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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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    20th April
    08:39 GMT -5

    "Okay, turn it off."

    Mars completely fills the front window of the Bio-Ship as I remove my construct, our angle of approach meaning that I can just about see the yellow-gray edge of the Martian horizon near the top. "Construct deactivated."

    M'gann nods. "Setting course for Mel'dilo'rn. ETA, four minutes."

    "Is that them?" Kon points to something through the window, a tiny coloured speck against the rusty grey sands below us. Ring, magnify?

    "Yes. They're going to monitor us as we approach. They're actually getting a bit…"

    Kon looks mildly concerned. "A bit what?"

    "Umm. Pushy? Intrusive? They're not interrogating me exactly, but they're certainly… Not being polite. One thing I definitely haven't missed about Mars is the racism."

    The patrol ship itself is primarily blue in colour. It puts me in mind of a cross between M'gann's Bio-Ship and… Thunderbird 2? Or maybe Moya? Same sort of bulbous body section with trailing, disproportionately short wings. Of course, in the Martian atmosphere those wings can't be generating significant lift. Sensors, maybe? It flies using the same telekinetic system as this Bio-Ship, giving it similar aerial manoeuvrability. An Earth-built jet aircraft of similar size would wallow through the air, but not that thing. No weapons visible on the exterior of the hull, which at least means that they don't consider us to be an immediate threat.

    "What exactly is your official status, anyway?"

    "How do you mean?"

    "Should we expect a truancy patrol to be waiting for us, wanting to know why you've skived off school for a year?"

    Kon smirks. "That would be awkward."

    "No, Uncle J'onn got all that straightened out before I joined the team. Technically, I'm a Manhunter cadet assigned to him for training, but everyone knows that that's only really true on paper."

    "Well, you're a more powerful telepath than he is, and a better shapeshifter, so maybe not training you was the way to go."

    "I'm not a better shapeshifter than he is." I raise my left eyebrow. "I'm really not. There's a lot more to shapeshifting than changing your shape." I frown, then Kon and I exchange puzzled looks. "You know what I mean. I've got a better range but there's a lot of skill involved in instinctively shifting your shape during combat. Uncle J'onn is a lot faster than I am, especially under stress. Ugh."

    "Hey, I'm sorry-."

    "No, not-. You. It's them. They're instructing me to reconfigure the Bio-Ship's hull. Apparently it's 'too militant' for a civilian ship."

    "I thought it was registered as being owned by Mister J'onzz?"

    "It is. But he's not here and they've decided to make an issue of it." She sighs. "Reconfiguring." I hear a slurping noise as the exterior wings retract and the cabin space behind us shrinks. The Sphere warbles in protest as it's nudged closer. "Sorry."

    "Are people gunna be hassling you the whole time?"

    "I-. No. Probably not. But everywhere you go, some people are just.. jerks."

    "You know, if you want to go back to pretending to be green… Your mental defences are probably good enough now to keep casual enquiries out."

    "No."

    I hold up my right hand in surrender. "Okay, I was just-."

    "No, I'm not-. Ugh." She slumps slightly. "I had a talk with Rocket about color prejudice-"

    "Ooooowh."

    "-and she said that pandering to bigots only encourages them."

    "Raquel's got a bit of a thing about that."

    Okay, I'm not going to pretend that modern America or Britain are post-racial utopias or anything, but her habit of interpreting most things in racial terms has become a little wearing. When she brought up the issue of remuneration for the descendants of slaves my asking if she would be willing to pay Americans of European descent for the actions of her own Barbar ancestors was totally a rational argument in no way spurred by my irritation.

    Power ring genetic scans are a little bit cheaty in that sort of debate.

    "No, I started using white skin on missions for a reason. I'm a White Martian and I'm not going to hide it."

    "You shouldn't have to."

    "You know… I've sort of been thinking. It might be possible for me or.. one of the Controllers to reverse whatever it was the Guardians did to your ancestors-."

    "Oh, no. Mars does not need monsters like that back."

    "I'm still not convinced that their nature wasn't the result of how they were socialised, rather than-."

    M'gann stares directly at me. "**No.**" She exhales sharply. "I know you're.. trying to help, but… I don't think I can… Explain just how horrifying that thing was. Not to someone who isn't Martian."

    Kon frowns. "I didn't think it was.. that scary."

    "The molecular disruption technique it was using is something that's unheard of outside a handful of Red Martian mystics. It's supposed to be impossible for anyone else. And it wasn't like them, its mind was.. like… Fire. When I looked at it, I felt the same fear I feel when I look at an open flame. I don't know what would happen to Martian society if their existence became more widely known, but it could totally collapse our government."

    "Wait. Are you saying that.. while you don't regard Whites as being inferior to Green you still regard both as being inferior to Reds?"

    "Um." She cringes slightly. "A little?"

    "M'gann. You know that's ridiculous."

    "Yeah, well, it's not that easy to just change your entire way of thinking."

    "Certainly it is. I managed to achieve complete unity with my desires inside ten minutes, and you're a telepathic shapeshifter."

    "Okay, it's not that easy for me to do it. That part of Martian racism isn't something that I've ever suffered from, so I just don't… I don't have the same resistance to it. Respecting Reds is just something that you do."

    "Alright, do you know the name of the Red I'm going to need to talk to while I'm here?"

    "You could probably.. just talk to the Chief Administrator. I'm not sure if it's the same woman as it was when I left, but if it is then she's a Green."

    "No. I want to go to the top, someone who's part of Mars' elite, someone connected to the planetary government."

    "I.. don't know if he'll be willing to talk to you, but Mel'dilo'rn's reigning Prelate is Prince J'emm. Are you really just going to walk up to the government buildings and demand to speak to him?"

    "Of course not. I'm going to insist that whoever I meet send a skivvy to inform him of my arrival. If he won't talk to me, that's fine."

    "Okay, good."

    "I'll just try other cities until I find a Prelate who will."
     
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  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    20th April
    08:46 GMT -5

    "Bringing us in no-" M'gann grimaces. "-w."

    "The patrol ship again?"

    "They're helpfully reminding me of landing procedures." M'gann's hands move across the controls. "As if I haven't been doing this for over a year."

    "Are they saying anything about the rest of us?"

    "There'll be a security screening, but I wouldn't worry about it."

    "Do the people doing it know anything about Human weapons? Or power rings?"

    "Probably not." She smiles the smile of a person who has outsmarted someone very annoying. "So it shouldn't take too long."

    A short ridgeline appears on the horizon of the flat Martian desert ahead of us. Ring? Yes, artificial. There's a decent drift of loose sand built up along the near side, disguising its nature from cursory inspection. The Bio-Ship slows as it closes the distance and a portal oozes open in a gust of air. Positive pressure keeps the sand from getting anywhere awkward. The pressure difference appears to be only slight, so they must have developed a way to keep air in even if the entryway is open. The pressure difference between the surface and the inner caverns proper is far more significant. Presumably the difficulty in communicating through sonic means is one of the things which led so many Martian life forms to developing alternatives like telepathy.

    The Bio-Ship is moving at little more than jogging pace as we pass through the entrance and start down the tunnel. There's a weak glow which I presume to be bioluminescent coming from the walls but it's rather patchy. Is that just where it grew, or is it a sign of poor repair? I turn to M'gann with a curious frown and she glances my way before following my gaze.

    "This is the entrance for privately owned civilian vehicles. There's no rule that says Martians can't go up to the surface, but most of us don't have any reason to go out there. As a result it… Well…"

    "Isn't a high maintenance priority."

    "Right."

    The tunnel curves off to the right and downwards. Martian cities are arranged in a series of large caverns which are more or less on the same level as one another. The buildings are set into the walls or rise out of the central floor area. They also do the Star Wars thing of having fragile looking platforms projecting out into the open air, held up by biotechnological telekinesis rather than more conventional antigravity systems.

    What is it about advanced civilisations that makes them think that structurally unsound structures are a good idea?

    The darkness ahead opens in the same fashion as the external tunnel entrance and I get a momentary impression of depth. Buildings like skyscrapers made of rock rise up on either side of a short plaza which leads to a drop into the cavern proper. Ahead, I can see tiny lights in the windows of the stalactite buildings which form islands in the tight streams of aerial traffic.

    The first science fiction alien city I've seen in person.

    And, yes, there's the slight pressure on my mind from the presence of millions of telepaths lightly probing their environment. A little distracting, but I'll probably get used to it. Don't really get this from the Genomorphs, but they're far closer to being a hive mind than Martians are and instinctively share information from their mundane senses rather than doing anything like this.

    There are three standard pattern Green Martians naked but for a couple of straps waiting for us as M'gann brings us down. Just as we touch down she suddenly brightens up and I feel slightly dizzy for a moment.

    "M-M'gann?"

    She stares off into space for a moment, then snaps out of it. "Oh! Mom and Dad say 'hi'. They'll expect to see us when we finish here." She prods the cat still curled up on her lap. "Come on Teekl. Time for a walk."

    Teekl raises her head and blearily peers up at M'gann. "Teekl not want walk. Teekl happy here."

    "Well…" M'gann looks at me for a moment. "Ah..?"

    "Teekl, there's a whole planet of people out there who've never seen a cat before!"

    "Mrww?"

    "Never, Teekl." I lean closer and she stares back at me. "Never seen one before. There's a gaping, cat-shaped hole in their lives and only you can fill it."

    She tilts her head slightly to the side. "Teekl suppose Teekl grace funny smell people with Teekl magnificence." She rolls to her feet and stretches out, claws momentarily extending. Kinks worked out, she jumps to the cabin floor and starts growing up to her Tiger-sized form.

    Kon meanwhile is standing by the exit, helmet in hands. "Am I gunna need this?"

    "I'll have an environmental shield around you, but it's a good idea to have it with you. We'll probably be splitting up in an hour or so. M'gann, are you going to be able to park closer to home or is this it?"

    "Uum… I should have a space. As long as D'harr hasn't passed her test yet, and Mom didn't mention it." She stands, walking towards the airlock and patting the wall as she goes. "Been a while since you've been in storage mode, hasn't it girl?" She looks at Kon, then her eyes slide past to the airlock. "It's probably best if I go first."

    "Right." He steps away, the Sphere rolling after him. "Are.. you going out like that?"

    "Like what?"

    He smiles and inclines his head slightly. "Like a really pale Human."

    She shrugs. "Martians don't really care about that sort of thing. And.. I'm.. actually more comfortable like this than in my Martian form now."

    "Really?"

    "Martian.. self image is.. more about how you think than how you look. I only really became conscious of my physical image when I moved to Earth, and, well,-" She shrugs, smiling weakly. "-this is it."

    "I like it."

    Her smile broadens as he pulls her into a clinch. "I know you do."

    I start to avert my eyes, but their near-kiss is interrupted by Teekl nosing M'gann's legs. "Show funny smell people Teekl now."

    Kon glowers at her. "Maybe we can take her to your uncle Ma'al's place and forget about her."

    "Gggggggggggggggggggggggggggg."

    "Okay, no dumping the cat." He waves his right arm at the airlock. "After you."

    M'gann steps up to the exit, which opens to allow her in. We don't usually bother with an airlock when we're on Earth, but the pressure difference here makes it necessary. Thinking about it… "Kon, you know that the gravity-."

    He nods. "Is about a third what it would be on Earth. I'll be careful."

    There's a hiss as the air in the airlock is pumped back into the cabin, and then the ship-ooze noise as M'gann exits. Teekl nudges Kon aside for the next opportunity to leave. Uh? "Teekl, you remember you can phase, right?"

    "Teekl will disembark with due majesty."

    I exhale with amusement. "Okay then."

    The Sphere warbles something, and Teekl responds by turning her head away with a snort. Then the airlock opens once more and Teekl struts through.

    "Can't you phase as well?"

    "Um. I can with my power armour, but this is a civil matter and I thought it was a bit militant."

    "Yeah, but-" He shrugs. "M'gann said that Martians don't care about that kind of thing."

    I nod. "True." I rise slightly off the deck as my armour appears around me. "See you outside."
     
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  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    20th April
    08:51 GMT -5

    Two au naturel Greens are standing just in front of M'gann, looming over her in an intimidatory pose which transcends species. Or possibly not. After all, that means that they're actually weaker than her at the moment, their mass being more spread out while hers is compact. Teekl is circling around them, tail flicking in frustration as they ignore her. I know they can feel her mind, M'gann remarked on how different it felt from what she expected a construct to be like. Ignoring her is deliberate. Not clever, lads.

    Wait, lads? Ring? Okay, lasses then. Huh, and I don't know if it's a Human-brain-being-optimised-for-looking-at-other-Humans thing or a no-body-image thing, but they both look identical to me. Some sort of telepathic buzz going on between them, but with all that M'gann's been through on Earth I doubt that a couple of weak telepaths who think that they're intimidating can cow her-.

    A large green hand tries to grasp my right shoulder and passes through me. I float away a little and turn to face the third member of the welcoming committee. Ah, this one's male.

    "Can I help you?"

    He stares, and the mild buzz at the edge of my mental shields increases slightly. By default Martians can't speak. Their original throats simply didn't allow it. It isn't really all that clear why their language has a spoken form, given their telepathy. Maybe it was the Guardians… Or maybe it's like Humans and sign language? Hm. Maybe he hasn't bothered with ears? I suppose they wouldn't serve all that much purpose here. I wiggle my fingers and extend my environmental shield around him.

    "I said, can I help you?"

    Another little buzz. Oh, come on, are we really going to do this?

    "My barriers are up for a reason. If you've got something to say to me, say it out loud."

    His throat shudders slightly as it reformats. I suppose I've become so used to M'gann's current ease at manipulating her protean form that I've sort of forgot how tricky she found it to mimic the male members of the team when we first met. I'm also wondering if Mister J'aarkn really was some sort of expert. Next comes a sort of spur growing from the sides of his head as… Ears designed by someone who's only ever seen pictures before emerge.

    "Lower. Your. Mental. Shields."

    "Hello there. I'm Orange Lantern two eight one four. What's your name?"

    "Lower. Your. Mental. Shields."

    "I get the worrying feeling that we're at an impass-"

    "Now."

    "-here." I hold up my right hand.. in a gesture he's probably not going to recognise… Oh well. "Look, I had a couple of encounters with hostile telepaths a while ago and since then-."

    "I. Do. Not. Care. Lower. Your. Shields."

    "Since then I've booby trapped my brain specifically to stop people like you."

    "Then. Lower. All. Your. Defences."

    "If they were the sort that could be turned off with thoughts they wouldn't be much use against telepaths, would they?" That doesn't appear to win me any points. Alright. **If it makes you feel any happier, we can talk-.**

    For a fraction of a second I get a blast of associations, words, thoughts and images and up go the shields again. And someone's officially gone beyond the call of duty in being a dick.

    I'm probably going to regret this in a minute or two.



    No I'm not.

    I land. "I'm sorry, I didn't quite appreciate how strongly you felt about this." I drop my shields, my mind completely open in a way it hasn't been since Roanoke. "What's my name?"

    I blink, and he's collapsed to the floor. My armour's locked in place to keep me upright. Good work, armour. I reinstate my shields. Ring, time loss?

    Nine seconds.

    Huh. It does get easier.

    I lift off the ground again and turn back to M'gann. Kon and the Sphere have disembarked and the whole little party is looking at me. **I warned him.** Actually, M'gann looks a little wobbly herself. Did she try taking a look at my head, or is that just the result of the haranguing she's been getting? No, don't worry about it. I can't really fault her if she was curious. I flare my environmental shield, making an effort to do the pseudo flame effect Alan has. **Right, you two. Have you finished hassling my friend? Because you're this close-** I hold out my right gauntlet, forefinger and thumb quite close together. **-to the official definition of interfering with an officer of the Corps in the execution of his duties.** If I were a Green Lantern working under a standard cooperation agreement. **Do you actually have a reason for holding us up?**

    **There has been a rise in violent crime amongst the White population. The events concerning M'gann M'orzz's return are suspicious.**

    **Is this rise in crime recent?**

    **Yes.**

    **Then it's fairly unlikely that someone who's been on Earth for a year is involved in any way. Anything else?**

    **The presence of aliens on M'arzz-.**

    **I'll be presenting myself to the Prelate later today. Anything of substance?** I wait for a moment. Nothing. **If you have any further concerns about M'gann's conduct you may refer them to Manhunter J'onn J'onzz.**

    **I may do that.** The second Green inclines her head slightly. **You may depart. See that you stay out of trouble.**

    The Sphere warbles and shifts into her supercycle form. Kon carefully leaps up, landing in the front compartment while Teekl flies to the rear. M'gann floats back towards the Bio-Ship. **Thank you. I'll.. maybe.. see you later?** The second Green turns away, walking towards one of the nearby buildings.

    Kon looks baffled. **See her later? Why would you wanna do that?**

    **You remember when I said I had three hundred cousins?**

    **That was one of them?**

    **Yeah… That was… K'hym.** We both look blank. **K'hym J'onzz.** Kon and I simultaneously give a slightly uncertain nod. **Uncle J'onn's daughter.**

    **Manhunter has kids?**

    **No, she's… Sixty seven Earth years old?** M'gann frowns. **I think that's right.**

    I vaguely remember something about him having a family in the comics. I definitely remember it in Justice League Animated. But… With Mars not being genocided in this timeline… Obviously they'd still be alive. But he hasn't-. **Mister J'onzz has been on Earth for the last fifty six years.**

    **Yes. She wasn't very old when the zeta tube accident happened. By the time he was able to come back…** She shrugs. **She was already an adult. She barely knew him.**

    **What about her mom?**

    **Aunt M'yri'ah was murdered.** M'gann shifts uncomfortably. **I mean, that all happened before I was born, but… I think that's why Uncle J'onn spends all of his time on Earth. He doesn't think he has anything here to come back for.**
     
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  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    20th April

    Actually, thinking about that…

    "M'gann, what sort of time keeping do Martians use?"

    I hear her voice come back through my armour's speakers. "For obvious reasons we don't base it on the sun. We've had several different ways of measuring time over the years, but modern M'arzz society divides a 'day' into six, and then each of those into six and, well, keep dividing into six parts."

    "And is a 'day' a day? A Mars day, I mean?"

    "I think we lose about a day a year. A Martian year. Sometimes there's a political movement that wants it to line up, but there's no real need to."

    I don't think I'll have the ring mark time in recurring sixths.

    09:08 GMT -5

    We're getting more than a few stares as we fly along the edge of one of the consensus flight paths. Both M'gann and Kon are supposed to be in the 'vehicle' lane, while it isn't entirely clear whether my armour counts as a vehicle or as some sort of disability flight aid. And I've finally seen a few Martians who don't look identical! Okay, identical apart from colour, there are Greens and Whites in not entirely segregated groups all around us. And a few vehicles, all smaller than M'gann's Bio-Ship.

    The Martians who don't look entirely Martian appear to be affecting parts of the Human physique. The effect isn't all that convincing for the most part. Some have Human-shaped arms, but kept their Martian dimensions and so look a little like some kind of fish-ape. Others altered the general shape of the head without bothering to change the features, pulling off a fairly convincing Skeletor look.

    A few more are working hard to put me off sex for life.

    A couple of the braver ones are floating a little closer to Kon than appears to be the socially acceptable distance to a fellow traveller. The Green on the left floats up alongside for a moment, then appears to think better of it and falls back. I suppose with telepathy and the social norm of constant mental contact news media of the sort we have on Earth probably aren't a thing. Why invent Twitter or Facebook when you can just stick things on your own brain?

    M'gann turns the Bio-Ship away from the main flow of traffic and directs it through a short but wide tunnel between caverns. Kon and I follow along behind. I note that the edges of the tunnel have troughs containing.. some sort of.. plant? Looks a bit like a succulent of some kind. I suppose that's another point in the direction of 'alien'. So far I've seen buildings and bare rock but no gardens. No window boxes. Not even the little strips of greenery you get on roundabouts or the sides of roads. I know Martians have tree-equivalents… I suppose they just don't go in for decorative planting in works areas.

    But it looks like they do in residential ones.

    The cavern which the tunnel opens out into is far smaller than the one we just left and I can't see any bare rock. There are houses offset from one another in a step pattern, punctuated by balconies and verandas and miniature gardens sticking out in defiance of gravity. Dozens of Martians of all ages turn their heads up to look at us as we come in and start losing altitude. More than a few of the.. younger-but-not-child-size ones are mimicking Human appearance. Well, the Humanish appearance that Mister J'onzz uses, anyway. I guess that M'gann wasn't exaggerating about the regard in which he's held here. The mix of Greens and Whites is about even and they don't appear to be separating themselves apart in the way those in the main cavern were. Of course, I've got no idea if that means this is a mixed neighbourhood because those here reject typical Martian racialism or because it's cheap.

    M'gann sets the Bio-Ship down on someone's roof… Though it doesn't actually land so much as go into hover mode. M'gann doesn't even bother using the door, she just phases through the hull with a delighted smile on her face. **Mom! Dad!** She flies fast in the direction of two nearby Martians, one Green and the other White. They spread their arms out, wrapping them around her as she flies into them.

    That would be S'randa and E'ann M'orzz, then. The hug looks a little awkward; their forms are completely Martian and their arms don't bend quite enough to properly embrace her much smaller body. Doesn't look like it bothers her.

    **M'gann! It is so good to have you back again.**

    Kon brings the Sphere Cycle around in a circle before setting it down next to the Bio-Ship, which has gone back into storage mode. Then he looks at the family reunion going on a short distance away and hesitates.

    Fatal mistake. Teekl is out of her seat in a second and nosing around the happy reunion, like a… Cat. An attention-seeking cat who unaccountably finds herself not the centre of attention. M'gann's White Martian father frees his left hand to awkwardly pat at her head, which appears to temporarily satisfy her.

    I send my armour back into subspace as I descend myself, landing just next to Kon and extending my environmental shield around him. "Go on. Go and introduce yourself."

    "I'm just.. gunna.. give them a few minutes."

    From M'gann's direction I get a faint impression of a series of images, fragments of our team's endeavours. Both elder Martians lean back slightly.

    **Not so quickly, M'gann. We are not all as telepathically capable as you are.**

    M'gann shrinks slightly at her mother's comment. **Sorry, I just got so excited, I mean 'hello Megan'-**

    **M'gann!** A small Green Martian -probably young rather than a dwarf- dashes out of their home and hovers next to her. **You're back!**

    Hang on. I got a full list of her siblings… Younger and male-sounding means… S'monn. The fact that all but one of her twenty nine siblings are Green strikes me as a little odd, but since their whole coloured racial subgroup thing is an invention of the Guardians I suppose normal inheritance doesn't necessarily have anything to do with it.

    **And-. Whaw!** He shoots over to stare into my face. **You're really good at looking Human!**

    **One does one's humble best. You're quite good at looking Martian.**

    **Duh, I am a Martianohmygoshyou'reoneofM'gann'sHumanfriends!**

    M'gann leads her parents over in our direction. **Mom, Dad, this is Kon-El.**

    Kon checks the environmental shield, then takes off his helmet in order to smile sheepishly at his girlfriend's parents. **Ah. Hi.**

    **And this is Paul.**

    **Pleased to meet you.**

    **Welcome to M'arzz, both of you.**

    **Thank you for inviting us.** He glances at me for a second and I nod my head in their direction. **My mom wanted me to pass on an invite to stay with us if you ever wanted to visit Earth.**

    E'ann steps forward slightly. **That's very kind of you, Kon-El. If an insane Earth scientist ever hits us with an energy ray and teleports us there, we will certainly take advantage of that offer.**

    **D-ad.**

    Unsurprisingly, Kon doesn't know quite how to respond. **Ah, we understand zeta radiation a lot better now, and since Doctor Erdel found out Mars was actually, y'know, inhabited, we stopped testing it in this direction.**

    M'gann nods. **The zeta tubes we use now are far too weak to pick someone up from this far away.**

    I can well understand that what happened to Mister J'onzz would have left a rather bad taste in their mouths. **I think they were more thinking about-** I notice one of the more Human-looking Martians observing our conversation from a balcony above us focus her eyes on the top of M'gann's head, then begin growing hair on her own bald scalp. **-having me fly you there for a visit. It would be over in the blink of an eye.** I raise my hands. **No pressure. But the option's there if you want it.**

    S'randa holds out her right hand in the direction of their home, and I feel a flickering image pass from her to her husband. **We receive the offer in the spirit in which it was intended. Now please, come inside. We are eager to hear all about your adventures on Earth.**
     
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  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    20th April
    09:51 GMT -5

    "One time-" Kon looks thoughtful as the senior members of the M'orzz family stare into space. "-Wally told me that when the Flash gets really excited about something, he just talks faster and faster until all anyone can hear is a kind of buzzing noise. I've never heard the Flash do it…"

    I nod. When I started having trouble keeping up with the telepathic conversation taking place in the living room -a large open plan room with long Martian scale settees- I wound my barriers down a little, and then a little more, and… Then I stopped bothering. It's not words. Words I could cope with. I've been around when M'gann's gone full sugar rush before. But now she's sending out a storm of sensory impressions, sounds and thoughts and it's becoming increasingly apparent to me that she really holds herself back when communicating with the rest of us.

    Or… Maybe if I dropped my barriers completely..?

    No. Not until after Nabu.

    I blink heavily as the sense impression of being a Star Conqueror hits me right in the cerebellum. Kon is actually disorientated enough that he reaches for his forehead with his right hand. I'm not sure whether not shielding at all or shielding more would have been better there. A moment later M'gann's eyes widen and she turns sideways on her seat towards the two of us. **Oh, I'm so sorry! I think I got a bit carried away. I mean, hello M'gann! I've never tried talking to you telepathically like that before.** She gives us a quick once over. **Are you okay?**

    **Uh, yeah, I think so.** He shakes his head to clear it a little. **What was that?**

    S'randa leans forwards slightly. **That was M'gann getting overenthusiastic.**

    M'gann bows her head a little in embarrassment. **I'm sorry, there's just so much to cram in…** She looks directly at Kon. **Telepathy isn't just for transmitting words or pictures. It's not even just memories. I can transmit the idea of an experience, what it was like and an intuitive understanding of what's actually happening. I don't really do that much with the team, because…**

    He nods. **It's kinda overwhelming if you're not a telepath.**

    E'ann leans back against his seat. **It was a little overwhelming for us as well. J'onn has taught you to harness your abilities well.**

    **Actually, that was more Henry. [An image, a snapshot of one M'gann's sessions with him.]**

    **A Human? I remember J'onn saying that there were Human telepaths. I am surprised that he was confident enough in their abilities to allow one to instruct you.**

    I raise my right eyebrow. **You..? Didn't tell them about..?**

    She frowns at me. "No, and you weren't supposed to either."

    "Oh." My eyes flick from her to her parents. "Um."

    S'randa's eyes glow faintly. **Is there something you're neglecting to tell us, M'gann?**

    She sighs. **One time, Uncle J'onn put us in a telepathic group illusion, so we could do a training session on dealing with an invasion of the planet without.. actually.. having to find someone to invade it. We were fighting them and… [The ice of the north pole, crashed alien fight craft smoking on the ice. Richard pulls a piece of machinery out of the ship and then the beam strikes him no!]**

    **Did they end the scenario?**

    **No. Uncle J'onn tried, but he couldn't. For a moment I was so convinced that it was all real that I altered everyone else's perception of what was happening. We went from a practice session to.. actually fighting an alien invasion.**

    **[Idea of frowning] Why didn't J'onn enter your minds and remind you?**

    **He tried, but he couldn’t stop me changing his perception too. He became convinced it was real and forgot how he got there. It wasn't until everyone on the team.. except for Paul and I, 'died', that he remembered.**

    **After that I suggested that he might like to find an alternate teacher for M'gann's telepathy classes.**

    There's a brief something between her parents again. **I think I may want to record a message to my brother about that event. After you have explained it in more detail.**

    M'gann sags slightly. **Yes, Mom.**

    If that had happened closer to the time I would probably be celebrating his forthcoming ear bashing. As it is, I've long since gotten over my irritation with him. His sessions with M'gann these days focus on things that he actually knows, like how to conduct criminal investigation and interrogations with Martian superpowers.

    S'monn suddenly perks up. **Hey, I thought you said that Kon-El and you were dating?**

    Kon reaches across and picks up her right hand in his left. **We are.**

    **And you haven't done full telepathic sharing before?**

    M'gann's eyes widen in surprise. **S'monn!**

    **Uh, no? Should we have?**

    **Mum said that when she and Dad started dating-.** He stiffens. **Sorry, Mum. Sorry, M'gann.**

    Kon frowns thoughtfully at M'gann. **You've never really talked about Martian dating customs. Is there..? Something you wanna..?**

    **If you are not capable of telepathy-.** E'ann catches himself. **On your own initiative, I mean, the level of reciprocity required for that sort of contact might.. simply.. not be possible.**

    M'gann shakes her head. **No, it is.**

    **I know you may want it to be, but-.**

    **I've… Done that. With a Human.**

    **Oh.**

    **I mean, it wasn't, ah…**

    Kon looks distinctly curious. **Who are we talking about?**

    M'gann clears her throat. Or at least mimes it. The sound really doesn't travel in this atmosphere. **Paul.**

    He looks at me. **Ah. Really?**

    **We did?**

    M'gann is starting to go pink. **You remember… When we were in the desert in Bialya?** Oh dear. **You… Projected me… Feeling…**

    Yes, I do remember, actually. Wait, so that was like Martian… **Um, for those of us whose species aren't usually telepathic..?**

    **It's intimate, though not necessarily romantic.** S'randa looks at each in turn. **J'onn told me that Humans were usually monogamous. Though J'onn J'aarkn gave a rather different impression.-**

    **Mom!**

    I grin somewhat manically. **What sort of response has there been to his return?**

    **You saw all of the people assuming a Human appearance?**

    We nod.

    **J'onn [Clear image of Mister J'onzz] never performed a detailed social study of Human civilisation. J'aarkn did, and he made his more scholarly pieces publically available. M'gann's brother [Clear image of a White Martian] was particularly piqued by the American civil rights movement.**

    I think about complaining, but J'aarkn did spend most of his time in the United States. He'd know that part of the equal rights movement better than he would the equivalent in any other country.

    **And he wasn't the only one. Unsurprisingly, the idea of people of one colour being oppressed by another and eventually gaining equality resonates with many White Martians. It's sad that a species that can't feel each other's personhood have done more work in that direction than we Martians have.**

    E'ann holds out his right hand, not-palm pointing upwards. Uncertainty. **Even though the protests are peaceful, certain Green members of the establishment are attempting to crack down.**

    M'gann scowls. **I noticed.**

    **It's not worth spoiling your visit over.**

    **No, but I was planning on visiting the Prelate anyway. I'll ask him about it.**
     
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  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    20th April
    11:17 GMT -5

    Welp. I can only hope that was as uncomfortable for Kon as it was for me.

    Some combination of psi-baffles, mental shields, tattoos and standard traveller disinterest in those around them means that the Martians travelling around me generally don't know I'm there until after I fly in front of them and they see me with their own eyes. Their eyes don't widen and they don't cry out, but I had the ring match increases in mental pressure to me-observance and there's a definite sudden mental shout of some kind when they see me.

    Heh.

    Prelate J'emm's place of work is a large palace/office block near the middle of the city. Yes, I could have just transitioned there, but really it's only fair that his people get some warning. In the same way that Martians have telepathic computers they also have a telepathic real time thought sharing system, a more emphatic form of Twunter. I doubt that J'emm himself will notice the disruption I'm causing, but by now the police have probably heard it and I'm sure that… Some of the-

    "Hey there!"

    -Martians around here are police. The problem with no clothing being the norm is that there aren't any-

    "Hey!"

    -un..i..forms…

    A Green Martian -who looks a lot like the Earth 12 default form Martians- drifts in front of me a little, waving both hands and smiling. Chest outline suggests but doesn't prove that the individual is male. Okay, he's basically having to shout to be heard. Environmental shield or ease up on the mental barriers?

    Oh, he's just some guy. **Good morning.**

    **Oh. Whaw. Is that a British accent?**

    **Possibly slightly coloured by the American east coast and Themyscira, yes.**

    **I don't think I could fly around like that. I mean, heh, in my own home, maybe. My family think I'm kinda weird for being this into Earth stuff already, but… Out in public?** My face goes a little blank. **Oh. Wait, is that rude? Don't be offended, I'm not trying to be rude. I think it's really impressive! I could never get the fingernails right. I just end up with spiky fingertips. They just seem so.. flimsy, you know?**

    I bow my head slightly, then motion sideways with my right hand before leaving the traffic stream. My new friend follows me. We float for a moment while the traffic streams past.

    **Permit me to introduce myself. Orange Lantern two eight one four. Born on Earth.** His eyes do widen. **To Human parents, to the best of my knowledge.**

    **Really?**

    **They might have lied to me for my entire life. Seems unlikely, though.**

    **I didn't think Human rocket ships could get them to Mars! And we're not even that close right now. My name's Y'ok. Y'ok V'ira'an. Wait. Lantern as in 'Green Lantern'?** I hold up my hands, glowing rings clearly visible. **This is amazing!**

    **Have the Green Lanterns ever come to Mars?**

    **Yeah, but they didn't come here. Are you after some kind of Human supervillain? Or are we going to be attacked by space pirates?**

    He sounds a little too excited about the prospect.

    **No, really I'm just here because my friend M'gann needed a-.**

    **M'gann M'orzz?!**

    I briefly consider sarcasm. Then reject it. **Yes. She needed a lift, I was available.**

    **Where are you going now?**

    **I'm hoping to be able to meet Prelate J'emm. With the only two Martians to have spent any time on Earth living in his city, he seemed to be the obvious point of contact with the Martian government.**

    **Are there going to be.. more Humans coming here?**

    **Kon's already here. Probably won't be any others in the immediate future. Would you mind if we-** I gesture towards the next cavern entrance. **-talk and fly?**

    He nods, though the motion extends far beyond the normal Human nod-arc. **Sure, sure.**

    We rejoin the traffic and I note that the other Martians are now giving us a wide berth. **I couldn't help but notice that a great many Martians have adopted… Non-standard appearances.**

    **Yeah, why wouldn't-? Oh, you can't do that.**

    **If I really wanted to look different I could use the rings, but no, not by default. Is there a particular reason?**

    **I guess it's… Martian society's really stable, you know? And then J'onn J'aarkn showed us how fast things can change on Earth and it's just… Whaw.** He blinks… Kind of. **You know?**

    **You've seen his memories, then?**

    **Everything he's made publically available so far.**

    **Has he made the.. 'adult' stuff avail-.**

    **Ahhhhh…**

    **He did, then.** Y'ok looks a little embarrassed. **I don't find the idea of other species finding my own attractive unpleasant. What consenting adult sentients do in private is their own affair.** We fly through another tunnel. Royal palace dead ahead. It looks like a giant vaguely gothic stalagmite. **Exactly how big a subculture is..?**

    **What, the..? The pornography, or-?**

    **Earth-interest in general.**

    **It's hard to tell. I mean, there's a lot of interest right now. J'onn J'aarkn's sharing things about everyday life we just didn't know before. But, how many are really interested? I don't know.**

    **And the resulting civil unrest?**

    **Like I said, we're… Really stable. Red Martians rule, Greens form the middle class and Whites make up the underclass.** I give him a mild glower. **I'm not saying it's right. I don't treat Whites any different. It's just.. how things are.**

    **And Reds?**

    **What about Red Martians?**

    **It's curious to me. M'gann said the same thing; she didn't like the way society differentiates between Whites and Greens. But when I asked her about Reds, she didn't have a problem with their privilege.**

    **Oh, I don't either.**

    **Well, why not? In Human society, we haven't just moved away from a biological underclass, we don't really have biological rulers either.**

    **Ahhhh. They're… Just… Majestic... I guess.. I.. can't really explain it.**

    **Thank you. This has been enlightening, but this is my stop.** I head towards where the turn off for the palace appears to be.

    **Um! I was wondering?**

    **Yes?**

    **Are you going to be taking anyone back with you?**

    **M'gann and Kon, yes. Anyone else, I think it would probably be best it wait until formal diplomatic relations were established.**

    **Ah. Yeah. I guess you're right.**

    **Good talking to you, Y'ok.**
     
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  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    20th April
    11:26 GMT -5

    Since I'm on polite mode, I'm not scanning the interiors of individual Martians. On the other hand, I don't think anyone can reasonably complain about me using automapping in a building this large. Looking at the part of the building I've come into, it looks like the interior is either made of or coated in the same sort of programmable material that M'gann's Bio-Ship is made out of. Interior decoration is in blue and purple, though the meaning -if any- of the patterns is lost on me. There aren't any signs up -because telepaths- and there doesn't appear to be a reception desk.

    On the positive side, I'm getting the occasional odd look but no one's actually tried to stop me yet. I've seen and been seen by a few Martians -all Greens- with the red Manhunter 'X' straps… Wait, are those Xs red for Red Martians? Or is it just a coincidence? Don't know. Oh, I can ask M'gann later.

    Anyway, red Xs aside, I've also got no idea what the various items of clothing the Martians here are wearing mean. Do they work here? Are they..? Visiting? Petitioning? The rings can easily identify the Red Martians in residence, but I've got no idea which of them is Prince J'emm. I suppose this must be how blind people feel most of the time. I can get around, but this place was clearly designed to be navigated by people with a sense I don't have.

    I pick a corridor which leads towards the centre of the building and fly along it. Walking appears to be something people around here don't do to travel long distances. Given Martian legs I suppose that makes sense. I think I remember a Prince Jemm from the comics. Didn't he get kidnapped by a Lex Luthor led incarnation of the Injustice Gang.. and have some sort of magic crystal? I definitely remember something about a crystal on his forehead, but I don't remember whether or not that was what the Joker used to warp reality at the end of the issue. And because I have perfect memory these days, I know that I'm not going to just remember later.

    Oh, wonderful, vertical corridors. I remember these from the Telvanni manors in Morrowind. Okay, logic suggests that in a place where everyone can fly the most defensible location would be at the base, preferably under ground level. On the other hand Earth governments usually only go into a bunker if there's an attack in progress. And since he actually lives here… There we go. One Red Martian with a gem of some kind in his forehead near the top of the structure, with more than a few Manhunters between here and there.

    Presumably, someone will stop me if I'm heading somewhere I'm really not supposed to be. Now that I know where he (probably) is, I could try going in from the outside. Phase my way in. Mmmm. No.

    I step out into space and head upwards. Back downstairs… Downtube, the mix was about fifty fifty Whites to Greens. Assuming the colour I saw was their actual colour of course. Only a couple of Martians in this tube and they're both Green. Too small a sample to mean anything I suppose, but now I'm sort of looking for it. This passageway doesn't go all the way to the top of the structure and it looks like there's some sort of guard post. Martians don't go in for power armour due to the way it would impede their shapeshifting, but I'm seeing telekinesis enhancers and the same reinforced clothing Mister J'onzz wears.

    Martian SWAT.

    They're all Green, too.

    I emerge from the top of the tube and ugh. Okay, they're on the ball. There's a telekinetic field around the exit. I could force my way through it, but a couple of heavies are walking over. They've also altered their bodies for their job: no membranes under the arms and a tougher epidermis and their external volume is slightly less than average as a result. They're knuckle walking but striking with their arms isn't really part of Martian combat.

    "Hello there."

    No apparent reaction. The telekinetic field may be impeding the sound, or it could be the transition of sound through the atmosphere. Or they might not be using ears. Well, I can't initiate telepathic contact, so until-.

    I feel a probe that's notably more forceful than I'm used to outside of training.

    **…identification. Continued mental resistance will result in imprisonment, a fine of-.**

    **Quite alright chaps and or chapesses. Orange Lantern two eight one four. I'm here to see the Prelate.**

    **Uh huh. I'm sure you are. But I'm tell you-** It's fascinating. I genuinely have no idea which of them is speaking. **-that you're going to drop your barriers or I'm going to leave you up there.**

    Ring, armour, phase out.

    Compliance.

    The armour appears around me and immediately the external force is gone. I'm moving through the air and landing in front of them before they can respond. Dismiss armour and there's the force again. **The last Martian who demanded that I drop my mental barriers ended up unconscious when I obeyed. You should have access to the relevant report. Do you really want me to?**

    They go completely still. Probably talking to someone telepathically. Hmm. M'gann did tell me that Martian magic users weren't Order order aligned so I'm not all that sure that they'd care about my plans for Nabu. No, I'm keeping my barriers up so that they don't learn about the Burners, whose existence isn't well known but isn't a secret on Earth. Of course, if there was significant travel between Earth and Mars that particular division would fall apart.

    **What is the reason you wish to see the Prelate?**

    **Two reasons. Firstly, because Mars falls within my area of responsibility and he's best placed to inform me of how I can best use my abilities in Mars' interests.**

    I wait. I'm not disappointed.

    **And the second?**

    **I'm afraid that's a secret. I need to impart it to a member of the Martian government so that they can decide how to deal with the situation surrounding it.**

    Another pause. If they were Human, they'd be relaying this to their commanding officer, or possibly their sergeant. They would then make a decision on whether to follow through on their initial impulse to arrest me or to grant me an audience with someone. I'm not really sure what the rank-comparison is, here. I imagine that if an American general wanted to speak to the mayor of a city on short notice that would be arranged in short order. The Green Lanterns haven't spent significant time on Mars and while I might be a 'known' around here thanks to Mister J'onzz I haven't exactly been farming rep.

    **The Chief Administrator is prepared to meet you. You will wait here until an escort arrives.**

    A Chief Administrator is essentially the Principal Private Secretary to the Prelate. For an introduction, that would be fine. To be honest, better than what I had any right to expect. But, in many places the role is occupied by a Green… And for a potentially world-shattering matter of political philosophy I do sort of need a Red. Even as I think it I realise that sounds every bit as racist as what the Martians do, but Reds genuinely have less fear of fire than the other types and often have training to resist it further. And if I'm going to share my memories of Mister Martian Made Of Fire, then I need someone who isn't going to freak out and broadcast it to the whole city.

    **I appreciate the effort required to arrange that on short notice. But I'm afraid that it won't do. I need to speak to a member of the planetary government. The Chief Administrator isn't.** I raise my hands in a theatrical gesture of surrender.. which is.. almost certainly lost on members of a species with no native body language. I lower them again. **But really only the second item needs to go to the Prelate. Once it's in his hands I would be happy to talk about anything else with another official.**

    **You are a disagreeable [Complex image I don't really understand but I don't think is supposed to be complimentary] Human.**

    That was.. the other one. Whichever one wasn't the first one to address me. **Sorry about that. Is approval likely to take long?**

    **It is granted.**

    **Thank you. Whereabouts do I go?**

    **[Smug grin sensation] Into a holding cell until his Eminence is ready for you.**

    **Fair enough. If you'll be so good as to show me to this waiting room?**
     
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  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    20th April
    11:53 GMT -5

    I don't look at either of my escorts as the door membrane in front of us oozes open and Prince J'emm's previous meeting walk out. Greens, in their default Martian forms. They don't rise into the air until they're out of the entry corridor. One or two of them also take the opportunity to alter their bodies. Interesting. Using powers around the Prelate is a taboo, then?

    Had a bit of a brainwave about the whole Diana-Cottus situation while I was waiting. If he made Diana there should still be a sympathetic link between the two of them. I'll need John.. or Sephtian or someone to check it. Once I know that for certain I can try talking to one of the other Hekatonkheires about the whole incident. I could try talking to the Titans they've got imprisoned in there. They don't have access to most of their power, after all. But the Hekatonkheires are wardens rather than inmates and should be my first port of call.

    **You may enter.**

    My escort's mental voice again. I think I've worked out which is which. I step forwards into the corridor and there's a very slight resistance as the telekinetic fields note that I'm here. M'gann didn't say anything about assassinations being common, and given how every Martian seems to respond to Reds I'm having trouble imagining someone attacking him. Oh. The corridor turns from the normal techno-organic to bare stone, with material drapes tied in arcs across the smooth cut surfaces. Purple, with no blue. Maybe significant, maybe not. But the bare stone is interesting. Is this a ceremonial space, then? Historically significant? An ancient reception hall which the rest of the palace grew up around?

    The doors at the far end are stone as well, though they glide effortlessly apart in the grip of someone's telekinesis as we approach. Inside is a fairly small round room, perhaps six metres in diameter. On the far side a large Red Martian I presume to be Prince J'emm sits on a stone throne. He's notably more muscular than other Martians I've seen, though otherwise the only differences are the golden diamond shape which appears to be either attached to his forehead or actually imbedded in it and the purple cloak he wears about his shoulders.

    Three Green Martians are present, along with one other Red in a short blue cape. Ah, so it does indicate rank! Each has an organic personal computer similar to the one M'gann showed me a couple of times while she was still getting used to Human computer systems. Civil servants, presumably? No, one has the Manhunter 'X'. An officer? I stop a few metres from the throne and bow from the waist.

    **Prince J'emm. Thank you for agreeing to see me.**

    There's a slight pause. **I am told that you were quite insistent.**

    His mental voice puts me in mind of Mister Freeman's, only a bit more… Round? Not as gravelly.

    **I apologise for my breaches of propriety, but I strongly believe that this matter warrants your personal attention.**

    **I have no objection to important matters of state being brought to me, but you are undermining my officials by rejecting their oversight. More, you are making me do the same.**

    **I believe that when you hear me out you will decide that I acted correctly.**

    I'm still in the bowing position… Which he's probably not recognising. Silly of me.

    **Then what is this secret matter which a Red Martian must hear?**

    **Are you familiar with 'controlled molecular destabilisation'?**

    Prince J'emm raises his right arm so that his upward pointing fingertips are just in front of his face. Then the very tips of his fingers shimmer like those of the Burning Martian we encountered in the Oan ship back in January. Every other Martian in the room shrinks back while he takes the time to look at it before turning it off. **Yes. I am trained in the use of the technique myself, though I can only sustain it for a few seconds.**

    I create a construct screen which is opaque from the back and float it in his direction. Once everyone else is out of line of sight of the far side I create words in the local Martian written language. 'Imagine a Martian who could maintain that over their entire body indefinitely'. I give him a few seconds to read it, then dismiss the construct.

    **That may be of importance.** I don't hear anything else, but the three civil servants and my own escort file out. The guards stop just the other side of the stone door while the rest head out down the corridor. **I do not know if your understanding of our civilisation is incomplete or you are merely arrogant, but such an individual would have a truly remarkable capacity for psychic self control. Has M'gann M'orzz demonstrated such a capacity?**

    **Goodness gracious, no.** I narrow my focus as much as possible. **[Image of other Red Martian, interrogative.]**

    **I would need a better and more concrete reason to dismiss S'yrra. Continue.**

    I relax my focus. I can only hope he's being sensible about this. **A quarter of an Earth year ago the team of which I am a member was sent to investigate a spacecraft on the floor of one of Earth's oceans, near the Northern Pole. [Map image.] When we reached the bridge we identified it as belonging to the Maltusians. A little further on and we found the remains of dead Martians. [Image of my team walking through the surgical suite.] The ship's records suggested that it visited Mars-.**

    **Ten thousand years ago. Or twenty thousand Earth years.**

    Oh shit, do they know about this? **Yes… How did you know?**

    **I am not unfamiliar with conspiracy theories. You would hardly be the first person to suggest alien involvement in our world's environmental catastrophe. Or to believe in their truth hard enough to fabricate memories to show me. I hope that you will be able to provide slightly more evidence.**

    **The Manhunter J'onn J'onzz reviewed the site after the mission was over. My colleague M'gann M'orzz was also present during the mission and can corroborate anything I tell you.**

    **And the ship?**

    **Returned to its owners. Their dead were on board as well. I took copies of the ship's records and can make them available to you.**

    **Very well. So, these Maltusians caused the catastrophe?**

    **As far as I could tell, the damage to the Martian surface was caused by both sides in the conflict between them and your forebears, a now extinct type of Martian.**

    **It stretches my credulity that prehistoric Martians could best a species of spacefarers in combat.**

    **We encountered one such Martian. The individual in question had kept itself alive in the ship's one animation suspension pod. I can remember the fight with perfect clarity if you want to see it.**

    **Show me.** My eyes flick to S'yrra. **Just me.**

    **[An image of the Burner, the moment we opened the doors to its pod.]**

    **A combat form. Our armed services use them.**

    **Brace yourself.**

    **I hardly think that necessary. I have experienced fights vicariously before.**

    **[The Burner moves and I'm on fire.]**

    "G-guh!" J'emm slumps forwards. S'yrra moves closer putting his… Um. Their arm on his shoulder. **No, I am… I am well.**

    **That shouldn't be possible, should it? A Martian shouldn't be able to even think that.**

    **Unless they were insane or some sort of transcendent mystic, no.** He straightens up. **This is concerning.**

    **There's more, and it doesn’t get better. Do you want to see it?**

    **Yes.** The gem on his forehead glows faintly. **Show me everything.**
     
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  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    20th April
    11:58 GMT -5

    Prince J'emm looks more than a little wilted as I finish showing him our fight with the Burner. S'yrra has fallen to a sitting position, hands clasping… Ring, coin toss.

    Result is: Heads.

    Clasping his head. He isn't squeezing his eyes shut or rocking back and forth or any of the other things a Human might do when faced with something so horrifying… Though, thinking about it… I'm not sure that I've ever had that paralysing response to anything. I mean, I knew how horrifying confronting some of my desires would be and I just did it anyway. I've fought Demons, supervillains, soldiers… Blume scared me but I didn't just huddle under the mountain until he went away. Even back on Earth Prime when my thanatophobia struck I didn't get paralysed, I just.. found something to do to keep my mind off it until it died down a little. Hm. When I have another crack at the Cottus thing I should have another chat with Thana about the nature of my soul. Hades seems like a decent guy, but if I'm heading there I'd like to be able to continue my work.

    Wonder if the Controllers would be willing to make a non-Nekron associated black power ring for me, just in case?

    **What. Other evidence do you have. What else did you see?**

    I create a sound baffle around the room and then hold out my left hand. A projection of the Guardian who recorded the logs appears. "…difficulties, I continue to believe that rehabilitation is possible. Preserving the natives in their own habitat will be.. somewhat difficult now…" The image glitches. "…increasing sophistication. It is almost as if our presence here has provoked them to unify. How groups with whom we have not had direct contact are even aware of us I am not…" Another glitch, and the Guardian is replaced by a time lapsed image of the surface of Mars. "Simply destroying the natives and recreating them using genetic samples would be far easier. Still, we are resolved not to resort to such methods, even…" The image jumps forwards. "I did not properly anticipate the damage this conflict would cause to the planet's surface." We watch as chunks of surface are scoured of plant life. "The combination of telepathy and physical mutability enable them to fight us with surprising effectiveness, given their lack of technological…" Another glitch, and the map now shows the modern, barren Mars. A new Guardian appears. "…resettled into cave systems we constructed in areas already cleared. We have avoided leaving any trace…" Another glitch. "… different forms. The 'red' variant is least modified, though all three colours possess the comportment and empathy we were aiming to engender."

    I don't see a particular reaction from either Red Martian. Given what we saw, I suppose it would be surprising if they did know. I suppose that in cases of ancient conspiracy I'm just trained by popular culture to suspect the ones who benefit from it. I think this situation justifies an empathic scan. S'yrra glows with yellow, uncertainty about the state of his mental universe and horror at the idea of becoming something like the Burner. Prince J'emm is.. harder to read. Certainly nothing which looks like guilt. Though I suppose if he's got good enough self control to essentially set his hand on fire then he could probably suppress that as well.

    "Their natural telepathy means that the control system will be passed from one generation to the next in the womb without the need for constant intervention. Time will tell which…"

    **They dared-!**

    Again, it's weird. I can feel his anger through our mental link. It's not like just seeing it, like this it's so much more immediate. I'm getting the set of assumptions which lead to the anger, not in the clinical, removed way vision gives them to me but as if they were my beliefs, beliefs from my own culture.

    There's a series of flickers. "… y colleagues have expressed concern that our modifications have reduced their aggression in too great a degree. Our predictive models show that it is possible that their civilisation will remain introverted as a result. Self isolating. Having reviewed the data in depth I have recommended a continual monitoring…" The image changes to shoe the Burner. "…intelligence, unusual in its kind. I will attempt to initiate mental contact. Perhaps we will be able to complete the conversion peacefully when they see that we have their best interests at heart?"

    **Unsurprisingly, there were no further recordings. It looked like the remaining Burners killed the Guardians, their security robots and any modified Martians still on board before putting themselves in suspended animation. The one we encountered appeared to have sabotaged the other units to make sure that his remained powered for as long as possible.**

    **Is there more?**

    **I found this map.** I replace the image of the Burner with the globe showing pre-war Mars. Or Ma'aleca'andra, I suppose. **There may be more, but I won't be able to find out until I can talk to the Controllers. They have contact with the Guardians and may be able to access their records of the event.**

    Prince J'emm takes a moment to think about things. **You were right to bring this to me. I will need to bring this to the royal conclave. Do you believe that there are any other 'Burning Martians' still in existence?**

    **I'm sorry, I have no idea. It.. seems unlikely. They didn't seem like the 'deferred gratification' type and we've had no reports of rampaging fire monsters.** I pause for a moment as I contemplate my answer. **That also match the other parts of the description.**

    **What became of the one you did encounter?**

    **We recharged the ship and sent it to its owners' homeworld with a warning about what was inside. I don't know enough about Controller justice to know what they'll do with it. They might recreate the original work to turn it into a modern Martian, they might kill it out of hand or they might try something else.**

    **We will need some time to decide what to do with this information. Can I assume that the fact you brought it to me first indicates that you do not intend to release it?**

    **I don't intend to release it anytime soon, no. If I thought that the Red Martians were planning to sit on it indefinitely I might start dropping hints…**

    **No, that would not be practical. Though we do need to be careful about how the release is presented. Thank you, for the information and your forbearance. Is there anything else you wish to discuss?**

    **Yes, but nothing else is secret. You can call your retinue back in if you like.**

    **I think it would be best for me to take a little time to get my thoughts in order first. As I feel now I could not guarantee that they would not feel something of my discomportment.**

    **Alright. Then I'd like to present myself as this Space Sector's Orange Lantern. I'm based on Earth, but if there's anything the Corps can do for the people of Mars, you can tell me and I'll try to get it done.**

    **Can you undo the damage done to the surface of our world? Can you restore the species lost? Can you cause the iron in our world's core to spin, granting us a magnetic field capable of turning aside the radiation which now deluges our planet?**

    **Can I theoretically do that? Yes. But it wouldn't be safe for me to try spinning your world's core without knowing a lot more than I do about planetary physics. But the Controllers are thousands of years old. When I consult with them, I will speak to them about Mars and ask their advice. As for the damage done to your biosphere, I will also ask if they have records from that period. Or if their cousins the Guardians do. If so, then I will make them available to you. You could use them to start building nature reserves on the surface using artificial shields.**

    **I will thank you in advance for the information. As for the reserves, I already sponsor several such sites. M'gann M'orzz's uncle Ma'alefa'ak J'onzz is responsible for one.**

    **Yes, I'm planning on visiting him before I leave. Anything else you want?**

    **Many minor things. Nothing worthy of your time.**

    **I understood that there is some minor civil unrest?**

    **There are flare ups every so often. It is an inevitable part of governing a large community. I myself do not agree with the intentional disadvantaging of my White subjects.**

    **But advantaging your Red subjects is fine?**

    He pauses before replying. **In light of what I have just been informed, I may need to reconsider many things.**

    **One last question then. There are things I could do to make travel between Earth and Mars easier-.**

    **No. Having borne witness to the upheaval caused by the limited contact we already have, I will not support any move to increase the frequency of such contact. I will take no action to stop you pursuing such an end yourself, but I will speak against it when asked. I do not believe that the time has arrived for a deepening of relations.**

    I nod, then realise that they probably don't know what that means either. **Very well. Then I will take my leave. Thank you for seeing me.**
     
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Ma'alefa'ak places his hands on his lap and leans forward slightly. "It all makes sense so far, but I still don't understand what brought you here now." He smiles at M'gann. "Not that I'm complaining about seeing my favourite niece a few days early, but I'd have thought that you'd want to spend more time in the city."

    M'gann and Kon give me the evils while I look sheepishly at the floor. Noting that I'm suitably shameful, M'gann turns back to her uncle. "Paul didn't really understand the way information propagates through a telepathic civilisation. As soon as Paul went into the palace Y'ok was busy sharing our location with everyone who had an interest in Human culture."

    "Sorry."

    "Maybe… Since I've been on Earth… I've just got used to people not prodding at my thoughts."

    Kon grimaces. "The whole cavern was standing room only. Guess I know how zoo animals feel."

    "I doubt it." Ma'alefa'ak strokes his chin with his right hand. "From what J'onn has told me of Earth, the zoos in the wealthier parts of the world have educational and conservation purposes. What you experienced was closer to rubbernecking."

    Kon slumps. "Or a freak show. Was J'aarkn responsible for that?"

    Ma'alefa'ak shrugs. "How would I know?"

    "Oh. Ah. Sorry."

    "Don't worry about it. I've, ah… I'm over a hundred and thirty Earth years old. If I wasn't used to the idea that I'll never touch someone else's mind by now, I'd have gone crazy." He waves his arms out to the side. "And as you can see, I haven't."

    "If you don't mind me asking, your body language is remarkably Human. How..?"

    "All the technology J'onn sent to Mars for our anthropologists to pry into was designed to work in the Earth's atmosphere, and under Earth gravity." He looks out of the window, towards the nearest habitat dome. "In the end, they decided it was easiest to store anything they weren't examining here rather than build a special room and learn how to shapeshift into something that could cope with the environment themselves." He nods to himself. "It was a godsend for me. You know how all Martian information technology is telepathy based?"

    "Oh goodness. That must be…"

    He nods. "Difficult, to say the least. On the other hand, I've gotten pretty good at shapeshifting. I'm also Mars' leading print author."

    Kon looks impressed. "Really?"

    Ma'alefa'ak grins. "There isn't all that much competition, is there?" Kon and I both look horrified. "Oh, come on. If I can joke about it the least you can do is laugh with me."

    We both give him an awkward cough-laugh.

    This is really strange. The comics have been roughly accurate about almost everyone I've met, and yet Ma'alefa'ak could win an award for 'Martian least likely to unleash an apocalypse virus on his species'. For goodness sake, he runs a wildlife reserve. And he even looks Human-ish. Certainly more Human than Mister J'onn's normal appearance. I'm not sure if his piercings are actual metal or just shapeshifted bits of skin, but they certainly make his face look like a face rather than a blank mask.

    "And the, um, body language?"

    "Unlike M'gann, I didn't spend all my time watching situation comedies." M'gann fidgets at the comment. "I watched the documentaries too. There was one on Human body language. To me it was a revelation. Martians usually communicate intent telepathically, even when we're speaking out loud. And Humans do the same by waving their hands around and stretching their face a bit? I can do that."

    He leans forward. "Don't tell anyone this, but some days? I take on a completely Human shape. I just walk around, check on the animals, put on some old Earth radio program…" He shrugs. "I guess… I always thought that -to a Human- I'd seem ungrateful. Virtually all Martians are telepathic, but Humans aren't. I've still got shapeshifting and telekinesis. Humans… Most Humans, don't get those."

    "You know, it might be possible for me to fix whatever means that you can't-" His face twitches slightly. "-use telepathy? If you wanted?"

    He shakes his head. "If you'd offered when I was younger, I'd have jumped at the chance. As it is…" He sweeps his right arm towards the window. "You see any other Martians out here?"

    We are pretty much in the middle of nowhere. "M'gann's here?"

    "Most Martians aren't telepathic prodigies like M'gann is."

    "I'm not.. that strong."

    Ma'alefa'ak nods insistently. "Yes you are. There might be some Red Martian prince or princess somewhere who's stronger, but I doubt it."

    Kon looks thoughtful. "M'gann said she could feel other Martians when we were near Phobos. I guess I kinda assumed that was.. normal."

    "Wait a second." I look at M'gann askance. "When we picked Mister J'aarkn up, you said that when Mars and Earth are close together, you could hear Human thoughts. He asked why you weren't getting tuition on Mars, then he cut himself off. I wondered at the time if it was a racism thing." M'gann shifts uncomfortably. "Was it?"

    "Not exact-." / "Pretty much."

    M'gann rolls her eyes at her uncle. He stares intently at her face. "The rolling eyes means something, doesn't it." He pokes his right forefinger at her. "Don't tell me, I'll get it in a minute."

    M'gann decides to ignore him. "It's… Unusual for Whites or Greens to be as powerful as I am. I don't think I could find a tutor-."

    "But if she were Green, someone would probably be willing to bend a few rules for her." Ma'alefa'ak shakes his head sadly. "Don't get.. confused, just because all of those fans of Earth culture turned up at M'gann's house. Most Martians don't want anything more to do with Earth, and most Martians regard the racial hierarchy as immutable. We're fairly liberal around here, but most cities have strict formal segregation. M'gann's parents wouldn't have been allowed to marry in most places."

    Kon looks crestfallen. "I guess I hadn't realised that it was really that bad."

    "Just because we're telepathic, doesn't mean that we can't be assholes too."

    "Can we.. talk about something else? Please?"

    The three male members of our gathering avoid each other's eyes while we try and think of something.

    "What's a 'rabid Ma'alefa'ak'?" Oh, looks like that wasn't what M'gann had in mind. Press on anyway. "I mean, having met you, you seem pretty even tempered."

    Ma'alefa'ak sits back. "Funny story. I'm pretty much Mars' most experienced conservationist…" He chuckles to himself for a moment. "Which should give you some idea of how popular an area it is to work in. So, the city of El'dila was expanding into a new cavern, and the diggers notice that there are a whole series of little tunnels running all through the rock. So they naturally think it's some sort of animal. I get called in, but some idiot decides to carry on digging-. Which is illegal, by the way. We don't have enough biosphere left to be that cavalier with it. They carry on digging, and eventually they break through into a pocket cavern… And then they get attacked from all directions by the animals whose home they just invaded."

    Kon looks puzzled. "But Martians are telekinetic."

    "It's a bit hard to focus well enough to use controlled telekinesis when the thing's already trying to bite your face off. And they couldn't be detected through telepathy and they had teeth as long as your finger. They were lucky that there was a squad of Manhunters around. When I finally got there and had a look at them, I realised that the locals couldn't hear their thoughts because they had the same thing I did: complete blocks on mental communication. Instead, they communicate by firing sonic pulses through the rock. Once I knew that, I could work out how to lure them into a trap. We can go and see them later, if you like."

    "And they named them after you as a.. thank you?"

    "Heheh. I think it was a bit more mean-spirited than that. I think I could have done without it, to be honest. They should have done what M'gann said and call them-"

    "Hey!"

    "-De'lefz'ad. Hahahah!"

    Ma'alefa'ak appears to find it hilarious while M'gann looks embarrassed. Kon gives a small shrug. "What does that mean?"

    "Mister Bitey Beast."

    "I was eight!"
     
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  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    01:09 GMT -5

    Look at all this stuff…

    M'gann brought her original 'Hello Megan' tapes to Earth with her, and they still occupy pride of place on her shelves even though you can't buy VHS players new anymore. I'm looking at all the things Mister J'onzz brought to Mars which she couldn't take with her when she stowed away with him.

    When he finally got back in contact with Mars he was able to convince them to send a Bio-Ship for him. Or rather, he requested one and his former commanding officer -a man named R'oh K'arr- cajoled and browbeat people until it happened. Since no Martian could make the journey, the Bio-Ship had to be pre-programmed and unmanned and launched at just the right time to cross when the planets were nearing alignment. There were a lot of things that could have gone wrong and because they couldn't send a message back Mister J'onzz had no idea it was coming.

    "Is any of it any good?" Ma'alefa'ak nods in the direction of the bric-a-brac. "Our anthropologists have long since finished with it. I was going to tell M'gann that she could take whatever she wanted with her."

    "Depends what you mean by 'any good'. To be honest, it's all too far behind current technology to be desirable while not being old enough to be antique. Some of it might have value to collectors." Oh. "I'm not keeping you awake, am I?"

    He waves it off. "No, I was…" He frowns slightly, his eyes going distant. "I have trouble sleeping, sometimes. I don't know why…"

    "Worried about civil unrest in Mel'dilo'rn?"

    "Hah! Civil unrest." He shakes his head. "Mel'dilo'rn is quiet. Pleasant, liberal… There are places you wouldn't know we were a caste based society at all."

    "Earth isn't exactly a social utopia, you know."

    "Your species never consigned an entire subspecies to an underclass."

    "We've had castes-."

    "It's not the same thing. From a Martian perspective, that's one caste segregating parts of itself. Move to a new area and work hard, who'd know the difference?" He smiles faintly. "It's not as if most Humans can read minds. And, yes, I know about the American civil rights movement. But again, that only affected dark skinned Humans in one country."

    "It was more than one country. The whole post-colonial-."

    "Okay, but J'onn didn't bring me videos about those. The point is, there were always countries where dark skinned Humans ran things. They were in the army, the civil service, the government… Pale skinned Europeans only ran your world for a few hundred years. Mars… We've been like this for our entire recorded history. There are things White Martians cannot do. Anywhere."

    "Couldn't they found their own city?"

    "Sure. But it would still come under the planetary government. They'd still have to have a Red in charge of things, and they couldn't stop Greens coming in."

    "Huh, you didn't do it."

    "Doing what?"

    "Everyone I've heard since I came to Mars has abbreviated White Martian or Green Martian to White or Green, but Reds are always Red Martians."

    "Maybe I've just gone crazy, out in this place by myself. Or.. maybe, not being in constant mental contact with people who think Reds are the greatest thing ever gives me a greater degree of mental flexibility."

    "Okay… So, what's keeping you awake? I was surprised by how quickly you answered the door when we got here."

    "What's keeping you awake?" He gestures behind us. "M'gann's asleep in the guest room and Kon's back in J'onn's Bio-Ship."

    "The power ring means that I don't need a lot of sleep. I still habitually keep Earth hours, but I don't really need to. Without Earth's day and night cycle I just forgot to turn myself off. So?"

    "Nightmares."

    "Oh, um. I'm sorry to hear that. Do you get them a lot?"

    "They come and go, and at the moment they're coming." He leans against the wall. "I've had them for years. I'm used to them, but they're still a bit inconvenient at times."

    "Doesn't… If you've had them for a while, isn't there someone you could see? A doctor, or something?"

    "Sure. But they're all telepathic. Since they can't just look into my head, they're a bit outside of their area of experience."

    "Um… If you think talking about them would help, I'd be happy to listen?"

    "I suppose it can't hurt. I'm not sure that it really needs much analysing."

    "So what was.. this one about?"

    He shakes his head. "They're always the same. I'm walking through a Martian city. All around me, people are on fire… And I'm not scared of the flame, but that's… Horrifying. I usually wake up there. If I don't, I start seeing the faces of people I know. And…" He trails off, his lips tightening. "It starts to feel… Good. That's the worst part. When I wake up, there's a moment when I'm not sure if I still like it or not. It scares me, sometimes. Which I suppose is the healthy response."

    "You're not afraid of fire?"

    "Usually I am. After I woke up the first time I actually saw the whole thing through, I tried burning some hydrocarbon liquid. I thought that if I was the only Martian who wasn't telepathic, maybe I'd be the first who wasn't afraid of fire?" He shakes his head. "No luck." He looks at me with curiosity. "So? What does Human dream analysis say's wrong with me?"

    "If I had to guess, I'd say general undirected resentment, probably stemming from your exclusion from Martian society. Do you remember when it started?"

    His gaze grows vacant. "No… Sometime before J'onn came back for the first time…"

    "M'gann said that the two of you didn't get on. I was a bit surprised-" I sweep my hand across the store room. "-that you had all this stuff."

    "I don't know. Something…" His frown deepens. "Something… Happened, when he got back… I don't remember exactly what it was. Maybe I… Said something..? I'm not sure. I've tried patching things up since…"

    "You don't feel any resentment towards him?"

    "No." He considers his answer for a moment. "I suppose I'd quite like to be as telepathic as he is. But I wouldn't take his abilities from him in order to get that."

    "He does have the advantage of living surrounded by people without telepathy."

    "Things would probably have been better if it had been me who got hit by the zeta beam. But.. I believe in this project. Making Mars live again the slow way. I wouldn't leave it now."

    "You… Don't have any children yourself?"

    "There's a telepathic component to Martian reproduction. Even if I was in a.. relationship where the subject came up, I'm effectively sterile."

    "I.. hadn't.. realised-."

    We turn as there's a dull trill from one of the alarms. Ma'alefa'ak immediately throws off his sombre mood and walks back towards the living area. "Looks like someone's paying us a visit."

    "Anyone I know?"

    "Probably M'gann's brother T'ronn and a few friends. They visit me fairly regularly." He smiles. "Because the best place to organise a covert civil rights movement-."

    "Is somewhere no one wants to go."
     
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  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st April
    01:25 GMT -5

    **T'ronn! [Giant beaming smile!]**

    M'gann tackle-hugs her White brother off his flying.. Bio.. platform thing, both of them floating into the thin Martian air. She's had to modify her Humanish form slightly for the low pressure. She could have had her shapeshifting clothes form a environmental suit, but she decided against it.

    The rest of the party watch them. Five Whites and two Greens. All of them -T'ronn included- are in minimally modified standard pattern Martian forms. They're probably saying things to each other but at this distance I can't pick it up unless they decide to direct something towards me. I guess having M'gann around has spoiled me with the power of a once in a generation telepath.

    Ma'alefa'ak smiles at the scene. "I was worried they might miss each other."

    "How long has this been going on?"

    "A few years. J'aarkn's return widened the appeal, but it's not as if White Martians weren't aware that they were getting a raw deal."

    "Does M'gann know about it?"

    "She knows that her brother and his friends like to meet up here." He glances at me sidelong. "T'ronn was thinking about involving her, then she said that she wanted to join the Manhunters. Since she ran off to Earth I don't suppose it matters."

    "Can Whites do that?"

    "In Mel'dilo'rn? Sure, if their record is completely spotless. With the arrangement she's got now I don't think it matters. Even if she wasn't a Manhunter on paper she could make a life for herself on Earth."

    "Seems a few too many for a secret meeting."

    "Martians… Who aren't me, at least, don't do things solo. Most of these guys and girls will be spending time tending to the animals."

    "Why?"

    "Making memories. It's not foolproof, but having definite memories of spending time here not discussing the overthrow of the existing social order makes it harder for anyone how might take issue with that to spot that they've been doing it."

    I nod. Makes sense.

    Kon peers blearily out at them, before exhaling lightly and shaking his head. "I'm going back to bed. Tell M'gann's brother I said 'hi'."

    "Okay."

    He turns away and trudges sleepily back in the direction of his temporary bedroom.

    "Is it late, where you're from on Earth?"

    "Middle of the night." The sun's still up outside. "And Kon can't control his circadian rhythms like M'gann and I can. What sort of time is it here?"

    "Early morning." The party of Martians on the outside draw nearer to the airlock. Ma'alefa'ak turns away from the window and heads towards the internal side. "I live by the planetary day, not the standard day they use in the caverns."

    "I'd have thought that the animals would be most active during the hours of darkness. If they're all burrowers."

    "No, they're not. A lot of them have lived in the caverns as long as we Martians have. They're used to open spaces and light… Though not this bright."

    "Did you design the biomes yourself?"

    "Not entirely. They're based on designs we had for off-world habitats." He sighs. "A purpose they'll probably never be used for."

    "I know… Martians have difficulty, when they can't feel other people's minds. But how many people would they actually need? For long term settlement, I mean."

    "I don't think anyone knows. M'gann could come out here on her own, but everyone else who's tried that ended up feeling distinctly unwell until they got into range of my menagerie. And we're only about a hundred miles from the nearest city."

    "Mister J'aarkn mentioned that he hallucinated during his journey to Earth."

    "He probably did. Our early space explorers had the same difficulty. Patrol ships have crews of fifty or so these days, just to make sure the people they actually need are at full capacity."

    The opening to the inside of the airlock oozes open and M'gann emerges, dragging T'ronn along with her. **T'ronn, this is my Human friend Paul, and this…** She blinks. **Where's Kon?**

    **He went back to bed.**

    **Oh. I suppose it is kind of early. Ah, Paul, this is T'ronn.**

    I hold out my right hand. **Pleased to meet you.**

    He regards my hand for a moment, then his body starts to shift. His arms shorten, fingers clustering towards the end of the limb and being joined by two extra digits. His face smoothes, hair extends from his scalp, his torso contracts and he gains a slightly more upright posture. Lastly, his belt expands to cover his increasingly Human body and I'm left looking at rule 63'd version of M'gann, complete with chalk white skin and grey-black hair.

    **Hello.** He takes hold of my hand. **I am T'ronn M'orzz. M'gann has told me a great deal about you.** The left side of his mouth turns upwards and I feel-. **[My arms around her his chest, under her breasts his pectorals. My bare chest pressed against her his naked back. My face nuzzling her his neck. Her His giggles chuckles like silver bells a babbling stream.]**

    I bow my head slightly. **I'd be more worried about what Mister J'aarkn was saying about us if I thought the idea of having a race of telepathic shapeshifters finding us sexually attractive-**

    M'gann looks scandalised. **T'ronn, what did you just-?!**

    **-at all problematic. Guess he didn't edit his own bias out of everything.**

    **M'gy didn't need his help to find Humans attractive. Huh.** He looks down at his legs as the rest of his group file in behind him. **Certainly easier to walk around like this.** He tilts his head to the side. "Uncle Ma'al, where do you want us today?"

    "That depends. How many more are coming?"

    "Two more groups, I think."

    "Nice to see you kids so interested in your natural history. So who wants to clean out the B'ool enclosure?"

    M'gann's eyes widen. "You have B'ool here?"

    "Little ones." He smiles. "No takers?" No one says anything. "M'gann? You want to show your brother how much you've learned from J'onn?"

    "Ahhh…"

    **Do you like seeing people suffer?**

    That was one of the other Martians. Not sure which… Ring, is there a way to tell which of them is doing that?

    Confirmed. Options available.

    No, I don't think sticking collars on them is really-.

    "Uncle Ma'al?" I look around to see Ma'alefa'ak.. clasping his head, unsteady on his feet. M'gann reaches out to support him. "Are you okay?"

    "AhAh…" Ma'alefa'ak pulls his hands away, straightening up and his fingers clenching into fists. "Yes, I'm… Sorry. I didn't mean I was actually going to let you loose on the B'ool unsupervised. Let's.. start with the Sho'keer instead. T'ronn, could you show the others where the protective gear is?"

    He nods. "Sure, Uncle Ma'al." He looks a little concerned, but Ma'alefa'ak appears to have recovered.

    Bit odd. But, I suppose that I'm better equipped to handle dangerous animals than they are and I don't know anything about Ma'alefa'ak's particular condition. Well, if M'gann doesn't look seriously worried.. I'll just.. leave it for now.
     
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  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st April
    03:47 GMT -5

    The acid spat by an adolescent B'ool splatters off my construct barrier. **Remind me why you want to preserve these?**

    T'ronn moves the vacuum into the puddle of B'ool… Excretion, and activates the suction. **If Whites were involved in those sorts of decisions, I wouldn't need to be here.** "Hey, Uncle Ma'al!" Ma'alefa'ak looks around from where he's slathering what looks like quick-drying cement onto the sides of an injured adult B'ool. I note they don't try puking super acid on him. "Paul wants to know why we're preserving this species!"

    "Urrrruuughhhlllgh." The B'ool Ma'alefa'ak is tending to objects to its treatment. Ma'alefa'ak responds by putting his hands on its… I'm not sure what that is. It calms down immediately.

    "That's a complicated question. We don't actually need any of these animals. We can maintain our atmosphere ourselves, either with plants or synthetically. We can grow meats in laboratories-"

    "Urrrrrugh."

    He smiles fondly at his patient. "-not that I'd want to try eating one of these fellows. I don't think it would affect anyone's lives adversely if we let them go extinct."

    "Uncle Ma'al, I'm not sure what you think you're arguing-" T'ronn pulls the partially corroded nozzle out of the waste trench, regarding it with a wary eye. "-but I'm not hearing a reason to keep doing this."

    "Optimism, T'ronn." Ma'alefa'ak sits back, checking his patient over one last time before giving it a pat. It dutifully squirms away. "The optimistic belief that some day we will be able to turn the surface of M'arzz into something we can live on. That we can turn it back into the verdant world the fossil records tells us it once was. We don't have enough species left that we can toss away any of the ones we still have. These guys were apex predators and their bodily secretions formed an important part of the ecosystem they used to live in."

    "Maybe we could just import nicer animals."

    "You know, there's some evidence that the caverns our ancient forebears moved into after the disaster were dug out by B'ool."

    I suppose that might be true. The Guardians' records don't specifically say how the caverns were made, and the B'ool's acid spit is mostly used for melting rock rather than attacking things.

    "They don't have any B'ool in them now. I'm not convinced that our ancestors-" Ma'alefa'ak is watching the B'ool wriggle away. "-made the wrong decision." Ma'alefa'ak doesn't answer or turn around. In fact, he looks a bit out of it. "Ah, Uncle Ma'al?"

    Nothing for a moment, then he jerks his head around. "I'm sorry. You were saying?"

    "Ah… Don't worry." He wiggles the vacuum. "I think I've got it all. What do you want me to do with it now?"

    "We need to take that to the microbiology laboratory. The bacteria living in the B'ool's digestive system are one of the best insights we have into the surface of ancient M'arzz, as well as an indicator of their general state of health."

    T'ronn sighs. "I think I can see why you're the only one who lives out here."

    "No, I'm the only one who lives out here because-." He cuts himself off, frowning.

    "Because you're the only one who can, I know." T'ronn lets go of the vacuum and instead levitates it beside him as we walk towards the exit to the large B'ool enclosure.

    "So, what exactly are your people doing to undermine the Green/Red hegemony?"

    "Civil disobedience. We share information about companies or people who have strong apartheid tendencies and agree not to have anything to do with them. We also monitor and publicise incidents of violence committed against White Martians with semi-official sanction."

    "I'm a little surprised that sort of thing can happen in a telepathic society."

    "Why?"

    "Because they can't just pretend it didn't happen. The victim would have a memory they can share. Right?"

    "I'm doing this-" He momentarily lifts the vacuum. "-in order to create cover memories to hide my political work. Manhunters are much better at it than I am. If they want to they can just erase a memory from someone's mind, and it's even easier for them to edit their own."

    "Have you considered using Human recording devices? They're not telepathic. It wouldn't be that hard to make a wireless transmitter that was small enough to wear so that even if the device was destroyed there would still be a record."

    "That could work." The three of us come to a halt as the inner airlock door oozes closed behind us. "You'll have to show me how to use them."

    He and Ma'alefa'ak alter their shapes for the external environment. I note that the elder Martian completes his change slightly ahead of his nephew.

    Pressure dropping.

    I should have spotted it before now, but Martian airlocks don't flush air, they extract it, telekinetically drawing useful gasses out of the small locked chamber before opening it to the outside. Given that the caves they live in aren't interspersed with airlocks it hardly comes as a surprise that Martians are masters of atmosphere retention techniques. Or maybe they are interspersed with them? I wouldn't necessarily recognise a telekinetic airlock, and I didn't notice anything particular on our way in.

    The outer door oozes open and T'ronn leads the way out onto the Martian desert surface. The air here isn't completely still, but there's still little enough wind that footprints and other markings tend to linger for a long time. Wonder why there aren't any paths? Sure, he couldn't make enclosed walkways due to the risk of escapes, but putting a few stones down? Then I see T'ronn floating just above the ground. Which is probably even easier to do here than it is on Earth. Right. Different assumptions.

    **T'ronn? You there?**

    **Yeah, what is it?**

    **The civil disobedience stuff you're describing to me sounds pretty peaceful. Not.. saying that you're lying or anything, but if it were Humans I imagine that some members of the group would want to be a bit more… Forceful. Direct. You know?**

    **Yes, it's.. not a universal approach. There are Whites who want to be more aggressive about things.**

    I look around, taking in the other domes. Looks like M'gann's team (her, Z'üm and Cha'rissa) have finished with the Sho'keer, and they've got the Sphere with them in trike mode carrying a couple of large containers of Sho'keer eggs. I suppose with creatures that practice r-selection reproduction these sorts of habitat would allow them to successfully reproduce far more than they would have been able to in the wild. And creating a habitat big enough to actually replicate an area of ancient Mars would be a massive undertaking.

    **And?**

    **What happens in a fight when one side has all the apparatus of state and the other side doesn't?** Ah. **Some… [A complex mental image stressing extreme ingroup bloodline loyalty and superiority and the exclusion and/or destruction of everything else.] They want-.**

    **I'm sorry, can you give me a moment? That was a more complex image than I'm used to dealing with.** How could I parse something like that? Strong…

    **Oh. Right. Sorry. I guess in words it would be something like… Hyper.. clan..?**

    A name I recognise from the comics. If I remember correctly they were a group of White Martians who posed as superheroes. I think they had mental influence satellites as well, which was sort of necessary to explain why anyone would turn their backs on the comic book version of the Justice League. And that's about all that I remember. Of course, with Mars still being inhabited and colour being inherited rather than being a result of mental state, if they exist they'd have to be something else. **And what do they do?**

    **They want to kill anyone who takes advantage of us. They've killed Manhunters… They've even killed Red Mar-.**

    **Stop. Try saying it as 'Reds'. Leave off the 'Martians'.**

    **Is that really..? Alright, ah, they've.. even.. killed Reds.** Darn, it isn't an absolute compulsion. **I don't want to tear down Martian society. Mostly, things are pretty good here. But people are angry, and a lot of Whites who don't want to join them give them a degree of.. respect. Kinda hard to explain to someone who's just been on the receiving end of a unwarranted Manhunter mindfray why they should care about the Green who did it getting the same done to them.**
     
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  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    "…sound like a race of total psychotics, Mister Grayven." Congressman-. Um, Representative Visclosky leans forward slightly, looking a little alarmed. "I hope you're not just better at hiding it."

    There's a smile there, but it's brittle, as is the laughter which follows it. He asked me -on behalf of the United States House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense- to introduce myself and explain why I was worth listening to on the subject of defence procurement. Then followed a short description of Apokolips.

    Understandably, they were somewhat perturbed by that.

    For a moment I hide my smile behind a glass of water. "Not at all, Mister Chairman. Many Apokoliptians are far better at hiding their nature than I am."

    He holds my gaze for a moment as I affect an expression of honest helpfulness. Then he gives me a polite near-laugh and returns his attention to his notes.

    "If I may, Mister Chairman?" Representative Visclosky looks up as Representative McKeon raises his right forefinger, and gives him a nod.

    I'm not expecting anyone here to give me a hard time. Visclosky's a Democrat and an ally of the President. McKeon's Republican and the ranking minority member. He also was one of several people here who sent me a thank you note after I killed Klarion. One he wrote himself by hand. Good penmanship, I thought.

    "Mister Grayven, should we.. Earthlings, be worried about Apokolips?"

    "Hmm. Not to the extent that it disrupts your daily lives. To the best of my knowledge, Darkseid has next to no interest in this world. But… Strategic planners such as yourselves need to be aware that it's there, and tend to your armaments appropriately. If you ever get around to expanding off your homeworld you will run into them eventually. Oh, and, um… No one actually calls you 'Earthlings'… I don't know how that whole things got started, but it was nothing to do with us." Another polite laugh around the room. "Apokolips is the number one military power in this galaxy. It doesn't hold that much territory compared with some, but that's because Darkseid doesn't want to hold territory. It has massive production facilities, a sizeable fleet and almost total social unity."

    "Unity enforced by physical abuse and mind control."

    "Yes." The faintest twinges of fear around the room. "There's a reason why I-" I place both hands on my chest. "-live here instead of there."

    Representative McKeon's smile looks a little more genuine at that. "Welcome to the land of the free."

    "Thank you. Good to be here."

    "While we're on the subject…" Representative Calvert gives it a moment to see if anyone wants to stop him. "What exactly is your immigration status?"

    Representative McKeon winces. "Ken."

    "Hey, I signed off on the Bill naturalising Superman. If Mister Grayven hasn't made arrangements yet, we should get the ball rolling."

    Ekh. "I'm afraid that -though I thank you for your generous offer- I can't accept. I am essentially Apokolips' ambassador to Earth, so taking citizenship from an Earth polity isn't.. really… Something I can do."

    "Oh, ah, no offence intended." Representative Calvert looks down the bench, but it looks like the others are happy to allow him to continue talking. "I don't believe that the US has officially recognised your status yet-."

    "And you shouldn't. My Apokoliptian title isn't ambassador, it's suzerain. Darkseid may well take offence if someone of my rank is asked to present themselves to… Another official, for recognition."

    "Must make diplomacy a bit tricky for your people. What exactly do they mean by 'suzerain'?"

    Ah… Telling a group of American congressional representatives that I own not merely their country but their planet probably isn't such a great idea. "Please understand, the rulers of Apokolips regard themselves as gods and are powerful enough to back that up. As far as Darkseid is concerned, Earth is.. my territory. So long as I'm around, no other Apokoliptian will attack the planet… Though they might come after me personally."

    He blinks. "They think you own the Earth?"

    "Technically. It really won't make any difference to anything until your species develops the capacity for interstellar travel. And… The downside of making an effort to repudiate it is that Darkseid might take offence, and…"

    Representative Visclosky nods. "We might have the greatest military power in the galaxy knocking on our door."

    I shake my head. "I'm sorry about that. I really never intended to regain my memories of Apokolips. But, the problem with erasing your memories.. is that you forget that you're not supposed to remember."

    He nods again. "I think that covers the introduction. Though I can see State wanting to talk to you before too long." I nod. "Now, on to the actual subject of our hearing. Mister Grayven, you've had a chance to review the documentation on the F Thirty Five." I nod again. "We've already heard from a lot of witnesses about how it compares to our existing aircraft, and the aircraft of our allies and rivals. What we're interested in hearing today is how an alien sees it."

    I take a deep breath.

    "It's crap."

    A blink. "Pardon me?"

    "I've spent a lot of time thinking about it. Leaving aside the cost overruns -that's an organisational thing, it doesn't affect the effectiveness of the weapon- and generously assuming that all of the technical issues can be ironed out, you end up with an aerofighter."

    "Not a fan of airplanes?"

    "Advanced militaries don't use them. There's just no point. Too easy for ground based weapons to destroy without the advantages that come with being in orbit. Some places make.. cheap aerial drone weapons for anti-insurgent duties. I use infantry support drones… But the F Thirty Five is a machine which can barely go supersonic, can't operate outside of an atmosphere, has a distinctly finite supply of fuel, has no force fields and doesn't carry any light speed weapons. I don't see the benefit of having it."

    "I'm sorry we don't live up to Apokolips' standards, but Earth technology isn't quite advanced enough to make space-fighters."

    "Really?"

    "I'm afraid not."

    "I ask because I picked this-" I take a cold gun out of subspace. "-up in Central City yesterday." I hold it up. "It's called a 'Cold Gun'. It works by arresting molecular vibration in the target area. The beam moves at light speed and at maximum intensity stops molecular vibration completely. By my estimation a strike anywhere on an airborne F Thirty Five would kill it. It was designed by a Human with no higher education.. while he was in prison." I return it to subspace before taking out a purple death ray. "The forerunner of this gun was built in the nineteen forties. It nullifies life. A normal Human can only take the beam for a second or two before their body completely ceases functioning. Again, a light speed weapon." I make eye contact with each committee member in turn. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I use these guns. They are superior to their nearest Apokoliptian equivalents. Why aren't you using them?"

    "As for the rest?" I put the death ray back into subspace. "The superhero Red Tornado was built in the nineteen thirties and hasn't been recharged once since. In the forties the first Starman built a device that could generate decent force fields, and it was the size of a signal baton. That contained its own power source as well. All Earth technology."

    Jack Knight hanging up on me nearly made me regret my break with the League.

    "And while it's true that the jet engine comes from the same era, there's really no comparison in terms of effectiveness. Why do you insist on using these substandard technologies when you have better ones available?"
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2019
  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st April
    13:40 GMT -5


    President Horne rises to his feet as his personal assistant shows me into the Oval Office. "How did it go?"

    I amble over the presidential seal on the carpet and come to a halt before the desk. "Remind me: you don't like F Thirty Fives, right?"

    "I have some reservations about the cost/benefit ratio and in some of the technologies involved. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I dislike it. It's an aircraft, not a person."

    I'm honestly not sure if his dispassionate attitude is going to be a help or a hindrance. I suppose it has allowed him to govern the country despite the House and Senate both being split down the middle. "I informed the Committee that advanced species have -for the most part- abandoned aircraft, and that in any case the American establishment's unwillingness to use 'superhero' technology means that compared to things you can find in a half dozen American cities any day of the week, even cutting edge conventional aeronautics are more or less obsolete."

    President Horne regards me for a moment. "If that what you've been telling the Chinese?"

    "Mister President, I didn't assist them in creating the Dragon Wing. I merely aided the pilot in an attempt to ensure that he doesn't melt. And the Dragon Wing has a great many advantages over a more conventional aircraft."

    "Would you, if asked?"

    "Mister President, at this point few things are more contrary to my interests than encouraging internecine conflict on Earth. But you do need to advance your technology beyond burning hydrocarbons and… Copper."

    "You didn't answer my question, there."

    "Probably, if they were working on something interesting. There are a hundred ways that fiddling with Durlan technology can go wrong. Better for the Earth that it doesn't."

    "And would you do the same with us?"

    "Mister President, I have no allegiance to any Earth nation. But, I've met you. I've never met Hu Jintao. I live here, and in the autumn my daughter will begin going to school here. Your.. country is growing on me."

    He nods, a faint smile on his lips. "So, we're your favorite customers, just not your only one."

    "More or less."

    There's a knock at the door, then his personal assistance sticks his head around the door. "Mister President? Mister Myer and General Lane here for you, sir."

    "You can send them right in, Irwin." President Horne walks around the left side of his desk and gestured to the seating on the opposite side of the room. "Shall we?"

    "Ah… Mister President, I'd crush those seats."

    "Oh." He looks me over. "I suppose you would. I'm sorry, but I don't think we've got-."

    The door opens once more and Mister Myer and General Samuel Lane walk in. Full regalia, hat under his left arm. I am privileged. He looks at me. He's.. weighing me up. He doesn't appear to resent my presence. Never got around to asking Kal-El what their relationship was like. so I don't know what his general attitude to superfolks is. Or aliens.

    "General. Thank you for coming."

    General Lane comes to attention. "Mister President."

    President Horne gives him a nod. "I don't believe that you've met Mister Grayven."

    "No, but I've heard of him." I hold out my right hand and after a split second hesitation he takes it in a firm grip.

    "I believe that I was once harangued at length by your elder daughter."

    "Heh. You're not the only one."

    President Horne turns his attention to Irwin. "Have the kitchens send us up refreshments in about an hour." Irwin nods, then closes the door behind him. "Grayven, General Lane is being put in charge of our exotic weapons research program, replacing General Eiling."

    I nod. "I suppose that we'll be seeing a good deal of each other, then."

    "After the shellacking you gave the Committee? I should think so. Not sure whether I should be mad about you badmouthing the US military or enjoy the schadenfreude at the Air Force's expense."

    "Why don't we say you did the first while you actually do the second?"

    "Works for me."

    President Horne gestures at the seating. "Okay, gentlemen, if you'd like to take a seat…"

    Mister Myer sits down in the far corner while President Horne takes the position next to him. After a brief moment of hesitation and mutual eye flickering General Lane sits down opposite Mister Myer while I cover the position opposite President Horne in a construct before carefully lowering myself onto it.

    Flying in a sitting position just isn't as relaxing as actually sitting down.

    Mister Myer opens his briefcase and passes President Horne a card folder. He in turn opens that and takes out a stapled together group of printed pages. "First item. General, are you up to speed on your brief?"

    "Assuming that everyone involved is actually telling my people the truth, yes." He turns his head my way. "The United States had a lot of 'future weapon' research programs, each in separate chains of command. Now, they all work for me."

    I nod. "I imagine that ruffled a few feathers."

    "Some. But mostly they're mad enough about Klarion-" He snarls the word. "-and how they weren't prepared for him that we've got them on board." He turns back to his Commander in Chief. "Not a lot will change for them on a day to day basis. I doubt we'll have any serious problems with insubordination."

    "Glad to hear it. Anything I need to know about right away?"

    "I don't think so, sir. I'll have a full written report for you within a fortnight."

    "Alright then. Adrian, how are things going with sounding Congress out about… Ah, what are we calling it?"

    "'Special Tribunals', sir."

    "And we couldn't come up with something less ominous sounding than that?"

    "There are only so many things you can call a court hearing, sir."

    "I guess. So?"

    "Well, Republican conservatives are delighted by the idea. They weren't sure you could pass it, but they liked the idea. Republican moderates and libertarians were against in principle, though a lot of them said they wanted to see a firm proposal before they came down on either side."

    "About what we expected. And my fellow Democrats?"

    Mister Myer sighs. That isn't a good sign. "Mostly, the best I could say is 'lukewarm'. A lot of them were pretty confident it would be unconstitutional to try someone in absentia."

    "I thought Caroline came up with a form of words which let us get around that."

    "It should, but even if we could get it passed in Congress it would be challenged by every civil liberties group in the country. We won't really know for sure until the Supreme Court rules on it."

    "Great."

    General Lane looks momentarily puzzled. "Ah, Mister President?"

    "Sorry, General. We're looking into ways to deal with people like Klarion legally." The General's puzzlement deepens. "Ways to try and convict them for their crimes. It turns out that trying someone who can't be safely captured or confined isn't something the Founding Fathers gave much consideration to."

    "Well, hell sir." He actually looks a little impressed. "I'd happily kill the son of a bitch whatever the courts said."

    "I'm sure you would, General. But as a matter of policy I feel that this administration should try and stay within the bounds of the law."



    My goodness me. He's actually serious.
     
  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st April
    14:11 GMT -5

    Kon prods at the contents of his plate with a fork. "Are you sure these are okay for Humans.. and Kryptonians, to eat?"

    Ma'alefa'ak nods. "J'onn gave me plenty of data on Human physiology. I don't know Kryptonians well, but assuming they mostly handle their food in the same way Humans do, you shouldn't have a problem with it."

    "Guess I'm just not used to eating giant spider eggs."

    M'gann swallows her own mouthful. "Oh, Sho'keer aren't spiders. They have ten legs, and only six eyes."

    "They taste fine to me, Kon." Fine, but not 'good'. Slightly rubbery outer and slightly slimy inner. Sort of what I imagine you'd get if you sautéed a grape. I don't think hens are going to have to worry about the competition anytime soon. "Do you sell these?"

    Ma'alefa'ak nods. "It's not a huge market, but I can usually find buyers. Of course, since I can't really leave here I'm dependent on T'ronn's friends to distribute them."

    Kon stabs an egg, the left side of his mouth turning slightly down as albumin -or whatever Sho'keer have instead- oozes out. "Do you sell B'ool eggs as well?"

    "Oh, B'ool don't lay eggs. They gestate their young in their skin. When they reach full term they use their own acid to burn their way out of-."

    "Uncle Ma'aaal!"

    "What?"

    "Humans consider some subjects inappropriate for discussion while dining, as they tend to put us off our food. Bodily mutilation is one of these subjects."

    "Oh." He thinks for a moment. "So, should I not talk about what we'll be feeding the M'loth after breakfast?"

    M'gann puts her fork down. "No.. you.. definitely shouldn't."

    I take another forkful. I always thought an 'acquired taste' was a food so bad that it numbed your sense of taste, but these are actually growing on me. I don't often eat alien food. That time with Euanthe was the only other time I've eaten a significant amount.

    "How were the B'ool gut juices?"

    That came through in Ca'andran, though the timbre suggests a speaker who isn't used to forming words with their mouth. I was looking at my plate rather than the rest of the table so I'm not sure which of T'ronn's friends was asking. Sounded slightly feminine…

    "Healthy, thank you Z'üm. They're getting a good mix of soil microbes and minerals in their diet."

    "Are any of those microbes dangerous?"

    "What, compared to the B'ool themselves? Not really. They'd probably make you ill if you ingested them-" Kon puts down his fork. "-but aside from that they're pretty harmless. Your body chemistry is more dangerous to them than theirs is to you."

    "Are any of the microbes here dangerous?"

    "One or two. The really dangerous ones are the ones designed to interfere with the telepathic or telekinetic abilities of the animals. Those can often cross over from one species to another because M'arzz native life forms usually use the same brain mechanisms to produce those effects."

    "But not the shapeshifting mechanism?"

    "While a lot of M'arzz native life forms can change their shapes, none of the ones which survived the disaster have the ability to anything like the extent that we do. Any diseases that used that as a route of infection are either living so far under the ground that we've never encountered them or.. were.. simply rendered extinct." He levitates a few eggs. "Not that even I think that's a bad thing."

    Z'üm turns towards us. "M'gann, Kon'el and.. Orange Lantern? Will you be staying here for the entire day?"

    Kon pushes his plate forward and nods. "Yeah, and probably all of tomorrow as well. I didn't think so many people would come just to stare at us."

    M'gann looks a little dejected. "We'll.. have to try visiting in disguise… Or coming up with a way of preventing people from recognising us. I really want you to meet the rest of my brothers and sisters before we go back to Earth."

    "Would a telepathic illusion work? I know Mister King used them plenty of times in situations like this."

    "Maybe. But it would only take one person in the crowd to realise what was happening and we'd be mobbed again."

    "I don't mind acting as a taxi service. If you organise a time, I can fly around picking up members of the J'onzz clan and depositing them here."

    T'ronn looks pensive. "We.. kinda need most of my family not to visit until we've got the business part of our visit finished."

    "Tomorrow?"

    "Yeah, we'll be.. gone by then."

    "Are you sure you can't stay?" The look M'gann gives her brother is more than a little reminiscent of the one Wolf tried on Kon.

    "Ah, I suppose I could. If Orange Lantern can transport me back?"

    "I'd be happy to."

    Ma'alefa'ak nods. "It'll be interesting to see if the rest of the family make the same faces you do when you…"

    **Orange Lantern.** Z'üm's mental voice. I look over to probably-her. **Could I speak to you outside for a moment?**

    **If you like.**

    I run a brief surge of orange light over my own plate, scouring away the residual egg-gunk before sliding back my chair. Ma'alefa'ak's home makes use of quite a lot of fixed shape furniture as he can't issue the mental commands required for the shapeshifting variety himself. Z'üm rises slightly more awkwardly, and I'm slightly ahead as we walk towards the passage through from the dining area to the hallway leading to the exit. I'm getting a slight probing buzz on the edges of my mental shields, though I've got no idea where it's coming from. Her? Maybe, though I'm not sure what she'd want to know that she couldn't just ask right there. Maybe she's not very good at narrow beam transmissions?

    The habitation module airlock is large enough to fit default form Martians like her, so we can both enter in a single cycle easily enough. Light buzz is still there, which means that it's probably coming from her. Odd. Another moment and the outer door oozes open and I step outside, floating slightly off the ground. She follows suit, autolevitating after me as I turn to face her. **What was it you wanted to talk about?**

    **Your mental shields are really good.**

    **Thank you. Get into a few fights with hostile telepaths and they tend to become a priority.**

    **Are you a Human telepath?**

    **No, but a lot of the exercises can be used by untelepathic Humans as well. I've been a participant in about half of M'gann's lessons with [Image of Henry King Junior].**

    **Is that how you knocked the police officer unconscious when you first arrived in the city?**

    **Oh, no. That was my name.**

    **Your name?** She looks me over a little cautiously. **Are you a Human sorcerer?**

    **No. Something… I'm not sure exactly how it happened, but my name has become unthinkable. I can't think it or say it out loud, and M'gann found out that probing it telepathically produced the same results.**

    **And you didn't warn him?**

    **No. In fact, I nudged him towards it.**

    **Really?**

    **They'd been being rude to M'gann and he was being rude to me. I warned him, then when he didn't take any notice… His own silly fault.** I gaze into her faintly glowing eyes, instinctively looking for facial expression in a species which I know doesn't do expression. **Was that why you wanted to talk to me out here?**

    **No.** Her skin begins to shift. **That was mostly for something else.**
     
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  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st April
    14:16 GMT -5

    I watch with interest as her crest shrinks, merging with the softer skin at the back of her head. At the same time her face flattens and smooths, skin growing to cover her teeth as her chin recedes to form a more Human like jaw line. Her upper torso shrinks as her shoulders contract while her lower torso expands slightly, creating a central trunk of near uniform width. The normal wide hips possessed by default form Martians now fade naturally into the trunk rather than looking like they were stuck on afterwards from parts left over from some other creature. Next, her arms retract into her shoulders, faint purple patches losing their separate identity as the skin around them softens and becomes the same chalky white as M'gann's. The underarm pseudo wings vanish and the usual thick Martian neck withers until the more mobile Human variety emerges.

    The shift as a whole is more than a little disquieting. It reminds me of something the Discworld character Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson said of his Werewolf lover: she was fine with him seeing her either in Human form or Wolf form but not with him seeing her while she changed, in case he never wanted to see her again afterwards. Z'üm is trying to assume Human form. She knows what those are supposed to look like but appears to be uncertain as to how to get there from where she is at the moment.

    I've known for a while that M'gann is a more powerful telepath than most other Martians but this is the first time that it's really been brought home to me how much better a shapeshifter she is as well. T'ronn and his allies are her elders by a good few years but Z'üm is taking longer than M'gann did to copy us back when we went for that first joyride around Happy Harbour. Thinking back, it was a bit odd; she said that boys were harder, but Martian reproductive systems are quite dissimilar to those of Humans. I guess that she'd just got used to Megan-shape. Of course, these days-.

    **How do I look?**

    She's gone for a Barbie doll smooth look, and rather than adopt M'gann's White Martian to Human monochrome interpretation she's given herself hair the same lilac colour as the patches on her arms were. Her new facial features are perfectly symmetrical and-. Actually, her hair should be a bit more floaty in this gravity and atmos-. Oh, I see. She's holding onto both herself and an air pocket with telekinesis.

    **Pretty good. I'm not sure… You do realise that Humans don't get skin of that colour, right?** I think about Mister Napier for a moment. **Not without being in some sort of horrible chemical accident.**

    **It's a fusion form. I'm not trying to pretend to untelepathic Humans that I'm one of them, but at the same time I can still appeal to their… Aesthetic sense.**

    **I'm a little puzzled as to whether your outer surface is supposed to mirror the effect of clothing or bare skin. Also, the complete lack of facial expression is a little strange.**

    **Facial expression? You mean how Ma'alefa'ak squishes and expands parts of his face when he speaks?**

    **There's a little more to it than that, but essentially, yes.**

    **And as for the other thing.** She freezes for a moment, her dull blue-grey belt shifting and growing until it turns into a fairly minimal bathing costume, covering her smooth crotch and non-mammary chest mounds and.. not a great deal else. And suddenly I'm paying more attention. **Is this better?**

    **It conceals the fact that you don't have certain body parts from casual observation. The lack of facial expression is still a little off-putting. Though I.. do have a gynoid friend who used to do a similar thing. Still does it sometimes when something unexpected happens.**

    **Or you could reduce the intensity of your mental barriers a little so that we can share what we're feeling in the Martian way.**

    I'm half expecting it, but the sudden rush of lust inside my own head still catches me off guard. I redouble my barriers until I feel it slacking off, then attach a filament to her. "Can I assume that you've.. viewed Mister J'aarkn's work?"

    **Enough to get curious.** She holds up her right arm, looking at the orange glow. **What is this?**

    "An environmental shield. It will allow you to communicate with me by talking. And.. allow you to breathe."

    "I did not know that Humans had such abilities." Her voice is a little strange, damp compared with her mental voice. I'd guess that she hasn't practised speaking before.

    "By default, we don't. There's a species called-."

    "Guardians."

    "It would be more true to say that the Guardians are one faction of a species, but yes, they're the best known example. I'm.. assuming that.. you've heard of their Green Lantern Corps?"

    A slightly strained looking smile. I think she's trying to match my expression, but just isn't familiar enough with her new muscle shapes to pull it off convincingly. "Yes, of course. How did you come by it?"

    "Not really sure. Green power rings go to the strongest willed heroically inclined sentient in a Sector after the death of a serving Sector Lantern." For obvious reasons, Honour Guard power rings don't auto-recruit. "Though they prefer recruits from interstellar civilisations. The first couple of Humans were recruited by mistake." Alan because they lost track of Lantern Yalan Gur's equipment after his death and Hal because he was close to Abin Sur when he died.

    "They would not recruit Martians?"

    No, in point of fact. The Martian species is on the 'Do Not Recruit' list, but I can't reasonably explain why to her until I've given Prince J'emm a little longer to prepare Martian society for the news. "Probably not, though they might make an exception for an outstanding candidate."

    "Could one power ring undo the work of another?"

    "Depends what that work was, but it should be able to." I don't think the Green Lanterns have done anything here lately, certainly nothing ongoing. Has Z'üm picked up something from M'gann?

    "And what would I have to do to get an orange ring?"

    "I haven't really settled on selection criteria as yet-."

    She floats a little closer. "How about if I ask-" **[Hands everywh-. Oh goodness me.]** "-really-" **[And softly kissing mouths.]** "-nicely?" **[And that's further than I'm prepared to go with someone I just met.]**

    Shields up. "It's really more helpful to have an understanding of your own desires, your own nature."

    She floats right up to me, chest pressed against my shirt. And now she's made herself anatomically accurate. "I understand my desires very well."

    "If you're really interested, I don't mind tutoring you with a view to eventually applying to join the Corps."

    "How about you tutor me right now." She's picking up facial expressions. That's sultry. I suppose those would have been on J'aarkn's recordings. She probably just didn't appreciate their significance before. "There's a habitat over there that doesn't have any animals in it. We could alter the atmosphere mix…"

    Something… I feel some sort of telepathic transmission arrive in her mind, though I'm blocking too hard to get anything else. She starts slightly, then pulls back a little.

    "Oh. Oh well. Not my decision to make."

    "I'm sorry? Did someone.. put you up to that..?"

    "No, that was initiative. He is really interested in your ring. But I'm afraid I've been instructed to focus on my original objective."

    "Um." I summon my armour from subspace. "What exactly do you-?"

    The habitat behind me explodes!
     
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  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st April
    14:20 GMT -5

    I turn, generating a hemispherical barrier as jagged sections of wall blast past us. Next comes wind, air at Earth pressure and consistency whipping up the Martian dust around us.

    **You must have known!**

    Next comes the debris and-. Filaments flicker out as Martians adapted for Earth conditions are sent flying through the ruined walls, catching them and allowing them to breathe.

    **There must have been signs!**

    **Uncle Ma'al! Stop!**

    "What the hell just happen-?"

    Two lances of red energy pierce the dust and slam into my shield, which immediately starts cracking! Not heat vision, it's some sort of telekinetic bwoof!

    The scenery goes shooting past, tethered Martians dragged along with me! A flare of orange and I stabilise, construct armour forming around my body and my standard armour being replaced with my heavier suit. **M'gann! What's going-?!**

    **M'gann's not here right now.** Z'üm's mental voice. There's a vague blur in front of me and my construct armour starts taking hits. Super speed attack. And.. there's not enough atmosphere here for sonic attacks to do a thing. I generate a brilliant flare of blinding white light. **Ugh. Alright then.**

    Connection lost.

    I turn to see Z'üm-. I assume it's Z'üm. Her revised form is more like that of the comic White Martians… Though for reasons which escape me she's kept the breast mounds and swimming costume. Extremely sharp looking claws clasp one of the Greens I brought with me and a razor tipped tail scratches at their throat!

    **Catch!**

    A blur of motion and the Green shoots away across the desert. They try to stabilise themselves with telekinesis, but they've got too much energy-! I transition, images of thousands of strange devices flashing through my mind as I struggle to-. There! A construct flickers into being, nullifying the Green's momentum and leaving them suspended in the air. I pull my passengers in tightly, orange barrier around us as my cold gun constructs fire at the thin air around us. Hope this works in a Martian atmosphere…

    **Gah!**

    Z'üm precipitates out of the air wreathed in frozen carbon dioxide. Mister Snart originally designed cold guns to stop the Flash. In a cold field it doesn't matter how fast your molecules were moving, they're brought to an immediate halt. Z'üm collapses forwards into the dust and I attach a filament to her recumbent body.

    Pithing needle.

    Compliance.

    Two bright orange needles stab into the back of her neck. Think I can trust the rings to adjust those automatically.

    "Is everyone alright?"

    Nothing.

    "Speak out loud, if you please. I'm shielding myself mentally and you should be as well."

    "Yes." The Green I caught is the first to respond. "I am whole."

    "Glad to hear it. What just happened?"

    "Hyperclan. I've never met one, but…" There's a pause, then he awkwardly waves his left arm at Z'üm. "That is what they are supposed to be like."

    "Ma'alefa'ak?"

    "He was talking about some Earth television program with M'gann. Then-" **[Ma'alefa'ak's eyes widen as]-.**

    "Words! Words, not images. Your enemies can use telepathy at least as well as you can."

    "Sorry! I'm.. not used to… Ma'alefa'ak sort of.. shook? Then he changed his shape to.. like that."

    "He's Hyperclan too?"

    "No." One of the others speaking this time. A White. "Hyperclan are all White. He's Green. They'd never accept him."

    "He projected thoughts at us." Cha'rissa's wearing a form that's Human enough for me to see facial expression. "I didn't-. It was like he wanted to kill everyone just for existing."

    OOooooooh crap. I activate my communicator. "Superboy, you there?"

    "A-heh. Yeah, barely."

    "What's happening?"

    "Ma'alefa'ak's fighting M'gann and another Green. Teekl's fighting one of the other Whites. Sphere got blasted right at the start."

    Good cat. "Are they handling it?"

    "Think so."

    "Right. I've got the other Martians with me here. Z'üm's Hyperclan and the other White probably is too. I'm going to interrogate her. Call me if things get worse where you are."

    "Right. Let's see how good they are dodging plasma."

    The cold gun constructs fire again, creating a cold zone around but not touching Z'üm. Then I touch her with a filament. "You. What's your name?"

    She turns her head a little, then freezes, perhaps surprised that the rest of her body doesn't follow. "My name is Z'üm Z'orr."

    I take a moment to turn to face the other Martians. "Did none of you do a background check on the people you were working with?"

    T'ronn frowns. "Z'orr? You actually believe in that?"

    "How were you able to move that fast?"

    "Magic."

    "All the sorcerers on Mars are Red and I very much doubt that they'd help you. Answer honestly or I use these rings to compel you."

    "Like your owners did our entire species?" What? My ow-? She.. knows about the Guardians? "Distraction complete, Karmang. Get me out of-"

    Jam FTL and teleport!

    "-here."

    Purple smoke roils around her. What has that signature? My rune stone comes out of subspace and.. a weak glow. Right, railgun, mageslay-.

    The smoke is suddenly sucked inwards, taking Z'üm Z'orr with it. Darn it! Okay, need to get the civilians somewhere safe, then get back to helping M'gann and Kon.
     
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  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st April
    14:23 GMT -5

    The Bio-Ship jinks frantically as one of the Hyperclan fires a volley of red beams from his eyes at it while flying rapidly away from the enraged Teekl.

    I shove the last of my charges into the airlock. "Get in, stay off the ground and keep quiet. I doubt they'll target you unless you draw attention to yourselves."

    The outer surface oozes shut. Ironically, the habitat furthest from the combat zone houses the Ma'alefa'aks. It also has thick rock walls for them to burrow through, so is least at risk of a decompression in the event that it takes a few hits. A city would be better but I'm not sure how the telekinetic atmosphere barriers would interact with my FTL. Right, good-.

    Laser eye Martian opens fire again, piercing the Bio-Ship through the centre of the hull! It spins out of control as he lines up a second shot.

    Praexis swarm, go.

    His head spins to face me as Construct Demons by the dozen tumble from the rings and fly at him, mouths open to bite and swallow. He back-pedals in the air, raising all four of his hands and firing beams of energy from them as well as from his eyes. Praexis Demons start taking hits to the face and chest-.

    Connection lost. Connection lost. Connection lost. Connection-.

    Mute.

    Compliance.

    And their construct bodies collapse to nothing only for them to re-emerge from the rings. Not hitting the mouths. Curious. Is he familiar with this type of Demon or is that just standard training? No, telepathic, she might be aware that they want energy in their mouths. Now, where did M'gann get to? I lower my shields a tiny little-.

    **-happened to you?**

    M'gann doesn't sound like she's in a position to discuss events. I put my barriers back up and reactivate my communicator. "Superboy, you still with us?"

    "Yeah. The beam hit me in the chest so the Bio-Ship isn't too badly damaged."

    "And you?"

    "Stings a bit. I've got my environmental suit on so I'll be with you in a sec."

    "Kon, that's not safe. If they breach it-."

    "Then they'll have got through my kinetic shield and I'll still have my environmental shield."

    "Oh. Um, didn't realise you brought them."

    "What, after all you said about being prepared?"

    The Praexis Demons finally get near biting distance with the White Martian -who appears not to be capable of super speed- and lunge for him. He waves his arms, and bands of red lightning leap out and disintegrate them. He takes a moment to stare me down once more, and then is completely taken by surprise when Teekl jumps on his back and sinks her teeth into his neck.

    I try to communicate the idea of staying still to Teekl but it doesn't look like she's in a position to obey. The Martian extends his neck and turns it around to try blasting Teekl with eye beams. Teekl swings her right forepaw -claws as long as bread knives- and slices neatly through his face. The Martian clutches at it for a second, then blasts more red energy in all directions. This knocks Teekl off for long enough for the Martian to level his arms, palms glowing.

    Rings, brand.

    Twin orange beams hit him in the back, orange light flowing over his body.

    Resistance detected.

    If I can get one of them, I'll find out everything I want to know about this situat-.

    A puff of purple smoke and he's gone. Ergh. Need to get Sephtian to invent some sort of area effect magic nullifier. Right, where's M'gann? I shoot into the air as Kon flies over towards where Ma'alefa'ak's home used to be. M'gann's telekinetically hurling debris at him while another Green writhes in his left hand. Another Martian -this one grey skinned- thrusts his arms forwards in a shoving motion, the debris exploding away.

    Darn it. I open my barriers slightly.

    **Karmang wants you to join us, but his patience is not unlimited.**

    **If you want to run then run.** I form a construct railgun and open fire with Crumbler rounds. Ma'alefa'ak doesn't even bother to turn around, just waves his right hand negligently and tears them apart with telekinesis. **I lived my whole life denying what I was. I think that I will properly thank my niece for releasing me.**

    Shit, what did M'gann do?

    **Knew…** Wait, that's… K'hym's voice. **That… You would be true to your nature. You are a kkrk!**

    **Oh, the self delusion. You really believe that the greatest conclave of telepaths on the planet would have left any of my original consciousness intact.** He appears to dismiss her, focusing his attention on M'gann. **And you, M'gann M'orzz. You've become impressively strong. But you lack a certain KILLER INSTINCT-**

    YyyyyyyyyAAAAAGHH!

    The PAIN! My whole body hums with it and my vision goes white! There's a ringing in my ears.

    **-that comes with being a natural mind ripper. I tried to pretend, you know. For a long time. But the fact is I just.. like.. hurting people. Why do you think the Assembly of Minds took my telepathy away when they passed sentence?**

    **Shouldn't… Even… Remember…**

    **Oh, I didn't. It was all completely gone.**

    TeeklTeeklEATHIM.

    **I should be gone. But it turns out that someone decided to assign the one witness to my crime as my probation officer. Which means there's a nice strong memory of what I was like when I did it in your mind. And apparently that was enough to… No, it's not that, is it? You stupid whore, you actually put it back in my head. You were the one giving me the bad dreams. I raped and murdered your mother in front of you and you actually did the one thing that might undo my telepathic neutering. Thank you.**

    **Uncle… Ma'al..?**

    **L'Sufux, deal with this stupid Earth animal, would you?**

    **It's… Not.. that.. easy…**

    **I put poor little M'yri'ah J'onzz through every hell a mind can experience before I killed her and it was glorious. But I couldn't hope to hide what I'd done. The Manhunters dragged me before the Assembly of Minds. They didn't think much of my 'but I really wanted to' defence. The punishment for a crime like mine is total personality death.**

    **What?**

    **Not reached that part of your education yet, M'gann? Yes, you see, they don't limit themselves to editing the minds of uppity members of the underclass. The 'Uncle Ma'al' you met was a complete fabrication of theirs, an attempt to make that crippled thing pay off my debt to society.**

    **But… They can redo it. You don't need to-!**

    **No. But I really want to, M'gann. I really want to.**

    My vision starts to clear somewhat. I'm.. face down in the dirt. GetupgetupGETUP!

    **So, little K'hymie. Do you want to experience what I did to your mother first hand?**
     
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  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st April
    14:27 GMT -5

    No!

    Praexis Demons swarm out of the rings as I push myself up, relying more on the armour's synthetic muscles than on my own strength or -for once- the rings themselves. Kon blasts past me in a curving arc that should terminate with him slamming directly into Ma'alefa'ak, outpacing the Demons. Was he less affected because he was further away, or has he really been focusing on his telepathic resistance training while I haven't been looking?

    **GahaAAAAAAHH!**

    Ma'alefa'ak's left hand has grown into some sort of mass of tentacles, completely enveloping K'hym's head. The remaining Hyperclan member… L'Sufux, has his right hand up guiding his telekinesis in holding my enraged Construct-Cat in place.

    **Let her go, now.**

    **Or you'll what? With another twenty or thirty years' experience you might actually be a threat to me, M'gann.** Railgun, mageslayers. **But AS THINGS STAND-**

    G-guh…

    **-you just don't have what it takes.**

    My railgun construct is gone, and Kon's leap turns into a tumble as he loses control in mid air. Fluxus takes the opportunity to hurl Teekl at him.

    **Ma'alefa'ak, if you want to torture her so much then bring her with you. The patrol ship will be here-.**

    **Yes, it will. I look forward to it. I used to crew one. You'd be surprised how often the crew scrimp on their telepathic skills, thinking unification and augmentation technology will protect them. Fortunately, little K'hymie knows everything about their systems. She was thinking of applying to join.** He shakes her around a little. **If you like, I'll let you wat-.** He blinks, his right hand going to his forehead. **-ch. What are you looking for, M'gann? Your doting Uncle Ma'al? Shunned by all for crimes he couldn't remember committing? I'm afraid he's not home any longer.**

    Okay, complete block. Psi-baffle constructs. Dismiss the rest, they're clearly not using brute physical force. And up. Railgun. Ma'alefa'ak has floated a little closer to M'gann and I can only assume that there's some sort of telepathic fight going on. L'Sufux uses another telekinetic shove to knock Kon back while shooting his arms at the incoming wave of Praexis Demons. They're elastic but incredibly strong. When M'gann tries that she loses most of her strength. Presumably improved physical abilities is his enhancement. Mageslayer.

    Teekl makes another run at L'Sufux. He makes eye contact with her, then takes a step back as she keeps coming anyway. Agh, should have told her that phasing dodges telekinesis, I don't think it's come up before. Another step back and his skin sprouts hundreds of razor sharp spines which gleam faintly in the Martian sunlight. Telekinetically enhanced? Could be.

    I point the railgun at his centre of mass and fire.

    I feel the hum through the armour more than I hear it. The sheer disgust at the situation unfolding in front of me propels the round far faster than usual, and pressed from all sides as he is L'Sufux doesn't get any time to react. It hits him in what would be the left side of his ribs if he were Human, though I'm not sure what role it serves with his current body set up. Spines fracture and fall away as he's knocked into the air, flying in slow motion away from the point of impact.

    The other grey spines are staying, so either the magic is extremely strong or it had an effect on him but has since dissipated. Hopefully that means that he can't retreat in a cloud of arcane smoke any longer. Keeping him alive would be ideal but he can afford to lose a little mass. Kon's back into the fight, grabbing and shoving Praexis Demons back to both propel himself forwards and change his angle of attack.

    Crumbler round. Fire.

    I think the shot caught a spike before it could hit his main body of mass. It still manages to trigger, carving out a hemisphere in the front of his armour. He's seeping some sort of fluid… Can't really tell what, doesn't look like M'gann's blood. Then Kon hits him like a rocket, knife… Wait, an x-ionised metal knife? Guess he really.. has been paying attention. Another set of spines are sliced from Fluxus' body, then Kon goes for a grapple. Tricky proposition with Martians, but if he can't focus well enough to shapeshift out of it then it shouldn't be too hard to choke him in air this thin.

    M'gann and Ma'alefa'ak both look staggered. K'hym's being dragged along for the ride as Ma'alefa'ak appears to lose confidence in his telepathic powers and lunges forwards before being brought to a sudden halt. M'gann's outline twists and melts as she adopts her Star Conqueror form and his eyes widen.

    Okay. Railgun, crumbler. His secondary personality may still be salvageable so I'd rather not kill him. Target the tentacle arm and f-.

    His head twists in my direction and the sand between us ripples as some sort of energy wave heads in my direction. I recreate my orange overshield and send crampons down into the Martian soil, bracing myself for g-gruh! It's like I'm.. being shaken apart, even through the construct barrier! Ring, focus on fixing the damage-.

    Ma'alefa'ak freezes in place, his eyes widening. The tentacles around K'hym's face unwind and she drops to the ground. Okay, good, M'gann's got that. Ring, how am I doing?

    Physical damage repaired to pre-fight level. Mental damage repaired.

    Mental damage?

    Telepathic attacks by Ma'alefa'ak caused minor damage to schematic patterns. These have been restored in accordance with pre-fight scans.

    Okay. Thank you.

    Oh, shoot, K'hym's suffocating. I fire a filament at her and extend my environmental shield around her. Physically, I can't see anything wrong with her. Patrol boat should have a medic, shouldn't it? Hope so. Ring, check armour?

    Armour repaired.

    I push myself up, then activate the armour's flight system and head towards M'gann. She's still in Star Conqueror mode while Ma'alefa'ak's fallen to the ground in a foetal position. Kon is hauling the recumbent L'Sufux over towards her… Right. I accelerate, then throw up an airtight dome construct around us. Normally I'd repair the building, but I'm really not sure how Martian techno-organic buildings would respond to that sort of treatment.

    Kon's eyes flick to the dome as it appears, then he focuses his attention on M'gann. "M'gann? Are you okay?"

    "Nguh… Ah… Ah…"

    Star M'gann remains floating in the air above her uncle for a moment, then shifts back into her humanoid form. "Oh, Uncle Ma'al."

    "M'gann?"

    "I don't know, Conner." She looks miserable. "Uncle Ma'al…"

    His head suddenly jerks up, hands clutching his head. "Get it out! Get it out of my heaaaad!"

    M'gann raises her right hand. "Sleep."

    Ma'alefa'ak collapses again, motionless.

    "What exactly happened?" Kon checks L'Sufux over once more before dropping him on the ground. I generate a construct bier for K'hym and place her upon it. "One minute we were just having breakfast, and then… He just went crazy."

    "I don't know yet." M'gann's eyes glow as she holds her right hand over Fluxus' forehead. "He's a member of the Hyperclan. He… His mind has been altered. He thinks his name is L'Sufux Z'orr."

    "Is that important?"

    "It's not a.. name. It's made up to disguise where he came from." Her eyes stop glowing and she straightens up. "Either that, or it's very old. But Z'orr isn't a family name. It's… Z'onn Z'orr is a place, a mythical place. He thinks he's the child of a myth."

    "Is this one of those myths that's actually a myth, or one that's actually true?" I think for a moment. "And is someone called 'Karmang' associated with this myth?"

    "I hope it's not true. Because if it is… Mars is in a lot of trouble."
     
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  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st April
    14:29 GMT -5

    "There." M'gann lifts her hands from K'hym's forehead. "I've suppressed the memories of what Uncle Ma'al did to her. When she wakes up… She can either keep them or have them erased."

    L'Sufux Z'orr has already had a slightly harsher form of the same treatment. I supplied a magic suppression chain and a Bleed-tech based tracking device. Hopefully, if his colleagues can come up with an arcane workaround we can find out where they're hiding out.

    "I.. think I mighta missed something. Ma'alefa'ak…" Kon looks down at him. "He didn't seem like the sort of person…"

    "He's… Not. He wasn't-." Kon carefully walks over to her and wraps his arms around her. She rests her head in the crook of his neck.

    I turn away, extending a grappling arm construct outside of the dome to lift the Bio-Ship off the ground and pull it towards us. The hole Hyperclan member number two created has already sealed itself, though I know that the internal damage it wrought will take longer to heal.

    Teekl sniffs at L'Sufux for a moment, then turns away contemptuously. "More hunt?"

    "Not at the moment, Teekl. Thank you for your assistance."

    "Funny smell funny taste." Losing interest in me now that I don't have anyone else to attack, she pads around to make a circular depression in the sand and then curls up in it.

    I do a quick scan of our environment. The animals don't seem to have been too badly disturbed, the civilians are fine and the Sphere… Has curled up and appears to be in self repair mode. Unlike the Bio-Ship, there is genuinely nothing I can do to speed that up. If it's still injured when we get back to Earth I'll ask Mister Free to have a look.

    "Okay." I turn back to M'gann and Kon as she pulls away from him slightly. "I can.. explain why… Uncle Ma'al…" She stops. "Mars doesn't have a death penalty. I.. always thought it was because we didn't need one. Our crime rate isn't zero, but it's only as high as the really peaceful parts of Earth. But… It turns out that we do have a punishment for people who do things…" She glances at Ma'alefa'ak. "Like that. Ma'alefa'ak was arrested after killing Aunt M'yri'ah. And not just her, he killed at least three of the Manhunters who went to arrest him."

    "Guess he didn't think they were worth mentioning."

    "He might not have remembered. The… The senior Manhunter called for a judicial panel called an Assembly of Minds. They examined his mind and ruled that there was no chance of him ever being rehabilitated. So they erased his whole personality. Every memory or feeling was completely destroyed. Then, they implanted a new identity and.. a lot of safeguards to make sure that he couldn't ever do anything like that again."

    "I think he said something about them shutting down his telepathy as well?"

    "When that's done to someone… You're basically creating a whole new person in the old person's body. It wouldn't be right to hold them responsible for the old person's crimes. But, if he knew what he'd done…"

    "He'd feel guilty for it." / "He could get his memories back."

    Kon and I exchange glances.

    "No, K'hym gave him her memories of.. what happened."

    "And they gave him nightmares."

    "So…" Kon looks a little out of his depth. "Was that how he was supposed to respond?"

    "The programming he got didn't specifically tell him to have nightmares. That… That's just how he is."

    "Alright, but what made him… Relapse?"

    She scowls at L'Sufux. "He did. He was projecting some sort of telepathic signal which.. caused Uncle Ma'al to identify with the version of himself from the memory K'hym implanted."

    "I'm assuming that she wasn't supposed to do that."

    "Of course not! But it wouldn't have made him do this if the Hyperclan weren't interfering with his mind!"

    No further attacks so far? Right. I send my armour back into subspace and lower my mental barriers. M'gann appears to calm down a little. "So the reason he was begging you to remove the memories..?"

    "I shut down the part of his mind L'Sufux was activating. That was.. the real Uncle Ma'al."

    "Who now knows what he did and hates himself."

    M'gann nods sadly. "I can take out the memories K'hym gave him. They haven't fully integrated yet."

    "How come? He must have had them-."

    "Because they're not..! Him. The way the thing he used to be thought was too different for them to fit back into the rest of his mind." She shakes her head. "I knew he had nightmares, but I always thought they were just.. normal nightmares."

    "What will the Manhunters do when they find out that he reverted?"

    "I don't know. This hasn't ever happened before. Hopefully, they'll just.. redo his conditioning and let him go again."

    "So, decision is: hand him over or take him back to Earth right now." M'gann looks at me, surprised. "What? The Hyperclan can't reach him on Earth. If you took out the memory K'hym implanted he could live a long and happy life there."

    "No, he… You heard how much he loves this place. I couldn't take it away from him."

    "Yeah, but… A patrol ship? Weren't they the ones annoying you when we landed?"

    "Yes, they were." She exhales. "Maybe… I think it would be better if.. Uncle J'onn…"

    "I can.. ask… But…"

    "Uncle J'onn knows Uncle Ma'al isn't.. the same."

    "Okay, I'll head back and see about getting hold of him. But, before I do, exactly who is Karmang supposed to be?"

    She shakes her head. "Karmang's a mythical sorcerer, like Merlin or Jaffar. He's supposed to have founded the Martian tradition of magic. I don't think he was ever a real person-."

    "Merlin was, I'm afraid."

    "Even if he was, every picture I've ever seen of him shows him as a Red Martian. Why would he help people like the Hyperclan?"

    "No idea. And Z'onn Z'orr?"

    "His temple, or library, or fortress." She shrugs. "It depends which story you want to listen to. If it ever really existed, no one has been able to find it."

    "Maybe the Manhunters can get more out of L'Sufux."

    "Aside from shapeshifting, telekinesis and telepathy, do Martians ever get other superpowers? Are there..? Meta Martians?"

    "Aside from the Sorcerer Priests, no."

    "Z'üm Z'orr and the other one definitely used magic to escape. I'm assuming that non-Reds aren't allowed to learn magic?" M'gann shakes her head. "Z'üm had super speed. The second one had energy projection. Even if it isn't an ancient sorcerer, something's going on here."
     
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  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st April
    15:43 GMT -5

    I have just discovered something rather interesting. J'onn J'onzz wasn't actually a serving Manhunter for all that long before Doctor Erdel's zeta beam misfire abducted him to Earth. As such, he never got promoted much beyond rookie. But. Once he got back in contact, his superiors realised that he had dramatically more experience than his rank suggested, and in far more trying circumstances than would ordinarily arise on Mars.

    So, they promoted him.

    Quite a lot.

    The telepathic argument between him and the patrol ship's commander was carried out via a direct link and so I couldn't eavesdrop. It wasn't until M'gann told me that I discovered that Mister J'onzz had the higher rank. More than that, since his field of authority is pretty much all Earth-Mars relations (since they had to give someone of his rank something important sounding but that didn't require him to physically be on Mars) he has a better claim to jurisdiction since Kon and I were born on Earth and M'gann is his student, not irritating the primitive but occasionally very powerful neighbours apparently being Mars' main foreign policy aim.

    Since the commander wasn't prepared to give up a case involving the most interesting thing to have happened on the surface since the Guardians finished off the Burners, the matter was referred upwards to the Martian in command of Mel'dilo'rn's Manhunters.

    R'oh K'arr promptly ruled in Mister J'onzz’s favour and flew out to join us.

    Two patrol ships currently float over the nature reserve, and T'ronn is overseeing his colleagues in looking after the animals. Ma'alefa'ak is currently being held in a secure cell aboard one of the ships while L'Sufux is still on the surface. Martian protocol for dealing with hostile magic users requires one of their magic users to be on site before they attempt transportation, and social custom means that the on duty Sorcerer Priest shows up when they're good and ready.

    "Sirs?"

    R'oh K'arr is in his natural Green Martian form. His uniform covers a little more of him than the normal red X but I still wouldn't go so far as to call it clothing. To a Human it makes him look much less authoritative. I suppose to a Martian his brain is authoritative enough. He doesn't react to hearing me, but with my mental shields turned down to normal levels I feel the slight buzz which indicates him telepathically 'looking' in my direction.

    In contrast, Mister J'onzz is in his normal humanish form with his costume modified to include an air supply. There's a slight distortion in the air around him. Having taken note of the environmental shield I gave Superman, he's upgraded his own apparel with a telekinetic shielding booster. Martians can handle Mars’ surface radiation a little better than Humans but it still isn't all that healthy. He hears my voice and turns to look at me. "Orange Lantern. What have you found?"

    "As far as I can tell-" I generate two constructs, one showing the site before the attack and one after. "-only two places were targeted. The main residence, and the laboratory. Given the level of damage done I can't say for certain, but it doesn't look like anything was removed from the residence... Though pretty much everything there was destroyed. The damage to the laboratory-" I focus the constructs on the before and after. "-was more precise. Unfortunately, none of us were really focusing our attention on exactly what they were doing and it's possible that the second Hyperclan member just completely destroyed things."

    Mister J'onzz inclines his head slightly. "But equally it is possible that she was collecting materials and returning them to their base of operation."

    "Her given name is 'N'Rixot'." Mister K'arr is at least more comfortable with vocal speech than the maybe-chap at immigration. "Probably not her birth name. We have records of her energy projection abilities from previous attacks."

    "I've got a list of the equipment that's missing. It all looks a bit basic to me, but since it's all Earth-built they probably couldn't get it anywhere else." Other Martian labs have better equipment, but since it's all telepathically operated it wasn't any use to Ma'alefa'ak at all.

    Huh. Just realised that I think of him as Ma'alefa'ak after knowing him less than a day while J'onn J'onzz is very much 'Mister J'onzz'.

    Mister K'arr's eyes flare slightly. "And what specimens were being held there?"

    "B'ool poo. I know that for sure. Probably waste materials from other species and I think he said something about soil samples and bacteria cultures. He'd be the best person to ask but from the brief look I got it didn't look like anything particularly unusual or dangerous."

    "I doubt that the Hyperclan would have acted so brazenly outside their usual area of concern unless they could gain some advantage."

    "I got the impression that they were trying to recruit M-. Ma'alefa'ak J'onzz. While he was in sociopath mode."

    "Again, something which makes little sense. They usually only recruit Whites. And they are not short of volunteers. It is puzzling that they would make such a special effort to do something that could have more easily been achieved with fewer witnesses. Your case, J'onn J'onzz. I will eagerly await your report."

    Mister J'onzz nods. "I should be the one to interview my brother. If he is in a fit state."

    "I'm not sure what a 'fit state' would be in these circumstances, but he's awake. Cadet M'gann M'orzz is with him."

    "Sir? May I ask what will happen to him now?"

    Mister K'arr's eyes dim. "There is no clear answer in law. People subjected to the punishment he was gain immunity to further chastisement for the offence. However, until now none have ever suffered a relapse. Having viewed the results of the initial questioning my opinion is that the new personality is still the sole one, but the ultimate decision will lie with the Prelate, as advised by the Assembly of Minds."

    "Orange Lantern." I turn my head to look at Mister J'onzz. "Accompany me."

    He rises from the ground and I float along after him as he moves towards the patrol ship containing his brother. As we reach the hull it flows open to allow us inside and Mister J'onzz leads me the short distance to the holding cell.

    "What exactly do you want me to do, sir?"

    "You saw my brother's emotions both before and after his 'relapse'. I would be grateful for any insights you could share."

    "Ah… Sir, I've been trying to tone that down. It seems too intrusive to be looking at someone's soul every time I meet them."

    "Ethically, I agree with you. However, this is now an active investigation. You have legal authority to use your abilities."

    "Yes sir." I look through the muted green of the crew going about their duties at the festering pile of yellow and red that is Ma'alefa'ak J'onzz. Fear of just about everything, most particularly turning back into the other Ma'alefa'ak. Hatred for himself. "About what I'd expect if he's being honest, sir. Nothing to indicate the sort of deviant desires I'd expect to see from his former mental state."

    Mister J'onzz nods. "There are Martians who can deceive telepathic scans but far fewer who can deceive magic."

    We pass into the compartment containing Ma'alefa'ak's cell. Kon and four.. marines..? Are outside the cell itself, and Kon and I make brief eye contact before I follow Mister J'onzz into the cell.

    Ma'alefa'ak himself is sitting on the floor in the corner furthest from the 'door', with M'gann standing against the opposite wall. "Uncle J'onn. You-."

    He holds up his right hand to cut her off and continues across the room, lowering himself to the floor in from of his brother. **Ma'alefa'ak.**

    **J'onn.**

    **You have regained your facility for telepathy.**

    Ma'alefa'ak raises his head slightly. **M'gann tells me that I never really lost it. The Assembly of Minds altered my mind so that I couldn't consciously process it. They will need to restore that block before… Whatever they decide to do with me.**

    **Open your mind to me.**

    **J'onn, M'gann already removed what K'hym implanted, but I still remember-.**

    **Open your mind to me, brother.**

    I glance at M'gann but she just looks blank. Ma'alefa'ak's face goes still for a moment, then he nods his head. Both sets of eyes glow for a moment, then Mister J'onzz stands up. **You are no longer the man who murdered my wife. His crimes are not your crimes and his guilt is not yours to bear. I will endeavour to convince the Assembly of this.**

    **Thank you, J'onn. I just wish I could believe it myself.**
     
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  23. Threadmarks: Family Day
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Family Day

    21st April
    21:03 GMT -5


    "This is yah last warning, Tetch! Come out with your hands up or we come in an' drag you out!"

    I've no idea how he managed it, but the deranged criminal somehow built a giant teacup in a disused warehouse along the Gotham waterfront. Gas fired flames lick the bottom, heating the cup and the tea therein to scalding temperatures. Around the edge are the bound girls who were nearly but not quite what the crazed man's madness said that he needs in order for the world to start making sense. He used his hat to mind control them here-. Well, not mind control exactly. It turns out that his hats just make people very suggestible rather than flat out controlling them. Whatever. Hat-persuaded the girls to come here, bound them and then turned it off.

    Naturally, they all screamed up a storm and he stumbled off in confusion to find someone else.

    "But we're all having such a delightful tea party. No Humpty Dumpty allowed!"

    "They never take it." Detective Bullock draws his revolver before holding his phone up to his cheek. "Montoya, you in place yet?"

    "Excuse me, Detective."

    Bullock glances at Miss Shimmer, who has left the small cluster of people watching the unfolding confrontation. Her hair gets a flicker of a frown but she doesn't look enough like an Alice in Wonderland character to attract actual alarm so he ignores her. "Yeah? I dunno. Because there's a camera on the door and if I have them kill the power-. Yeah, well he's not here, so I guess the police are gunna-."

    Miss Shimmer reaches the end of her patience and pokes him in his considerable gut with her right forefinger.

    "What! No, not you, some kid. Hang on." He lowers the phone. "The only reason I'm not bustin' you for interferin' with an investigation is I got eight little girls to rescue from a nut job an' that takes priority."

    "Oh. Well, is there any way I can help?"

    "You live around here? You got any idea how I could sneak inside and put a couple a' rounds through that sicko's head?"

    "No. But-" She opens her guitar case and takes out the contents. "I do have a sniper gun that can shoot through walls. Would that help?"

    Bullock's eyes widen. "Holy Mother of God. Where the hell did you get that?"

    "Grayven. And I have a concealed carry permit."

    "Grayven?" He makes the connection. "The guy who-." He looks the gun over. "You know how to use that thing?"

    "Not really." She holds it out to him. "Do you?"

    "Uhh…" He takes hold of it, resting the stock against his shoulder and peering into the target scanner. He then turns it in the direction of the warehouse. Having designed the weapon myself, I know that the scanner will immediately detect and highlight life forms in the direction it's pointed it. Actual marksmanship isn't required, the barrel only exists to let the coilgun round build up speed. It's the teleport function which makes the projectile hit the target. "Okay. One guy moving around-."

    "If you press that button you can hear what he's saying."

    Bullock frowns slightly, then presses the button.

    "-above the world you fly,
    Like a tea tray in the sky
    !"

    He shifts the phone to his shoulder. "Montoya, I got a shot." He hesitates.

    "Is there a problem?"

    "Huh, guess I just got used t' the Bat handlin' these."

    Miss Shimmer frowns. "So… Are you.. not a police officer, or something? I thought your job was to keep people safe, but if you're completely dependent on a man who dresses up like a bat-."

    There's a sudden crack, and inside the warehouse Tetch crumples and falls back into his own tea vat.

    Bullock lowers his gun. "I get by." He holds the gun out to Miss Shimmer. "Thanks."

    "Oh no. You can keep it. In fact-" She holds out a business card. "-please give this to the Commissioner. Just in case he's interested in getting more like it."

    Behind me, I hear a soft sound as someone who thinks that he's silent lands on the roof.

    "I'll keep that in mind." Bullock looks at her, as if he suspects that there's something else going on but can't quite work out what it is. Then he shakes his head and hurries in the direction of the warehouse.

    "Grayven."

    "Batman. Nice night for it."

    "You're using children as arms dealers."

    I turn, smiling. "Oh, you of all people don't get to rag on me about that. Miss Shimmer is better equipped, better protected, older and engaged in less dangerous work than Richard was when you first took him out with you."

    He walks closer, taking a moment to look at the people gathered below. "Is Tetch dead?"

    "Hmm." Sinestro? Ah, I see. "Wait for it, wait for-. Yes."

    "He was a sick man."

    "Yes." I nod. "Yes he was."

    "He was off his medication. I could have taken him in alive."

    "Was he off his medication last time as well?" He glares. "And the time before that? Seven deaths total, all young girls. Maybe you should stop thinking of the medicated version of him as being the real him and recognise him for the deranged murderer he really is." I tilt my head to the side for a second. "Was. Anyway, Detective Bullock identified himself as an armed police officer and had a reasonable belief that innocents were in danger. No crime happened on my side."

    "You could have stopped him even easier than I could."

    "I can't be everywhere. Time the Gotham police learned to stand on their own two feet, far as I'm concerned. They carry guns, I'm giving them better, more precise guns. But hey! You're doing better than Aquaman. He'd have punched me in the face by now."

    "Don't think I'm not tempted."

    "Don't recommend it. But if you've got time to moan at me over a perfectly legal police action-."

    "Is that what Darfur was?"

    "No, but as I said to Guy, the government was okay with genocide so I don't consider their laws to be binding. And I didn't see you coming up with anything better and it did both stop the fighting and punish the guilty. But enough of something we're never going to agree on." I smile. "I have a story for you."

    I give him a moment, but he doesn't appear to want to interject.

    "One day a man named Jack Napier goes on holiday to the great city of Metropolis, taking a few of his closest friends with him."

    "The Jack Napier you crippled. You did that intentionally, didn't you?"

    "Rather than splitting him in half? Yes, pulling my punches was intentional. Anyway, he goes to Metropolis and pays a visit to a famous tourist landmark: the Daily Planet building. And while he's there, he connects drums full of Smilex to the ventilation system and sets it off! Lois Lane dies with a smile on her face. Perry White, same thing. James Olsen, Steven Lombard, William McCalman… All dead. Some guy called Clark Kent was out on assignment at the time, but everyone else? Gone. Mister Napier goes into hiding, pursued by your good self, Superman, and some new guy called Magog. Magog was Superman-level strong and tough and he had this laser.. trident.. thing."

    "And for once? It’s the police who find the criminal first. Heck, they even capture him without any fatalities, which was a near miracle. So, the three superheroes stand there watching them drag him off, and? Magog raises his trident and with a snarl incinerates him. Then he hands his trident to your good self and surrenders to the police. The case goes to trial quickly and he pleads not guilty. When the prosecutor puts him on the stand to query that, he says 'I'm glad I did it'."

    I raise my eyebrows.

    "Wanna guess how the story ends?"

    Batman's jaw tenses. "The jury agreed with him and he was acquitted."

    "No." I shake my head. "No. Oh, they acquitted him alright. But that's very much not how the story ends."
     
  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st April
    21:08 GMT -5


    "Magog walks free of the courthouse and to the assembled journalists makes a speech about how the establishment has been far too soft on career murderers. To their cheers he announces that he will be forming a taskforce with like-minded individuals and hunting down others like Mister Napier." I dab at the air with my right finger. "And here's where things start to go wrong. Superman is so horrified by the deaths of his friends and with the reactions of his home city to someone he regards as a murderer that he ups and leaves. Floats around for a bit before isolating himself in the Fortress of Solitude on a semi-permanent basis. You try to hold things together, but the up-and-coming generation of superheroes seem to agree with Magog's approach. All across the country superheroes ratchet up the violence and the criminals follow suit. The veneer of civilisation across Gotham was only thinly coated at the best of times and the sudden wave of violence that came from the fighting between gangs and vigilante mobs meant you had to abandon your other duties and stay on site full time."

    "Thing about the vigilantes is that while Magog himself conducts proper criminal investigations and requires both serious crimes and virtual certainties of guilt before he's willing to kill the perpetrator, those who claim to have been inspired by him don't. Police had to be a little flexible with powerful superheroes anyway, but now everyone has that attitude. Before long the whole country's going the way of the wild west. And Magog? He doesn't like that. When someone asks him, he says that anyone who feels inspired by him should cooperate with law enforcement where reasonably practical. But… The fact that he's usually saying this with some costumed serial killer's head on his trident rather undermines his message."

    "Ten years of gradual societal decay pass. Things finally come to a head when Magog and his crew track down the Parasite in Kansas. Parasite's past his best at that point and tries to run. When he can't escape, he tries to surrender." I solemnly shake my head. "Then he tries to fight. Unfortunately for the world, Magog's not all that fast and the first person on his team to make it into contact was a chap called Breach. Similar powers to Captain Adams, but… Not quite as stable. That, combined with Parasite trying to use his own powers while injured, resulted in a nuclear explosion which scoured all life from Kansas and devastated its neighbouring states. Then come the radioactive dust clouds and rain. In addition to the horrible tragedy of all those deaths, America's main farmlands were destroyed. Food became a strategic resource, a secure road the difference between survival and starvation for entire cities."

    "With the nation on the verge of collapse Wonder Woman decides to have one last go at winkling Superman out of his hidey-hole. After throwing some fairly harsh home truths at him she's finally successful. As the nation's infrastructure is in no position to offer substantial assistance, the Justice League is reformed and anyone who is prepared to agree with its code of conduct permitted to join. Painfully aware of the failures of superhuman containment that have occurred in the past, they build their own prison and then begin targeting the most violent criminal groups. Those which are redeemable are permitted to integrate and those which are not are locked up for the duration of the crisis. Superman himself isn't entirely comfortable with the level of interference he's having to have, but it's working and they can sort out the balance of power issues later. Right?"

    "They're just about getting things back under control when Wonder Woman tracks down Magog himself. He survived the explosion and for some reason he's still in Kansas. So -with the country more or less functioning again- Superman flies down to hear what he's got to say for himself. When he first sees him, Magog's got a plough strapped to his back and he's pulling it through the burned and irradiated soil, making furrows for seeds. It's obvious to anyone watching that nothing is ever going to grow there, so… What's he doing?"

    "It takes Superman a few seconds to get his attention, but once Magog realises that he's really there, he starts… Ranting, about how he was trying to deal with the problems Superman hid away from. 'You can't let a serial killer be sent to a prison he's already escaped from dozens of times!' He didn't want Superman to just disappear for a decade. He didn't want the country to pick him over Superman. He was only trying to do what he thought best and now he's responsible for more deaths than any of those he slew. He begs to be punished. Imprisoned, killed, he doesn't care. Anything to dim the absolute horror he feels for his own failings. So Superman puts him in prison with the rest. In a secure cell, because he's worried that if he doesn't Magog might kill himself."

    I smile. "So, what do we learn from this? Magog tried to do the right thing and epically failed. Superman thought his narrow-minded principles were more important than the lives of those he protected and lost nearly everyone he cared about. Then he went off in a huff for a decade and -surprise surprise- that didn't work either. Hundreds of people who could have acted differently didn’t because they had a particular idea in their heads of how they should behave."

    "And that point of that story was?"

    "Mmm. Just passing the time. And letting Bullock and Montoya remind themselves that they're perfectly capable of dealing with these lunatics without you." I turn away from him and look down to where Bullock is leading the girls out towards the waiting ambulances. "The League has you doing organisation stuff. Did you ever think about all the good you could do in Gotham if you focused your energies on that rather than this whole Bat-thing? Goodness knows why the police are turning to me for weapon upgrades."

    No response from him, then I hear booted feet walking across the rooftop. "Who are you talking to?"

    I turn. Sunset Shimmer and no Batman. I put my right hand to my mouth. "It's not clever, you know! It's just rude!"

    "Did Batman pay you a visit?"

    "Yes. Not that it really mattered. He can't be everywhere at once any more than I can. There would have been another opportunity, sooner or later."

    She looks off to the side. Looks like something's bothering her. I wait patiently for her to get her thoughts in order.

    "Grayven… Are you evil?"

    I take a moment to give the question the consideration it deserves. "No. Anything else?"

    "That's not the most convincing argument I've ever heard."

    "I am by turns harsh and brutal, when I feel it necessary. I don't cause pain to others purely for my own pleasure and I aim for my actions ultimately to benefit those around me. Is there something I've done that particularly bothers you?"

    "You set the three of us the task of stopping the war in Darfur."

    "Yes. It was a task well within your abilities."

    "You knew that we would kill people. I-I'm not…" She takes a deep breath. "I'm not sure what you think you know about Equestria? But it's a peaceful country. I'd never even seen someone killed violently before you.. showed us that. And you sent us there knowing that we'd have to go along with it!"

    "No I didn't."

    "You-! Did.. too!"

    "Miss Shimmer, do you know what is meant by 'reflective equilibrium'?" She shakes her head. "It is what happens when you realise that there is a contradiction between your beliefs and actions. Or between one belief and another. If you are honest with yourself, you will alter your actions or your beliefs until they no longer contradict one another. We went through your moral beliefs together during the lesson and I know that the three of you kept talking about it afterwards. I told you that I wasn't setting you a deadline. You could have chosen to do nothing. You could have chosen to kill no one."

    "You knew we wouldn't do that. Misa would do anything she thought you wanted… Lynne's.. just.. cold." She looks away, her fists bunched up.

    "I let you make the choice. So, tell me. Reflect upon your thoughts and actions. Why did you use lethal force?"

    "Because it was the only thing that would work!" She covers her eyes with her right hand. "We tried working out what would happen if we just disarmed everyone, and… And they'd just go back to killing each other again as soon as they would rearm! And they might not even have waited that long!"

    "I know."

    "Then why us?"

    "I understand that part of the reason why you left your former mentor was that you believed that she was holding you back." Miss Shimmer nods uncertainly. "This is 'not being held back'. This is confronting the world in all its horror and misery and it being your responsibility to fix it. This is not being able to pass the buck because you can see what happens when you do that. See it as.. not on a report on a scroll or on edited pictures on a television screen, but see it in the flesh. Celestia would lecture you on this subject and you would ignore her. You do not appear to be ignoring me."

    She gulps.

    "You came to the conclusion -with your mind heavily weighted against the idea- that killing a limited number of people was the only way to fix the situation in the medium term. And now you feel bad." I make a shrugging gesture with my hands. "Okay. Reflect on your beliefs and on this feeling. Where lies the contradiction?"

    "ICelestia always…"

    "Celestia had a thousand years to get the country running exactly as she liked it, and she only had to deal with… What, a few million Ponies? You don't. Where is the contradiction?"

    "I.. act as if I don't think killing is bad. And I know that's wrong."

    "If you actually thought that then you wouldn't have stuttered. Miss Amane has no problem with killing. You do. You think it's bad. Your problem is that you want to think 'bad' means that it's something only evil people do, while in fact you merely assign it a heavy utility value. In this situation you believe that it was necessary and you're feeling bad because that clashes with a belief you have about yourself and the beliefs you have about people who believe what you now know that you believe."

    Her gaze grows distant as she thinks it over.

    "Come on. Let's go home. You should probably talk to Doctor Robbins about this, get an alternate perspective."

    "Are we..? Going to have to do something like that again?"

    I shake my head as the hush tube reopens. "No. Not any time soon. I'm not trying to shock you into submission, and that's all sending you somewhere like that again would achieve. Think on what happened, and if you want to talk to me some more I'm always available."
     
  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Sparring


    22nd April
    10:47 GMT -6


    **!**

    *1*Space bends between me and Paul's latest near miss as I telekinetically shove the eruption of sand and loose stone away while trying to predict and evade the next shot.*1*

    *2*I don't think I like this desert. Sure, the sand's the same but I've never had to worry about overheating on Mars. Paul really didn’t like how well he performed when we fought that Star Hunters last week. Not compared to how well he thinks he should have done, anyway. So now I’m in my Star Conqueror form, defending myself from his barrage while trying to hit him back.*2*

    *3*Multiple thought-threads give me a headache. I wonder if that's why Star Conquerors are so aggressive?*3*

    *2*I've used this form a few times now but I still find it really uncomfortable.*2*

    *1*Surge to turn aside a solid slug barrage then phase to dodge an orange beam. Pick up rubble again and recreate physical barrier.*1*

    *2*Normally I'm fine with new shapes, particularly after Mister Jerkin- Mister Ja'arkn gave me his pendant.*2*

    *3*The brain to make this entire thing work is.. very different to a normal Martian brain. It’s like… One time, I remember Wally asking Robin how his hacking programs worked so well, and he said he took advantage of his arm computer’s ability to run thousands of computer threads at once compared to a normal computer's one… Or something like that. I can focus on so many things at once without it interfering with anything else.*3*

    *1*Miniature dust storm met by a reinforcing of my telekinetic shield.*1*

    *3*I can shield myself with hundreds of fist sized rocks against the various energy blasts Paul is throwing out at me while shifting the concentrations to intercept any railgun strikes.*3*

    *4*[New images from the eyes of the Demons] I send a few in to try and distract him.*4*

    *3*And throw out telekinetic strikes to sever those trailing filaments he always makes, puppet the weird orange demon things Paul made to stand in for a Star Hunter’s escort of Star Conquerors, and I’m still able to plan my next move while looking at the local scenery-*3*

    *5*Ooh, a flower!*5*

    *3*-without getting distracted. None of the confusion of trying to do too many things at once like in a normal fight.*3*

    *2*A bright orange pulse starts flying at me and I know that-*2*

    *1*I send one of the larger boulders I have in reserve for just this occasion to intercept it before I need to dodge out of the way, keeping my eye out for any railgun strikes that might try to make their way through the hole I just opened up in my debris shield.*1*

    *2*-another bit of me has it covered. Sure enough, I can see one of Paul’s turrets aim for that hole, and I quickly hit it with enough force to disrupt it for long enough to cover my defenses again.*2*

    *3*According to Lantern Gardner, Star Hunters didn't phase when they use to fight Green Lanterns. I tried when we started and I can't keep control of the Demons I'm borrowing from Paul or even the things I'm levitating when I do it. Plus I'm not really sure what happens if something dephases me.*3*

    *5*Lantern Gardner is a few hundred yards away doing his best to arm-wrestle with Conner, and the spectators are cheering him on.*5*

    *6*Mmm. Conner.*6*

    *3*I don't think he can win that… Can he? His constructs are pretty strong, but Conner's really strong.*3*

    *6*Big strong arms around me and holding me close.*6*

    *5*The construct table breaks as the back of his construct gauntlet slams onto it.*5*

    *3*Paul said that Green Lanterns recruit stubborn people and then train them to be stubborner, so… Looks like it's working.*3*

    **Ow!**

    *2*A laser turret is able to sneak a shot past my barrier to graze one of my tentacles. Minor flesh wounds aren’t that big a deal when the team medic can patch you up immediately after every sparring match, but it’s a poignant -thank you English class for that word- reminder that against a real enemy that could just as easily have been the shot that decided the fight.*2*

    Six different streams of though run together as I shift back into Miss Martian Mode.

    Blergh. There's always a horrible moment of confusion, as my one-brain tries to go back to thinking one thing after my many-brains were thinking several things.

    "Okay, you win that one!" Paul stops generating his constructs and pulls his Demon things back into his rings. "This time, I'm going to use telepathic illusions, and you can use crumblers and your kinetic shield again!”

    A flicker of orange later and Paul is floating right beside me. Still can't quite get used to a mind just stopping and starting like that.

    "Alright. Let me just-" Another flare of orange and the burn on my arm-that-used-to-be-a-tentacle disappears. "-fix that for you and we can get back to sparring. Oh, hang on, it’s nearly lunch time. Are you alright with calling it a day after this next bout?"

    I nod. "Alright with me. Just ask Kon and Lantern Gardner first.”

    An orange megaphone forms in front of Paul’s face. Why does he have to-? I shapeshift my ears closed so the noise isn’t so overbearing. "Guy, Kon, you good with going out to lunch after this next round ends?!"

    "Sure! Any idea where?"

    "Place just down the street from my place! Conrad’s Crabs! Speciality restaurant! Best Maryland blue crab in Baldamore!"


    Without thinking about it I try tapping into Paul's memory of it… Of course, I can't… Anymore.

    "Whatever you say Guy! And it's so nice of you to offer to pay! Oh, Kon! Try to go easy on Guy! I'm not sure his ego can stand taking another loss from a one year old!"

    There's a big surge of green from Lantern Gardner. "Oh you’ll be regrettin’ sayin’ that next time we come out here!"

    Paul turns back towards me. He was winding Lantern Gardner up intentionally. I think that's one of those.. guy things. "Shall we continue?"

    Instead of answering I shift back into Star Hunter form.

    *1*I pick up all the rocks I had set down and reform my debris shield.*1*

    *2*Paul transitions back to where he was before we paused our spar.*2*

    *7*I start forming telepathic illusions of myself.*7*

    *1*I start trying to access his optic nerves.*1*

    *2*He recreates his construct armour and guns.*2*

    *1*Next, I create a telekinetic barrier around my body and a wider but weaker field to prematurely detonate his crumbler rounds.*1*

    *3*Getting hit by those hurts a lot.*3*

    *1*A focused telekinetic beam-*1*

    *3*Like a narrow version of the one Uncle Ma'al used.*3*

    *1*-hits his construct armor hard enough that I probably would have broken it if he hadn't been focusing.*1*

    *4*The Demons throw themselves at Paul in a wave of orange.*4*

    *7*I alter his vision so that he sees them as little Star Conquerors.*7*

    *3*Huh. I wonder if I could micromanage units in Human Resources like this and bypass the limited input systems of human computer systems? Conner would probably consider it cheating, but I might actually be able to give him a challenge like that.*3*

    *2*I shouldn't be able to do that. Wait, that sort of mental attack must make it hard for him to use his constructs!*2*

    *1*A crumble detonates on my outer shield, causing it to buckle. I repair it.*1*

    *7*My illusions show me being somewhere else. I know that he's seeing them.*7*

    *2*He isn't trusting his eyes. No point using visual illusions. How about.. smell? And speech?*2*

    *7*He smells perfume and hears one of those… Videos I saw on the internet when I tried to find more information on Human mating.*7*

    *6*Which doesn't seem anything like as weird as I thought it would.**

    *1*Another psychic blast.*1*

    *2*I'm a bit worried about hurting him, but… He wanted to practice hard and he was okay after Evil Uncle Ma'al did it.*2*

    *1*Throw a rock really hard and blast him again just before it hits!*1*

    *2*It explodes against his armour! Paul's knocked back in the air and starts to fall for a moment before his kinetic belt comes on. But my Demons are already swarming in and grabbing him! I won!*2*

    *5*The spectators, along with Kon and Guy, are watching with rapt attention.*5*

    *2*I won!*2*

    **Blergh.**

    I switch back to my normal form and see everyone in the stand applauding. Ugh. No, still feels great! I beam at them, breathing hard from the mental strain of doing all that work.

    I don’t notice as Paul appears behind me until he claps me on the back, his armour back in subspace. "Well done you. Never really got a look in, there." He gets this look on his face and I know that the next thing he says will be hyperbole. Still not as good as hearing him think it. "I truly pity the next supervillain who draws your ire, for clearly you shall have none."

    Kon and Lantern Gardner appear in a flash of green. Guess they're done arm-wrestling.

    "That was great! That was the hardest beat down I've ever seen Paul get in a spar."

    Lantern Gardner glowers at the back of his head.

    I float up to him and he puts his arm around my back. Lantern Gardner and Paul are saying something to each other, but I’m not paying much attention to them right now. "Thanks Conner. It’s been a really productive day so far, but I’m glad we’re taking a break. Doing that really tires me out. I don’t think I could have gone another round." Um, I suppose if everyone else is doing it..?

    I smile winsomely at him. "How was slamming Lantern Gardner’s arm into the table repeatedly for half an hour?"
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2019
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  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd April
    19:23 GMT +3

    Donna shakes her head, looking contemplative. "No, I can't really say I've given it much thought."

    "Really? Because I've got to say-" We touch down just outside Hades' temple. "-it was one of the first things I started thinking about when I got here. I mean, what religion are your parents?"

    "Episcopalian."

    "That's.. Anglican, right?" She nods as we head towards the entrance. "Remind me what current church teachings on magic are?"

    "That it's just another skill, and no more evil than any other." She hesitates. "Though that's just the branch of the church we belong to. The evangelical wing has a.. slightly less liberal viewpoint."

    "At least Anglicans Sixteen are arguing about something that actually has spiritual significance."

    I lead the way into the outer part of the temple. Thana doesn't appear to be around.

    "What do you mean by that?"

    "We learned from the Young Offenders that this parallel is parallel sixteen. So, I refer to its Anglican inhabitants-."

    "As Anglicans Sixteen." She nods. "But what do you mean about arguing about something important?"

    "Back on Earth Prime the Anglican Communion is fracturing over homosexual ordination. I mean, magic involves rearranging the universe using your soul. I understand why that would be contentious."

    "Homosexuality is an issue, too."

    "But I can guess which is a bigger problem for you." Now, should I scan for Thana, or-?

    "What?" I turn. Donna's stopped a little way behind me.

    "Well, you're an innately magical being." We stare at each other for a moment. "Aren't you?"

    "Yess." She looks away. "Ugh, sorry."

    "What?"

    "You know… How Amazons-?"

    "Homonormative, right."

    "Homo-? Huh, yeah, that actually fits."

    "So?"

    "A lot of people assume that Diana's gay, because of where she grew up? And then I showed up working with her?"

    Oh. "But you're American."

    "Right, but they didn't know that. And when Diana first brought me here the Amazons assumed the same thing."

    "Oh." I try and suppress my smirk. "Um. She is a bit older than you…"

    "Apparently that's how they.. used to.. do things."

    Suppression attempt failed. "Hey, I offered you a chance to assert your heterosexuality after the play."

    "Oh, don't." She looks away. "And they were all so happy about it…"

    "Can I assume that Donna Troy is a known heterosexual?"

    She goes to answer, then hesitates. "When you say 'known'-?"

    "Pavlos!" Thana walks up the stairs out of the literally stygian depths of the Temple. "And Donna, who certainly is not the Princess' erômena."

    Donna rolls her eyes. "Hey Thana."

    I transition right in front of Thana just as she reaches the top of the stairs. She starts, and I use that as an opening to wrap my arms around her back and pull her into a hug, pressing my forehead against hers. She remains stiff for a second, then relaxes slightly. "Is Eris so easily pleased that 'surprise hugs' are a devotional act?"

    "No, she pretty much wanted me to pin you against a wall and… 'Express my fondness'."

    "I see." Her facial expression is one of equanimity. This close I can feel her exhalations on the skin of my face. "And do you intend to do that?"

    "She may just have been trying to wind me up. Though I do note that you've been isolating yourself again. Despite what that did to Lord Hades' original priestesses."

    "That simply isn't true-."

    "I looked everywhere during the festival." I nuzzle her left cheek. "Guess who I didn't see."

    "I… Attended."

    I lean forwards slightly, my mouth right next to her left ear. "Really?"

    "S-some of it."

    "Someone isn't embracing chaos."

    "Chaos appears to be embracing me well enough for both of us."

    I move my head so that we're face to face again. "As my mistress taught me: the more you fall behind, the more I chivvy you along."

    "An expression of fondness?"

    "A trip to Fawcett City. Melinoë needs a chaperone."

    "Ah…"

    "I warned you." I kiss her lightly on the lips, then release her and step back. "Donna and I are heading down to talk to Lord Hades. Would you be so good as to let him know that we're coming?"

    "I…" She looks more than a little lost. "I.. can do that."

    "Thank you." I step around her and start down the stairs. "Donna?"

    I'm nearly to the end of the first flight before I hear her rapid footsteps as she hurries to catch up with me. I stop as she approaches. "What was that?"

    "What? You've had jobs from Athena before." I start walking again. "And besides, Melinoë does need a chaperone."

    "Thana has trouble talking to other Amazons, and you're taking her to a city."

    "Yes. Daemonic invasions not withstanding, Fawcett City is the friendliest city in America. Um, in the United States. The Marvels said they'd see if they could join us… Seems like a good place to start. Is this a bigger problem than I think it is?"

    "And kissing her? What about Euanthe?"

    "Oh, she doesn't like cities."

    "Did you..?" She realises something. "No, wait, Artemis warned me about this. Where did the strange fruit in the Temple of Demeter come from?"

    "I fabricated the seeds with the ring and Euanthe connected them to the Green to make them grow. Why?"

    "Oh, the island thinks you're a botanophile."

    "No, Dad was always more into gardening than I-."

    Oh.



    Huh.
     
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  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd April
    19:31 GMT +3

    "…can't get over you not picking up on that." Donna makes another snort of laughter as we emerge from the tunnel and land on the platform marking the start of Erebos proper.

    "Euanthe did.. seem to be 'up for it'… I just thought…"

    "How would that even work? Isn't she.. basically a plant?"

    "She's definitely on the plant-that-looks-Human side of the Dryad spectrum, but she can control the shape and texture of the plant matter making up her body. And she's got a better eye for Human aesthetics than Alec Holland." Donna gives me a small frown. "Swamp Thing." She nods in understanding. "As I understand it, she doesn't literally have generative organs, but she can do this sort of soul-link thing that-."

    "I-" She holds up her right hand. "-don't need that much information."

    "Really? Because it's a fascinating area. Like Asari, our children would be-."

    "I thought Melinoë was going to meet us here."

    "No, that was a first time only thing. Have you ever been down here before?"

    She nods. "A few times with Diana. Only once on my own."

    I rise into the air and she follows, getting above the height of the orchard trees before we level out and head for the palace. "If you.. don't mind me asking..?"

    "My superpowers are Olympian. I wanted to know if my birth parents were down here."

    "Were they?"

    "If they are, they didn't identify themselves when I asked."

    "Is.. that.. something.. you want me to look into?"

    She smiles. "What, and take time away from your 'secret mission'?"

    "Yeah, okay, unless you needed a kidney or something-"

    "Huh!"

    "-I wouldn't be prioritising it, but I don't mind asking around."

    "Um." She reaches up to brush her wind-blown hair out of her face. "Alright. Yes. It's not that big a deal for me, but I would be interested to find out. I think a few Amazons have money riding on it."

    "I suppose I'd have a conflict of interest if I put money on it myself. Any idea where I should start looking?"

    "I'm nearly as physically strong as Diana is. So whoever my divine parent was, whether they sired or carried me naturally or just imbued something with their power, they'd have to be powerful. Zeus isn't exactly shy about acknowledging his bastards, especially now that he's divorced."

    "So not Zeus?"

    "Probably not. And as far as I know, Hades has never cheated on Persephone. And I don't have any particular skill with water or horses, which means that Poseidon is probably out."

    Below us, the dead farmers pull the carts containing the day's produce towards the palace. Erebos is a Human-only afterlife. A few of them look up at us, but I suppose they've all seen stranger things. They look… A little pale, but aside from that more or less as I imagine they would have in life. While Homer was almost certainly right about the decay of their strength and wits before Hades bound small amounts of Erebos' power to each of them, he would clearly be wrong now. No, there's clearly nothing much to fear about death if this is where you end up.

    "When we visited Themyscira with Kon, you asked me what I thought about the Titans."

    "It's the obvious alternative. The Titans respond when I ask." She looks down for a moment, studying the forest. "The most obvious candidate for my biological father is Cronos. Or maybe even Uranus. They're not answering prayers so much as doing what their princess tells them to."

    "If we're heading to Tartarus, we could ask about talking to the inmates."

    "If I am their daughter, do you really think Hades will let me?"

    "If he doesn't know, why not?"

    "Greeks were a bit bigger on family loyalty then we are. And I can't lie to him about it."

    "But you don't know. Not for certain. If he asks you can honestly say that you suspect that you have an Olympian mythos-."

    "Othrysian."

    "Huh?"

    "The Titans were supposed to hold court on Mount Othrys."

    "Oh. Right. Well, wherever, a father or mother from the same mythic family, but you don't know for certain. If they want to chuck you out if you get it confirmed, then so be it. You haven't had any contact with them beforehand, whoever they are."

    "I suppose it wouldn't hurt to ask."

    "Right then. Oh, semi-related matter. I'll need a blood sample from you."

    "I thought your ring could scan someone's genes."

    "It can, but you're an arcane life form. If you were made in the same sort of way Diana was you might not share genetic material with your parent. I'm going to need Sephtian to analyse your precise arcane signature, and then compare it with that of the other Olympic or Othric beings. Just a.. final confirmation." I was planning on asking him to do that to a piece of Cottus. And it will preserve secrecy if I give Donna's parentage as the reason.

    "Okay. If it'll help." She looks down at the palace. "Wait, where are you heading?"

    "Towards the throne room?"

    "Since he didn't know we were coming I doubt he'll be there."

    "Oh. Where do you think he'll be?"

    "His dining room, the garden or his study, probably. Come on, the garden's closest."

    She accelerates Horn-and-Ivory-wards and I follow her. "Hades has a garden?"

    "His palace has a garden. Queen Persephone made it. Unlike the orchard it's fuelled by the Green rather than by Erebos itself, so it tends to die back when she's not here."

    "And it's.. April, so she's not here?"

    "Didn't you see her last time you came here?"

    I shake my head as we descend towards a glade on the edge of the gardens. "No. I saw Hades and the Three Judges, but no Persephone. I wasn't actually in the palace grounds all that long…"

    "That's a shame. She's nice." We step out of the trees and onto the grass, and at once I can see the royal picnic.

    Melinoë makes eye contact with me, and sighs.
     
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  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd April
    19:36 GMT +3


    "Ah, Orange Lantern. Good to know that we didn't scare you off completely." Hades smiles as he says it, then chuckles quietly.

    He's sitting on a small wooden seat while other members of his court either stand in discussion with one another or seat themselves on blankets on the ground.

    "Your majesty, I can only offer my apologies for whatever it was I did which so enraged Cottus."

    "Think naught of it. Melinoë-" Whose eyes dart to her father with pupils like daggers. "-spoke quite eloquently on your behalf after you left." I give her a winsome, eye-roll-earning smile while Hades looks thoughtful. "It was curiously out of character behaviour on his part, and my daughter was clear that you did nothing to provoke him. Might I assume that this means that you were on to something in your investigation?"

    "It's really too early to say, majesty."

    "And Troy Girl! A pleasure, as always. I don't suppose that you've given any thought to abandoning your Jewish carpenter for us in the interregnum?"

    "Ahh…" Donna seems to be wrong footed. I hadn't realised that she was actually a practising Christian. Or maybe she just said that to head off an argument.

    I should try covering for her. "Actually, majesty, as I understand it? 'Architect' is probably a better translation of his job title."

    "Oh?"

    "The Bible had passed through several languages and thousands of scribes and editors before we arrived at the modern version."

    He nods. "I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised. Very few people who knew it well from the early days ended up here, of course."

    "Actually..? There was something I wanted to ask… About that?"

    "Oh, I'm not the jealous sort of god. As long as your conversion is genuine and heartfelt I won't expect any great display of devotion."

    "A-hah… No, I…" She glances at me. "Orange Lantern had an idea for trying to track down whoever my divine parent was."

    "Does it involve pestering my staff and nearly getting my youngest daughter crushed to death by an enraged Hekatonkheir?"

    "No and, well, I hope not. He has an.. associate, who can analyse magic signatures in great detail. I intend to give him a sample of my own blood to work from."

    "You must trust him greatly to part with that. I hope that I am not the first to warn you of the fell magics which may be wrought with a sample of someone's blood."

    "I… Well, I trust Paul and he trusts him."

    "Sephtian has extremely high ethical standards, majesty, and we have worked together on numerous profitable enterprises already."

    "Very well. I am not certain as to what input you require from me on the subject."

    "The process works not by just analysing me, but by comparing me to other samples." A slight frown from Hades at the implication. "I do not believe for a moment that you would have sired me, but the more we know of the magics of the Olympians the better able we are to narrow our search."

    Hades nods sombrely. "Think you that I will need to have words with my son Zagreus?"

    "Probably not. Gods and goddesses born in Erebos have certain.. traits in common."

    "Hmm." Hades raises his fists to his mouth as he contemplates the request. "I have no objection to your quest, but am strongly minded to refuse your request. Instincts ingrained by the war against the Titans weigh heavily on my thoughts."

    "If I may suggest, majesty?" He waves his right hand in a 'carry on' motion. "As Twilight Sparkle says: Don’t dabble with blood magic. If you must, see that the blood is consumed in the spell, and have the spell cast in front of you. While having you travel physically to Poseidonis for this is beneath your dignity, I was.. planning on asking Princess Melinoë to accompany me on an outing today."

    "Oh?" He glances at where his daughter is staring at me in puzzlement.. and possibly disgust. "So bold."

    "You could release a vial of blood into her care, and she can ensure that it is utilised properly and destroyed promptly before we carry on to our eventual destination. So long as it is never out of her sight and she is provided with a copy of the results, you shouldn't have any need to be concerned."

    "Daughter? Do you have anything to say on the subject?"

    "Where exactly were you expecting to take me?"

    "Fawcett City. A friendly sort of place, aside from that demonic invasion they had a few months back. Captain Marvel -Champion of Shazam- lives there."

    "And what makes you think I would want to go there with you?"

    "The joy you took in my offerings during my last visit. I assure you that you will find Fawcett's shops most appealing. And social interaction with the living. Oh, and-" I turn back to Hades. "-Thana has agreed to act as her chaperone."

    "Do they lay demonic invasions on for the visitors?"

    "It was really more of a one-off thing, your majesty." Forty three dead from the attack, and about one and a half times that again in sacrifices. Plenty more injured, but most of them were incidental. Demons can tell when a wounded person finally dies and usually don't stop attacking until that point is reached.

    "Then I have no objection. Daughter?" Pointedly not looking at me, she gives her father a sort of sideways half nod. "Then so shall it be. Will you depart at once?"

    "I'd like to pop back into Tartarus first, if that's at all possible." Melinoë perks up a little. "I thought that I might try speaking with one of Cottus' brothers, see if I can find out what I did wrong. And.. possibly acquire a small part of their body for resonance testing."

    He seems to find the idea amusing. "It would take a passionate woman indeed to love a Hekatonkheir in such a way that they could beget a daughter."

    "And… If it could be done safely… Cronus as well?"

    Hades shakes his head definitively. "No. I mean no slight against your honour, but Zeus has commanded that he, myself and our brother Poseidon must be in agreement before anyone interacts with our father or grandfather. Do you believe that such interaction is absolutely essential?"

    "No, I… I wasn't sure whether approaching him would be dangerous."

    "Nothing involving him is not dangerous. Even bound in Tartarus, I would not take the chance save for dire necessity."

    I nod. "I should probably be able to get a reading on his magic from Deva. Assuming that she's willing to cooperate. That won't be a problem, will it?"

    "No, his youngest daughter lacks the arcane skill to take advantage of your efforts." He turns to Melinoë. "Well, daughter. It seems that you must escort this young hero to the gates of Tartarus once more."

    "Fine." She perks up a little as she walks away from his throne towards me. "See if you can manage being inside him for more than three minutes this time."
     
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  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd April
    19:52 GMT +3

    "So, just to make sure that I understand completely-."

    "I doubt that you'll ever manage that."

    Tartarus hasn't become any less relentlessly pitch black since my last visit, but this time I'm expecting it. Donna and I have construct visors on showing us the landscape as revealed by the rings' sonic pings. I remember her saying that she could just ask Tartarus to let her see but that doesn't seem politic with Melinoë right there. We took a sharp right just inside the gate and haven't seen hide nor hand of Cottus.

    "The gods of many pantheons get into a huge fight with their forebears and eventually cast them down. Tartarus -some sort of primeval darkness Titan- got bound and used as a maximum security prison. Erebos… Who was also some sort of primeval darkness Titan..?"

    There's a pause and I'm going to assume that Melinoë is rolling her eyes. My sonic pings aren't that precise. "Darkness isn't just darkness, Human."

    "Of course. How silly of me." I pause to give her a chance to respond, but nothing is forthcoming. "Erebos gets bound and anchored to several different points with the four gates: one for regular dead folk, one for mortals particularly favoured by the gods, another to the Dreaming and the fourth to Tartarus. Hades also hooks himself up to Erebos, making him much more powerful than most of the other Olympians."

    "Except Uncle Zeus and Uncle Poseidon, yes."

    "Alright. First question: are you tied to Erebos in the same way?"

    "No. Well. Sort of."

    "Thank you for that wonderfully clear and helpful answer."

    Our heads whip around as we both hear Donna giggle.

    "I'm not tied to Erebos in the same way Father is. But he had so much of Erebos' magic in him when he.. sired me, that my own magic is… Similar. Sort of."

    "I thought that everyone down here was-."

    "I'm not dead! I don't need to have my vital breath replaced with bits of Titan!"

    "Rightyho. Is Erebos still alive?"

    "We think so. Obviously he doesn't talk to us, but the magic flows inside his body are too.. organic, for it to be completely determined by Father pulling it around."

    "And Tartarus?"

    "Probably."

    "Because if something squirrelly happened here, asking the prison would be a good way to-."

    "Hah! How could you possibly trust anything he said?"

    "We could see if other sources corroborate his version of events, but okay. Is Hades tied to his magics as well?"

    "No. Every bit of spare power Tartarus has goes into the bindings keeping the Titans trapped. And the other punishments going."

    "Other punishments?"

    "Sometimes some stupid mortal does something that gets Zeus so angry he sends them here as well."

    "I thought that Hades had released-."

    "He released the ones in the Punishment Fields. He can't overrule Zeus. These ones are staying put."

    Makes sense I suppose. Alright, so Hades is powered by Erebos. That might throw off whatever results I could get from his blood sample. But his brothers are as powerful as he is. So… Poseidon… Oceanus? Don't know who Zeus could be using. Probably not polite to ask… I mean, I'm guessing Cronus himself, but I imagine that Zeus is already fairly angry with me and since the answer might well be 'all of the rest' I'm not going to push my luck.

    "What exactly are we looking for?" I stop, frowning at Donna. Was that inten-? "I mean, where are we going?"

    "Gyges, hopefully. Are we close enough?"

    "Probably."

    "Right then." I generate a pile driver construct and slam it into the ground. Pause, look around… Nothing. I retract the piston and slam it down ag-.

    Earth cascades upwards as giant… I'm going to guess hands, it's a bit soon to tell with any certainty. Giant hands pull themselves free of the Tartarian ground. Unlike those belonging to his brother, these are thin-fingered, each disproportionately thin digit having at least eight points of articulation. Four point 'forwards' and a further two point in the opposite direction. No arms, just strange floating hands. As with Cottus there are a vast array of different sizes and.. shapes. I didn't notice with Cottus but some of these are armoured and others look smoother and softer.

    And he hasn't thrown anything yet, which is hopeful.

    As we watch, hands come together, fingers wrapping around other fingers to build a structure. Golly… Gosh. That's big. Oh, I see. No messing around making faces here, he's just making a massive humanoid.

    Really massive. Cake massive.

    "Princess and guests." His voice is decidedly odd, accompanied by a constant sound of hard surfaces banging and scraping against one another. "Welcome to my bailiwick. Do you wish to inspect the prisoners?"

    "No. I know that you're keeping watch. My…" His huge head swings towards me. "Guest, has a few questions about your brother Cottus."

    "I will not betray his confidences, but otherwise I will speak."

    "Last time I came to Tartarus, it was to speak to him. He attacked me and I fled. Do you know why?"

    "No."

    I get ready to fly rapidly away, just in case. "I mentioned something about a living woman being made from clay."

    The giant face has no real expression, just makes more clicks as the hands move around one another. "I do not know this magic."

    "Does your mother? "

    "Yes. Certainly."

    "Does Cottus?"

    "If he does, I have never seen him use it."

    Fair enough. "If Cronus has been trapped here, how is it that he was able to create Deva?"

    The hand man… I think that's supposed to be a glare. "He bound some of what little power is left to him to his own blood and spilled it on the ground to prevent it from being drained. We have already been chastised for this failure in our watch."

    "Enough to create a whole person? A demigoddess in her own right?"

    There's a pause and I'm mentally preparing to run again. "No. That power was stolen from our mother."

    I frown, though I doubt that he can see it. "How?"

    "Sympathetic magic."

    "What did he use as the focus?"

    "A small and stolen part of my brother's flesh."

    I close my right hand around the small chip of Cottus I found near the entrance where my railguns hit him during my last visit. And suddenly everything starts to make a little more sense.
     
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  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd April
    15:18 GMT -2


    "No, it's quite impossible!"

    The overweight fish-tailed Atlantean in front of me puffs up -metaphorically- and takes a slightly higher position in the water. I've never met Onesimus before and I can't say that he's making the best first impression. He's one of the experts in his field who're supposed to be helping Sephtian move into mass production. As I understand it, this was a bit of a step down for him. Like that.. Industrialisation era drama my class watched back in Primary School. A master weaver going to work in a factory because he can't possibly hope to keep up with the volume of cloth it can produce. I made everything he knows about arcane design wrong-. No, worse. Irrelevant.

    "Which part of-?"

    "We can't just drop everything we're working on to devote thaumatorium time to your…" He gulps water for a moment. "Frankly ludicrous request!"

    Melinoë looks up from the arcane analytic equipment she was staring at. I'm not sure exactly what magic she's using to get around down here but when I offered her an environmental shield I got a rather haughty sniff. Thana elected to remain on Themyscira while we dealt with the Atlantean part of the 'quest'. Donna is next to me, breathing as easily as any Pureblood.

    "What's ludicrous about it?"

    "Have you got any idea how busy we are here? Just-!"

    "Yes, I know exactly how busy you are." That seems to take some of the wind out of his air bladders. "I see Sephtian every week and I still make blanks for him… Though I understand that the rune printing system is just about out of prototyping."

    He nods, reluctantly. "Then perhaps you can appreciate that we don't have the time to waste."

    "If you need me to make the device-."

    "And who could enchant it? And who could operate it, once it was finished?" He holds up his hands, palms forward, then brings them together in front of his chin. "Are you aware of exactly how complex a procedure is involved in analysing an arcane signature?"

    I shake my head. "No."

    "Let us say that we have an object strongly connected to a magic user's 'soul self'. And let us further assume that they have made no active attempt at duplicity, which a mage involved in some manner of crime certainly would."

    Donna frowns. "I'm.. not sure that making me was a crime."

    "It would be in Atlantis." Ooh, this guy just wants to be on my shit list, doesn't he. "A particular spell will have a near-identical formation regardless of who cast it. To analyse an object in enough detail to be able to tell with any certainty that it was cast by the one whose object we are analysing, we must examine it in the most minute detail. Do you know how complex the soul is? How many influences it may pick up, especially in a place as thaumically active as Poseidonis?"

    "Nnnnno?"

    "And these new devices don't help in the slightest. Before, any reading measurable by a device was so approximate that it was barely worth performing. Now! Now just tabulating the results takes months! For normal magicians! And for a god? And I can barely believe that I'm taking the suggestion seriously-."

    "Why wouldn't you?"

    I'm not sure that he realises that Melinoë's appearance is in any way unusual. Certainly he hasn't recognised who she is. As for what she is… I'm assuming not. He's got to be sensitive enough to magic to realise that she's not just another surface dweller, but the link between 'strange magic user named Melinoë' and 'Greek Goddess of Nightmares and Madness' hasn't formed in his mind. I don't think that Orcus has children, the Roman habit of appropriating Greek myths not having any bearing on the gods' actual lives.

    "Because it's patently absurd! Gods having blood that could be subject to analysis, indeed! And even if that were the case, it would be orders of magnitude more complex than that of a mortal mage, which I've already said we couldn't do even if we wanted to. Which we don't."

    Melinoë's eyes narrow. "How would you like to-?"

    "Could you do something simpler?"

    Onesimus shakes his head. "Like what?"

    "Could you… Identify the strongest magic… Frequencies-"

    "Resonances."

    "-in an object?" Donna tenses her left cheek. "Does that make sense?"

    "Well… That's… That's easier, of course. I'm not sure what use it would be."

    "We're perfectly happy to accept that getting a precise mote by mote analysis is beyond the capacity of our current thaumic technology. We just want to see how similar the magics of several objects are to one another."

    "I'd still need to-."

    "Roughly how similar."

    Onesimus thinks for a moment, his eyes unfocused. "If.. I.. could get the time… I…"

    "I'm sure that I can talk Queen Mera into making an opening."

    "How many samples did you have in mind?"

    "Twelve."

    "Fine." He waves his right hand dismissively. "Leave them in Dry Room One. I'll let Sephtian know that they're there when he gets baaaaaah-ah."

    "You really are a louse." Melinoë's eyes are fixed on him as she stalks across the room. "You will perform the analysis yourself and you will do it now. Or you will keep seeing what you are seeing now for the rest of your life." She thinks for a moment. "And I will tell Uncle Orcus how unhelpful you were."

    "Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh…" His eyes have gone totally black. Oh dear.

    "Melinoë, that's.. a bit…" A bit assault on a chap who doesn't deserve it in a way which is rather seriously illegal. "Irritating as Mister Onesimus has been, I do rather need him to both perform the analysis and continue his work on this project. Would you please let him go?"

    "You let him go too far. I didn't think you were that weak. I'll teach him his place and then let him go."

    I move closer to her. Maybe disrupting her line of sight..? No. Ah. "Melinoë, you catch more wasps with honey than with vinegar. In the life of an immortal, what are a few minutes? Compared to the wonder of my goal, what are a few mean spirited words?" Donna looks genuinely worried. I can't really judge how much this is affecting him… I bend down slightly so that my head is level with hers. "I could try forcibly breaking your connection-" Her eyes narrow slightly. "-but I'm sure that you'd appreciate-" My hands go to the rear of her lower horns, fingertips pushing her head forwards as her eyes blink in astonishment. "-a different approach-" I give her what I hope is an affectionate smile. "-more."

    She blinks, then I lean forward and kiss her. I don't linger, just press our lips together for a moment, but for the split second we're touching I can feel the location and texture of shadow in the room. There's a gasp from behind me as I pull back slightly, Melinoë staring at me in wide-eyed astonishment.

    "Are you alright?"

    "Melaina, she's Melaina oh gods preserve me."

    "There, you see-."

    She plants her hands on my chest and shoves me across the room!

    "Get off me, idiot!"
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2019
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