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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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    The thing about Tartarus -its main distinguishing feature- is it's black.

    And the thing about Cottus, the colour of Cottus, your basic Cottus-colour, is it's black.

    So how am I supposed to see him?

    I can't see the rings in front of my face! It's like light just doesn't exist here.

    "Have you given up yet?"

    Sound works fine. Back when I was in Secondary School I read a book… Some sort of transplanar celestial agency was going to demolish the universe and a British primary school teacher talked their ambassador out of it by describing in detail our universe's physics system. He commented at one point that having light was a major plus, as he'd been to universes that didn't have it and he kept walking into things.

    "Not just yet."

    My empathic vision works here, but I've got it turned as far down as I can. Erebos might be resigned to being used as a hang out for dead people but whatever mind remains here certainly isn't. What I saw in the few seconds I turned it up was utterly strange and overwhelming. That was a relief in a way. Given how I've adapted to Accelerated Perception I had worried that my mind would end up totally inhuman. But whatever the truth of the situation I'm still more Human than this place.

    "What are you?"

    I turn -at least I think I turn- in her direction. "That's a bit of a vague question."

    Something shoves me in the chest hard enough to make me stagger backwards. "It's a simple question, idiot."

    "I appeared in this universe as a soulless Human male from a place where magic doesn't exist-"

    "Bullshit."

    "-with an avarice-powered power ring on my left ring finger. Since I wanted a soul, I had a chap called John Constantine-"

    "Oh, him."

    Not surprised. "-tattoo runes on my body that draw arcane energy into me. Later, he did another set which make me immune to scrying. Then I merged with a giant avarice Elemental called the Ophidian, which appears to have supercharged the runes, and… Sometimes, when I really want something, I can hear her heartbeat even when she's not near me. I really don't know how to describe myself in terms of anything else. I'm me."

    There's a moment's silence.

    "Given up yet?"

    "Nno…" Alright, sound clearly exists here. Ring, sonar imaging.

    Compliance.

    The outlines of surfaces appear in my vision, picked out in orange. I can see the ground I'm standing on, Melinoë and the door back to Erebos clearly enough. Everything else seems to be a bit mountainous. Or maybe it's some sort of wall?

    "You said Cottus was usually just inside, right?" She giggles. Ah. So, either we're standing on Cottus, or those 'mountains' are Cottus. Ring, any obviously humanoid features around me?

    The image of my environment flickers as the ring has a go at pattern matching. It's not great at imprecise instructions. Usually, making those sorts of judgements is the Lantern's job. Yeah, it's got a bunch of lines and not a lot of -ring, three dimensions? Thanks- order to them. I mean, that looks a bit like a hand, but it's clearly.. a.. hand.

    Huh.

    I may have slightly underestimated how big Cottus would be. I mean, I was expecting big, but this is… I mean, he's supposed to have a hundred of those.

    "Does he have ears?"

    "No, but he can hear you anyway. If you're loud enough."

    Okaaay. Big old directional sonic projectors for him, ear protectors for me… Sonic baffle for her. This is supposed to be a secretish investigation. Chance of anyone in Tartarus hearing and telling anyone? Low enough that I think I can ignore it. "Excuse me, Cottus. May I speak with you for a moment?"

    The request for attention goes out with enough force to melt a hole through a Challenger tank, pointed at what I believe to be parts of his body. Assuming he can listen through his.. fingers? Or through the bones under the skin. Assuming that Hekatonkheires have bones, of course. Oh well, at worst I've wasted a few hours. I'm sure I can-.

    The mountains start to move. Parts which the ring tries to identify slide past each other but sonics really aren't the best tool for this sort of work. I think… Is that a hand? I was sort of assuming that he'd be humanoid, but it would appear… Ring, send a probe directly upwards and use it to get more information for the sonic image.

    The arm closest to me is about thirty metres across at the bicep. It doesn't appear to be connected to anything at the shoulder but I can feel the ground shake as the hand presses off the ground and pushes down, lifting the rest of the limb into the air. Other objects follow, standing in close proximity to one another while they shift position in patterns I can't readily map. As a general rule the limbs stay close together but don't appear to need to put weight on one another in order to move. The size varies significantly, the one nearest to me being one of the larger, though none have hands smaller than a metre across. I can't tell whether the limbs are flesh, stone, or something else. Being the offspring of Ouranos and Gaea he could be made of just about anything.

    Alright, I can't count exactly how many arms there are but a hundred looks about right. The other part of the description mentioned fifty heads. I'm just seeing arms at the moment. Pairs gradually pull themselves from the huddle, coming together as if to clap and then interlocking their fingers, making… Faces. Two hands per face, a hundred hands makes fifty faces. Well, he can hear me. May as well start. I point a sonic cannon in the direction of the closest 'face' and dial the power down a bit. "I am Orange Lantern two eight one four. I come from Themyscira." The face undulates slightly, but since the whole edifice is in motion that doesn't necessarily mean anything. "I want to ask you about something that happened eighty five years ago."

    The face disappears as the fingers move into other patterns. Sign language, of course. He doesn't have a way to speak. I don't know ancient Greek sign language but fortunately the ring can handle any form of mundane communication. "Time is for mortals."

    "Alright. Did you take part in creating Princess Diana of Themyscira?"

    "Who is that?"

    Huh. I suppose her name was only announced after Queen Hippolyta got back to the city. No reason why he'd know it even if he was there. "The daughter of Queen Hippolyta of Themyscira. Do you know who she is?"

    "Yes."

    "Her daughter was made from clay and given life by-" The twitching of the arms stops. "- someone. The official version is that it was Gaea, but an accusation-." Armsarmsarms! The whole mass of Cottus surges towards us! Okay, he's having trouble moving some parts closer because they're too-.

    I raise my construct armour as a huge rock slams into me, bracing myself and setting the armour to reflect so that the force of the impact goes back into the rock. It shatters, sending dust and fragments in all directions.

    "What did you say to him?!"

    I'm off the ground and heading towards the portal. "I don't know!" Melinoë is already heading that way, but not fast enough. I turn slightly to grab her in a bridal carry and accelerate, railgun constructs at the ready as more rocks and several smaller hands fly at us! Nearly, nearly, through! I head upwards, guns trained on the portal in case Cottus tries coming through.

    Melinoë is staring at my face from a distance of about ten centimetres, breathing heavily. Then she notices that I've noticed and jerks her head back towards the portal. The guns keep humming until the slab rises from the ground to block it off.

    What the heck set him off?
     
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  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    20th March
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    "…uncertain exactly what I was expecting, Mister Grayven." Brain's voice doesn't convey emotion in a way I'd trust, but at least he doesn't sound annoyed. "But slaying the Witch Boy in such a public fashion, and so subtly 'twisting the knife', as you say, into your former colleagues in the Justice League? Magnificent."

    I lean back in my chair, taking in the Washington DC skyline, yellow ring held up to my right ear. Mister Tawny bites into what's left of this morning's hunt: a Thentulian Reaper. Nasty blighter, but not up to a fight with a God-Tiger. He and the Sphere both opted to come with me after the 'divorce', him out of loyalty and the Sphere to keep an eye on me. I came up on the roof to get away from the fans. I'm in full armour -goggles included- and I was eating lunch when Brain's call came in.

    "Glad you liked it, Brain. Are you and the others satisfied that Klarion is indeed dead?"

    "There could hardly be any doubt, Mister Grayven. Millions of people around the world saw the live broadcast, and millions more have seen the recordings. In addition to that, there are the physical remains and -I am told- mystical shockwaves in keeping with a being such as Klarion ceasing to be. I hereby formally notify you that the Light acknowledges you to have completed your part of the agreement."

    I smile. "So, am I in? Or is the Queen Bee thing going to be a bigger problem that I'd been hoping?"

    "We expect a degree of effort on your part to ensure that our interests in Bialya are maintained, but… Yes. We will arrange a meeting during which you will be formally confirmed and.. fully briefed on Light operations."

    "Okay, just let me know when and where."

    "I will be certain to do that, Mister Grayven. Dare I enquire as to the nature of your own plans?"

    "Hmmn. Farm political capital, build up my personal facilities… To be honest, I doubt that I'll be doing anything particularly interesting for a month or two. How about you?"

    "My life is one of research and technological development. Presently I am working on a new generation of cybernetic interface."

    "Oh? Given what you've got already…"

    "There is always room for improvement. One of my associates makes use of such limbs, and… It has been brought to my attention that my travel machine could benefit from having better defensive systems."

    "I could help with that. If you like."

    "Thank you, Mister Grayven… But I prefer to work on so intrinsic a system myself."

    What? Oh. "Oh, I quite understand."

    "Though, I will confess to a degree of interest in the… Ah, you call it 'Divine Awakening'? I have no interest in gods, but I cut myself free of the distractions of the flesh to better focus my intellectual energies. If you have some way to amplify that further, I would be most interested."

    Not too surprising a request, though I had expected him to be a little more sceptical. "If you like. However, I should warn that it may interfere with your implants and I can't guarantee what the outcome would be for a mechanoid like yourself. I can't.. Awaken your travel machine. If it were New God technology…"

    "I am unwilling to make use of machinery which I cannot myself maintain."

    "Perfectly sensible."

    "Would there be similar difficulties in using the technique on other members of our association?"

    I shrug. "I don't know how it would interact with Savage's regeneration or the effects of the Lazarus Pit. Could do nothing, could improve them, could kill the user. Luthor is almost certainly com-." Okay, that's a bit annoying. "Compatible, but I'm not sure he'd be interested."

    "Having dealt with him for some time, I think you are likely correct. Still, it would serve you well to-."

    I blink. "Ugh."

    "-off..er..? Is there a problem, Mister Grayven?"

    "Yes. I'm sorry, but this invisible woman's got a gun pointed right in my ear." The gun in question is withdrawn very slightly. "It's really distracting. Can I call you back?"

    "Are you in any danger?"

    "No, it's basically a conventional automatic. It might make me a little hard of hearing-" She shoves the gun forwards again and with a smile I let her push my head to the side a little. "-but it wouldn't cause any lasting harm. I got this."

    "Very well. I will speak to you again once I have a time and a place for your confirmation. Goodbye, Mister Grayven."

    "Bye, Brain." I lower my right hand, letting it trail on the roof at the side of my chair. "So. Ms Black. What can I do for you?"

    Her stealth field fails by degrees, first showing flashes of her red coat and jeans, then her grey blouse and decidedly humourless face. I barely remember her from the comics. I think her hair was.. shorter. And I don't remember the red goggles. But it's the same woman. Similar morphing arms to what Mercy uses, though a little more sophisticated. Currently only her right is in gun mode while her left retains the Human appearance. I wonder where the British government got that technology?

    Mister Tawny gazes balefully at her, and starts to position his legs for a pounce. I shake my head at him and after a moment's consideration he settles back down.

    "You can tell me where Chester is."

    "Why, has he gone somewhere?" Patches of faux skin around her left hand shift aside and a burning wreath of some sort of highly energetic plasma forms around it. "I haven't spoken to him in, like, months."

    "Bollocks you haven't."

    "No, seriously, we had a chat back in January after your mob got ordered to work out how to kill me. Haven't.. heard from him since then." Should probably try getting hold of him, actually. He'd be a useful fellow to have around at the moment. "I do hope he's alright."

    "He's disappeyar'd. Said something about you then oop and left."

    "And this was..?"

    "January. What'd'ya give him?"

    "A little bit of background reading on the things the people you work for get up to in their spare time. Have to admit, I didn't think he'd just walk away from the whole setup you've got there. Didn't think he had that sort of moral fibre. I'm sort of impressed."

    "He's been killin' folk."

    "That's sort of what he does."

    "Three judges, a minister and eleven retired civil servants. Did you put him up to it?"

    "Not exactly…"

    "I've been ordered t'kill the pair o'you."

    "You could try that. You're sadly under equipped to face me, but you might get lucky with Chester. Or…" I take out a dossier with a summary of the truly appalling stuff I have on the British establishment. "You can take a look at this, and find out exactly how deep the rabbit hole goes."

    I think she glances at it. The goggles make it hard to tell. "What's it sehy?"

    "It says that your nation is ruled by narcissistic monsters far worse than any you have killed on their behalf in your careers to date. It gives details on who, how and when. And if you read it, they'll send one of your colleagues after you as they sent you after your brother." I turn my head to face her gun barrel full on. "So, what's it going to be?"
     
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  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    The door takes a wee bit more effort to open from this side.

    Thana smiles as she sees me. "How was your journey, Pavlos?"

    "Easy enough." I walk through the opening and push the door shut behind me. "Lord Hades was quite hospitable. Though, apparently he'd expected me to fly down at speed rather than walk down."

    "You walked?" She frowns in puzzlement. "Whyever did you do that? That would take hours-."

    "Yes, I know."

    She tilts her head downwards a little, trying to disguise her smile. "Ah."

    "Melinoë seemed nice." I hesitate. "Wait: am I supposed to call her 'Princess Melinoë'?"

    "Not unless she has insisted upon it." She turns, and starts to lead me back out through the catacombs. "Most visitors to the Underworld find her a little disconcerting."

    "What, because of the horns? I rather like those, actually."

    "She is also the patron of nightmares and of madness."

    "Right, but that doesn't mean that she is nightmares or madness, right? Just that those are her domains." Thana glances away for a moment. "And anyway, I don't have nightmares anymore and I'm already about as mad as I'm going to get." Wait a moment. Thana was almost exactly where I left her… "You weren't standing there the whole time, were you?"

    "Close. I have four sons in the Underworld. You being down there gave me a chance to speak with them." She watches as my face falls. "Oh, they had good lives before the end. I try to limit the time I spend speaking to them. Spending too long amongst the dead is not healthy for the living."

    "I… I don't really know how to respond to that."

    "Everyone on Themyscira has someone close to them down there. And one day we will follow them. But not yet." We walk to the end of the corridor in silence, then start up the stairs to the surface proper. "Were you able to get the information you sought?"

    "No, not really. I got information… No, I got data, but not enough for me to make sense of it. Oh, and Lord Hades invited me back to properly introduce myself to the court. Do I have to call on you every time I come here, or can I just head down myself?"

    "It… May be best…" She thinks for a moment. "At least tell me of your intent. I would not want you becoming too comfortable with the journey."

    "Whyever not? Honestly, you people have no idea how lucky you are having an afterlife like that. You know for a fact it exists, you can speak to people there and Lord Hades seems like a good ruler."

    "It is not wise to look forward to it too much, Pavlos."

    "Oh, I don't even know if I'm going there."

    "I would have thought that you would. Previous Eris-worshippers have gone there when the time came. Unless there is a destination you would rather go to from your original homeworld?"

    "As far as I know, my original homeland didn't have afterlives. You died, then 'poof', no more you. I mean that I'm so heavily involved with the orange light I thought that might end up changing things."

    "I suppose that it could. Such matters are a little outside of my expertise."

    "I'll be certain to ask the Controllers and let you know."

    We reach the top of the stairs and start on the path to the shrine proper. "You have no one waiting for you, then?"

    "Probably not. I might have by then"

    "Did you see anything of Asphodelopolis itself?"

    "No, just the orchard and the palace, really. I'll try and get a good look at it next time I visit." Hmm. If I remember my Encarta Populi right… "I thought that the dead inhabitants of Erebos were supposed to be a bit.. vacant?"

    "That was once the case, for most. When the mainlanders turned from the Olympians, Lord Hades realised that his realm would most likely receive little fresh blood…" She nods her head to the side and blinks heavily. "Fresh inhabitants. He studied the residual magics of the titan Erebos itself and found a way to tie every shade to them, granting them a more focused essence. They still lack.. in certain regards. And you would not mistake them for living people. But it is a much better unlife than was formerly the case."

    "Why did it take him that long?"

    "Lord Hades is a warrior and a king, not a scholar. Those blessed by the gods or possessing great virtue already had a strong enough breath to provide for themselves. And.. interfering with the Titans carries risks most would rather not endure."

    "If… The Dead are firing on all cylinders-." Thana frowns and shakes her head. "Fully mentally competent. Doesn't… Hades now rule over more people than Zeus does?"

    "King Zeus is the ruler of Olympus. Regardless of their respective population sizes, Lord Hades is his subordinate."

    "Okay, but Hades clearly has a job. A role. What does Zeus actually do these days?"

    "At the moment?" We walk through into the shrine proper. "I believe that he is looking for a new wife."

    "As a known serial adulterer with no devotees and few worshippers, what are his chances?" Thana looks nervously up at the roof for a moment. "No, it's fine, my tattoos mean that he can't see me. And even if he could, all you need to do is line the roof with copper or jovium and the lightning would fail to penetrate."

    "Even so, please try to avoid insulting the gods in my temple."

    "I'm sorry, I'll bear that in mind in future." She stops in the doorway as I walk outside into the daylight. "Are you coming to see us off?" We're flying the theatre troupe to the States soon-ish. We decided that it would be best if they flew in by plane rather than just having me transition everyone there in order to give them a chance to get used to the change in their surroundings.

    Thana looks uncertain. "My presence may be taken as an ill omen."

    "More than me having just spent six hours in Erebos?"

    She nods. "More even than having an avowed Discordian on a complex mechanical flying machine."

    "That's a silly superstition. Come anyway. There're going to be two demigoddesses and me there to look after them. Nothing's going to happen."



    Ring, scan-. No, really nothing threatening around here. The only Amazons who might raise a hand against their princess in anger are still imprisoned and the plane will be under constant monitoring from the Watchtower once we get airborne. It's mechanically fine and Eris hasn't seen fit to throw random malfunctions at me before now. Given how shocking contact with the outside world will be I imagine she'd do the opposite, actually.

    I beam at her. "I'll carry you if I have to."

    "You-?" For a moment she looks shocked, then she smiles and shakes her head. "Very well, then."
     
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  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16:18 GMT +3


    I wave in the direction of the landing area as we approach, the thick goodbye-crowd parting around us. After a moment Donna spots me and waves back. The theatre troupe -Clio, Dalma, Eudia, Jocasta and several others I haven't been introduced to- as well as a couple of guards -Zosime and Mala- and the tag alongs -Io and Mnemosyne-are already waiting to board. Io will be meeting with Theodore tomorrow for a tour of his facilities and Sephtian will be joining them later that afternoon. KordTech already has a Dolmen Gate to Atlantis, but I thought it best to wait until this visit was concluded before pressing the Senate here to acquire one. Or at least let me experiment on how they interact with the wards. I'll ask Hephaestus first, just to make sure they won't completely wreck it. Or maybe… Who's the Olympian whose domain includes magic? Hermes? Selene? But Donna requested Hekate's aid, which probably means that she's more accessible. And I'm still a bit wary of contacting Selene after the whole moon.. thing.

    There's a ring of guards around the inner edge of the crowd, though from their relaxed manner it's clear that they're here to mark the limit of the polite viewing area rather than in expectation of any actual trouble. Thana stops at the inner edge as one guard -she looks familiar but I don't remember hearing her name- steps aside to let me pass. "Good journey, Pavlos."

    I glance back. "I suppose asking for a blessing would be a bit morbid." Thana smiles and shakes her head as the two closest guards look at me like I'm a crazy person. "I'll see you at the party next week."

    "Very well. Until then."

    I turn away and jog in the direction of the plane. Since Diana's invisible jet is too small to carry everyone comfortably we're 'borrowing' a larger executive jet from Wayne Industries. Donna dramatically puts her hands on her hips. "And where have you been?"

    "Tartarus."

    "Do you mean Erebos?"

    "Nope. Erebos has actual light. Had to navigate using sonar."

    "I just asked Tartarus itself to let me see."

    "I'll have to bring you along next time."

    She shakes her head. "Oh, that's really not necessary."

    Diana appears in the plane's doorway. "Paul, are you ready to depart?"

    Lucky for me that Amazons have such approximate timekeeping habits. "Yep, completely ready. Sorry for the hold up."

    "Very well. Sisters, you may board when ready."

    Zosime sidles over to me as Mala leads the actresses on board. "You truly went to Tartarus?"

    "Either that, or I got really badly lost."

    She looks puzzled for a moment, then realises that I'm joking. "What were you doing there?"

    "I'm afraid that I can't say."

    She nods, the shining metal which covers the side of her face changing colour as it moves out of direct sunlight. "Was it a successful visit?"

    "Not really. I mean, Lord Hades invited me back-" Her eyes widen. "-as a visitor, while I'm still alive." She nods in relief. "I wasn't even in Tartarus all that long."

    Donna raises her right eyebrow. "You weren’t? You were gone six hours, did you take a tour?"

    I mantle my eyes with my right hand. "No, I walked down the steps."

    She blinks in surprise. "But… That's... Why would-?"

    "I know. Hades said, and Melinoë-" Zosime takes a step backwards. Honestly "-said, and then Thana said. Next time I'll just fly down."

    I look over to the steps up to the jet. Boarding appears to be slightly delayed by each Amazon who reaches the top of the steps peering around the door and taking a good long look at the interior of the craft. "Haven't they seen an aircraft before?"

    Zosime shakes her head. "Most of us.. don't involve ourselves with Baroness von Gunther's... Work."

    "And why not? Diana's been using that for.. what, sixty years? None of you went for a ride in it?"

    "No, Mala has. And.. I think Queen Hippolyta did. The Baroness taught the Princess how to operate it. I.. do not feel.. entirely comfortable, around her artefacts. I entered her workshop once when she was alive and.. things… They were twinkling, with no flame or heat or magic."

    I raise my right hand, index finger extended, and poke her right in the metallic cheek. "So do you."

    "But that is magic. I am alive. They were… Devices." I think she realises that she's being daft. "They were strange. I did not like them."

    "Are you.. going to be alright in America? It has… Um, quite a lot of unnatural, twinkly lights."

    "I will manage. I will simply follow the Princess' lead." Donna and I share a somewhat nervous glance, which she spots. "Hardly any of us have spent significant time in Man's World-." Donna shakes her head reprovingly. "The outside world. Fewer still have been anywhere as large as New York. Do.. eight million people truly live there?"

    Donna nods. "I think it's a little over eight million, actually."

    "Does it smell very badly? Or are you simply used to it?"

    "Why would it smell? I mean, the air quality's not the greatest, but it doesn't smell that bad."

    "Are your cesspits enclosed in some way?. The amount of waste material that so many people must create-."

    I hold up my right hand, palm forwards. "Okay, I'll include an explanation for how our toilets and sewage systems work in the in-flight lecture. Short version, each toilet has a small bucket of water which gets used to send the waste material through a pipe into somewhere where it gets treated to not smell so badly."

    Donna nods. "It ends up getting used as plant fertilizer."

    "And everyone has access to that?"

    "Everyone with a home, yes. Similarly, no one uses wells, but a series of artificial lakes linked by pipes to every home in the city provide people with water, both for drinking and washing."

    "Oh." She looks a little relieved. "Those are two things I will not have to worry about, then."

    "Donna?" The three of us look around to the entrance to the jet, where Diana stands watching us. "Will you be joining us, or do you intend to return to America under your own power?"

    "Coming!"

    Donna leaps into the air towards the jet while Zosime and I walk at a less panicky pace. Zosime hesitates slightly at the steps before girding her loins and walking up them. Like the others she hesitates at the entrance and sticks her head inside before walking through.

    I move the steps back to their accustomed storage point and put the passengers' bags into my subspace pocket before transitioning myself inside and closing the door behind me. In the cockpit I hear Diana and Donna talking a fascinated Mnemosyne through the take-off procedure. Time to do my air steward bit.

    "Ladies, please take your seats and buckle your belts. Nono, the one attached to the seat." Eudia makes an 'oh' shape with her mouth. "The plane will shake during take-off, this is completely normal and nothing to worry about…"
     
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  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    20th March
    16:27 GMT +3


    There are a few gasps as the engines roar into life. Clio doesn't gasp, but she does look a little worried. "Is it supposed to do that?"

    "Yes, Clio. The device which propels this plane is essentially a fan which turns at tremendous speed. The turbofan which propels this plane is actually quite quiet compared to a lot of them."

    Clio looks back to where three of her players have their hands over their ears. "This is quiet?"

    "They'll get quieter once we reach cruising speed." Really, we're lucky that Batman had a vertical take off and landing executive jet he wanted to show off. Themyscira has never had a normal runway. The Baroness was the only local who would have wanted one, and she was already building VTOL aircraft when she came here. "At the moment we're being held aloft by thrust alone. Once we get going, a lot of the lift will come from the shape of the wings instead."

    "I see." She averts her eyes for a moment. "Do you.. know how long that will take?"

    "A few minutes." I look past her to the other seats. "There are.. headphones,- " I mime pulling them over my ears. "-if you want to put those on?"

    The women who had been covering their ears sheepishly lower their hands as I generate a construct showing the external view of our aircraft. "You can see the direction of our thrust by the angle of these bits here." The room flickers with yellow but they all hold firm. Even though most of the women here are actresses, they come from a warrior culture. Showing discomfort might be alright, but voicing fear -particularly in front of a man- most certainly isn't. "If there are any questions you would like to ask, just shout them out."

    "When can we take these-" One of the Amazons whose name I don't know tugs at hers. "-belts off?"

    "Once we're fully transitioned to forward flight, though you may have to put them back on again if we run into turbulence." Even as I say the last word I realise my error as the eyes of all of the passengers -save Io- immediately turn to me.

    "Turbulence?"

    "Powerful winds." Slight flickers of yellow again. "Strong winds in one direction aren't a problem, the plane just moves with it. Strong winds which rapidly change direction might result in the plane shaking a little. You've all been on boats, right?" A couple of nods, so I make a point of making eye contact and smiling at the rest of them until I get a smile or a nod back. "Same basic idea."

    "And if there is a storm?"

    "There are small cameras all over our flight path-" I remove the plane construct and replace it with a larger one of the Earth and the weather monitoring satellites. "-that are telling Diana where the storms are so that we can fly around them. If for some reason we can't, then either we get a little shaken up but fly through it, or the plane is damaged and I stick an orange shield around it and fly us to New York myself."

    Zosime frowns. "Would it not have been easier to do that from the start?"

    "Yes, but that wasn't the deciding criterion. Aside from Io, none of you are familiar with advanced technology. Aside from Mala and Io, none of you have been outside Themyscira's wards in centuries. You're here to get a little immersion before you have to be surrounded by it, in what I hope is-"

    There's a chime, and a corresponding pulse of yellow.

    "-relaxing company." I point upwards with my right forefinger. "That -I'm afraid- is something else you'll have to get used to: weird and annoying beeps, chimes and sirens. Ah, when I say 'sirens' I don't mean the bird-women, I mean… Like your alarm bell, but more annoying. That one just means that you can unbuckle your belts now." I unbuckle mine and stand up. "The flight should last about eleven hours and I will be serving dinner in three. Feel free to sleep, rehearse, or watch a film." Blank looks. "Right. That window like thing in front of your seat is capable of showing recorded images. Away from Themyscira, these have more or less replaced plays as a form of mass entertainment."

    Looks of shock and horror.

    "Think about it; they allow an actor or actress of paramount skill to display their performance to more people than could watch it in person. Or allow a manager to show their performance to many people without having to hire a new troupe for every location, or employ them after the recording is made." That explanation gets nods and a few quiet laughs.

    Dalma raises her right hand. "I have a question?"

    "Ask away."

    "Will.. there.. be a great many men in New York?"

    "About half the city's population, yes."

    "Ah, well, yes. But.. will we be interacting with them? Will they be in the audience when we perform?"

    "Yes. I do hope that I haven't completely put you off modern men."

    "No! No, of course not. I'm just not sure what the protocol is." She runs her right hand through her hair. "It has.. been a while."

    Another round of laughter. "Dionysia isn't until next week."

    "I didn't mean like-."

    "I do." Everyone turns to… Don't know her name. "Um. I don't mean… I was just wondering what the customs were?"

    "Since you're essentially going as diplomatic envoys, I've rather sort of been assuming that you'd be focusing your passions in the acting." Giggles and a snort that time. "I'm not sure what to suggest. I've never tried dating a man before. When compared to how things worked in the Old City, the relationship is more one between individuals rather than between families-."

    "But you have tried dating the women, yes?" Another woman whose name I don't know.

    "In point of fact… Not really. You-?"

    "Are you sworn to Artemis? Must you keep yourself pure lest your powers be taken from you?"

    I bow my head slightly, allowing my cheeks to colour. "Quite the opposite, actually. But getting back to the point, I should emphasise that America is heteronormative. Most women are only interested in men, and vice versa. If they show an interest in you, that's fine, but you probably shouldn't show too much interest in them." I make a point of looking directly at the questioner. "Attempts to liberate these Persians-" A few astonished snorts and the woman who asked is covering her face with her hands in astonishment. "-will most likely not be well received. Honestly though, I'd leave off the whole thing until you're more familiar with the culture yourself. I don't particularly want to get involved in a custody battle."

    Clio frowns. "A what?"

    "As a heteronormative society, men and women share responsibility for raising their children, as well as… 'Ownership' of them. If one of you became pregnant the father would probably expect to stay in contact and have regular input into their upbringing. Of course, if you did decide to become intimate with a man, there are any number of devices which could be employed to avoid pregnancy."

    One woman in the third row nudges the woman next to her, makes a fist with her right hand and wiggles her tongue at it.

    "For more details, inquire of the lady there."
     
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  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    20th March
    21:28 GMT -4


    "Did you really need to make quite so many strange noises?

    I nod in response to Clio's question. "Immersion therapy. Once we get out there will be weird noises galore."

    The flight was uneventful. A few of the Amazons tried watching a film and Io spent some time on the internet. I hadn't realised that her English was that good. A lot of them had their noses pressed to the windows during the flight over Europe and I had the ring virtually highlight points of interest on the ground. We also did a quick run through of one of their repertoire pieces. Clio wanted me to take part as it's one of the few plays written on Themyscira which calls for a male actor in a significant role and she wanted to see how it affected the tone. Kind of fun, actually.

    There's a slight bump as the plane lands, then Diana turns the engines to forward motion and drives us towards Wayne Industries' hangar. The bump attracts next to no alarm, our passengers having become somewhat accustomed to such things during the journey. See how long that lasts when they get a look outside. This trip is public knowledge after all, and there's quite a crowd around the outskirts of Teterboro Airport, to say nothing of all of the people who work or fly here and have found a reason to be in the area when we arrived.

    The engine noise drops off to nothing as we roll to a halt. You might not realise it to look at her, but Diana has about sixty years' experience flying powered craft of various types and is probably the best pilot on the League. Including Harold Jordan. I look through the interior wall as she goes through the post-flight checks and Donna gently shakes Mnemosyne awake. Diana also doesn't appear to have been tired at all by being at the controls the whole way. Donna and I are actually qualified to fly this plane, but she said that she'd rather do it herself when we offered.

    I unbuckle myself and rise to my feet, getting everyone's attention as I do so. "And we've arrived. Welcome to the United States, everyone-."

    "I can feel my moustache growing already."

    That gets a laugh. Amazon joke about ageing and leaving Themyscira. Which.. they are. They'll age at normal speed for as long as they're away. Heal injuries at normal rates. Have a headache if they drink to excess like most people.

    I smile at Menodora. "We sell creams for that."

    A few more laughs, and they begin unbuckling their belts, getting up and stretching themselves out as Diana enters the cabin. Even though they could move around the cabin, there wasn't really much to do or look at during the flight across the Atlantic and most of them stayed in their seats. She looks at me for a moment and I yield the floor, taking a few steps towards the exit.

    "Women of Themyscira." She pauses, perhaps reflecting that they aren't about to go into battle and a martial exaltation probably isn't what is required. "Sisters. Aside from myself, you are the first Amazons to enter Man's World." Aside from all of the ones who were born here and adopted Amazon custom. Though I suppose the ones born in the Old City never exactly entered Man's World. "You are here to represent not our martial strength, but our culture and our arts. A facet of our society which I have perhaps not been best at communicating."

    She does sort of have a point there. It's isn't -technically speaking- her job to do so, but she hasn't made much effort to get any distinctly Themysciran culture -beyond the gynocentric elements- out there. Ask a random person on the street and you'll probably get a shrug and a 'like the ancient Greeks?' in most cases. Of course, a Wonder Woman is only supposed to be a warrior-champion, but Diana's had plenty of time in which she could have moulded the role to something with a broader reach if she'd wanted.

    "It is my hope that this visit will lead to a deeper appreciation of our society's ideals and ways of thinking. Please, when you speak to the people here remember that you represent the best of us, represent everything we have built in the last three thousand years. I am sure that you will do our whole people proud."



    Are we supposed to clap?

    No, looks like we're not. I press the button to open the door as a Wayne Industries technician finishes driving the steps up to the side of the jet. Male, but they aren't going to have to interact with him to any significant extent. Maybe that's a good way to ease them into being around men in the wild? I nod to the chap, then step back inside the aircraft to let Diana out first.

    "Good journey, Princess?"

    She actually walks down the steps, rather than flying. "Yes, thank you. The jet is a superb piece of engineering."

    He smiles. "Thank you. I'll be sure to pass that on to the rest of the team. Oh, we'll have it ready for your trip back next week, no problem."

    "Thank you."

    The rest of the troupe troop out after her, Mala and Clio first, Donna somewhere in the middle and Zosime and myself last. The technician gets a few looks, but there aren't any significant overt reactions and I don't see much emotional resonance either. Hopeful start. I do a quick check around to make sure that no one has left anything behind before following the rest of the party towards the waiting limousines. The drivers are employees of Wayne… Something or other, security vetted and highly capable. But just in case the extra power is required Diana, Donna and I are each going to be in one of the cars. We haven't had any significant threats made -which I found a little surprising- but some sort of right wing Evangelical Christian group announced that it was going to be holding protests in various places. I think it'll take more than a few placards to bother someone from Themyscira.

    The chauffeurs open the doors to the passenger compartments. Diana gets in the front car first, with Clio, Mnemosyne, Mala and Galene following her. In my own group, Zosime is giving the chauffeur a decidedly puzzled look and no one is getting in. Ahhh?

    I walk up next to her. "Problem?"

    She inclines her head towards me a little. "Why is he holding the door?"

    The man's composure doesn't waver. Top marks.

    "Because that's his job. Please get into the car."

    Once she has some reassurance that this isn't her first encounter with phallotocracy, Dalma gives him a bright smile and lowers herself into the car. "Oh, this is nice."

    I glance over at car number two, where Donna appears to be shepherding her Amazons inside without too much difficulty. Right, the little social rituals that are going to be just slightly off are going to be puzzling for a while. It isn't just a matter of 'strong, independent women not wanting a man to hold a door for them'. Amazons don't have hansom cabs. Carts are for carrying loads. If they want to get somewhere faster than their legs can take them they ride a horse. They wouldn't have any idea why they'd want someone else to work a perfectly simple mechanism like a door handle.

    Io's walked around to the front of the car to get a better look at it while Zosime and Menodora lower themselves inside. Io's read about cars but unless Baroness von Gunther put one together and then later took it apart this is her first time seeing one. Probably should distract her before she tries opening the bonnet. Eudia notices her a moment before entering the car herself and stops. "Io, come. I'm sure they can find you more than enough mechanisms to tinker with at the embassy."

    Io looks up suddenly, the hand she'd been running over the metal jerking back. "Oh. Yes."

    "And I'm sure the nice man will let you look at his machinery later if you ask nicely."

    "Not until next week." Eudia snorts with amusement, but Io still appears to be a little distracted. With one last glance to make sure that the smith is moving in the right direction, Eudia ducks inside. "Io? Problem?"

    "The parts are so complex. Feeling them with my metallurgical sense is a very different experience to reading a technical manual." She steps around the chauffeur and leans forward to crawl onto the limousine's seat.

    I walk up to the door as Diana's car pulls away onto the road to the airport's exit, making eye contact with the chauffeur. "Thank you."

    "You're welcome, sir."

    I put my right leg into the car and… "You need to move over to the far side, or I can't get in."

    "Oh!" / "Sorry!"
     
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  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    20th March
    21:37 GMT -4


    "It's much quieter than the flying machine."

    Seatbelts are something else Amazons don't have much experience of. Dalma has her face pressed against the window in what appears to be an attempt to see what's in front of the car while I buckled myself in without really thinking about it. Eudia and Zosime followed my lead almost immediately, with a couple of false starts. Goodness knows that I sometimes have trouble making plug meet socket and I've been using the things for thirty years.

    Io is looking out of the window, staring at the vast expanse of the triangular runway system. "It's huge. I've never seen roads that big before."

    "This isn't actually a very big airport. If you want to see something really impressive I can take you to New York's main civilian airport."

    Menodora looks up from fiddling with everything that has a button or switch. "Why do they need to be so large? The machines go up, don't they?"

    Io shakes her head. "Most planes can't rise into the air in the way the one we travelled here in did. Like a duck running on water they must build up speed before rising into the sky."

    "Oh." She takes another look out as the limousine gets closer to the outer fence. "And they really need all that distance?"

    "They also use the same runways for slowing down when they land. And it's sensible to leave a margin for error."

    "Are all those people here to see us?" Dalma points towards the outer fence at the… Yes, still a crowd at this stage. I haven't extended the ring's translation effect yet, so while Io can probably read the placards I'm not sure that the others can. Variations on the theme of 'Welcome to America' seem to be predominant, which is nice. Ring..? Ah, the security guards have moved the 'burn in hell lesbian bitches' people away from the gates. Right to protest, sure. Right to start a fistfight, not so much.

    "More or less. Diana lives in this city and most of them have never seen her in the flesh. Other Amazons are an even rarer sig-" Menodora presses the 'open window' button and leans over Eudia to look out of the opening. "-ght."

    Menodora waves enthusiastically. "Hello, Man's World!"

    Dalma frowns at her. "They don't call it that. This country is called 'The United States of America'."

    "Also, most of them don't speak Themysciran Greek."

    Zosime looks curious. "Do any of them?"

    "There's been a small surge of interest in learning Classical Greek since your visit was announced. I doubt more than a handful are conversational, though."

    She nods. "Is there going to be an official meeting here?"

    Ahead of us, Diana's car has reached the gate and come to a stop while the airport security start moving people out of the way for the gate to open. Most of it seems to be good natured, though I notice one overenthusiastic man with a camera need to be manhandled out of the way.

    "No, that won't be until tomorrow. This is just curious, enthusiastic people showing up on their own initiative."

    Io crosses her arms. "I should have dressed warmer. Does one of these buttons heat the room?"

    I smile. "Looking for a heater rather than closing the window, it's like you lived here your whole life. "

    "I spend most of my time in the forge. I am accustomed to warmth, not New York spring."

    "I can make you a coat, easily enough?"

    Io shakes her head while Zosime looks thoughtful. "I'm not sure I remember what a proper spring is like."

    "You don't have spring on Themyscira?"

    She shrugs. "I was young when we left the mainland, so I can't be completely sure. But, it never really gets cold for any length of time. Even Mount Skybreak rarely sees snow."

    Eudia leans around Menodora to nod. "She's right. Occasional storms aside, Themyscira goes from late spring into summer into early autumn and then back into late spring. Did you not notice the warmth?"

    "I just.. thought it was due to the latitude. And the ring generally keeps me at a comfortable temperature anyway."

    Dalma turns away from the window, her eyes wide. "Will it snow while we are here?"

    "I wouldn't have thought so, but if you really want we could spend some time somewhere where there's snow on the ground."

    Ahead of us Diana's limousine has pulled onto the road and our car accelerates to follow it. Dalma and Menodora return their attention to the outside as we move past the crowd. I see a couple of rainbow banners, a few people in pseudo-ancient Greek dress and… A couple of flashers. Female ones. Looks like it's colder out there than it is in here. The crowd turns to follow us as we move past them, our two window-occupants continuing to wave.

    Eudia gives me a nervous look. "Were those two… Advertising?"

    "Advertising?"

    Dalma turns back for a moment. "She wants to know if they're whores."

    "Oh. Um, probably not? Prostitution is illegal in New York. If they were prostitutes they wouldn't advertise so blatantly." I suppose the fact that Amazons are generally into other women isn't exactly news"If they were advertising to you they'd be more likely to slip you a card with their contact details."

    Dalma sits back down as we pull away from the crowd. Menodora waves back at them one last time as the limousine accelerates again and loses her balance, falling towards me. I lean forwards and grab her before she can hit the floor. "Oh!" She takes a moment to get her bearings, then pulls away from me to crouch on the floor before carefully moving back to her seat. "Thank you."

    "You're welcome. Please remember that vehicles move."

    She looks a little embarrassed at her loss of comportment, but gives me a nod anyway.

    Io turns to Eudia. "Eudia, could you please close the window?"

    Eudia studies the buttons for a moment, then presses one and the window moves upwards, shutting out the chill breeze. She looks at it for a moment. "How does that work?"

    I generate a cut away view construct. "It's-." They're staring at the construct in total incomprehension. I dismiss it. Different approach. "It's a bit like a winch. When you press one button, you trigger a simple automaton which turns a sticky wheel which drags the window down. When you press the other button, another automaton turns the wheel in the other direction, pushing the window up."

    Eudia stares at the door in alarm. "There are automata in there? There are small people working inside all of your devices?"

    Io sighs. "He's simplifying the idea, Eudia. There aren't literally automata in there, just devices which do similar work."

    "Oh."

    "If you're interested in that sort of thing, you could come with Io and I when we visit-."

    "No, no. It just sounded like something out of a strange play."

    Menodora nods. "Yes, one I wrote. I never had it staged because I couldn't think of a way to make that many puppets work together. Perhaps I should come along?"

    Dalma shakes her head. "No, Clio will want us to visit the stage we will be using for the performance as soon as possible. None of us will have time for visiting anything."

    "Which play are you doing? Was it the one we read through on the way here?"

    Dalma raises her eyebrows. "One with a man in a pivotal role? No. Clio selected 'The Five-Faced Senator' for our performance. We weren't sure what would translate well, but the Princess said that comedy about political double dealing and their obsession with minutiae should translate well for an American audience."

    I nod in agreement. "Some things truly are universal."
     
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  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st March
    09:08 GMT -4


    Io gazes open-mouthed at the storm clouds gathered above us as Ted leans over to me. "Does that mean she likes it? She likes it, right?"

    Io's eyes flick down to us… To him for a moment, before returning to the clouds. "She is not sure. How have you done this?"

    Ted grins and heads over to her. "Doctor Morrow had elemental control systems integrated into his android designs back in the thirties. When Red Tornado gave me copies of everything the.. Construct Morrow transcribed, I realised that between that and the metal you'd made-" He looks up, gesturing with both hands. "-we could do this."

    Another bolt of lightning and a peal of thunder. Weather control drones. He didn’t even tell me about this. This is amazing.

    Io looks down again, this time a little uncomfortable. "There are automata in there?"

    Ted frowns. "What'd'ya mean b-?" His expressions shifts as he understands. "Oh, no. These are just machines, they're not intelligent. I've got the control system-" He waves a tablet at her. "-right here. See, if I press this-" Three blinding bolts of lightning blast through the artificial clouds, striking the large lightning rod in the middle of the test chamber. Io jumps back, shielding her eyes with her right arm. "-we get a completely controlled lightning discharge." He's grinning like a child with a new toy. "And if we do this-" The clouds above us part, even as the clouds around the edge thicken. The winds are getting up and we're inside a building. "-we can control the shape of the clouds, even-" Three evenly divided sections -alternating sixths- of cloud rain intensely for about half a second, then stop to allow the other sixths to rain instead. "-turning the rain on and off! Hah hah, how great is that!"

    I have the ring scan upwards through the… He scry-warded them. Sonic scan, then. "What sort of range do they have?"

    "Huh?" He turns back in my direction, apparently surprised to see that I'm here. "Oh, ah, not all that great. The ones we're using here-" He points upwards with his left forefinger. "-can't generate a volume bigger than about.. twenty cubic meters?" He thinks for a moment. "Maybe twenty five if they weren't doing anything too heavy with it." He turns back to Io. "But this is why I want to talk to you and Sephtian about it. All the technology in that is just a.. a slight improvement on what Doctor Morrow was using eighty years ago. With a Dolmen Gate providing water and power and your metametals for the circuitry, there's no telling what we could-!"

    "And what of Zeus?"

    Ted stops and thinks for a moment before making a small shrugging gesture. "What of Zeus?"

    "Are you not concerned that he would consider this usurping his domain?"

    "Not par.. ticularly?"

    Io thinks about this for a moment. "Which gods do you worship?"

    "I… I'm Christian, but I'm not really.. practicing..?"

    "And what would your god say of this?"

    "That.. depends on who you ask. I mean, Catholics would say it's okay as long as I wasn't using it as a weapon." Part of the lightning rod melts, causing the top third to fall off. Ted winces slightly as it hits the ground. "A lot of evangelicals would call it evil, but that's because they hate all magic, not because there's anything special about weather control." He shrugs. "Orange Lantern's had the Dolmen Gate going in London for a while and the only people who really complained are the rail unions."

    "Io, are you working up to asking him if he's going to be smited by a god for his hubris?"

    "Given the power of the device, I think it a reasonable concern."

    "No.. god's.. said anything? And Sephtian didn't seem to think it would be a problem?"

    "Atlanteans usually feel the same way about gods that I do. Amazons-" I glance at Io. "-usually have a slightly more intimate relationship with theirs."

    "Oh. So… Does Zeus have a problem with it?"

    "What did you intend to use them for?"

    "Storm management. I mean, eventually we could build a huge network and regulate rainfall everywhere, but in the short term I just wanted to build a couple of powerful ones we could drop on hurricanes to turn them off. Or at least down. Red Tornado does his best but he can't be everywhere."

    "Doesn't Red Tornado usually handle much larger volumes-?"

    "Yeah, it… Living things have a much easier time handling magic energy than devices. If we get a magician to stick their hand through a Dolmen Gate to run it, it could handle a big storm no problem at all. But if we want something purely automatic, something autonomous, it gets… Tricky. Yeah, I'm actually hoping Sephtian has some ideas about that, 'cause I'm getting a bit out of my depth with that part."

    "What of your farmlands?"

    "Most US farms get enough water most of the time. I mean, there's a demand there, but it's not big enough to justify developing the system just for that. And we can't do the Themysciran thing of having two growing seasons a year. It's just not hot enough or sunny enough."

    "How about other countries?"

    "We're still limited by the amount of fresh water. I mean, yeah, if you've got a lake you don't mind losing we can make it rain just about anywhere, but if you want rain somewhere really dry you're going to need desalinisation plants on a huge scale. Either that or hundreds of these things in a row taking water out of the ocean… Or maybe a specialised Gate?" He thinks for a moment. "Yeah, that should work. You'd still need a lot of them for it to be anywhere near efficient, even if the Gate took all the vapor from the sea right to wherever you wanted the cloud." He raises his tablet again. "Hang on, let me just-" The water cascades from the ceiling in a sheet as the clouds spontaneously condense, running into the drainage channels around the edge of the room. "-shut that down."

    "Any good for firefighting?"

    He shakes his head. "Not really. It works out much better to spray water using a Dolmen gate transfer, or use some sort of cold gun." Another tap on the tablet and the drones descend, returning to their maintenance beds. "We've already got the production line set up for manufacturing the small ones… The physical components, I mean. The real bottleneck at the moment is getting enough wizards to put the spells on them."

    Io regards the drones with a degree of unease. "This… It seems…"

    "Well… What exactly-?"

    I hold out my right hand to stop him. "Io, I was there when Hephaestus personally told you that he trusted you to use what he taught you as you see fit, that it wasn't something secret he expected you to hide away. America doesn't have a specific weather god who might take umbrage at this, and Zeus has never had a significant number of worshippers here. America has been using cloud seeding for.. what, sixty years now? Ted isn't exactly known for his modesty, but I'm sure he'll remember that he's one of dozens of people working on this and try not to let it go to his head too much." I give him a look of encouragement.

    "Yeah! Of course." He nods enthusiastically. "Team player. There's no way I could do all this stuff on my own, even if I wanted to."

    "So we're keeping hubris potential to an absolute minimum. Amazons have had controlled weather for three thousand years. We want to build machines to save lives and property from hurricanes. I understand that this whole thing is a bit of a shock, coming from Themyscira… But doesn't that sound like something that would be good to do?"

    She thinks for a moment. "It does. I am sorry, Ted. I am unused to machines like this. I constantly have to remind myself that it is not some enslaved spirit or elemental beast."

    "Oh, everyone anthropomorphises. Sometimes, when we do tests with them, I find myself patting the outer casing, like they're Dogs or something."

    "We're not stealing power from the gods, here. We're learning from them, emulating them."

    "Does this country have many hurricanes?"

    "About six a year, plus about twice that in big storms that don't quite get to hurricane size."

    She nods, and starts to look a little happier. "Then it will be my privilege to work with you to prevent them."
     
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  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st March
    11:22 GMT -4


    I have to admit-

    "…limited to four degrees of complexity for mass production…"

    -that excited as I am to get-

    "…prototyping to test the structural…"

    -these four in the same room-

    **…in an organic vessel…**

    -I'm pretty much-

    "…merely symbolic, and as such…"

    -tuning them out. I wasn't sure that Dubbilex would actually be able to find time for this given his responsibilities at Cadmus, but apparently the chance to create replacements for the Kryptonian cell suspension which G-Sprites currently use was enough of a draw to bring him here. I was following the conversation at the start, but after Sephtian and Io said they were okay with Dubbilex creating a 'low level mental network' -I think of it as thoughtweft- it all started going a bit over my head. I think they've sorted out using transmuted metals in circuit boards, which in turn allowed Sephtian to advance the complexity of the designs which he can create without my help, but they're getting into the habit of not finishing sentences when the other three follow their reasoning.

    That whole telepathic education thing is starting to look like a better and better idea.

    "…you think, Paul?"

    I blink. Ted asked the question, but they're all looking at me. "I'm sorry? Drifted a bit there."

    Ted and Io share a smirk while Sephtian looks puzzled and Dubbilex doesn't really look anything. Sephtian takes the initiative. "Do you think there would be an adverse impact on Genomorph sentience recognition if they began using magic to a significant degree?"

    Would there? "I.. doubt it. There might be some complaints, but at this point it's almost unthinkable that the bill won't get passed. It's just too obviously the right thing to do."

    A wave passes along his head frill, causing the thin layer of water armour around his skin to ripple and shimmer. He has to use it to remain upright, but his degree of control is so good that if you didn't know that you would assume that he was walking normally. "I am glad to hear it. We have always found it troublesome to create arcane power generation methods which would not simply require a magician to stand in place and constantly provide power."

    **Since Genomorphs do not experience boredom, this is far less problematic for us.**

    "I hadn't realised that."

    **Genomorph brains are task adapted, specialised to handle the tasks they were bred to perform. So long as we are occupied in that way, we do not experience discomfort.**

    Ted turns to Dubbilex. "How's that whole thing going, anyway? I haven't really kept up with the news…"

    **There was a degree of confusion amongst the members of the Senate Committee when I first attempted to explain how the Genomorph consciousness functions.**

    Io looks him over again. "I have known intelligent creatures of many kinds, and they could be easily be described as equivalent to Humans or animalistic."

    **I am a G-Goblin. I was created to manage and coordinate my brothers on behalf of Doctor Desmond. As such, my own mind was designed to be much like that of a Human. For other breeds this is not the case. A G-Elf is designed for pursuit and combat. Its mind can process physical actions at a very high speed and predict how those it hunts will react. It also has a good instinctive grasp of small group tactics. Outside that range of concepts it knows little and cares less. Similarly, G-Gnomes have an understanding of the inner workings of the mind that surpass that even of Human telepaths and can maintain our mental networks over vast distances with no difficulty." Io glances at the small grey figure perched on the workshop bench. "But they are weak and slow when called upon to move under their own power, and have even less creative capacity than G-Elves.**

    "They sound like beasts."

    **On their own, perhaps they would be. But joined in one shared mind, each shares its particular skills and perspective with the whole. In that way, the Genomorph Entire is capable of an understanding of which no one of its members is capable. Unfortunately, the Senate appear incapable of understanding this.**

    "Yeah, not every species has nice easy Human-equivalence. When they asked me about it I just suggested copying and pasting law from another species that's thought about it in detail. They were really hung up on getting a one to one equivalence somewhere."

    Io shakes her head. "I still don't think I understand-."

    Dubbilex's horns glow brightly, as do those of the G-Gnome. Io's eyes widen and then glaze over. **Eight thousand minds. Eight thousand thoughts. Eight thousand lives. One collective consciousness. One shared ideal. One shared conclusion.**

    She turns her head, looking around with eyes unseeing. "It's… Incredible. A civilisation inside your minds."

    Sephtian tilts his head to the side slightly. "Might you not have an easier time of it if you were closer to Human norms?"

    Dubbilex's horns stop glowing and Io's back in the room. **Perhaps. More than one member of Lex Luthor's public relations team has suggested that we create more G-Goblins like myself in order to better conform to expectations. But that would mean denying a fundamental part of our nature. Despite the similar limb arrangement we are not Human.**

    Io looks concerned. "If you are the only one who can speak for your people, what would become of them if you were killed?"

    **There are a group of G-Dwarves who have the skills to perform my management duties until a replacement can be created. They can communicate using text to speech devices. I am convenient but not essential.**

    Ted grins. "Genomorphs: because none of us are as smart as all of us."

    **Perhaps. But does that not apply to Humans as well?**

    "Not in quite the same way. Genomorphs don't have the crowd psychology stuff that Humans do. You know, the IQ of the mob is equal to the IQ of the least intelligent member divided by the number of people in the mob."

    Dubbilex stares at me for a moment **I am afraid that no Genomorphs currently possess a sense of humour. Work on the G-Pooka is still in the development stage.**

    Ted smiles. "What other types are you working on?"

    **Based on what I have learned today concerning magic, preliminary work has begun on the G-Fae and G-Oni forms. Though I fear that the development of the G-Succubus may need-**

    "Wha-?"

    **-to be delayed.** Dubbilex looks at our faces one at a time. **Did I say something alarming?**

    Ted looks around, as if hoping someone else will field that. "G… Succubus?"

    **There are three common skills amongst those with mental powers. I am both a telekinetic and a telepath and G-Gnomes are telepathic but our ability to create mental illusions is usually limited.** He turns to me. **I believe that you had an encounter with the exception.** The G-Gnome who made Kon and I live through Mister Napier's attack on Mount Justice. I nod. **That brother had minor alterations to his telepathic systems which we had planned to incorporate into a new archetype.**

    "But… Succubus?"

    **There is a theme of naming Genomorph types after mythological creatures. Succubi are beguiling, beautiful and popular on the internet. It seemed a logical choice.**

    Sephtian's frill wiggles again. "I understood from Mister Constantine that there was a.. sexual component? To the Succubi?"

    **So I am told. But that is hardly relevant to Genomorphs. We do not reproduce sexually.**

    Those of us who do look awkwardly at each other. "This may be part of a larger talk we need to have at some later time." Ring, time? "Ah, I need to get to the theatre soon. Io, do you-?"

    Ted waves me off. "Oh, she can stay." He turns to her. "I would like to show you my forge."

    "I would be interested to see it. But without a translator-."

    Ted sighs, then glances at me. "Paul, turn it off."

    Huh? Okay. Ring, stop translating for them.

    Compliance.

    "I would like to show you my forge. It would be beneficial to see how easily your transmutation ability can be used-" Io's eyes widen slightly. "-in a current day environment."

    "You have learned Themysciran Greek! How?"

    "Classical Greek, Atlantean Greek and a… A Wonder Woman interest. When I was a youth. I did not think it was right to make you learn English and not reciprocate. How is my accent?"

    "Horrible. But I am honoured that you have done this. Yes, I would be delighted to stay with you."

    Ted smiles, then takes a moment to wiggle his eyebrows at me.

    Oh dear.
     
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  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st March
    17:32 GMT -4


    I feel the arms go around my shoulders and a mouth pressed against my right ear. "Hey, Pavlos. How you been?"

    I remain completely still in my seat, my eyes remaining trained on the Amazon actresses on the stage ahead of me. "Good afternoon, Seris. Pretty well, thanks."

    "You never called."

    "I read a book that said it was best not to be clingy. Besides, I can make my own good times."

    "Mine are better." I feel her teeth graze the top of my right ear. "Taboo breakingly better."

    "Can I assume from your presence here that you're in favour of this endeavour?"

    And.. that's a tongue. O-kay..? "To be honest-" Slup. "-I'm not sure how to-" Tchp "-grade it." She moves her mouth away and nuzzles me. "In absolute terms it's a plane journey and a couple of theatre dates." Her left hand wanders up to my neck and the buttons of my shirt part company with the material, letting her slide it down my chest. "But in relative terms, this is the biggest change some of them have seen in their entire lifetimes."

    "Maybe you're over thinking it. How do you feel abo-ow." She bit my ear. "I'm not sure that counts as 'taboo breaking'. People have got pretty relaxed-" She gives my left breast a squeeze. "-about some surprising things."

    "But you haven't. Me taking you right here in this seat would be just as big a change for you as doing a play is for them."

    "I'm fairly sure someone would notice."

    "And?" She shifts position, moving her mouth down to my neck and her left hand along my pectoralis to my side, gently squeezing as she goes. I recognise the technique. "It wouldn't be the first time for this seat, let alone this theatre." She kisses my neck.

    "Is this your ever-so-subtle way of nudging me on the whole girlfriend issue, or are you genuinely interested?"

    "It's that time of the year when Amazons let their hair down." She kisses me again, then moans into the nape of my neck.

    "Firstly, you're not an Amazon. Secondly, you don't have any hair."

    "Sure I do. Wanna see it?" There's a moment, then she pulls her head away a little. "Hey, are you suppressing your libido again?"

    I look down at my crotch, then back up at the stage. Then I shift a little in my seat. "No."

    "Glad to hear it." She-. Oh, come on. Licking the side of my face? This is just getting weir-. Right, chaos. "Just because I can't tell what you're thinking with magic doesn't mean that I can't tell what you're thinking."

    Okay, this is enough. I run filaments under my seat, wrapping snake constructs up her legs, torso and arms, pulling her off me. I lean forwards and stand u-. Oh, the buttons are just gone! I recreate them and close my shirt before turning around to face her.

    Same Eris. More denim in the clothing than before. I suppose that she may well have just walked in here. She gives the construct-bindings a gentle tug. They give a little, but remain solid. "Mmm. I don't think anyone's done this here before. Though I should probably point out that the trick I was using to make sure no one noticed us stopped working as soon as you responded."

    "Didums. You know I actually tried hitting on a woman yesterday?"

    "Really?"

    "Really."

    "Really?"

    "Yes, and unless you want me to gag you, you won't say it-."

    She grins manically. "Really?"

    I transition into her seating row, stare her seriously in the eyes, then extend my right hand forwards, pressing it against her lips. Her eyes widen a little in delight as she opens her mouth and I push my fingers… My hand… My forearm, what? Where is it..? How..? Okay, if I-?

    Her expression is -other than her unsettlingly distended mouth- strangely nonchalant. "A hot aggin et."

    Ring, whisky spray and a lighter.

    "Compliance."

    There's a slight delay, then her face bulges and there's a weak wheezing noise. I pull my arm free and remove the constructs binding her as she bends over and starts choking. "Aheh, a heh, ahah hah hah!"

    "Good enough?"

    "I knew… Aheh aheh. I knew there was a reason I liked you." She thinks for a moment. "Mmm, ten year old Glenfarclas. You must be a good guy to date."

    "Most alcoholic drinks just taste yuck to me."

    She nods and takes a few deep breaths to clear her airways. "Who was she, anyway?"

    "Melinoë."

    She holds up her hands in apparent surrender. "That's me butting out of your love life, then." She takes a step closer and puts her right hand on my left shoulder. "But seriously, do that 'embracing positive change' thing you've been telling other people to do. You'll be happier. Or at least, more interesting to me." She tilts her head slightly to the left. "And isn't that the most important thing?"

    I move closer still, put my arms around her waist, rest my hands on her buttocks and squeeze them hard. "Of course."

    We both continue to regard one another with expressions of complete seriousness for a moment, then she pulls away. "I'll see you tomorrow, at the performance."

    "You've seen it before though, haven't you?"

    Her eyes narrow. "Not in quite the same way." She shrugs and turns around to walk away. "Break a leg!"

    Aaaaaah crap. Eris coming here to check up on me is quite believable. Eris showing actual interest and saying 'break a leg' means that something is going to happen. I transition myself down the aisle to where Clio's watching the dress rehearsal.

    "Clio, we may have a problem."

    She turns her head and gives me an arch smile. "You fear that your admirers may rush the stage?"

    "That wasn't… Okay, she kind of is an admirer, but not.. like that." Probably. "That was Eris, and she rather implied that something.. 'amusing' was going to happen."

    Clio's face falls. "Then… Perhaps it would be wise to call it off. Or request that Lord Fate weave some manner of protective spell over the theatre to ensure that
     
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  12. Mr Zoat

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    22nd March
    08:58 GMT -4


    "Mister Olsen, good to see you again." He has to release his grip on his camera to shake my hand. "Ms Lane." The muscles in her hand tense, as if she expected some sort of test of strength. Truth is, I've never really liked shaking hands and tend not to linger unless the other person wants me to. "You haven't been thrown off any more buildings, I hope?"

    She rolls her eyes. "No, thank God. And Superboy." She shifts her attention. "I see you're wearing a slightly more distinct costume this time."

    Kon holds out his hand as well. "You can call me 'Kon'. Ah." He shrugs. "If you like."

    Since there will be pictures of both of us and since national syndication is a distinct possibility, we needed a way to distinguish him visually from 'Conner Kent'. Or maybe we don't; Donna's never bothered with that beyond a slightly more introverted civilian persona. Anyway, we dug out the official armoured regalia of a Themysciran prince -Io's diadem included- and the result is… Regal. Certainly there's a strong visual difference between the young man next to me and the sullen youth who attends Happy Harbour High School.

    I'm still a little surprised that they haven't changed the signs back yet.

    "Not insisting on 'prince'?"

    He looks away, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. "No, I… It's kinda new, and.. I'm not really trained to do prince-stuff yet."

    Ms Lane smirks. "What exactly does the prince of an island of three thousand year old warrior women do, exactly?"

    "Mostly? Studying. I've got over three thousand years of history to read up on, plus all the civics stuff." He manages a small smile. "I can speak Classical Greek, but Themysciran Greek isn't exactly the same and apparently the Genomorphs gave me a weird accent."

    Ms Lane nods. "I read Dana's piece in the Herald. Can't believe you're only eight months old."

    M'gann and I settled that question like mature adults. With rock-paper-scissors. Extra fun with telepaths and people trained in telepathic resistance.

    "So what was it like, having all that knowledge stuck in your head while you were in a tank?"

    My eyes narrow very slightly. Obviously I expected her to needle him a bit, but that's something that would have really set him off only a few months ago. Doesn't.. look like it's bothered him.

    "I don't really know. I mean, at the time I'd never been to school. I didn't really have anything to compare it to. What was it like, learning stuff by being told it?"

    "Time consuming. And usually? Pretty boring." She glances at me. "When's that coming out as a Cadmus product?"

    I nod. "At some point, once we have a better idea of what it does to Human brains in the long term. Kon had to have another telepath properly integrate what he'd been taught with his normal memories before he could do more than play it like a recorded message. And at the moment Dubbilex is the only Genomorph who can speak and he's.. a bit busy."

    Kon nods. "The stuff the G-Gnomes showed me either came through as a dream or as.. data, without any real context. It wasn't until I got out of the tank that it started meaning anything."

    "Couldn't that sort of thing be used for implanting mental commands? The Cadmus-."

    "Yes, very-." / "It did, M'gann-."

    We all stop talking, Kon and I looking at each other. I incline my head slightly. "It did. Doctor Desmond put several overrides in my mind, things to shut me down or make me.. behave in certain ways if the right things happened. M'gann… Ah, you saw the pictures of us before we went into LexCorp in February?" Ms Lanes nods. "M'gann's the Manhunter's niece. She had to go through my mind and make sure everything fitted together properly."

    "Why didn't Manhunter do it himself?"

    "I.. know M'gann better."

    I smirk. "Some things are easier to accept if they're being done by a cute girl."

    "How much did the Genomorphs teach you?"

    "A bunch of languages, world history, science, engineering, grandmaster level chess… Lots of things."

    "No art in there?"

    "I got some philosophy and I know art history. I can sketch, but I don't think Doctor Desmond thought stuff like that was worth including. Could be I can only draw because I needed to be able to do that for technical drawings."

    "Do you go to school in America?"

    "Yeah, but… In my secret identity. So… Um."

    She nods. "Say no more. But why bother, if you already know everything? What do you get out of it?"

    "I go to school because I'm a person, not a machine. I'm not just the things I got programmed to think. And the G-Gnomes didn't know much about social interactions."

    "You spend a lot of time with Superman?"

    "Not really. Didn't I..? Y'know, go over that in Dana's interview?"

    "Yeah, but I wanted to know if anything changed."

    Kon shakes his head, "Not really."

    She looks at him as if she expects him to say more. "You don't.. want.. any sort of relationship with your biological father?"

    "I used to. Now? No, It doesn't.. really matter to me. I've got Mom, my friends… Hey, you've probably spent more time with him this year than I have."

    Mister Olsen coughs in a way that certainly wasn't a cover for anything.

    "You said in Dana's interview that you were created using Superman's DNA. Does that mean that you're a clone of him? Are we going to have two supermen flying around in a few years?"

    "Actually, only half of my… It's actually kinda complicated, but only about half of me comes from him."

    "Half your DNA?"

    "Half my body tissues. You can't just stick Kryptonian and Human DNA together and expect anything much to happen."

    "You're half Human." He nods. "Because there were rumors when you first 'came out' that you might be Superman and Wonder Woman's secret lovechild."

    "Superman's nowhere near old enough to have a child Kon's age."

    "Are you sure?"

    "Yes." Ah. "Well, he might have been capable of siring a child -just about- but there's no way Diana would have.. gone with someone that young."

    "Okay, so the billion dollar question is: who's your other parent?"

    "Lex Luthor." Ms Lane's eyes widen and her mouth hangs slightly open. Mister Olsen exhales suddenly without opening his mouth, producing a sort of farting noise. "With the techniques they were using, they just needed a genetic sample and it didn't matter if the donor was a man or a woman-."

    "Let's-! Let's talk about the play for a bit." Ms Lane rapidly switches her attention between us as she tries to get the Kal-El/Lex picture out of her head. "What exactly is 'The Five Faced Senator' all about?"

    "It's a comedy, where the main character gets so fixated on his intrigues that he-. In the original it was a he, but obviously this production will be all women-."
     
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  13. Mr Zoat

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  14. Mr Zoat

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    22nd March
    18:31 GMT -4


    There's no sense getting frantic. Diana was quite clear that that may be the result Eris was looking for. Just because you can't find something you suspect to be there doesn't mean that there's something there that's too well hidden for you to locate. I've scanned the building from top to bottom. I've redone the background checks on everyone who will be in attendance and scanned them thoroughly just to make sure. I've also done the same on all of the security guards and secret service agents. On everyone who works here. Near here. Close to here.

    Close-ish.

    There's a puff of displaced air as Donna flies back into the room we've been using as a base of operations. I turn to face her in the faint hope that she'll have something. She sees the hope in my eyes and shakes her head. "I've been over the whole place. I.. couldn't see anything."

    "Thank you."

    "So… Do you think Eris was just winding you up?"

    "It's possible."

    "Maybe.. you.. shouldn't have turned her down."

    "Did Clio tell you about that?"

    "Clio." She nods. "And Jocasta. And Galene." I sag. "Your…" Her eyes dip and her cheeks colour slightly. "Your whole forearm, huh?"

    "I've been wondering: Olympians. Are their Human-shaped forms their actual forms, or are they just… Avatars. Because I remember reading the story of Semele"

    "I've only met Zeus a couple of times with Diana. Asking about his old lovers when Hera was right next to him didn't seem like a good idea."

    I nod. I suppose I could now"So… No idea?"

    "Not really. If it helps… I mean, my powers come from the same place and I think this is what I really look like." She turns her head towards the door and then back to me. "Do you wanna go and tell Clio that you're done?"

    "Yeah, that's probably a good idea."

    I follow her out of the room and down the corridor in the direction of the stalls. Official 'start arriving' time is 1900 so the auditorium should be largely empty. Clio said something about last minute stage direction changes that she wanted to think about. Is she worried? Normally I'd just look and tell but since I handed all of the Amazons Spell Eaters and scry wards just in case the threat was arcane in nature my empathic vision isn't giving clear returns from them any longer.

    I won't be watching the play myself. Since it's the one we read through on the plane I already know the outline of the story and I'm supposed to be on guard in case my ability as a security guard is required. Assuming nothing explodes on the first night we're probably safe.

    Several Secret Service agents are already monitoring the auditorium as we enter, though the one next to the door we enter through barely even bothers to register our presence. Ring, just double che-. Yes, he's fine. I spot Clio talking to Mala in the far isle. On the stage the set for the opening scene is already in place. Since they're designed for amphitheatres, Amazon plays are usually light on set dressing but Clio wanted to try and make the most of the opportunity the set up here affords.

    "You know, I've.. sort of…"

    "What?"

    "Well… What exactly is your relationship to the Olympians?"

    She looks away. "That's… Kind of… Complicated."

    "Curtain doesn't go up for an hour and a half."

    "Okay, well, you know you can track magic based on.. both what goes into it and how the spell is put together?"

    I nod. "Yes."

    "That's it."

    "What?"

    "That's it. I'm full of the same magics they are, that Diana is. No one really knows why or how. I did wonder if I was, y'know, one of Zeus' illegitimate daughters. Or maybe one of the others…"

    "And?"

    "None of them said anything, and I've met most of the ones who.. do that sort of thing." She shrugs. "I'm still a little curious, but at this point in my life finding out wouldn't really be that big of a deal. What makes you ask?"

    "Oh, just curi.. ous." Oh.

    "What?"

    "You've got the exact same powers as Diana, right?"

    "I can't detect lies like she does, but apart from that, yeah."

    "Obvious suggestion that someone's probably already checked: is there any chance you were made in the same way she was? From clay and magic?"

    "Um." Her eyes drop as she considers the idea. "I… Suppose it's possible. But, Diana was made in Gaea's Grove eighty five years ago. I'm sure someone would have noticed if someone had done it again."

    "Not necessarily. Diana took me there on my first day on this planet and no one else was around. The area isn't restricted and Queen Hippolyta told everyone where her new daughter came from."

    "It's.. not impossible. But then how did I get here from Themyscira?"

    "Where is 'here' exactly?"

    "A burned out apartment block in Harlem. The fire fighters found me when they went through the rubble after they put the fire out. You.. really didn't know that?"

    "I've.. been trying to cut back on my snooping. So, what: you were just there?"

    She nods. "Not as if the fire was going to get hot enough to hurt me. Or the smoke, or the rubble."

    "What did people think happened?"

    "The woman who owned the apartment I was found in was called Dorothy Hinckley. My birth certificate says she's my mother, but… No one who knew her thought she was pregnant. I don't think she was, but by the time I was old enough to know about this stuff I didn't really care anymore. Mom and Dad are my Mom and Dad."

    "Ah."

    "It could have happened like that, but I don't see an Amazon making a child, getting Gaea to bring it to life and then travelling all the way to America only to die in a fire."

    "No. I suppose their absence would have been noti-."

    "Troy Girl! Orange Lantern!" Clio turns away from Mala to smile at us. "Is everything in order?"

    "As far as we can tell. You all set?"

    "I believe so. First nights are always a concern, but I'm certain that we will do Themyscira proud. There was one thing I wanted to check, however."

    "What was it?"
     
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    22nd March
    19:32 GMT -4


    Play appears to be going fine so far. The basic story is that the Queen has to pay a diplomatic visit to a neighbouring city state and leaves her son in charge in her absence. Most of the other characters dismiss him, but he does an alright job and they start to come around until he does something unwise -there are a few versions of exactly what and I haven't checked which they're using- involving a group of visiting merchants. The version where he seduces a foreign merchant's daughter is fairly popular, though there are a couple of others. That results in one of the goddesses getting pissed off with him -for reasons of self preservation Amazons usually depict the deity in question as being a foreign goddess- and raining hardships down on his head while he tries to make things right. Again, depending on the version they're using he either succeeds, finally proving his worth, dies in the attempt and so takes the goddess' wrath onto himself and is hailed as a hero post-mortem, or fails despite his best efforts and it falls to his allies to fix things. Needless to say, in that version it's pretty much 'rocks fall everyone dies'.

    Huh. Didn't really think about it before, but I haven't met who they've got playing-.

    "Can I... Get a hand here?"

    I look around as one of the stage hands tries dragging a large and heavy-looking chest up the steps to the backstage area. He's looking at me and I'm about to send over a filament when Mala grabs the handle at the other end of the chest and lifts it up one handed.

    "Oh. Ah, than-" Mala kneels, gets a grip on the base and lifts it up and onto her right shoulder. "-ksss…"

    "Where is it being taken?"

    "Ah…" Mala is a well muscled woman, but she isn't a professional body builder. If that chest is as heavy as he was making it look… Oh. I knew some Amazons had divine heritage, but if she's that strong it probably means… "Just up there. The director said it was for the guy playing the prince."

    "I will see that he gets it."

    "Right." He's staring, trying to work out how the hell she's doing that. "I'll, um. I'll get back to work."

    She nods, then turns around and heads towards me.

    I flick my left index finger at the chest. "I hadn't realised."

    "Being the daughter of the most prolific rapist to have ever lived is not something many of us boast about. Divine heritage or not."

    "No, I… Of course." The Heraklya are Herakles' daughters, sired when he raped their mothers during the sack of the Old City. That myth about him impregnating all fifty of Thespius' daughters? It turns out that one of Zeus' powers he inherited was super fecundity. The Amazons may have only been his subjects for less than a week before the goddesses enabled their flight but he certainly.. took advantage of the situation. And it wasn't exactly hard to determine paternity, there weren't any other super strong men around at the time. The children were seen for a long time as a particularly unpleasant reminder of the whole episode. I remember reading that the young men ended up being more or less exiled, assigned to the job of monitoring the mainland. Opinion on the women slowly moderated itself as the centuries passed and they're no longer quite the sign of ill-omen they once were.

    Mala removes the chest from her shoulder and lowers it to the floor. "Though it is one of the reasons why I am so close to Diana. I am one of the few guards she can wrestle with on near equal terms."

    "I thought that Captain Philippus handled that with the Gauntlets and Sandals?"

    "She did much, but it was hardly practical for her to be on hand at all times. And I believe that Queen Hippolyta wanted to spread the joys of teaching as far as possible."

    "I suppose you wouldn't have had much opportunity to do that for a while."

    "There is always something to learn, but… No. I was assigned as her guard when she was an infant, after the Circle made their treacherous attempt on her life and as an instructor when she grew to maidenhood. Even back when we had children who required instruction, I could not easily take part. The risk of me injuring them was simply too great. It was a privilege to be able to aid her."

    "Miss her while she was gone?"

    "It was good for her to be able to see something of the world, but… Yes. I think we all did."

    I raise my eyebrows and incline my head slightly.

    "Oh, not like.. that. That is to say… I think we are all a little in love with Diana. Her intelligence, her conviction, her kindness and generosity,-"

    "Yes, I've-."

    "-her truly magnificent breasts."



    "Not.. totally comfortable thinking about my best friend's mother in that way. Though if we're talking about it, have you noticed that her hair-?"

    "I know. It must be one of Gaea's gifts, because mortal hair would tangle far more readily."

    "Mine does, and I keep mine inside a force field!"

    We share a smirk at our shared foolishness.

    "Have you got any idea who Clio's got-" I tap the crate with my left foot. "-playing the male lead?"

    "Ughh?"

    "No, and I am not sure when she would have had time to cast the role. I had wondered if she might have asked you-"

    "Mmmngh!"

    "-or Prince Kon."

    "Did you hear that?"

    Mala hesitates. "Was it not coming from the stage?"

    Ring.

    Compliance.

    Orange filaments strike the locks and clasps, turning and opening them. Inside are various pieces of Greco-Roman costume and oh shit. I cut the gag to free Clio's mouth before slicing at the cord binding her, and she gasps for air.

    Mala pulls her out. "Clio, who did this?"

    "And if you're here, who the heck is that in the stalls?"

    Clio steadies herself against Mala's shoulder. "Some foe of Diana's. She did not say her name, but bound me with her magic and forced me inside."

    "A shapeshifter or an illusionist, then." I generate a railgun construct and load a mageslayer round. "Might even be Circe if I'm really lucky."

    "How long ago was this?"

    "The performance is tonight?"

    "The performance is happening now."

    "Then.. days ago. But I did not experience that time."

    "Mala, find out what happened. I'm stopping the play." I try to transition to the stage, but something is blocking me. Fine then. I transition to the left wing and stride
     
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    I breathe in sharply, becoming properly aware of my surroundings and the name of the woman before me. "Calliope? What…"

    "She ensnared you when you walked onto the stage."

    "Who did? I didn't…"

    "Her name is the Queen of Fables. Do you remember this story?"

    I nod. Gods, this is exactly why I-. "My Spell Eater. She shouldn't have been able to-."

    Calliope shakes her head. "I have not seen it, but no magic is being absorbed by anything you are still wearing."

    I look at my clothes. No, period. Ring, armour.

    Unable to comply.

    Spell Eater?

    Unable to comply.

    "Her magic is still affecting you. I can free your mind for a short time, but you will not be able to act outside of the bounds of the tale."

    "Right, what's actually happening?"

    "The actors are in a false world created by her magic. The audience are fully enraptured by her spell and so fuelling her illusion. Donna, Mala and Prince Kon are free and attempting to reach you. It was they who called upon me."

    "Thank you. Is there a reason they're not just punching her out?"

    "She holds the audience hostage, binding their minds and their souls to the play. If it is not completed…"

    I nod. She'd know, I suppose. "If the Queen is here, she must have taken a role."

    "She will assume the role of the goddess who will be enraged by your treatment of me, and do her utmost to destroy you while the play limits your power."

    "Can you aid me further?"

    She shakes her head. "The character whose role I have does not appear after this scene. You will have to manage as best you can."

    "But I won't be me. I can't plan or fight effectively as a classical Themysciran prince!"

    "The magic may change your memories but it will not change your nature. The Prince overcomes his challenges in more versions of this story than those in which he fails to do so. You will have to trust your friends and your virtues. Now, come. We must do something together that will enrage my father."
     
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    My right arm is outstretched as the Apple of Discord strikes her directly in the forehead. It breaks apart like a rotten fruit, her eyes widening in astonishment as the force of the impact knocks her head back.

    I dart to the side in a crouch, my right hand closing around the sword hilt. "I must.. dissent."
     
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    I'm glowing, though whether the cause is the sword, some new god or some characteristic of myself I cannot tell. Three rushed paces take me to within striking distance of Tsaritsa and I bring my blade around in a clumsy overhead strike!

    BABUM

    Her right hand comes up to parry with her claws. She does not look as if she should have the strength for it, but her hand barely moves and the claws remain solid. They must be orichalcum as well!

    BABUM

    Don't hesitate, don't stop. Keep her on the defensive! As her parry turns my sword aside I twist, trying to turn it around under her guard. She catches the blade with her left hand and holds it fast. "Mortal prince-."

    BABUM

    I punch her in the face. "God or mortal, tyrants are not to be borne!"

    No, that orange light definitely isn't coming from the sword. I yank at the blade even as I pull my fist back for another strike. My knuckles are an inch from her face as her left hand catches my wrist.

    BABUM

    I smash my forehead into her nose, hearing a crack that I don't think was my skull.

    "Ah!"

    BABUM

    "I will not tolerate slavery to foul gods! I reject the world you would make! Begone!"

    Orange light flares, and for a moment I'm standing not in a palace but in some strange form of amphitheatre. The stone flagstones beneath my feet are replaced with some form of wood, the walls with cloth and passages away to I know not where. Turning my head a little I see that there is even a vacuous crowd staring at my struggle.

    What madness is-?

    Tsaritsa stands, forcing me back. Her nose is off-centre and blood issues forth from her nostrils. "IMPUDENT WRETCH!" She pulls my left arm aside, bringing my face close to hers. I think she's growing taller, as I'm forced to choose between hanging from her hand or releasing my grip on the sword's hilt. "YOU THINK YOU CAN STAND BEFORE A GODDESS?!"

    Around me the amphitheatre disappears by degrees, the floors returning to stone as if they never were anything else. Curtain becomes wall once more, and space itself bends as the audience begins to-

    "Paul!"

    -vanish. A young woman of Themysciran aspect lunges forth from a pathway in the seating, flying through the air to pass through the last visible part of the audience even as the throne room's side wall reasserts itself. She's wearing a tightly-fitted garment made of materials I cannot readily identify, jet black save in those places where tiny flecks of silver shine through. It is as if she wears the night itself! On her forearms are solid mithril bracers, at her waist hangs a silver lasso and in her hands she carries some form of chain with manacles atta-.

    There's a sudden force on my left arm and then I am in the air, Tsaritsa hurling me away to face her new challenger. A moment of weightlessness as I prepare to land, then the newcomer catches me mid-air and lands us both halfway down the throne room. I immediately turn to face Tsaritsa, sword ready. She was not precisely growing taller, I note. Rather she now floats off the ground, her legs replaced by a great swarm of thick vines. "What manner of creature-!?"

    "Paul?"

    "I am Prince Pavlos of Themyscira. I mean no offence, my lady, but I had rather hoped to do this without further divine intervention."

    "I though-." She glances at me before returning her attention to our enemy. "No, I'm only a demigoddess. Donna of, um. Of Troy."

    "Well met, Donna of Troy. Have you fought Tsaritsa before?"

    Tsaritsa opens her arms wide, throwing out many tiny… Are those seeds?

    "No, but my teacher has. If we can bind her in this chain she will be powerless."

    "Very well. Wrap it around her as fast as you can. I shall hold her attention." I dash forwards.

    "That's not-! Ah. Why did he have to be stuck in character?"

    I make it perhaps half way towards our foe before the floor explodes around us! As the dust settles I see a dozen skeletons made of stone around us! I had always imagined the Spartoi simply as odd-looking men but clearly I was mistaken. I slice the closest through the ribs and spine before it can get its bearings and I am rewarded with it falling into two parts. The upper part lands on its back and stabs at me with its sword, forcing me to sidestep to avoid it.

    "The skull!" Donna flies at one of them, who blocks her with its shield. She shoves it back until it strikes a wall, then releases her grip and slams her hands together from either side of its head, crushing it to dust. A half-second later the rest crumbles as well and she grabs its sword and shield.

    Skull it is. I drive the point of my sword through the cranium of my fallen foe and it dissolves just as hers did. Come to think of it, I could really do with a shield myseawah! A glowing orange shield forms on my left arm. Okay then. I charge the next stone warrior, ducking down slightly to shoulder charge it while slicing at its legs. My sword cuts cleanly through its left tibia and fibula and combined with the force of my impact sends it crashing to the floor. There's a movement on my left and I hurriedly block with my shield even as I slice the top off my current opponent's skull. Dusted.

    A sword clangs off my shield and I instinctively counter with a shield bash before turning and stabbing through a stony eye socket. I take a moment to appraise the fight. Tsaritsa is hanging back, I've destroyed three and Donna… I watch as she destroys her seventh.

    BABUM

    No. My side or not, I'm not letting a divinity do all the work.

    BABUM

    I rocket forwards, a nimble sidestep and stab slaying another stone warrior. Two more steps and I turn my shield to block a spear thrust, three more and I leap, swinging my sword down towards Tsaritsa's torso! She raises both sets of talons to block once more and my blade strikes hers-

    BABUM

    -and cleaves through before being turned aside by the cuirass, pushing her back until it bites into her tendrils.

    "AAAAAAAGHHH!"

    She tries to fall back as I land back on the ground. I advance once again, swinging my sword even as she tries to entangle me in the boneless limbs. Once, twice, three times I slice through, each time warped flesh falling lifeless to the floor and closing the distance a little more.

    "Behind you!"

    I hurriedly turn and fall to a crouch, the stone warrior's swing passing over my head. My riposte pierces its skull through the bottom of its jaw on its journey to the top of its head. Immediately I return my attention to Tsaritsa, staring into her widening eyes. "Still contemptuous of the strength of mortal men?!" I advance once more as she reorientates her tentacles. "Still careless of mortal virtue?!"

    "How..? How..?"

    I step left, cutting through a tentacle that had assumed the shape of an octopus' limb.

    "Because I-" Chop. "-am resolved-" Slice. "-to replace your nightmare of mortal serfdom-" Impale. "-with my own more egalitarian vision!"

    She rears up, her full attention on me. "Your resolution means even less to me than these temporary wo-." From behind her Donna wraps the chain around her neck- "Hh?" -before pulling it tight and closing the manacles around her upper arms. Runes on the manacles glow in shapes that I do not understand, even as Tsaritsa's head jerks up and she exhales, mist rising from her mouth, eyes and shattered nose as she collapses to the floor. I take a step back, braced for a renewed attack even as her tentacles evaporate and she is reduced to her Human-seeming shape.

    "Nicely done, Donna of Troy. Now we can hold her in the dungeons until mother returns. With the damn fish."

    She doesn't seem happy, however.

    "But that should have ended her magics. Why are we still in the play?"
     
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    "Play?"

    Donna turns away from me to haul Tsaritsa upright. "Why hasn't it stopped yet?"

    Predictably, Tsaritsa just turns her head away.

    "Donna, what play? We're in the palace in the City of Themyscira. We do host players upon occasion, but we are not doing so at the moment. It would hardly have been safe with.. her threat hanging over us."

    She sighs, trying to get her thoughts in order. "Okay, this is going to sound.. a little strange."

    "I have spent the past five days as the dogsbody of a deranged goddess. My standard for 'strange' is not what it was."

    "No, you haven't."

    "I assure you, Donna, I remember it quite clearly."

    "What did you have for dinner yesterday?"

    "I…" I shake my head. "Some bread? Some fruit as well, I imagine?"

    "Do you remember eating it?"

    I hold my hands out to the sides in a shrugging motion. "I.. have.. eaten many dinners over the years. Given how worried I was, I don't think that-."

    "You don't remember it because it didn't happen. The Queen of Fables -Tsaritsa- trapped you and several others in a play just over an hour ago."

    "She… She did? Then…" I look around. Now I think about it, my memories of the last.. few… The last hour does seem a little… Off. "I clearly remember each of the challenges, but the rest… I had assumed that it was simply a matter of the stress…"

    "What did you see when I flew onto the stage?"

    "An amphitheatre, but I assumed that it was a vision created by her magics."

    "No, that was reality. This is the vision. When you attacked her you somehow disrupted her magic for a moment and saw outside it."

    "If you mean to say that my mind has been altered, why are you not affected? "

    "I'm wearing an amulet that protects me from enemy magic. The spell isn't all that strong, it's just all-encompassing."

    "Then…" I stare at my right hand. "Do.. I exist? Does Themyscira?"

    "The Old City was conquered by the army of the demigod Herakles over three thousand years ago. The Amazons who escaped fled to an island and made their home there. You… Yes, you exist. Your name is Paul, and you are a wise and mighty hero."

    I nod. I don't really understand this, but the sense of wrongness that I get when I contemplate the idea of Tsaritsa winning still burns within me. "If this is.. a play, then it most likely…" I shake my head. "No, that…"

    "What?"

    "If it were a Hellenic play, it would have a certain structure to it. At the end, there would be a summation of events, and those who lived would state how the experience had changed them, what they had learned from it. If the fight was the climax then we have yet to have the denouement, and as such the play is not over."

    "Huh. Okay. I've learned that fights are much easier when you're properly equipped to deal with your opponent. These chains are something else." She releases Tsaritsa to fall back to the floor. "I've also learned the value of networking. I'm just glad that Kon knew where you keep everything."

    "Kon?"

    "He's.. a friend. He's the guy who thought to get the suppression chain and my Spell Eater. Would I.. need to keep talking about things I've learned?"

    "The resolution of the main plot is the important part. Who was the main character in this?"

    She gives me a look. "You're the main character, Paul. The story is about how the Prince copes with his trials."

    "Oh. I think my blood is still a little hot from the fight to say anything truly profound, but I will give it my best." I walk to roughly the centre of the area that briefly appeared to be the amphitheatre stage and face the direction in which I briefly saw the audience. "Over the past hour -though it seemed to me to be longer- I have reflected upon my misfortune in several different ways. I hope that now I can see it for what it actually is, but I am mindful that at each step of the way I thought the very same. Firstly, I would say that I have learned that no matter what you do or how you live, someone, somewhere will take exception to it, no matter how reasonable the action or unreasonable the exception. The second is that a foul tyrant is a foul tyrant, whether mortal or god, and should be fought just the same."

    "The third, is that while many gods were happy to aid me in my struggle, the one who gave me the impetus I needed to confront Tsaritsa did not do so by helping me. She did so by confronting me with the assumptions I had made and forcing me to see the situation for what it truly was. She gave me the opportunity and then left me to sink or swim according to my own abilities. While I thank the others for their aid, it is Eris to whom I am most indebted. It is strife that led me to victory." I half turn to look at the area around the throne. "And I may need to get her a new apple."

    "Philosophically, I have learned that no virtue will entirely protect you from misfortune or the wrath of vengeful gods. And that when they fail to do so, it is folly to assume that it was your fault all along. I also learned that no one -not even a god- is invincible. And that a mortal with sufficient drive can cast them down through their own efforts."

    I step away, turning back towards Donna. "I think that's me soliloquied out. Should I ask the other players to enter, or do you think that will suffice?"

    "That's done it. Look over there."

    I follow her gaze as I see flagstones once more being replaced by wooden boards. I nod. "I am not sure what of this I will remember when I am once more.. who I was. Still, I am grateful to you as well."

    "It was nothing."

    "It was not nothing; we brought down a goddess together." Hm. There is that other thing I learned. "And I suppose it's as well to be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb."

    She shakes her head. "What do you mean by that?"

    I walk slowly towards her, stopping just short and taking hold of her unresisting hands. I raise them to my mouth and kiss her knuckles. "Your valour, your ferocity and your power quite impressed me." I take a moment to take a closer look at her face. "And now that I have the chance to examine you more closely I find that you are a striking beauty."

    She blinks in surprise. "Um."

    "I was nearly killed for merely spending an evening in a woman's company, and I am loath to deny myself that pleasure again. Have you made any plans for the Dionysia? Because if not-" I step closer. "-I would very much like to spend it with you."

    She backs away slightly. "Okay this play needs to end right now."

    "All the world's a stage, Donna of Troy. And we are but-."

    And back in the room.

    I look at Donna's hands.

    Then Donna's mildly flushed face.

    And then we both take a step away from each other as the audience begin applauding.
     
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    22nd March
    22:12 GMT -4


    I grin at Clio. "So? How did we do?"

    She takes a deep breath as she considers her feelings. We're in the dressing area with Donna while Diana and Kon sort things out with the police and Secret Service. It took us several minutes to convince the audience that what they had just borne witness to was not in fact an example of ancient Greek special effects, but rather a supervillain attack. The Secret Service agents were quickest on the uptake, several of them recognising Tsaritsa from League intelligence reports. With her so clearly and thoroughly defeated they didn't immediately evacuate the President but the senior agent did express an interest in acquiring Spell Eaters.

    I referred him to Atlantis.

    "I have never seen it staged in quite that way before."

    Donna grins. "I don't think anyone has."

    "N… No. I meant that I have never seen that story performed in that way before. In versions where the Prince is aided by the gods their intervention is always shown as a beneficent thing. They do so either to help a Greek against a foreigner, to chase off an interloping god or in response to his piety and devotion to his people. In your version, the Prince only overcame his foe by turning from gods entirely and forging his own path."

    "With a little help from Eris."

    "Yyyyes. I cannot help but feel that that was aimed at we Amazons."

    I shake my head. "Hey, I honestly believed myself to be an Old Themysciran prince. Anything that looked aimed.. almost certainly wasn't."

    "Also, having Troy Girl break into the climax was a little… A little meta for my tastes."

    Donna nods. "I suppose it would be hard to convey the idea that the Queen-." I glower, stare and shake my head. "That Tsaritsa-" I nod approvingly. "-was in control of the stage."

    "Unless you took on the role."

    Clio frowns. "I think not. I cannot think of a way to give myself tentacles in place of my legs."

    "I know a guy-."

    "I do not. And I will continue not to, thank you very much." She takes another deep breath. "I also felt that the denouement was somewhat weak."

    "I… Pavlos did say-."

    "It is an acceptable break from reality to have players make eloquent speeches in situations where no real person would." I nod. It was a bit federally mandated cartoon 'what have we learned' message. "Still… I may use parts of it again. Perhaps as a comedy."

    "Are you going to stage another performance?"

    "Yes, we will. No one appears to have suffered any lasting harm and we have practised 'The Five Faced Senator' extensively."

    "I wonder if the prospect of being attacked by a supervillain will scare more people away now that it's already happened once?"

    "I somehow doubt it-." The ring flashes. "Excuse me." I step away from the two of them and raise it to my ear. "Orange Lantern here."

    "Orange Lantern, would you and Troia please come out to the foyer." Diana's voice. "We need to decide what we are going to do with the Queen of Fables."

    "We'll be there in a-."

    "Please, walk. People are nervous enough as it is."

    "A minute then. Orange Lantern out." I lower my hand. "Troia, we're wanted."

    "Okay." She turns back to Clio. "Are you going to be okay without us?"

    Clio nods. "There are American guards all around and we have Zosime and Mala. We will be fine."

    Donna nods in return and follows me out into the corridor. As we head towards the public parts of the building I consider my Classical-era alter ego's assessment of her. Of course, he wasn't aware of our true age… On the other hand, Donna's probably ageless from adulthood in the same way Diana is, she's going to be eighteen in about three weeks and I seem to remember that she married an older bloke in the comics.

    "So, am I really that ugly?"

    "What do you mean?"

    "The way you reacted when Pavlos hit on you. It's the second time I've been shot down in three days and I was wondering if-."

    "Oh, no, it was… You weren't in your right mind. And, um… You may not be aware of this? But asking to 'spend the Dionysia' with someone is basically.. asking them to have sex with you."

    "Ah."

    "Also, I'm kinda.. seeing someone…"

    "Okay. Okay." Swing and miss. "What were you and Kon up to while I was method acting?"

    "Kon went back to the cave to get your equipment and I had to notify the League and deal with the police. Once Mala told me it was.. Tsaritsa, I had a better idea of what to expect. We tried putting Spell Eaters on the audience but that didn't seem to do anything and since we weren't exactly sure where she was we didn't want to risk bringing anyone unprotected in."

    How would..? "If she'd.. pulled their minds or souls partially out of their bodies… No, I'm not sure how that worked. I'll hand a report over to Sephtian and John and see what they can come up with." I frown. "No Nabu?"

    We walk through the foyer doors, past the Secret Service agents and police.

    "He isn't invulnerable to magic and he wasn't around last time the League fought Tsaritsa so I wasn't sure how it would affect him." I nod. "Plus, I don't… Like.. him." She pauses. "I know that's not a good reason-."

    "Oh, I'm not complaining. I hate him. But-. I've.. got a contact list of people, I'll give you a copy once we-."

    Kon looks around as we approach the huddle and sticks his right hand up to wave. I wave back… Ah. Diana's in full Wonder Woman mode while Tsaritsa is chained up next to her. They're surrounded by what I think is an FBI SWAT team while President Horne and a couple of his officials talk to Diana. One of the agents spots us approaching and moves aside to let us through.

    "…idea the League had was trapping her inside a book on tax law, Wonder Woman."

    "President Horne, Belle Reve is not capable of containing a creature of her power. All that will happen-."

    "With all due respect, I don't think that's your decision to make. The American courts-."

    I grin. "Problem, sirs?"

    They both turn to look at me. Diana lets out a very quiet sigh. "We are discussing what should become of The Queen of Fables."

    "There is nothing to discuss. The attack happened in America."

    "Actually sir, it didn't. Clio -the director?- was attacked on Themyscira. Chronologically, this incident began there and then carried on. Also, it seems likely that the first people affected were Themysciran nationals."

    "With some countries I'd agree with you, but we don't have an extradition treaty with Themyscira." I smile again. "Not since-."

    I shake my head. "The treaty that created the Reformation Island facility never got rescinded, sir. America just stopped making use of it."

    "I'll.. have to check that." He looks to one of his aides, who just shrugs. "But I'm not clear why you think Themyscira's a better place for her than America."

    "Aside from the obvious 'you can't hold her', sir?"

    He looks at the barely conscious story queen. "She doesn't seem to be going anywhere now."

    "You can't leave her chained up indefinitely. That could kill her. Or someone might free her later."

    "Then why not Atlantis? We sent that.. Wotan guy there."

    "The Themysciran facility is more secure, sir."

    He looks sceptical. "Reformation Island?"

    "No sir. Tartarus. Because let's face it." I glance down at her. "No one wants to see her again."
     
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  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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  29. Threadmarks: Date Night
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Date Night

    24th March
    21:47 GMT -4


    I ring the doorbell of Holly and Karon's home. Remarkably, I was able to navigate the mean streets of Gotham without being unduly disturbed this time. I'm not sure if that's due to the word about me getting around or things just not being so openly lawless as they once were. I think I saw Artemis -or someone anyway- on a rooftop part of the way, but it might have been a trick of the light.

    Tsaritsa will be held in the Themysciran embassy until such time as her long term location is agreed upon. President Horne appears to not be entirely horrified by the idea of sending her to Tartarus, but it's not as if the final decision will be entirely his. It was a bit off the cuff on my part, but Tartarus could be an excellent place for long term supervillain storage. Good luck getting anyone out of there, because if the Titans can't manage it…

    The door opens. "Hey Hol-." Karon blinks in surprise. "Oh, hey Paul. Holly's not back from work yet."

    "Actually, I was hoping to speak to you, if that's alright?"

    "Sure, come in." She steps back from the door and I follow her inside, closing it behind me. The weather's still fairly chilly, so I'm wearing a suit jacket with a roll neck jumper underneath. I subspace the jacket as I head towards the comfy chair that I habitually occupy when I visit them here.

    "I caught that play you were in on TV."

    I look mildly pained. "You didn't."

    "I didn't know you could act!"

    "I can't-. Well, I can, but in that instance I was-" I sit. "-getting mind controlled by a supervillainess called The Queen of Fables." Karon sits down on the settee. "I only went onto the stage to try and arrest her and that's when her spell caught me."

    "You got mind controlled by a supervillainess and all she did was made you act in a play?"

    "She made me live the play as if I was the character I was playing. I honestly thought that I was Prince Pavlos of Themyscira while it was going on."

    "Whaw. Do you, like, ever get a normal week?"

    "Not really." I smile, shaking my head. "You know.. it's funny. You're actually the most normal person I know."

    She looks like she's not quite sure what to make of that. "Thank you?"

    "My favourite author is a man named Terry Pratchett. In one of his books, he wrote that… See if I can remember the quote… Ah, 'Individuals aren’t naturally paid-up members of the human race, except biologically. They need to be bounced around by the Brownian motion of society, which is a mechanism by which human beings constantly remind one another that they are.. well.. human beings.'."

    "What book was that?"

    "Men at Arms, but I'm afraid it doesn't exist in this parallel."

    "So I remind you that you're Human?"

    "I have a soul made out of orange Snake. You remind me what being Human is like. And I'm grateful, because none of my other friends can manage that."

    She shakes her head in bemusement. "You're.. welcome, I guess?" She glances in the direction of the kitchen. "Can I get you something to drink?"

    "Ah, yes please. Milk. Full fat, if you've got it."

    She gets up, looking at me over her shoulder as she heads for the kitchen door. "Bit early in the evening to be on the hard stuff, isn't it?"

    "Oh, you know us superheroes. Living each moment as if it was our last. Oh, I haven't checked: how are the plays going down?"

    I hear the fridge door open. "Effects were better in the first one. Was that the Queen of Fables' magic?"

    "Mostly." There's a 'chink' noise as she removes the cap from a beer bottle. "The sword I made while being guided by Hephaestus and Helios was actually real. Superboy's got it now."

    I hear pouring. "And the fish?"

    "Sadly, not real." Karon walks back in, glasses in hand. She hands me my milk glass before sitting back down. "Other thing I wanted to talk to you -and not Holly- about… Back in February."

    She pauses for a moment, thinking back. Then her eyebrows shoot up. "Oh, you mean…"

    "Yeah, the threesome thing. Um…"

    We both glance away from each other.

    "Ah… I thought you said you weren't interested..?"

    "No, no. Look… One of.. my abilities.. is empathic vision. I can see.. patterns of emotional association in a person's mind."

    "But I thought you didn't have your rings..?"

    "No, that ability's innate. I… I don't need the rings for it. And what it means is, I know why someone's doing something. You weren't anything like as up for that as Holly was."

    "Wait, is that why you said 'no'? I mean, I noticed at the time you didn't say why…"

    "That was a good part of it. I mean, I'd be up for it in theory, but not if you didn't really want to or were only doing it to make Holly happy."

    She's not looking at me. "I'd… Um…"

    "You're not into men, it's fine. I'm not offended."

    "No, it's… It was just kind of a high pressure situation… Holly just.. sprang it on me-."

    "And you weren't sure how you felt about it or how you'd feel while actually doing it or how you'd feel afterwards because emotions aren't things you can just turn on and off." I nod. "I get it. I was in the same place."

    She looks at me, a little surprised and a little relieved. "Oh."

    "Like I said. Fine. Though in future, you might want to just tell Holly. 'Cause, there's a reason why I said that you're the most normal person I know and not.. her."

    Karon nods. "So…" Her eyes flick back to me for a moment. "Theoretically… If I decided I did want to…"

    "Assuming that I wasn't in a relationship at the time, yes."

    "Huh. I'll.. bear that in mind."

    "I also wanted to ask a favour. Not about, not about that."

    "What is it?"

    "A friend of mine is.. getting out of prison in a couple of days. She lived in Gotham before, but I don't think she really wants to move back in with her mother-."

    "You want us to put her up?"

    "To rent her a room. She can pay for it."

    "What was she in for?"

    "Membership of a proscribed organisation. But I broke up the organisation and she really does want to sort her life out. And I-" I point to my eyes with my right hand. "-can tell for certain that she's telling the truth."

    Karon's back to looking at me, apparently relieved for the change in topic. "She do anything violent?"

    "Only professionally. She was never wantonly violent."

    She does a sort of cough-laugh. "That's not as reassuring as I think you meant it to be." She nods. "I'll.. talk it over with Holly."

    "Thank you."

    The front door swings open and Holly hurries in. "Hey K-. Paul!"

    "Good evening, Holly."

    She looks slightly blank for a moment, then grins. "Hey, we're going out for dinner with some friends tomorrow night. You wanna come with?"

    I nod. "Yes thank you, I would. Where and when?"
     
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  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    25th March
    20:34 GMT -4


    I'm not sure what Holly meant by 'some friends', but at the moment it's just me at the table and-. My phone beeps and I pick it up to read the message.

    "Delayed at work. Carry on without us. K plus H. Uuh"

    No one else has arrived. I push the ice around my orange juice filled pint glass. I could order, but to be honest I doubt the food here is good enough to justify me sticking around if the only people I'm likely to know at this gathering aren't going to-.

    I glance up as the door opens, more out of habit than… Oh, good, finally someone I recognise. I wave my right hand as Selina looks around the room before slipping off her jacket and passing it to the… What are they called? Whatever, to the cloakroom attendant. Looks like she's dressed up a bit more than I have, a relatively modest red dress and a little jewellery which I don't scan and try to match to a missing property database. Looks like she's grown her hair out a little since last time I spent any significant time in her company out of costume.

    As she walks in my direction I note approvingly that despite the dress she's wearing flat soled shoes. I stand as she reaches the table and with a brief flicker of orange upgrade my own apparel to match hers. "Selina, good to see you."

    "Likewise." She's smiling, but there's something a little… No, I'm not going to look. Selina is definitely one of the people likely to be offended by that sort of thing. "Anyone else here yet?"

    "No, and I got a text message saying that Karon and Holly-."

    "Late?"

    "Yes."

    Her eyes flick to the side for a moment, her smile growing a little. "Have you.. ordered yet?"

    "No, I wasn't sure who else to expect."

    She pulls out a chair on the opposite side of the table and seats herself. I sit back down in turn as a waiter heads over to take her drink order. "A glass of Prosecco. Then, come back in.. five minutes?" She looks at me with her eyebrows raised slightly and I nod. "Five minutes. We should be ready to order then."

    The waiter nods and heads off towards the bar. Which prompts me to have another look at Selina. Okay, of the women I know, she's one of the few that are actually within my half plus seven range. And, y'know, isn't the mother of one of my friends. I certainly find her attractive -the image of her slinking around in her Cat suit before we met Mrs Gordon-Hewitt appears in my mind- and I'm pretty sure that we know each other's worst characteristics. Okay, why not?

    "I take it you know about the wedding."

    "If you're referring to the imminent deflowering of Gotham's most eligible ba-" She splutters with laughter, covering her mouth with her right hand. "-chelor, yes, I do. If we're going to talk about that, would you mind if I used a sound deadening field?"

    She glances around as the waiter places her wine glass in front of her before retreating towards the kitchens. "Do they stop lip readers?"

    I take a couple of sound ward stones out of my pocket and pass one over to her. She picks it up in her left hand, delicately turning it around so that she can get a look at its whole surface. "No, but these do. Keep it on your person."

    She weighs me up for a moment. "Okay. Let's see what it's like."

    Ring, sound baffle.

    Compliance.

    She takes another look around the room as the background noise drops away. "I assume that someone's checked to make sure that he's not being drugged."

    "Yeah. Richard, probably. But I gave him a scan too, just in case." I shrug. "Sorry. Ba-." I bow my head slightly. "You know, I have trouble even thinking of him by his actual name?"

    "The other guy does make a stronger impression."

    "Yeah. Anyway, he does indeed appear to be doing this of his own volition. And for what it's worth, she's showing up in-" I point to my right eye with my right forefinger. "-violet too, so I don't think this is a trick."

    She sighs. "No, I didn't really think it would be. He actually sent me an invite."

    "Are you going to go?"

    She slumps forwards, chin resting on the back of her right hand. "I don't know. I'm not sure I could restrain my instinct to claw Al Ghul's eyes out."

    "She's.. not called that anymore."

    She pulls a face. "Heeeeed."

    "Heh, yeah."

    "Are you going?"

    I nod. "I think Richard's going to need the moral support." I raise my eyebrows.

    "Mmmnm." She shifts slightly in her seat. "Haven't decided."

    Clearly not a comfortable subject for her. Something else? "Did you see the play? Or.. plays?"

    The smile reappears. "Mind control, right?"

    "Yep. Though.. it was.. interesting to experience a completely different set of social assumptions. I now know what it was like to actually live in Old Themyscira. For a man."

    "Do you know the director?"

    "I'm the one who persuaded them to come to America in the first place."

    "Tell her, the second play was funny? But.. it needs more work on the localisation. And the English. People don't go to the theater to read captions."

    "Clio needs to spend a lot more time in America before that would be a realistic expectation. And the play was really more for diplomatic purposes than entertainment."

    "How did that go? I doubt the President getting mind controlled helped much."

    "He seemed okay? Seemed okay. And he seemed enthusiastic to have a new place to send magic using supercriminals. Um…" I look around. "How many people-?" My phone beeps again. "Excuse me." I press a button to read the message. "Oh."

    "Holly and Karon cancelling?"

    "Yesss… Who else are we expecting?"

    She leans back slightly. "No one. We got talking about the wedding and.. I.. think she decided to try and hook up her single friends."

    "That's surprisingly duplicitous of her. Still, if you need a date for the wedding…"

    "Ah, look. You're a nice guy? But you're a decade younger than me and-."

    Poot. "I'm a very mature eighteen." Feels really odd to be on this side of this conversation. "I have a steady job, I'm independently wealthy, I-."

    She shakes her head. "And I'm sure you'll make a great boyfriend. For someone.. your own age. It.. wouldn't.. be right."



    Drat, drat and double drat.
     
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