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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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    10th July
    16:06 GMT -5


    Alan looks up from his weeding as I appear in his back garden. "Good afternoon, Paul. Wasn't sure you were still on Earth."

    "I wouldn't just disappear, Alan."

    He stabs his gardening fork into the soil and sits back. He's not… Not as old-looking as he was before his recharge in February, but the signs of obsolescence are creeping back in. His hair is once more shot through with grey, and while his musculature is still solid his skin is just starting to loosen and-.

    "That bad, huh."

    "I'm… What?"

    "What?" He stands up slightly cautiously. "You think I don't notice when you do that? Checking up on me to see if I'm falling apart yet?"

    "Oh. Um, sorry."

    "Don't worry about it. I don't think I'm doing too badly for a ninety year old who smoked for thirty years." He looks around and gestures to his garden chairs. "Got time before you leave?"

    "Yes, of course."

    He peels off his gardening gloves as he leads the way over to the chairs, lowering himself into the closest with the slight caution that his doctor and I hammered into him after the first fall. Which leads me to my first question.

    "How much ring charge do you have left?"

    "How long you planning on being away for?"

    "At least three months."

    "Then, that much, and a little more besides."

    "Alan."

    "Heh. You sound just like Diana when you say that." I sigh quietly and take the chair next to him. "I'll cope. I'm not exactly.. looking forward to feeling my age again, but plenty of people manage." I start to open my mouth, but he pre-empts me. "Yes, I've still got the… Home help brochures you dropped by. If it comes to it, I'll… Phone someone."

    "Thank you."

    "And not a moment before." He looks at me. "So? Something you wanted to talk about, or were you just stopping by?"

    "Yeah, there's just… This thing that happened, and I wasn't sure what anyone had told you..?"

    "What, about that thing in London?" I nod. "Diana said you got hurt, but it looks like you're okay to me."

    "A few bruises, some minor burns and… Mana overload, again. But there's a whole lot of other stuff… Okay, good news first?"

    "Sure."

    "Klarion the Witch Boy is dead. The Chinese released news of his execution a few hours ago."

    Alan grins. "That's great news. You have something to do with that?"

    "Their official version is leaving it somewhat vague on how they got hold of him, so, don't tell any reporters." I nod. "But yes. Zatanna, John Constantine and I lured him into a trap, stripped him of his power and handed him over."

    "You did that in China?"

    "No. Roanoke Island. I realise that it seems a bit ghoulish, but there are actually quite good magic-based reasons for-."

    He waves my explanation off. "No, no, I understand all of that sort of thing. But the US has a whole bunch of perfectly good prisons. Heck, you even rebuilt one of them. If you picked him up here, why'd you take him over there?"

    "The Chinese have a superfunctionary-." Alan lets out a burst of laugher. "What?"

    "Aah, I'm sorry. I realize that's a translation, but it still gets me every time."

    "A vigilante called Ghost Fox Killer. There are a whole load of ways a magic user who is as powerful and knowledgeable as Klarion can wiggle out of death, and one of her talents is preventing that. With Klarion, I wanted to be very sure."

    "Okay then. Just make sure you give Waller her number before next time, give her a chance to put a bid in."

    I struggle for a moment to suppress a laugh. "That actually didn't occur to me."

    "Didn't they all… Embrace capitalism at the end of the Cold War? Being a Chinese state executioner can't pay all that well. And I'm sure we've got more supervillains than they do."

    I shouldn't-. I need to get off this topic. "That's.. true, because they execute them for the first offence. Listen, there's.. more."

    "What, you catch some other supervillain as well? You trying to make sure we don't forget about you?"

    "I.. don't think.. there's much chance of that."

    "No, of course not, but-."

    "Alan, this isn't good news. Just… Let me get it out?" He nods. "Diana offered me League membership." His eyes light up and I know that he's about to congratulate me. Then he gets a look at my face. "I turned it down, then myself and a few friends lured Nabu into an ambush. I asked him to leave Mister Zatara, he refused. I offered him a perfectly functional golem body, he refused again. I arrested him, and he resisted. In fact, he killed one of my colleagues-."

    "Who?"

    "Michael Siskin. Terror Thing. You didn't.. meet him." Alan nods. "No one else on our side died, but we did kill Nabu." Alan's eyes widen in shock. "Mister Zatara is recovering in hospital. After I woke up, the second thing I did was visit the Watchtower and.. made it very clear to the League how I felt about their handling of the situation."

    "Are you sure that Nabu's dead? You said a minute ago that magicians-?"

    "Yes. The technique we used basically rendered him brain dead and passed his power on to someone else. The new guy's already up and running… He's dead."

    He nods thoughtfully. "Diana know about that?"

    "She does now. I didn't tell her in advance."

    He frowns. "Why not?"

    "Before New Year, because I didn't have anything substantial. After New Year, because I didn't trust her on the subject."

    "Because the League let Nabu in?" I nod. "Weren't they just keeping an eye on him?"

    "That's what they said. Personally I don't think that's effective when the subject can teleport. Or make supervillains in his custody disappear permanently without trial. Or enslave a man to act as his body. More than that, the League lied to the world about it."

    "From the sounds of it, you didn't tell the rest of the League what you were doing either. You want to explain that one to me?"

    "Alan, I lied to you before I even met you. I've kept any number of secrets from concerned parties." I shrug. "I'm not a very honest person. I've never claimed to be. And I didn't mind when other people lied to me. I didn't mind about M'gann trying to tell me she was a Green Martian, or about Robin not telling us his name despite knowing all of ours. I didn't even mind Batman marrying a supervillainess and covering her past up."

    "Pardon me?"

    I shrug. "She's genuinely devoted to him and she wasn't going to pay off her debt to society dead or in prison. But.. for Diana to lie, that's like… All that time I spend in Belle Reve, it would be like I was actually using that to recruit for criminal gangs rather than rehabilitate them. Abandoning Mister Zatara while welcoming Nabu was just.. such a huge thing that for me it undermined everything else."

    "Nabu killed one of your guys?"

    "Yes."

    "You offered him a peaceful way out?"

    "Several."

    "Could you have done it better?"

    I bow my head slightly. "Maybe? I don't know. There were lots of things I could have done differently, but every one had its own risks… Based on what I know -which is very far from everything- the combination of solutions I used was the best one. The one most likely to result in Nabu being off with both him and his chattel still alive. I don’t know that it was and I'm not… I'm not happy with how things turned out… I just couldn't stand the status quo carrying on any longer."

    "Any longer? So what changed… Your oath. It ran out." I nod. He looks away, giving his head a small shake. "I don't really know what to say. I didn't.. realize how strongly you felt about… And obviously Diana didn't either." He looks at me. "You should have talked to her about it."

    "I would have liked to think I was able to. I didn't. She said that honesty was an absolute, then she lied. I'm…" I shake my head. "I'll try and talk things through with her when I get back. Doing it now… We're both pretty angry."

    Alan nods. "I… You've told me your reasons. I don’t.. like it, but then I don't much like what Nabu did either. You… Planning on leaving the planet now?"

    "I've got three more stops, but… Yes, after that."

    "You told me that you wanted to be a super hero so you could make the world better, not just stop it getting worse. With Nabu, I guess that you did what you had to. But that sort of thing… That's not what you set out to do."

    "No, it isn't."

    "When you get out there…" He looks up at the sky for a moment. "Which are you planning to do more of?"

    "Starting the Corps is building, but the Corps will probably be mostly used to make war with the Reach… Destroying the Citadel Complex is killing, but I want to help their victims rebuild afterwards. I haven't… I want to build, but there are so many… Really horrible things out there… I'm not sure that it's an efficient use of… Me."

    "No. No. Don't think about it like that. Don’t give up on what makes you you. In three months, you can come back and talk it through with me and with Diana. Help you out some."

    I nod, getting to my feet. He shifts forward to the edge of his chair and gets his feet directly under him before rising. "I'll see you.. when I.. see you, I suppose."

    He nods, holding out his right hand. I step toward him and wrap my arms around his chest. "I'm sorry I couldn't do better."

    He puts his arms around my back. "Just don't ever stop trying."
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2019
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  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    10th July
    16:12 GMT -5


    I'm getting a… Wrung out feeling. When I left Alan I was actually crying a little.

    Nearly time to go.

    At least that made my decision for me. I'm not in any mental condition to see the Controllers or deal with anything else requiring mental acuity right now. Vega it is. I'll stop off at Rashashoon near the informal 'edge' of the stellar cluster before heading to Tamaran. I don't want to risk going to Okaara until I've got a reliable way to beat Larfleeze. And given what I've done today I really want that way to be low lethality. Nabu made his choice, but Larfleeze is insane. He can't make moral choices.

    Ring, transition.

    10th July
    21:13 GMT


    I appear in the evening sky just above St Mary's hospital. Is Zatanna-? Ah. Kon, M'gann and Rob are in there as well. I… Suppose that will make this an efficient visit. I transition again, through a window and into the corridor just outside the ward in which Mister Zatara is resting.

    "No, that's…" Kon doesn't sound too confident in whatever he's attempting to cast doubt on. "His report says you didn't even do anything."

    "Oh, yeah, because that makes it better."

    I step through the doorway into the ward. "Makes what-" Everyone stares. "-better, Rob?"

    For a moment, no one says anything. Then Rob blinks, looking away. "Me. Helping you."

    "I didn't name anyone except myself, Zatanna and John. Given how the League have behaved over this, I doubt that they would have strenuously objected to you keeping quiet-."

    "No." He shakes his head. "It's a mess, but I don't think it was the wrong thing to do. It's just… If I was going to wreck my chances I'd rather have actually achieved something doing it, y'know?"

    I walk further into the room, nodding to Zatanna. "I'm afraid to say that it's about playing the odds. None of us had any idea that Nabu could do.. whatever it was he did to resist your mana draining ability."

    "How'd that…" Kon looks more than a little awkward. "Thing with Mom go?"

    "Not well. I think we're just going to avoid each other until I leave."

    Zatanna frowns. "The League really aren't.. going to do anything?"

    "Looks like. The good thing about me leaving the planet is that we don’t have to. They can do their.. investigation, and everyone can have the time to calm down. Myself included." I bow my head slightly. "And no-one can say anything they may come to regret." I look up. "All packed and ready to go?"

    She nods, picking up her suitcase as she stands. "I've already completed the paperwork. We can leave.. right now."

    "What.. just..?" For a split second I feel myself hugging Alan again as M'gann accesses the memory. "Oh."

    "I just got back from seeing Alan." I attach a filament to Mister Zatara and move the sheets aside before floating him off the bed. "Not the high point of my year."

    "I'm sorry, I shouldn't-."

    "No, it's fine."

    "I just haven't gotten used to you not blocking me again."

    "M'gann." I generate a zeta tube construct. "It's fine. If I wanted to keep you out, I would. Though you might want to avoid the conversation before that."

    "Convers-?" **!**

    M'gann's cheeks turn pink.

    "Yes, that one." I look straight at Kon. "Had a chance to read my report yet?"

    He nods. "I still can't believe that you hid all this. I mean, not.. the fact that you wanted to keep it hidden. You already explained why you did that. I just don't get how none of us spotted you."

    Zatanna shrugs. "You all thought we were dating. And… Having something to focus my mind on really helped. I was too busy to.. really focus on Dad not being there." She looks at me in an interrogative manner as I stop her father in mid air.

    "He'll fall if I don't go through at the same time, and if-."

    "If you go through first the tube disappears, right." She nods. "Um, if you guys.. want to come..? You can?"

    They look at me. "Heck, I just wanted to talk to you all once more before I left. May as well do it at Zatanna's house as anywhere else."

    Kon and Rob nod while M'gann just walks through the tube, disappearing in a flash of light. Rob's through next, then Kon. Zatanna takes a moment to check her father, then walks through after them.

    Time for us, then. I step forward, floating Mister Zatara along with me.

    10th July
    16:15 GMT -5


    "Welcome, Mister Zatara. Welcome, Orange Lantern two eight one four."

    "Zatanna, if you'll lead the way?" She nods, opening the door into the rest of the house and heading in the direction of the master bedroom. "Rob?"

    Kon and M'gann head after Zatanna as my co-conspirator lingers for a moment. "Yeah mate?"

    "I just wanted to make clear: I'm really grateful for your participation in this. I know you weren't happy… Even.. doing it, and then when he-."

    "No, mate, look. I wasn't happy… Picking a fight with him, but he killed a man right in front of us. When we hadn't threatened him with anything worse than putting him back on the shelf." He shakes his head. "Got what he deserved."

    I float Mister Zatara out of the door, then follow him out. "Well… Um, anyway. I owe you. A lot, for stepping up like that. If you ever need anything, just let me know."

    "Is the Orange Lantern Corps hiring teenaged magicians?"

    "We might be. If you want to train with a ring-?"

    "No mate, I was just-. I am a bit worried about what comes next. With being a superhero. I mean, it doesn't pay anything, and… There must be loads of people who don't make it onto the Justice League. Especially after they, y'know…"

    "Justice League recruitment is and has always been bullshit. But if you get time, you might want to try reading up on Atlantean portals or developing some sort of magic-based service people will pay for. You've got a natural talent for it, all the information you could want to take it further… There's got to be something with commercial application."

    "Great Granddad suggested the army. Used to be a family tradition, apparently."

    "Always an option. But there should be more options in the field of arcane science before too long, so, if it's not your thing, don't feel pushed."

    He nods as we reach Mister Zatara's room. The man himself is still peacefully asleep as I float him inside and lay him on his bed.

    "Right. Who wants to see me off?"
     
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  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    10th July
    16:21 GMT -5


    "…be here."

    I point at the location of the Vega Systems on the construct star chart floating over the table of Shadowcrest's formal dining room.

    "This little star cluster is called the Vega Systems. It's unusual, because-."

    M'gann nods. "The stars shouldn't be that close together."

    Kon points at the edge of the indicated area. "And the others are kinda far away. Did a bunch of systems get destroyed or something?"

    Rob looks thoughtful. "Don't… I thought star clusters had, like, hundreds of stars in them. That's only got twenty three."

    "And.. you.. got it. The only other-"

    "Oh!" Zatanna raises her right hand slightly. "No Green Lanterns."

    "-thing is that there are no Green Lanterns."

    Kon nods. "Because of the deal the Guardians made with Larfleeze, right."

    Much as I'm glad that they've all been paying attention, I was sort of looking forward to explaining that myself. "In answer to your question, I don't know why this cluster is so small. Several species who observed the area from a distance theorised that there might be a black hole, or.. several, that the suns of Vega were orbiting. There isn't. I haven't seen records which show the worlds in the Vega Systems as behaving in a way other than how they are now, and I've got some very old Green Lantern Corps star charts. Similarly, no one's really clear why that.. trench exists. Moving stars is.. very hard, and destroying them in such a way that there's nothing left is even harder."

    M'gann tears her eyes away from the spectacle to look at me. "Are you going to try to find out?"

    "What, do what the best minds of a dozen civilisations couldn't?" I shake my head. "No. I mean, I'll give the area a ring scan and see if it produces any new data, but I rather doubt that it will. Rather, I'm going-."

    "To Okaara." Kon points. "To get your Central Power Battery."

    "No. Picking a fight with Larfleeze without first getting some advice from the Controllers would be foolhardy to say the least."

    He frowns. "Okay, so why aren't you going to.. Maltus, first?"

    "This place. The Citadel Complex is the seat of the ruler of the Citadel Empire, which dominates the Vega Systems. They also have dealings with Gordanian pirates across several Sectors, trading armaments and other advanced technology for whatever the pirates steal. Over the past thousand years, the Space Sectors neighbouring Vega have had the third, fifth and sixth shortest Green Lantern life expectancies respectively. Only the area around Apokolips is more of a death zone."

    "They kill Green Lanterns?" Rob looks concerned. "Isn't that… Really hard?"

    I dismiss the star chart and replace it with an image of a Citadelian. "This is Lord Damyn, current ruler of the Citadel. His vices include drunkenness, slavery and cannibalism." I raise the image, three more appearing beneath it. "In addition to the aforementioned Gordanians, the Citadel is allied with Branx and the Psions, and those little bastards are where they get Lantern-killer weapons from. The Psions are extremely advanced, but mostly insular. They use the Citadel as brokers for their technology."

    "With the exception of Euphorix -which maintains a constant planetary defence force field to keep out everyone- and Okaara -which they revere as the birthplace of their founder- the rest of Vega is controlled by them. And in case I haven't been clear, it's a blight upon the universe."

    M'gann looks slightly uncomfortable. "Maybe you should… Go somewhere nice.. instead?"

    "The reason it's a hole is that Green Lanterns can't go in there, so every outlaw in need of a safe harbour heads there to get away from them. This naturally leads to the situation inside getting worse and worse because it's full of arseholes. And the reason why Green Lanterns can't go there… Is Larfleeze, and the Orange Central Power Battery. Which means that if I'm taking the Central Power Battery, I'm accepting.. responsibility for fixing it. Or at least, for getting it fixed."

    Kon look away for a moment, then looks back at me. "Okay, that's… Great, but… What did you say to Mom?"

    I sag slightly. "We… Argued about Nabu some more. She was complaining about…" I bite down my instinct to moan about it.

    "About you not telling her? Because that's kinda the impression I got."

    "Okay." I nod. "Yes, because I didn't trust her with that."

    "If you never tried talking to her about it, how do you know you couldn't?"

    I shrug. "Nabu joined the League." I look down and give my head a small shake. "Yesss… Maybe I could have trusted her with it. Maybe I could have trusted Batman, or Guy, or one of the others. But maybe I couldn't, and Nabu would find out from one of them what I was doing."

    "That was it? You had a whole year of working with her, and you still wouldn't.. risk it?"

    "Correct."

    "That's…" He searches for the words. "That's pretty cold."

    I nod. "Yes. It is. Not that I've heard her say that I could have trusted her. That she'd have backed me-." I glance at Zatanna. "Us."

    "And what if she had a way for you to take Nabu down without killing him?"

    "Then she should have used it hersel-." I close my mouth. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Do not snap at Kon right before you leave the planet. "That would have been… Better. But I do not believe that she did."

    "If you still haven't talk-."

    "Kon, if she did, that meant that she was choosing not to use it. I'd much rather believe that she just… Didn't. Than believe that."

    "And what if you coulda come up with one together?"

    I shrug. "I suppose we'll never know."

    He bows his head slightly, a faint sigh issuing from his mouth. "I guess not. Are you..? Gonna talk to her before you-?"

    "No. I… I'm.. still.. angry, and.. I don't think that conversation would.. go well. I'll… I'll talk to her when I get back." I step back from the table. "This… Wasn't how I wanted to…" I exhale. "Alright. Anythi-?" And I know this is going to come off as unnecessarily curt, but… "Anything else?"

    Kon looks over to M'gann, then back to me. "No, I… You're still.. our friend, but that was all…"

    "Yeah." I turn away, heading towards the door to the outside. "I'm afraid there's.. not going to be much to see, but I… I do appreciate you all being here."

    "Of course!" M'gann's trying to sound chirpy, but I can hear from her mind how much effort it is. At least.. I can go back to hearing that again.

    I turn the handle of the front door and step outside.
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2019
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  4. Threadmarks: Vega, Baby
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Vega, Baby

    10th July
    16:26 GMT -5

    One last look at Kon, Zatanna, Rob and M'gann, then the air around me buckles as I warp myself out of the atmosphere. In an instant I go from bright afternoon sunlight to the dark of near-Earth space. I re-checked the ring's instructions on long distance faster than light travel after leaving Alan. Help.. take my mind off things a little. Technically I could have initiated the long range warp from the ground, but there were more than a few warnings about that sort of thing. Unintended.. effects that can occur related to the sort of intense local spatial distortions that it requires. I'm not sure if they were completely relevant to an orange ring as opposed to a green one -I don't need to maintain the same completely clear image of what I'm doing in my mind that they would- but I accept that the Guardians know quite a bit about power rings by now. No sense in ignoring their guidance just to spite them.

    I take a moment to look down on the Earth. It occurs to me that this makes an interesting.. book end. I'm not actually where I first appeared; though my point of entry appears to be stable relative to the Earth, it's in geosynchronous orbit somewhere over India. Still, it's a pretty similar view. And once again, I'm… Off into the unknown.

    I am slightly better equipped to handle it this time, of course.

    Though the challenge rating is somewhat higher.

    Is it worth stopping off to talk to the Green Man? He's assigned to Sector 2626. I haven't received any situation updates since I assimilated John's ring at New Year, and its records from before that weren't exactly detailed. No sense giving a Lantern information they weren't expected to use, and it allows the Guardians to monitor exactly which Lanterns have access to what. I imagine that their Honour Guard get a bit more at-will access…

    I don't know. At one level, I'm fully aware that I'm heading into a den of vile criminals. Getting information on exactly what's happening when I don't intend to interact with them in complex ways seems like a bit of a waste of time. One syndicate on the ascendance rather than another won't make any difference to my plans. And I don't really want to get… Bogged down. This is a reconnaissance/low-hanging-fruit-picking exercise, not an intervention-in-depth.

    Keep myself ignorant to stop myself caring.

    I should probably feel worse about thinking that.

    Okay. Vega isn't actually 25 light years away. It's more like 60, but looks less due to the same thing that makes the stars stay close together. The lensing is another reason a lot of people assume it's a gravity-related phenomena, light from multiple stars seeming to combine into one. It is a bit odd… Oh, I'll just see if I can get one of the Controllers interested in it.

    For a moment I consider warping to somewhere a little closer and taking a day off before proceeding onwards. There won't really be any safe harbours in Vega itself. No. I really want to.. do something right now.

    Ring, plot warp to… To the border of the Vega systems.

    Compl-.

    The outside of the border. Near Rashashoon.

    Compliance. / Warning. Vega system off limits to Lanterns. Do not attempt transit. Failure to comply is a court-martial offence.

    I raise my right hand a little, looking at John's former ring in surprise. It's been so long since it's said anything that it had rather slipped my mind that it sometimes did.

    Stewart-ring, correct me if I'm wrong, but that regulation applies to Green Lanterns, yes?

    Statement applies to all Guardian operatives.

    Am I a Guardian operative?

    You have a Guardian-forged power ring.

    That isn't what I asked.

    E-error.

    And what are your instructions regarding people who aren't Guardian operatives heading to Vega?

    Any traffic not suspected to be criminal is to pass unobstructed.

    Glad to hear it. So there's no actual problem with me going there, is there?

    E-error.

    I guess that's all I'm getting. Left ring, you have the course?

    Affirmative.

    Estimate transit time?

    Two minutes subjective, approximately thirty minutes Earth time.

    Alright then. Let's warp on out of here.

    Initiating interstellar spatial warp. Stand by.

    The stars around me shimmer and twist, the Earth itself shrinking to a dot. Then my surroundings shift, patterns of light coming and going inside the stream. I'm going a lot faster here than I did when Kon and I travelled to the sun, but since I'm not heading directly towards a star the amount of light hitting me is a lot less. The stars… It's a bit like in Star Trek, where they turn into smears, but… The orange glow is rather obscuring it. I suppose I could just… Have the ring stimulate my visual cortex with a more accurate version, but… Not the same.

    Maybe this was why Abin Sur flew around in a starship, rather than just recharging a whole lot? So he could see what was going on around him properly. Really appreciate it? Or maybe that was why the Indigo Lanterns in the comics had interstellar teleportation rather than having to fly from place to place. Give them time to appreciate things. Or… Make it so their interstellar travel either flat out works or doesn’t.

    Oh, damn it! I was going to stop just outside the Sol system to mark… Going outside it after completing my time in service! Slipped my mind. Ugh. Ring, make a note to remind me to stop there on my way back.

    Compliance.

    I mentally sigh to myself. Prince Markov was right; flying around might be amazing, but it can get really quite dull after a-.

    Warp terminated.

    10th July
    16:57 GMT -5

    The stars snap back into clarity and the constant orange glow fades back down to normal environmental shield levels. So. This is Vega.

    As requested, this location is just outside the Vega moat.

    Heh. And, looking, I can't tell it's even here. Because the thing about space is…

    I turn in space, information on the relative location of the closest stars appears on my visual field, along with the distance both to me and to the worlds of the Vega systems… Yep, that's the Moat. Some things you can't see when you're right on top of them. Stewart-ring, everything match your records?

    Stellar drift as expected.

    I turn back towards Vega, data on my destination appearing before my eyes. None of Larfleeze's Construct-Lanterns around, I note. Long range scans show any number of small and medium sized ships, showing flags of various Gordanian clans and semi-legitimate traders. There's a Citadel Empire picket force, the ships looking noticeably better maintained than those belonging to the outsiders. Three distinct groupings: one close to the planet and two further out. Rashashoon is taxed, but what happens here is so much a part of the Citadel economy that its people aren't particularly oppressed by them. Unless they have the misfortune to be slaves, the trade of which is one of the many things that happen here.

    Slavery isn't really a bulk thing here, though. Or rather, it is, but the bulk isn't traded. After the Karnans conclusively lost their long running war with the Gordanians for control of their shared homeworld, their entire population was technically enslaved. Mostly it just manifests as a 'not kicking your head in' tax. Bad, but liveable. As long as you keep your head down and don't have much in the way of ambition.

    There are a few Branx ships as well. Hard, blocky, inelegant things. Those ones are armed merchants. While it isn't illegal to pirate inside Vega, it's generally a good way to get yourself killed. The Citadel doesn't like things that disrupt its income, and other groups -especially the Branx- will make a point of avenging a fallen comrade.

    No Tamaranian ships, of course. They haven't had any since they went from client world to… Not sure what you'd call them now. 'Resource extraction source', perhaps. Or 'dehumanisation practice centre'. That's my next stop, but I want to take a look around, first.

    Ring, check for interdiction fields.

    Located. In addition to those based on the planet itself, the two Citadel fleets furthest from the planet possess additional devices.

    Anything that would stop me?

    Negative.

    Alright then. Ring, warp to low orbit.

    Compliance.
     
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  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    10th July
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    I look.. down on a truly alien planet. Yes, Mars is sort of alien, but this is the first that I've been close to outside the Sol system. And it looks… Pretty much the same as Earth, actually. The layout of the continents is obviously different, and… I watch as a trio of shuttles fly past me on the way to one of the larger settlements. Huh. Um, the layout is different, but it could have been made with the same 'planet assets'. It's tilted further on its axis than the Earth, resulting in the hemisphere furthest from the local sun being frozen from pole to where the tip of South America would be. The planet's other pole is covered in a super storm, the land beneath rocky and barren.

    The ring connects to the planet's data networks, random facts that it thinks I'll find interesting filtering into my consciousness. The total long term population is less than a billion, with long and short term stopovers adding another… Quarter billion. Gosh. Most of the population is city-dwelling, with most farming being done by robots. Dumb robots, not artificial intelligences. City buildings are relatively short compared with Earth and certainly compared with somewhere like Coruscant. Another interesting thing: no roads. Plenty of paved pedestrian areas, but all the vehicles appear to be airborne. The form of anti-gravity technology in widespread use doesn't seem to be all that fast, but I guess that it's cheap enough to have obsoleted ground cars for long enough that cities aren't built with them in mind any longer.

    The native species are pink or red skinned humanoids, and there isn't any real resistance to the Citadel. They seem… Happy enough with their general status as a client world. No countries as such, but the cities are effectively city-states. A couple are owned outright by outside interests, but for the most part the various pirate organisations and clans appear content to treat the place as a neutral harbour.

    There's plenty of violent crime, mostly committed by outlaw visitors against each other. Local law enforcement tends to keep back unless locals are threatened or things get really out of control, though the better run mercenary companies have their own military police since it's not in their interests to go to war with their competitors over a spilt drink. Especially since all their other competitors would react violently to both parties if things escalated. All told, it's much like I would imagine a technologically advanced free market planet would actually work if all the groups within it distrusted each other too much to form cartels. It's not pretty, but it works with minimal oversight.

    Huh. I suppose that the Green Lantern Corps won't actually… Know this. Since they can't come here. No, they'll have records taken from pirate ships who visited. I doubt that pirates have the wherewithal to completely wipe their records before being captured… But there might still be a few things I'm getting here that no pirate ever bothered recording.

    Ring, are the ships talking to each other?

    Confirmed.

    Can we eavesdrop without being detected?

    It is not possible to detect devices that could detect power ring based monitoring without being detected by them.

    Fair enough. I know that at least some of these ships are likely to have that sort of technology… How secret do I want to keep my existence? Not completely, but I don't want to make too many enemies here just yet. I take a look around, the ring displaying ship locations and grouping in my mind's eye. It looks like a lot of them are attending-.

    A cluster of small Gordanian ships open fire on a larger Khundian cruiser, dull red energy beams scattering off its energy shields. According to Green Lantern Corps records, the Khundian ship is an older model. Sort of a.. flattened half-sphere with half a smaller sphere stuck in the centre of the cut surface. The Gordanian ships have a simpler 'armoured box with things stuck on' design. The Khundian ship takes a moment to bring its front end to bear and then returns fire, a magnetic acceleration system blasting out a stream of molten iron.

    Other ships don't appear to be reacting much, other than to give the belligerent parties a little more room. Ring, confirm..? A series of statistics on local weapon exchanges appears in my mind. Not uncommon at all. Fights happen on a daily basis, but they usually take place at a distance that won't result in the participants falling onto the planet if their ship gets wrecked. The larger power groups take a dim view of that sort of disruption to business.

    One of the Gordanian ships jerks visibly as the Khundian ship's guns breach its hull. Its colleagues are pulling back, firing as they go. Their placement is.. bad. None of the ships are moving all that fast, and while the weapons they're using aren't light speed it shouldn't be that hard for their computers to cluster shots. Some even miss completely. Are they firing manually? If they are, the Khundian ship isn't repeating their error. The shots against the now-disabled ship were synchronised, though they've switched to splitting fire now. Probably just to encourage the Gordanians to leave-. No, they're launching boarding ships, heading for the crippled Gordanian vessel.

    Oh, that.. sort of thing happens all of the time around here. Getting involved in one incident won't change anything. I turn away, looking down at the planet again. No one is sending me messages. Space is big, and full of small things that shine in the sun's light. Other forms of detecting would be thrown off by my small size, ring-based counter-detection systems and -at the really high end- my tattoos. Where do I want to go? Ring, what are my choices?

    A list appears in my mind. Temperature, visitor population, friendliness, time zone… Well, if there is a city where it's mid-afternoon… Alright, that works.

    The city the ring thinks fits me best is called Raggashoon-. Ring, meaning or prefix 'Ra' and suffix 'shoon' in the local language?

    'Ra' indicates ongoing inhabitation. 'Shoon' means settlement, though it is usually used only for larger settlements.

    Hm. Alright, I'm not bothering to register my presence with local authorities and gold is a fungible asset in most places. I won't quite have the buying power I did on Earth, but… That doesn't really matter. Dress code? Armoured clothing appears to be common in the rougher areas, but I don't see anyone in outright power armour. And the armour appears to be.. integrated into clothing instead of being worn over it? Fine, I can adapt. I don't want to have to redesign my whole armour, so… Some sort of open robe thing? Sort of a blank version of what the Green Lanterns wore for Superman's funeral in Justice League Animated?

    Of course… Pretty much everyone is either displaying their group affiliation or making sure to travel in groups. Or both. I'm… No, I'm not on my own. I've still got.. my.. Praexis swarm. And I doubt that anyone around here is familiar with Earth's Demons. Fine. Reasonably emptyish area… Transition down.

    A flicker later and space is gone, replaced by a plaza. There's a fountain in the centre and the surrounding walls are constructed of blue… No, that isn't brick, but it is a brick-effect material designed to absorb sound from the wider city. The only other people here are a group of three Aellans, yellow-skinned white-eyed humanoids. The closest stares at me, her right hand trying to tap the shoulder of her closest companion but missing as she refuses to look away. Ring, Aellan polite greeting gesture? Right. Both hands slightly out to the side with palms up, head tilted back a little. No weapons, revealing the neck. Doesn't seem to mollify her, and her hand has finally made contact.

    "Shruuadl, don't-?"

    A little too hard apparently. The second Aellan glares at the first for a moment, then notices me. And now she's staring as well. Okay, I suppose… If they've never seen a Human before I do look a bit like a bleached Tamaranian. I drop the posture, waving my right hand as I turn away towards the closest exit. A flick of my hands and three Praexis Demons drop from the rings, floating just behind me as an escort. These three aren't.. ones I've named. After what happened to Teekl-.

    Well.

    I step out onto the street and immediately get blasted by the sudden increase of noise. The flying vehicles might be cheap and efficient, but they're far from silent. And the Gordanians and Branx that form the largest part of the crowd don't pay me much attention, loudly confident in their positions and power. Other groups… I can see seven different species from here alone… Don't give me much more than a glance.

    Okay, what are these buildings? Machinery retailer, food supplies, I think that's a brothel, and-. A bar. Excellent. I start moving through the crowd, stepping around people where I can and muttering apologies where I can't. Someone tries to cuff me around the head but it's nothing my environmental shield can't effortlessly absorb and it seems that whoever it was is only interested in casual violence.

    The crowd thins slightly as I approach the entrance. Okay, my first alien bar. An alien spacer pirate bar, even. I look down at the ring on my left hand, even as I step aside to allow a Dredfahlian who had been planning to 'nudge' me aside free passage.

    You know, maybe I'm being silly, but… I think I'd like to… Hear the alien sounds of this place when I walk in. With power ring translations it would probably.. just.. sound like a portside bar on Earth. I'm not stupid enough to take the rings off, but…

    "Ring, translation off."

    Compliance.

    The mutters and bellows behind me suddenly change into hoots and clicks, grunts and rasps. It's all wonderfully alien. Smiling, I stride through the entrance.
     
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  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    10th July
    15:06 GMT -5

    I feel a slight tingle as I pass through… Some sort of environmental purification system. I could just scan it for the specifics, but that would take me out of the moment. Certainly, it's doing a good job of preventing smoke build-ups from whatever it is that about half the people here are smoking. On my right, two Okaarans glance at me for a split second, no doubt completely dismissing me as a threat.

    I'm amused to note that the tables immediately adjacent to theirs are vacant.

    I start towards the bar, the Praexis Demons drifting in after me. They probably think they're some sort of hologram or drone assistant. More Gordanians… Two distinct groups with a clear gap between them. One has three yellow lines and a white blob as their emblem, the other a sort of black squiggle. A few Branx occupy a table at the centre of the room while the bar is staffed by a couple of locals. The Dredfahlian who came in just ahead of me is just sitting down on a bar stool, closely watching as the… Ring, what exactly do the locals call themselves?

    Rataan.

    The Rataan man tending the bar hands him a glass of something mauve and smouldering. There's a table of Khundian men talking loudly, one of them appearing to re-enact a fight with his knife. A H'san, a couple of Grolls and a Vrang are talking in a more quiet tone. Interesting how for the most part individual species aren't mixing. I suppose that the.. naval forces around here are mostly single species. The Branx may work for the Citadel with the Gordanians, but they do so as feudal subordinates and not.. employees. I'd have thought that the pirates from outside the Vega Systems would be a bit more open minded about things. Maybe they're just not represented in the bar?

    "Tra'ak mysion. Ranik vortiis kan."

    I glance around, watching as the Okaarans leave after one of them announced that to the room. Hm. I return my attention to the bar and resume my journey, stepping around the chair of one of the Branx as he shoves it back in something of a hurry. A few steps more and I'm clear of the seating area, and I head for one of the free-

    "HwoOOOOOwd Mnekekik!"

    -stools. It happens to be next to the Dredfahlian, so I… Ring, body language? Mm. I nod and smile as he stares at me. He sort of freezes, then knocks back his drink, spilling more than a little of it on his beard and neck.

    "Bzad."

    He steps backwards off his stool, keeping his eyes on me as he heads back into the seating area-.

    Which is.. now… Somewhat empty. It's pretty much just the H'san left, lurking just on the inside of the door. He… He? Not sure. They make momentary eye contact with me, then back off out of the door just before the Dredfahlian reaches it.

    Huh.

    "That's a bit odd. Is there some sort of-" I turn around to look at the bar tender. "-parade going on or some… Thing?" He's gone, and at the back of the bar I just catch a glimpse of his co-worker heading for the rear entrance. Oh, where is he? I turn my empathic vision up a little ah. I stand, leaning over the bar. "Excuse me."

    "Tishun, tishun Auron kiid-"

    I lean further-. Oh! Ring, translation on.

    Compliance.

    "-around me, and-."

    "Excuse me? Do you have a moment?"

    He freezes completely still.

    "I… My eyes work perfectly well even if you don't move. You'd need to be camouflaged, and even then the eyes of members of my species are pretty good at picking out familiar shapes."

    "O-okay."

    "Um. Could I..? Have a drink, please? Oh, and… If you do food? What with.. one thing and another I forgot to have lunch."

    "Um, the kitchen doesn't usually open until-." My face falls slightly. Doesn't really matter, but-. "I'msurewecandosomethingforyou!"

    "I'd be very grateful." I look him over. Why is he still down there? "Do you need a… Hand up?"

    "No. No, I'm…" He stands. "I'm fine. Ah, thank you."

    He just sort of stands there for a moment. "Um. So. Drink?"

    "Would-? Would-? Do you.. know what you want, or, um… We can do a bio scan and.. I can.. see what we have that you might find palatable?"

    I move back from the bar, parking my bottom back on the bar stool. "Thank you, I would appreciate that."

    "Okay." He takes a deep breath, then approaches the serving counter and takes out a small.. object, which looks a bit like a very short telescope. "If you could.. just.. hold out your hand?"

    He leans back as one of the Praexis Demons floats closer for a better look. Oh!

    "Are they bothering you? Because I can just shoo them away… If that would help."

    "No! No, that's fine. Ah-."

    "Are you.. sure? Because you don’t look-."

    "Boonberry!" He turns away, searching amongst the bottles for something. "Boonberry juice! It's from Kuraq. According to your scan profile, you should find it quite palatable." He pulls out a bottle filled with a cloudy turquoise liquid. "Try it?"

    "That's.. why I'm here."

    He nods, relieved, and starts reaching for a small glass. He hesitates, looks at me again and then pulls out a larger one before setting it on the bar with the bottle. I nod, and he twists off the cap before pouring it into the glass.

    "So…" I look back around to the empty bar. "Why did everyone rush off? Is there..? Some sort of party I don't know about?"

    "No, no. Um."

    I turn back around as he lowers the bottle and pushes the glass gently in my direction. I pick it up and bring it up to my nose, giving it a sniff. Doesn't smell particularly offensive. Ring?

    Liquid is safe to ingest.

    I bring it to my mouth and take a sip. Thin, but there's a sort of… Chalky… Passion Fruit? Kind of weird. Not unpleasantly so, but I don't think it would sell too well on the import market.

    "So… Where'd everyone go?"

    "You… Might have intimidated them… Slightly. Mister The Beast."

    I frown. "Mister The B-?" Oh! "No, nonononono. I'm not the Beast!"

    He looks decidedly unconvinced. "You're not? Because those Okaarans seemed to think you were?"

    "We have the same power source, but I'm not him. He's got these-" I waggle my hands at the sides of my head. "-tusks, and a protruding muzzle. I haven't even been to Okaara before."

    "You've.. got the.. same…" He hesitantly points to the closest Praexis Demon. "Slaves..?"

    "That's just a function of the orange light, it doesn't-."

    "Oooooh." He looks past me. "Bother."

    I turn to see what he's looking at. As I do, there's a series of quiet clanks and the last thing I see before the shock grenades go off is four heavily armed Thanagarians charging through the doorway.
     
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  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    10th July
    15:11 GMT -5

    One by one I deposit the ceramic tankards down in front of my new drinking buddies. "I've really got no idea what you people see in this stuff."

    The larger of the two Thanagarian men shakes his head as he raises the mug to his lips and… Sucks down one of the worms sticking out of the froth. "Pff. Aliens."

    I sit down next to him, slurping up a small amount of my own green and.. slightly gelatinous drink. It tastes a little like… Some sort of flower..? It's not unpleasant, at least. My other new companions are setting their tankards back down, having necked about half of the volume in what I can only assume is some sort of competition.

    The woman opposite me narrows her pupils and pulls her wings back slightly, Thanagarian body language for 'you have my full attention'. She has short-cropped white hair and a tanned skin I don't usually associate with Thanagarians. "Not The Beast, huh?"

    "I assure you that Larfleeze would not respond to an attack by buying a round."

    "Larfleeze, is it?" The only Thanagarian still wearing her Hawk-helm makes a sort of hissing noise. Thanagarian for mild derision. "I hope the Beast of Okaara would put up more of a fight than you did."

    "I derive no particular pleasure from combat." I shrug-. Then realise that they probably aren't familiar with the gesture. "So while I could probably neutralise you all without causing you lasting harm-."

    The man next to me twists his head to look me full on, his mouth slightly open and his wings slightly… Raised? Hunched? Disbelief. Even if they're mostly humanoid, their body language is different enough that I'd be lost without the ring translating it for me. "Yeah? You and what army?"

    Orange filaments flicker around the room, depositing Praexis Demons in their wake.

    "That army." His mouth closes, and the rings tell me that his expression is one of wary respect. Two of his colleagues have their hands on the hafts of their weapons, releasing them only after I dismiss the Demons. "Seriously. Don't go after Larfleeze. You'll be killed, converted into orange constructs, enslaved and then he'll know everything you do."

    The blonde woman -and I can't believe that hair is regulation length- looks away for a moment, before giving me her full attention. Irritation. "And are we to believe that you have nothing to do with him?"

    "I've never met him. Though… I am probably responsible for his recent.. activity. He doesn't like sharing the orange light." And… My drink is finished. I half turn, waving the glass at the bartender. "Something else..?"

    He reaches for a bottle of something pink. "Coming right up!"

    I return my attention to the Thanagarians. "I've… I know that Thanagarians sometimes have… Curious attitudes to personal protective equipment, but-."

    The other Thanagarian man bows his head slightly, wings extending slightly over his shoulders. "We were at a party when the emergency alert came in. We didn't have time to do much more than grab our weapons."

    I nod. "Good response time. Considering." I frown. "Wait, why are you on alert here? Thanagar doesn't-."

    The white haired woman makes a sort of flicking gesture with her right hand. "We're not soldiers. We're mercenaries. With all the visitors they're having, the planet's government decided they needed a few more peace officers around the place. Our flight got assigned to Raggashoon."

    The big chap thumps his tankard down. "Yeah, lucky us. It's all fun and games now, but you can bet things are going to heat up when the negotiations finish."

    "Sorry, I-." The bartender puts my new drink down in front of me, "Oh, thank you." I look around the table, eyebrows raised. "I didn't think to ask your names?"

    Blonde topknot turns her head slightly aside. Too many possible meanings to readily translate. "You didn't give us yours, either."

    "Do you have a universal translator?"

    White hair nods. "We all have translators. We couldn't possibly-."

    "No." I lean forward slightly. "Universal translators. The super-advanced ones that can handle any mode of communication."

    Big guy exhales sharply. "On our pay? Why, what's it matter?"

    "I can't say my name, but I've got it written on a card. In English, which you can't read." And which can't be written phonetically in any modern Thanagarian languages. I make a dismissive gesture with my right hand. "Orange Lantern Two Eight One Four at your service."

    "You're a Lantern?" / "There are other colours-?"

    Helmet and thin man glance at each other, then narrow their eyes and incline their heads slightly.

    "I'm Olio!" The big Thanagarian taps me on the back of the head with the… Wrist, of his left wing then points with his left arm. "Olio Thux. That's Rayn Kral and Skalla Kol." The two glaring at each other. From where he's pointing I think that Rayn Kral is the male one. "Corla Tavo." Topknot. "And our flight leader-" A squad leader rank with no direct equivalent. "-Tarra Karn."

    I raise my now half-empty glass in a toast, then bow my head and create construct-wings on my back. I fan them back, underside facing towards the floor.

    Flight Leader Karn pulls her head back. Surprise. "You know our body language."

    "Universal translator." I let the wings fade. "And yes-" I lay my hands on the table, palms upwards and ring sigils on display. "-they do come in other colours."

    Ms Tavo smiles, a less friendly gesture amongst Thanagarians than it is amongst Humans. "How about that."

    Mister Kral tilts his head to the left slightly. "So, the Beast of Okaara-"

    "Who isn't me."

    "-is just a Lantern. I mean, yeah, Lanterns are powerful, but… They're not that powerful."

    "Larfleeze is an ancient and quite insane Lantern who draws his power directly from the Orange Central Power Battery. He's much more-."

    Ms Karn give me her full attention. "There's a Central Power Battery on Okaara?"

    "Yes."

    Olio nods. "Ancient and powerful whatever, that's probably worth taking the risk. Any power rings down there?"

    "Dozens at least. Possibly hundreds. But you should understand… Larfleeze has taken all comers for as long as there has been sentient life in the Vega Systems. And not just locals; the orange light reaches out to the greediest beings in this universe. It draws them to Okaara. They challenge him, those people most in tune with the light he wields, and he always wins. Sure, it's tempting… But do you really think you're that good? Do you want to risk it when the penalty for losing isn't merely death, but your soul bound in eternal servitude?"

    I look around the circle again, and none of them meet my eyes.

    "So. You said something about a negotiation?"

    "Yeah." Olio taps his tankard on the table, then upends it. Empty. "But that's a two drink question."
     
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  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    10th July
    15:16 GMT -5

    I don't want to make a birds eating worms comment, but they seem to really like those…

    "What exactly is that stuff you're drinking?"

    Olio sets his tankard down with an appreciative lip smack. "It's called 'blurb'."

    Ms Kol focuses on me again. I'm starting to find that gesture disconcerting. That's the problem with alien body language; even if you know what it means you almost certainly don't grok it. Your own instincts just insist on telling you a different story. "You haven't heard of it? Lots of places stock it."

    "I'll say this for Rashashoon." Ms Tavo gestures towards the barkeeper with her own tankard. "They're just about the only place that actually make it right. Just about everywhere else uses synthesised enzymes. And a lot of them put the worms in dead."

    There's a general attitude of derision from the Thanagarians for the adulteration practices of alien landlords.

    "Hey, how come you don't know what's in it?" Mister Kral jabs his right forefinger at my left hand. "Shouldn't your ring tell you everything about it? I'm sure Thanagar's region of space has a Green Lantern assigned to it."

    "Asking a power ring database about… Some foods… It isn't always a good idea. There's um… There's a drink on my homeworld made from ground seeds, and… For one of the more expensive versions, they prepare them by… Feeding the seeds to these… Small mammals and then.. collecting their faeces to-."

    Flight Leader Karn pulls her head in slightly. "Stop! Some of us are drinking."

    "Right, but you understand that the worms in-."

    Olio waves his mug. "Yeah, that's how it ferments. That's nothing like… Drinking… Vermin-poo."

    "And that's exactly why I don't ask the ring that sort of question." I raise my own gently bubbling brown drink. "I have no idea what's in this, and frankly? I don't want to."

    The Flight Leader stares at it. "That's a fairly… Exciting chemical mix you've been drinking. How are you still able to hold a conversation?"

    "Power rings grant poison immunity. If you remember to tell them to in advance."

    "Do they grant explosion-immunity?"

    "Um. No?"

    She looks amused. "Then you may not want to make any sudden movements for a couple of days."



    "I'll bear that in mind. Um, you were going to tell me why you're all on Rashashoon?"

    Four sets of eyes move to their Flight Leader, who gives her feathers a slight ruffle. "How much do you know about what's happening at the moment?"

    "Until today, I'd never left my home system. A system which.. doesn't have.. native faster than light travel. I know that Vega is a wretched hive of scum and villainy-."

    Olio splutters into his drink before moving it away from his mouth. "Hah! You're not wrong!"

    "But I don't know anything about what's happening now."

    Flight Leader Karn takes another sip from her mug before continuing. "In short, the local section of the Spider Guild… You know who they are?"

    "They've never come near my homeworld, but yes."

    "They tried expanding close to Vega, setting up a new Control Nest. That was a challenge to the local powers and… I wouldn't call their response 'unified', exactly, but they mostly kept to a truce with each other while they all focused on the Spiders."

    I nod. "Who won?"

    "The locals… Sort of. Their new Nest was destroyed, along with most of their fleet. And that's where the trouble started."

    I frown. "Why? I don't imagine that the locals are all that big on mercy or 'proportionate responses'-"

    "Hah!" Olio pokes me in the back with his wing again.

    "-so why didn't they just wipe the Spiders out?"

    "Because there are a whole lot of Spiders, and without an active threat the locals started quarrelling again. I don’t just mean there are a lot of Spiders locally, though the old Nest is pretty well fortified. Taking it would be bloody. The problem is, if they win, the rest of the Guild might take an interest. The Spider Guild has been spacefaring for something like fifty thousand years, their total strength is massive. They don't care if one Nest loses a fight, but if an existing Nest gets wiped then they might decide to send in a new fleet to take it back."

    "So… Siege the system? Set up interdiction fields around-?"

    "They're pirates, Orange Lantern. They're not a military. Any gain they make in not having to compete with the Guild is outweighed by what they've already spent on the fight. And with the threat to all of them done, they're remembering how much they hate each other. Except… They all know that the moment they leave the Nest is the moment it goes back to ship-building. In the end, Lord Damyn called a 'peace conference' to try and get a resolution which doesn’t turn this into the biggest all versus all fight this region's seen in decades."

    "I still say there's something not right about that." Ms Tavo flares her nostrils. "Since when does a Citadel Emperor call for a peace conference?"

    Karn flares her wings slightly. "Since he wants there to be someone left who will trade with him." She returns her attention to me. "Right now we've got about three big faction leaders on the planet, about a hundred little ones and the Spider Queen arrived in orbit yesterday."

    I frown. "Queen? I thought the Guild was pretty patriarchal?"

    Mister Kral makes a twisting gesture with his left hand that is sort of a shrug-equivalent. "Maybe all the real leaders died?"

    "Could be, but setting up a Control Nest is usually mostly automated. There shouldn't have been anyone above the rank of Strand-Captain in their fleet." Probably not important at the moment. "Is that why you're here, then? Is your company big enough to take part in the talks?"

    The Flight Leader shakes her head. "No. We're here to add to local security forces. None of the people negotiating on the 'alliance' side can agree a common strategy or aim. And some of the smaller groups don't want to talk at all. The Queen wasn't even allowed to land yesterday because they won't let her bring a bodyguard."

    Olio leans down to talk directly into my face. "And she'll last about five seconds without one. Maybe less."

    "The government thinks this is going to end with shooting, so they hired our company to protect the locals when it does. And I think they're right, which is why we're getting our drinking in now."

    Hm. "What was Green Man doing while all this was happening?"

    "Who?"

    "The local Green Lantern."

    "Heh." Olio grins. "Laughing his feathers off as all his enemies killed each other, probably. That's what I'd do. Not like he can come into Vega."

    "And Lord Damyn's position on all this?"

    The Flight Leader waves her tankard. "Doesn't want a big fight on his doorstep. And I don't think he wants the Spiders challenging his trade monopolies either."

    I nod. "The ban on the Queen's bodyguards? What exactly isn't she allowed?"

    "Any Spiders on the planet at all. And they won't negotiate with her until she's here in person."

    "In that case…" I push back my chair and rise to my feet. "It sounds like I have an opportunity to tout for business."
     
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  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    10th July
    15:22 GMT -5


    The Spider Guild ships are pretty darn easy to spot. At some point in their history the Guildmasters decided that it was a good idea for their ships to look like giant mechanical spiders. Sort of. The abdomen contains all of the ship's generator, drive and storage bay while the front part mounts weapons and crew quarters. As I noted to the Thanagarians, they tend to be undermanned for their mass.

    That, and every other ship is keeping weapons trained on them.

    The larger ship on the other hand… It puts me a little in mind of an Ork Rok. I can't tell just by looking whether that's really an asteroid or just some sort of grey/brown ablative armour. At least the machine parts that are visible look like some thought went into making them. It's also the second biggest ship in near-Rashashoon space. Only the command vessel of the Citadel Empire taskforce is larger. Of course, it's probably nothing like as well armed… Some sort of upgraded civilian transport or generation ship? No, not the second. The files I acquired from John's ring suggests that Guildmasters prefer to base themselves on planets rather than ships, safely under a mile or two of rock. Since they like to have their new home finished before they even consider moving there, I doubt that generation ships are really a thing for them.

    Let's see…

    Ring, give me a full scan if you please?

    Compliance.

    Goodness gracious me, a mission critical object that isn't warded. I'm starting to like space. Hm. The capital ship seems to be designed to fight small and medium sized vessels. Lots of weapon turrets, but none of them are particularly large. The smaller ships are designed to attack capital ships. Aside from a few very small anti-fighter turrets, their only weapon is a very large front mounted ion cannon. Which I think doubles as a breaching beam for boarding actions. Energy shields cover both types of ship, but only the front part of the smaller vessels and the core of the larger one are well armoured. Pretty much in line with existing records…

    Ring, armour.

    Compliance.

    My full power armour materialises around me. Adult Spiders are a little larger than Humans, and have a tough cartilaginous outer skin as well as hard appendages. Their corridors tend to be roomy so there shouldn't be any trouble getting about, and I want to look like I mean business.

    Ring, hail the larger ship.

    Compliance.

    Hm. No immediate response. I hold my right arm out in front of me and retract my environmental shield, trying to get a feel for how it moves in a vacuum. Pretty well, actually. The movement assistance is-.

    "Nestship responding. If you are contacting us to complain about the deaths of colleagues, or to threaten us, please say so now so that I may stop listening. Also, I do not have a thoumpa, and if I did I am not certain that I would want it elongated beyond its natural span."

    "Orange Lantern Two Eight One Four here. I understand that the Queen is in a market for a bodyguard. I'd like to volunteer my-."

    "Lanterns are green, you are wasting my t-"

    I throw my arms out to the side and generate a large Orange Corps sigil.

    "-iiiiiime."

    I dismiss the construct. "Are you sure? Because I somehow don't think you're going to get many other volunteers here."

    "… Please hold."

    Hm. I bring my armoured hands together at my chest and one by one tap my fingers against one another. So, while I don't really care whether this turns into a war or not, I do want to try and make sure that the respective parties fight away from the inhabited planet. That, and much like Gotham it just isn't practical to kill every loathsome-.

    Alan's face appears in my mind. And for a moment I feel slightly ashamed.

    No, I want most of these people to shift to more legitimate work. There are well regulated mercenary companies and bounty hunters. There are peaceful trading networks where all participants don't all need to be armed to the teeth. And there's the rub: the Citadel Empire is -relatively speaking- a stabilising force. I had assumed that the best thing to do was to simply do away with them. Now… If I went after the Gordanians instead, they'd become more dependent on the Branx for muscle. The Branx are more efficient and less brutish than the Gordanians. Still ruthless, but…

    Another twinge of guilt as I recognise that I still want to kill them. And another Iraq flashback as I recognise that getting rid of a loathsome despot doesn't necessarily make the situation better for the people you're trying to help. And I'm not inclined to hand the matter over to someone else-.

    "This is Strand-Captain Fhomalhopos. You wish to guard the Queen?"

    "I'm prepared to provide my services, yes."

    "To what faction are you aligned?"

    "Either 'none' or 'my own', depending on how you look at it."

    "Do you have any relevant experience?"

    I-. Huh. Actually I… Don't think I've really done much in the way of bodyguarding… "I've got a year's worth of experience against a wide variety of opponents and I can create energy shields at will. How much competition is there for this?"

    "Little, but we can wait. Do you have references?"

    "None that.. you'd have heard of. I can.. give you edited versions of my mission reports if that's any-."

    "Who were your previous employers?"

    And now I'm starting to feel a little stupid. "Look. I'm a Lantern. I have two power rings and a swarm of bound Demons. Can we.. please skip this?"

    "I'll put you down as 'self employed'. Please proceed to the primary docking hangar. Your abilities will be assessed."

    "Thank you. See you shortly." I have the ring display a cutaway map of the ship in my mind. And.. just in case he means that they're going to test my abilities by shooting me, I generate construct armour. Right. Ring, anything blocking transition?

    No presently active interdiction effect is preventing either transition or warp travel.

    Great -the stars jump and the ship shifts position as I appear in front of the open hangar- stuff. Ah, advanced civilisations. None of that awkwardness with airlocks, just selectively permeable energy fields. So much more convenient. As I float on through I spot the technicians working on their shuttles. It looks like they're taking the extra time this delay gave them to upgrade the armour. One of them notices me, his upper eyes tracking me while his lower ones remain focused on his molecular bonding equipment.

    Spiders as in Guild members aren't actually all that much like Earth Spiders. For a start, they only have five eyes. Two large ones on the upper part of their face, and three smaller ones just below that for close up work. And then there's the body. Twelve limbs rather than eight, six of which are specialised as legs and six which serve as manipulator appendages. Plus two manipulator mandibles in addition to the more powerful slicing mandibles. Their bodies are really more like those of a chilopod than an arachnid.

    Actually… That makes me wonder why I hear their name as 'Spider'. Is 'Spider Guild' the species, or the umbrella organisation to which all members of that species belong? In which case… What is the species actually called?

    A set of doors open on the inner wall of the hangar and a cluster of Spiders… Huh. The door is about halfway up the wall and there's no platform on this side. The one with the armour insignia of a Strand-Captain and his four heavily armoured escort just walk down the wall. I float in their direction, aiming to intercept them just as they reach floor level.

    "Strand-Captain."

    His upper eyes turn my way as he continues walking. "Lantern. I am pressed for time, and I require a demonstration. You will attempt to protect me from these soldiers. Their lives are expendable. If I still live in two minutes and ten seconds, I will introduce you to the Queen. Do you understand?"

    I smile inside my armour. "I think I can manage that."
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2019
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  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    10th July
    15:27 GMT -5


    Actually, you know what?

    20:27 GMT

    Better.

    "So when do we-?"

    The first of his legs touches the floor of the docking bay and his bodyguard immediately point their weapons-

    I attach an orange beam to him -forcing it through a weak personal force field- and transition us to the other end of the hangar.

    -and open fire, bolts of blue blasting forth and cutting into the material of the hangar floor. Above us, the technicians scurry to get inside their craft.

    "Short range teleportation? Useful. But-"

    Construct armour covers him as two of the soldiers correct their aim while the others leap after us.

    "-that won't be enough by itself."

    Man-portable ion-pulse weapons. The Spider Guild is capable of making just about any 'interstellar age' weapon, but they prefer low maintenance and easily mass producible weapons. Assuming that these are the standardised weapons my scans show them to be, my construct armour should be able to take their hits for an extended-.

    The first pulse hits, and proves me right.

    "A projected personal force field! Useful. But purely defensive technologies provoke attacks, they do not end them."

    Spider Guilders certainly aren't above personal biological and cybernetic modification, but they much prefer robotic weapon platforms and power armour. Ring, scan the interior of the hangar in detail.

    Compliance.

    The two closer soldiers pop out of cover, a barrage of micro missiles-. Ring, warhead type?

    Boosted fission.

    Lunatic Spiders! Four point defence constructs appear around us, orange bolts burning through the air and blasting the missiles apart.

    "Do your employees really hate you!?"

    "Hhhhm. My promotion is recent."

    I'm not detecting cybernetics or biological modification. Fine. Beams of orange leap out from me, curving around obstacles and slamming into my opponents. Their shields-. Take it for the two seconds they need to shoot the beams and disrupt them.

    Fine. Railguns. My practice sessions showed that reinforced intermolecular bond plasma barriers -the type of force fields which the Spiders seem to be using- are vulnerable to crumbler technology. One soldier is a little slow in reaching cover, and with a low hum the first railgun fires. The shot connects, his force field shimmering into visibility for a half-second as the vapour which forms it suddenly loses all cohesion. Then my follow up beam punches through the armour and jolts the wearer's nervous system into unconsciousness.

    "Ah! An offensive action. I was starting to get-"

    The second railgun reorientates itself so that it points towards the ceiling, where one of the soldiers appears to have hoped that I'd make the mistake of someone only familiar with 2D combat. Realising that he's been spotted, the soldier tries to throw himself aside. At this range, it doesn't help. The hit shuts down his force field and turns his controlled leap into a tumble. I grab onto him with a reptilian hand construct, poking a claw through his armour and stunning him before depositing him onto the floor.

    "-worried. Of course, now they know what you can do-"

    A door opens in the ceiling, and a large and… Clearly Spider-shaped robot descends, a weapon I recognise as a gemburner attached on its mandible mount. A gemburner is essentially the opposite of a cold gun, creating heat by stimulating molecular vibration. It's expensive and technologically complex and the preferred anti-Lantern weapon of the Spider Guild due to the way it… Can be set to ignore construct defences.

    "-they will call in reinforcements."

    The drawback -I take a sheet of steel out of subspace and interpose it just as it fires- is that it can't ignore conventional matter. Some Lanterns -when confronted with one- seek cover. I say, why not make cover? Another of the soldiers chooses to believe that I'm distracted, and is rewarded with unconsciousness.

    Praexis Demons, find the fourth.

    The Demons surge out from my existing constructs as the Spider robot finishes melting through the steel sheet, the molten remains dripping down onto the hangar floor. Immediately, both railguns train on the hole and fire. The robot's force field takes the first hit, while its hastily raised left foreleg intercepts the second.

    Well, since the shield's down…

    The railguns open fire at maximum speed and force, tungsten rounds eating into the robot's armour. It tries to get space for a shot but my attack is relentless, chewing through its face-mounted sensors before it can fire.

    "That's a little better."

    I dimly feel it as the remaining soldier fires on the oncoming Praexis Demons. He's well disciplined and an excellent shot, firing as he retreats. Six are disintegrated -it looks like it takes two shots if they can't bring their mouths to bear accurately- before he's driven into the open and I turn a railgun on him. The crumbler round takes down his shield, then… You know what? Brand. Assist me.

    The soldier shudders as the Praexis Demons break off their attack and fly out across the hangar, looking for anyone else who might be part of this 'interview'. No obvious-. Ah. Those may be technical drones, but they have decent welding disruptors mounted on them and they shouldn't be heading towards a potential attacker during a boarding action. Demons, feed.

    I feel mildly disappointed that none of them shout 'yay'.

    The Spider combat robot has decent armour, I'll give it that. I don’t want to use crumbler rounds if I don't have to because I don't think I want the Spiders realising that they're good for more than shutting down their force fields, but a nice bit of abrading-.

    The robot bunches up its legs and shoves itself from its perch on the ceiling, plummeting in my direction with some sort of energy field activating around its limbs. My soldier opens fire and wrecks one, but its main weapon at this point is mass. I could probably take it, but why bother? The Strand-Captain and I transition again just before it hits the deck. As expected, the still-functioning limbs cleave through the material of the deck like the metaphorical hot knife through butter, giving it just enough to hold to remain mostly upright. Must have a pretty good suspension.

    Alright, whatever the technology it uses is, it's still a stupidly shaped robot. The fat beam of orange light erupts from my chest and strikes at its torso. It interposes its limbs again, only to find them grabbed by construct hands and tugged out of the way. Armour fails and flakes off under my assault, the robot jerking as it tries to get away.

    Then my attack pierces the casing and hits something vital. The robot doesn't collapse so much as lock up, all motion ceasing.

    "Not too bad, but how will you fare against a multitude of small opponents?"

    Quick check around? The Praexis Demons have already consumed the technical drones, apparently not getting all that much power out of them. The number in the field is exactly the same as I started out with. Not enough arcane power around, I suppose.

    "Smaller opponents?" The Strand-Captain looks around the room for a moment before poking a small computer console built into the armour around his uppermost left limb. "Smaller..?"

    "I've already destroyed the technical drones." I float us upwards, giving him a clear view of the room. "Are you satisfied?"

    He looks around, eyes lingering on the destruction and the faintly glowing branded soldier. "Are there any more of you?"

    "One, and he won't be joining me on this contract."

    "And you didn't kill them. I hope that you won't maintain that attitude once you start working for us."

    "As long as the Queen is safe, why does it matter to you?"

    "A dead opponent can't try to kill you again."

    "Or give you information. I'll kill if I have to, not otherwise. Are you satisfied?"

    "Your performance was acceptable. Come." He jabs three limbs in the direction of one of the interior doors. "This way."
     
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  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    10th July
    20:34 GMT

    The interior-proper of the Spider Guild ship is a curious mixture of what I regard as conventionally technological and what is either true organic technology or at least designed to look like it is. The corridors are dingy by my standards, but Spiders see further into the infra red part of the spectrum so it's probably brightly lit as far as they're concerned. I note that the interior walls aren't painted, and that the pipes and the wiring are largely on display.

    "Was the ship launched recently?"

    He doesn't look back. "No."

    "Heavy refit?"

    "Why are you asking?"

    "Well…" I gesture to our right, where the wall stops about halfway up and reveals a bundle of high capacity power cables. "It doesn't… Look finished."

    "What should it look like?"

    "Finished.. walls..? Cables tucked away neatly?"

    "Why should we tuck them away? That would just make it harder to do maintenance." He stops walking. "Wait. The Queen is not yet ready."

    I obediently stop just behind him. "Why is the Queen handling this? Shouldn't it be a Guildmaster?"

    A double click of the upper mandibles as he turns towards me. Mild irritation. "That is not your concern."

    "Alright." I turn, pointing at the cables. "What happens if you lose inertial dampening during acceleration and something hits that?"

    "I do not see that our ship design is your concern either."

    "If this negotiation goes badly, it becomes my job to escort the Queen back home. I can't do that if your ship isn't under power due to easily preventable internal damage."

    "The precise nature of your contract will be a subject for discussion. All parts are armoured and shielded to the extent that they need to be. You may be unaware of this, but my people have an extensive history of spacefaring. I doubt very much that you will notice a design flaw in a few minutes that we have been so foolish as to not address in the last five thousand years."

    "Alright. Do you have any specific intelligence on parties that might attack the Queen?"

    "Everyone down there is a potential aggressor. It is unlikely that the pirate leaders will attack her themselves or with their own people, but any of them could hire outside help. Vega has any number of such people willing to throw a region of space into chaos for a few currency units. Life is cheap."

    He sounds disapproving. "You are aware that your species habitually reproduces by-."

    "We strive to keep ourselves and our own people alive. Even… Contractors, for the duration of their contracts. Robots are expendable assets."

    "You seemed happy enough for me to kill your soldiers a minute ago."

    "They will die anyway if we are unable to send the Queen to the negotiations. And you did not kill them. Green Lanterns seldom kill, and the fact that you have even offered yourself in this role to a people with little history of treating other sophonts well and did so without demanding money from the first… That suggests to me that you would follow their tradition. Tell me, did the Guardians decide that their policy of non-intervention in Vega did not apply to other colours?"

    "I don't work for the Guardians."

    "Sponsored, then?" The angle of his mandibles suggests smugness, which means that either he's faking or he genuinely thinks that he's ferreted out a secret from me. "I will not complain if it serves our interests, though you may wish to warn your colleagues-."

    There's a dull buzz from his arm computer. He taps it twice, then continues down the corridor. "The Queen will see us now."

    He leads the way along the corridor, which curves up and to the right. I think that we're heading towards the centre of the vessel. I remember the execrable Halo novels, where the Elite character comments that Humans are foolish for putting their bridges at the front of the ship rather than the centre. Looks like the Spider Guild build their capital ships on the same principles as the Covenant.

    The corridor ahead terminates in a heavily reinforced door, and the ring shows that the same armour extends all around the chamber. The Strand-Captain walks out into the middle of the passageway and bows towards the door. A faint buzz and the force field protecting it shuts down. A clank, and the door slowly begins to open. The Strand-Captain doesn't stand any further on ceremony, passing through the opening as soon as it is wide enough to accommodate him. I wait a few moments longer, giving it time to fully open. The room beyond is circular and depressed in the centre. Several other Spiders man consoles around the periphery, and in the centre…

    It turns out that the Spider Queen is quite large.

    I walk through as she and I regard one another. Compared to the others, the lower portion of her body is much larger. Though that does make her sound a little more like a regular spider, the net effect is actually to make her look more like a giant Crab-Centipede-Centaur… Thing. Her head and carapace are slightly smoother than those of her male counterparts, and… An extra two sets of her limbs support the lower portion of her body, while the ends of her upper four limbs have simple grasping appendages on the end. I'd have to duck my head to stand underneath her, but only a little. Spider Guild females don't.. usually look like that. Aliens are supposed to have a hard time telling them from the males. If I'd been asked, I'd have guessed that she was a different species entirely. No obvious cybernetics… Bioengineering? I could scan her, but that does seem a little rude.

    "So. You wish the honour of being my protector."

    "I'm prepared to do that job, certainly. For a consideration."

    "We have studied the databases captured from our enemies." She points at one of the consoles to her right with her lower right forelimb. "None of them have a record of you. This suggests to me that you are the independent contractor you claim to be. However, they do make mention of strange beings bearing your mark flying from Okaara."

    "They're not mine. I only got here a few hours ago."

    "I have little enough time to ensure the survival of my own people. I have none for your power plays."

    "Understood. In any case, it really is in my interests that you are able to negotiate a settlement."

    There's a.. sort of.. wheezing sound from her. "What is your fee?"

    "I have a power ring; I don't need money. There aren't any objects under your control that I want, and I doubt that a single Nest that was recently on the losing side of a war could give me the industrial capacity I could do anything useful with... Let's say… A favour of commensurate value at the future point of my choosing?"

    "Why not state the favour now?"

    "Because I don't want anything right now. Because if I get one favour then it's in my interests to ensure that you're as successful as possible so that I can redeem it for the most value."

    Because I don’t really know how much what I'm doing is worth.

    "You trust us to repay you?"

    "You trust me to protect you?"

    "No, but I have little alternative."

    "Hey, if I was going to attack you, I'd be doing it now. I'm not suddenly going to develop a reason just because we're on the planet."

    "And you are convinced that we will repay you?"

    "I'm convinced that I can make things difficult for you if you don't."

    "I suppose that I am obliged to take the risk." She walks up the sides of the pit, which I'm guessing was built here so that her subordinates didn't have to crane their necks to look at her. "Strand-Captain, you have the bridge."

    "My Queen. We will have an extraction team on standby, should things turn sour. Your personal protective equipment is waiting for you in your yacht."

    She heads towards the doorway and I turn and float after her.
     
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  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    10th July
    20:59 GMT


    "Landing zone confirmed, control. I'm sending the course to you now."

    Flying in an actual spacecraft takes a wee bit longer than just transitioning around the place. I would have been perfectly happy to just take her down with me but apparently this was a demand from the other parties at the negotiation. She has to land in a commercial landing zone and walk to the place where the negotiations will be taking place without her usual guards.

    "Course received. Don't deviate from it and we won't have any problems."

    Ye-ah. While we're not going to cause any problems, I can't speak for the other parties. And I certainly can't speak for the Citadel Complex command ship that flew this way the moment we left the Spider Guild capital ship and is currently looming over Raggashoon with its weapons powered and locking onto other ships in the area apparently at random. I'm not sure whether that means that Lord Damyn wants these negotiations to be successful, doesn't want anyone doing anything too stupid or just wants an excuse to kill all parties and have people allied more closely to him usurp their territory. The weapons look conventional, but they're very big and I'm reasonably confident that the Psions have some way to block Lantern FTL. I would not want to be on the receiving end of a full broadside from that.

    Anyway, I can't help but think that the other negotiators are being a bit stupid about this. Yes, having to walk to the negotiation without a retinue is humiliating, but it also increases the chance that someone will attack her. That could be intentional, but… The Spider Guild ship has been here for a couple of days already, well inside the Rashashoon interdiction fields. If they just wanted to kill her, they could have done so with far less drama. It might be stupidity, but the Spiders gave me a copy of their intelligence reports on the other parties and they don't look stupid. Most of them have done work as mercenaries and assassins before; they'll know this is a perfect ambush setup. So… Either they all don't care much either way but want to get some entertainment out of it… Or their desire for cruelty overwhelmed their good sense.

    There are a few ships in the general area as we head towards the landing zone, but they have the sense to make themselves scarce when a flight of interceptors with transponders identifying them as local naval vessels enters the area. Thanagarian designs, slightly older than the one Mister Hol and Ms Thal use, and the markings on their exterior don't belong to any Rashashoon city-state. Nothing like enough firepower to stop a concerted attack, but enough to chase away chancers. I'm not sure whether that represents a serious concern for our wellbeing or if they just don't want our wreckage landing on their city.

    The yacht has decent shields and is reasonably well armoured. Not impressively so, but it should take a few hits from anything less than capital ship grade weaponry, and with the Citadel command ship very much in evidence those have mostly backed off over the horizon. Actually… I think the artisan approach Earth society takes to its really advanced technology has left me a bit blasé. There probably is a ship or two this size and power on Earth… Not this many, but the awe I thought I might feel at encountering an interstellar civilisation just.. isn't materialising. There are more ships here, and the advanced technology is more widely spread, but… Nothing is fundamentally more potent than things I've seen before.

    Not even counting the rings.

    "Final approach, one minute to touchdown."

    "Understood."

    The Queen hasn't been talkative, which isn't that surprising. I'm not from her Nest. I'm an addition she'd much rather do without. I took the time the journey down gave me to review Green Lantern Corps records on the Spider Guild's interactions with mercenary groups. They seem to much prefer relying on their own resources than hiring help. There are instances of even Nests with quite poor relationships hiring additional forces from one another in preference to employing other species, and they'd rather build robots than do either. On the few occasions the Green Lanterns heard of where they have employed mercenaries, history suggests that they're reasonable employers. I don't think I have to worry too much about being stabbed in the back.

    Not that I'm going to take silly risks.

    "How long do you think this will last?"

    "Many local days. Perhaps twenty, before we have an outline agreement."

    "What sort of working hours are we talking about?"

    She focuses her lower eyes on me. "Why?"

    "Because while I can go without sleep for twenty days, I wouldn't want to rely on my decision making abilities towards the end of it. And that's a problem, because I'm your only protection. So are we going back to your ship, or renting a bunker..?"

    "Will you be able to manage four local days?"

    "I should be able to. Though if nothing happens I can't promise that my attention won't waver a little at times. Why, what happens after four days?"

    "The other parties to the negotiation should have stopped blustering. At that point, either we will be able to negotiate or they will attack me in earnest. If they negotiate, the chance of any of them ordering an attack is much reduced."

    "Makes sen-."

    "Until the end of the negotiation, at which point any who are unhappy with what they have won will make a concerted effort both on my life and those of the parties who are happy with the conclusion."

    I smile ruefully as orange lights dance across the controls. The controls just aren't designed for a standard pattern humanoid to use. Most of them require six limbs to slot into portals which can rotate in a number of different directions simultaneously. I've been bypassing them and controlling the systems directly. "Makes sense. Landing now."

    The ship is nice to fly, though. Its gravity repulsor system is nearly as good as the Bio-Ship's telekinetic-. And there I go again! Sure, the Bio-Ship isn't Earth-technology, but… Those Martian warships I saw could take out everything in their weight class that I've seen here so far. How did I get this jaded? Anyway, I barely feel the landing. The landing pad is a large and flat area made of a synthetic metamorphic rock substitute. Strong, tough and not unpleasant to look at. Since none of the ships around here need a runway and no one comes to a planet like this to commute, most landing platforms are actually quite small and close to the off-worlder friendly parts of town. This is the industrial spaceport, designed for the loading and unloading of bulk goods. As such, it's a little further away from everything and has somewhat better security.

    I mean, not amazing sec-.



    You know, I don’t think it is the technology. I think it's the organisation. Even after the First World War, the German diplomatic delegation could go to Versailles without having to worry about getting shot. Well, not too much, and not as French government policy. And that wasn't because the French government liked them, it was because everyone accepted that the war should be wound up by treaty. In the real world, parley doesn't mean 'everyone else is flat-footed and bare-handed', it's proof that you're capable of civilised behaviour. This place…

    I get up from the pilot station -which I could just about sit in without modification- and walk out of the cockpit. The Queen has already raised herself from her pit and is checking her armour. Not full power armour, but it should take a hit or two. Nothing of her pale brown carapace is visible, which is only sensible. Very few naturally occurring species have armour-grade chitin and Spider Guilders aren't one of them.

    "Best let me go out first, just in case anyone has an itchy trigger finger."

    "I was expecting you to."

    She waits for me to take the lead, then slowly follows me towards the exit. A pulse of orange and the landing ramp begins to lower itself.

    "Are you certain that you don't want construct armour from the start?"

    "Yes. I must be seen as authoritative. If I am wearing your colours then it shows me as subservient."

    "Very well." The ramp isn't completely down, but I can see the outside clearly. I wave my hands forwards and eight Praexis Demons fly though the gap. They can draw fire… Or maybe put the fear of the Beast into the locals.

    There's a clank as the ramp comes to rest on the… Let's call it rockcrete, ground. Then I stride out to greet the crowd.
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2019
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  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    10th July
    21:06 GMT

    No one is… Close to the ship. From the looks of things, spaceport security are keeping rubberneckers… Or at least rubberneckers who aren't well connected, out of the landing area completely. A fair few people -mostly natives- are pausing in their tasks working on heavy loading machinery to gawk at… Hm. I've turned up my empathic vision to help with spotting potential assassins, and they've gone from mild orange curiosity to clear yellow get-us-out-of-here. Because they've seen me. Rashashoon has something reasonably like modern news media; these people know about Larfleeze sending out his minions. And they're rapidly going from slacking off in order to stare to looking for an excuse to work somewhere further away.

    Not exactly what I was going for. But I'll take it.

    Representatives from several of the larger armed groups on the other side of the conflict stand in small huddles between us and the way to the building the meeting is taking place in. The largest group consists of five and the smallest three, and given the distance they're keeping from each other I suspect that they'd only be slightly slower to shoot each other than to shoot the Queen. A mix of species are represented, mostly local or at least localish. Three Gordanian pirate clans, one of which has… Huh. Nothing in the Green Lantern files about a clan sign consisting of two dots with a 'w' between them. Still, their equipment seems.. more or less the same. One of the larger groups is led by a heavily scarred Branx Warrior, flanked by two Okaarans and with… A Coluan. She's a long way from home. The fifth member of the group is a heavily mechanised cyborg. Certainly, more of a mix amongst the outsider pirates than amongst the local groups.

    My presence is causing fear in approximate proportion to how familiar they are with Larfleeze's operations. The Okaarans -curiously, those here don't seem to be in leadership positions- recognise me immediately, but their discipline prevents them either backing away or attacking. Others are slightly nervous; they'd been expecting the Queen to be alone, or have a bodyguard of local mercenaries. I'm outside their context, though the tension from the Okaarans is being noticed. The difference is that these aren't dock workers. They're pirates. They're not going to back down because they're afraid; if anything, they're more likely to-.

    "Get grokkin' back!"

    FHZCHIOOF!

    An arc of purple energy leaps from some sort of hand weapon being carried by a frazzled-looking Cairnian, smashing into the closest Praexis Demon and causing it to evaporate. At the sound of weapons fire a dozen other guns of various kinds are drawn. Some are pointed his way, others mine and the rest aren't.. quite.. pointed at anyone. One of the man's companions leans towards him, muttering something and grabbing hold of the hand carrying his weapon with their right.

    I should probably say something.

    I rise into the air slightly. Ring, amplification.

    Compliance.

    "Ladies and gentlemen."

    Attention doesn't completely shift to me, but most eyes are splitting their time between me and other potential threats.

    "The Spider Guild has retained my services to escort the Queen to the negotiations. My understanding is that the organisations you.. represent, consider these negotiations desirable." I fan out my hands. "Are we going to have any trouble?"

    No one.. says anything in response, though a few guns move back into their holsters. Or at least stop pointing right at anyone.

    I float towards the still-shaking shooter, additional Praexis Demons dropping from the rings as I go. He's… His emotions are a mess. Give him a scan. What exactly..? Ah.

    "Sir, you appear to have developed an unfortunate drug habit. How about I..?" I hold out my left hand in a mock benediction. "Clear that right up for you? Recomflex and Flash are not a combination that's kind to your nerves."

    "Y-y-y-you just keep the gratz away from me, freak."

    I nod sadly. I could probably give him a purge without it being obvious… No. "As you wish." I float back toward the Queen, turning towards her and giving anyone who wants it a shot at my back. Of course, if anyone felt like taking aim the Praexis Demons would see them…

    "Marm?"

    Her armour hides her body language in the same way that my armour hides mine. Would she..? Can she interpret Human or even humanoid body language? Power rings are very convenient for that sort of thing, but there are a lot of humanoid species around here and we do all share a fair bit of our physical expression. She's probably learned some, or at least had an analysis program added to her armour HUD.

    Secure transmission incoming.

    Authorised.

    "You appear to have some notoriety. I was not aware of this."

    "Problem?"

    "I have no desire to make your enemies mine."

    "None of my enemies live anywhere near here." I turn away and hold out my left arm in the direction of the closest exit from the spaceport. "Shall we?"

    The Queen.. takes a direct line for the exit, but at a slow pace. I land just behind her and follow at a slow walk. My precise physical position isn't that important, and I want to try… Ah. Looking deeply into people's emotions is a time consuming business if I want any sort of detail, but… Reaching out for that one particular combination of fear and desire and hate and rage that indicate that someone who is about to shoot is something-.

    Three layers of construct shield and a kinetic shield appear next to the Queen a fraction of a second before the maser bolt strikes home, its power expended harmlessly against the outer shield. That probably wouldn't have -I flash out filaments in the direction the attack came from, the failed assassin already visible in my empathic vision- penetrated her armour, but there could be other assailants. Praexis Demons appear from the orange strands as the would-be assassin tries to flee. No force field, minimal body armour, no… Ah, she's heading for a vehicle. I tag her with a filament and transition her to me, wrapping her in orange chains the moment she appears.

    A white-pelted Karnan female in civilian clothing. Probably planning to fade back into the crowd afterwards. I yank the gun from her hands with a construct-hand. Okay, an obvious assassination attempt. Everyone… I glance at the audience. They're expecting me to kill her. Certainly, no one would complain. Not as long as I didn't make a mess of it.

    I smile.

    Ring, brand.

    Compliance.

    My guest struggles against the chains for a moment before being enveloped in an orange glow. Then it fades, leaving an orange sigil behind. I remove the chains and call back the Praexis before turning away from her.

    "Follow."

    "Certainly, master."

    Renewed flashes of yellow from the Okaarans, and several others look disturbed. Honestly, you'd have thought that they'd never seen casual mind control before. My new companion walks besides me with a slight skip to her step, keeping up with me with no difficulty at all. I'll interrogate her later, see if any of these people hired her. Or if anyone else did.

    And then… I don't have a prison to put her in. I'm certainly not taking her back to Earth and I don’t see any point taking her to Maltus. I.. suppose.. I'll just let her go somewhere. I very much doubt that the Queen will be leaving her Nest again for a very long time, so there isn't significant further risk to my principal. Might make me look weak to the local hard cases, but except where it has an immediate effect on me I don’t really care about their opinion of me.

    Though I'm not exactly unhappy with how quickly they're getting out of the Queen's way as she heads for the exit.
     
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  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    10th July
    21:29 GMT

    "…pay for what you did!" The rough-skinned, heavily set, green skinned leader of the Jovial Marauders appears to like having the floor. "Pay, you hear me!" The… I hesitate to refer to it in a manner which suggests any sort of formal process, but I suppose that 'hearing' will have to do. "What the Spider Guild has tried to do goes far beyond the bounds of-" His eyes flick momentarily to the other two leaders of the major groups. "-reasonable competition."

    The man in the purple and green uniform looks somewhat bored, though he is at least polite enough to make eye contact with his competitor. The gold skinned, blue haired, powerfully built woman a short distance away from him just slumps a little further.

    "Worse!" He turns back as the woman I vaguely recognise from a Booster Gold comic tries to blow one of her bangs out of her eyes without otherwise moving. "Your actions have threatened to cut off our access to the Vega Systems themselves, and the invaluable safe harbour they provide to us."

    I try tuning him out a little, checking my surrounding environment for threats. The auditorium is for leaders only, and the Citadelian marines on guard duty checked everyone going in for weapons… Above a certain level in power, at least. The rest of us get the privilege of watching from backstage, ready to charge in just in case our employers call for us. Whatever Citadelian officer came up with this is at least reasonably intelligent, however. Getting into the meeting room would inevitably require us to get past them, and thus alienate Vega's dominant power.

    The one with the battleship directly above us.

    I take a look at my new companion as my Praexis Demons float over the crowd. I think I can afford to take my eye off the Queen long enough to-.

    "I always thought the ancestral enemy of my people would be… Bigger."

    I turn away from the twitching cat woman and towards… An Okaaran woman. She's wearing efficient-looking purple body armour. Her face is flat, a tiny stub of a nose positioned directly between her eyes, with bushy, long haired eyebrows just above them. Two large fangs protrude from her lower jaw and her skin is a pale blue. Let's see, one low power gun built into her right bracer, a larger gun slung across her back and… Matter disrupters built into the left bracer. Less effective than a crumbler gauntlet, but it still wouldn't be too healthy to get punched by one.

    "I am not The Beast of Okaara."

    She snorts. "A second disappointment."

    "If you don't want a third, I imagine that you know where to find him."

    "Do you wear his sign to insult us?"

    "No. I wear it because I use the same power as he does. And I have not been driven insane by it."

    A slight twitch, but the red recedes slightly. "You know of him, then?"

    "Naturally." I look around the room, taking in the ones trying not to be too obvious about listening in on our conversation. "I had rather thought that he kept to himself. I've been a little.. surprised by the level of recognition I've been getting. Aside from you Okaarans, I didn't think anyone would know of him."

    "A year ago you would have been right. Then his orange slaves…" She looks up as one of my Praexis Demons floats past, grabbing at some sort of small flying creature. "Flew out from the Forbidden Forest of Weeds."

    "Did they attack anyone?"

    She snorts, glancing at a nearby group of Gordanians. "No one not foolish enough to attack them first."

    I nod. Good to know. I mean, the planet they came from is most famous for its well trained mercenaries and any other local power likely to take issue with the Construct Lantern swarm would have been an even more acceptable target… But I'd still rather people not get hurt by accident. If I'm going to kill someone I'd much rather it be deliberate.

    "The Beast didn't like me stealing from him."

    Her eyebrows twitch. Astonishment and.. I think she's impressed. "Many have tried to steal from The Beast. Our legends say they always end up as his slaves."

    I nod. "A weapon in your hands that you have not mastered is a weapon that belongs to your enemies. The orange light is the light of avarice. People are drawn to Larfleeze by their own greed, but none are as greedy as he is."

    "Larrrr..? Fleece..? That is The Beast's true name?"

    "Yes, as far as I know."

    She looks me over carefully. "If you and he are powered by greed, and none are so greedy as he is, how did you escape where so many have failed?"

    "Only a fool attacks their enemy where that enemy is strongest and where they themselves are weakest."

    Curiosity. "You speak like a War-Sage. If you did not overpower him, you outthought him. You discovered a weakness and exploited it as much as it could be exploited, and then retreated."

    "Something like that."

    "He sent his slaves out after you? And you evaded them?"

    "He didn't know where I was. One of his slaves… The big head with the mouth tentacles? Found me by pure chance. Destroying it without revealing my location was difficult, but manageable."

    "Can anyone wield this power?"

    "In theory, yes. In practice, it tends to drive those who try, insane. And then they attack Larfleeze, and they lose. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an assassin to interrogate."

    I turn away from her, facing the attentive Karnan. A simple 'you want to be helpful' has been enough to make her stay by my side-.

    "She does not look like the others."

    I look back at her, and she nods her head at the nearest Praexis Demon. "Branding isn't permanent."

    "Surely you intend to kill her once you are finished?"

    "What, for a weak assassination attempt? Hardly worth it." I.. could, though. Even if I assimilated her… The Sword dealt fairly handily with the Praexis Demons who ate those portals… And.. appearing weak to these pirates might create problems… "Besides, I might have other uses for her."

    I look her over once again. The Karnan woman's clothing is fairly minimal, more being rendered unnecessary by the short white fur that covers most of her body. A mane of longer white fur cascades down her head, tied out of her face by an Alice band. Her irises are pink. Her ears are located on the top of her head, though they're far smaller than they would be in a standard depiction of a catgirl.

    Ring, sound baffle.

    Compliance.

    "What's your name?"

    "Felicity, masterrrrr."

    The purr is affected. I'm ninety percent sure. She shifts her weight, watching my face carefully as she tries to work out which part of her body I find most attractive.

    "And whom do you work for, Felicity? Why did you attempt to kill my employer?"

    "I'm a member of the Omega Men, master. Primus wants the Queen dead so that all of the pirates will start fighting again."

    I've heard of the Omega Men, though I don't think they were in any of the comics I ever read.

    "Primus sent you?"

    "No, master. I thought that I could prove my worth by killing her myself."

    Oh dear. "When does he plan to attack?"

    "I don't know, master. They don't tell me things about missions."

    I turn to the Okaaran, dropping the sound baffle. "Are the Omega Men a serious threat?"

    She doesn't look impressed. "Serious enough. But nothing we haven't dealt with before."

    I nod inside my armour. "I suppose we'll just have to be on our guard, then."
     
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  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    11th July
    04:02 GMT

    "Seventeen."

    "Seventeen?"

    Sinak -journeyman warrior of Okaara- makes the slight flare of her nostrils which is equivalent to a nod. "It is the most reliable form of data security. Warmasters often write their own programs for their own equipment, but that isn't practical over a fleet."

    "I wouldn't have thought that seventeen distinct formats was practical over a fleet."

    "No. The Citadel has one, and Branx have another. The Gordanians have three, and often use those of other peoples or a combination. Then you have the various outlaw groups, each of whom-."

    "But how do they… Exchange data?"

    "Emulation software. And talking."

    "But if they've got emulation software anyway, surely that means that there's no real security benefit to having non-interacting operating systems?"

    She hesitates for a moment. "There are… Procedures. I don't intend to give away the particulars-"

    "Of course."

    "-but a combination of hardware and software controls makes it substantially harder. How do your people do it?"

    "I don't really know much about the military side, but something like ninety percent of people on my homeworld use the same operating system family and we have a population of six billion."

    Sinak pointedly looks around the room. "How much civilian traffic do you think the Vega Systems have?"

    I follow her gaze, taking in the paramilitary fighters who make up the retinues of the various gang leaders. "I suppose." I'm not getting quite the same fear response I did when I first came in. I'm not sure whether they're still conflating me and Larfleeze, but since I'm clearly not behaving as he was reputed to they're not on tenterhooks any longer.

    I'm still not exactly snowed under with conversational companions.

    "You don't like it?"

    "It just seems… Inefficient. Badly organised."

    "The Citadel is well organised. You can go and work for them if you want."

    "The Citadelians have to have their brains cybernetically enhanced to allow them to become intelligent enough to sign their own names. I know they are the dominant power around here, but I can't quite get my head around how it happened."

    "Why are you sure intelligence is an advantage?"

    "Optimism?"

    "Hah!" From the slight opening of her mouth, I think that she's genuinely amused. "Look at my people. We were never as clever as the Psions, but when we first rose to the stars the only other competition were the Branx. We felt ourselves their superior."

    "And?"

    "Then came X'Hal. And the First Citadelian. By the time we finished nuking ourselves back to the iron age, he had already learned the lesson our society had taught. Strength, intelligence… Without unity, without purpose, they mean nothing. Less than nothing. A strong people who make war upon themselves will end up with less than they started with."

    "True, I suppose."

    "So he made sure that his followers would always be unified."

    "I thought-?"

    "Oh, sometimes they kill the current emperor. And they'll get drunk and pick fights with each other. But it doesn't go further than that. As far as anyone knows, there's nearly no internal division in their society."

    "Huh." I look around the room, my eyes alighting on the squad guarding the entrance to the amphitheatre. "And... That's how this all works?"

    "They give life here structure. Someone needs to run it, and everyone likes them doing it better than they do the idea of any of their rivals being in charge instead."

    I return my attention to her. "And there isn't any other group who could take that on?"

    She makes a rumbling noise in the back of her throat. "Gordanian clans are barely unified internally, and their clans spend more time fighting each other than they do anyone else. The Branx are unified… But only to a point, and their government is weak. Euphorix is unified, but they were always isolationist."

    "Tamaran?"

    "I don't think we have to worry about them having much of a say in anything. A century ago..? No. Even then they were too individualistic. It's the same problem we Okaarans have. Great as warriors, but terrible as armies."

    "And the Psions? Actually-" I look around again. "-I don't think I've seen one yet."

    "And if you're lucky then you won't. Do you want to become a laboratory specimen?" She glances away, as if concerned that one of the midget lizards is about to walk in with a scalpel. Not much yellow on display; it's a low lying ongoing concern rather than something she really thinks is about to happen.

    "And the other races? There are twenty three inhabited worlds in Vega."

    "Weak. Primitive. Disinterested. Personally, I suspect that the Citadel had a hand in this lot coming together to fight the Spider Guild."

    "What makes you think that?"

    "The Guild Nests are unified. And strong. They don't have much interest in other species except as food or breeding stock, but their expansion was probably the first existential crisis the Citadel Empire has had since…" She looks blank for a moment. "Ever. One Nest world wouldn't matter, but one more would give them enough industrial power to actually threaten the Citadel fleet."

    "The Citadel Empire can't expand outside Vega?"

    "Green Lanterns would smash them if they tried."

    "They haven't smashed the pirates."

    "No, but they'd try. And they cost the pirates a lot in lost ships and personnel. The fact is, running and hiding is easier than standing and building. If everyone knows where you are, then they know where to go to attack you. The Citadel probably sends out ships, to keep an eye on things, but build? Fortify? No. And… I've wondered. I've been on their ships a few times, and their crew is actually fairly small. Since they're all clones, they could just grow more. There's no obvious reason for them to maintain their alliance with the Gordanians. Not if all they get out of it is dumb muscle."

    Hm. I don't remember exactly how the Empire was organised well enough from the comics to assume anything, but it is a little strange. I turn to my other companion. "Felicity, how would the Omega Men like to see things run?"

    "Each people should have autonomy, master."

    "And if one people decide to conquer another? Who's supposed to stop them?"

    "When the Citadel is defeated, Euphorix will be able to lower its shield once more. With everyone else fighting each other, they can build up a fleet and take control."

    Sinak exhales with amusement. "It will never happen. Whatever Pren and Kalista think, their people have no appetite for the bloodshed that claiming suzerainty would require. Why do you think they built that shield in the first place? No, if the Citadel disappeared, it would mean chaos. You might just as well-." There's a loud buzz from the direction of the doorway to the negotiation chamber, and the first delegate walks out. Sinak rises to her feet. "My employer. See you tomorrow, Little Beast."
     
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  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    11th July
    04:53 GMT

    "How did it go?"

    The Queen had already arranged accommodation. Getting here might have proved a little tricky. We're well outside the city and the local government doesn't like spacecraft flying anywhere but the cities. Especially from species with a habit of laying millions of eggs amongst the wildlife of planets they occupy. We could have hired a local vehicle, except she wouldn't fit in most of them. Fortunately, she was willing to tolerate me flying her here.

    "As expected." She reaches back awkwardly to remove part of her carapace armour. "Posturing and boasting. I know nothing more about what they are seeking in our treaty now than I did when I arrived. Perhaps less."

    I attach constructs to her armour, pulsing the release mechanisms and lifting the pieces away. She starts as the first comes free, then calms herself.

    I'm not sure… Exactly what this place used to be. It's built like a combination of fort and warehouse complex, thick walls protecting large open rooms and wide corridors. Given how large the Queen is those are essential for her habitation. Disused arms dump, maybe? The room we're in has been stripped to the walls of whatever used to be here, an area in the centre of the room covered in two layers of what is either a mattress or a crash mat. The only other decoration is a small computer terminal of local manufacture. I deposit the Queen's personal belongings off to one side as she walks over to the mattress pad.

    "Same again tomorrow?"

    "That is likely." Her head rotates in my direction. "Why do they think that you are 'The Beast'?"

    "He's the only other Orange Lantern active around here. Does that help you or hurt you?"

    "I believe that two restrained themselves due to your presence in a way that they would not for other bodyguards. In that regard, it helped."

    "Glad to be of service."

    "Would you be interested in accepting a contract to render these negotiations unnecessary?"

    I can guess, but… "'Unnecessary' in what regard?"

    "You are capable of slaying all of the pirates here."

    I tilt my head slightly to the side. "Perhaps."

    "The Spider Guild has been active in this region of space for a considerable amount of time. We have heard the legends of The Beast of Okaara. When you came into our employ, we took the time to review them. And the records of those whom the Beast destroyed."

    "I'm really not The Beast."

    "I suspect that you are telling the truth. Still, I am curious as to what price you would ask for performing this service to us. After completing our next expansion, we would be able to increase our industrial capacities considerably. A substantial exchange in raw materials or manufactured goods would be possible."

    "I have an orange power ring. If I want something I just-" Not a lot on record about Spider Guild cuisine, but I hold out my right hand and create what is essentially an invertebrate salad with.. mould sauce. "-create it." I float it over to her, and she grasps the plate with four forearms. "I noticed that you hadn't eaten anything-" She looks cautiously at it for a moment, until her arm computer pings what I assume is a 'safe' signal. "-since we arrived, and there doesn't seem to be anything here."

    "I can go for substantial periods of time without eating. Still, this is appreciated." She holds the plate up to her face, larger upper mandibles reaching out for one of the larger bugs and taking hold of it with surprising delicacy. She crunches the shell, her lower mandibles feeding the parts back into her mouth. Mouth hole. It's surprisingly.. not quite as messy a process as I thought that it would be, though I can see that involving her manipulator appendages wouldn't be practical.

    I turn back towards our other guest. "Felicity, what would happen if I removed your brand?"

    "I'm not sure, master. I think that I would scream in terror and then flee as fast as I could, butMy head.. feels…"

    "Don't worry about it."

    "Okay!"

    Don't.. worry about it. She did try and kill you and plunge this region into war. "Do you..? What do you think that Primus would do if you went back as you are?"

    "Um, they've almost certainly moved location-" They have. I sent some Praexis Demons to their muster point. Scans didn't show anything, but I've grown rather accustomed to that not meaning very much. "-and since I'm clearly mind controlled-" She glances upwards in an attempt to see her own forehead. "-they're probably just going to avoid me."

    "Do they know about this location?"

    "I don't know, but, probably. Doc and Dark Flea are really good at accessing other people's data networks. And Kalista is a sorceress, so that-."

    "One moment." I take two spell eaters out of my armour's pouches. One goes over Felicity's head-

    "Thank you! I think it's beautiful."

    -and I float the other over to the Queen, who pauses in her eating to look at it with her smaller eyes. "Explain."

    "It weakens and consumes spells. My home world has a lot of magic users." She slips the thong over her upper right limb, tying it around her arm-mounted computer. "Only on loan, though. I'll want it back once we're done."

    "I understand." Some more bug goes down her gullet.

    "How much sleep do you need?"

    Her lower mandibles pause. "After a day of little physical activity, a minimum of three hours and forty eight minutes will allow me to continue functioning. Six hours and sixteen minutes will allow me to function at full effectiveness. I suspect that one or other of my primary negotiation opponents will contact me before that."

    "Do you want me to screen their calls?"

    "No. Do not risk the negotiations. If they see me suffering it may mollify them somewhat."

    "Alright." I wave my right hand and send out a wave of Praexis Demons to supplement the security devices I put in place on our way through. "Will you sleep here?"

    "It is not ideal, but it will suffice. The two of you will remain here."

    "We won't..? Keep you awake?"

    "I am used to being attended at all hours. You will not disturb me."

    I nod. "Alright. Felicity, what are your preferences regarding sleeping arrangements?"

    She smiles cheerfully. "I would be delighted to sleep with you, master."

    My skin chills.

    Ring, remove all compulsions but suppress her desire to leave this room.

    Compliance.

    Felicity's eyes widen as she stares at me. Then they flick to the Queen before returning to me. She cringes.

    "Oh no."
     
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  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    11th July
    10:24 GMT

    Remaining in my meditation pose, I slowly open my eyes. "Did you get any sleep at all?"

    Behind me -but in full view of one of my Praexis Demons- Felicity cringes and pulls her blanket more closely around her.

    "Felicity, that's unnecessary."

    She remains completely still, eyes locked on me. "What will you do with me?"

    "I'll keep you with me until the negotiations are concluded. Then… Take you to my next destination and remove the brand."

    She shuffles closer, moving around my left side. "You'll let me go?"

    "Yes."

    "Why?"

    "I don't want you to die. I've identified you as one of the Omega Men in public. The only reason why the Citadelians haven't demanded that I hand you over is that they think I've permanently enslaved you, and the only reason that the pirates haven't killed you is that they think I will."

    "Why.. haven't you? You already made me tell you everything I know."

    She's in front of me now, and shrinks back slightly as I open my eyes to look at her. "Killing someone is not so trivial a thing that I would do it over a.. clumsy, ill-considered assassination attempt. Even if that is the way things usually work around here. Your life has inherent value."

    She stares, perhaps trying to work out how serious I am. Or perhaps what I'm on. "If you.. believe that, why are you trying to protect the Spider Queen?"

    "Because I don't value anarchy for its own sake. And I will want a slightly better plan than blind optimism for something to replace the Citadel before I am prepared to compass the death of a billion people to serve as a distraction." Her muzzle tenses. "Did it not occur to you that if the pirate groups resumed fighting here that the population of the planet would suffer right along with them? If a ship-mounted weapon can burn through another ship's armour it can certainly do the same to a city. Or they might deliberately target a city which contained a significant number of their enemies, or their enemies' business partners." I shake my head. "I realise that it can be.. satisfying to kill the 'bad people', but that doesn't mean that anything good will come of it."

    She shuffles slightly, her eyes dipping. "Where will you leave me?"

    "At the moment, my next stop is Tamaran."

    "You know about Tamaran?"

    "It's the main reason why I came to Vega. To see if I could do something about it."

    "You.. know what the Citadel did to Tamaran, and you still-?"

    "Destroying the Citadel would not bring the Tamaranian dead back." I raise my right hand, generating a construct-globe showing Tamaran. Local data networks are gratifyingly open to power ring intrusion, and I've been using that fact to update myself. "It would not restore their fleet or their industry."

    "The Gordanians destroyed their capital city! They abduct and steal-!"

    "Yes. I know." In point of fact they didn't destroy Tamarus. They fired on it from orbit and killed thousands of people, but the city is spread over a much larger area and they didn't target the centre. But that's not really the point. The local Gordanians don't have the numbers or the wits to conquer Tamaran outright, so they limit themselves to brutalising and extorting the place. I feel my lips curling as the disgust flows through me. "And I'm probably going to have to do something about them. But when I do, I will have a plan in place as to how to deal with the fallout."

    She crouches, sitting back on her haunches. "You mean that. You don’t doubt for a moment that you can destroy them."

    "Based on what I've seen so far, no, I don't doubt it."

    "You could work with us!" I wince inwardly. "If you-."

    "Persuade Primus to come up with a workable plan, and I will give it due consideration." Because I imagine that he's been thinking about it for some time and while he knows far more about the whole situation than I do he might have a slight bias that I'm going to need to work around.

    "His plans are-."

    Boooorp. Boooorp. Booor-.

    The Queen is awake and pressing the 'accept' button on the terminal before I can turn around. "I hear you."

    "The meeting will begin in seventeen minutes. Be there."

    "I will-". The panel deactivates. The Queen blinks once and then extends her legs, raising her abdomen from the mattress. "Orange Lantern, I will need your assistance if I am to be ready."

    I rise to my feet, turning as I do so and walking toward her. "Getting your armour on shouldn't take anything like that long." I tag the first part with a filament and lift it-.

    "There is something else you must do first. There is a gel amongst my belongings that should be applied to my carapace before the armour is put on."

    Huh. I'd thought that was some sort of Spider-food. I put the armour down and use the ring to bring a tub of the stuff over to me. "Just apply an even layer all over?"

    "It is most important that it covers my joints. The motor systems in the armour supersede my natural hydraulics, and that can lead to my joints becoming painful."

    "Not a problem." I float up over the lip of the mattress and use a construct to pull the lip of the tub. Doesn't really.. smell of anything very much. Two more constructs grab blobs of the stuff and-.

    "I would appreciate it if you could apply it by hand. I am… Not comfortable with your glowing objects."

    "That… Might push us for time." I land on the mattress just behind her, pulling a blob over to me. I send my arm armour and robes into subspace before putting my hands into it. Hah, if my massage teacher back in Happy Harbour could see me now.

    "As long as my legs are covered, it should not prove too unpleasant."

    Hm. Alright. No sense in dillydallying. I put my hands on her carapace where her rear left leg joins the-.

    There appears to be a.. hole, just behind the second leg to the rear.

    "Um. What's.. that..?"

    The Queen rotates her head to see what I'm looking at. "One of my spiracles. Those will also require attention. Carefully ensure that the near-interior is lubricated so that my armour's breathing systems can form an interface."

    Oh, breathing hole. For a moment there I thought… Well, she is naked. She probably has a reproductive opening somewhere around here, but wherever it is, it's reasonably well concealed by her carapace. I offered to give her a medical scan on the way down, but she turned it down. Obviously that wouldn't stop me, but I think it would be a good idea to kick the habit of scanning everyone prior to my meeting with the Controllers. It would be a bit of a faux pas to scan them, after all.

    I work my way down the rear left leg, then start on the second. "I couldn't help but notice that you're physically quite dissimilar to most Spider Guild members."

    "My Nest specialises in biological modification. I will not provide further information on this subject."

    "Alright." The Spider Guild doesn't have any particular prohibition on any area of research, but advanced biology isn't usually their thing. Second leg done, and I move onto the third. The spiracle looks slightly inflamed… Best be extra careful with it.

    "Ah!"

    "Sorry! I'll be more gentle. Just hold still."

    "A-ah!"
     
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  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    11th July
    07:13 GMT -6


    I sit cross-legged in the mana infusion chamber, contemplating my next step.

    "You know… I had been planning to visit the Vega Systems about now."

    Ghia'ta nods. "And the Anti-Life has made you change your plans."

    "No." Hm. "Sort of. Really, it was more… Jade. I mean, I'm certainly weaker than I was. Going there would be… More of a risk now. But with New God technology, I don't think that even the Psions could stop me. Not if I struck hard and fast."

    Ghia'ta smiles at me with an innocence that is both wonderful and painful to behold. "You are staying here because you wish to reignite the flame of love that lies between you?"

    I look down at the polished stone floor. "No. No, I'm not."

    But isn't that… Tempting.

    "Why? Why would you refuse-?"

    "Because I'm-." Because I can barely think about her without feeling the Anti-Life stirring. Because I was locked in a mental loop of her rejecting me for nearly two weeks and it was horrific. "Because I'm not making any important decisions that I can avoid until I'm certain that my thoughts and feelings are my own again. That I'm.. whole.. again."

    "Oh." She looks away. "I see."

    I asked Scott for his best estimate on my recovery, and that turned out to be 'months, if ever'. If it turns out that I've become permanently crippled then I'll consider more extreme methods… But I'm not going to worry about that at the moment. At least I got my left middle finger back.

    Of course, if it's going to be months anyway, then there's not much point in me staying in here. Am I..? Hiding out in my safe place..?

    Heh. Pathetic.

    But what to do instead? I want Lex to find his own level… And I certainly don't want him to see me at anything less than my best, so looming over him is out. Trying to properly mend relations with the League might be a good idea. Pure luck that Captain Adams wasn't here when Darkseid paid me a visit…

    I come to my feet, looking inquisitively at Ghia'ta. "Other than keeping tabs on me, what do you want to do with your time here?"

    "I wish to learn how Humans love. How they express love and how they feel it."

    "Because your aunt made a mess of Carol Ferris?"

    She looks.. a little unhappy about the way I phrased that as I walk past her, out of the infusion chamber and in the direction of Sunset's laboratory. "No. That is…" I can hear her slump. "Perhaps if I met her-."

    "Oh, that's something you should build up to. Quite aside from the way it messed up her personal life, a lot of what your people did with her were criminal acts. I doubt that she'll be in a forgiving mood."

    "Then… Building up to that is what I should do. I.. believe in the wonder of love, and if my knowledge is flawed in some way then that is something which I must address."

    I nod, more to myself than her. "I can respect that. Are you interested in pursuing a romantic relationship yourself while you are here? I know any number of people of good character to whom I could introduce you."

    "... On… Zamaron… We… Practise.. love as a community-."

    "Polyamory is unusual here on Earth, but I imagine that you could find a group if you wanted. Strikes me as a sub-par jumping on point, but if that's what you're used to..."

    "I… Meant that we have an intense sororal love, not that we are romantically in love with one another."

    "Okay, but you're out of your familial home now. The option's there."

    "Perhaps… At some point."

    I nod once again, then come to a halt and knock on Sunset's door.

    "Just a minute!"

    Immediate response, no obvious stutter. Mild improvement. That pleases me. As does the fact that it doesn’t take her anything like a minute to open the door. She's dressed.. neatly, no lab coat or work overalls. She blinks up at me. "Oh. Grayven. I wasn't expecting you. Is the..? Infuser working properly?"

    I shrug. "So far as I can tell. Thank you, again, for what you managed to do for me."

    She shrugs her right shoulder, her right hand briefly taking hold of her upper left arm before falling to her side. "It wasn't… I mean, I had to work with Zatanna to make it."

    "And I'll be sure to thank her as well."

    She looks away with a slight huff. "No, I mean… I should have been able to do this on my own!" She stares up at me, and she's… She's actually looking quite annoyed with herself. "I come from a whole species of magic users, and I couldn't make a.. stupid.. magic infuser on my own."

    "Sunset." I kneel down and put my right hand on her left shoulder. "You had to learn an entirely alien magic system-."

    "I got distracted. I was.. having fun just.. playing around. All I've been doing is testing out magic theories when I should have been making things." She turns away, walking back into her laboratory. I wait a moment, then stand and follow her inside. "I wanted to talk things through with Zatanna-."

    "Sunset. Have you made a friend?"

    She stops dead still. "Ah..? Maybe..?"

    "And Grayven beats Celestia one-nil!"

    She spins around, fists balled. "How can you not take this seriously! We nearly-. You nearly-!"

    "Yeah. And it was pretty horrible. Then life carried on. Darkseid would like nothing better than for everything to be about him. And I am treating him with deadly seriousness. But not every thought I think will be about him, not every action I take will be about him. The antidote to Anti-Life -it turns out- is life." Her fists open, her palms slightly reddened where her fingernails were pressing into her skin. "What are you working on now?"

    "Magic disruptors." She walks over to a workbench upon which sits a series of rune-inscribed pieces of metal. "With everything I've learned about soul structures and.. what I was studying before about how Pony magics combine in Alicorns, I should be able to make a weapon that pulls it all apart. Or at least makes it so a person can't use magic. I'm just… Having trouble making it efficient enough."

    Hush tube.

    By your command.

    The portal appears next to Sunset, the far terminus being just outside Shadowcrest.

    "Shall we?" Sunset nods, picking up a bundle of papers and her tablet before striding through. "Ghia'ta, you may find this instructive."

    "In what way?"

    "I think that speaking to Zatanna's father Giovanni might further your understanding of love."

    She smiles hopefully. "Is he in love?"

    I consider for a moment. "Probably. He's a widower. His wife died horribly about fourteen years ago, and I'm given to understand that he has shown no interest in other women since then. He was also willing to spend the rest of his life locked in a dark void to save his daughter from that fate. He loves, but I'm not sure that he's benefited much from it."

    "I.. am.. not sure that is what I came here to learn."

    I turn my head her way. "As I know full well, love isn't just good feelings. And no complete understanding can be had without also understanding the rest." I look away from her and start walking towards the portal. "But the choice is yours. Uncomfortable wisdom or blissful ignorance."

    I smile slightly as I hear her start after me.
     
  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    11th July
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    "…thought you said it was a spiracle!"

    Representatives of fifteen different armed groups burst out laughing, a Gordanian making a sort of arm-curling gesture in my direction that I instruct the rings not to translate. Amusing as the other Gordanians appear to find it. Uncomfortable as I'm feeling right now, I suppose I should be grateful that Felicity has perked up a little.

    No. Not working. New policy is that unless I have a reasonable suspicion that the subject has power ring manipulation technology on them, they're getting a thorough medical scanning. Third hole back? Not a spiracle.

    A large blue hand thumps onto my left shoulder as Sinak leans towards me, a huge grin on her face. "So! Giant spiders!"

    "She said they were sp-."

    "Now I feel less bad about you ignoring my advances! Bwahahaha!"

    I raise my eyebrows. "You were..? Ugh." I look down, shaking my head. "I'm sorry, I completely missed it. I don't have good records on Okaaran body language."

    "I know I've only got two legs, but that's hahaha!"

    I lift her hand off my shoulder as she slumps over. "It's not that funny."

    Or maybe it is? Most of these guys are going to be stuck in the same room I am and expected to remain on constant alert in case one of the other factions tries something. The Queen was supposed to be the weakest, then she apparently manages to hire The Beast of Okaara. Sexual impropriety on my part probably makes me seem a lot less scary.

    How would the male Spiders even..? I mean, if she's standing up it's above their heads, and if she's lying down then it isn't really accessible

    Why is that in my head?!

    "Giant Spider fetishist, huh?"

    I look around, seeing a well built, gold-skinned woman with short pink hair sticking directly up from her head. "It was a misunderstanding."

    She narrows her eyes, looking at me askance. "I don't think you can misunderstand sticking your hands in someone's-."

    "She became slightly incoherent and I thought she was.. injured.. or something."

    "You know…" She-. Oh, please don't tell me she's a giant Spider fetishist fetishist. That's a good deal more than I'm prepared to deal with at the mom-. "I think that might interest my boss."

    Not… Much better. "Aaaand which one is your boss?"

    Her eyebrows raise. Her facial expressions are fairly Human, considering how.. odd her biology is. The gold colour of her skin appears to be.. evolved to reflect energy weapons. It's even throwing off the ring slightly, and if its calculations are correct then she's far stronger than a Human of equivalent mass would be. I don't think she's Kryptonian-strong, but she might well be Kryptonian-tough.

    "How many gold-skinned gang leaders are there in there?"

    "One, but I didn't want to assume that you were together just because you're the same species."

    "We are, and she likes weird and strong. Mini-Beast with a Spider fetish-."

    "I don't have a-!" Breathe. "I don't have a Spider fetish."

    "Uhuh. I also spotted that you had a Karnan slave and-" She sniffs in Felicity's direction. "-I can't smell you on her. Regular women not work for you? Because the boss-."

    "Are you getting paid for this?"

    "What, soliciting for my boss? No, but our life's usually easier if she's getting some."

    "Being here. Standing outside the negotiating room, looking... Shiny."

    "Are you?"

    "I'm paid by the job, not by the hour. And if I remember correctly, aren't pirates paid a share..?"

    She shrugs. "Yeah?"

    "So you're not getting paid to stand around. This is actually costing you money, because while you're stuck here you're not out pillaging. Right?" She looks hesitant to confirm it. "Pay structures aren't exactly secure information. I'm not asking you to betray your employer, I'm just asking… Is this where you want to be right now?"

    She shrugs again. "I guess not. What's it to you?"

    "Well…" I turn to the now slightly more sombre audience. "Is anyone..? Here… Getting paid by the hour?"

    Sinak nod. "I am, but that's because I'm a mercenary. I'm not crew."

    "Okay." I nod. "Anyone else?"

    A few glance at one another, but the general response appears to be 'no'.

    "Right. Right. You couldn't allow the Spiders to claim a new world, but the only way to actually turn a profit from all the fighting you've already done is if they can be compelled to pay reparations. Even ignoring the threat of the rest of the Guild, destroying the Nest just makes profiting harder, right? And that's what this is ultimately all about. Making money."

    A few grunts of agreement. Most of the audience is just watching me. But not in a particularly hostile way. They're waiting to see where I'm taking this.

    "I'm getting paid by the job. I get exactly the same whether we wrap this up today or in five years, so… I'd rather have it done today. Plus, the chance of someone losing their temper and doing something unfortunate only increases the longer this goes on. Right?"

    A couple more grunts.

    "Now, since I'm pretty sure that the Queen will be going back to her Nest after this and.. not having any further use for me."

    "Aw, already!"

    I make a point of not looking at the Dredfahlian woman who shouted that. "So I just want to get this resolved as fast as possible. And it occurs to me that getting an accurate account of what everyone put in and lost during the fighting would be a good place to start. Now, that is secure information. But, I suspect that most of you have a rough idea what your people lost, and some of you-" I make momentary eye contact with the Coluan woman, who was pointedly avoiding the huddle laughing at my erotic exploits. Purple and green uniform, so she probably works for Commodore Amalak. "-know more than the others. Might I not prevail upon you to share this information in confidence with a disinterested third party? Our superiors could agree a split in principle without knowing exactly what they'd get out of it, I could punch in the numbers, and we could be on our way in a couple of days."

    No one looks enthusiastic. I'm not surprised, it must sound dodgy as anything.

    "Or perhaps you would trust that information to my lovely assistant?" I gesture to Felicity with my right hand. "As an Omega Man she's already ideologically in favour of us all killing each other, and that's a fairly good sign that she doesn't favour any one group over another."

    That gets her a few less than friendly looks, though no one moves immediately.

    "Well, think it over. I'm sure that your employers are well aware-."

    The Coluan woman's eyes widen. "No you fools, that's not a genuine-!"

    Attack alert-!

    The southern wall explodes in brilliant blue fire!
     
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  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    11th July
    13:17 GMT


    Barrier up!

    The two tables closest to the wall -and their occupants- are vaporised immediately as the force field protecting this building weakens and leaks plasma. Null shields are energy cheap and don't fail when they get overloaded, but the down side is that they can be overpowered by comparatively weaker weapons. The flickering flames of the overflow plasma slow and still as the rings accelerate my reactions, then dim as my construct barrier completes and filters the brilliant light.

    What's happening?

    All around me pirates are crouching and drawing weapons. Flickering lights around a few indicate that they're also activating personal shields, but those seem less common. The two gold women who are here from -and this must be a best guess translation- Estrogina's party are grinning, having started to run directly towards the explosion. Quick calculation… Yes, they should be able to take it, though they might well not be able to take whatever else is waiting outside. The Citadelians on guard duty… There's unusual activity in their cranial implants. Communicating with their ship? It's right overhead, so they probably already know who the attacker is. If it's the Omega Men, I suspect that this neighbourhood is about to be short a few buildings. I doubt that they'll hold fire for the benefit of a client world when the one source of open rebellion against their rule comes into the open.

    No, that doesn't sound right. If the Omega Men were stupid, they'd have attacked me last night. Did one of the many local belligerent parties lose their temper? If so, they won’t exist for much longer as a party. The Citadelians take direct military challenges to their authority very seriously. And while there was a sort-of exclusion zone for heavy weapon systems around the negotiation centre, just about every group had rapid response teams just outside that. Since they're pirates, I don’t expect perfect response times, but people are going to be calling in help immediately and it will only be matter of minutes before help starts to arrive.

    What's wrong with this picture?

    This feels stupid. Attacking one party could be reasonable… By local standards. But attacking everyone like this -including myself and the Queen- is a perfect way to unify everyone against the people doing it. Killing all of us might be the Omega Men's goal-. No, they've remained at large due to being a small group. There's no way they can have enough force to fight everyone. And the Citadelian ship is going to be activating its teleport jammers at once. If they were out there, they'd have no way to escape. It can't be them-. It can't directly be them. Someone else? A false flag operation? Feels convoluted. And while none of the local species are telepathic, the Citadel does have… Machines which can destructively read a person's brain. Something like this, if a party at the negotiations set up an attack, they would get found out.

    And frankly I don't think any of them would bother with something like that.

    Laser pulses strike my construct barrier in dozen places. With the null field still functional they're not powerful enough to guarantee one kill per shot but they would disable. Fortunately, my construct barrier can take them for a little whi-.

    Mental pathway damage limit reached. Acceleration discontinued.

    The room explodes into motion. The plasma roars across the room, slamming into my barrier and washing expandthebarrierexpandthebarrier! And… What works against plasma..? Refractor, plasma refractor, that was it! A new construct forms and the plasma ball blasts upwards, incinerating a good chunk of the roof as it goes. It visibly weakens again as it passes through the null zone a second time, the force holding it together collapsing and the remaining material dispersing into the air.

    Praexis Demons go!

    "Who the [to eat discarded scales] did that!?"

    Ring, scan!

    "Call in backup! Get the boss!"

    And where's Felicit-?

    "Ah, shit."

    The.. shape of the pulse of yellow grabs my attention. Sort of a 'feel-the-fear-and-do-it-anyway' thing.

    "Vran Gozzi to all operatives. Alpha-override, disregard last command. Confirm command at once."

    A Dredfahlian in purple and green takes aim at a Gordanian standing just in front of him and shoots, a thin purple ray boring through his head. A Rannian in similar clothing draws a faintly glowing knife blade and stabs at-.

    My construct shield, which blocks the strike that would have otherwise struck an Aellan. Rannians aren't easily susceptible to.. reasonably-safe stunning, so I opt to form chains around her arms and legs and pull her to the floor.

    "Whaoughff!"

    Dredfahlians regenerate pretty well, but they're not much harder to stun than Humans. Just as long as you maintain the stun-effect. He collapses just as the rest of the purple and green crew throw themselves at the nearest enemy.

    FOR GOODNESS SAKE!

    Felicity stares at a… A Voorlian in purple and green who is swinging his sidearm around in an arc which just happens to include her. Ring, is transition being blocked?

    Negative.

    A flicker of orange and she's by my side and covered in construct armour.

    Shots ring out, hum out, fizz and zap out, fists, feet and other melee implements fly. What just..? The Commodore doesn’t get anything out of wrecking this. Does he? Given that he's here and the Citadelian warship is right overhead-.

    My scan of the exterior shows some sort of electrical discharge crackling over the warship's hull as ships I registered as being part of the Commodore's fleet begin what looks worryingly like an attack run. Closer at hand, the Commodore's rapid response units appears to have been quickest off the mark. Praexis Demons, intercept. Everyone else?

    Get down.

    Construct chains shoot up from the floor, latch onto everyone and tug them to the ground. One man with a force field stares around in bemusement for a moment as my chains slide off him, then I shoot him with a crumbler round and he joins the rest. Shouts of rage, pain and confusion come from all parts of the pirate people pile. I ignore them, focusing on picking out everyone in purple and green and lifting them towards the hole in the wall. Everyone else gets shoved back a little, then released.

    Of the twelve of them who were in the room at the start, ten are still alive. Including the Coluan woman. I float out in front of her as the rest of the gang pull themselves up and raise their weapons. Most get pointed at the purple and greens, but more than a few get aimed at me-.

    A Dredfahlian takes a step towards Felicity. I don't look around as I use an orange energy beam to send him flying into the back wall.

    The Coluan woman in front of me is frustrated, but there isn't much red showing. She's mostly green. Right now Colu and most of its citizens are under the most unkind domination of the Computer Tyrants. Her being here is incongruous in itself.

    "Are you in charge?"

    "No. Whoever just hacked our communication network and sent an attack-order is. I am no longer able to contact our forces."

    "You're in charge of nothing, foo-!"

    The Gordanian joins the Dredfahlian against the back wall.

    "Do you have a protocol for standing your forces down from this point? If you do not, I may have to kill them all."

    Two well-fed Praexis Demons fall from my construct armour, orientate themselves and then fly back towards the purple and green reinforcements. They're.. already eating them. Of course they are, of course-. Praexis Demons, consume equipment only.

    "No. At this point, the protocol requires that the Commodore rescind the order himself."

    "Well he can hardly have missed-."

    The door to the meeting area flies off its hinges, the bloody and semi-conscious Commodore Amalak landing on the floor just outside as the grinning Estrogina stalks through after him. "Knew he was up to something. Girls? Crack some skulls!"
     
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  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    11th July
    13:20 GMT


    I raise my hands as the crowd starts backing away from the gold women falling in beside their boss. "Ms.. Estrogina, this is the result of a misco-"

    The Coluan woman behind me inhales sharply. "You can't talk her down! She's a berserker!"

    "-mmunication, which we're-."

    "Hraah!" One of Estrogina's henchwomen -Muliebria, the blue haired one I spoke to yesterday- leaps at me. Gosh darn super strength! I generate a construct claw to catch her in the air and-. It evaporates as it touches her skin. Huh? I yank myself to the side as she slams into the ground where I was standing. Okay, not construct-. Weapons fire and.. the squelches of super strength pulverising flesh. Screams follow almost immediately.

    Not constructs. I'm out of Muliebria's line of sight, but the members of Amalak's crew I've got bound in construct chains aren't. Muliebria grins at the Coluan woman, then pulls back her right fist-.

    And spasms uncontrollably as my sonic cannon constructs remind her that there's no such thing as invulnerability.

    "Ahduhduhduhduhd…!"

    Okay, very quick test. Brand? No. Assimilate? No. Filament? No.

    Gah! How is there a species that's just immune to constructs?!

    Then Muliebria twists, shoving her left hand through the right sonic cannon construct. "Not bad, Spider-Man. But we-" I form another cannon and pull them out of her arms' reach. She takes a staggering step. "-can… Take…"

    Come on, where can I put the prisoners? Other side of the road, on the top of the building. Not.. safe, but safer than being in a confined environment with super strength brawlers. My captives yelp as they go flying backward as Muliebria straightens up under the assault of-. That's a lot of sonic energy.

    She turns to fully face me as pirates flee the golden women. "Come on then, Little Beast. Show me-."

    Railguns form, tungsten slamming into her eyes a fraction of a second later. She falls back a half-step, then steadies herself. Turn up the power… Okay, what's happening to the rounds? They're flattening as they hit, most of the force bleeding off somehow… It's not a question of strength, she's nothing like heavy enough to generate the friction she'd need to stay upright under this sort of attack. Her toughness works by force nullification, then? Or part of-.

    She ducks and then leaps again. A steel cord from subspace wraps around her legs from behind and pulls her up short, the tips of the fingers of her right hand brushing lightly against my construct armour… Which remains solid. Whatever these gold women do, they're not straight up disrupting my constructs…

    "Geh." She hits the floor, glares at me for a moment, then bends to pull the cord from her legs. No. As Amalak's crew land on the far roof I connect the rope to a solid orange line and tug her upwards into the air. Five hundred metres, a kilometre, two… Looks like she can't fly, but… She's not pulling at the cord any longer. She should be able to survive the landing. Or.. maybe I've misjudged..? No, that doesn't matter. I turn around. I need to-.

    Estrogina tilts her head slightly to the left, looking disappointed. "A rope? Lame." She cracks her knuckles. "Still, looks like you're the best there is around here…"

    The remains of two dozen or so pirates litter the floor, some still living and others decidedly not. Amalak himself..? Not moving, though his eyes are open and he's tracking both myself and Estrogina. I doubt that he's going to get up until the coast is clear.

    "Miss Estrogina-"

    "Hah!"

    "-this really isn't necessary." Ring, where are-? The Queen's still in the negotiation chamber, crouched down with her armour's force fields turned up as far as they can go. One of Estrogina's people is sitting on her, looking bored. Felicity joined the flow of pirates outside and is taking cover as best she can, trying to get away from the active combat zones that appear to have sprung up just about everywhere.

    Ah, heck. One of the bodies on the ground is a Citadelian.

    "I know it's not necessary." She shrugs, grinning. "But it's fun! Fighting the Spiders was all about-" She glums, rolling her eyes and waving her hands to the side. "-ship-fighting. I only got to do one boarding action the whole war! And now they're all saying I can't attack the Nest World."

    "This… Isn't you, is it? You didn't-?"

    "What? Con Amalak's crew into attacking? How the heck would I do that? He's got all kinds of… Protocols, and stuff." Without turning around she points her left arm at him. "And don't think I haven't seen you watching." She shrugs again. "Kinda thought he'd be a harder fight. Eh."

    "You do realise that making this collapse will probably result in the Spiders coming in with a fleet and all of your allies fighting each other?"

    "I know." She beams. "Isn't it great? I was planning a run on the Beast, and now I get a great warm-up-."

    "Which could result in the destruction of all the ships you'd need to actually get to Okaara."

    "What?" She shrugs again. "We're not going to destroy everything. And the fighting's got to move away eventually. I only bothered coming here 'cause I knew a fight was going to break out somehow. And now I get to fight you."

    "I don't really want-."

    "Or Ovula rips your Queen's head off."



    "Can I think about-?"

    She moves forward, not a leap like her subordinate but a light-footed dash in my direction. Right! I tra-. Felicity's taking fire, can't transition or her armour will fail. I dodge, loading crumbler rounds as I go. Estrogina's quick on her feet, but it's nothing sparring with Kon and Diana hasn't prepared me for. Crumblers are kind of-

    "Graaaahh!"

    -all or nothing and I don't actually want to kill her yet. Instead, I form a plasma thrower construct and shoot her in the face. The flash of green howls through the air and.. splashes off her skin. All it achieves -dodge- is mildly ruffling her hair.

    Fine. But with precision. I target her left leg and fire at low power. She sidesteps, my round disintegrating a hemisphere out of the floor. A volley of three shots follows as she twists, trying to keep out of my line of fire. One round hits her in the abdomen-

    "Ah!"

    -destroying a chunk of her clothing and causing the gold skin beneath to tarnish slightly. She stops, looking down at her torso in disbelief.

    Then she looks up, grinning even more. "Ovula! If he doesn't fight me hand to hand, kill the Queen!"

    "Right!"

    I'm not sure how useful keeping the Queen alive actually is. I'm not sure that I can do anything to stop the fighting spreading. But if I'm doing this, I should commit fully. I've got the Sword of the Fallen in a sheath on the outside of my armour but I'm not sure that would work here. Instead, I drop my construct armour, turn on my kinetic shield and take an x-ionised short sword out of subspace.

    "This is pointless."

    "You should try to enjoy-" I fire another crumbler volley as I land, the front of her clothing disintegrating and the back part falling off. "-life." She grins, gritting her teeth as most of the rest of her golden skin mottles.

    "I don't enjoy being stupid." I land. "Are we doing this?"

    She lunges, both hands outstretched!
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2019
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  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    When I first made power armour, it moved exactly as I assumed that it would. Clunky. Awkward. Oh, strong, sure, but the antithesis of agility.

    That was before the armour's systems had time to adapt to how I move. These days? Things are a little different.

    I sidestep, slashing out with the x-ionised sword. It cuts through Estrogina just under the ribs on her left side, droplets of golden brown… Blood..? Running freely from the wound. Two dancing steps and I've turned before her feet are back on the ground, thumping my right leg down and pushing off. My right fist hits her directly in her left ear and.. whatever it is that let Muliebria shrug off my hits doesn't seem to be active. She tumbles away from me, bouncing shoulder first on the floor before slamming onto her back and sliding across the ground until she hits a body.

    "Are you finished?"

    She pulls herself up into a sitting position, her right middle and index fingers touching her wounded side. She looks at the blood for a moment… Then she licks her fingers, grinning at me.

    "Do it again."

    Oh, for goodness"Look, you do realise that the Citadelians are going to-."

    She moves, grabbing the body from behind her as she comes up to a crouch and throwing it at me. I catch the poor bastard with a construct hand and shove him aside as she dances forwards. Okay, I'm running out of ideas here. I could cold gun her, pour some sort of quick-setting gel down her throat, stab her a whole lot more… Killing her isn't the difficulty here. She's one of the three who absolutely have to agree with any settlement reached here, and she doesn't seem at all bothered by what's going-.

    Ring, is Amalak wearing a communication device?

    Confirmed.

    Anything you feel like contributing, Commodore?

    Keep me alive and I will reward you well.

    That-. He's got a point there. I don’t need to fight her, I just need to keep the Queen and him alive. That, or throw up my hands, bond with the Ophidian and forcibly disarm all participants myself.

    And then probably fight Larfleeze immediately.

    No.

    First, disengage. Estrogina appears to have been planning to charge me while her position was obscured by the body. That option blown, she advances more slowly, fists balled and feet light. A feint from her left prompts me to shift to the side, but I don't counter. No sense giving her something to grab onto. Now… She's naked, her musculature struggling to support the heft of her breasts without the assistance of clothing. She clearly doesn't have any sort of communication gear… Ovula -and seriously, who named these ladies?- will only know that she's supposed to kill the Queen if she hears a verbal command. Or if Estrogina runs -step, turn the punch aside without touching her hand, lean back- into the negotiation room.

    Right. Ring, null field. Don’t let any vibrations from her get back to Ovula.

    Compliance.

    Mimic Estrogina's voice.

    Compliance.

    Estrogina's strikes are getting faster. She's actually trying to lure my arms out of position to block her strikes. But… As far as I can tell, she's not a particularly technically skilled fighter. Probably used to just being tougher than-. I misstep, a severed hand sliding slightly under my left boot. For a second my balance is off. And she uses the opportunity to grab at my right arm while I can't pull it away without fully overbalancing. I fly back instead-

    "Ovula! Pull off one of her legs!"

    -and land two metres away. Ring, tell Ovula: 'Forget the Queen, go have some fun.'

    Compliance. Ovula has replied 'you got it, boss'.

    "I just wanted a fight, and if you're not-."

    "You wanted a punching bag. When was the last time you fought someone who could actually threaten you?"

    She flashes me a savage grin. "You can try stabbing me again-"

    "Thank you."

    "-if you gahh-!"

    X-ionised stiletto blades appear from subspace and stab into her, legs, feet and lungs. Should slow her down somewhat. I blink, the ring showing me that Ovula has left by the far side exit and that Felicity has found somewhere to hide that appears reasonably safe. I grab Amalak with a filament and yank him over to me before transitioning us both into the meeting room. Any medical record on him?

    Species listed as 'extinct'. Formerly resident in Space Sector Two Eight One Three.

    Huh, small universe. I shoot the Queen's force field with a crumbler round before tagging her with a filament and transitioning us both to the space port.

    "Biological data not found. However, the subject's body does not resist scans. Data can be extrapolated with a high degree of accuracy."

    He isn't one of mine, but I'm invested in this situation now and him being more or less in one piece is something that leads to the end I want.

    Basic repairs.

    Orange light strobes over him, his cuts and bruises disappearing. Compliance.

    "Commodore, your majesty, we have a slight-" An armed flying car, probably an upgraded civilian vehicle, slams hard into the rockcrete about thirty metres from our position. Since it doesn't use any sort of fuel that could explode it remains in one piece, but its battery breaches and there's a sudden flash as the air around it momentarily electrifies. The four individuals inside are… Fried. "-problem."

    "Vran, progress report." Amalak's eyes unfocus slightly as the Queen gets to her feet. "Naturally. Amalak to all operatives, abandon attack and apply fallback plan three." He glances at me. "No, not necessary. You? Yes." I get his full attention. "Lantern, our communications were accessed by the Omega Men. They.. somehow spoofed my authentication. I've given the retreat order, but-" He looks up at the chaotic gunfire crossing the skies around us. "-I fear that will be inadequate to salvage the situation."

    I look up towards the Citadelian capital ship. "How long until the Citadelians get their big guns functional again?"

    "Uncertain. Their skills at in-field repairs is poor, but if there are Psions on board… Any time now."

    "My thoughts are, get you and Jarko to agree a truce and tell the Citadel it was Estrogina and the Omega Men."

    He nods. "That may work. If we have one party or the other to hand over. Estrogina is not easy to contain."

    "Yes, I-. Excuse me." I transition upwards, grab the steel cord attached to Muliebria's leg just before she can crash into a building and then transition-.

    Unable to comply.

    Fly back towards the space port at full speed. How are they this resistant to power ring technology? And Felicity, do I need to grab-? The Coluan woman and her surviving retinue appear to be taking her to some sort of safe house. Safe… For now, though I imagine that Amalak will hand her over to the Citadelians if we don't find some other white lamb.

    I hope me fighting comic book heroes isn't about to become a theme.

    Ring, find me Jarko.

    Subject found.



    Oh drat.
     
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  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    11th July
    13:41 GMT

    I smile politely at the construct screen. "Mister Jarko, thank you for taking my call."

    He waves it off. "No trouble at all, dear boy. From the sounds of things you were behaving as the very font of reason. Such a shame that certain people didn't feel like following your example."

    "Mister Jarko, you ordered your people to shoot everyone not allied to you."

    "Well, naturally." He nods. "I felt that I should provide clear direction and leadership."

    I grit my teeth. Just a little. "Mister Jarko… You appear to be fleeing the system."

    He favours me with a small smile from the command throne of his flagship. "Yes, I rather think that I am. One of my enemies makes an alliance with The Beast of Okaara-"

    "I'm not The Beast."

    "-and another uses it as an opportunity for an ambush? A third sends her ladies running rampant for a bit of a jolly? I've quite had my fill of this entirely misnamed 'peace conference', thank you so very much. I'll.. set something up with anyone who's still alive in a day or so."

    Ring, system map?

    Compliance.

    "One of the Citadel fleets is going after you. With an interdiction field. My calculations suggest that you won't be able to get far enough away to escape them."

    He fans out his hands. "But I don't need to. If I split my fleet, there's no way for them to intercept every ship before we reach the nominal edge of the Vega Systems. The Green Man doesn't care for me very much… But he positively loathes the Citadel. I rather doubt that they'll risk it. Particularly if…" His smile broadens. "Someone happened to tip him off..?"

    Ring, current location of-. Ah.

    I nod, then swirl my left hand in a circle and generate a construct image of his fleet just above it. "True. However…"

    Ring, mark Mister Jarko's ship.

    Compliance.

    "If someone told the Citadelians exactly which ship you were on… Things might work out a little differently."

    His smile freezes. "Stand by."

    His connection ends, leaving me with a glowing orange rectangle. I turn left, making momentary eye contact with Commodore Amalak. "Well?"

    "He'll check your calculations, bellow once or twice, then get back in touch. One minute forty three seconds at most." He returns to studying Muliebria's floating form. "Where did you get the technology to do this?"

    Several species use forms of locomotion suspension on problematic prisoners, but those usually have… Limits. I drew upon their work and added multiple kinetic barriers to the suspension unit. Muliebria has been punching and kicking it pretty much continuously since I stopped juggling her and shoved her inside and it's holding out just fine.

    "Here and there."

    He nods, apparently not concerned by my non-answer. "And you believe that you can get Estrogina inside one?"

    "Should be able to. Of course, if there is any information you can give me about her abilities that would make it a more certain thing..?"

    He nods. "I don't know as much about her as I would like to. I first became aware of her after she captured one of my cargo transports, forced it to divert into Jarko's territory and then performed a reverse-boarding on the ships he sent to intercept it. She and her fellow golden women demonstrated a variety of unusual physical abilities. The rest of her people are hangers on and would-be suitors. Khundians, for the most part. I had a couple of my people infiltrate one of her after-action parties to see what they could find out. They didn't find out much, but according to them, they call themselves 'Zamaron Pirates'."

    "Za-?" I frown. "They're not Zamarons. Zamarons look like-" I generate a construct image of one. "-that. And Zamaron is a very long way from here."

    "I wasn't able to confirm it, but given their behaviour I doubt they were intentionally lying. Perhaps there's more than one place called-?"

    My screen construct comes back to life, a decidedly less jovial Mister Jarko looking down at us. "What do you want?"

    "A workable, long-lasting peace settlement."

    "Oh yes. I'm sure that when the Citadelians shoot us all dead things will be very peaceful. Why not just take your lover-Spider and go?"

    "Because then the Spider Guild will try expanding again. Do you want that?"

    "No, but they're not paying me to."

    "They're not paying me to, either. I'm just here to protect the Queen at this meeting. And the Guild isn't usually eager to hire outside help."

    "A commendably mercenary attitude, but I don't understand what you think I can do about it."

    "Simple." Commodore Amalak steps forward. "The Omega Men sent an attack command to my troops, but my techs caught on too fast for them to remove their traces. We can prove that's what happened."

    "And Estrogina? I seem to recall her remonstrating with you rather viciously when I teleported out."

    "If we can't find the Omega Men, I'll hand her over to the Citadelians as the responsible party."

    Jarko claps, his eyes lighting up. "O-ho! That is good! I'm sure that the Psions would be just delighted to get their claws on a creature such as her!" The screen flickers, and he's in a slightly different place when it stabilises. "I'm coming back. I have to take a slightly circuitous route to avoid hostile ships…" He leans forward. "And if you don’t have her in custody when I get back… I'll shoot you dead from orbit and fly on by. I'm sure the Citadel will be only too happy to blame the Spiders and not their sole remaining significant business partner."

    I nod. "Thank you, Mister Jarko. We'll see you shortly."

    "Toodle-oo."

    The screen goes dead, and I dismiss the construct.

    "Right. I'd best go and collect her." I look the Queen's ship over. With shields active it makes a reasonable bunker, and most of the fighting is elsewhere… "Are you going to be alright here?"

    "My personal barrier has recharged and I'll be under the cover of the space port's defences. I should be. But would it not be easier to hand over your Karnan slave to the Citadel? She is a member of the Omega Men."

    "She's been with the Omega Men for less than a local year, before which she was an exotic dancer. She's not exactly Primus. They haven't even placed an individual bounty on her yet."

    "If she knows where they are-."

    "She doesn't. I asked, and she can't lie to me unless I allow her to. So unless you've got a lead on the rest of the Omega Men..?"

    "Why can't you find them?"

    "There are ways to shield a person from power ring scans. They appear to be using one. I could certainly find them eventually… Do you want to risk the wait?"

    "Very well." He nods at me. "On your way."

    Okay, so what's Felicity up t-?

    "Before I do that, would you mind making sure your people know I'm friendly? I should probably help extract them first. In the name of continued cooperation."
     
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  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    11th July
    13:46 GMT


    "Sorry about this."

    The second Citadelian slumps to the ground, unconscious, while fire from… A group of Gordanian clansmen steadily abrades my construct barrier. I might have Amalak's agreement in principle that it isn't worth handing Felicity over, but taking the risk doesn't seem at all sensible. Estrogina is -naturally- hard to scan for, so I had a Praexis Demon divert from eating the power cell of a field artillery piece to the conference centre. She's cautiously pulled the knives out and bound her wounds, but she doesn't seem inclined to go anywhere. If she is still capable of doing so.

    I thrust my barrier forwards, causing the Gordanians to duck for cover as I establish a new barrier just behind it. Ring scan shows Ms Gozzi's team inside the fortified structure we're fighting outside and I don't want them to decide to kill anyone else. Talking the Citadel fleet down will be hard enough without deaths that we can't semi-legitimately blame on the Omega Men. Gordanians are quite a bit more resilient than Humans and wear decent armour, but it still leaves parts of their bodies unprotected and they aren't 'power ring protected' tough.

    Filaments flash out, grab and subspace their guns -I'll give those back once things are settled- and stab into their necks just under their jaws. Stunned, all six of them fall to the ground. I expand my constructs, grabbing them and pulling them out of sight of the street. Next, I chain their ankles and wrists and chain the chains together. A fleeting moment of… Disappointment? Gordanians aren't super strong. They're roughly Kaldur-strong, but they aren't going to shatter titanium chains.

    Am I really disappointed by that? No… It's more that I can contain super strong people but forcing a civilised resolution to a knotty negotiation is something I haven't trained for a year to achieve.

    Sighing faintly, I knock on the door to the fortified structure. "Ahoy the house. I need to put these gentlemen somewhere safe and to retrieve my-" I only hesitate for a moment. "-slave."

    Communication laser detected. Decoding.

    "Submit verification code."

    "Certainly, Ms Gozzi." Ring, do it.

    Code transmitted.

    "Verified. You better have a good reason for killing a Citadelian."

    "Not dead, just stunned. Would you mind hurrying up? We've only got-."

    The recessed entranceway opens inwards, an apparently normal wall with a door in the middle revealed to be a disguise for a seriously armoured mechanism. A Dredfahlian woman and an Aellan man in Amalak's uniform wait just inside, plasma carbines pointed past me at the empty street beyond. The woman switches her gun to one hand and then pulls out a small personal medical scanner and points it at the Citadelian. There's a quiet chime and she nods, returning the scanner to its holster.

    "Get them inside, right now."

    Down the corridor there's an empty room to the right. Ring, anything blocking transitioning?

    No.

    A series of orange flickers marks the Gordanian's disappearance and reappearance as I stride into the opening. "Where are you keeping Felicity?"

    I know full well, but there are sensor-dampening materials in the armour that Amalak's people somehow snuck in here before the conference started. Probably long before, actually; if he does business here on a regular basis it would make sense to have hidey holes set up just in case.

    The Aellan steps aside as I come in. "First on the left."

    I nod and smile underneath my helmet. "Thank you." Obviously, he can't see the smile. I wonder if making the helmet expressive would..? No.

    I walk along the corridor, turning into the room indicated. The rest of Ms Gozzi's group are in here, as is the woman herself. And Felicity, who looks up from next to her and waves at me. Ms Gozzi appears to be using a small workstation to check their communications gear. "…that we add to the bounty on Dark Flea. The intrusion methods required to access our equipment would be advanced enough to breach anything it would be practical to roll out across the organisation."

    "Do you know why they targeted you?"

    "Theories, but no proof." She doesn't look up as she continues playing a molecular mapper over the device. "Someone familiar with how we operate might deduce that we were the group most likely to have a detailed contingency attack plan. But if killing us and alienating us from one another was the aim, subverting the Citadelian communication network would have made more sense."

    Communicator..? A filament darts out, takes the neck-mounted device from their guest and deposits it on the table next to her. "Tell you anything?"

    This time she does glance at me for a moment, before taking a data probe from her tool rack and holding it against the communicator. Where would she..? Ah, a machine/mind interface. The fact that Coluans can handle those is part of how the Computer Tyrants are able to keep control. If she got away, it's a little surprising that she is still willing to use it. Mm, maybe Coluans -or at least her in particular- are just that rational.

    "They did. There's an apparently authentic order in the system, telling them to kill the faction leaders."

    "Are you saying they… Exercised their judgement, and chose not to?"

    "I could believe they might refuse through cowardice, but… This order was sent to the entire battle group. The fleet commander at least should have followed it."

    Would they have refused an order because it was immoral or stupid? Every record I have on the Citadel says 'no'. Were they bribed..? What, all of them? No. Jarko wouldn't have fled if he'd been paying them not to go after him. Amalak wouldn't have been showing that quite real and well controlled yellow… The Queen? Possible

    Worry about it later. "Felicity, with me, if you please."

    She rises elegantly to her feet. "Certainly, master." She.. flounces over to me-. What's going on there? No, never mind. A filament tags her and refits one of my earlier armour variants to her size. She squeaks slightly as it appears around her. Right, reasonably protected. Estrogina still where I left her?

    Confirmed.

    The scenery flickers and we both appear in the air over the conference centre. I take a quick scan to make sure that we're not about to be shot by anything too heavy… No, it looks like the fighting has moved away… And.. those are Thanagarian mercenaries, herding the belligerent parties away from the residential area. Of course, the smaller groups haven't been involved in the post-fight negotiations and don't have the resources to set up safe houses…

    Have to broadcast something… Later, later. I begin taking material out of subspace to assemble a new force cage.

    "Mpff." Felicity tries speaking without triggering the armour's communication system. Ring, remote activate. "How do-?" The basic frame takes shape… I've got enough titanium. Something exotic would be better, but I don't want to hand what little orichalcum I have over to the Citadel. And once she's out of my hands I can pretty much stop caring. "Master, what are you making?"

    "A cage for Estrogina. The Citadel are going to want someone to blame for this mess. The Omega Men would be best, but I don’t know where they are and… I'm going to assume that you'd rather-" I start adding kinetic absorption units. The minimum number for it to function is sixteen. Twice that is safer. "-I didn't hunt them down."

    She hesitates for a moment, a flare of fear forming at the idea. "No, master."

    "So we can blame them, but they're going to want to take custody of someone and Estrogina escalated things into this mess. Bit of a lucky stroke for Amalak…" Back up power supply, external shielding… "But too bad. I need this to stop, and this is the most expedient way I can think of."

    "What will they do with her?"

    "Don't know, but she's a murderer and a pirate. She's not at the top of my list of priorities."

    And since I plan on dealing with the Citadel and the Psions eventually, I can always rescue her later.
     
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  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    11th July
    13:26 GMT


    Estrogina staggers to her feet as I float into the room, Felicity just behind me. "What..? Didn't you think I was…" She coughs, then spits out a blob of sandy brown blood. "Worth killing?"

    "No one's paying me to kill you, Ms Estrogina."

    "And that..?" She pants. "You want to cage me."

    "Are your wounds mortal?"

    "What do you care?"

    "My intent was to prevent you killing anyone. I was trying to disable you, not kill you. If you need-."

    "So you can put me back in a aghhgraooughgrahh!"

    Her angry rant trails off into a series of coughs, doubling her over as she expectorates more sandy brown phlegm.

    Back in a..? She looks pretty disabled, but I don't want to take a risk with Felicity. Or myself. Ring, prepare to transition us away if necessary.

    Compliance.

    "What are you talking about? I haven't caught you before."

    "I'm done talking to you!" She doesn't straighten up so much as stagger towards me, pulling my stilettos from her impromptu dressings and hurling them at me. I interpose construct barriers, the knives striking and failing to penetrate. I return them to subspace. Okay, how much muscular control do I think she has now? Ring, now she's got holes in her -I send a platform construct under the floor as she barrels towards us, ripping it free as she runs over it and sending her into the air- can you scan her better?

    Partial internal view available.

    Estrogina rolls off the chunk of floor before it hits anything, landing-

    "Oowagh!"

    -in a heap on the floor. Ah heck. I take more chains out of subspace, wrap them around her torso, neck and upper arms and hoik her off the ground and into the cage. Activate!

    "AAAAAGH!"

    She tenses her right arm and swings, the chain binding it snapping as it's pulled in separate directions by my construct and her arm. Then the part of the chain still attached to her stops, as does her arm. Estrogina's eyes widen.

    "Orange Lantern to Amalak. Subject secured. Making our way to you now. Status of the Citadelians?"

    "Unhappy, but I've sent them my evidence and they say they're prepared to accept my version of events. They then destroyed three of my ships, killing all on board, to show exactly how unhappy they were."

    "I'm sorry to hear that."

    "I was expecting worse. Jarko will be getting back shortly. It would be… Advantageous… If the fighting were fully suppressed by the time we present our case to Admiral Dakyn."

    I lift the three of us off the ground and start flying us in the direction of the landing zone. "Understood. I'll make that my next highest.. priority…"

    I see the dead Citadelian on the floor. With things as delicate as they are, knowing why they refused the attack order could be invaluable in working out how to stop the Omega Men messing things up any further. His implants…

    [​IMG]

    I wait until Estrogina and Felicity are out of line of sight, then take one of the x-ionised stilettos from subspace. A construct claw grips the Citadelian's head and the knife cuts cleanly through his bulbous skull, bone and brain parting in a torrent of blood. Slice there and there… Construct tweezers appear and carefully pull the implant free. Due to the fact that they seldom leave Vega I don't have good records on Citadelian communication protocols. Handing this over to Ms Gozzi would probably be the best bet. Don't know if subspacing it will affect it, but I don't want to risk it. I create a construct-pouch on the outside of my armour and store it there. Next… I use a construct to pick up one of the fallen plasma weapons and shoot the Citadelian in the partially dissected head.

    That should hide the missing implant.

    I return the gun to where I got it, then fly after Felicity and Estrogina.

    Felicity had her head turned as far as her armour would allow, looking back at me. "Master, she looks very badly injured. Might.. you..?"

    "Yes. Estrogina, hold still."

    "Get… Tail-raped by an Electroderm!"

    First, the lungs. Two thin probes enter the wounds in her chest. Just the skin that's construct proof. Tissue, can we scan the tissue? Good, good. Suck out the blood, stick the tissue together with... Would that be toxic? Good. Stick it together, then pull out… Right. Can you work out a sedative from that?

    Individual's physiology is too divergent from anything in this ring's database to suggest a safe sedative.

    Okay. Anything life threatening left?

    No, though the lack of records on this species' physiology means that this conclusion is not certain.

    Fine. Keep monitoring her.

    Compliance.

    And open a secure line to Ms Gozzi.

    Compliance.

    "
    Orange Lantern to Ms Gozzi."

    "Here. Speak."

    "I've secured the implants of one of the Citadelian guards from the conference."

    There's a momentary delay. "Did you kill him yourself?"

    "No, of course not."

    "Who killed him?"

    Ring? Oh. "One of the henchmen of a minor party to the conference. Estrogina killed him and his grip on his weapon tightened as he fell. Why does it matter?"

    "Killing a Citadelian is a thing that they do not let people walk away from. You disguised that you took the implants?"

    "Of course."

    "I would be.. interested in performing an analysis. No one else here will recognise the implants for what they are, and if they do they're thoroughly implicated anyway."

    "I was hoping that you'd say that." I hold out my right arm, materials emerging from subspace to form a small courier drone. "I'm sending it your way now. Obviously, I expect a full report on your findings."

    "Agreed." There's a slight fizz sound as she disconnects. I load the implant into the drone and send it on its way. It's tough, has a weak force field, sensor dampening and is pretty fast. On the off-chance that it's intercepted it will self destruct, destroying the implant.

    I wonder why the Citadelians have those? The First Citadelian was by all accounts an extremely successful warlord. His clones shouldn't be as dim-witted as they are. Something to ponder, I suppose.
     
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  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    11th July
    16:12 GMT


    Eight of the heavily armoured assault escorts descend in perfect formation, heading for the landing zone. The original design looks Branx, but they've increased the armour and energy shields in exchange for increased energy consumption. I know from the ring's scans that they're also faster and more agile than they look; these will happily serve as interceptors, attack craft or escorts for landing craft. Since they're designed to deploy from a battleship and not to operate on their own for an extended period, the change in focus makes sense.

    Weapon hardpoints rotate, ensuring that every part of the surrounding environment is covered. Larger weapons are trained on the attack craft that have landed nearby… or on me.

    I smile and wave.

    "Lord Be-. Ah, Orange Lantern?"

    The representative from Raggashoon city government nervously makes the outward-pointing-thumbs gesture that is his people's polite request for attention. A few other notables have joined us for this meeting: the Flight Commander of the Thanagarian mercenaries as well as a couple of local business people. Some of the gang leaders from the negotiations -those with the sense to get their heads down when everything went sideways- are here as well, but they are being kept back by the Thanagarians.

    "Yes?"

    "On behalf of the City of Raggashoon, I wished to thank you for your assistance. If not for your aid, the fighting would most likely have carried on into the industrial and residential areas." The Flight Commander glances our way. "And your efforts at negotiation… We would have lost a great deal of business if one or more parties became permanently excluded from the Vega Systems."

    "You're welcome. Though I should point out that Estrogina's people almost certainly will be excluded."

    I wasn't exactly subtle about flying their clearly defeated and contained leader across a chunk of the city. Still, I was slightly surprised that they had the sense to flee rather than continue rampaging. Having not identified their ships in advance, I couldn't tell which of the runners they were on from a distance and I had better things to do than chase down and inspect every ship individually.

    "The other Zamaron Pirates, certainly. But they were few in number, and the other members of her gang will just need to switch their transponders."

    I nod. Perhaps I should think the worse of him for his attitude, but in reality that adaptation to circumstances is probably what has allowed this planet to… If not exactly flourish, then at least be a reasonable place to live under Citadel domination.

    "Gozzi to Orange Lantern."

    "Excuse me." My helmet comes out of subspace and appears on my head. Privacy on. "Orange Lantern here. What do you have?"

    "They received attack orders. But those orders were countermanded immediately, before they could even decide how to put them into effect."

    "What? Some sort of… Monitoring system? They keep records of what their soldiers are thinking, just in case one of them thinks something they're not supposed to?"

    "No. I am familiar with that sort of-"

    Idiot! "Of course, I'm sorry.."

    "-implant. This was connected to the parts of the brain concerned with visceral responses. They received the order, then were told that it wasn't plausible that it was genuine."

    "Interesting. Though I suppose that you can't-" A beam of white light illuminates an area in the centre of the ring of Citadelian ships as their high-gain teleporter activates. A moment later a squad of heavily armed Citadelian marines step out, weapons at the ready. Veterans. I can tell due to the more extensive nature of their cybernetic implants. "-take advantage of it yourself."

    "Not with our own soldiers, certainly. Still, this is knowledge that the Citadel guards jealously."

    "Happy I could help. Did you learn anything about how they were told it was ridiculous?"

    "I'm not.. certain. If I were creating a system like this, I would connect each implant to my own brain. But I am Coluan; I can cope with that sort of input. A Citadelian could not. Not without substantial augmentation."

    "Senior Citadelians have substantial cranial cybernetics."

    "Not enough. They would need a full hyperprocessor array, as well as a communication system capable of handling the input and output."

    "The Citadel Complex." Which would also explain why they use Gordanians. The system can only support so many users.

    "That is the most likely location for it. Of course, they aren't simple drones. Jamming it wouldn't do much to disrupt them. If that were even possible."

    "Interesting. Thank-" There's another flare of light, then Admiral Dakyn steps forth. His cybernetics extend quite visibly outside the limits of his bulbous head. "-you, Ms Gozzi."

    Another fizz as she hangs up.

    And next to the Admiral… A Psion. He's short, and looks doubly so next to the huge Admiral. His clothing is utilitarian and plain, his face inexpressive. And… And he has a.. quite disturbing way of conceptualising the people around him. Sources of knowledge best accessed by pulling it apart. Which he has already done to many things.

    Guess he's a biologist.

    Commodore Amalak, Mister Jarko and the Queen are already heading over to greet him. I note that neither of them are looking at the Psion. Social thing, or..? No, they're both worried about setting him off. As I understand it, Admiral Dakyn has already accepted our excuses in principle. This is… A personal and public display of obsequiousness designed to mollify his and the Citadel Empire's pride.

    "Master?" I send my helmet back into subspace and Felicity just about manages not to hide behind me. "The… Psion."

    Amalak gestures at the kinetic prisons where Estrogina and Muliebria float, powerless. Estrogina struggles more, while Muliebria just glowers down at them. Dakyn rubs the small beard on his chin, nodding as Amalak delivers his spiel again. For what it was worth I put some clothes on Estrogina. I suppose it's like the scene in Small Gods where Brutha is being executed; they chained him to an iron turtle which was being steadily heated in order to kill him slowly with as much pain as possible, but they gave him a loincloth out of decency.

    She's a murderer hundreds of times over. Still… Just handing her over like this…

    Jarko gestures in my direction and Dakyn nods again, briefly making eye contact with me. The Psion is still studying Estrogina, and I'm… Not going to look at what he wants to do with her. Jarko turns to face me and beckons me to join them.

    "Felicity, with me. Remember, I'm mind controlling you."

    She cringes. "Could.. you… Do that for real? Please?"

    I frown at her, taking a closer look with empathic vision. Does she really-? Yes, yes she does. She's.. that scared of the Psion… And he's not at all interested in her. Saying that wouldn't help. Fear isn't rational. "Alright. I'll just make you want to help me again. And I'm turning it off as soon as we leave."

    She nods, and her eyes glow orange and the sigil on her forehead flares as it takes effect. A half-second passes and she's back to smiling at me beatifically and I can't help but look deeper into the life she lived that made her think like this.

    Heck.

    Rescued by the Omega Men from a life of sexual servitude, got swept up in their purpose because she'd never really had one of her own, used to being controlled and happy to be-.

    Another project, then.

    I turn back towards the huddle. "This way, Felicity."

    "Yes, master."
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2019
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  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    11th July
    16:16 GMT


    Admiral Dakyn is an extremely large man. Gordanians, Branx, Okaarans and Citadelians all share a similar.. 'template', averaging at around two and a half metres tall and being far bulkier than a Human of equivalent height would be. As a member of a race of mass-produced clones, Dakyn himself is exactly the same height as the rest of his cohort. His clothes are similar as well; the Citadel takes combat too seriously to let their officers add unnecessary ornamentation to their armour. The differences are more subtle: the gold and platinum bands on his tusks and the armoured cables which flow out of his skull and into the yellow metal of his armour.

    He smiles, making sure I get a good look at his teeth. Oh. No, Citadelians don’t show friendliness by showing their teeth. He's instinctively showing that he can bite me. It's more of a dick-waving thing than an actual threat, but it certainly isn't friendly.

    "You are the Spider Guild's tame Beast?"

    Unlike those of the other Citadelians, his implants are active continuously. Boosting his mental abilities? Providing him with information? Personally, I'd rather use G-Gnomes for that if I didn't have a power ring. On the other hand… He wasn't much of a looker to start with…

    "Orange Lantern Two Eight One Four, Admiral." I can't really bow in this armour, but I favour him with a deferential nod. "How may I assist?"

    "I was hoping to see the infamous orange ghosts. It seems that I am to be disappointed."

    "Given what happened, I didn't think that waving weaponised life forms around was politic. But… With your permission..?"

    "Yes. Show me."

    I hold my arms out to the side, strands of orange light floating freely in the breeze as my Praexis Demons emerge. They look around, taking in their environment for a few moments before rising into the air.

    "They seem… Small."

    "They are. And given enough power, one can become a thousand in under an hour. Though if you want to see something a little more impressive…" I make a bit of a show of it, bringing my hands together and having them glow brilliant orange. Jarko takes a step away while Amalak's hand drifts a little closer to his sidearm.

    Then the Hellwraith appears. Usually it keeps itself fairly insubstantial, but this time I feed it a little more power. And the result… Sort of a cross between a Warner Brothers Tasmanian Devil and a Praying Mantis, with the orange sigil in the middle of its forehead and on the back of its claw-hands. It floats just off the floor and looks around excitedly. Huh, this thing could be the first Demon off Earth.

    "It can also seize control of people without my direct input."

    A snort from the Admiral, who sizes it up for a moment before dismissing it. "Still small. But never mind. On behalf of the Citadel and of my batch-brother Emperor Damyn, thank you for bringing down this…" He turns his head to Estrogina. "Disruptive influence. And for foiling the Omega Men."

    "My pleasure."

    "My people will search for them. You will give me the one Omega Man you caught, and we will perform an interrogation."

    "Noo."

    "Ah." He snorts. "I mean to say, I will buy her from you. For a fair price."

    "I'd be defrauding you. I've already interrogated her. She's a whore Tigorr picked up on Slagg and she bungled her first operation. They've already abandoned her. She was an Omega Man in the same sense that your toenail is a Citadel warrior." I glance at her. "Besides, I've already branded her." I look at him, letting my eyes flare orange. "Mine."

    "Fine. Keep your whore." He sniffs, then jabs his right arm towards Estrogina's cage. "Load it. I will present them as gifts to the Emperor."

    One of his bodyguard stows his gun and then ambles towards the cage. He hefts it off the ground with no obvious difficulty and strides back into the light beam.

    "Admiral." The Queen is in a slightly crouched posture, trying to not be the only person here taller than him. "I am ready to resume negotiations. I believe that-."

    "Bah." He looks at her with clear distaste. "Get on with it, then. Just make sure that the Citadel gets its cut."

    "May I take it that you don't much care what shape the final agreement takes?"

    "The Citadel has seen dozens of negotiations amongst our trade partners. We don't much care who comes out on top." He glowers at the Queen. "Except when it's our enemies."

    "Commodore Amalak, Mister Jarko, may I make a suggestion?"

    Jarko waves his left arm languidly. "By all means."

    "Being here costs you, and the longer this takes the higher the chance there is of the Omega Men coming up with something else. So many local notables gathered together in one place is just too tempting a target."

    "True, but these talks will be no simple matter. Everyone here is only interested in what they can get for themselves, and that inevitably means less for everyone else."

    "What if they weren't?"

    "That would be delightful. But if you think it'll actually happen then I've got a hyperspace bypass I can sell you."

    "After fighting the Spiders… Do you want to throw your remaining forces against…" I gesture. "The Commodore. Or the smaller groups, who might decide to take advantage of momentary weakness? Do you want to try landing on the Nest World, or maintaining enough of a fleet to blockade it for… As long as you need to? Or taking on a serious Spider Guild war fleet in a few years if you destroy it?"

    "If I wanted to, then I wouldn't have bothered coming here." He narrows his eyes slightly. "What are you suggesting?"

    "I have mastered the orange light. I can… Use that to alter the desires of those around me. In this case… I could make everyone a little bit more agreeable. A little more.. honest in admitting what the war cost them, what they put in. And since I'm sure you were.. planning to use this meeting to agree territory and shipping rights… It would make everyone more.. reasonable about that as well."

    He glances at the Queen. "I'm sure that your employer would appreciate your efforts on her behalf greatly."

    "It's an area effect, Mister Jarko. She'd be just as much under the influence as you. And I could remove the effect at the end, give you the opportunity to make sure that you weren't signing your life away." He's very unconvinced. "Look… I'm going to be around Vega for a while. It's in my interests that you get a settlement that you can all live with. And one which maintains your current reasonably positive disposition towards me. You already know that you all want more or less the same sort of thing. This doesn't have to be hard."

    Amalak narrows his eyes slightly. "He does make a reasonable observation. I had intended to demand new ships from the Spiders as my reparations, but their docks are wrecked. I would benefit most from them being repaired, but I cannot rely on their honesty and I do not want to provide the entire suppression fleet myself."

    Jarko scowls at him. "I don't know what the two of you worked out, Amalak, but I am not going to agree to-."

    As one, the Citadelian marines bring their weapons to bear on him.

    He freezes. "Admiral, I… Thought that we had an understanding..?"

    Dakyn snorts. "This stalemate is costing the Citadel money. The damage to this city costs the Citadel money. And Citadel soldiers died today. I thought that I might have to hold a gun to all of your heads and dictate the terms of the peace myself, but it seems that X'Hal has smiled upon us all. Amalak?"

    "I think that further delay would be.. stupid. And wasteful." He looks at me. "Under the proviso that the final decision will be checked free of your influence and that no influence lingers, I will.. agree."

    The Queen spreads her upper arms. "I will consent to this also."

    Dakyn makes a slightly different snort. Satisfaction. "Well, Jarko? Do you say 'yes', or do I kill you and ask your successor?"

    Jarko doesn't look happy. But he knows a fait accompli when its barrel is being waved in his face. "Fine. But I'd best get something worthwhile out of this."
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2019
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  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    11th July
    17:01 GMT

    "…can't just rearrange the crew complements." Jarko waves his left arm at the order of battle display. "Which would be the sensible thing. Each ship that survived wants new crew, and won't countenance taking personnel from their 'rivals'. And anyone they get will either know nothing or have.. 'conflicting' loyalties."

    The Queen quickly reviews the casualty lists. "Many of these vessels could benefit from increased automation. That would reduce the requirements for crew. We could include that in your refit program."

    "I prefer ships run by people. And my people do as well."

    Amalak nods. "I have a training academy on Rooduun."

    "For your people?"

    "Not exclusively. Several worlds in my sphere of influence send military cadets there. If you wanted to offer a 'placement program', or avail yourself of its service, I am sure that we could… Come to terms."

    Jarko nods. "That's a possibility. Perhaps…"

    11th July
    17:19 GMT

    Amalak shrugs. "I think it will be easier to abolish the entire class, rather than keep them in service or upgrade them. Of course, that does present a problem of covering my existing obligations until the work is complete."

    Jarko smiles. "Just do what I do and use freelancers. You still have more than enough force to crush any stupid enough to try stabbing you in the back."

    The Queen pulls up a detailed list of the ships Amalak is writing off. "Handing these ships over to us would substantially increase the speed with which we can rebuild our orbital infrastructure."

    "Perhaps… But I would still have cash flow concerns."

    "A simple matter." The Queen rearranges the build order. "Allow those who assist you to move ahead in the priority queue. That would allow you to have them test your new ship designs. And if they prove themselves capable, you could offer them more permanent contracts later."

    He frowns. "The delays…"

    "Under the agreed timetable, the delays would be inconsequential where fleet actions are concerned. Our infrastructure build up would eventually reach the point where we could make good on your losses so swiftly that you might need to delay us while you trained new crews."

    Amalak nods. "In that case, agreed."

    11th July
    17:33 GMT

    "…untaxed access to Vega." Several other minor faction leaders nod as the Khundian man gestures at the star chart. "A safe harbour's useless if we can't use it."

    "Well…." Jarko doesn't really look abashed. But he does manage to look mildly self-conscious about his actions. He doesn't exactly control the area around Vega, but his people are generally active in this region. Attacking merchants carries greater risks than attacking the people who attacked the merchants, particularly if you know where those attackers are going to go. Heck, just demanding that they hand over their cargos at less than black market rates has been a fairly nice earner for him. "I could… Agree substantial discounts… For comrades in arms. But at the same time I would want good conduct guarantees. Attack my people or make trouble for me and I would be… Displeased."

    The Khundian waves his hand dismissively. "Your house, your rules."

    11th July
    17:58 GMT

    "…Nest would become a shipyard for construction and maintenance." The Queen moves a few designs around the holo display. "This will allow you to monitor our growth without it impacting your other activities. In turn, it allows us to grow in a way which does not threaten you."

    Amalak nods. "While tying our fleets to you for their upkeep and you to us for protection, since you could hardly protect yourself from a dedicated attacking force with-" He brings up their projected fleet strength. "-this."

    "Just so."

    Jarko waves his right hand in a circle. "Makes sense to me. Stick to that and we won't have any problems."

    11th July
    18:34 GMT

    "…tax travellers rather than simply stealing from them." Jarko indicates his fleet action records. "It's a regular profit for far less aggravation. And makes it much less likely that anyone goes running to the Green Lanterns."

    Amalak nods. "It occurs to me that we have effectively approached a very similar position from opposite ends."

    "Hah! Yes, just so. Did you know that I started out as an arms dealer?"

    "I… Have heard that version of events. I don't think that I ever heard the whole story."

    "Oh, I was backing a rebellion on a prison colony world called Asryx. Kranaltine used it as a dumping ground for their criminals for centuries… And proceeded to treat their descendants as criminals themselves and ignore all the ill-feeling that attitude created. So, I was contacted by…"

    "Impressive work."

    I look away from the merrily conversing outlaws and to the Psion who stands to my right. "Thank you. High praise from a member of a species who have mastered morally dubious sciences."

    "Gun-fighting to a peaceful accord in less than a day-tenth." He turns his head towards me. "Will you really release them? Or simply tell them that you have, and leave them under your power?"

    "I wouldn't undermine myself by breaking my word." I take a quick look over the desires of all of the meeting's participants. "Besides, this serves my interests too. Do you think they'll have another meeting like this without inviting me along?"

    He thinks for a moment. "No. You appear to be a civilising influence."

    "And I'd much rather that you didn't dissect them to find out how it works."

    His eyes narrow slightly. "Are you telepathic as well?"

    "No. You're not that hard to read. Also, it wouldn't work. It doesn't leave a physical trace."

    "Mmm. A shame."

    We both turn back to the pirate gathering, which appears to be a good deal more light-hearted than the original meeting. There was a book I read, back on Earth Prime. There'd been some sort of disease pandemic and only a small number of augmented Humans were immune to it. They were left to find a cure while as many other people as could manage it went into cryogenic suspension. After they succeeded they tried to manage the restoration of society, only for their guidance to be soundly rejected as the newly re-emergent groups violently contested with one another for dominance. Towards the end of the book, one of them released something she called a Human genetic patch. It was a virus that would alter Human DNA, altering everyone affected so that they received a greater psychological reward for cooperation than competition. Under its pervasive influence civilisation stabilised… And then people developed an immunity to the transmission vector.

    The pirates aren't immune to me.

    I'm going to try and cure this Sector's ills by civilising it. Not by smashing it flat. This probably isn't what the Omega Men wanted, but I think it would be what Alan would want. Civilisation develops because cooperation works better than brutal, ceaseless competition. And with a little help, I think this lot will come to see that. From piracy to demanding money with menaces… Which is basically what taxation is. From fighting to hold territory to policing it. Heck, this deal will even ensure the local Spider Guild Nest's survival and security without them needing to rearm. I'll need to keep an eye on it, of course…

    The Psion walks away, heading back towards Admiral Dakyn's party. I make momentary eye contact with the Admiral himself and he stares into me, as if-.

    That's… Odd. For a moment it looked.. like there were two different sets of desires…

    That… May warrant further investigation. Later. For now, I've got a peace conference to conclude.
     
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  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th July
    03:48 GMT

    "Orange Lantern. You appear to have acquired a fleet."

    Green Lantern Green Man floats in space in front of me, just the other side of the halfway point across the moat of stars marking the 'start' of the Vega systems.

    "They're not… Following me."

    His face is fairly inexpressive, but he doesn't look particularly impressed. He raises his right arm and points over my shoulder. "I can clearly see them following you."

    "Oh. No, sorry, I was thinking.. two different meanings for that word.. and your ring went for the wrong one. I mean they're not working for me."

    "And do you work for them?"

    "I'm.. sort of under contract with the Spiders until the Queen gets back to her Nest."

    "Under contract for what?"

    "She hired me to protect her during the peace conference. You see, her Nest tried expanding and the local pirates.. objected."

    "I was aware of the fighting. I took the view that the more pirates and Spiders who killed each other, the better off this Sector would be."

    "I.. took the view that… The way Vega is, all that would do is lead to the creation of new pirate groups, and that it would be better in the longer term to civilise these ones."

    "Civilise? Orange Lantern, the only reason that I allowed you unobstructed passage here was so that you could deal with Larfleeze. I have spent most of the time since our last meeting hunting down Larfleeze's Construct Lanterns. What have you done?"

    "Negotiated a peace settlement between the major actors which will see the Spider Guild's Nest World become a shipyard, one of the largest pirate groups become a private military company and the other turn into an independent stellar nation. Er, and allied to each other."

    "You-?"

    "The Crown Imperium isn't getting Asryx back, but since they haven't exercised any effective control of it for the last eight years that's not really a big change in the status quo."

    "Did you also share your anti-Green Lantern techniques with them?"

    "No… But they already have weapons that can kill you-."

    "Not on the level of what you have. What are you trying to do here?"

    "Green Lantern, most civilisations begin violently. I'm trying to improve the state of Vega by working with-."

    "Violent criminals."

    I sigh. "Yes. Because they're the ones in a position to make this change." I regard him for a moment. "So… Are you going to let them past?"

    "What happens if I say 'no'?"

    "Then I would -regrettably- be forced to defend them. At least until the Queen manages to return to her Nest. Plus… They almost certainly brought Psion-built weapons with them for this gathering, so on the off-chance you got away from me there's a good chance you'd still die, and I'd.. really rather that didn't happen."

    "And if I wait?"

    "I'd.. obviously rather that you give them the time to adapt… See if they backslide. But.. I.. wouldn't involve myself."

    He closes his eyes, bowing his head slightly. I try and keep my glow down while he considers the issue. He may be a pernicious individualist by Uxonian standards, but by Human standards he's pretty darn selfless. If he decides that I'm in the wrong I'm going to get my first real fight against a Lantern versed in my techniques who isn't treating it as a training exercise. And.. he's using my techniques to prevent me seeing anything but green light when I look at him.

    Of course, generating constructs myself might well be seen as an attack.

    "Do you intend to deal with Larfleeze quickly?"

    "I'm prioritising the Citadel Empire. Larfleeze has been content to sit in his cave since we convinced him that I'd died… I don't think-."

    "How long?"

    "With a little luck, a couple of weeks."

    His eyes open, the green glow he's emitting dying down a little. "I accept death as the inevitable result of my work, but I do not seek it needlessly. Perhaps the pirates'.. alliance will bring stability to this region. Perhaps it will not. In either case, I can give it a little time to demonstrate its nature."

    "So..?"

    "I will stand aside. They may pass." Inside my armour I sigh with relief. "I will monitor the situation closely. If I see them using this opportunity to rearm and expand their territory, I will request the assistance of the Honour Guard in bringing this Sector to order."

    "Understood."

    There's a flare of green light as he disappears.

    I wait a moment before transitioning back to the Queen's ship. "Orange Lantern to commanders. He's moved off. Bear in mind that this is temporary, and he will be returning to normal anti-piracy duty once-" Ships are already activating their faster than light systems, glowing or distorting as they accelerate out of the Vega Systems. "-you leave."

    "Well done, lad." Jarko's face appears on my armour's internal screen. "Are you sure that you won't consider working for me on a more permanent basis?"

    "I'm afraid that I'm going to be busy for the foreseeable future."

    "Very well. Stop by Asryx next time you're in the region." He turns away. "Engage."

    Space bends around his ships for a moment, then they're gone. A moment later his face is replaced by that of Commodore Amalak. "What did it cost you to secure his consent?"

    "Nothing. But… He's going to call in reinforcements if the local level of violence doesn't go down."

    "We would be de-escalating anyway, even without the new compact. Still, I will remember it. Good fortune to you, Orange Lantern."

    His screen goes blank, his larger ships glowing white-blue. Strands reach out and touch his smaller ships, then the whole network flashes as the ships accelerate away. I watch them go for a moment, then transition to the Spider Guild command ship's upper access portal and trigger the mechanism. They may not use airlocks on this ship, but they don't leave gaping holes where someone might shoot them. A moment passes and the material making up the armour is sucked inwards, allowing me to transition inside.

    Felicity is standing as far away from any of the Spiders manning the bridge as she can, the orange sigil on her forehead clearly showing through the gloom. I fly over to her as the Queen reorientates herself towards us.

    "Thank you for your service, Orange Lantern. My Nest is in a better position now than I had dared hope we would occupy after the negotiations."

    "Happy to help. And… Um…" I clear my throat. "Sorry about-."

    She crouches slightly. "An innocent misunderstanding. You cannot be faulted for it after I refused to tell you more of my physiology."

    Okay, I'm going to take it. "I'll be certain to visit your Nest next time I'm in the area."

    "Yes. I would-" Her legs do a sort of.. shuffling motion. "-like that very much."

    The f-? You know what? No. I take Felicity's right hand firmly in my left and extend my environmental shield over her.

    Ring, get us out of here.

    Compliance.
     
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  30. Threadmarks: Tamanarama
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Tamanarama

    12th July
    11:03 GMT


    The concierge waves as Felicity and I walk away from the front desk, left hand playing with one of the blank platinum disks I used to make payment. "Be sure to recommend us to your friends!"

    I wave back absent-mindedly with my right hand as I hold my left to my ear. "Ring, connect me to the Thanagarian network. Flight Leader Karn, if at all possible."

    Compliance.

    Felicity steps out into the hotel's front garden, taking a moment to stretch in the natural sunlight. Though the off-worlder parts of the city are mostly set up to cater for piratical thugs, there are more salubrious venues for piratical chiefs and the occasional wealthy merchant or dignitary. Most things inside were scaled to be comfortable for those of a Citadelian build… And resilient enough to survive being used by them. They were willing to change it around for we smaller-framed humanoids, but I told them not to bother.

    "Blades of Alstair, Flight Leader Karn responding. If you want to hire us, you should get in touch with-."

    "No no, nothing like that."

    There's a slight pause. "Orange Lantern. I hear we've got you to thank for yesterday."

    "Hey, that fight was all the Omega Men's doing."

    "I was referring to the fact that our contract's being terminated early. And from the sounds of it we're not likely to get much work in this region for the foreseeable future."

    "I'm not sorry for that." I stroll out of the hotel, Felicity turning to blink slowly at me. Affection and general contentment. "So, you all shipping out?"

    "The commander's making calls. We're packed up and ready to leave, but we'd much rather have a job to go to. Even if it's just babysitting a merchant convoy." I hear an amused exhalation. "I don’t suppose you've got any use for five thousand Thanagarian mercenaries?"

    "What sort of naval units do you have?"

    "Mostly small attack craft. We've got a cruiser and a support-carrier, but those are more our bases of operation than things we'd want to use in a fight."

    Huuh. "What sort of level of risk do you take?"

    "We can talk prices over anything short of an outright suicide mission, but we prefer jobs to be either quick, local or low risk. Personally, I wouldn't mind a quick strike attack commission. Get the rust off my mace before I forget how to use it completely."

    "How about..? Training work? If a planet was remilitarising and needed experienced people?"

    "You can't defend a whole planet with what we've got, but if the threat wasn't imminent? We'd probably take it. Where did you have in mind?"

    "Ohhh… My homeworld is probably going to start getting serious about space travel in the next few years. Is there somewhere I can get in touch with you again without chasing you down?"

    "We've got feedsite links on Thanagar and Alstair, but that sounds like a long term contract. If we're busy then we won't be able to take it."

    I nod. "Fair enough. I was planning to head to Thanagar in a little while anyway. Good luck finding a commission."

    "Good fortune doing… Whatever it is you're planning on doing. Karn out."

    I lower my left hand, increasing my pace to catch up with Felicity. "Ready to go?"

    "Yes, Mast-"

    "You don't need to-"

    "-er."

    "-call me that. Particularly after-."

    "You're the one who offered to brush my hair." Another blink. "How could I have known that you only meant my mane?" I close my eyes, bowing my head slightly. "Do I not.. please you?"

    "I will.. say this once, and then I'd.. quite like to drop the topic. I… Have what some may regard as an excessively romantic view of sex. Plus, my empathic abilities make me unusually aware of what you're feeling, and.. I'm.. proud enough to only want to have sex with people who want to have sex with me, not one who doesn't object to it."

    "That isn't what I asked."

    I look over the tight-fitting and.. 'well ventilated' clothing she's wearing. I did offer to get her something else, but she seems to prefer it. "Yes, I find you attractive."

    She nods, looking pleased. "Will we be travelling by ship or by your ring?"

    "Ring. There shouldn't be a problem with us spending a few days on the surface."

    "Kalista.. told me that the Gordanians keep away visitors. Would we not stand out?"

    "Yes, but they don't have good communication infrastructure. And Gordanian intelligence isn't particularly good. They probably won't even know that we're there."

    Her ears straighten slightly. A nod. Right then. Ring, my armour, Karnan-friendly space armour for Felicity and then plot route to near-Rashashoon space.

    Compliance.

    A filament touches Felicity, a slightly upgraded version of the armour I lent her yesterday manifesting around her. I tried to work out if there was a way to allow her ears space without making the helmet huge or compromising the protection it provides, but as far as I can work out there isn't. But apparently pinning them flat against her head isn't that uncomfortable. She shifts slightly awkwardly, trying to get comfortable without accidentally brushing her fur backwards.

    "Three, two, one, transition."

    The street disappears, replaced by local space. Far less busy than it was when I first arrived, though I see a couple of local tugs picking up debris from one of the earlier fights. Admiral Dakyn is still around, but his fleet is on the far side of the planet at the moment.

    Ring, plot warp to interstellar space just outside the Vega seventeen system.

    Compliance. Course calculated.

    "Next stop, the edge of the Tamaran system's Oort cloud. Warp in three, two-."

    "Will it hurt?"

    "No, of course not. I'm warping the space around us, not warping us. Two, one."

    Once more the starfield shimmers, our surroundings turning orange. Almost as soon as it starts it ends, and the only obvious difference is that the planet behind us has disappeared.

    "Is that.. it..?"

    "We're not quite there yet." But now that no one's watching… I hold my right hand out in her direction, orange mist floating through her faceplate as the brand evaporates. "I want to see what the Gordanians have on hand before we go any further."

    Ring?

    An image appears in my mind. One… Space station at a Lagrange point. An old Tamaranian shipyard seized after the last war, uparmoured and upgunned. It has interdiction field generators, but they're not set up to stop any form of FTL I use. Three clanships, modified for launching kinetic torpedoes. Orbital strike weapons that most people around here don't bother with because they're next to useless in ship-to-ship combat. Just the thing for killing thousands of unprotected civilians, though. Nothing I can't.. take…

    Tamaranian life signs on the station. I'll need to make sure they're safe before taking aggressive action.

    Ring, plot warp to Tamaran. The side of the planet away from the station.

    Compliance.

    Warp.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2019
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