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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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    21st August
    22:27 GMT

    "…energy pulses are a problem, power rings can create almost any other kind of weapon and those will have their standard effects. For example-" I generate a railgun, somewhat shorter than what I'm used to using in actual combat. "-this is a railgun. My people worked out how to make them a little after we first achieved powered flight, and they're excellent at delivering solid ordnance to a humanoid target at medium range or a large or stationary target at long range. They're useful for Lanterns because they're propelled by a burst of electricity; even if you're only building up a charge slowly, a construct capacitor will wait until you've got enough before firing."

    R-K'rr rotates his head slightly to the side. "I am unconvinced that a physical projectile propelled in this way would have significant impact on warships in combat."

    "Fair enough. Would you mind creating a construct barrier for me?"

    "That is not a fair test. I do not believe that I currently have the ability to create cruiser-grade barriers."

    "I understand. Please do it anyway."

    R-K'rr concentrates for a moment and a barrier forms just in front of him.

    I nod. "Thank you. This may hurt a little." I take a crumbler round out of subspace and hold it out so that everyone can get a look. Dox doesn't merely look, he scans it at once. "My homeworld is much less technologically advanced than each of yours. But. A tiny proportion of my species are scientific and technological savants, able to invent things that we shouldn't have the ability to create yet. This, is a crumbler round."

    I step forward and tap the end against R-K'rr's barrier. The crumble effect triggers immediately, a fracturing and fraying hole appearing in the construct as the remains of the activated round fall through my fingers.

    "Ow."

    "I use them for destroying energy shields, and I usually propel them with a railgun. I have another type for penetrating magic shields and hurting arcane lifeforms. And a third type for killing Demons." I dismiss the railgun construct. "Though the damage that can be inflicted by a sufficiently powerful kinetic strike should not be underestimated."

    Next, I generate a cold gun construct. "This is a cold gun. Please have your rings grant you thermal vision."

    There are flickers of orange from the eyes of all of the assembled Lanterns, even the princesses to whom I've shown this before. I wait until they're all finished, then point the gun at the ground to my right and fire, panning it around as hoarfrost builds up on the ground.

    "As you can see -and would probably be able to feel if your environmental shields weren't protecting you- the ground where it struck was just reduced to near absolute zero. The particular mechanism which this weapon uses also tends to bypass most forms of energy shield. Both of these weapons can be created with relatively little avarice. With a little more focus-" I create a graser construct. "-coherent radiation weapons are possible. As are scarier things-" I generate a singularity beam projector and Dox blanches. "-like this. It should go without saying that if you generate an indiscriminate weapon you should be certain what you're pointing it at."

    "On a more philosophical level, learning to unify your desire to achieve a particular objective with your desire to perform a particular activity leading to that objective is a quite useful tool for increasing the power you can bring to bear in conflicts in which you don't have a particular personal investment. Unavoidably, most of the people you will be fighting will be Reach-altered slaves for whom you will feel pity. Others will be Reach soldiers for whom you bear no personal malice. Remember that our ultimate objective in this war is not the death of any one person but the cessation of the Reach as a political entity. Focus on your desire for that, and be mindful of how every action you perform contributes to that."

    "Now, I'm sure that you're tired of listening to me so I've set up a practical exercise. In the rings around the third planet of this system-" It used to be the first, until the Controllers started ripping useful elements out of it to make this one. "-I've placed a number of transponders. And automated defence drones. Lanterns K-K'p, Strata, R-K'rr and Tarant. Your job is to get three transponders each and then come back here. Komand'r, Koriand'r, you're on monitor duty again. I don't want any of my first proper class dying."

    Strata… I think that's a frown. "How powerful are these automated defences?"

    "Low power. They can hurt you through your environmental shield and they can batter down your construct shields. But they won't do either particularly quickly and they should cut out if it looks like you're in serious distress. I'm not trying to get you hurt. This test is adjusted to skills you should already have. Future practicals will be harder. Dismissed."

    Tarant smiles. "Is there a prize for the winner?"

    "I will personally pat them upon the head. It's a gesture of great approval in my culture."

    "Heh. Right."

    Some of R-K'rr's eyes turn towards Dox. "Will Lantern Dox not be participating?"

    My eyes move to Dox. "He can if he wants."

    "I do not understand. Are you not in command?"

    "No, he.-" / "In point of fact…"

    Dox and I look at each other, and I bow my head and open my right hand in his direction.

    "The command structure we have agreed upon is that I will have strategic command while he will have tactical command. He will teach you how to use your ring and lead you into combat. I will ensure that our forces are numerous enough to win and are deployed to places most likely to harm the Reach to the greatest extent possible. It is unlikely that I will often take to the field with my ring, but I wish to ensure that I understand the application of a device I may well depend upon. My rank is Clarissi. His is Illustres, and he is my immediate subordinate."

    I nod. "As the Corps expands and we.. learn where one another's particular skills lie, our roles may evolve somewhat. But the important point is that while it might aid his understanding of how to use a ring to go with you, I can't actually order him to do so." I frown. "Also, it appears that your classmates are leaving you behind."

    R-K'rr's eyes swivel to the place that they were standing a moment before. Komand'r is floating just above where she had been standing, eyebrows slightly raised and clearly waiting for him. The rest are… Ring? Ah yes, halfway to the ring already.

    There's a flash of orange light as R-K'rr follows them, Komand'r just behind him.

    I watch them leave for a moment, then turn back to Dox. "I thought that went alright."

    "Most of what you told them was already stated in your written reports."

    "Not everyone reads those quite as thoroughly as you do."

    For a moment he seems genuinely puzzled. "That's foolish. You warned them what might happen before you handed them their rings."

    "If everyone made sensible decisions the whole time, our job would be much easier."

    "I disagree. With regard to their stated objectives, the Reach are exceedingly sensible. I hope that they become less sensible when we start fighting them in earnest."

    "You know… It might help if you did participate in-."

    "Coluans don't get overwhelmed by our desires. Most of your philosophical practices would be pointless for me."

    "Oh. Then -if you don't mind me asking- why are you here?"

    "There may be tactical uses of power rings that I have overlooked. And since Sinestro was unwilling to tutor me-."

    "What?"

    "He didn't believe that it was a worthwhile use of-."

    "No, no, I mean: you spoke to Sinestro?"

    "His ring uses the same communication system as ours. He was surprised to hear from me, but he was reasonably civil about it. Why does this concern you?"

    "Because-." My ring flashes with an incoming message. "Who is it?"

    "Lantern Gardner."

    Oh.
     
  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    21st August
    22:32 GMT

    Right. I look away from my ring and toward Dox. "Would you mind if I answered this? I doubt that the Guardians would lift their communications ban if it wasn't important."

    "You detailed your personal relationship with Lantern Gardner at length in your reports, along with your recommendation that we do everything reasonable to maintain a cordial relationship with the Green Lantern Corps. Answer him."

    Okay. First time I've spoken to someone from Earth -aside from Adam Blake- in over a month… "Answer."

    An image of Guy's… Chest and part of his leg appear over my ring. "…probably not even gunna-."

    "Guy?"

    The image from my ring blurs for a moment as Guy moves it in front of his face. "Paul! How's it goin'?"

    "Pretty well, all things considered. You?"

    "Couldn't be better. Hey, ah, Green Man told me about what you did in Vega."

    Ahhh. "Which.. bit in particular?"

    "Where you took down the Citadel, freed a bunch a' slaves and negotiated a peace treaty between alla the pirate groups. And Medphyll told me about that Dominator prison you broke open. Good stuff."

    "Oh. Yes. Um, the Citadel was really a team thing, but… Yes, I was involved in all of that."

    "What, you got a new team now?"

    "Yes. Guy, as much as I'd love a chat I'm.. sort of in the middle of a lesson-."

    "What, you got someone new t'teach yah stuff?"

    "No, I'm teaching a class of Orange Lanterns. It's.. not really something I can offload… Since I'm the only one who's really got any experience…"

    "Oh. Yeah. Ah, listen, I kinda gotta talk to yah in person. Think we can meet up?"

    "Sure. I'm a few systems away from Maltus right now. I'm still warded, but the other Lanterns aren't. You should be able to find us easily enough."

    "What, you think I'm faster than you?"

    "I assumed that the Green Lantern Corps kept you around for some reason. Why, where are you?"

    "I'm in the Sector House in One Four One Six."

    Never been, haven't planned to. Quick check where the class are… "Guy, I haven't got time to get to you, have a chat and then make it back here by the time I have to carry on teaching. On the other hand, you can fly here while I finish the class and we can talk then. That'll be quicker."

    Guy looks away for a moment, his head sort of wiggling back and forth as he considers the matter. "There anyone there with you right now?"

    "Yes. Vril Dox the Second."

    Guy clenches his eyes slightly. "You know he's a clone of Vril Dox the First, right? The guy who took over his homeworld, turned everyone into bio-robots before deciding that they were crimping his style and flyin' off to steal cities?"

    Dox's face is pretty impassive. My own is forming a rictus grin. "You know Kon-El is half a clone of Lex Luthor, right?"

    "That ain't the same thing. He didn't bring him up, an' Wondy-."

    "And you're half Roland Gardner. And he brought you up."

    Guy's face hardens. "Low blow, Paul."

    "You're insulting a colleague of mine who's standing right next to me. If he starts collecting cities I'll be sure to have a word with him about it."

    "Alright, fine." His face becomes more serious. Professional. "Where exactly have you been recruitin'?"

    "I've had an eye out for potential Orange Lanterns everywhere I go. I even offered Jack Chance a ring."

    "You wh-?" His face grows larger as he pulls his ring closer and stabs his left forefinger towards my point of view. "Okay, new rule: no stealin' our guys."

    "Why, are they indentured or something? I thought that a Green Lantern could give up their ring whenever they wanted?"

    "No, I'm tellin' you not to do it because it's a dick move."

    "Fine. I won't offer rings to any more currently serving Green Lanterns. Happy?"

    "Not particularly. You been recruiting in One Four One Seven?"

    Why would.. he have a problem with that? Not like the Green Lantern Corps are welcome on Korugar. "I've… Sort of. Why would that matter to you?"

    "What, you didn't think having a Green Lantern and an Orange Lantern comin' from the same planet might be a problem?"

    "Under the circumstances, no. Not really. Not unless Lantern Tui's banishment sentence has been rescinded. And I haven't-."

    Guy frowns in bewilderment. "Katma doesn't like your guy anymore than I do, but what's that got to do with-?"

    "'Guy'?"

    "What?"

    "No, not Guy. 'Guy'." He blinks, his head tilted slightly to the side. "You said 'my guy'. I'm trying to recruit a Korugarian woman, Doctor Soranik Natu. And I haven't recruited her yet. Given how.. the Korugarians feel about power rings I was trying to build up to it. What guy?"

    "Prince Ragnar of Betrassus."

    "Who?"

    "He's flyin' around this Sector with an orange power ring. You sure there ain't somethin' you wanna tell me?"

    "Guy, we've only just started making personal lanterns. We've only got four Controllers hooked up to our Central Power Battery. I'd like to move to a Sector Lantern system eventually, but that's not going to be for years yet."

    "So who else is givin' out orange power rings?"

    "Ah. The Qwardians, maybe? But.. it's more likely that he picked up one of the ones I called from Larfleeze's cave. I still don't know how many of those there were."

    He frowns. "You haven't tracked them down yet?"

    "It was… Fourth on my to-do list?"

    Guy looks decidedly unimpressed. "Well when yer finished with yer class, get over here. You've got a mess t' clean up."
     
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    02:51 GMT -6


    Ping.

    My eyes slowly come open, and it takes me a moment to remember where I am. Been a while since I've been that tired, at least without being blasted near to death. On my left Koriand'r grasps my arm a little tighter, moaning softly in her sleep. On my right, Komand'r's legs are entwined with mine and her head is lying on my chest. It's also a while since I've been able to engage in penetrative…

    I frown. No, that was actually the first time, not counting that incident in Osaka when that silly woman hospitalised herself. Huh.

    Ping.

    Yes, yes, I haven't forgotten.

    I try sitting up a little, and feel a tightening about my extremities from my bedfellows. Drat. Don't particularly want to wake them… No, that's probably unavoidable. Ring, transition quietly.

    By your command.

    An unavoidable flash of orange light and I appear across the room, completely naked. Ah, there's nothing quite as good at clearing up a soiled bedchamber before sleeping as a power ring. Wonderful device. I bend down to pick up a pair of Hulk-size jogging bottoms and carefully slip them on before picking up my recently self-repaired Mother Box and tiptoeing toward the door. It's night in this part of Tamaran, but I don't particularly want to flash a member of the night staff. Keeping my body between the door and the bed I extrude a thin orange filament and spread it throughout the door's locking mechanism before silently opening it and stepping through. Carefully close it behind me… Done.

    With their ancestral… Does it count as ancestral yet? It's only two generations since Tamaran lost… But they'd been fighting on and off before that… Traditional enemies. With their traditional enemies 'verifiably put beyond use' as the Irish say, Tamaran had as large a street party as their economy could support. With my Orange Lanterns as guests of honour. Given that tithe requirements have been abolished it turns out that was actually a pretty good party.

    Not that I think that they underestimate the amount of work they'll have to do in order to capitalise on the situation, but the mood is celebratory and… The Princesses were feeling frisky and didn't want to risk a 'woman of titanium, man of plywood' incident. Not that they had to work hard to convince me. I'm certainly not.. over Jade or anything like that, but I'm… At least willing to.. think about other people in an amorous fashion.

    Still need to do something about the Psions before too long, and I'll have to start organising work crews for the shipyards and the G-Gnome settlements-.

    My ring flashes.

    That's something I'm going to have to get used to. Tamaranians tend to be direct, and with my Lanterns still being so new to the role I'm fielding a great many questions. I was assuming that we'd have to train as we go, but I'm going to have to try to find time to put some sort of structure in place… Get someone else to do the organisational work which I'm not temperamentally suited to.

    "Answer."

    Lantern Ernal's face appears above my ring. She's one of the ones I left hanging around the Imperium's fleet, partly to offer aid and partly to remind them that they don't have hegemony here. "Yes?"

    "Grayven, Admiral Oswin wishes to speak with you."

    And partly so that we can communicate. Tamaran doesn't have FTL communications other than power rings and my own stuff isn't compatible with the Imperium's technology. I could probably talk to them, but they couldn't get hold of me with it. Assuming that the Crown Imperium's fleet keeps Kranaltine time, it's early evening for them. If he wants to discuss anything particularly complex I'll just have to tell him I'll sort it out later.

    "Put him through."

    Lantern Ernal's face moves out of shot, being replaced with that of Admiral Oswin. "Prince Grayven, I have recently been informed of a development in our anti-piracy work-" Read 'near-genocidal purge'. "-which I feel may be of interest to you."

    "I agreed to give you free rein. If you want Lantern support-."

    "No, no. Nothing like that. Have you ever heard of a planet called 'Timaron'?"

    Name sounds familiar from somewah. "Sector Two Eight One Three. Bombarded from orbit under the orders of General Zod of Krypton, shortly before his militarist rebellion got shut down hard by the Consular Guard."

    "If you say so. I hadn't heard of it before today, but apparently that's where the late and largely unlamented 'Commodore' Amalak came from. Some of our intelligence people have been digging through the wreckage, and they found certain alien artefacts they couldn't identify."

    "If they found anything Apokoliptian, I would strongly advise that you dispose of it without exposing your people more than you absolutely have to. My people usually booby trap anything of value, and some of the traps will be of considerable magnitude."

    Oswin holds up some sort of sash, turning it so that the decoration on the front is clearly visible to me. "Do you recognise this symbol?"

    Yes I do. How the heck did that get here? "Yes, and I'm interested."

    "Though it pains me to admit it, a good deal of it is too advanced for us to do anything with. I thought that you and I might negotiate an exchange."

    I nod. "It's of no interest to Tamaran. I can't in good conscience grant political concessions for what might be a barrel of trinkets. But if you want something from me personally…"

    "Visit me on my command ship when you have a moment. I'll trust you to make a fair offer."

    He nods, and the ring deactivates. He might be serious about that. The Imperials are the 'my word is my bond' sort of aristocrats, at least between nobles. Of course, I'm going to assume that they're keeping at least one of everything I identify for them-.

    "Have you grown tired of us already?" I turn, seeing.. Komand'r walk languidly out of the bedroom completely naked. "Or were you perhaps having trouble sleeping?"

    "I think it would take me a very long time to grow tired of you." She walks closer, slowly, deliberately… Mm. "I had Mother Box-" I raise my right hand slightly, showing her to Komand'r. "-wake me because it's mid-evening in my home on Earth now. And I like to read to my daughter before she goes to sleep."

    Komand'r's eyes narrow very slightly. Curious rather than irritated. "You have a daughter?"

    "Yes. She's not really old enough to participate in a war yet, but her telepathic abilities are really quite impressive. She starts school for the first time in two weeks. Ideally, I'd be spending more time at home to prepare her, but-" I look around. "-I couldn't put this off."

    "And her mother?"

    "Oh, her natural parents died before I met her. I adopted her… Nearly five months ago now."

    "And do you have a wife?"

    I smile and frown at the same time, then point my left thumb at our bedroom door. "I probably wouldn't have done that if I had a wife. I'd have invited her, at least."

    "Then I would like to marry you."

    Huh? I shake my head. "I'm.. sorry..?"

    She walks past me, heading for the balcony at the end of the corridor. I amble along behind her. Reaching the balcony, she leans against the waist-high railings and unselfconsciously flashes the sleeping city below. "Tamaranian monarchs designate their heirs. Since I was… Damaged, I never thought that I could become queen. I assumed that in the fullness of time the throne would go to Koriand'r or Ryand'r." She turns her head to look over her left shoulder at me. "But now I am healthy. More than that, I have the power of X'Hal herself." She turns around, raising her hands and allowing burning purple energy to glow around them for a moment before dropping them again. "Given your mockery of the Omega Men, I no longer believe that my brother is a rival. I want to be crown princess, and I believe that marrying you maximises my chances. You are popular, you have demonstrated your abilities as a warrior and leader and you have enabled us to have a stronger future."

    Iiiii… Ah… "I… Recently ended a long term relationship. I'm.. not.. sure.. that starting another now is really-."

    "It is a political match. I'm not asking you to love me."

    "And it feels wrong that you're not. Wouldn't that be better?"

    She frowns. "I suppose." She shrugs. "But I doubt that I'd find a lover as politically useful as you."

    "I didn’t make myself a New God to accept anything less than the best. I have no interest in a political relationship without love. That said…" I look her over. Well… I could do a lot worse. "I'm not.. promising anything. But.. if you.. want to get to know me on a more personal level... I'm open to the idea."
     
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  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    09:37 GMT

    Not being an idiot, I drop out of warp a good long distance before I reach the Green Lanterns' Sector House. Phasing and invisibility engaged, I scan the system.

    Warning: Will detected.

    Green lights flash across the space between me and the Sector House, probing the region of space near my emergence point. Momentum being what it is I'm not still there, but it's nice to know that the Greenies are reasonably on the ball. Attempts to scan the Sector House -which looks hauntingly like a slightly scaled down green-decorated Watchtower- are met with failure. Plenty of green light energy residues around the place, indicating that Lanterns must come through here a lot. No obvious traps or mining facilities nearby, though there's a hydrogen harvesting platform on one of the system's two super Jupiters.

    I was a bit sceptical of the Sector House system, personally. Given that there are two Lanterns per Sector at most, how worthwhile is it to give them a place in space to work out of? They're going to be able to go home most evenings if they want to, any prisoner is either going to be handed over to a local world or Oa pretty quickly… Then I remembered that this Sector neighbours that of their former First Lantern and I'm surprised instead that it's not bigger.

    It's all about sending a message.

    I phase back in and accelerate in the general direction of the Sector House, and only a few seconds pass before my ring starts to blink. I raise it to the left side of my helmet. "Orange Lantern Two Eight One Four."

    "Paul, was that you?"

    "I'm in-system now, if that's what you're asking."

    "Guess we've still got some bugs to work out on the detection system."

    "I am pretty sneaky." I stare into the distance where I can just about make out the twinkling light of the Sector House with my unaided eyes. "So… Can I come in?"

    "Hey, mi… Ah… Space station is you space station."

    "Right."

    I remove my left hand from my helmet and cut communication. Then I become visible, change my velocity relative to the Sector House to zero and then transition towards the Sector House's entrance. The entrance tunnel is open to space with bright green light shining from its exterior and controlling the flow of air. I can just about see something of the interior of the station.

    I hope they've got actual light-lights in there, otherwise seeing everything in green is going to get uncomfortable. I reach out gingerly with my right gauntlet, pressing against the… No, completely permeable. Alright then. I move forwards, floating inside the entrance tunnel.

    "You coming in or what?"

    I accelerate, coming out into a small antechamber. Air's fine, so I send my helmet into subspace. There are what look like defensive weapons concealed in the walls, paramedic supplies mounted on the walls in case whoever was coming in was injured and several more glowing portals leading off to other parts of the Station. And a normal light mounted in the ceiling. The whole structure is green, but at least other colours show up like they're supposed to.

    I pass through the room and descend through the portal in the floor, which brings me out into the main meeting hall. Or rather, what serves as the meeting hall in the Watchtower. Here, it's clearly a working area. There are a small cluster of empty Sciencells along one wall, banks of computer equipment and monitoring screens. Actual screens; they have colour. The meeting table is smaller than the one in the Watchtower and round rather than oblong.

    Guy waves up at me as I descend. Lantern Tui is content merely to watch me as I come in to land a short distance away and walk up to the one free seat. I don't recognise the third fellow, but my database identifies him as Betrassusian. Dull purple skin, facial tattoos, powerfully muscular build and-. "You're wearing body armour!"

    "Ah? Yes?" He glances at Guy, looking for guidance. Guy just shrugs. "As are you..?"

    "Have you got any idea how long it took me to persuade the Green Lanterns from Two Eight One Four to do that?" I wave my left arm at Guy. "I mean, look at him!"

    The Betrassusian fellow takes a moment to look Guy over.

    "What?"

    He looks away. "I am certain that Lantern Gardner's personal protective equipment is adequate to his needs."

    Guy gets up and walks around the table, moving behind Lantern Tui before approaching me. "What kept you?"

    "I can't just disappear whenever I feel like it, Guy. I have a job." I dismiss my power armour back into subspace as I land, keeping only my lightly armoured field uniform. "Though if you really need me to hold your hand while the nasty Orange rookie makes faces at you, then I suppose that I'm obliged to put in an appearance."

    Guy grins. "Just wanted you to see what happens when you Orange bozos tangle with a real Lantern."

    We stare each other down for a moment, and out of the corner of my eye I see the Betrassusian chap's ring start to glow.

    Then we step towards each other, right hands clasping together as we pull each other into an embrace.

    He pats me on the back, a little harder than he really needs to. "Been too long, Paul."

    "Sorry. I've been busy."

    We separate, and Guy makes an upwards gesture with his right hand. "And what, you can't call?"

    "Actually, no. Thanks to the Guardians, orange rings can't communicate with green ones. And I'm…" I look down. "I'm not ready to go back to Earth yet. Stuff to do."

    Guy looks at me sceptically for a moment, then appears to shrug it off. "Alright, if you say so."

    He keeps an eye on me as he walks back around the table to his seat, and I take position opposite him. "So what's the problem, anyway? I told you Prince Ragnar's not a part of my Corps. If he's committed a crime, arrest him. It's no different to me arresting…" I point at Guy with my right forefinger. "You remember the Poglachian Green Lantern Corps?"

    "Ah, man, those guys were painful. Unfortunately, your guy Ragnar-"

    "Not my guy."

    "-seems to actually know what he's doin'." A holographic image appears in the middle of the table, showing a slender Betrassusian man in silver and orange armour. His tattoos are more complex than those of the local Lantern, and he's carrying a sword whose edge shimmers with some sort of energy field. "Which is kinda the problem."

    The Betrassusian Lantern nods. "Among the aristocratic families of my homeworld, status and authority are traditionally gained through combat. Prince Ragnar is using his ring to enable his belligerence. He challenges any other noble who he feels has slighted him and then slays them in the arena. Any criminal who has the misfortune to cross his path is slain no matter what their crime."

    "And what does the local law say about that?"

    The Betrassusian looks to Guy for a moment before continuing. "As a member of the ruling household, he has the authority to administer justice as he sees fit. And no-one is forced to accept his challenges."

    "So he's inconvenient and brutal but hasn't actually broken the law yet." He nods. "He doesn't have a personal lantern. Why not just wait for him to run out of power?"

    Lantern Tui purses her lips. "He seems to be managing. That was why we assumed that he was working with your blessing."

    Hm. Interesting. "Alright then. It sounds like I should meet him."
     
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    09:45 GMT

    Lantern Dulok frowns in puzzlement as we fly towards Betrassus. And probably a little in disapproval. "There are orange power rings scattered throughout the universe, and you have no idea where they are or who wields them?"

    "Something like that. I had been assuming that they'd either find bearers in Okaara or be strewn between Okaara and Earth, but if one made it all the way here then that clearly isn't the case."

    Lantern Tui looks thoughtful. "Do you think that they have seeker protocols?"

    "No, that's… Not impossible, but highly unlikely. Larfleeze didn't make rings in the way that the Guardians and Controllers do, he just ordered Construct-Lanterns to become rings. I haven't worn one for any length of time, but apparently their personalities remain somewhat intact."

    That makes her look uncomfortable. "Then do you think..? They're trying to get home?"

    "Based on the sample of one that I've located so far, I'd say not." I shrug. "It went to a man who desired something constantly and very strongly. My working hypothesis was that any that weren't just floating in the void would have been drawn to people in a similar way, but I don't have anything like enough evidence to prove that."

    Lantern Dulok nods. "And what happened to him?"

    "Not a lot. King Myand'r recognised the symbol on the ring as belonging to a local legendary monster and refused to wear it. Then, after we destroyed the Citadel, he didn't want it anymore."

    "Would it not have been helpful in restoring his world, or in protecting it?"

    "Maybe. But orange rings have an unfortunate effect on the minds of those who wear them. I haven't studied enough subjects to know exactly how bad it can get-."

    "Giant cakes, moons spinning around…"

    "I put it back."

    Lantern Tui blinks. "You… Put back..?"

    "Yes? Did-?" I glance at Guy. "I can't believe that Guy didn't mention it when you were on Earth."

    "I've learned to tune Lantern Gardner out."

    "And see what you miss!"

    "How come you're dealing with this, anyway? We're not anywhere near Two Eight One Four."

    Guy grins. "Guardians recognised my skills."

    "What, they thought you had the best chance of persuading me to help you?"

    "Nope." There's a momentary green glow, then a red sash with a gold lantern badge appears across his chest and a red cloak trails from his shoulders. "I mean they formally recognised them. Guess they couldn't have the Host of Ion being a regular Sector Lantern."

    "Well done. How did Jordan take the news?"

    "Ugh." Guy looks away, rolling his eyes as he groans. "Guardians upped him at the same time. The exact same time. Said they didn't want either of us claiming seniority over the other."

    "How well they know you both." Oh. "Does that mean that Two Eight One Four has a new Lantern?" Because if it's Alan I can put that journey to Qward on the backburner.

    "Yeah, some Russian chick. I haven't met her yet."

    "And she got chosen ahead of Alan because..?"

    "'cause the Guardians don't want a guy they can't train from scratch. I asked, okay? I think he's a great guy too."

    We've lost Lantern Tui. "Who is 'Alan'?"

    "A long time ago there was a Green Lantern called Yalun Gur. He went off the deep end Sinestro-style-." Lanterns Tui and Dulok share an awkward glance. "What?"

    "It is…" Lantern Dulok looks away awkwardly. "Something of a point of contention between us. Betrassus benefited greatly from Lantern Sinestro's protection while he was a Sector Lantern here, and I was called to the Green Lantern Corps to take his place upon his ascension to the Honour Guard. Even after learning.. what he did, I still find much to admire about him."

    "You wouldn't say that if it was your planet he took over."

    "On the contrary. On Betrassus, most battles are fought between small numbers of aristocrats. If a single warrior as skilled as Sinestro emerged he might well rise to a position of supreme power by his own abilities. If anything, the relative peace Sinestro brought is more unusual than the return to the old ways that Prince Ragnar's ascendancy is threatening to bring about."

    "Anyway, Lantern Gur goes off the deep end and tries to conquer Earth. The Guardians hear about it and remotely destroy his ring's AI. I don't know if he just wasn't a very good fighter without it or if the AI being destroyed shut the rest of the ring off as well. In any case, the locals kill him and dispose of his ring and lantern. Centuries later, it somehow ends up in the hands of a man named Alan Scott, whose will is powerful enough to activate it. He used it on and off for about twenty five years, and because its AI was fried the first the Guardians heard of it was when Lantern Jordan asked them about him."

    "So what irritates me about it is that he's a veteran with incredible willpower who would be perfectly happy to work for them, but the Guardians put a block on his recruitment. No matter how strong willed or heroic he is, he will never be chosen."

    Guy winces slightly. "He is ninety, Paul."

    "And he rejuvenates when exposed to green light. And how old are the Guardians themselves? Age is no excuse. And I will be telling them that when I visit Oa."

    Guy raises his eyebrows slightly at that, but with the atmosphere coming up he decides to ignore it for now. "So what exactly are you planning on saying to Ragnar?"

    "He likes fighting, I've got a large war that needs fighters. Unless I see a very good reason not to, recruiting him is my preferred option. Failing that, I'll take his ring and let him think about what he's done."

    "Need a bit more detail than that, Paul."

    "What? I.. can't, not until I've had the chance to examine his psyche. And since when do you want detailed plans in advance?"

    "Comes with the sash, Paul. I'm the ranking Lantern here, which means I gotta take responsibility." He smiles smugly. "And come to think of it, you should probably call me 'sir'. Y'know, when we've got company."

    "Okay, one, being ranking Lantern means nothing if the other Lantern is from a different Corps. Two." I let my own formal robes appear from subspace, my full rank insignia running down the left flap. "What makes you think you outrank me?"
     
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    09:51 GMT

    "Let me see that…"

    Guy squints slightly. Power rings will translate pretty much anything, but if the format is very different from your own language it might take a moment for your eyes, ring and brain to work out what they're seeing. The Clickers' written language is quite pretty to look at, so I decided to use that for rank insignia. Unfortunately, because they sort of write with their mouths it tends to result in a column of characters resembling Japanese characters that got pushed together into a single character and written out by someone more familiar with Arabic.

    "Lantern assigned to Sector Two Eight One Four… Host of the Ophidian… Hey, where is she, anyway?"

    "Still in my personal lantern, but we'll be moving her into the Orange Central Power Battery before too long."

    "Oh really?"

    "That was the arrangement I came to with her. She wants to experience multiple non-overlapping desire sets, and the best place for her to do that is the Central Power Battery. The Controllers think that'll also boost the rest of the Corps a bit, which is probably why the Guardians keep Ion in your Central Power Battery."

    "And your little Demon-things?"

    "I find they mostly unsettle people. And I don't want to encourage other Orange Lanterns to use assimilation outside of.. dire necessity."

    "Alright. Raised to the Honour Guard…" Guy smirks. "And exactly how many of you are there?"

    "The Honour Guard consists of me. The Corps has two other Lanterns and five trainees, not counting Prince Ragnar or the Controllers or… Whoever else has picked up an orange ring while I've been busy."

    "Oh. 'cause for a moment there I thought it was a big deal. And, ah-." His eyes widen very slightly. "Oh, you have got to be kidding me."

    Lantern Tui appears to have tuned him out, but Lantern Dulok gamely reads on. "Raised to the rank of Illustres." He looks at Guy. "I suppose that means that he has seniority."

    Guy turns to face the planet once more. "No, no, it doesn't count if they're in a different Corps."

    Lantern Tui's clearly had enough with our posturing. She dives towards the planet's surface. "Can we please get on with the mission? Sirs?"

    Dulok looks like he wants to follow her at once, but hesitates while Guy decides what to do.

    Guy and I look at each other. "We should probably-." / "We should probably-."

    We twist in the air and swoop after Lantern Tui, heading towards the planet's fifth largest city. Prince Ragnar apparently picked his most recent fight with a scion of its ruling clan, and we're heading for their coliseum now. Though if the flickers of red and yellow I'm seeing are anything to go by…

    Magnify.

    Prince Ragnar floats before the ducal box as the clan chief very grudgingly hands him… Some sort of medallion. In the arena itself a group of medical orderlies check the corpse of his late opponent for a moment, then begin the process of respectfully removing his body. Sword wounds. Not ring-inflicted. Maybe that's how he's kept his ring going: the environmental shield alone would boost his survivability and wouldn't consume all that much power. If he only wears it in combat…

    "Too late for that poor bastard."

    "Yeah." So let's take a closer look at Ragnar himself. Ah. "He wanted to be a Green Lantern."

    "If that was what he was aimin' for he kinda missed."

    "You only recruit when there's a fatality or a promotion. You probably miss any number of perfectly good candidates because there isn't an opening at an appropriate time in an appropriate place. I mean, look at the man."

    "Yeah, looks like a real piece a' work." Ragnar turns and raises the medallion so that the crowd can see it. A small group cheer rapturously while the rest seem far more subdued.

    "Look at his will. His absolute conviction. And his yellow."

    "Barely got any."

    "I think there's some there. But you're right; it's so controlled, so... Beaten down. I can barely tell what it is."

    "Another Great Clan has fallen." Guy and I look at Dulok for an explanation. "I wasn't certain at first, but now it seems clear that Prince Ragnar is demanding oaths of vassalage from all of the Great Clans."

    "And why's that a big deal?"

    "All clans acknowledge the supremacy of the Royal Clan, but maintain a high degree of independence. King Nol has been encouraging collegiality and shared decision making. It seems that his son prefers autocracy."

    "I've got to say, this is starting to sound like one of those 'Prime Directive' situations."

    Guy nods. "Okay. I mean, I think Tui's single but I haven't actually asked."

    "What?"

    "'Prime Directive'. That's Star Trek, right? Like with Kirk and the hot alien babes?"

    "Actually, the Prime Directive was more of a Next Generation thing. And Kirk's libido gets overstated quite a bit."

    "Neeeeeerd."

    "Pretty much. But this is how Betrassusians decide things. Usually, unifications require massive wars. They're doing it with a few dozen deaths, and none of the people he challenged were forced to accept."

    "If it helps, most Betrassusians would rather things weren't decided this way. It was something we were moving away from."

    "Then why doesn't the law get changed? Why doesn't the King rein him in? The fact that Sector Lanterns exist shouldn't be an excuse not to gird your own loins and sort the situation out yourself." I sigh. "I better go and talk to him before Lantern Tui decides to do it for me."

    I flare my environmental shield slightly, then accelerate towards the arena. Prince Ragnar has flown over to his supporters, receiving backslaps and commendations in good humour with his trophy in hand. Wants to be a Lantern, but grew up while Sinestro was active. As a result he'd be of the 'order over all' school. Which explains why he'd want to follow Sinestro's example and improve 'efficiency' by removing superfluous layers of debate in the planet's government. Curiously, I'm seeing no desire to actually rule himself. And more curiously for me, no obvious sign of spiritual instability. I wasn't expecting anything useful out of this trip other than maybe a mild improvement in relations with the Green Lantern Corps. But I wasn't lying when I said that Prince Ragnar might be exactly what we need.

    The background noise drops away as I descend past Lantern Tui and through the open roof of the coliseum. More and more of the locals look upwards, no doubt seeing the green lights behind me as well as my own orange glow. Slight increase in the background fear, but Prince Ragnar's supporters don't seem particularly bothered. One points my way, their idol following it and finally making eye contact with me.

    His environmental shield flares as he rises into the air and flies towards me.

    "Finally!"
     
  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    09:58 GMT

    And he flies past me and stops in front of the slightly concerned looking Lantern Tui. "I was concerned when the ring which came for me was the wrong colour, but now I see that this was just some kind of test of worthiness! Now I can finally join the Green Lantern Corps!"

    Oooh dear. I turn around and float up towards them as Lantern Tui drifts back in an attempt to reclaim her personal space.

    "Excuse me, your highness?"

    He glances at me and then back to Lantern Tui before turning fully to face me. "Are you to join the Green Lantern Corps as well? I do not know your face…"

    "It seems very unlikely to me that I will ever join the Green Lantern Corps. Prince Ragnar, it is my sad duty to inform you that the ring on your finger is… Not green." He frowns. "It is, in fact… Orange."

    "Is it… Some sort of training ring? Will I graduate to green once the Green Lantern Corps hierarchy has completed my evaluation?"

    "Sorry, no. Completely different organisation. Some of the people who have oversight on the Orange Lantern Corps used to be Guardians, but that's about as far as it goes."

    "… Oh." He looks like he's not quite sure what to make of the news. From the look of the colour balance inside him I'd say that while he's slightly disappointed he's prepared to hear me out before having a tantrum. "Then why have I not heard of you?"

    Behind him, Lantern Dulok and Guy form up next to Lantern Tui.

    "While the Orange Lantern Corps technically predates the Green Lantern Corps, it only had one fully functioning member for most of that time and he never came anywhere near this region of space." At least, assuming that Larfleeze went in a reasonably straight line from Krona's laboratory on Maltus to Vega. "We've started expanding the membership recently-."

    "And you noticed my skills and sent a ring to me." He nods to himself. "It is not exactly what I wanted, but I will-."

    "Again, no. This came as a complete surprise to me. Though if anything, that's more impressive. The only people I've seen acquire orange rings in the wild tended to go insane as a result. Tell me, does it have a mind of its own?"

    "Yes. I had it show me its original form. A head, with the rest of its body atrophied. It was weak." He frowns at me. "What does this mean?"

    "If a person knows what they're doing, rings can be remote controlled. I used that ability… A little less than a Betrassusian year ago, to call rings from another part of the universe. I did so unintentionally and a number of the rings got lost on the way as a result. The one you're wearing almost certainly came from a planet called Okaara."

    "If I was not chosen, why is it on my finger?!"

    "Orange rings respond to avarice. Desire, need. You really want to be a Lantern. And now you are."

    His expression sours. "This is not what I wanted at all."

    "Your avarice was strong enough to call a ring from a very long way away. I'm the only other Lantern I know to have done that. I certainly can't think of any Green Lanterns who have. My question to you is: what do you intend to do with it?"

    "I had thought that I was finally being inducted into the brotherhood of the greatest warriors in existence! Not some… Tiny gathering of madmen!"

    "Point of clarification: if they go mad we remove them. Going mad is something to avoid, not some inevitable fate that befalls us all."

    "And I thought that it was in recognition of the skills and traits of character which I had developed with the specific aim of becoming a Green Lantern! And instead you say it is because the universe decided that I was throwing some kind of childish fit? As if I was demanding power as my right instead of what I was doing, which was working to earn it!?"

    "I'm saying that your desires were so focused on your objective that the ring reacted to that. I doubt very much that you could have focused so intently for so long if you had not been working to realise your desire yourself."

    He exhales sharply in irritation, then raises his right hand slightly and looks at the orange ring glowing on his middle finger. He stays like that for a moment, watching the glow. "What do you want?"

    "That's what I was planning to ask you, actually. If you want, you can hand me that ring and pretend this never happened. Perhaps if the Green Lanterns have an opening-" I look past him to Lanterns Dulok and Tui. "-due to promotion, hopefully, you could be recruited to replace them. You can keep the ring. You called it to you, so it's yours." Guy doesn't look too pleased at that suggestion. "Or you can join us. We are relatively weak now, but we will grow stronger. Centuries hence, our successors will list you amongst the first generation of Orange Lanterns and recount your deeds to inspire their own." I shrug. "What do you think would have happened if you had been called to join the Green Lantern Corps?"

    "A lifetime spent in valiant combat."

    Ah. I'm getting a better read on his mindset. Something like that of a medieval knight. Your obligations and personal warrior virtues matter, the causes less so. Unfortunate, but…

    "I can offer you war. The Orange Lantern Corps is preparing an invasion of Reach-controlled space. The Reach defeated the Green Lantern-"

    "Drew with the Green Lantern Corps."

    "-Corps and has continued expanding since. I could detail their crimes, though I suspect that aspect doesn't bother you. Their regular soldiers are unremarkable, but their leaders are cunning, their fleet is powerful and their Beetles are a match for most Lanterns. And the Green Lanterns are barred by treaty from fighting them."

    He perks up slightly. "You would have me lead warriors into battle against them?"

    "Perhaps. If you proved yourself capable. You would also need formal training in how to use that ring, and we'd need to give you a personal lantern to recharge it from."

    "I know how power rings should be used. I have studied every scrap of information on Green Lanterns. I even briefly had the honour of being educated by Thaal Sinestro himself!"

    Right. Royal dynasty on a planet under his protection. He probably met Sinestro several times, and given how much of a Lantern fan he is I wouldn't be surprised if Sinestro gave him non-classified mission reports to encourage him. I guess I can tell which side of the 'Sinestro: good or bad' debate he's on.

    "Seeing Lanterns fight and doing it yourself are very different things. Using a power ring requires that you think and feel in just the right ways while you fight, and the best ways to use your ring can feel quite counterintuitive to someone mostly familiar with ground-based combat."

    And his eyes are orange sigils. Damn it, what did I-?

    "You think that I am incapable? That having trained my whole life for this I cannot manage even this paltry copy of a proper power ring?"

    I'd interject, but since his ring was made by Larfleeze he's technically right.

    "I think that you're less skilled than you could be, yes."

    "Then I challenge you. Here and now we will see who knows how best to use power rings!"

    I blink, staring at him. Did he just..?

    "Hah! Okay. When's good for you?"
     
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    10:22 GMT

    "You sure you can take him?"

    I roll my eyes. "Guy, he's a melee fighter. I've spent the last twenty minutes reviewing his most recent fights: he barely uses his power ring. Jordan would do better."

    "Heh heh heh." Guy shakes his head as Lantern Tui gives both of us the evils. "You got no idea how good it is t'hear someone else ribbin' Hal."

    "You three still doing those training sessions?"

    Guy nods. "We were, 'til Hal an' me got promoted. With just John on his own he's probably not botherin'."

    "What about-?"

    He shakes his head. "Nah, she's still on Oa doin' basic. John'll get t' polish her up once Larvox gets done teachin' her the basics." Something occurs to him. "Oh, hey, I wan'ned t'say… Last session before Hal an' me left? We brought Alan along with us. Show him what we'd been doin'."

    "Oh. Um, thank you. I'm sure that he really appreciated it."

    "Probably have liked it better if you were there." I nod. Huh. Surprisingly subtle nudge from Guy there. "See you're still usin' John's ring there. Does that mean we're splittin' credit?"

    "What, this?" I hold up my right hand and show him the ring. "Does this look like John's ring to you?"

    Guy takes it in with a frown. "Huh. No. Looks kinda crappy, actually. That what the Controllers are turnin' out these days?"

    "No, this comes from Larfleeze." I shrug. "No one else wanted it, I've already got a normal one and the Controllers are too busy making rings and lanterns for new recruits to make a second normal one for me."

    "So what'd you do with John's?"

    "That's now being worn by Controller Hinon Hee Hannanan, who made my original ring. She was also involved in making the original Orange Central Power Battery."

    "So did she make that other ring too, or was that Larfleeze?"

    Outside in the arena, trumpets blare and I start walking down the tunnel. "No, that was Krona."

    I step out onto the sands just as Guy's '"Are you shittin' me?"' gets cut off by the closing gates. Prince Ragnar enters from the gates on the opposite side of the arena, smiling faintly as he passes the bloodstains left by his previous opponent. I stand just inside the arena for a moment, then float up off the ground a little so that I can don my power armour. Then I use the armour's flight systems to fly slowly forward.

    We both stop just in front of the referee's box, Ragnar with his sword at rest and me settling back on the ground. The referee is a local man and a minor noble. I imagine that he'd like to give me any advantage he can, but his role is far too constrained to allow anything too cheaty.

    "We are here to witness the duel between Prince Ragnar of the Royal Clan and Paul, Illustres of the Orange Lantern Corps! Gentlemen, state your terms!"

    Ragnar looks at me sidelong. "When I triumph over you, I will have your rings and your rank."

    "I cannot offer you my rank. It was a recognition of my abilities extended to me by others. But my rings? Certainly." He nods, smiling. "Should I win, I will expect you to acknowledge my authority and join my Corps as a rookie."

    He takes a step away from me and hoists his sword in one hand, environmental shield flaring slightly. "Agreed."

    "The terms are agreed! Gentlemen, you may begin on the second horn!"

    BWWWWWWWRRRRHHHHHH!

    Scan the sword again just in case… Yep, good. Environmental shield to minimal, kinetic barrier on… Good.

    BWWWWWWWRRRRHHHHHH!

    Ragnar charges straight at me, sword held high ready to bisect me. I raise my hands slightly in a guard position and brace. He's grinning and not bothering with a battlecry. His sword should defeat most conventional armour and he hasn't bothered scanning me to detect my force field. Does he not know how to? I'm pretty sure that intelligence gathering is something Sinestro would have mentioned… Wait, how old is he? Oh, he wouldn't have been more than ten when Sinestro got promoted, he probably didn't get detailed lessons.

    His sword swings down at my left and my left hand comes up to catch it, kinetic barrier glowing faintly as the blade's energy gets nullified. My right hand opens at my chest, touching his and removing the momentum from his charge. His eyes open slightly in surprise, then my right hand moves left and sends a pinpoint kinetic energy blast into his sword hand.

    His sword goes flying away to my left, then a backhand slap from my right arm sends him flying to my right. He hits the sands, rolls and comes up to his feet in a fighting pose.

    "Ragnar, if you want to fight me, fight me as a Lantern." I take a step towards him, my helmet vanishing into subspace. Another step and the armour covering my arms disappears. A third and I step down onto the sand as my leg armour joins it. A fourth and I'm wearing only my light undersuit. "My people's duelling traditions are different to yours. I'll let you recharge your ring with my lantern if you want."

    "That will not be necessary!" Glowing construct armour forms around his body, and a construct sword appears in his hands. "Arm yourself!"

    I bow my head slightly, then shake it. Then I pull my main ring from my left hand and drop it to the ground. He looks down at it, then up at my face as I pull Larfleeze's ring from my right hand and drop it as well. "You're giving up your rings? Do you yield?"

    "No." I point at him with my right forefinger. "You're a warrior. I'm a philosopher. There is a good deal more to using the orange light than 'screaming and leaping'. You know your desires. I know desire."

    "And?"

    "And I will teach that to you. I'm going to take your ring, and beat you with that." I extend my right hand and beckon him to me. "Come."

    For a moment his constructs shudder as a wave of red passes through him. Then he recovers, eyes glowing with orange sigils, and charges again. "AAAAAAGGGHHHH!"

    I look deeper and-

    defeathisenemybecomeagreatandrenownedwarriorfollowtheexampleofhistoricalgreatsearnhisplaceinhistoryreceiveadmirationfindhisplacebringhisskillstotheirgreatestlevelaidhisfatherfollowthepathhe'schosentotheendneverbackdownshownofearremoveallweaknesses

    -it's remarkably simple, actually.

    Ring, come. I have a lesson to teach.

    Prince Ragnar jerks, his constructs failing as his ring flies from his finger. Huh, didn't bring the finger with it this time. I suppose that's progress. I hold out my left hand and it lands directly on my ring finger. Ragnar falls to his knees in shock, then pushes himself back up and starts running towards me again. Filaments flick out and grip his sword where it lies on the arena floor, then pull it through the air into my hand.

    "Ragnar, stop. I don't want to kill you. You have the makings of a good Lantern. Yield to me, and I will see that you receive the education you need to become the greatest lantern you can be."

    "Never! I will die before I yield!"

    Can't say he isn't consistent. I apply a ShockCrown to his head, causing him to collapse headlong at my feet. I hold up his sword for a moment, look at it, then carefully lower the tip to the back of his head until it draws a tiny amount of blood.

    Then I look over to the referee. "He is unable to continue. Would you mind calling the match for me, please?"
     
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    11:34 GMT


    "…come immediately. We weren't lining up other buyers."

    Admiral Oswin's aide-de-camp leads the way through the heavy transporter carrying the Kryptonian goodies he used to lure me here, while the man himself strolls along at my side. Other crewmen spot us coming and make a point of ducking into corridors or rooms branching off our route, coming stiffly to attention as the Admiral passes. He ignores them like the peasants-. Lowlies-. Lesser beings they are.

    "When an important ally makes such an offer, it is only polite to respond promptly."

    Lantern Ernal brings up the rear of the party. I suppose that I could have sent her off to do something else, but Imperial nobles are seldom parted from their retainers and I do want to fit into the 'foreign noble' hole in Oswin's head.

    "Indeed." He's got really quite remarkable poise. I hadn't noticed before, but now that I study him I note that he doesn't look around as he walks. His eyes never deviate from directly in front of him. He isn't seeing his subordinates and dismissing them, he's barely aware of their presence at all. "These… Kryptonians. Do you have dealings with them?"

    "There aren't many left. A few years after General Dru-Zod's attempted putsch something rather unpleasant happened to their homeworld. Most of them died as a result."

    "What of their spacecraft? Surely their navy would have survived, if nothing else?"

    "They'd undergone an isolationist turn and put most of their fleet in mothballs. The rest were scrapped after General Zod's take-over failed. They had automated platforms, but nothing they could use to make a rapid exodus."

    We walk through the large and heavily armoured doors to the cargo hold, crew already bringing out the bins containing Amalak's hoard for me to examine.

    "You said that 'most died'. There were some survivors, then?"

    "A few that I know of. A group of marines who went AWOL rather than obey the order to return home when their world went into isolationism. An infant whose father foresaw the disaster and was able to build him a faster than light planetary escape pod. Two clones of his." I shrug as we walk down some steps into the cargo area, the crew backing off and the admiral's aide keeping a respectful distance from his master. "There may be others."

    Karsta gave me a list of her fellow former marines. I've… Got a suspicion that I'll be ticking off a few names today. Still.. I.. suppose that it's better to know.

    "A good deal of what we found appeared to be civilian clothing. Do you think he was studying their culture or taking trophies?"

    "I'd assume the latter." I lean over the first unsorted bin and begin lifting items out. "Not that I have much in the way of evidential basis for it."

    But I do remember some sort of showdown in the Fortress of Solitude between Earth's Kryptonians and… Some guy, in the comic misleadingly titled The Third Kryptonian. I don't remember him looking anything like Amalak, but maybe that was due to alien race lifting or something.

    "I saw your star chart." Subordinates out of his immediate vicinity, Admiral Oswin's neck has started working again. "Krypton is some way from here."

    "Krypton was destroyed about forty years ago. It's quite possible that Amalak could have made this collection before coming here." Good job he gave up early. No, this is mostly civilian clothing. Of no real interest… Except

    Yes. More genetic traces. Excellent. Jor-El's database had a large number of samples, but the whole selection was naturally skewed towards those he had access to. As a result, Els made up the greater part of it. These people weren't Els-. Oooh, that one's a Kul. Hm.

    "Amalak also had a substantial repository of data on his own people. Would that be of any interest to you?"

    Hmmm… "No. I don't know any and they didn't have the unusual abilities relating to yellow stars that make Kryptonians so fascinating." I put the clothes back into the bin and move to the next container. This one is divided into shelves containing similar items. Ah, the mother lode. Kryptonian crystal data recorders. Probably just… Personal stuff. Still, worth going through just in case. "Just to keep you in the loop, my people seized the last Citadelian cloning plant, the one where they were making the new ones."

    "Yes, I heard that those weren't totally moronic. Did you raze it?"

    "I wouldn't be scanning Kryptonian DNA samples if I'd done that."

    His eyebrows rise. "You intend to recreate the species? That's…" He pauses to control his surprise. "I would imagine that to be a significant undertaking?"

    "I already have a race of cloning experts under my command. It won't be quick…" Ring, anything of military significance or is it all fluff?

    Wisps of orange light move from item to item as the ring works through them. Not enough time for a full analysis, but merely looking for key terms-. "Data of military significance located."

    Alright, show moh my goodness! Flip the heck yes! How has someone not found that already?!

    Unable to speculate.

    I carefully slide the tray shut and resolve to buy up substantial areas of Texan real estate as soon as possible.

    "Okay, that was quite a lot more valuable than I thought it would be." I half-turn toward the admiral. "What sort of things does the Imperium want in exchange?"

    Admiral Oswin smiles. "One or two favours." He nods to his aide, who holds up a small holoprojector which displays an image of local space. "Our navy isn't big enough to hold what used to be pirate territory. Still, our people will rest a good deal easier with a demilitarised zone between them and Vega." He glances at me. "Not that I don't wish you the best of luck…"

    "Given what they've endured from this area already I can well understand the feeling."

    He nods. "Once we've completed our work cleansing the area, we will begin a new series of colonisation missions." Arrows appear. "Here, and here. Lightly populated and minimally industrialised. Plenty of room for our settlers. Still, we have taken losses during this campaign, and will most likely take more when we attack the Wombworld. New colonies have a way of attracting attackers, and there are bound to be vengeful pirates in the area."

    "Do you want my help securing them?"

    "The Imperium wants Lanterns."

    I nod. "I'm sure that Lantern Green Man won't take it too personally if I dispatch a few."

    "You misunderstand. The Crown Imperium wants Lanterns of its own. Our people, equipped with power rings. The strategic advantages presented by Lantern speed and firepower would mean that we could secure these locations effortlessly."

    Hmm. I.. suppose… The Green Lantern Corps has members from thousands of species after all.

    "I.. am.. willing to conditionally agree."

    Admiral Oswin waves his right hand. "Of course. Your terms?"

    "The Orange Lantern Corps is not part of the Tamaranian government. I am prepared to accept Karaltine aspirants in my capacity as head of the Corps. If they meet with our requirements they will be issued with rings and assigned to operate in Crown Imperium space. However, they will be part of the organisation and answer to me in that capacity while still being Imperial citizens with the duties that implies. They will be permitted to act in defensive and law enforcement roles, but not offensive war-making without my prior authorisation."

    "That's… Fair. What requirements would those be?"

    "The Guardians don’t use orange power rings because they tend to have a deleterious effect on the minds of their users. I suffered from it on more than one occasion prior to my apotheosis, and once the current wave of hostilities is over I'm going to have to sort out a testing regimen for my Tamaranian Lanterns. Fortunately for me, so far as I can tell the Tamaranian attitude of personal openness works to minimise the effects. Your culture is different, more staid, more controlled. The orange light will most likely create greater changes and lead to more instances of… Regrettable lapses in judgement. While I will test Karaltinian applicants to the same standards as Tamaranians, I would expect a greater proportion to fail. Please understand that that won't be because I think the individuals concerned are bad people or spiritually weak. They just won't be right for the role."

    Oswin frowns. "I wasn’t aware of the side effects of using them. But I will accept your provisional agreement on behalf of Her Imperial Majesty. How long do you want to wait before we start sending you candidates?"
     
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  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    12:02 GMT

    Lantern Tui looks a little uncomfortable at my request. "Wouldn't it be better if you did that? No, let me rephrase that: isn't doing that your job?"

    "Guy and I are going to be very busy, and Dulok will have his hands full making sure that Betrassus doesn't explode. You have training and experience in handling Orange Lanterns. And this did happen in your Sector."

    "It's not that I don't understand the logic…"

    "I can offer inducements if you like. I'm happy to give you a holographic disguise that Korugar's scanners can't penetrate. You could hand your ring off to Dulok for a day or so and walk around on your homeworld. Perhaps look up a few friends..?"

    "I…" She looks away, shaking her head. "I don't think that would be a good idea."

    "Hmm." I tap my right fist against my lips. "I am two for three in getting my Sector's Greenies promoted. I imagine that if I focused my efforts on John a little I could probably upskill him sufficiently."

    "I'm sure John would appreciate it, but it's hardly enough to make me want to go on a… Wild Duck chase for you."

    Someone speaks English, doesn't she?

    I smile. "Lantern Tui, are you aware that I see all emotion as patterns of coloured light? So I am perfectly aware that you are exceedingly fond of the chap."

    "You can-?" Her environmental shield expands visibly. An anti-Orange Lantern protocol, but one which doesn't really do much to my empathic vision other than green out the surface level. "I'd rather you avoided doing that."

    "I can't turn it off. And it looks like you can't block it. Look, if it bothers you I won't bring it up again, but when I looked at your desires those were two of the three things that it looked like I could do."

    Her environmental shield dips back down to normal resting levels. "You don't think you can beat Sinestro?"

    "I… Don’t know." And there aren't a lot of Lanterns I can say that about. I'll have to ask the Guardians if they're willing to share his logs… "But it will be easier for me to achieve my own objectives if I avoid having anything to do with him unless it's utterly unavoidable."

    Not that I hadn't considered the issue, even before Dox's revelation. Ah, the eternal question: which version of X am I dealing with? The 'Sinestro Corps' era Sinestro founded a Corps of total monsters in order to force the Guardians to turn their nine law compliant Corps into a military organisation because he believed that a change in their epistemology was essential to create an orderly universe and he'd failed to bring about such a change from the inside. Other versions vary from a conceited power-mad tyrant, an old-school Dark Kantian villain or... Just about anything the writer at the time felt like writing. I suppose I was lucky getting a businessman type Lex Luthor. The Green Lantern Corps considered him to be very good and they haven't managed to bring him down in the seven years since he returned from the anti-matter universe.

    On the other hand, I was working out with two Lanterns they just made Honour Guard members before I left Earth and I generally came out ahead during our spars. How much of a difference does coming from a space-aged civilisation, of growing up with the sort of technology that still fills me with wonder, make in that sort of combat?

    What's the difference between getting your weapons from a crazy American superengineer and getting them from a crazy Qwardian superengineer?

    "Tell you what: how about-."

    Our rings flash, and we both raise them as Guy's face appears.

    "Hey Paul, he's wakin' up. You sure you wanna do this?"

    "I wouldn't say 'sure'…"

    "Fine." "Lantern Tui, I ain't about t' order you t'-."

    "I'd rather handle it myself than leave it undone. By your leave?"

    Guy's construct head nods and she shoots off into the sky. I watch her go for a moment, then transition to the secure medical bay the local ruling clan were only too happy to lend to us. Prince Ragnar is still in his armour, but the mechanical restraints should keep him where he is for the moment. I'm holding his ring in my right hand and his 'buzz sword' is in clear line of sight on a nearby table. Guy and a local doctor stand a little way away. Guy gives me a nod and backs off slightly as I approach her.

    "How is he?"

    "Largely unhurt. If that was what you intended."

    "I just wanted to make sure that there wasn't any obvious damage from his ring usage."

    She makes a small swooping gesture with her hands, the local head shake. "He's carrying a number of minor injuries from his recent duels, along with numerous older injuries. Some of which may have been self-inflicted. Are you taking him with you?"

    "That's up to him."

    "Please do. I'd rather never see him again." She turns away and exits the room with some speed.

    "Uuuuuuuuuh." Prince Ragnar blinks blearily, then tries to roll to his right before being arrested by the clamps. His eyes shoot open as he remembers exactly what just happened, then he lies back and looks at me. "You beat me."

    "I beat you."

    "Trickery."

    "Any and all methods, Rookie Ragnar. And you better believe that they're going to remember me taking your weapons from you and beating you with them."

    His head falls back slightly, then he lifts it to slam it back down against his solid metal headrest.

    "Now, I know you set too much store on your given word to try backing out of the terms of our duel, but just in case I damaged your short term memory-."

    "You are the Illustres of the Orange Lantern Corps, and I have agreed to join. I will fulfil my obligations, but once I learn what you know I will challenge you again."

    "That's not quite how it works." I generate a construct chair and sit down next to him. "You see, the orange light empowers you to get what you want. If you continue to think that what I do is… Trickery, your abilities will be impeded. You'll be empowered to fight against me, but not alongside me. You won't respect me unless you see me as a warrior. But, I don’t want to fight you." I shrug. "I was wondering how to square that circle, then it came to me: we need to fight someone we both want to fight. And since I don't fight for fighting's sake, we should go somewhere I'd been meaning to go for a while."

    Ragnar looks a little curious. "Where?"

    "When a Green Lantern with many years' good service does something so heinous that they must be expelled from the Corps, the Guardians may instead sentence them to exile to the anti-matter universe. It's intended as an opportunity for them to receive an honourable death in combat against the Corps' foes, rather than forcing them to return home in shame. That's what happened to Sinestro, when the Guardians found out what he'd done on Korugar. No one but him knows exactly what happened to him, how he encountered a Weaponer and made common cause with him. Even less how he managed to fight his way through the legions of ships, fixed defences or the Thunderers who guard Qward in order to do it. He was a veteran, but there are limits."

    "So that's where we're going." I pat him on the left shoulder with my right hand and release the restraints. "To Qward, to do some poking around." I step away as he starts to sit up, showing him his ring sitting on my open left palm. "You'll probably want your ring."
     
  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    12:37 GMT

    Lantern Ragnar falls behind as Guy and I make our way through the Sector House. I was slightly concerned that we might have to perform the antimatter shift ourselves, but fortunately they have a polarity shift platform here.

    That just leaves one question.

    "Why do you have an antimatter universe transporter here?"

    "Took it off Sinestro one time. Oa already had one. Tui wan'ed t' keep it just in case."

    Fair enough.

    We land just in front of it and Guy waves his ring at the controls, which glimmer in response. "Jus' take a moment."

    I nod, and turn to see where Ragnar's gotten to. He floats slowly in through the entrance to the portal room, openly gawping like a tourist. He notices my amusement and gestures at the walls around us. "This is the keep of Thaal Sinestro!"

    "You know that he was an archaeology teacher before he joined the Corps, right?"

    "I-." He blinks. "No, I did not. Truly?"

    "Yep. You might want to reconsider the sorts of knowledge you need in order to become a great Lantern."

    He frowns thoughtfully. "Did he maintain his former profession while he was a Lantern?"

    "Nnno?"

    "And the strength of my constructs is dependent on how much I want them?"

    "How much you want them and want the result you are working towards, yes."

    "Then I think that I will leave the humanities to others." He shakes his head. "It would simply serve to distract me." He touches down somewhat roughly. "Are we ready to depart?"

    "Yeah." Guy steps up onto the platform and then turns around. "Three express tickets t' the antimatter universe. Hal always said he thought I'd end up there."

    Ragnar walks past me to join him. "Why?"

    "It's a punishment fer Lanterns who break the rules but prefer t' die than get kicked out'a the Corps."

    Ragnar nods, smiling faintly. "And he believes that is what you would choose. It must be nice that the other Honour Guard Lanterns have such a high opinion of your devotion."

    "Ye-aaaaah." Guy leans his head slightly away from Ragnar. "Really more that he thinks I will get kicked out."

    "But you will do it with honour!"

    Guy looks at me as I join them on the platform. "Re-al keeper y'got here, Paul."

    "Why ask for a spoon if you want a knife? Are we ready?"

    "Yeah. Brace yerselves. I've never done this before, but Hal said it's rou--"

    "Transport to antimatter universe in progress."

    "-ooougoughoughhh."

    Gahhuugh… Yeah… He's… Not wrong. Ugh. Wholeness Rightly Assumed.

    Recalibrating for antimatter body.

    Oh, great.

    "Where is everything?" Prince Ragnar looks around, alert but unafraid. "Betrassus should be in that direction."

    "I'll field that one." Guy nods, his face creasing as he tries to shrug off his own discomportment. "Earth's physicists are still puzzled about why the universe exists. If the alpha event created equal amounts of matter and antimatter, it should have destroyed itself in seconds. Instead, we live in a universe where virtually everything is made of matter and there are only trace amounts of antimatter in the wild." I spread my arms out, indicating the empty region of space around us. "Welcome to why. Something about the alpha event caused the two forms of matter with opposite polarity to exist out of… Phase? With each other. And something about that separation process prevented them becoming perfect mirrors of each other, even though they effectively had exactly the same things in them to start with. You won't actually find many places that have direct matches."

    There's an Earth, but the one Crime Syndicate I've run into is more than enough, thank you very much.

    "Alright, now remember. The first rule of the antimatter universe is-."

    "Don't talk about the antimatter universe?"

    Guy rolls his eyes. "Don't try shiftin' back on yer own. That's a real good way t' explode." His ring twinkles for a moment, then mine does the same. "You wanna come back, you come here or fly t' where Oa is and use that program. The shift will activate."

    Ragnar frowns. "My ring did not glow."

    "Yeah, I ain't so keen on lettin' a Sinestro fanboy have the codes to access Oa."

    Ragnar's frown deepens, but I interject before he can complain. "If I die, you can just take it from my ring."

    He nods. "I will avenge you first, of course."

    "Good-oh. Guy, which way's Qward?"

    "Roughly where Maltus is in the matter universe."

    Okay… Ring. Galactic core is there, spirals go in the opposite direction… Got it. "Ragnar, do you know how to do long distance faster than light travel?"

    For some reason he pauses before answering. "Yes."

    I nod. "Good. We'll be stopping off at Prisathus, the second world of the Irdini System, before moving on to Qward. Going to Qward openly wearing a power ring is a good way to get killed and dissected. We need to join a trade convoy-" Ragnar starts to look truculent. "-and get into one of their surface trade outposts before revealing ourselves and fighting our way into Qward proper."

    "If we're on the planet how are we not in 'Qward proper'?"

    "Qward proper is underground. Or rather, under the planet's super tough shell. Assuming that we survive passage we move with all possible speed to Chief Weaponer Kalmin's fortress. He made Sinestro's yellow power ring and we don't want him making any more. Secondary objectives include gaining intelligence on Qwardian military operations and technology. The tertiary objective is to inflict as much damage on Qwardian production facilities and personnel as possible."

    Ring, plot course.

    Course available.

    "Follow me."
     
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    13:11 GMT


    Miss Amane grins at me as I step through the boom tube, arms folded behind my back. "All clear, Master!"

    "Yes…" I look around at the brutally deconstructed remains of the high caste Dominators who used to run this place. "So I see. Any remaining resistance?"

    "Master." She shakes her head disappointedly. "I would not have said 'all clear' if there were any left alive."

    No, you wouldn’t, would you? I nod as I walk over to their research computer and extend a construct connection between it and Mother Box. "The minefield?"

    "In perfect working order, Master. And the G-Trolls have already installed the boom tube jammer." I turn and walk towards her, causing her to come to attention. And look a little nervous, actually.

    I raise my right hand and pat her on the head with it. "Thank you."

    "Master!"

    "I am also grateful for your work on the Wombworld and on Karna. Many Genomorphs, Karnans and Karaltinians owe you their lives for the devastating effect you had on their defences. And I'm sorry that I haven't made time to speak to you in person since."

    "I-I am happy to serve, Master!"

    "And I am privileged to have your loyalty." Hm. It would be extremely useful to keep this place in one piece. None of what we took from Emana really says Command Centre to me, but we haven't even started work on that ship-scale boom tube, and… Ugh, getting the minefield would require one even bigger. I lift my hand from her head. "Would you please escort me to Mister Dox?"

    She nods, steps back and waves her scythe at the air to her left. There's the expected bang as the boom tube opens. With all but one of the hush tubes being devoted to the logistical effort of moving materials and personnel around in Vega and the last being left available to the Blacks, she and I are left with boom tubes. I… Thinking about it, I should probably get her a Mother Box of her own at some point. I was going to leave off getting one for Lynne until she left High School, but Miss Amane is in the field now… Unfortunately there isn't really anything else I can offer Himon that won't risk Father… Expressing his displeasure.

    And speaking to him again

    I follow Miss Amane through the portal and into what was once the command centre, a couple of G-Elves working at removing the bloodstains. I give them a polite nod before turning my attention to Mister Dox. There's a G-Gnome perched on a chair next to him while the man himself is splitting his attention between the various holoscreens around him.

    "Mister Dox. If I might have a moment of your time?"

    He doesn't look around. "Yes."

    "I am unfamiliar with Coluan social customs, but in most places it's considered polite to look at the person speaking to you."

    "I believe that you are correct. An inefficient social custom."

    "True, but just this once I expect you to put up with it." Acknowledge Your Sovereign!

    His eyes dip, a quiet sigh escaping from his lips as he pauses the flow of information and swivels his chair around. "Grayven of Apokolips. A world not known for its people's largesse. I presume that you want me for something."

    "Oh, I haven't been home for a while. I've picked up all sorts of bad habits. Mercy, compassion, love..." I smile. "But, yes, I do want you for something. Getting good use out of the G-Gnome there?"

    "It is convenient to have another input channel beyond those I naturally possess. It also gave me the opportunity to confirm that my telepathic defences were as strong as I believed them to be."

    "Good man. Sensible use of your time and resources." I generate a construct chair and sit down a short distance from him. "I've got a job for you. I think that it will engage your full intellect for… At least a year, and I'm happy to let you use your spare time to pursue other projects. Should you have any."

    "What do you want me to do?"

    "Two jobs really. Prime Minister of Tamaran and Clarissi of the Orange Lantern Corps."

    He blinks three times rapidly. "Explain."

    "I recently removed an oppressive government from the Vega Systems, and now Tamaran has the opportunity to rebuild itself. I was able to secure some orbital infrastructure so you wouldn't be working from scratch, but there's little infrastructure on the planet and dozens of potentates with their own priorities ready to fight you on every decision. A good deal of your job will involve keeping them on-side and focused on the task."

    "Explain Orange Lantern Corps."

    I raise my left hand to show him the sigil on my ring. "Orange power rings. They run on avarice rather than willpower. I've got one for you if you take the job."

    Ping!

    "Oh, and they can have adverse effects on the minds of their users. The first fellow to try using one for any length of time turned into a total basket case. I haven't really noticed anything too bad." For a moment I look at my arms and try to imagine the response of my former self to what I've done to myself.



    Huh.

    Okay, but I don't think it was the orange light doing that.

    "Point is-" I fold my arms back behind my back. "-that I'd also like you to organise the Corps. Most of it will be creating working procedures, recruitment and training programs, managing resources in relation to my directives… Essentially being my Chief Executive. At the moment there are fewer than two hundred Lanterns but that number can increase for as long as they stay mentally stable and we have a use for them." I smile faintly. "You will not get an offer like this from anyone else."

    "And if I refuse?"

    I shrug. "Then I'll drop you off on the planet of your choosing and wish you all the best. That's pretty much what I'm going to do with everyone else here." But who would I take on in his place? Maybe… An AI of some kind? I never did bother asking after Red Inferno…

    "Some of the people here are violent criminals."

    "And? If you hand people over to the Dominators you rather lose the right to complain about their custodial failures. To anyone but them, anyway."

    "And if I accepted your offer, then wanted to leave later?"

    "You could… Your severance package would depend on exactly how much of a pickle you were leaving us in. Set things up and train a replacement first and I might even let you keep your ring." I half turn away. "Come on, the sooner you get started-."

    "I haven't accepted yet."

    I stop. "What were you planning to do with your freedom, Mister Dox? Start your own White Hat mercenary band, wasn't it?"

    "You saw the recordings."

    "No." I really didn't. Honest. But the G-Gnomes confirmed my comic-related memories before Miss Amane pulled him out. "But even your actions are predictable within a given range. Now, you're an intelligent man. Perhaps you could pull it off without any seed capital, personnel or other resources at all. But it would take longer and be much harder. No, you'll come with me, even if it's just to get more information. And when you do that, you'll inevitably start thinking about how to make the whole situation work for you. And since your information about anywhere else would be worse…" I shrug. "I'll see you when you yield to common sense."
     
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  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    14:36 GMT

    The crew chief looks at us uncomfortably as the unarmed shuttle lands gently on the landing platform of the Qwardian surface city. Having had a chance to read up on the local documentation I have to say that it isn't really a Qwardian Qwardian city. The locals don't live here-.

    Ah, sorry, I should say 'a Q'ardajin city'. Humans' name for our species means 'thinking man'. Their name for their species means something like 'people who guide destruction'.

    At least we've confirmed that the Anti-Monitor is no longer in residence. That's not a fight I'm anything like ready for.

    "Okay." The crew chief is Prisathian, from a world that's been a Qwardian tributary for so long that their history makes no mention of them ever being anything else. They're a pseudo-amphibian species that have actually benefited from Qwardian society's recent opening of its markets; people want Qwardian weapons but would much rather not go to Murderworld themselves. "I don't know who you are or why you wanted to come here. And I don't intend to find out." I nod as I pass him the case of rhodium coins that represent the balance of our payment. It's unlikely that he'll betray us now that we're here; the Q'ardajin would consider him fatally culpable at this point and he knows that if we're here to start trouble we either don't mind dying or are very well equipped. "Wait until we're gone before doing whatever you came here to do. Oh, and on the off-chance that you're really just here to buy weapons, my corporation is happy to handle shipping for all Council of Commanders approved contracts."

    He hands me a business card, and I slip it into my suit. "Thank you. Should we require shipping, yours is the first name we will enquire after."

    He flaps his gill slits nervously, then pulls the lever which operates the door. "Enjoy your stay…"

    Guy stomps forward first, clanking across the gantry towards the reception centre in 'local veteran mercenary' armour. The Q'ardajin don't much care who comes and goes from places like this, so while they probably have scanners capable of detecting residual power ring energy they haven't bothered deploying them here. Conventional security isn't all that tight, either. Everyone who comes here knows what will happen to them and everyone around them if their behaviour arouses the ire of their hosts, and the Q'ardajin don't feel the need for import/export controls. There are a couple of the flying robotic heads that serve as security monitor drones in the upper parts of the large chamber we're entering, and a small cluster of the drug-stupefied slave-clones that form the first line of expendable soldiery in the event of actual problems. Biologically they're basically Q'ardajin, but have longer arms and a much more developed musculature as well as ape-like facial proportions.

    It's interesting. A lot of places like this wouldn't want their mutants to be on display like this. They'd think it made their species seem fallible and less intimidating. But the Q'ardajin genuinely don’t care what others think of them, rather than not caring for their approval. These poor unfortunates work as intimidating engines of destruction, so they put them to work.

    A robohead painted in pale green floats down towards us from an alcove in the ceiling. "Identify yourselves."

    "I'm Ernie Ernest. These 're my friends Joseph Jones-" He holds out his right hand in my direction. "-and Donovan Wallace. Joe an' me are from Earth, Don's from Uranus."

    "State your business on Qward."

    "Takin' in the bazaars, buying some samples. Maybe see about taking part in some pit fights." He shrugs. "See how it goes."

    "Noted. Excellent odds are currently being offered against alien mercenaries prepared to take on Thunderers, while shorter but still profitable odds are offered on mercenary teams taking on exotic competitors such as Qward-built combat robots and cyborg-slaughterhounds."

    "I was really thinking something a little more survivable, heh. Q'ardajin.. ain't exactly people I'd want t' pick a fight with."

    "House policy states that what happens in the pits stays in the pits. However, lesser gladiatorial pits are available if you wish to test yourselves." There's a small flash from its mouth as it fabricates a holoprojector, which it ejects in Guy's direction. He catches it, then turns it on for a second. "This contains a map suggesting local locations which may prove to be of interest to you. Have a profitable trip."

    "Yeah. Thanks." The head has already started floating back up to its recharging alcove. "Bet cha' Hal didn't get those."

    He leads the way out of the reception centre airlocks and out onto the street. Qward's outer surface has an atmosphere, but it's thin and not exactly fresh-smelling. With our rings warded and placed in dimensionally displaced pockets to avoid detection we're relying on facemasks to provide us with readily breathable air. They also allow us to mask our communication from external monitoring.

    "Robot greeters don't exactly shout 'galactic menace', do they?"

    Ragnar looks around, staring combatively at anyone who looks like they might be able to provide a decent challenge. "I will be severely disappointed if this is the limit of their people's capacity for combat."

    "Trust me, it isn't."

    "Actually…"

    "What?"

    "You get a look at the sensor panel when we were comin' in?"

    "Yes?"

    "Lot fewer ships than I was expectin'. Might even be we coulda flown through it." He tilts his head to the side. "Wouldna' been easy, but…"

    "Is that new? I always got the impression they were supposed to be a major menace."

    "What, you didn't get that off'f John's ring?"

    "No. I assume that it was highly classified, need to know only. Now, if I'd have pinched Jordan's ring…"

    "Anyway, somethin' screwy's goin' on. I think we should have an actual look around, not just head for the shaft."

    "Okay. Anywhere in particular?"

    "Bars 're usually pretty good places t' start somethin' like that."

    I wince. "Last time I walked into a bar like that everyone fled and I got attacked by a squad of Thanagarian mercenaries."

    He raises his eyebrows slightly. "Really?"

    I nod. "We talked it out, but it wasn't-."

    "No, I jus' can't see you walkin' int' a bar." He smirks. "But did j'a learn anythin'?"

    "Yes, actually. Alright, it's a reasonable place to start." I half-turn. "Rag… Nar?"

    Who isn't there. Oh… Shazbot.

    Guy snorts. "Lose the rookie already?"

    "Yes, yes I have." Take a risk on empathic vision… There he goes. Running around somewhere like this is probably not a good idea. "Okay, which bar are you going to be in?"

    He slaps my chest with the back of his right hand. "Don't be dumb, Paul. We ain't splittin' up. You get after him, I'll watch yer back."

    "Right."

    Doing my best to look like a confident and well armed weapons merchant, I set off through the city.
     
  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    14:43 GMT

    And of course he headed straight for a fighting pit. And the only explanation I have for how he got that far ahead is that he didn't mind drawing attention to himself by running. We didn't take the time to do much work on his armour and unlike Guy and myself he didn't have any changes of outfit stored in subspace. As a result, one sensor dampening cloak aside he's still wearing his royal armour. It's not that there aren't people in snazzy armour around here, but they generally have Writs of Invitation and substantial bodyguards to protect them. There are already a number of people not-so-subtly following-.

    Ugh. Weaving through the crowd I step up behind a lightly armoured figure who wasn't paying quite enough attention to his environment and hold an x-ionised knife to his throat. "Hello there."

    He tenses slightly but doesn't otherwise move. "I'm wearing a force field, fool."

    "And I'm not fool enough to threaten someone wearing a force field with a knife that can't penetrate it. The chap in the fancy armour is a friend of mine. Eyes off."

    He hesitates, perhaps weighing up his chances. "Fine. But I can't speak for anyone else."

    "I wouldn't expect you to." No one approaching me. "Now, I'm going to turn left and you're going to turn with me. When we're pointing at the door, you're going to start walking and keep walking until you're outside. On two."

    We turn, and I move my knife aside slightly to get him leave. He goes a couple of steps before taking a sneaky look back, but my clothing masks my face and is generic enough not to be particularly notable. His armour is a little more notable, with the red smears across… He's a gang member. Ah, doesn't matter. It's not as if we're sticking around. Or ever coming back. Now, where's Ragnar gotten t-.

    "…new entrant to the blood arena, Donovan Wallace of Uranus!"

    Ooooh. Drat. I sigh. At least he remembered his cover name.

    "And his opponent, victor of over eighty bouts and making his seventh appearance in the blood arena, Thunderer Duran of Qward!"

    No no no no no. I step forward with a little more force now, making my way to the edge of the third floor balcony overlooking the pit. I'm going to assume that he got in there that quick because they were having trouble getting a Thunderer an opponent. The thing about Thunderers is that while in the comics they've suffered from major villain decay -losing to Jordan on several occasions in spite of his acknowledged skill shortage while dressed like silver age villains, an army of them getting pasted by a five man Crime Syndicate, getting near-exterminated by the first members of the Sinestro Corps- in the real world they really haven't. They're superbly well trained and equipped soldiers. I doubt that he'll be using qwa-bolts in confines this close -because there wouldn't be an arena afterwards if he does- but their melee weapons use tiny amounts of qwa-energy to cleave through anything and their armour and shields are at least as good as anything I could make. They're generally not all that agile in the air -which is how Green Lanterns best them- but at close quarters like this their strengths are magnified.

    He better not be planning on using his ring.

    Ragnar vaults over the edge of the lower balcony, brandishes his buzz sword and holds his arms up for the crowd to hail him. A few bang mugs against the balcony lip but there are more laughs than acknowledgements. His expression changes from expectant to dismissive, though I make a point of jabbing my right forefinger at him when he turns my way.

    That causes the git to smile again.

    His opponent isn't made to vault over anything; they open the actual pit doors for him. The Thunderer's traditional wing-decorated helmet sits on his head, and the thing about a helmet with wings on is that it's still a metal case to protect the wearer's head, which is more than ninety five percent of superheroes manage. Thick armour covers his chest, back, forearms, shoulders and lower legs, while a flexible mesh undersuit protects the rest of him. I haven't been able to precisely evaluate the buzz sword, but I wouldn't want to try it against the solid plates. That leaves face, thighs and sides as targets. His eyes are covered by the red cybernetic attachments Q'ardajin elites like to use in place of their natural eyes. It makes them seem somewhat bug-eyed, but it also serves to render them immune to a wide range of visual distractions and widens the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum they can see. There's a quiver on his back, but it's empty. Instead of the qwa-bolts I half-feared, he hoists a round shield and a short sword aloft.

    "BLOOD AND PAIN! BLOOD AND FIRE! BLOOD AND DEATH!"

    This time the crowd roars its approval. Only sensible really, however they actually feel about it. In the dim light from where the Thunderer entered I can see the faint glow of his personal organiser robohead, and I don't doubt for a moment that it's recording everything.

    Ragnar looks mildly put out by the approval his opponent is getting, but gamely makes a salute with his sword before picking a stance with sword raised high and both hands on the grip. For his part the Thunderer crouches slightly, shield forward and sword drawn back to stab.

    No salute for the alien.

    Right, I need to get down to that level and prepare to intervene. Or at least grab him once the match is over so he can't sign up for another one. And -I spot another spectator having his pocket picked- I need to avoid getting blindsided. And make sure that if he dies then none of the locals gets his ring. Getting it off whoever gets to strip his corpse is going to be awkward, especially if I want to stay undetected.

    He and I are going to have a chat about mission discipline after this is over. After Lantern Tui tells me what she found out.

    As I walk away from the balcony the noise from the crowd jumps and I hear the thump and clang of their initial probing exchanges. Ragnar's sword glows a sort of purply-pink when active and qwa-energy discharges tend to be a shimmering yellow. Not that it'll look anything like a lightsaber battle: Ragnar's sword might go through the Thunderer's armour but if he tries to parry with it, the Thunderer's sword will go straight through it without slowing.

    Across the room I see two people with red stripes on their armour watching me. Ugh, already? No, worry about that later. Another round of clanging and stamps as I thread my way through the crowd in the direction of the stairs downwards. Two well-equipped bouncers are vetting the people allowed down, though they don't appear to be troubling those who come up. I step into the clear circle in front of them and look the closest in the eye.

    "What's the entry fee?"

    "A Qwardian supply contract, a pit-record or being Qwardian."

    "Don't you mean 'Q'ardajin'?"

    She huffs. "No one calls them that. They don't like it when aliens use 'their word'."

    Ah. Noted. "The man fighting the Thunderer down there works for me. I'd like to show my support."

    "That sucks for you. But you can support his death wish perfectly well from up here."

    "I don't suppose that I could interest you in a bribe?"

    "I dunno. Could you?"

    I turn up my empathic vision. What does she or the house want? Ah! It's just a screening process. Those aren't hard and fast rules, just baselines. Anyone prepared to splash around more than a certain amount of money is allowed down. If I bribe big, they'll let me past and mark me down for a fleecing. Hard to judge precisely, but… I put my right hand inside my robes and pull out two platinum coins, then hold them out.

    She raises her eyebrows, apparently not impressed.

    "I'll make sure I get a supply contract really soon."

    She grabs the coins from my grip, making a point of tugging hard on my fingers and in doing so triggering my kinetic barrier. She feels that happening, her expression getting just a little more respectful. She steps aside. "Anyone asks, you snuck past."

    "Is that better?"

    "Big crowd, someone pushes past in the confusion. We're muscle, not psychics."

    "Okay, thank you." Another series of thuds from the pit. The crowd has quietened down quite a bit. I guess that Ragnar's doing a reasonable job. I walk past the guards and hurry down the steps as fast as decorum permits me.
     
  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    14:48 GMT

    There's a good deal less competition for space next to the balcony on this level, though that may be because no one wants to get too close to the small Q'ardajin… You know what, Qwardian is easier to say. The small Qwardian contingent watching their comrade in arms. Their officer actually looks at me curiously as I intrude on the invisible bubble around them in order to watch Ragnar…

    Ah. I wouldn't say that he's winning, but he is doing okay. It seems that he learned to avoid the qwa-blade the hard way: there are rents in his bracers and I think that I can see a little dried blood as well. A few angry red-purple burns have appeared on his face, though those are from near misses. If the Thunderer had hit then he wouldn't have a head any more.

    In return, the Thunderer's shield is mildly scored in a few places.

    "Impressed?"

    Aaand the Thunderer officer appears to have decided to slum it with an alien. Marvellous. "Mildly impressed that he isn't dead yet."

    He pauses for a moment. "The challenger is a friend of yours?"

    "Recent employee. His death would be… Awkward in some ways. Convenient in others."

    "His armour and sword are unequal to the task." I nod without turning away and Ragnar weaves around a series of stabs, preventing his opponent pressing with a series of high and low swings aimed around the Thunderer's shield. "But his skill does not shame him."

    "I'm sure that he'd appreciate the compliment, sir."

    "He'll not live to hear it." He leans forward. "Duran, press!"

    A moment's distraction, Thunderer Duran's eyes move to his boss for a instant. Ragnar takes advantage immediately, ducking slightly and moving around to the Thunderer's shield-side so that the man can't see him clearly. He then brings his sword around in a two handed swing directly at the shield. It hits home and is deflected right back by the interaction of its own force field and the nature of whatever the shield is made of. The Thunderer turns instinctively in that direction at the same time as Ragnar swings wide in the other direction, his buzz sword striking the armour covering the Thunderer's upper sword arm. There's a momentary flare of purple energy as the buzz sword's force fields go a little crazy at finally getting something solid to bite into-

    "Gyagh!"

    -then the Thunderer reacts, slicing awkwardly at Ragnar's extended arms with his qwa-blade.

    "Agh!"

    The blade passes through Ragnar's armour, but I don't think that he got anything critical. Ragnar backs off, smiling viciously as the Thunderer takes a moment to check his wound. Yep, that went through the armour and drew blood.

    My neighbour seems somewhat less than impressed, breath hissing through his teeth. Yes, slumming it like this only works if you don't lose, doesn't it?

    "Will you take a turn in the pit yourself?"

    "I don't think so. Public exhibitions aren't really my thing."

    The Thunderer moves his shield to the side, giving himself more room to move his sword. He also switches from a stabbing stance to a slicing one, advancing more rapidly as blood drips from his wound. That looks like it hurts a lot, but Qwardian upbringing leaves its survivors well equipped to endure pain. And Ragnar… He's clearly loving this. He tries to take advantage of his opponent's opening, but rather than interpose his shield the Thunderer uses his sword's lighter weight to parry-.

    That's not a parry. Ragnar realises his mistake too late as the qwa-sword severs the tip of his buzz sword, the area around the slice going dull and grey. Ragnar at least doesn't repeat his error, making probing swings but making sure not to let his sword contact his opponent's.

    "Better."

    He doesn't sound happy about it. Reminds me of EA: anything less than total victory starts to look like a failure. Even if Duran ran Ragnar through now this fight has demonstrated that Thunderers aren't actually all that skilful and that alien weapons can stand up to Qwardian weapons. Even when you win, you lose.

    Ragnar holds his sword out towards his opponent, then glances back as he realises how close he is to the pit's wall. He lunges, aiming the severed tip of his sword at the Thunderer's chest. The Thunderer steps back and swings, cutting another chunk of Ragnar's sword off-. Ragnar keeps coming, dropping the remains of his sword and slamming bodily into the Thunderer, left hand grabbing at his sword's hilt while his right-

    "GAH!"

    -hand stabs into the wound his prior attack made. The Thunderer's shield is sheared in half as the Thunderer loses control of his sword, the shock causing him to drop it to the pit's floor. Ragnar grins, then swings his right fist into his opponent's unarmoured chin.

    "Yah!"

    The Thunderer officer's hands crush the balcony railing.

    Ragnar swings his left arm outwards, knocking what's left of the shield out of the Thunderer's hand as the qwa-sword falls to the ground. The Thunderer strikes Ragnar's bare head with his left elbow but Ragnar just absorbs the hit with a bloody smile and grabs his opponent's helmet, stabbing his thumbs through the eye slits.

    "Nruh!"

    Ragnar lifts, the Thunderer's helmet coming free and revealing his shattered cybernetic eyes beneath. Ragnar swings, striking Duran in the face with his own helmet and knocking him back before tossing it aside and slamming his fist into his enemy's forehead.

    The Thunderer falls, stumbling backwards before collapsing. Ragnar looks around for a moment, grins, then bends down to pick up no why are you doing that! He picks up the qwa-blade and raises it above his head in a salute to the crowd who are watching in silence.

    "Victory!"

    I look at the commander. The man might have accepted one of his losing a fight, but touching a qwa-energy based weapon?

    "Hold him."

    The other Thunderers draw their own blades and level them at me. I raise my hands, showing myself to be unarmed. "Commander-."

    The commander vaults over the balcony, Ragnar turning to face him as he lands. "Another challenger? I'm hardly fresh, but I'll face you tomorrow-."

    The Commander lunges, and as Ragnar moves to counter he twists his wrist and slashes sideways-. Ragnar's sword and forearm go flying-

    "Phrah."

    -and then the Commander's left gauntlet smashes into his face, breaking his nose and stunning him.

    "Thunderers, ascend! Bring them!"

    One of the Thunderers facing me sheathes his sword and tosses g-huh. An electrified bolas-thing. It wraps itself around me, paralysing my body. Still nothing I can't fight my way out of, and 'bring them' suggests that they're not planning to kill me immediately.

    The Thunderer who bound me hoiks me onto his shoulder and then activates his armour's flight system. There's an explosion as we shoot upwards, bits of ceiling raining down and I get a half-second view of Guy being entangled in the same way I am. Another has Ragnar, his severed stump thoroughly cauterised.

    And then the Commander flies out through the roof, flies high and draws a qwa-bolt from his quiver. He looks down at the pit beneath us and the streets surrounding them.

    Then he throws the bolt, a yellow smear briefly connecting it to the ground.

    And then the area evaporates in a wave of yellow energy.
     
  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    16:07 GMT

    "No fuckin' way."

    "Your doubt is-."

    "No fuckin' way!" Guy glares at Ragnar. "There is no fuckin' way you planned this!"

    Ragnar shifts his right arm slightly, drawing emphasis to the cauterized portion. "Not in every detail-."

    "You know nothing about Qwardians and your arm got cut off. Admit it. You jus' ran off 'cause you wann'ed t' fight someone."

    Ragnar draws himself up slightly. "They are clearly a martial people, much like my own. I assumed that by taking part in one of their traditions I could ingratiate myself with them and win an invitation into their keep."

    I look around our oubliette. "And here we are."

    The Thunderers none-too-gently flew us to their closest fortification and dropped us in a holding cell. They didn't even bother giving us a more than cursory check over. I mean, yes, none of the weapons we're carrying apart from our rings would enable us to escape, but there's such a thing as professionalism. As it is, we're as close to the tunnel into Qward proper as we can be without flying through it and it's all due to the Thunderers themselves.

    "And if their boss had cut off your head rather than your hand?"

    I actually hear Ragnar chuckle. "Death is always a possibility in combat. Even in training." He lifts his injured arm higher to get a clearer look. "Though I will look forward to having a force-cloned arm grafted on as a replacement, since I no longer have my sword the lack of a forearm should not affect my combat performance too greatly."

    "Here." I reach into one of my inner pockets and pull out a vial of Wallace's healing potion before passing it in Ragnar's direction. "Drink this."

    "No. Pain is both a powerful motivational tool and a training aid. I strengthen my spirit by resisting it."

    "It's not a painkiller, it's a regenerator. It won't grow your arm back but it should prevent you being weakened by your minor injuries." He doesn't reach for it. "If we were in a safe location I'd let you bleed to your heart's content. We're not, we're in enemy territory and I expect you to be at full fitness. This is an order, rookie."

    He grimaces, but obediently snatches it out of my hand. "What is it?" He removes the cap with his teeth and takes a sniff. "Nanotechnology? Some sort of smart bacteria?"

    "A magic potion. Now, before you say anything-." His eyes widen slightly, then he downs it. "Oh. I was expecting more scepticism."

    "Sinestro's sister was a witch of considerable power. I was briefly interested in the art myself, but was unable to find anyone who could teach me." He checks the vial to make sure that it's completely empty, then drops it on the ground. "I.. had not realised that you appreciated.. my service enough to offer me such a valuable unguent." He gives me a shallow bow. "Thank you."

    "Hah!"

    "You're welcome, but… Um. Our homeworld has.. lots of magic users. A friend of mine is working on mass producing that stuff. I mean, I don't.. have all that much with me"

    "Oh. Well. My thanks anyway." Orange light glows in his eyes. "Exactly how common is-?"

    "And you won't need to get a cloned replacement. Given how much a fundamental part of your identity your ability with melee weapons is, I'd be surprised if you don't just grow it back."

    "Your species may be able to regenerate rapidly, but I will not grow my arm back without external aid."

    "Ragnar, when they come and get us for what will probably be a public execution in revenge for embarrassing them-."

    He frowns. "Why would you assume that? If their leader wanted me dead then he would have slain me in the pit. I am expecting them to make us fight them to the death, in a private place where their ineptitude will not shame them before others."

    "Why?" I look around. "To be honest, I was expecting there to be a giant monster in here."

    "Anti-Monitor aside, Qwardians don't really go in for giant monsters." He turns to Ragnar. "And how did you know me an' Paul weren't gunna pick a fight with the Qwardians then an' there?"

    "Actually, I was surprised that they were able to capture you. I assumed that you would evade them and meet up with me later."

    "I don't let the bad guys just carry off my guys. But I was this close-."

    The barred gates to our enclosure slam open, two Qwardians armed with some sort of gun taking up position at the edges of the opening as the commander stands in the centre. The three of us turn to face them.

    "I am Commander Roval and you are my slaves until such time as your miserable lives are extinguished. And that time will not be long in coming. You will either leave this cell of your own accord or you will be driven from it. Then you will be assigned the greatest honour aliens such as you may aspire to: duty as weapon test dummies for my troops."

    "Perhaps your troops can best test dummies. Are the rest as skilled as the one I cut down?"

    "I will kill you personally." Commander Roval turns away and walks down the corridor without bothering to glance back.

    "You see!" Ragnar grins at me. "He recognises my skill!"

    One of the remaining Thunderers levels his gun at Ragnar. "Out. Now."

    Ragnar leaves first, grinning smugly as we walk to our intended deaths. Guy and I walk side by side as the Thunderers back off, keeping out of charge range as they keep their guns levelled at us.

    "Sinestro has a sister, huh?"

    Guy glances at me with his left eyebrow raised. "You didn't know that?"

    "No, I really didn't. Korugar's history doesn't dwell on her."

    "She didn't really do much. I think Hal fought her, like, once."

    "What's her name? I could probably look her up."

    "Ah… I don't really remember. I think it was something like '-."

    "Silence!"

    We both glance at the increasingly unamused Thunderers escorting us. "Tell me later."

    Ten grams of platinum on 'Dextera'.

    The passageway we're walking along is broad, and I can already see the wide opening of the external exit. Maybe that was an animal pen they put us in? My air mask would have kept the smell out. I can already hear the chanting of the Thunderers outside, the air reverberating with cries of 'Blood and X'. I get a better view as we come to the mouth of the tunnel. There are about forty Thunderers, arrayed in ranks around what I'm going to assume is the fighting area, and a scarred Thunderer responds to a nod from Roval by thrusting the handle of an unpowered sword at Ragnar's remaining hand. Ragnar takes it with a polite nod, quite cheerfully striding after Roval into the open area.

    These poor bastards.
     
  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    16:12 GMT

    "Fellow Thunderers of Qward!"

    Ragnar is shoved out into the fighting circle, but for the moment no one steps forward to join him. Instead, Commander Roval remains at the entrance with his arms raised for attention.

    "When I commanded you to make use of the gladiatorial pits the aliens have assembled on our world's surface, I did so in the certain knowledge that real combat teaches lessons that no amount of sparring amongst ourselves or against automata could teach! This past year we have spilt more of the blood of inferior species than at any other point in our lives, and I know that you have relished that opportunity as I have!" He starts to pace, arms waving. "But today! Today the unthinkable has occurred! One of our own, beaten, by this alien you see before you now!"

    A murmur runs through the crowd.

    "This is unacceptable. He must die for his temerity. But. This also represents an opportunity. Far more can be learned from a skilled warrior than from the bravos and scum who are all we usually fight, but such public loss of face cannot be countenanced. This Donovan Wallace of Uranus has shamed one of us."

    The back of the crowd of Thunderers parts, and I see two escorting a third between them. He isn't wearing a helmet, his cybernetic eyes are broken and wires run from the holes where they used to be to a band around his head. Ah, some sort of sensor. It looks like Thunderer Duran has recovered from his cranial trauma. Aside from the blood steadily running out of his eye sockets and the obvious patch job on the armour protecting his sword arm.

    "Duran failed in his task, and so he will be granted the first bout. Should he emerge the victor, he will be repaired and allowed to regain his place amongst us, his honour unstained! Should he lose, lots will be drawn for the alien's next opponent until he finally falls. When he falls, we will move on to his comrades."

    Ragnar grins. "I'll kill all of you!"

    One of Duran's escort shoves a qwa-blade into his healthy hand, then they both back off and rejoin the ranks of Thunderers surrounding him. Huh. Mundane sword against Thunderer armour means 'head shots only', qwa-blade against an injured Betrassusian means 'any hit wins'.

    I take a moment to look around. If this is the local Keep, the portal to Qward's innards should be… Over there, I think..? We're not going to get a better location to go 'active' from. Of course, Ragnar himself is loving this.

    Too bad.

    "Ragnar!" He looks around, a look of sudden discontentment on his face as he works out what I'm about to order him to do. "Arm up!"

    He grins, and raises his sword into a higher posture.

    "You have a concealed weapon, alien?" Roval sounds almost amused as he draws his own sword. "Draw it and die."

    I smile faintly, holding out my hands slightly with palms upwards.

    "This is my cause, this is my fight,
    Shine through the void with orange light.
    I've claimed all within my sight.
    To keep what is mine, that is my right."

    My rings shimmer into being, Guy following suit a moment later. Roval's grip on his sword tightens slightly as he stares mystified at the orange rings.

    "What-?"

    A construct cold gun shot to the throat silences him as my clothes evaporate, being replaced by my power armour. His corpse falls to the ground, his brittle-frozen neck snapping and breaking apart as he hits the stones.

    "Agh!"

    Ragnar has obediently donned his ring, but it looks like he wasn't ready for it to recreate his arm. The grizzled Qwardian who passed him the sword is more on the ball than the stunned rank and file, his gun coming up pointed at Ragnar the moment he starts glowing. I generate construct armour around myself as I redirect my cold gun. But Guy's beaten me to it, a bolt of green striking the weapon and its wielder.

    "Head in the game, rookie!"

    Ragnar generates construct armour around himself, a construct replacement for his lost buzz sword-.

    "Use a gun you prat!"

    The Thunderers are alert now, rising into the air with shields pointing towards us and their swords out. Those I'm not so worried about, but-. I see one at the back of the crowd grab a qwa-bolt from his quiver. A cold beam from my construct splashes off his shield as I fly in an evasive pattern. Every one of these Thunderers has qwa-bolts, and our best chance to make it through this fight is to keep them too occupied to draw them.

    Guy's in his element, darting around and striking Thunderers from odd angles to bypass their shields. A small group fly at him with their swords out and he's forced to back off. A moment later Ragnar surges into them, bodily battering one out of the air and slicing into the side armour of another with his construct sword.

    "Oaagh!"

    I duck under a Thunderer's charge and then blindly lash out with my right arm, hitting him in the back. His armour doesn'tshitshitshitshit!

    I fly as fast as possible sideways as I spot a Thunderer level a qwa-bolt in my direction. There's a crack sound as it activates, the comic-style lightning bolt leaping from the Thunderer's hand in a brilliant bolt which instantly connects it to the wall behind me. The wall is cratered, three Thunderers who were in the way simply annihilated and my construct armour basically gone on the side facing it.

    "Shoot anyone who goes for their bolts!"

    I manifest two additional cold guns and set them to target exposed flesh. Guy's mostly just battering them down with brute force while Ragnar's charging and stabbing-.

    I form a railgun construct as I spot a shield huddle forming around a Thunderer on the ground. They don't appear to be wearing any sort of sound filter, so I generate a sonic cannon and project a vertigo signal in their direction at the same time as loading a crumbler construct. Their shields waver slightly, but I think they're mostly just gritting their teeth and bearing it. My cold guns fire again as Thunderers try to hem me in, forcing me to duck and weave-. They're aiming not at me directly but at my construct guns. That near miss cost me a cold gun, but now I've got space I fire the crumbler round. It strikes-. Ugh, it hits a shield… Which survives, but generates such a colossal wave of force that it knocks the huddle back and gives me a clear view of the Thunderer with the qwa-bolt.

    And gives him a clear view of me.

    In a split second I fire twice and then take an armoured barrier out of subspace and interpose it. In the same moment he finishes calculating his shot and triggers his bolt. The barrier vaporises and all too much of the residual force slams

    I hit the ground, construct armour gone and my power armour a wreck pinning me down. Two Thunderers fly at me, swords outstretched for a finishing blow. My construct armour reappears and I drag myself along the ground away from them. Cold guns. Two construct guns appear, one on either side of them. One Thunderer takes a hit on the neck and dies instantly while the other gets his arm in the way. The beam is partially diffused around his armour, but I see him shudder and grit his teeth as the remaining energy starts freezing him.

    A green speck pierces the wall on the far side of the arena and flies toward the one Qwardian who hasn't moved since the fight started.

    My pursuer falls back, unable to keep control of his flight system. I use the moment's respite to begin repairing my armour and checking on my colleagues. Guy's energy pulses are knocking Qwardians out of the air with ease, sending them into the ground with bone cracking force. I suppose that the Guardians' rules against killing are a bit fuzzier on the subject of compound fractures. Ragnar leaps Mass Effect Vanguard style from Thunderer to Thunderer, his sword always finding the thinner parts of their armour.

    "Duran of Qward. Do you wish to regain your honour?"

    What's that?

    Ragnar's former opponent grabs the thing-. It's a ring, a power ring. "Yes." There's a flash of dull green as he jams it on his right middle finger, the bronze of his armour being replaced by the colours of the Anti-Green Lantern Corps.

    "Then welcome to the Antithesis Corps. Twenty four hours of life remain to you. May your death bring glory to Qward."
     
  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    16:15 GMT

    Guy pauses in his battering. "Ah, great. One a' those."

    I hit two Qwardians who thought I was distracted enough not to notice them going for their qwa-bolts with cold beams. "Guy, stay away. He can drain-."

    "At last!" Ragnar grins. "An equal!"

    At least he seems to still be in control of himself. I just wish I was in control of himself. Ragnar charges towards Lantern Duran, who responds by lashing out with his injured arm. A wave of dull green energy surges out from his ring, slamming into Ragnar and beating him back. Ragnar goes flying, his construct armour cracking and failing as he slams into the ground in an uncontrolled hurtle.

    "Get up, alien! My sole remaining purpose in life is to humble you and then kill you!"

    Ragnar nods as his construct armour knits itself back together. "Better than you have tried!"

    Yes, I imagine that teaching him to be humble would be an uphill battle. Ah, okay, if his construct armour still exists at all then anti-green rings don't have the same 'total nullification' effect against orange rings that they do against green ones. He should be able to manage against another rookie for a little while.

    "Orange? An interesting choice."

    W-? There's a Qwardian face, wearing what looks like a deerstalker hat and with a pair of welding goggles across his eyes.

    "Avarice, if I remember correctly. Fortunate for me that you use the same communication system as the Green Lanterns."

    Ragnar and Duran engage in a brief beam of war. Ragnar's orange force projection gets battered back, but fortunately he has the sense to get out of the way rather than simply let his enemy's attack strike home. He fires a conventional energy pulse back, which Duran blocks with a construct shield which mimics the one he had during their pit fight.

    A qwa-bolt I'd missed narrowly misses Guy before slamming into -and through- a nearby wall, revealing a hole inside. Quick scan… Yes, that's our way down. I fly towards the opening, cold gun constructs taking shots of opportunity. Once we're in the open air, evading qwa-bolts will be a far simpler matter. And assuming that they haven't had any major upgrades we're all faster than Thunderers in the air.

    "I had considered using it, but I found that it tended to drive my test subjects insane."

    "Chief Weaponer Kalmin, I presume?"

    "Not any longer. 'Weaponer' will do fine. Is the Green Lantern of Sector Two Eight One Four with you?"

    His head turns around on my ring and he catches sight of Guy dodging and weaving as he uses construct lassos to pull the qwa-blade of one Thunderer into the arm of another. The resulting energy discharge blasts the arm to pieces, burns the armour protecting the Thunderer's side and probably causes all kinds of internal injuries. It also allows Guy to grab the man's severed hand with a construct, said hand still holding his qwa-blade. Guy then uses that to stab at a third Thunderer from odd angles, removing his left leg in a flash of yellow energy.

    "No, no one from Two Eight One Four is that creative."

    "They are since I've been teaching them. Power rings are tools, not weapons."

    "An intelligent attitude. Which is not to say that they don’t work perfectly well as weapons."

    The handful of Thunderers left are keeping their distance from Guy and I, mostly wanting to keep a solid wall between themselves and us. Could kill them all, but as long as they're suppressed they won't prevent us moving on to our objective. "Guy, ready to leave?"

    Guy takes a second to check his surroundings, then generates a green construct demolition charge on the wall above where most of our foes are hiding. "Nearly." I see it as a green blast wave shoots through the wall, causing it to collapse onto our opponents. Trapping them in a way which probably won't kill them. As long as-.

    A yellow explosion evaporates a chunk of the debris, and everyone who was underneath it.

    As long as none of them were prepping a qwa-bolt. Fortunately, it looks like Guy's ring hasn't registered that as a 'kill'.

    Ragnar and Duran are still fighting each other. Duran's added a glaive to his dark green energy bolts while Ragnar parries each shot or swing. Persuading him to break off is going to be difficult.

    I raise my ring into a more convenient speaking position. "What's with the weak defences, Kalmin? How are we even alive at the moment?"

    "I haven't killed you because you interest me. As for these dullards, you may thank High Weaponlord Varnathon of Q'uldi for their lack of preparedness. And for aliens being allowed on Qward at all."

    "I take it that he's a fan of peaceful trading relationships?"

    "Bah!"

    Sounds like someone I need to support. And I imagine that the Guardians would consider that knowledge to be useful as well. I generate a railgun construct and take aim at Lantern Duran.

    Ragnar spots my movement, his eyes widening. "No! This is my fight!"

    Damn it. Ragnar turning my way attracted Duran's attention, and a blast from his ring destroys my construct.

    Guy's hesitating just in front of the hole. "Hey! Are we-."

    "I know!" Turning back to their fight I see Ragnar switch to a one-handed stance with his sword and generate a kite shield for his defence. He uses that to deflect Duran's swing, then slashes at the back of his construct glaive. The glaive shatters, Ragnar tries charging again and Duran-

    "YAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!"

    -fires a colossal beam of energy at Ragnar, blasting his shield apart, breaking his construct armour and battering the conventional armour beneath. Duran maintains his attack, slamming Ragnar into the ground and then into a wall as his armour continues to abrade.

    Right, transitioning… No, non-functional. Fine. I recreate my railgun and shoot Duran with a crumbler round.

    "Guh."

    The beam slackens off, giving me the opportunity to stick a harness around the dazed and bleeding Ragnar and drag him towards the exit hole after me.

    "Wait, I-." Ragnar breaks my construct in a surge of orange light. "I have nearly beaten him!"

    "Ragnar, we've leaving. We have a mission to complete. He'll follow us. Get moving."

    Oh, at this point… Guy drops out of sight and I rocket after him, construct boosters adding to my speed as I fly downwards into Qward. If Ragnar dies it'll be awkward, but it's only one of Larfleeze's rings with no added database. I should be able to call it, and even if I can't it's a bearable-.

    Ragnar comes through the hole, looking around for me for a moment and then accelerating down while keeping a shield construct above him. Oh, good. Now we just have to-.

    "Careful, Lantern. These tunnels aren't undefended."

    My ring shows me huge cannons unfolding from the tunnel walls half a mile below us.

    "Try to survive. I have a use for you."
     
  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    16:18 GMT

    "Ragnar, good to see you with us." I form cold gun constructs and transmit my targeting solutions to Guy. "You're on rearguard duty. Keep moving downwards at best speed, and otherwise do your best to kill anyone following us."

    His head appears over my second ring, flickering and glitching as its ancient and primitive systems try to cope with his ersatz ring's transmissions. "This feels like fleeing."

    "It may feel like fleeing but it's actually a tactical manoeuvre which brings us closer to our objective. Feel free to turn and face Lantern Duran once we're out over the Ash Plains."

    Okay, the tunnel going downwards is sixty metres in diameter. It probably used to be used for spacecraft or missiles, but from the cargo lifts built into the sides I'm going to assume that it is now used mostly for transporting goods, supplies and personnel. Should I be surprised that the Qwardians don't have a teleportation system, or would that just be because if they can teleport from one point to another any potential attacker would have the same ability? This way, anyone who wants to get in has to either blast their way through miles of rock or breach a heavily fortified location.

    I spin across the passageway as the first blasts from the automated defences fire, fat orange/yellow Kirby Dot impregnated beams of something firing up at me and mine. Shots are… Relative velocity… About half a second long, the guns' capacitors taking an appreciable amount of time to charge up between shots. I see Guy firing bolts of green energy at them… Still bolts, but at least he's not projecting them directly from his ring anymore. The guns have energy shielding… What kind, I wonder? I aim my cold guns at the ones he's already weakened and fire, even as I generate railguns to replace-.

    Oh my goodness me, Guy just made a railgun. For a fraction of a second I'm so flabbergasted that I just blink. Yes, I gave him some ammunition for Christmas but I never actually thought that he'd use it in combat. Okay. I fire at the other turrets, crumbler rounds striking and disintegrating the… Plasma shields. Those we can deal with. The armoured cowling is made of the same stuff as the Thunderers' shields but rings are nothing if not precise instruments and the guns are fixed. Hitting the lightly armoured areas is no problem.

    Flying downwards fast like this is actually quite an odd experience. I'm blasting towards a ground I can't see… Can't even detect, really. I mean, I got a reasonable map of the place from Guy so I know roughly how far down we're going but I'm very glad that my ring is making it so that my inner ear thinks I'm flying level-.

    Dull green beams flash past me and score the sides of the tunnel.

    "Ragnar, have-?"

    "I checked the angle. I knew he would miss."

    "If you're hard pressed, I can fire-."

    "No! I have this!"

    On his head be it. Duran doesn't appear able to fly faster than us, so the melee weapons he and Ragnar both favour are off the table. Energy bolt exchanges are largely ineffectual, with both of them able to absorb shots better than they can land them. There isn't.. really an easy way for me to assist Ragnar. Duran appears to have decided that the best approach is to keep Ragnar between him and us, and neither of them are dodging that much. I can't get a clear shot with a crumbler-.

    Another volley from the tunnel guns fires upwards. One gets a glancing hit on my construct armour, abrading it but otherwise causing no damage. Guy isn't using armour, he's just maintaining an armoured plate in front of him and letting it fail as he takes hits. It's probably a lot easier for a Green Lantern to do it that way than making conventional armour. We both target the new guns and open fire, blowing them apart in a hail of railgun rounds, energy pulses and cold beams. The wrecked guns from our initial exchange flash past me-.

    The guns further down open fire, this time with light speed weapons. I increase the reflectivity of my construct armour in response, causing the lasers to splash off harmlessly. A pink-agh-.

    Ugh. I shove off the wall, recreate my engine constructs and resume my full throttle downwards blast. Okay, quantum detonators aren't affected by shininess. I send Guy a revised targeting schedule at the exact same moment I receive his. I send an acknowledgement, then start firing. Actually, I should probably start firing something at the armoured door at the bottom of the shaft. Or at least at the walls near the end, because we're probably going to either come out into a fortified building in a Qwardian city or a fortress in the middle of nowhere. Yeah, let's get-.

    My shots pass harmlessly through the weapon hardpoints as they shift out of phase.

    Aaaaahhhh… That's a problem.

    "Guy, phasing turrets. Don't have any Nth Metal on you, do you?"

    "Actually, no."

    Okay… Okay… I've got phasic rounds. It's just a matter of matching phase, and there are only a few dozen that are usable with the energy requirements that other frequencies have. Um, select a target, set the round to a frequency at random, fire-.

    Below me, Guy blasts a chunk out of the tunnel wall next to a phased turret, causing the rock and metal to explode outwards and send the turret tumbling downwards.



    Okay, brute force and ignorance it is then.

    I dismiss my existing weapon constructs and generate two large railguns, load them with crumbler rounds and fire.

    "Ragnar, if you get the chance, try to provoke Lantern Duran into throwing a qwa-bolt directly down towards the bottom of the shaft."

    "He is not some puppet I can play at your convenience!"

    I fire again, smashing another pair to guns off their mounts. "Try taunting him."

    "I am taunting him!"

    "Try taunting him more." Another pair of shots, but this time the lasers switch their attention from me to strike at my rounds. The simple kinetic strike that results when the crumbler mechanism is destroyed does nothing like enough damage to prevent the gun from-.

    Araugh!

    Constructs gone, I'm hurtling downwards… Slower than I was a moment ago. Ah, let's see, construct armour gone, weapons gone, armour… Somewhat battered but actually doing-.

    Lasers pierce my right arm, chest and left leg, and-. Okay, the ring prevents me from feeling pain exactly but it's still bloody disconcerting. I re-establish my construct armour-. No, thicken it, I'm not going to have to fight anything particularly manoeuvrable in it. Good, thrusters back on and try catching up with Guy-.

    "Guy, are you alright?"

    "Been better. Still… Flyin'."

    "Okay, we should only have a minute until we're inside Qward and can try breaking out. Did you ever get around to adding a kinetic barrier to your costume?"

    "Yeah? Why?"

    "Because I'm not totally sure where the bottom is, and I want to make sure that we'll both survive if we fly into it at full force."

    "…good thinkin' thereooooh crap."

    "What?"

    A qwa-bolt burns through the air to my right.

    "We got incomin'."
     
  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    16:21 GMT

    The fact that the Thunderers surging up the tunnel are armed identically to the one's we defeated up above probably says something about Qwardian psychology. Okay, I can understand standardising armaments, and in a place like Qward those are always going to be high quality… But they must already know that those aren't enough to kill us. I didn't detect any transmissions, but hiding transmissions from power rings is something I had assumed that Qwardians did by default. Plus, they're slower than us, so once we're past them they're going to struggle to catch up. Their formation is okay; dispersed enough horizontally and vertically that they can evade without flying into each other and fire without queering each others shots.

    Thin purple beams from the Thunderers conventional guns stab upwards as Guy and I both adopt more violent evasive patterns. A couple of hits, but it's nothing that my construct armour can't take. Two more yellow blurs shoot past me, the qwa-energy smashing into the tunnel above us. Hah! The debris is falling more slowly than we are! I mean, unless the Thunderers have much better inertia control than I think they do it'll be a problem for them-.

    I wonder how much damage this tunnel can take without crumbling completely?

    "Guy, it might be helpful for us to grab some of their qwa-bolts."

    "Those things go off if anyone who ain't Qwardian touches 'em. Cutting off their hands ain't gunna cut it."

    Drat. Oh, wait, I can mind control people. "Can you handle the tunnel guns for a bit? I've got an idea."

    "Oh, sure. No sweat."

    "Thank you."

    I select a Thunderer toward the rear of the pack. He has a full quiver, probably because his hands are occupied with a gun… I'm going to guess a graviton-augmented positron blaster. Not something I'd want to get hit by, but nothing like in the same damage league as a qwa-bolt. Still dodging around the tunnel I spread filaments outwards and then down, moving them as fast as I can ahead of me.

    "That's interesting. What are you doing?"

    Right, Kalmin.

    "These aren't your men I take it?"

    "Thunderers answer to the Thunderlord, and through him to the Council of Commanders. I don't command them. In fact, this is the longest conversation I've had with another living being in years."

    "Since Sinestro welshed on his end of your compact."

    "Whether through improbity or a failure of capacity, his inability to destroy the Green Lantern Corps, kill any Guardians or provide us with further information on the Anti-Monitor marked me as a failure. I gambled on an alien and I lost."

    Recognising my filaments as potential threats the Thunderers start directing fire towards them. Several are broken, but any Thunderer who stops weaving long enough to get a decent shot gets shot himself. To cover the gaps I cause the filaments to branch, dividing themselves to ensure that I maintain full coverage. I also make them extend back up towards me in order to ensure that I maintain a connection to as many points as possible.

    And now the bottom ends of the filaments are past the outer ranks of the Thunderers. Assuming that Thunderer armour is construct-resistant enough to defy weak filaments, that leaves my target's unarmoured neck and face as my only potential points of contact. I think he's noticed that they haven't carried on travelling past him, but rather than trying to dodge more he's dodging less to try and shoot them.

    Alright then.

    Filaments surge out and latch onto his neck.

    Brand.

    Too much red-orange around for me to see clearly, but I imagine that he's experiencing a fair bit of yellow at the moment. Resistance feels minimal, the Thunderer's desire to destroy being stronger than they're obedience to whatever orders they've been given.

    "Brand complete."

    I abandon the lower section of filaments, then release Praexis Demons higher up. Directly into the faced of the Thunderers.

    Hem them in.

    Demons latch onto Thunderers, scrabbling at their armour and struggling to bite them. Several miss, falling past them and then trying to go fast enough to obey my command. I change my orders to the ones who end up lowest, instructing them to scout ahead instead. Others I tag with filaments, recall and then fire at the Thunderers again.

    You want to kill the other Thunderers.

    My new companion slows his ascent slightly and takes a qwa-bolt out of his quiver.

    The Thunderer response to the Demons is well disciplined. Then stow their guns and draw their qwa-swords, each stab disintegrating a Demon with little visible damaging being inflicted on the Thunderer. But now they're drifting together, and they're to distracted to see their brother in arms prepping a qwa-bolt.

    "What are those? Some form of Demon of the Orange Light? I have not seen such things since our master's departure."

    "You'll see a whole lot more in a little while.""

    "Oh, I hope so."

    My other ring lights up again. "How do I make this ring heal me again?"

    "Focus on your desire for absolute physical wellness… Ah, in your case, your need to be in perfect condition in order to give your foes the best fight possible. And-"

    "Agh!"

    "-growing things back can hurt a great deal."

    "… Understood."

    The Thunderers are as bunched up as they're going to get, and my operative sees that and throws. The qwa-bolt strikes a Thunderer towards the centre of the group, utterly annihilating him and those closest.

    Connection lost.

    It also annihilates my Praexis Demons and heavily injures the rest of the Thunderer strike force as well, sending them careening around in an out-of-control tumble or plummeting downwards. Excellent. My operative beneath then blinks, smiling slightly as he grabs a new bolt to throw at us.

    No. You no longer want to kill us. Your highest priority is to blast a hole through the guard at the base of the tunnel.

    He jerks, then slows to a stop in the air. Then he grabs a qwa-bolt, aims and throws as we fly past him. The yellow beam blasts past us and I can dimly see it destroying something. Of course, at the speed we're going-.

    "Tunnel end approaching! Brace brace brace!"

    "I am somewhat occupied-."

    Guy and I plunge through into the layer of sensor-dampening dust and rubble. The Praexis Demons I sent ahead as scouts are.. somewhere in here and they can't see more than-.

    We shoot out into the sky of Qward, the ruins of the lower entry point behind us and rubble raining down on the Qwardian city below us. Guy and I pull up immediately, lowering our speed. He smiles, flares his environmental shield to remove the dust and nods at me.

    "Made it."

    "Right, so now we have the hard bit-."

    Ragnar and Duran drop out, fat tentacles of orange and green pulling, ripping and tearing at each other as they both hurtle towards the ground.

    "Stopping Ragnar getting himself killed."
     
  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    16:24 GMT

    I raise my left hand as Ragnar generates a new sword and slashes at Duran in a spirited attempt to cleave him in two which Duran blocks on a new shield construct. Rather than, say, try to get away.

    "Kalmin, is there any way to extend an Anti-Green Lantern's life? If it's just a matter of pride now I'm sure that Ragnar would be happy to fight him later."

    "I focused my research on destructive technologies. It may well be that there are ways of extending their lives known to others. But there are none known to me."

    "Wait, you're talkin' t'-?" Guy stares at the floating head. "The hell y' doin', Paul?"

    "A Green Lantern! I am pleased."

    "He just appeared. And it's not like they can't track us anyway." I generate a railgun construct and load a crumbler round. "Just a moment."

    "You!" Guy comes closer, jabbing his right forefinger at Kalmin's face. "You're that Chief Weaponer bastard who created the Anti-Green rings!"

    I fire, the crumbler round neatly striking the dull green construct tentacles a moment before Ragnar is fully enveloped. They evaporate, throwing Ragnar free as his own construct continues to hold Duran in place. "Ragnar! Fight on the move!"

    "You tell me where you are-" Guy cracks his knuckles. "-an' I might go easy on yah."

    "But I don't want you to 'go easy' on me. I want you to kill me."

    Guy nods. "We can do that."

    Ragnar heads in our direction, his constructs constricting Duran weakening enough for him to break free in a surge of green light moments before slamming into a Qwardian skyscraper. He slams through the armoured window, construct armour flickering and cracking as he continues to plough through the building's interior.

    "We can? I mean, obviously I can, but you can?"

    "Took a while, but the Guardians approved a shoot to kill on Qwardian officers. So come on, tell us where you are and we'll make it quick. In the palace in Krama Dhu? Hal said that was where you used to-."

    "Allow me." His face is replaced by a floating arrow as a decidedly unhappy Ragnar reaches us. "It should take you minutes at most."

    Guy and I look at each other and he shrugs. "He's the objective. Might as well."

    He and Ragnar accelerate in the direction indicated. I take a moment to watch the city, noting the Thunder Fortresses even now sending Thunderers after us. Yep. We're going to need to head back to the matter universe the moment we reach Kalmin. Fortunately, there don't appear to be any patrol fleets nearby and the fixed guns around the outer walls have even less chance of hitting us than the ones in the tunnel did. Duran pulls himself out of the smashed in building a moment later, so I take a moment to fire a volley of crumbler rounds at him before taking off after Guy. The ring shows him try to evade, but he still takes a hit which collapses his construct armour.

    The air howls through the intakes of our scramjet constructs as we power through the air.

    "Ships comin' in from the…" Guy takes a moment as he realises that Earthly directions don't mean anything on Qward. He points. "Thataway. Any idea where we're goin'?"

    "My keep isn't far. You will reach me before they will reach you. And if they work out that you are coming here they will most likely pull back."

    "Why do you want to die?"

    "Because I am a loyal servant of the Anti-Monitor. I studied under Chief Weaponer Kiman the Studious. I was there when he finally succeeded in breaking open the Golden Obelisk of Qward."

    "Wasn't that whole thing some kinda Qwardian practical joke? You all spent hundreds of years tryin' t' get in, then it turned out there was nothin' in there?"

    "So my ignorant countrymen believed. So they still believe to this day. You, orange Lantern. What say you?"

    "It's not the destination, it's the journey?"

    "Yes! Exactly! The effort of breaking into it forced us to constantly improve our understanding and control of the universe. Even Yokal The Atrocious' use of wild alien animals forced us to reach out our hands to other worlds in order to capture them. Always, we had a goal, and when we reached it we found that the mission it set us had given us everything we hoped to take from the interior of the obelisk itself! Sublime!"

    "Still not seeing-."

    "Kiman fell from power after most other Qwardians didn't appreciate that point. I saw then that Qward needed a new mission, and that a man as widely held in contempt as he could not provide it. So I killed him and took his place."

    "Yeah, you're a real piece of work."

    "But if your gamble with Sinestro failed, why are you still alive?"

    "Because Varnathon is a coward. I accepted culpability! I should be dead now! That I am allowed to continue living is an insult to the Anti-Monitor, to Qward and to me. But if I cannot die by the hand of my successor as is my right, dying at the hands of my enemy is the next best thing." He looks mildly disappointed. "And if Harold Jordan of Earth isn't here, you'll have to do."

    "Little while ago, you sayin' that would a' really got t' me."

    "But now you recognise the truth of his natural superiority?"

    "No. I learned how t' do this."

    Guy raises his left hand, a brilliant corona of emerald light building around it for three seconds before a beam of emerald energy lances out into the distance. Ring, where was he aiming?

    The ring shows me what looks like a squat stone castle, now missing one tower and quite a lot of wall.

    "You weren't in that bit, right?"

    "Astounding. Lantern, I am genuinely impressed."

    Guy grins. "Well… I hate t' brag"

    "Allow me to retort."

    Gun turrets deploy along the battlements, and we all raise construct shields moments before the high-powered light speed shots start slamming into us.

    "Hey! I thought you wann'ed t' die!"

    "Everything worthwhile in life is bought with blood and pain, Green Lantern. If you want to be the one to kill me, you're going to have to earn it."

    Ragnar nods enthusiastically. "I like the way this one thinks!"

    Yes. Of course you do.
     
  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    16:27 GMT

    Guy grimaces and tries to brace himself in mid-air, semi-crouching behind a construct barrier as the shots slam into us. "For a guy who wants to die-" I generate construct railguns and cold guns and begin targeting the turrets. "-you're sure putting a lotta effort-" The initial fusillade stops as the guns switch to firing in sequence. "-int' stoppin' us!"

    "I neither want to die nor want to live. I simply realise that I have outlived my time, and that death is… An appropriate conclusion to my career."

    I fire at a turret which is about to fire, striking the barrel just as its firing mechanism activates. The resulting misfire totally disintegrates the weapon itself while somehow leaving the stone it was sitting on totally unaffected.

    "A good shot." The guns break pattern, all firing at once directly at me. Guy's shield fails, my own construct armour fails and I'm knocked back with my personal shields and armour barely holding together. "But it's not enough. Do better. Show me your divinity, your destructive power. Show me the face of the Anti-Monitor before I die."

    Ragnar raises his sword, his aura intensifying. "I'll show you-"

    A tether wraps itself around his head. He struggles for a moment, then it sprouts two blades which slice through his link to his scramjet constructs and drags him backwards through the air.

    "I have an alternative suggestion." Guy re-establishes his barrier, a quick look of concern in my direction as I retake my position beside him, repairing and recreating my armour. Fire's still coming in, but Guy's barrier is good enough that they need to fire simultaneously to breach it. "Would you consider taking a commission?"

    This is our cause. This is our fight.

    "From another alien?" He looks almost amused. "Sinestro impressed me with his personal virtues. I had not even heard of you a hour ago, and I am not bought so cheaply as Varnathon and his cronies."

    Let none who live dispute our right.

    "I'm not offering you money. I'm offering you an opportunity."

    "Paul…"

    Ragnar conjures up a bladewind, swirling sharp edges slicing through his bindings and then exploding towards the recovered and closing Lantern Duran. "This time there will be no distractions!"

    Lantern Duran generates construct qwa-bolts. "Good!"

    A pair of shots strike the shield in front of my face.

    "Explain yourself."

    "The Anti-Monitor rewards destruction, right? Novel and destructive weapons from the Weaponers, feats of destruction and skill from Thunderers."

    Powered by need, our tireless might.

    "In essence. Now destroy me and send me to my god!"

    "Do you really believe that your capacity for destruction is ended? Have you suddenly become incapable of making weapons because you were betrayed by one alien?"

    A tall.. circular device extends itself slowly from the castle's battlements, crackling with yellow lightning. A qwa-amp. "No. For even suggesting-."

    Guides all souls with orange light.

    A translucent orange snake outline surrounds me for a moment as my eyes and rings blaze with orange power. Guy drops to the side as we surge forward, a dozen tiny constructs flickering into existence as the qwa-amp discharges at us. Being able to handle qwa-energy is the difference between a Weaponer and 'some crazy alien who makes weapons'. On Qward, successfully controlling it and forming it into a weapon marks the end of an Weaponer's apprenticeship, a process that has a survival rate of nearly fifteen percent according to John's files.

    The blast hits our constructs and appears to… Precipitate out of itself. Plenty of force gets through; if we tried this without merging we'd probably be torn apart. But like this, we can manage the spill-over and keep our efforts focused on our work.

    Qwa-energy: particle, wave and something else. Perhaps magic, we don't know. Perhaps like the colours in some way: a force that doesn't fit politely into a convenient definition. The key to handling it isn't understanding the energy itself, but how it can be transformed from one form to another.

    The qwa-amp dims as its excited energy store is expended. My constructs move, twist and strike…

    And a giant qwa-bolt appears where once there was qwa-lightning.

    "How… Did..?"

    A construct tong points the bolt in the direction of the Qwardian defence fleet heading in our direction. Now, we twist like so

    The bolt turns back into energy, striking the fleet almost immediately and detonating with such enthusiasm that we can see it unaided from here. Most of the ships are gone, and the few capable of moving under their own power are turning away just as fast as they can.

    "Why did you not throw it at me?"

    "We have a use for you. You value destruction above everything. We are building an army for a war which will consume a vast area of space and destroy-"

    "No. No."

    "-a huge number of beings. Would that not be a more fitting conclusion to your life than begging aliens to attack your home so that you could die without shame? Would that not be a greater service to the Anti-Monitor?"

    "What the hell are you doing?"

    "He is a mortal who can make power rings. He is unique. He is special. We want his service." The glow fades as the Ophidian returns fully to my lantern. "And he won't be making Sinestro any more rings if he's working on Maltus."

    "Maltus? The original home of the Guardians?"

    "Just so. We're making war on the Reach: a large interstellar empire who habitually exterminate the civilisations they conquer. They also have some rather interesting anti-Lantern weapons we'll be expecting you to work out how to overcome. We'll also need ships and weapons for conventional warriors. You could die in the field, in honest combat. Or live and take revenge against Sinestro, the man who betrayed you and caused you to be cast out. Or against Varnathon, who perverts your god's mission for personal profit."

    I pull a ring out of one of my armour's pouches. "These rings don't kill you after twenty four hours. I ask you, Weaponer Kalmin: what do you want?"

    "You gotta be kiddin' me. Are you serious?"

    I close my left fist, shutting down my connection to the conflicted Weaponer. "You know why I want a new personal lantern for Alan?"

    "'cause he doesn't get old so long as he has one?"

    "Yes. And all the Controllers who know anything about power rings attuned themselves to the Orange Central Power Battery before I got around to asking them about it. Which means they can only make orange lanterns."

    He looks pained. "This guy?"

    I open my hand, Kalmin's face reappearing. "Well?"

    "I have decided. Let us kill some people together."
     
  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    16:41 GMT

    Guy and I stand on the broken battlements of Kalmin's keep, idly watching Ragnar and Duran slam increasingly large constructs into one another.

    "Can't believe you're serious about this."

    "You mean, how I recruited an expert weapon smith and ring forger who knows Sinestro better than anyone alive?"

    He glances sideways at me, clearly unimpressed. "Recruiting a monster."

    I shrug. "I need to fight the Reach. You know as well as I do that outside the periphery region there aren't any other civilisations in their territory. An expert in destructive technology is far more useful to me than a morally praiseworthy individual."

    "Even if that-."

    "The Green Lantern strike force who lost-"

    "Drew."

    "-with the Reach all those centuries ago was composed of heroes." I smile faintly. "Do you know what happens to a Beetle hit by a qwa-bolt?"

    "Or you, when he stabs you in the back."

    I reach up with my right hand and tap my faceplate. "I'm a pretty good judge of character. Unless the Anti-Monitor shows up in person, I invade Qward or I try coming to terms with Sinestro, I think he'll be happy designing and making weapons." I turn my attention back to the fight as Duran generates a colossal Anti-Monitor construct which punches Ragnar into the ground. Ragnar shines brilliant orange as he gets his feet under him and pushes upwards, slowly forcing the dark god's hand off him. "Which Dox might have been thinking about doing, by the way."

    Guy twitches, his head turning to face me fully. "Fer real?"

    "Dox and I both hate being dependent. At the moment, he's dependent on me for training. The Controllers don't have an existing conflict with Sinestro, Sinestro's an expert power ring user… And it's not as if the Greenies on the boundary of Reach space would dare make an issue of it either."

    "You know that bastard wears a necklace of rings he's taken off Lanterns he's killed, yeah?"

    "No, but it doesn't surprise me. Now congratulate me for ensuring that I'll never have to work with him."

    "Yeah." He turns back to the spectacle before us. "Great work."

    The Anti-Monitor staggers back as Ragnar shoves it off and fires a volley of energy pulses at its creator. Duran responds by giving the Anti-Monitor a shield in its right hand to block for him and causes it to fire a beam of energy out of its left.

    "Tora and you still getting along alright?"

    "Yeah. Well. She's not thrilled about me workin' away more, but…" He shrugs.

    "We could probably sort out some sort of portal from Earth to Oa. Cut down on travel times."

    "How you plannin' on gettin' the Guardians t' agree t' that?"

    Ah. "Doesn't have to be on Oa. Just… Closer than Earth."

    "I don't wanna make it look like they're playin' favorites."

    "No reason why other Lanterns couldn't have a similar arrangement. I mean, they can… Actually pay for theirs…" Guy chuckles, bowing his head slightly. "Nothing… Major happen on Earth?"

    "What, like the Justice League bein' at each other's throats cause'a the tawkin' to you gave us?"

    "Not… Specifically… Just… You know… How people are"

    "Things got a bit shouty right after you left. In the end, Batman told everyone t'… Go home, cool off a little. That was a real bad time t' be a supervillain."

    "And after they calmed down?"

    "I was kinda impressed. You pullin' something like that, none of us havin' the slightest clue until it was already done." He looks downwards, missing Ragnar split the Anti-Monitor's beam with a sword construct as he flies against the stream to slice through its arm. Huh. That was a raw power thing, but it would still have been quite difficult. "Think you might be off a few Christmas card lists…"

    "I'm a Hellenist."

    That gets me an unimpressed glance as Duran abandons the Anti-Monitor construct and switches to a simple shield and lightning bolt combo while Ragnar opts to keep his sword. Having learned something from the ongoing fight, Ragnar repeatedly moves around his environment rather than simply charging headlong, an action which wrong foots Duran and results in his defensive blasts missing completely.

    "I wasn't trying to make friends. I was trying to make a point."

    "Well… Point made." He looks at the ongoing fight. "Ragnar ain't doin' too bad."

    "Short range combat against single opponents is his thing. If he can't win this then there probably isn't any point in me recruiting him."

    "And if Tui finds out..?"

    "I can use bad people."

    "I am glad to hear it." We both turn as Kalmin walks out of the door behind us, hammer and shield strapped to his back. "I would be disappointed if you were trying to destroy the Reach with harsh words."

    "I dunno. Paul here nearly destroyed the Justice League with harsh words."

    Kalmin nods. "Perhaps he has a natural gift." He walks over to the wall on the far side of Guy, watching the fight with interest. "He isn't doing too badly for a beginner."

    A blur, and a dozen construct Ragnars dive at Duran. Duran blocks, shooting the first few as he retreats-.

    The real Ragnar surges out of the ground beneath him, construct sword slicing through Duran's wrist and severing his ring from his body. Duran's body goes limp as the disconnect from his ring shreds his brain but Ragnar goes for a killing stroke anyway. Grinning, he grabs the still-bleeding head and holds it up for our approval.

    "Nicely done. Reasonable use of misdirection."

    The anti-green ring rises off Duran's severed hand and flies over to Kalmin, who pockets it.

    "We're finished here, Ragnar. Time to head back."
     
  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    16:45 GMT

    Kalmin's hand reaches for his hammer as soon as he spots where we are. "This isn't Maltus."

    We've reappeared in the Green Lantern Sector House of Sector One Four One Six, Lantern Tui… Ah, good, she's here back already. Lantern Tui manning the monitors. She turns, blinking for a moment as she sees Kalmin and then raising her ring-.

    "Cool it, Tui. He's on… Paul's side." Guy still isn't happy with my decision, but if he'd been intending to force the issue now would be the time. I'm glad to see that he doesn't. "Everyone on Maltus lives on the surface. Did'ja wanna dig your way out through miles a' rock?"

    Kalmin nods, his hand retreating slightly. "I suppose not. Not without doing a great deal of preparation in advance."

    Ragnar waves his left hand dismissively. "I doubt that the flight will be a long one. Having used this-" He holds his left hand in front of his face. "-magnificent weapon in combat, I am looking forward to meeting my new brothers-in-arms."

    "Nice to hear that you're so motivated, Lantern Ragnar."

    "I am pleased that my concerns were unfounded." He hesitates for a moment, then draws himself up slightly and brings his fists together at his sternum. "Grand Master. I am eager to slaughter our enemies."

    I nod. That reaction is within the bounds I predicted, 'Grand Master' being an approximate translation from his language of the title for the revered leader of a war band. Him saying that actually means more than him using my actual title. However… I look at Lantern Tui, tilt my head slightly towards Ragnar and raise my eyebrows.

    She nods.

    Ah.

    "How is your ring's charge holding out?"

    Ragnar shrugs. "My ring dims, but it is of little concern now that I am to be equipped with my own lantern."

    "I ask, because I was surprised how long you had been able to make a single ring charge last. You've had that for… What, fifty days or so?"

    Ragnar looks slightly uncomfortable. "Something like that. I rationed my usage carefully."

    "Oh, that surprises me. Just after I got my first ring, I was recharging every few days, even when I wasn't using it for very much." I nod contemplatively. "I suppose if you limited yourself to an environmental shield and the occasional flight, you could eke that out-"

    Ragnar smiles. "Exactly."

    "-but you wanted that ring hard enough to draw it to you. You're a huge fan." I shrug. "It seemed.. odd to me that someone like you wouldn't have experimented."

    I nod to Lantern Tui, and she brings up images of Ragnar taken from Betrassus' data networks. He's clearly using constructs, armour, some sort of personal flying vehicle and… A construct of himself to use as a sparring opponent.

    "And going by the date-stamps, those were taken fairly close together."

    "Yes, I-. Used it like that at first. Then I realised how unwise it-" Lantern Tui presses another button, bringing up an image of a dead Barrionian. "-was, to waste power like that."

    With a crystalline life form it isn't always easy to tell what the cause of death was, but given the smooth cuts which appear to have severed the victim's manipulator appendages as well as the cracking throughout its epidermis… It doesn't seem unreasonable to assume that it might well have been a buzz blade.

    "Her name was Verilion." Lantern Tui's face is stoical. "And based on data gathered from local surveillance systems, I think there's a good chance that she-" More images appear, orange blurs visible in all of them. "-had an orange ring as well."

    Guy sighs as he looks at me. "A murderer too? You sure know how t'-."

    "It was not murder!" Ragnar's glow fades to nothing as the rage at the insult to his honour suffuses him. For a moment I consider taking his ring from him, but… I think I'll let this play out. See what he does. "She had a ring on her tentacle, and her heart was filled with the same need I feel! We fought and I won! I will not be insulted and I will not have you insult her by calling it murder!"

    "That's not quite how Barrio III's police see it. Or-" Lantern Tui moves the images aside and brings up new ones. Four different individuals, four more corpses. "-the governments of any of the worlds you visited."

    A green image of Lantern Dulok appears above one of the consoles, Ragnar's brother Prince Stentar by his side. "That matches the five dead orange rings we found in Prince Ragnar's quarters. He's been killing other Orange Lantern rookies to keep himself powered."

    Ragnar throws his arms wide. "I freely confess to it! The fights were glorious, and none who stood against me shamed themselves!"

    Stentar leans forward, glaring at his younger brother. "You know full well that is not how it works amongst aliens, brother."

    I walk over to the control panel, extending a filament to it as I update myself with the details of their investigation. Hm. "The most recent death is believed to have occurred over a month ago."

    "Plannin' on goin' huntin' again? Bet you were real glad when we turned up."

    Ragnar's eyes crease up. "No, I'd… Adapted, at that point. I was planning on approaching one of you, once I had finished accepting oaths of vassalage from all of my father's rivals."

    "You seriously expect us t' believe-."

    "Guy."

    He turns to me, throwing his arms up as he does so. "Oh, come on Paul! I mean, the Weaponer I kinda get, but this-."

    "Each of the police reports mentions that the victim's behaviour changed noticeably shortly before their deaths. He changed his strategy a little while after we finished setting up the Orange Central Power Battery. There was a good reason why I did that before handing out other rings."

    Guy's eyes narrow slightly as he nods. "You think that they were all goin' orange light crazy, like you did a couple a' times."

    "I think it's possible. Prince Stentar, have you ever known your brother to tell a direct lie?"

    "Not since Lantern Sinestro told him that Green Lanterns were always honest." Ragnar folds his arms and nods proudly at the affirmation.

    I stare into Ragnar, trying to look back through… Yes, there are regions where the orange light associations are much stronger. Jagged. Power funnelled in but not properly directed.

    "I think it was."

    "So, what? You just wanna let him off?"

    "I have committed no-!"

    I turn to him. "Ragnar, shut up, there's a good fellow." He shuts. "I am… Uncertain. Certainly, each of those police forces should be notified so that they can close the cases. However, I see very little point in requiring Lantern Ragnar to hand himself over. We both know full well that people hopped up on the orange light can behave in very unusual and.. out of character ways. I doubt very much that we could prove exactly what the situation was when Ragnar encountered them, or how responsible they could be considered to be for their own actions."

    Guy grunts.

    "What I'm going to suggest is that Lantern Ragnar return to Maltus with me, and I assign him to support Darkstar field teams immediately. You and the police forces can continue to gather evidence. If you collectively come to the conclusion that there is a realistic prospect of conviction, I will guarantee his return. In the meantime, he will be fighting the Reach, which is a far more valuable contribution to galactic life than sitting in a prison cell or rotting in a grave. Is that acceptable to you?"

    Guy bows his head slightly as he considers the offer.

    "Somethin' like that… Workin' out how Green Lanterns an' Orange Lanterns 're gunna deal with each other… That's one fer the Guardians." He looks up. "This one time, if you swear t' me you'll bring him back..? Okay. But right after, you an' me need to take a trip to Oa."

    I nod. "That sounds wise."
     
  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    14:12 GMT -7
    Earth 8096


    I take a moment to look out across the treetops of the White River National Forest just as I drop below the canopy. It's a beautiful green at this time of year, the colour of the leaves contrasting wonderfully with the pale orange of the rocky fingers jutting out of the ground. I suppose that if you're a criminal wanted in about forty countries, this is the place to hide out. Of all the places I thought that he'd end up, this wasn't even in my top fifty. Assuming that he's actually here of course.

    Ring, confirm that we've arrived.

    Confirmed. We are at the coordinates indicated.

    I've got a sneaky suspicion that the first part of this is going to be tiresome. Still, best to get it over with.

    I touch down gently, leaf mould crunching gently under my feet. Hm. I don't see anything...

    "Mister Lehnsherr?" I make a point of obviously looking around. Yes, a ring scan would probably find him, but it's not like I've got a huge reserve of good will-.

    Alert! Magnetic-

    Armour.

    -flux detected!

    Orange armoured plates appear about half a second before several lengths of steel chain wrench themselves from the ground and fly at me. While that was hardly unexpected, I am gratified that they wrap around my torso, arms and legs rather than my head and neck. It implies that he does actually want to talk to me. As it is, rather than yank me into the air or tie me to a tree, my armour gets a little stressed and I have to exert myself slightly to remain in one place. He keeps trying for about fifteen seconds, then the chains cease pulling and settle for wrapping themselves in knots around one another.

    "I told you to come unarmed."

    Ring, scan. Ah. A speaker.

    "True, but to be fair, I never actually agreed to that stipulation." I try moving slightly, the chains around me jangling quietly as they shift. "Do you intend to come out… Or do I keep talking to the trees?"

    "What makes you think that I'm anywhere near you?"

    "I analysed your fights. The greatest distance I saw you exercising precise control over was two hundred metres. I also noticed that your brute force magnetic pulses taper off significantly after a kilometre, even if you have line of sight. So, you're almost certainly close by, and while you might have some sort of camouflage system set up the X gene does rather stand out to power ring sensors."

    No immediate response.

    "Mr Lehnsherr, I came here because I wanted to talk to you. I'm armed, but I'm not exactly loaded for bear and I didn't bring any backup." I move my arms as far as the chains will allow. "Would you mind?"

    The chains shake slightly, then begin to uncoil, dropping to the floor and then slithering snake-like over to… An utterly unremarkable looking elderly man dressed in an outdoorsman's attire, right hand resting on a metal walking stick. If that's who I think it is, he's looking pretty good for an eighty year old. He smiles faintly. "Not quite what you were expecting?"

    "I'm a little disappointed that you didn't think I was worth the full costume. You're just about the only man I know of who could make the cape work." I frown as I drop my construct armour. "And your.. face is rather different."

    "A gift from my eldest daughter, when I… Retired. If I put on my old armour, my natural face reappears. Otherwise…" He shrugs. "Nobody looks at me twice."

    "That explains how you've managed to hide, I suppose."

    "That, and my own skills." He brings the stick to the fore, resting both hands on it. "So. Why have you put all of this effort into tracking down a retired supervillain?"

    I nod. "I was.. hoping that you'd be willing to help me with something. I think it would be up your street-."

    He makes a noise halfway between a cough and a laugh. "The last thing mutantkind need is me becoming active again. Decades of fighting and I'm still not really sure whether I made any sort of difference. We're not threatened by Sentinels any longer, but despite Charles' efforts we're no closer to being accepted than we were when we started."

    I nod. "True. Mutants are quite unpopular." I frown. "Don’t you find that a little odd?"

    "You are aware that that part of my childhood I did not spend in a ghetto I spent in a concentration camp?"

    "Sure. In the forties. But now? Two generations raised knowing that the holocaust is the most horrific thing to have occurred. I mean-" I take some files out of subspace. "-take… Bolton and Gonzalez. They tested a wide cross section of the population, and found that people from all groups generally rated mutants less positively than similar baseline Humans. And those were mutants who were outwardly indistinguishable from baseline Humans most of the time."

    "I'm not certain that I see what you're getting at."

    "Byrne, Pacheco and Pak. People were read a story about a superhuman and asked how they felt about their activities. Same story each time, but one third were told that the superhuman was an x-gene mutant, one third that they were a magician and another third that they used advanced technology. No significant different in positive or negative responses between the second two groups, but the mutant was generally described less favourably. And there's dozens of other studies, demonstrating a similar sort of thing. It's not mutant powers. I'm far scarier than.. eighty percent of mutants? And I get a pretty good response. A.. cursory analysis suggests that there's something about being a mutant that sets people off."

    He frowns as he considers what I'm saying. "That's… a little odd. I'd.. always assumed that there simply weren't enough of people like you to make an impact on the public consciousness."

    I nod. "I considered that. But I had lunch with Mister Gonzalez, to.. see if he had any thoughts on the subject. And he told me something very interesting that didn't get published. It turns out that one of the volunteers they put in the 'baseline Human' pictures was actually a mutant. She just didn't tell anyone until one of the experimenters told her what the picture was going to be used for." I lean forwards slightly. "And as soon as she did, her responses became more negative, even from people who hadn't heard that."

    "I don't… I don't understand?"

    "I didn't either. But on a tangential note: have you ever heard of a microbe called Archaea Tractabilis? Don’t worry if you haven't, there's been very little research done on it. It lives exclusively in the Human brain in minute quantities. As far as anyone can tell, it does nothing except die very quickly when the host does. The current 'guess' in the medical profession is that it does something with dead cells… But the interesting thing about it? Two groups of Humans don’t have it. At all. One of those groups consists of people like me." I put my right hand on my chest. "And the Hulk. People whose bodies are either so different from the Human norm that microbes adapted for Human bodies can't survive in them, or who appeared from a parallel universe without that microbe and wear a device which constantly restores their body to 'factory settings'."

    "Want to guess who the second group is?"

    "Mutants?"

    "Specifically, people with the x-gene. As… An aside, I don't actually believe that the x-gene is a natural mutation, but we'll leave that for now."

    "But what does that have to do with Human hostility to mutants?"

    "I have a power ring. If I want to study a microbe, I force that microbe to stay alive while I study it. I didn't find out much… Until I waved Tony's experimental telepathy detector at it."

    I generate a scanner construct.

    "Beep beep beep."

    "The microbe is telepathic."

    "Yep. I mean, it sort of makes sense. There's no point worrying about people like me; we're flukes and freaks. But a breeding population that has immunity -and you do by the way, I checked- is a more coherent threat."

    "Humans hate mutants because they're.. infected with something controlling their brains?"

    "No, no, not controlling. It looks like it's more of a nudge towards hostility. And I don't have any evidence that the things are really intelligent. It's more likely that they're reacting to others of their kind not being present. But if I'm right… It's a microbe. We can kill microbes."

    "I see." He shrugs. "Clearly, I approve, but what do you need me for?"

    "You're an expert in x-gene research. If we can work out exactly what makes… So many different mutants immune to the same thing, and share that with the rest of the species-."

    "With Humans."

    "If you like. We'll fix the problem. Social regard for mutants will gradually shift to seeing them as just another group of superhumans with heritable powers. So. How about it?"
     
  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August
    16:45 GMT


    High Weaponlord Varnathon smiles pleasantly at me as we stroll along a gantry overlooking one of the Weaponers' foundries, his blue and green pet roboheads flying alongside him. "I apologise for the.. awkwardness, above. The Thunderers really should have known better than to challenge a member of the Apokoliptian… Elite? That's the term, isn't it?"

    I nod. Perhaps I was.. wrong to hold off this long. Getting to Qward 16… Or… Qward Anti-16? They're part of the same parallel after all… Not sure. Getting to Qward was simple enough, even without Sinestro's guidance. I vaguely remember from the comics that Qward's surface was supposed to be barren with the civilisation existing beneath it. Here, it's largely barren, with clusters of civilisation around authorised trading ports.

    "Quite alright. No harm done. To me. And I'm sure… Duran..? Will recover in the fullness of time."

    Perhaps jumping into the fighting pit with the man wasn't the cleverest thing I could have done, but I thought that his taunts were getting a bit on the racist side.

    "Alright enough that you are prepared to let the Commander go?"

    I look under my right arm at where Commander Roval has given up on struggling to get away. After his initial rush failed to fell me he ordered his subordinates to use qwa-bolts on me. Preventing them from doing so wasn't.. that much of a trial, though it did force me to reveal my drones.

    I raise my right arm, and Roval groans weakly as he hits the floor.

    "Uuuuhuuhuuugh?"

    The green head swoops down and scans him. "Commander Irik T. Roval has been incapacitated."

    "So I see." I watch him for a moment, but it doesn't look like he's going to get up. "Let that be a lesson to you, Commander. Whatever ideology you hold, however good your equipment or how much hatred or contempt you hold in your heart: there is always a bigger fish."

    Varnathon nods as we leave the recumbent commander behind. "Wise words. Though you may want to avoid repeating them around the Anti-Monitor's more dogmatic followers."

    I nod. "To be fair, I'm not sure that it's true in his case." I shrug. "Not with grandfather stuck on the Source Wall, at least."

    "Your grandfather?"

    "Yuga Khan. I doubt that you'll have heard of him, he's been… Gone for a very long time."

    Varnathon smiles. "But not forgotten."

    "Alas, no." Ah. "Just so that we don't have a misunderstanding, while he's feared by everyone who remembers him and we're all very glad that he isn't coming back, as far as we can tell he isn't actually dead."

    "So what brings you here?" Varnathon has apparently decided to move things along. "While I'm confident of the quality of Qward's armouries, Apokolips has historically preferred to rely on its own development programs."

    "Oh, I'm not precious about it. Besides, I'm mostly here to get a weapon I own that was originally made on Qward repaired."

    "Oh."

    "I make my own.. infantry and support weapons, but this is a specialist piece and I wouldn't want to risk it in the hands of someone who didn’t know what they were doing."

    "I'm certain that we can come to terms. For a valued client such as yourself we should even be able to find the original Weaponer who made it." He glances at me. "What exactly is it?"

    I open a pouch mounted onto my chest armour and gently pull out the velvet bag containing my yellow power ring. "Something I picked up in a parallel universe, made on their version of Qward."

    "Then while I may struggle to get the particular Weaponer, perhaps their alter-eg-" I tip the ring out onto my right palm. "-ooooo."

    "If you could, that would be splendid. I'm particularly eager to recover as much of its AI as possible. It was patterned after the mind of its former wearer, Thaal Sinestro, and I've grown rather fond of it."

    "You've-? Taken the power ring from a parallel universe version of Thaal Sinestro?"

    "No, I took it from a holding facility. He was already dead."

    "I see. I'm afraid that… Ah, the creator, Weaponer Kalmin, was.. discharged… Some time ago."

    "Oh." I frown. "That's a pity. Do you have anyone else capable of doing the work?"

    "Yes, actually. Council-Member Diataria Lysis worked under him on the Anti-Green Lantern Corps project. I'm certain that her expertise will be sufficient."

    Jordan's record of the event only mentioned one female Qwardian being involved. "And where might we find her?"

    22nd August
    17:14 GMT


    Weaponer Lysis bends over her work station as the mechanical appendages go to work on my ring. "You needn't worry, Grayven. I assure you that this is well within my abilities."

    "I doubt that you made it onto the Council of Commanders making slug throwers. Still, please excuse my concern. I have grown rather fond of the AI's voice."

    The armatures move, light flickering between their probe attachments and my ring. Tuning me out or just ignoring me?

    "I note that you're… Somewhat more comprehensively dressed than you were during your confrontation with Lantern Jordan. I don't know Qwardian fashion-."

    "Once I realised that I had ascended as far in the Qwardian hierarchy as I was likely to, I decided that I would dress to please myself and not any observers. This is far more practical."

    "Oh, I approve. I'm an armour man myself, but I imagine that for a scientist and engineer like yourself heavy plate would prove somewhat cumbersome."

    She sighs very faintly and tries to indicate with her posture that she has no interest in conversing with me. "I have little interest in your feelings on the matter."

    "Oh, good, because… I recently finished a long term relationship and… Not that you're unattractive or anything, but you're… Kind of small… For me? I just don't think it would work."

    She straightens up slightly, and from the tensing of the skin around her eye sockets I think that if her implants allowed her to hold her eyes closed that she would be doing so. "Please stop unless you want me to vomit on your power ring."

    "But if you've really hit the ole transparent aluminium ceiling… I could always use a talented armourer in my service. You'd have to relocate to Tamaran, of course. Pretty egalitarian place, and not in the Apokoliptian 'you're all equally worthless' kind of way. We're working on designs and doctrines for an as yet unbuilt fleet, and I'm sure that the people involved would be grateful for any input you wished to provide."

    She pauses. "A.. war fleet?"

    "Perhaps, eventually. At the moment, a simple self defence fleet. But it's in a very unstable region of space. All sorts of things are possible, in the medium term. Any trouble?"

    "No. Correcting the errors in the physical structure is a relatively simple task. I recognise Kalmin's design. Some sort of gravity pulse weapon?"

    "A telekine, but effectively. How long?"

    "I will have completed a full restore of the physical structures in under three hours. Other elements may take longer, but I doubt that I'll be working on it past day-end."

    I smile. "Excellent news."

    "Would there be a dress code?"

    "Tamaranians traditionally don’t wear-" I generate a construct image of a Tamaranian street largely occupied by men in pants and boots. "-much, but I prefer a more relaxed dress code and no one's said anything. Though…" I reach into a pouch and pull out an orange power ring. "If you want to really throw yourself into it, these things usually require a colour's sigil to be displayed somewhere."

    "Interesting. Though working for an alien did not work out well for my former tutor."

    "True, but-."

    "Why don't you tell me about yourself, so that I have more data to include in my decision-making?"
     
  27. Threadmarks: Collegiality
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Collegiality

    23rd August
    11:58 GMT


    Kalmin nods at me as I walk into his partially completed workshop. "Illustres."

    "Lan-." I note the lack of an orange glow. "Weaponer Kalmin." I look around the room until I see the ring I gave him sitting in a vice on a work bench. "Is there something wrong with your ring?"

    "Yes." He nods in affirmation. "I didn’t make it." He raises his hammer and brings it down on his forge, the sound of ringing metal reverberating around the room. He mmms, then turns aside and alters some settings on a nearby instrument panel.

    "Controller Hannanan does good work. As far as I'm able to tell. I mean, if there was any major problem I'm sure that Clarissi Dox would have found it by now."

    "Perhaps. But it's a point of pride: Weaponers do not use weapons made by other people. I will wait until my own understanding of the orange light is great enough, and then make my own. Or perhaps another colour; I'm sure that I can hate enough for red."

    Could he-? Yes, yes, of course he can. "Probably, but I should warn you that the colours furthest from the centre have-."

    That earns me a mild glare. "I have read your notes. Unclear as they were as to how you actually learned some of that information, I am a scientist. And much as I love destruction, I value the control of it as well. I will not experiment recklessly."

    "Glad to hear it."

    "But I doubt that you really want me here just to design your warships. Why did you take the risk of travelling to Qward in order to make contact with me?"

    "No one reason. We do need ships and weapons, and with you right there and apparently willing to take the commission, killing you seemed… Wasteful. Secondly, you can make rings. If things with the Controllers don’t work out…"

    He smiles faintly. "You want someone else who can do the job."

    "No. I want someone who can teach me. My understanding of avarice is flawless. It should be well within my abilities." I hold out my right hand, orange light pooling in a band over my palm while Kalmin looks on with undisguised interest. "But so far it… Hasn't gone well. It occurred to me that someone who isn't millions of years old would be far more capable of understanding the approach I'd need. Thirdly, I'd like you to make me a lantern."

    "If you like Hinon's work so much, why not just ask her for one."

    "It's not for me. It's for a friend of mine, a former Green Lantern."

    "Hah! That didn't go particularly well for me last time."

    "Oh, he wasn't a member of the Green Lantern Corps. One of their Lanterns, a man by the name of Yalan Gur, went rogue. The Guardians wiped his ring's AI and a group of primitive villagers from my homeworld killed him. Wind the clock on two thousand years, his ring ends up in the hands of my friend Alan Scott. He was able to use it to great effect for about twenty five years before entering a state of semi-retirement."

    Kalmin frowns. "The Guardians accept that?"

    "He didn't meet either of my homeworld's Sector Lanterns." I shrug. "Either they didn't care or they didn't know. Once my world had its first normal recruit, he asked about it and the Guardians told him that they had nothing to do with it."

    "But if he had been using a ring for twenty five years, his strength of will must have been incredible." Kalmin considers for a moment, then smiles in satisfaction. "Ah. I see."

    "They won't recruit him, so unless I can talk some sense into them today I'll have to get him a personal lantern from somewhere else."

    "What happened to the one he inherited from Yalan Gur?"

    I turn my right hand palm down and clench my fist, my lantern appearing in my hand. "He gave it to me. I owe him my ability to fight at this level, and I intend to pay my debt."

    Kalmin pulls his Anti-Green ring out of his pocket and lays it on his anvil. "I made these to run without personal lanterns. Their users weren't supposed to live long enough to need to recharge. Lantern Jordan destroyed the Anti-Green Lantern Central Power Battery. I only have this one because I was still working on it when the final confrontation happened, and it only has as much charge as it has."

    "Can you build green personal lanterns? Ones which don't kill the users after twenty four hours?"

    He tenses and relaxes the muscles in his shoulders. "Not… Quickly. The Guardians jealously guard their control of the green light. Making my original Central Power Battery required me to work around their protections, and they've improved them since. If you brought me some Green Lanterns I could hijack their equipment without too much difficulty, but given how you were treating with those three I doubt that you'd like my methods."

    "Anything less evil?"

    "Hmm." He strokes his chin with his left hand. "A parallel universe, perhaps? One without Guardians?"

    Blue-Me's files made no mention of Guardians… "And you could make one if you went there?"

    "Parallel universes aren't an area I've studied in any depth. Maybe. If the green light worked similar there to how it does here, I could make a lantern that maintained the connection. How soon would you want it?"

    "Probably sooner than that method would allow."

    "I can understand wanting to take to the field again, but why do you need to hurry?"

    "Alan's a very old man. Something… About what the Guardians did to Yalan Gur's ring, caused green light to bleed into his soul. At this point, he's partially elemental. If he gets a replacement ring-."

    Kalmin's eyes widen, which is a little disturbing to see in a Qwardian. "He could become as the Guardians are."

    "He'd rejuvenate and have a much longer lifespan. I don't.. really care about anything else. As it is he's in danger of dying soon, so…"

    "I assume that a twenty four hour extension-?"

    "No. Any other ideas?"

    "The yellow light is… Not entirely incompatible with the green. This.. Alan of Earth. Does he inspire great fear?" An image of 'Boss Scott' of Earth -14 appears in my mind. "If he is a warrior of great notoriety, it may be possible-."

    "I don't think yellow is… His colour. What about blue?"

    Kalmin frowns. "Hope? What use is hope? Hope is a poison, a trap for the spirit. It encourages gormless passivity rather than action. What is the value in hope?"

    "You mean, like a whole series of Qwardian leaders hoping that they'd be the ones to break into the Golden Obelisk and so causing your civilisation to develop technologically and imperialistically?"

    "That…" His frown deepens. "I don't think that was hope."

    "Or you yourself. You could have just walked into Krama Dhu with a quarrel of qwa-bolts and forced Varnathon to either kill you or be killed and replaced. I don't think that you were staying at home because you were afraid, so what was it? Was it a wish that something else would happen, some honourable option that you hoped existed but could not see for yourself? How many years did that keep you going?"

    His frown deepens further. "Hmm."

    "Fear might drive people, but hope causes them to drive themselves on. And they're generally happier about it than they are about being afraid. Are you telling me you can't see a use for that sort of ability?"

    Slowly, he starts to smile. "What a novel idea. You might be on to something, alien. I'll start looking into it at once."
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2019 at 8:12 PM
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  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd August
    12:33 GMT

    "Controller Hin-."

    "Ah, my Illustres!" Hinon beams as she sees me. "I understand that we're playing host to a Qwardian Weaponer now."

    "Yes, I-."

    "I wanted to check, because I had been under the impression that you were going to cooperate on an arrest with Lantern Gardner. Was I mistaken?"

    "No, b-."

    "You are aware that the Qwardians served as the Anti-Monitor's army during the Great Crisis, yes?"

    "Yes, b-." I frown. "Wait, how do you-?"

    "Did you know that I fought him directly myself? By my reckoning I came to within a nanometre of being snuffed out and having retroactively never existed. So please understand that I'm less than pleased about this."

    "It was-."

    "And now Dox tells me that you're going to Oa." She sighs. "The Guardians. Really. You thought that was a good idea?"

    I wait a moment, in order to see if she's finished this time. Nothing. Okay. "Would y-?"

    "And this Ragnar fellow. Is there some rational reason why we're also playing host to a serial killer of the less impersonal variety?"

    "Is there-?"

    "What exactly does he bring-?"

    My rings flare as the Scold's Bridle construct appears over her head. "Do you intend to let me answer your questions at any point?"

    She gives me a decidedly unimpressed look.

    "In the order in which you asked them. I have invited former Chief Weaponer Kalmin to join the Corps. Under the agreement you signed on behalf of the Controllers, I have the authority to do that. Removing the 'wild' Orange Lantern from his homeworld was a simple matter. Taking him on a mission to Qward -which was something Guy agreed to quite eagerly, the Guardians do like to keep an eye on the place- allowed me to get a better sense of how he behaves, to earn his loyalty and allowed Lantern Tui to investigate his past conduct. I was fully aware of the Qwardian people's loyalty to the Anti-Monitor, though I should inform you that it's nothing like uniform. But the Anti-Monitor hasn't been seen for quite some time, and if he does then we're in a rather better position to find out about it than Kalmin is. I will want to talk to you about the Crisis later. Kalmin is a dangerous individual, but he's nothing like as dangerous as the Anti-Monitor. I have some rather pointed questions to ask the Guardians myself, and the last thing they're going to want is for me to inform their Corps what really happened to depopulate Sector Six Six Six. As such, I imagine they'll make an effort to be cordial and in the interests of future cooperation I will return the favour. Ragnar has demonstrated the ability to use an orange power ring in combat. He isn't an.. ideal candidate, but he's capable and sane after two months."

    We stare at each other for a moment, then I allow the construct to evaporate.

    She flexes her facial muscles for a moment. "Well."

    "Ask an uncivil question, get an uncivil answer."

    She frowns slightly. "I couldn't break your construct."

    "I wouldn't be much use as an Illustres if just anyone could break my constructs."

    "Eckhc-cuh!" She looks indignant. "Anyone? Do I need to remind you who made that ring?"

    I raise my right hand. "Krona? No, I hadn't forgotten. Do you think it's likely to come up?"

    Her eyes narrow. "Paul, this is serious. The Guardians may react extremely badly to a mortal with a command of the spectrum quite as good as you have."

    "Guy decided to be open with them after the confrontation with Oceanus. He briefly used his higher order abilities on Qward, and I'm sure that he'll include that in his report. I'm more worried about him than I am about me. Besides, if they didn't want Humans being good at spectrum manipulation then they shouldn't have…" I spread out the four fingers of my right hand one way and the three longer fingers of my left the other.

    "Do you know what happened to the last place they did that to?"

    Nothing that I remember from the comics, but on the basis that Earth was referred to as the Fifth World… "Split in two, becoming Apokolips and New Genesis. The one before that… It's basically abandoned, with the last few inhabitants keeping tabs on Mageddon, isn't it?"

    "And the one before that? And the one before that?"

    "I… Destroyed..? I assume..?"

    She looks away for a moment. "It's something of a relief to learn that you don't know everything. I am older than your world's gods, and some of the things I have seen in my time…" She smiles unhappily up at me. "Though I suppose you've got that to look forward to." She reaches up slightly and straightens my robes. "The Guardians are good people, but they weren't good at.. flowing with the circumstances before, and I doubt that they've gotten better since. They.. were friends and colleagues. Now… I'm not sure who they are. Just don't get yourself stuck in a sciencell."

    I bring my hands to my chest, trapping hers between them and my chest. "I'll do my best. Thank you for your concern." She nods, not trying to pull her hands away. "You're not angling for an invitation, are you?"

    "No."

    "Because-."

    "Don't worry, I'm not. I don't think that one of us being there would make things any better. You're not going to Zamaron as well, are you?"

    "You said that you wanted me to talk to Nadia Safir-."

    "I think… Put that on hold?"

    I nod. "It's on hold."

    "And I'm pretending not to notice that you didn't mention the redoubtable Mister Alan Scott when you were explaining to me why Kalmin is here."

    "I appreciate that. And I'm pretending not to notice that you haven't agreed to tell me about the Crisis yet."

    "Pray I never have to."

    "No!" She snatches her hands back. "I worship a goddess of chaos. Praying to her about something like that is the worst thing to do!"

    Hinon squeezes her eyes closed and turns away. "Oh… Shoo, you tiresome man. Tell Dennap she has my blessing to keep you in the sciencells for a few weeks."

    "I'll be sure to do that!"

    She half looks back, then waves her right hand irritably. I think I'm dismissed.

    Alright then. Onwards to Oa.
     
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  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd August
    15:57 GMT

    Prince Stentar looks up from his books as a servant leads me into his study. "Illustres. I appreciate you taking the time to visit me."

    I perform a shallow bow. "It's the least I could do, your highness, after what I did to your brother."

    He slams the weathered tome shut, then shakes his head as he stands. "My brother did that to himself. I know for a fact that he would be quite irritated if anyone else claimed credit for the man he has made himself. Save for Sinestro, perhaps." He walks out from behind his desk and approaches me. "Rather, I am grateful to you for bringing these matters to light and giving him useful work he can perform as penance."

    "I honestly don't think that he sees it as penance."

    He shrugs. "So long as he can hide his enjoyment should he return to this Sector."

    "Thank you for your appreciation, but I'm afraid that you don't know the whole story."

    "Hah! My study is a poor place for such tales of battle as one such as you must be able to tell!" He turns to the door. "Server! Two mugs of Gnuurgah!" He turns back, and catches the look of discomfort on my face. "Did you think that my younger brother was unique in our culture? No, no, if the rest of us were as staid as the Korugari then his duelling would not have been tolerated." He collapses back into a well-cushioned chair and gestures for me to do the same in the one opposite. "Ragnar takes the martial excellence that our aristocracy prizes to its extreme. He causes problems because he has never learned to balance that with the other virtues we try to possess." He leans forwards. "When we were younger, he would try to compete with me in every regard, in our.. studies, our exercises, in pleasing our father and… Our mother. But, I had two years on him. He was constantly frustrated. He told me later that he resolved to focus on one area, in the hope that in that one narrow field he could best me. And Sinestro visited the palace and that was that. Martial virtue was all he cared for."

    A servant enters the room with a tray upon which sit two tankards filled with.. a grey frothy liquid. He holds the tray out between us and Prince Stentar grabs the tankard closest to him before waving it in my general direction. "Blood to the ground!"

    I half-expected this, so I don't hesitate as I grab the other tankard and-.

    Ring, what's the traditional local response?

    Blood to the sky.

    "Blood to the sky!"

    He then raises his tankard to his lips and knocks back a third of its content. I match him, and…

    I mean, it doesn't taste nice or anything, but I was expecting far worse based on the colouration alone.

    He lowers his tankard and leans forward eagerly. "So, tell me: what is the story that I do not know?"

    "It was a little under a year ago. A woman I'd bought a unique gun from was murdered a short time later, and the local police wanted a word. After demonstrating that it couldn't have been me, I ended up helping with the investigation. Myself and one of the detectives tracked the criminals to a warehouse on the waterfront. I had a peek inside, and saw a group of thugs, an infamous criminal and a man being held hostage. It was only after I breached the building that I discovered that I was being tricked: the criminal was an automaton with a built-in anti-Lantern weapon and the apparent hostage was both the mastermind and the bait."

    "An anti-Lantern weapon? Do you live on some manner of lawless hell world?"

    "Hehaha!" He shakes his head, not understanding. "If you're born on a hell world… How do you know? As far as you're concerned, it's just normal. My primitive ancestors once beat a Lantern to death with wooden sticks. We discovered a dozen ways to kill Kryptonians, generally regarded as being the most ridiculously overpowered species in the universe, after a couple of years. I personally killed the First of the Fallen, and it wasn't even in my dozen toughest fights."

    "The First of-? You killed-?"

    "But this particular weapon was telepathic. It worked by.. locking onto a mind and then turning down its capacity for coherent thought. Unlike super strength, using power rings requires a clear thought process and intense emotions. I beat down the thugs they threw at me to give the weapon time to work, then I collapsed, powerless, as their employer plucked the ring from my finger and took it for himself. He told the leader of his hirelings to give me a chance to talk my way out of the trap, then kill me if I failed."

    "Clearly, you survived. Was the man a slow-witted dolt?"

    "No, quite the contrary. Bane was actually quite intelligent. On the grounds that he was a mercenary, I offered him and his gang money. But he felt that killing me would open up future employment opportunities for him, and since I didn’t have the cash on me he wasn't interested. And offering money to his men to free me didn't work: they were either too loyal or too afraid of him. But, I knew something he didn't. Something he'd wanted to know since he was a small boy. You see, he grew up in a prison. He was born there, his mother died there, and he eventually escaped after they tested a combat drug on him… But in all that time, he had no idea where his father was."

    "I'd fought Bane before, and realised that I might fight him again in the future. So, I made a point of finding out everything about him that I could. And one of the things I discovered was his father's name and location. He checked the information, had an argument with the man he'd never met, then punched me unconscious. I woke up in an ambulance, while the man with my ring was attacking an ultra hi-tech weapon storage facility."

    Prince Stentar is grinning. "How did you stop him?"

    "Lantern Gardner got sent to fight him head on, but I really wanted to get my ring back. And orange rings are all about desire, as your brother demonstrated. I climbed to the top of a mountain over two thousand miles from him, raised my left hand-" I raise it. "-and called my ring back. It took a minute to arrive, but when it did?" I smile. "It brought the thief's finger with it."

    "Hah!"

    "Unfortunately, just as your brother managed to call his ring through interstellar space… My calling summoned rings from their resting place on Okaara. They flew out across space, and when I stopped calling… They went their own ways. And apparently, at least six of them came this way. And I very much doubt that your brother is going to be the last."

    Stentar sobers a little. "I see."

    "How is the.. political situation here? Ragnar's vassals-."

    "Father has made it very clear that he doesn’t intend to take advantage of the situation. Ragnar did increase father's political strength somewhat, and with Ragnar out of the picture it is unlikely that the throne will suffer from it in the longer term."

    I nod. "If I can be of assistance in any way, let me know. The Green Lanterns can get a message to me."

    "Thank you, but I believe that between myself and Lantern Dulok we can manage." He takes another swig of the Gnuurgah. "Where will you go next?"

    "There was a Korugari I was trying to recruit. With one thing and another I got a bit distracted… But I think I'll visit there again before going anywhere else. After that, I've got an appointment with the Guardians on Oa."

    "On Oa itself?" He exhales slowly. "At times like this, I can see why the purely martial life appeals to my brother so greatly. You must feel tremendously honoured."

    "It's just the opening meeting for what will probably be a somewhat uncomfortable series of negotiations. I'm more excited about meeting some of the more experienced Green Lanterns."

    "You have your favourites, I take it?"

    "I've already met Lantern Medphyl and Lantern Chance, but I'm hoping that I'll bump into Lantern Rot Lop Fan or Lantern Kreon especially. I base a lot of my own techniques on methods he pioneered."

    "Hah! You sound a little like my brother when you talk like that." Then I'm never talking like that again. "Of course, the one he admires most is Sinestro. What would happen if you met him?"

    "Hopefully, we'd both have better things to do than fight. But I certainly don't expect to meet him on Oa of all places."
     
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  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd August
    19:19 GMT

    O..kay… Assuming that Doctor Natu is a woman of routine and there hasn't been some sort of last second emergency, she should be here shortly. And -now that I'm equipped with a translator upgrade courtesy of Betrassus- I should be able to press my case a little.

    "Is drink good?"

    I mean, even with the upgrade it's not perfect or anything, but at least it's better calibrated to what a visiting merchant might reasonably have after spending this long in an area.

    "It satisfies. I am appreciative."

    Definitely not perfect, and I don't think that waiter was here last time I visited. High staff turnover or just changes in shift patterns?

    "Tell me if you want anything else."

    He smiles and walks over to another table. My goodness me, that was a normal sentence. And the drink does satisfy; I took the time to ask Lantern Tui for a few suggestions and I've found something that tastes like passion fruit juice. There'd be an export market for it on Earth if it wasn't for the exorbitant shipping rates. As it is, it might be worth me spending enough time around here to find out what environment it's best cultivated-.

    "-not be here, identically to how he was not here-" Doctor Natu turns away from the older woman she came through the door with and looks around the café. She spots me at once and I raise my glass in greeting. "-last.. time."

    "That is your alien hook-up? I hoped that he would be stranger."

    Doctor Natu tears her eyes away from me. "He is not-."

    "Physically."

    "Yes, I understood what you meant. And I hope that his translator is still too bad to-" I smile slightly, shaking my head. "-understand…" She starts to look around for another table, but her friend takes hold of her left arm and gently tugs her in my direction. Doctor Natu half-resists for a moment, then yields to the inevitable and allows herself to be led over.

    Ugh. Inconsiderate real universe: giving someone I want to recruit emotional relationships with NPCs. Like they're a real person or something, with friends and a life that goes on when they're not in view of the reader. Stupid non-comic book comic book universe.

    "So, you are an alien warlord?" The other woman smiles, leaning forwards across the table. "What is that like?"

    "I am not precisely a warlord-."

    "A headhunter who sometimes kills people while leading an army."

    "It is a technique. It is not an occupation on its own."

    Doctor Natu blinks, looking me over. "Your translator has been improved."

    "I spent time on planet Betrassus. I bought an improvement."

    The older woman grins. "Kill anyone?"

    I shake my head, smiling. "Not on planet Betrassus."

    "I assert that they have a duelling tradition-."

    "Nakkoa, just… Please, stop."

    "This is the closest you have been to a-." I don't quite catch what Doctor Natu's right hand does that cuts her friend off, but it appears to be effective. The two of them share a look before Doctor Natu turns her attention to me.

    "I mentioned our conversation to some friends at the hospital. They have convinced themselves that you are the most interesting thing happening in my life."

    "They think I am more interesting than brain surgery? That surprises me. We only spoke once."

    "You try telling them that."

    "Okay." I turn to 'Nakkoa', who is probably something at the hospital. "Ms Nakkoa, I am not at all amorously interested in the intelligent and attractive Doctor Natu."

    "Pfnnnnnnnnngh." Ms Nakkoa makes a quiet snort-laugh noise, petering off into a grin as Doctor Natu sighs.

    "I hope that was a joke; I was not even sure I wanted to talk to you again. What you told me last time was not funny."

    "Good. I would be worried if you had found it funny."

    "Recruited anyone interesting since last time?"

    I nod. "A plant that covers the surface of an entire planet. An engineer made out of anti-matter. Pseudo-insects from a species with seven sexes. Prince Ragnar of Betrassus. Have you operated on any interesting brains since-?"

    "A whole planet?" / "Seven-?"

    "Sentient planets do exist, though they are rare. Speaking with one was an interesting experience. Physically, they have little in common with humanoids. She senses gravity and electromagnetic fields as you and I do pressure and light." Their faces relax slightly as they try to picture the being I'm describing. "The first time she encountered another intelligent mind, she found pain to be so abhorrent that she learned to turn parts of herself into emergency hospice systems, and the telepathic node network which runs throughout her body allows her to communicate with all parts of her body with almost no lag."

    Doctor Natu blinks. "That is-."

    "And she keeps her world surrounded by corpses, millions of bodies floating in local space so that she'll always have enough to eat."

    Ms Nakkoa pulls a face. "She eats corpses?"

    "She cannot live by geothermal and solar power alone." She's actually taking steps to reduce her total volume, using her ring to increase her understanding of the bioengineering she had been doing instinctively. "Corpses lost in deep space are not useful to anyone."

    "Wait." Doctor Natu appears to believe that she's seen a wrinkle in my story. "If she is a planet, how did you recruit her? Are you going to build on her?"

    "No. I got to sit on her surface while she used her gravity manipulation to move faster than light. Half-visible stars beyond her atmosphere flashing past as we flew. The universe is a wonderful place." I smile. "How is the hospital?"

    "Ahh…" Doctor Natu shrugs. "Our hospital is fine. The hospitals in the poorer districts are getting starved of funds to make sure of it."

    "I do not know how medical provision works on Korugar. Do you use an insurance-based model, or is provision universal?"

    "In theory, it is universal. But some places are more universal than others."

    "I had assumed that the purpose of the form of debt bondage you labour under was to compel you to select less desirable work locations. Was that not true?"

    Ms Nakkoa rolls her eyes. "Why would the politicians controlling our funding put the best doctors in places they do not use? Medical students on study-grants go through the same assessments as everyone else. It works out better that way for the system, because they have trouble leaving wherever they are put." She leans back slightly as the waiter returns. "But I don’t talk to alien warlords to hear about my problems. I want to hear how it works with seven sexes."
     
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