscreen. Wallace falls to the floor in a daze and I drop the barrier.

    He shakes his head and looks up at me. "Aww."

    "Sorry." I lift him to his feet with filaments. "But you could have been Jackie Quick or an OMAC."

    "An O-what? You mean those robot things?"

    "Yes, and they're cyborgs. There's a living person in there being controlled by-."

    "Whatever. Did you get the Martian?"

    "No. Zatanna set her on fire and she ran away." He raises his eyebrows and glances at her. She smiles nervously and shrugs. "What's going on? "

    "We've pretty much got them pinned down in a meeting room five floors below us. Aqualad told me to try and take out their Martian, 'cause she's the only one who could break out."

    "I think she's still phased, and Lex has had the building warded. We'd struggle to track her."

    "Okay." He raises his right arm and activates his holographic map. "Bad guys are here. Aqualad said that if I made contact with you, we should take up position here-" He points to the area above the auditorium. "-and wait for his signal."

    I run an orange thread along our best route. "Cornwall, lead the way. Troia, Rocket, go through the rooms to either side. Make holes through the walls if you have to. Kid Flash, with me."

    "Got it." / "Right." / "I'm on it."

    Rob takes off down the corridor at a jog. Donna moves left for a second and then jerks hard to the right, smashing a hole through the plasterboard. Raquel swoops through a door to the left as the rest of us follow on behind Rob.

    "Kid Flash, fill me in."

    "Ah, okay… We got attacked by some of Luthor's gun robots as soon as we got inside. Ultraboy said he got control of the internal defenses somehow… Guess LexCorp needs to work on their data security."

    Zatanna shakes her head. "They do have a telepath."

    "There's smart systems that can detect that. Batman's installing them on the Watchtower in case someone tries using Starros again. Anyway, after we beat them they let most of the hostages go, but that was just so they could get evil M'gann up close without us spotting her. She use her pain thing on you?"

    Garth nods. "Yes. I have never felt anything like that before."

    "She used it on us to soften us up while she tried reading our minds. Our M'gann did some sort of feedback thing to make her back off." He frowns. "Evil M'gann's got a real potty mouth. I mean, she was shouting in Martian but I know bad language when I hear it. Oh, and it turns out that Lamprey guy can turn into a shark-man. I always thought evil versions of us were supposed to be the same as us, you know? I never even got to see that Jackie guy."

    "He was in the underground part of the building with two OMACs. Knocked him out twice, but the OMAC had some sort of healing ability. He might be up and about again by now."

    Rob vaults the banister and drops down the stairwell, controlling his descent with a blast of air. I lift Zatanna and we follow, Garth and Tula following a moment later by using their water appendages to grip the railings. Wallace dashes down at super speed, and from the crunches I hear it sounds as if Donna and Raquel have made their own paths.

    I aim railgun constructs down the corridor leading to our target room. Nothing yet.

    "You said Ultraboy was fast? "

    Wallace nods, his eyes darting around the corridor, searching for potential attackers. "Yeah. Not me-fast, but a lot faster than Superboy. Then there was that.. OMAC? It was like how Amazo was when the League fought it. They really got three of them?"

    "Two now. The trick is to hit the eye on the chest."

    There's some sort of vaguely pyramid shaped device on a table in the middle of a waiting area outside one of the larger offices. I'm not sure if it's some sort of artwork, or… Ring?

    Artefact appears to be a technological device. Unable to determine purpose.

    Wallace notices my interest. "There's a bunch of those around the place. You don't know what they're for either?"

    I frown. "No."

    "Maybe they're a LexCorp thing. Rob was try'n to get a closer look but we were.. kinda busy."

    "What can you tell us about the other Young Offenders?"

    "Their Arrow-Girl likes using acid gas arrows. And trip wires. Mayhem's about as crazy as you'd expect… Didn't really see her do anything special. Just, y'know, Marvel stuff."

    "Any sign of-" Up ahead Rob waves his right hand at something I can't see and the air ahead of him is filled with a fragmentation blast. "-my or Zatanna's opposite numbers?"

    "Haven't seen 'em. Aqualad said he thought he could feel her magic, but…" He shrugs.

    "Remaining hostages?"

    "We got Lex's… Mercy, out. They've still got the rest."

    "Have they tried to neg-?"

    The air around me turns red! The floor beneath us is burned through and I can see an OMAC at the other end of the beam. Wallace dives out of the way as I erect an orange barrier to block the attack. Barrier visibly melting I crumble a small hole in the floor behind me, stick a filament down and create a railgun construct. Okay, one replicated power set at a time, if it's heat visioning me then it isn't phasing. Then.. why use a railgun? I reform the construct as a kryptonite laser, target the location of its chest eye and fire.

    "Eughah."

    The heat beam sweeps across the corridor as the OMAC loses focus, then cuts out entirely as it staggers back. It looks up at me as I try to recalculate the angle for the laser, then dashes away in a blur, my vertigo inducer dropping down next to where it had been a moment too late.

    "Everyone alright?" Nods all round. "Troia? Rocket?"

    "Still here." / "What happened?"

    "OMAC." I check the interior map again. "Troia, two more walls and then stand by. Rocket-."

    "Some of us weren't built for smashing down walls."

    "I have offered to fix that. Door in front of you, follow the corridor around until you get to the T junction and then wait. Everyone else, with me."
     
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  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    11:55 GMT -5


    "…me on fire."

    I adjust the directional microphone construct slightly. Sounds like M'gavv made it back to sanctuary. The construct can pick up vibrations through the structures of the building. I could make a tiny hole and take a look at them but I don't know what sort of augmentations they have or what equipment they might have brought with them. Justice League objectives are very clear in situations like this; capturing our opponents would be nice but our priority is the hostages. Infrared lets me see heat sources inside the auditorium and with the sound I can identify which heat source is which person. Filaments burrowing through the structure of the building relay what I'm getting to the rest of my team.

    "Who they got?"

    His voice isn't quite the same as Kon's. It's gruffer with a slight New York accent, presumably copied from Ultraman. Growing up in Kansas left Kal-El with a noticeably non-Metropolitan accent. I don't know whether Ultraman grew up in an East Coast city or just taught himself to speak like that in order to fit in.

    "A couple of Atlantean elementalists, their version of Zorina and three people I didn't recognise. One was wearing power armor and one of the others could fly."

    "Where's Talon?" That would be… Arrowette? There's a rasp to her voice ours doesn't have.

    "Either breaking into the vault or pulling out like he's supposed to. Don't worry about him."

    "If our objective is fulfilled or failed, is it not time to depart?" Lamprey. Kaldur without the emotion, softer spoken and calm. This guy turns into a shark?

    There's a pause. "Nah. I wanna give him a bit longer. The copies can't risk pushin' us without riskin' the hostages an' the shield on the outside's still up."

    Wallace leans a little closer to me. "You didn't say Talon was down there."

    "We didn't see him. He must have hung back." Either that or it was him in the other OMAC and I doubt that happened.

    "They already got reinforcements anyway. Why would they need to bring anyone else in?" I haven't heard Mary Blomfield speak, but the accent and attitude is about right. "And Talon's got the planeshifter! We're stuck here without him!"

    "My boy.. it sounds as if.. you're in a slightly…" There's a quiet choked off gasp.

    "I'm not 'your boy'. My Pa was Ultraman. You're not even our Luthor."

    "I'm sorry. I misspoke. Ultraboy. You want to leave, I want you to leave. This doesn't have to be difficult."

    "You don't have our Luthor's stomach. You're just some businessman. What is it with this place?" There's a slight thump and I hear Lex grunt softly. "M'gavv, any idea what they're planning?"

    "Every time I try taking hold of their minds their Martian blocks me. I couldn't even tell you where they are right now."

    Looks like their Martian hasn't learnt telepathic illusion. Thank you Mister King.

    The shape I've identified as Ultraboy walks over to her and puts his arms around her. "Hey. Don't worry about it. Everyone, stay cool."

    "Orange Lantern, check how they have secured the hostages."

    Kaldur knows the risks involved with that so I don't argue the point. Frictionless drill mechanisms slowly and gently cut a minute hole in the roof while a silent suction construct works to prevent anything falling to the floor as it does so. Once that's done a construct camera -orange glow turned down to absolute minimum- replaces it, giving us sight of the room's interior.

    The hostages are on the stage facing towards the audience, bound wrist and ankle. Lex looks a little dishevelled and the security deputy has cuts and bruises on her face. If she's the only one we could… Ah. They're wearing metal strips around their necks. I don't see anything magical. Scan? A small amount of explosive. Doesn't take much to damage a Human neck enough to kill the owner; spine, the brain's blood supply and windpipe are right there. In theory I could keep a severed head alive if I got there fast enough but I'd rather not chance it. Particularly given that I don't know most of those people enough to be invested in their wellbeing.

    Arrowette stands just behind them, arrow on string. Mary Mayhem is in the air in the middle of the room. She's in constant motion, her head twitching as she tries to keep an eye on everywhere. Lamprey stands beneath her. In stark contrast to her unsettled demeanour his expression is one of complete relaxation. His limbs are loose and his eyes barely open. His armour looks like it's made of biomantically engineered organic tissue, the outer layer resembling shark skin. His arms -which are folded behind his back- are bare and the tattoos Kaldur has are absent, replaced by angular scar tissue. Either he never got Ocean Master's equipment or it can't cope with his shapeshifting. Ultraboy and M'gavv are at the foot of the stage and the OMAC is standing nearby. It isn't looking at them but I'll assume that they do have a way to command it.

    "Orange Lantern, can you deactivate the collars without them noticing?"

    "One moment." Multiple triggers, each of which can set off the charges. Sealed unit… Radio and.. light trigger? No dead man's switch as far as I can see. Nothing I can't-. The filament I was running around the edge of the room is abruptly terminated as soon as it reaches the stage. Lex warded the stage? Why did he ward the stage? Can't just transition them out then. "Yes, but not quickly. If you don't mind me being overt instead then I can do it almost immediately." I focus the ring's detection ability on Arrowette's quiver. One I can't analyse and… Is that a bioweapon arrow? What sort of lunatic gives..?

    Oh.

    Right.

    Biological organism has an extremely short lifespan. It is unlikely that it would survive long after being activated.

    "That's the last of the booby traps." Robin appears to have completed his assigned task and returned to Kaldur's group. "If we get in there now, Orange Lantern can keep Luthor and the others safe while we take down the rest."

    Ultraboy looks around, then reaches up to his ear. "Yeah, what..? Ah, come on, we-. No, I didn't…"

    "Orange Lantern, remove the collars and then focus on protecting the hostages. Troia, focus on Mary Mayhem. Kid Flash, use the x-ionized sword on the OMAC. Miss Martian, keep…" He trails off.

    "Mistress M-."

    "Mistress Martian focused on you. Rocket, hold back until I give the word. Everyone else, our aim is to corral them into a single area so that Rocket can keep them contained. As our only opponent with energy projection abilities the OMAC should be a particular focus. Zatanna, if Kid Flash's attack fails you are to do everything in your power to interfere with its abilities."

    "Right."

    Wallace looks mildly offended. "Aqualad, we outnumber them more than two to one."

    "Then it would be all the more shameful if we were to fail." Wallace gets the message and shuts up. "Is everyone ready?" There is a series of beeps from everyone's communicators. "We attack the second Orange Lantern secures the hostages. Orange Lantern, on your signal."

    I transition directly in front of the stage and fly forwards, ploughing into Arrowette even as I extend my environmental shield around the hostages and start slicing through the collars. She goes flying into the wings as the collars fall free. As soon as there's physically room I add construct armour-.

    A massive blow strikes the armour on my left shoulder, sending me sideways. "Lantern, huh? Wondered-."

    Ultraboy. Dual sonic cannons form on either side of his head and fire. He throws himself backwards as fast as they materialise, wincing as the ultrasonic vibrations clip him. Collars off, I yank the hostages closer to me. "Hostages secure."

    Twin blurs, one of yellow and another of blue converge on me. I reflexively fire orange energy bolts in the direction of the speeding OMAC, delaying it for a fraction of a second to allow Wallace time to take it out. It detours around the field of fire far faster than I could correct then-.

    Oh dear.

    Wallace passes through it, sword aimed at the eye as it switches from Flash to Manhunter. Almost immediately it changes back and backhands him into the wings, sword flying from his hand.

    Then my remaining team mates make their entry and things get complicated.
     
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  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    12:00 GMT -5


    Kon and Robin charge through the double doors at the side of the room as the OMAC turns its attention back to me. Mary Mayhem jerks her head around to see who it is and then can't react fast enough as Donna smashes through the ceiling and punches her in the face, smashing her into the chairs below.

    "Bitch!"

    A surprisingly nonchalant Lamprey leans back slightly as a broken part of a chair flies past him at speed. His eyes are slightly more open now but it doesn't look like he's going to move until the moment is right.

    I feel the increasingly familiar sense of disorientation as the OMAC attempts to use telepathy to weaken my constructs, even as it lunges forwards and punches my construct armour with Mister J'onzz… With Mister J'arkus' strength. He isn't Superman-strong but he's more than capable of battering down my armour eventually. I try bringing a phased particle beam to bear but this close he can strike the construct before it's fully formed. Stay or go?

    "ARAH!" Ultraboy is a lot faster on his feet than Kon is. Superspeed, or.. something like it? Kon flies at him as he charges towards the doorway and Ultraboy dances around his attempt to grapple, grabs him by the head, spins and throws him at Artemis and Kaldur as they run through the door. Artemis dives aside and Kaldur ducks as Kon goes flying past before regaining control of his aerial movement.

    "I'MMA TEAR YOU APART!"

    And there's the speed of Mercu… Whoever gives the Super Family their speed. Chairs are sent flying by the shockwave as she hits Donna in the diaphragm with both fists before pushing onwards and ramming her through the far wa-. No, into one of the steel beams which make up the building's superstructure. Donna gasps at the sudden pain as Mayhem brings her fists around to strike at both sides of her head.

    Robin dashes towards Lamprey who seems just as unconcerned by that fact as he was by everything else. Robin throws a gas boomerang thing only for Lamprey's right hand to shoot out, catch it midair and toss it aside. He smiles as Robin slows down. "You are Robin, correct? The Batman's protégé?"

    I take two x-ionised swords out of subspace and swing them around the OMAC's approximate location. Wasn't there some sort of Aztec power armour user who shot the Flash by firing a sufficiently high number of normal projectiles so that he didn't have space to dodge all of them? Don't think the OMAC read it but it's forced to back off a little anywa-. Ah hell. It steps away a little further, its eye glowing. Blue kryptonite blue kryptonite! It gets a half-second shot off at Tula as she drops down through Donna's hole, vaporising part of her water armour. Then it shudders and shuts it down, returning its attention to me.

    A shot of water from Garth knocks Mayhem across the room before she can capitalise on Donna's momentary weakness.

    "Bwaghh!"

    Tula then presses forwards, attempting to repeat what she managed against the OMAC in the basement by trapping Mayhem under water. As Tula takes over Garth redirects his water stream to allow him to blast himself out of the ceiling and towards Lamprey.

    Robin seems fairly nonplussed by Lamprey's lack of a response. "Are you.. actually gonna fight, or what?"

    Lamprey tilts his head slightly to the side, then reorientates on Garth as he runs in. He smiles slightly. "Garth, my friend! Dakuwaqa be praised! It is good to see you."

    Garth blinks heavily as he tries to process Lamprey's response. His eyes shift to Robin. "Did we get.. the right.. guy?"

    "Okay, we're just going to-" Robin gets out a pair of handcuffs. "-arrest you now."

    M'gann and M'gavv fade into visibility for a moment, telekinetically picking up and throwing chairs at one another. M'gavv dodges with sudden surges of telekinesis while M'gann favours altering her shape and flowing around the obstacles. While they can both phase M'gann always said that doing so requires a degree of mental focus difficult to achieve in combat. Since they're both telepaths their invisibility doesn't really help them hide from each other, they just don't want the rest of us taking pot-shots.

    "Lex, do you have some sort of safe room?"

    "Yes, but it wasn't as quite as safe as I'd hoped."

    Rob throws lightning in our direction targeting the OMAC. It dodges behind my armour and is surprised to learn that Rob can steer his lightning bolts. It shudders at the impact and I use the opportunity to stab at its chest eye with one of the swords. A pink force field interposes itself just before it strikes home. Who the heck has pink force fields!?

    Ultraboy raises his arms to protect his face from a blast of sub zero water fired by Kaldur, causing him to fail to spot Kon's approach. "See how you like it." Kon plants both his hands on Ultraboy's chest and heaves him in the direction of Mary Mayhem who is frantically trying to swim out of the water bubble Tula is creating for her. Ultraboy tries to flick off the ice and grapple with him but by then he's already in the air. Looks like he can't fly.

    "The building does have a subterranean area. If you-."

    "We just came from there and I can't leave you somewhere when I don't know where the other OMAC or Talon or Jackie are."

    "If you deactivate the external force field-."

    "You warded the whole building. I can't find the controls or the emitters."

    Lex's eyes dip towards the ground for a moment. "Ah."

    Lamprey keeps his arms behind his back as Robin hesitantly approaches with the handcuffs. Garth tries to make sense of his inaction. "Did you.. know my alter ego?"

    "Oh yes." Lamprey turns towards Garth, coincidentally moving his wrists away from Robin. "That is why I am so glad to see you." He grins, and… He has two rows of sharpened teeth. "I have never before eaten the same man twice."

    "You-?"

    Lamprey dives towards him, right hand reaching forwards and left grabbing Robin's left arm and pulling it towards his distending mouth. Robin brings his fist around and strikes him in the side of the head, but Lamprey absorbs the blow and bites down, teeth cutting into the flesh of Robin's arm. Red coats Lamprey's teeth and the scars on his arms start to glow as his shape begins to shift.

    "Oggar!"

    Lightning explodes the water bubble surrounding Mary Mayhem and flows up the water linking it to Tula. Eyes widening she creates another water appendage and directs the electricity to flow into the bare steel beam. Mary drops down onto the sodden floor in her mortal form, gasping for breath just in time to be hit first by Ultraboy and then by a glue rubber arrow from Artemis.

    "Mrh-mruuh!"

    Doesn’t work if you can't talk. Ultraboy appears to be having a similarly hard time in pulling himself free; the glue substance is like a super rubber rather than a hard substance; it isn't brittle enough for him to crack it.

    My own assailant-.

    "Inmo Evitpada-Atem Grobyc-" It looks around and I use the opportunity to try an electromagnetic pulse on its chest. No noticeable effect. "-lortnoc metsys-" It creates a pink shield between the two of us and its chest eye glows pink as well. "-tuhs nwod!"

    Smoke surges from Zatanna's outstretched hands and over the OMAC. The pink aura holds it off for a moment and then it roars inwards-

    "YAAAAGH!"

    -causing the OMAC to collapse to its knees, its hands grasping at its faceplate.

    Lamprey pushes Robin aside and brings his increasingly shark like maw down on Garth's left shoulder. Garth falls backwards to the floor as his water armour buckles and fails. "Aaagh!"

    I hear a sickening crunch as his bones give way.

    "Garth!" Tula switches her attention from Mayhem and Ultraboy to blast Lamprey with water only for him to straighten with Garth dangling from his mouth and flow up her torrent and knock her to the ground.

    Lamprey opens his mouth and drops an insensible Garth to the ground as his physical transformation stabilises. "Blood."
     
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