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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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    24th August
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    It's very… Green.

    The Sto-Oa system is either a bizarre anomaly, or the Guardians did more than a little housekeeping when they moved in. Aside from Sto-Oa and Oa itself, there's nothing here. No other planets, no asteroids, not even dust. And as we're technically in interstellar space here, there's a whole arc of space where there aren't any stars. It's actually a little disturbing to look at, like there's a place in space you could fall out of.

    Sto-Oa itself is an orange dwarf star and Oa orbits it far more closely than Earth does Sol. From where I am, if I block my empathic vision the result is that the side of Oa closest to it looks purple while the side facing away is purely green. The purple side is darker, making it look like night happens when the sun is in the sky.

    But when my empathic vision is active? Solid green. So solid that it obscures Sto-Oa, obscures space, even obscures the individual light sources on the planet. I thought that the Guardians or.. maybe even Guy would stand out. They don't. I couldn't even say for certain that they're down there.

    Another flicker of green draws my attention, and I take the opportunity to turn away from the planet to look at it. It's a Green Lantern, an elfin-looking woman with a complicated arrangement of pink hair trailing behind her as she flies back to Oa. Must be glad to have a power ring; there's no way that hair would stay tangle-free without a protective environmental shield keeping the strands apart.

    I don't think she's seen me. I'm not.. glowing that brightly, and most Lanterns don't have empathic vision. I'm sure that the Guardians have…

    Heh. For a moment I consider dropping a cloud of dust, purely for the mischief value. No. Bad Lantern.

    "Orange Tw-." Ah. No, I'm not, am I? "Orange Illustres to Honour Guard Guy Gardner." I watch my ring for a moment. "Guy? Come on, you invited me."

    I cross my legs, relax my muscles and stare at my ring's sigil for a moment.

    Have the… Gits blocked me again..?

    Ugh. Okay, what do I do? I could just throw my arms wide, create a massive orange sigil and wait for someone to pick me up. How many Green Lanterns are there down there? Probably not that many. Green Lanterns generally stick to their Sectors. Honour Guard Lanterns generally have enough to keep themselves busy… Wonder if they've attacked Colu yet? Anyway, there'll probably be a few around, plus any rookies who are still undergoing basic training. If Lantern Savenlovich is being mentored then she probably isn't, but according to the data I took from John's ring there could be anything from four to twelve rookies down there. That's the normal range due to deaths in the line, resignations and retirements, and outside major wars it's pretty consistent. Guy said that the Guardians had approved shoot-to-kill on Qwardian officers, but they waited for me to handle Ragnar. And I have an invitation. They're not going to freak out if I fly down there, are they?

    I switch to a standing position and accelerate towards Oa, space bending around me as I do so. John's map showed the Green Central Power Battery being over there, along the dawn line. Certainly, there seem to be a lot more buildings around there. Actually, it's interesting exactly how much of Oa isn't built on. With such a small population I suppose that -unlike on the heavily populated Maltus- there's no need for extensive structures. There are.. green light.. nodes of some kind..? Probably there to act as a relay for a shielding system. Still… Far more buildings than they need. Do they date from a time when there were more Guardians? The Guardians certainly strike me as a people who wouldn't destroy something just because they didn't need it any longer. They still use Manhunters, for goodness sake.

    During major wars, far more Lanterns than normal would be stationed here, and they'd need to use more of the buildings than are routinely occupied. Then there's diplomatic visitors… Do they do prisoner rehabilitation? Are there.. work release programs? I realise that Hinon probably mentioned it as a joke, but I am going to ask Dennap if she actually wants me to. Just so I can see the look on Hinon's face when I tell her that I did.

    I reduce my warp effect as I fall through Oa's atmosphere, keeping myself subsonic. No sense in creating a racket or anything. I turn my empathic vision up a little, and I'm now close enough to see the strands… Huh. Yes, those near-cuboid structures contain powerful green light focuses. More than that, I can see strands of green light forming links through the air. It's fascinating… Buuut perhaps I shouldn't fly near them while I'm only grudgingly allowed here. Instead-.

    Ah! Green Lanterns over there. A group of five, and they're heading this way. Hopefully, that's my escort. I head a little further away from the green structures and descend further until I'm only ten metres or so off the ground. Quick check of my robes, yep, not naked…

    Huh, they don't have the green sigil on their-.

    The first green pulse hits me in the chest as I begin to realise what's happened. These are- construct armour, power armour- rookies and they've somehow gotten away from their tutor. Further green pulses strike my armour, with even more missing me and blowing small craters in the ground below us.

    I fly sideways, making sure that I keep facing the approaching Greenies. I don't recognise three of them, but the Xudarian… No, Tomar-Re's older. Pass. The blonde with the yellow skin is almost certainly Arisia Rrab, so no jokes about Rrab life insurance costs or life expectancy… Construct megaphone.

    "Could we possibly talk about this?"

    The Jem'Hadar-looking one at the rear of the pack generates a construct torpedo and fires it in my direction.

    "I have an invitation!"

    I swerve in the air, still facing them as they try to close the distance. The torpedo construct follows me as the bolts start to seriously abrade my construct armour.

    Right! Had enough. I've tried reasonable, and now it's time to put these raucous rookies down with the minimal level of force practical. If the Guardians wanted them to stay in pristine condition, they should have put reins on them.

    I stop in the air and stick out my left arm, catching the construct torpedo by the bow cap and tossing it aside. It explodes a moment later, light and… Far less force than when John throws constructs like that around, actually.

    Green Greenies, right.

    I generate a shield in front of me bearing the orange sigil and I stop retreating, allowing them to close the distance. Their energy pulses slam into it accurately enough, though I'm sure that if it were me shooting like that Christopher would be patting me on the shoulder and referring to me as 'son'.

    "Get over here."

    An orange construct x-clamp on a chain shoots around my shield and flashes across the space between me and a Lantern who looks a little like a sea anemone and closes around… His..? Torso before dragging him back to me.

    "Agh!"

    "Blob-blob!"

    I drag him to a halt next to me and grab him with my right hand, his environmental shield shimmering and buckling around mine.

    Corrupt.

    And gone. He drops slightly in the air as his ring's flight ability shuts down, then I extend my own around him.

    "For future reference:-"

    I extend my left hand, pulling his power ring from one of his tendrils-

    "-if someone tries to talk to you?"

    -before dropping him and letting him fall the three metres to the ground.

    "LISTEN TO WHAT THEY'RE SAYING."

    I jerk my shield forward, slamming into Ms Rrab and an eight-limbed cyborg insect of some kind and knocking them aside. The Xudarian and the Jem'Hadar look-alike with the tall head get construct clamped.

    "Make this a lesson you only have to learn once, hm?"
     
  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    24th August
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    "So." Five green rings hang from an orange loop in the air to my right as the five rookies glower up at me. "Who wants to tell me what you five did wrong?"

    Lantern Rrab strains against the orange construct chains binding her. "You will not get away with this."

    Amusingly, without power rings they can't actually talk to each other as they don't have a language in common.

    "Get away with what? I was invited here. The only reason I came down this far away from the administration area is because with the communication bar in place I couldn't tell anyone I was here and I didn't want to frighten anyone." The three rookies with recognisable eyes widen them slightly, and the anemone's tendrils sag mournfully. "But it turned out alright; I'm practising my own Lantern training techniques and this could be a useful opportunity for me." I clap my hands together. "I will return the ring to each one of you who can identify one of your errors."

    I did briefly consider putting one on myself and using it to contact someone, but I don't think that 'I beat up your newbies and took their stuff' is the way to go with this. Assuming that I even can activate non-orange rings these days. Have to ask someone here if they mind me testing that.

    "We did not contact anyone when we identified a hostile." The grey-skinned humanoid sags further. "That was the first thing we should have done, in case something like this happened."

    "Good answer." Now, which one-? I let the middle ring fall through my construct loop, letting it fall onto my right palm. I dismiss the chains binding him and raise my eyebrows. "All yours."

    "Ah…"

    "What?"

    "Do you… Expect me to fight you for it?"

    "No. But when I recruit someone, I make them call their ring from my hand. I know Green Lanterns can do the same thing." I move my right hand a little closer to him. "I'm not blocking you. Call it."



    "Though, actually, you probably should look into non-ring weapons and defensive systems at some point."

    "I… Don't know how to call my ring."

    "Your ring selected you because you have the mental and spiritual characteristics which the Green Lantern Corps recruits for. You are already capable of calling it to you. Picture clearly in your mind the image of the ring flying from my palm and onto your finger. Focus on that, until the idea of anything else happening appears to be an impossibility. Will it to you."

    That's a.. very approximate version of how Guy described the process to me when he got the hang of it. But if these rookies can actually generate constructs, it shouldn't be totally beyond them.

    The grey humanoid stands and extends his right hand, eyes locked onto his ring. "Ring." A very weak shimmer of green light runs around its surface, then fades away again. "Ring." It wobbles slightly on my palm, then lies still again. He takes a deep breath, eyes locked on and staring. "Ring."

    The ring rises off my palm-

    "Remote activation detected."

    -and flies onto his middle ringer, a wave of green light passing over him as his environmental shield reactivates. He smiles for a second, then turns to his colleagues and fires an energy pulse at the construct chains around them.

    "No!" The chain isn't damaged much by his attack, but I stick an orange construct plate between him and his colleagues. "What did you just tell me you should have done when you found me?"

    "Lantern-. Lantern Maestran to Lantern Kilowog, come in sir!"

    Lantern Kilowog's face appears over his ring.

    "Hey, kid. You keeping out of trouble?"

    "Sir,-."

    "Ah, hey, just so you know: there's an orange Lantern coming to Oa sometime soon. Guardians want to talk to him. I'd have told you earlier, but Lantern Gardner only just got around to telling me. So: what you up to?"

    He kno-ows.

    "Daaaah." He looks at me, his colleagues and then back at Kilowog. "Practice, sir?"

    "Ah, I'm just messing with you. I watched you all getting your creggocks handed to you. Hey, orange guy." Lantern Maestran's ring glows brightly for a moment, then a life size Kilowog construct steps out.

    "Honour Guard Lantern Kilowog." I perform a shallow bow. "An honour to meet you. Guy has spoken fondly of his time under your tutelage."

    "Heh. Guardians figured if I could teach him I could teach anyone."

    "I apologise for disrupting your class."

    The construct image folds its arms. "Think these poozers might learn more this way." He wheels to face those still bound. "He's still waiting for your answer! What should you have done?!"

    No immediate responses.

    "Rookie Rrab? Any idea?"

    Her eyes move from Kilowog to me. "We… We should have identified our target more carefully."

    I nod. "I know you have files on me. I read Lantern Stewart's when I stole his ring. That would have told you that it was unlikely that I was going to attack you and that five to one odds weren't actually in your favour."

    Another ring drops onto my right palm as her bonds fade. "Call it to you."

    The stare with which she fixes her ring looks more constipated than focused, but I'll let her work at it.

    "Sorry, don't know what the rest of you are called. Any more guesses?"

    The cyborg insect waggles its middle legs. "Tactically. All adopting the same technique. All approaching from the same direction. All approaching at the same time. All were errors."

    "Correct."

    Its bonds fade and its ring joins Lantern Rrab's.

    "Come on, you're all missing the easy one."

    The anemone's tendrils suddenly come erect. "We should have attempted to communicate with you in advance of attacking."

    "Half marks, given that I told you that. Why?"

    "To prevent shameful misunderstandings like this."

    "Nearly, but not quite. Try ag-."

    "Because we're police officers!" Lantern Rrab's ring flies to her finger. "We stop crimes and arrest criminals. We're not supposed to just go around shooting people because they look suspicious. That's supposed to be a last resort."

    I nod. "Well done, Lantern Rrab." She smiles. "Try to remember that in advance next time." She stops smiling. "Who else wants their ring back?"
     
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    "…why you poozers thought attacking him-" There's a half second pause as Lantern Kilowog takes a breath. "-was a good idea in the first place, when you were supposed to be training!"

    I see a thin strand of spittle drip down Maestran's face. Lantern Kilowog's mouth structure doesn't really lend itself to precise control. The rookie doesn't react, other than to unconsciously lean away from his towering instructor slightly. Kilowog is a big guy, and now that he's here in the flesh he's all the more imposing.

    "This is Oa! Things don't happen here without the Guardians knowing about it, and if they had a problem they'd be sending the Honour Guard to deal with it!" He paces down the line of recruits, arms behind his back and clearly unimpressed with what just took place. "You rookies would be called back to the Citadel to wait it out!"

    "Lantern Kilowog-."

    He wheels towards me. "And what did you think you were doing, coming here unescorted?"

    I shrug. "I told Lantern Gardner that I'd need a day or so, he said that was fine. I tried to make contact when I got into the system, but apparently I'm still barred from communicating with members of the Green Lantern Corps."

    Kilowog wrinkles his nose. And Bolovaxians have a lot of nose to wrinkle. "Gardner didn't turn that off?"

    I raise my left ring to my left ear. "Illustres to Kilowog."

    Nothing happens.

    Kilowog snorts. "Guess I didn't beat the stupid out of him hard enough, either." He lowers his arms to his sides, then raises his right hand to his face. "Let me just see if there's-. Oh."

    "What?"

    He lowers his hand, the lights from his ring fading. "Standing order from the Guardians. Communications block stays up until you meet them."

    "Tremendously helpful of them. Are they ready for me now..?"

    "No, they're debriefing Lantern Venizz. I'll tell you when. Alright!" Kilowog turns back to the recruits. "One lap around the planet. First one back gets twenty push-ups."

    "Query. First one back?"

    "Everyone else gets forty."

    The cyber insect turns to see that all of its companions have already started their lap, and hurries to follow them.

    Kilowog and I watch them go. "Eh, we were all that bad at it once."

    "Were you?"

    He glances sideways at me, then raises his left eyebro-. His left eye ridge. "Guy told me about the cake."

    "Could you make a cake that big? Heck, I was making faster than light jumps and complex constructs on my first day." I smirk. "Want me to chivvy your recruits along a little? I imagine that a giant orange chomping mouth construct would do wonders for their concentration."

    "Nah. I make them do this because repetition works. They need to learn to focus their minds through anger and tiredness and get the job done."

    "You sure?"

    "Teaching Lanterns is what I do. And if Gardner could make the Honour Guard less than a year after coming off medical leave, I don't think I'm doing too badly."

    "I might have had a.. little something to do with that."

    "Yeah, maybe. Teaching something makes you think about it in different ways from when you're being taught it yourself."

    "Guy told you he taught me? Because… Green Lanterns habitually use side arms and railguns?"

    "Alright, so maybe-."

    "It only took me a few weeks to get most of the stuff you taught him out of his head so I could teach him how to do it properly." I smile.

    Lantern Kilowog folds his arms across his chest. "Oh yeah?"

    "I realise that at the entry level green rings are so limiting that Green Lanterns have to settle for just making whatever constructs they can… But I'd have thought that senior Lanterns would be able to do better. I mean, Guy got the hang of filaments for constructs eventually and I have to credit him with learning how to resist orange light infections quickly enough, but I can't really credit you with either."

    Lantern Kilowog's eyes narrow slightly. "There some reason why you're trying to piss me off… Kid?"

    "I'm used to sparring with Guy. He's pretty good, but I generally come out ahead. John's getting there, but he hasn't got as good as Guy or I yet. Jordan's a good guy, but he's falling behind as far as Lantern to Lantern combat is concerned. You're a… Longer term veteran. How long now?"

    "Closer to forty years than thirty."

    "There you go. So I certainly haven't fought the best the Green Lantern Corps has to offer. But the way I see it, if the man responsible for training isn't the best, he's certainly got to be up there. Assuming.. your… Illustres isn't available."

    "No, Illustres Chaselon's usually pretty busy. So, what; you think I might be a challenge?"

    "I think we'll force each other to think about Lantern-to-Lantern combat in ways neither of us have before. Hopefully. I mean, for me it's this or pick a fight with Sinestro… And I don't think he's a… Sparring sort of guy. Also, I'm a bit annoyed about your recruits attacking me and with the Guardians, and I.. may be taking it out on you slightly." I nod my head to the side. "Sorry about that."

    "Do you think you can wait until they get back?"

    I shrug. "I pretty much have to wait at the Guardians' pleasure, so… Sure? Unless a free range Orange Lantern appears in this Sector before then. Those take top priority."

    He nods. "Here's what I'm thinking. I've been having the rookies train against each other and against me. They haven't really seen what experienced Lanterns can do yet. They haven't seen how people like-" I think that's a smile. "-me fight when we're being pushed."

    "And you want to make it a lesson." I nod. "I approve. Though I do have a condition."

    "Oh? What's that?"

    "I'm training rookies of my own back on Maltus. Sometime -doesn’t have to be soon- you turn up and we run a similar session there. So the first generation of Orange Lanterns can benefit from your experience as well."

    Kilowog thinks about it for a moment, then nods in the affirmative. "Probably a good idea. I don't want you making the rest of us ring-slingers look bad."

    "Though I'll warn you: for Orange Lanterns, the problem isn't getting the required level of focus to use the ring. It's staying sane enough to use it sensibly."

    "Heh. I've outthought powerful guys before. You should be more worried about me making them think they picked the wrong Corps."

    "Well. One of us is in for a rude awakening."
     
  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    03:29 GMT

    "Forty!"

    Lantern Tu looks up hopefully from his pushed up position at where Kilowog glowers down at him, not daring to rise until he has specific approval.

    "Get back in line, poozer. And try not to be so slow in future."

    "Sir, yes sir!" Lantern Tu jumps to his feet, then steps back to fall in besides Lantern Blob-Blob. As with the Clickers on Maltus there's basically no way for the rest of us to say the pseudo-anemone's actual name, and daft as it sounds apparently that's the accepted stand-in.

    "Alright, listen up!" Kilowog isn't pacing this time, just standing in front of them with his arms folded at his chest. "Like Rrab pointed out, the duty of a Lantern is to enforce the law! But sometimes that means you have to use force to get your point across, and sometimes you run into someone who can fight back. Part of my job is to prepare you for those situations. And since I got-" He glances my way, then returns his attention to his students. "-a volunteer, we're going to show you how you're supposed to handle that." He turns to face me, and opens his arms. "So what do you do?"

    "Firstly, time allowing, study my opponent. What species are they? What equipment do they have? What weapons or armour? Are they wearing the colours of a group who might provide them with reinforcements? Immediately, or will I need to sleep with one eye open? In Kilowog's case, he's wearing an armour mesh covering his whole body, reinforced with heavy plates around his torso. The only weapon I can see is his power ring. However-" I stick out my right hand and take a cold gun out of subspace. "-that does not mean that he can't get other weapons very quickly."

    I return the cold gun to subspace.

    "The fact that his ring isn't glowing particularly brightly-" He corrects that at once. "-would have indicated that I had a window of opportunity to attack while his defences were weak. Remember, your environmental shield provides you with a basic level of protection all of the time, but it is not a flawless defence. In terms of local friendlies… We're on Oa. If this were a real fight I'd have to be prepared to deal with the Honour Guard garrison, and then the Guardians. I'd be looking to disengage and flee, rather than carry on fighting."

    Actually… If this was a real confrontation I'd probably make an effort to kill Kilowog first, to reduce the risk of immediate pursuit. Sustained crumbler round fire to the head should do it…

    "As for species, he's Bolovaxian. Slightly stronger and tougher than a standard pattern humanoid like myself, but not enough to make much difference in a power ring fight."

    Kilowog snorts. "We'll see how much difference it makes."

    "Yes." I rise slightly into the air and don my power armour. "We will. And of course it's worth noting that Bolovaxians -particularly those that have been away from home for a long time- have a rather easily exploitable weakness."

    Kilowog folds his arms defiantly. "Oh yeah? What's that?"

    "Bolovaxians share a constant empathic field, allowing them to share feelings and -to a degree- individual thoughts. Though not strictly speaking a group mind, they're fairly close. As a society, it binds them together in ways I find quite admirable. As individuals, it makes them vulnerable to telepathic attack as they're open to direct input but not really capable of fighting back against it. Lantern Kilowog has it far worse. As an Honour Guard Lantern, he rarely has the opportunity to return home. Assuming that he doesn't suppress his ability chemically, that means that after so long without input he is unusually sensitive."

    I take a psi-shock grenade out of subspace and let it float in front of me. "This is a psi-shock grenade. It uses cloned neural tissue to create a telepathic surge. Against most people it's a slightly more effective flashbang. Against Lanterns, it usually disrupts their power ring usage, which can be fatal. Against people either trained for it or-" I tap my helmet. "-wearing psi-baffles, it does nothing at all. Against someone like Kilowog… It's dangerous enough that I'm not going to be using it."

    I drop it to the ground.

    "That's using information I got from an external examination. If you don't know all that, how do you find out? Lantern Tresh?" The cyborg insect.

    "Assumption. Increase our data stores through prior study?"

    Kilowog sticks his right arm out in my direction and scans me.

    "No. You do that."

    "Power rings aren't just effective weapons, they're tools, and most Lanterns use only a fraction of their full potential. Your ring's database is available to you all of the time, and if what you want isn't on there then it will relay the query to Oa and you'll have a response within moments. Kilowog now knows the limits and capacities of my armour, and he was also able to gather data on my physiology. To the best of my knowledge, my species doesn't have any particular weak points-"

    "Oh, don’t get me started."

    "-but it never hurts to check. I would point out somewhat smugly that my species currently has four serving members of the Green Lantern Corps -two Honour Guard and two Sector Lanterns- as well as a fifth who'd be so good at it that the Guardians put him on the 'Do Not Recruit' list because they were worried that he'd make the rest of you look bad."

    They have no idea who I'm talking about. Move on.

    "Doing that also gives him any data the Corps has on me in particular. At which point, he should start looking to disengage."

    "Yeah, because that's going to happen."

    "Lantern Kilowog's bullishness aside, there are things that it's not a good idea to fight on your own. I had a go at fighting a Titan on Earth… I got hit by a rather large bolt of lightning and nearly died without achieving anything very much. But without the Ophidian's direct support-" And I'm not taking my lantern out anywhere near the 'Green Men'. "-he should be in my weight class."

    "All that and more."

    "So let's test it out." I generate construct armour. "Lantern Kilowog and I will endeavour to provide you with commentary, an explanation of what we're doing and why. Since I'm still under a communication block, you'll have to listen to me on long wave radio rather than ring-to-ring, but that's the best I can do." Their rings gleam as I fly to minimum safe distance. "Lantern Kilowog, on your signal."

    Kilowog's ring glows brilliantly as opaque green construct plates cover his body.

    "Ready whenever you are."

    "You sure?"

    "Yeah."

    "Completely sure? I don't want you to claim-"

    I remote detonate the psi-shock grenade.

    "-I cheated."

    Kilowog's armour crumbles across most of his body and he collapses to his knees, clutching at his head.

    "That's a good starting lesson. The aim is to take your opponent down. Whole if you can, in pieces if you can't. It isn't to score points or give them a sporting chance. You serve the law, not your personal honour code. And now I'm going to back off a way, because I think I just gave Kilowog a-"

    His eyes come up and they look decidedly unfriendly.

    "-really good motivation to beat me to a pulp."
     
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    His transition jammer comes up immediately, and from the volley of energy pulses that fly in my direction I think that my assessment of his mental state is correct. All respect to the man for staying so focused, but I'm glad that I started heading away from him at speed the moment I finished talking because those things aren't weak little rookie energy pulses. No, these things have to be twenty centimetres across each.

    Ring, scan and auto-dodge.

    Compliance.

    Fortunately for me, energy packets like that don't have any homing capacity and while they are fast, they aren't faster than light. I jink around as they fly past me, not daring to let them get too close. I could phase, but I know that it's possible to affect phased objects with a power ring and if anyone's learned how to do that it's Kilowog.

    "…expect to actually hit him like this, it's about keeping him off balance while I close the distance."

    I smile. "Guess we're both on long wave, then. Okay, we're both warping space to move faster than our ring-flight would usually allow. I'm not using a scramjet construct to go faster because it would impede my ability to dodge. He's not using one… Probably because I'm not. No point wasting power. For those of you who weren't paying attention, I'm wearing two rings, giving me slightly under twice as much power as Lantern Kilowog. As such, a viable strategy would be to outlast him and attack him when he tries to recharge."

    I drop a communication drone out of subspace, then form a simple green laser construct and three railguns. The laser I fire at Kilowog's eyes. It's not powerful enough to cause serious harm, but it does distract him for a moment as he instinctively jerks his head away. That means that the volley of crumbler rounds that slams into him a half-second later goes unanswered and unevaded. The first two shots hit him in the chest armour and left shoulder, but the series that come next hit my actual target: the transition jammer construct. The moment it goes down I transition across the system, drop another drone, transition again, drop another drone, transition back to where I was a moment before and then finally transition to the far side of Sto-Oa. Then I drop my construct armour, go invisible and fly as fast as I can down from Oa's orbital plane using my armour's flight system.

    "Lasers are intense beams of light. Since you can see through your environmental shields, you're obviously able to shoot through them with lasers. That's why my armour shows me my environment using sensors rather than risk exposing any part of me to shots like that. Since Lantern Kilowog clearly prefers close quarters fights, I used the distraction my laser provided to destroy the thing preventing me doing a simple FTL transition and then got away. Lantern Kilowog?"

    There's a momentary pause.

    "Normally, that wouldn't be much of a problem. Power rings are great at tracking things through space. Multiple transitions are harder to track, especially if they use some kind of sensor masking. Over the area of a single star system it's pretty easy to scan for a single object if you can define exactly what it is you're looking for. Except in this case, I know Orange Lantern got magic protection against general ring scans. And that means I've got to find him the hard way. You listening, Orange?"

    My communication drones use bleed fracture pulse receivers, paired to the one in my armour. They can also receive and transmit in long wave and by laser, but given the distances involved either would require substantial delays.

    "Naturally."

    "Communication signals can generally be tracked, too. And so can power ring scans. Orange Lantern had to put out communication drones so he could keep talking without me immediately being able to find him. His armour also has stealth systems and a separate flight system not dependent on his power ring."

    "Rings."

    Glowing green spatial charges appear all around me!

    "Gesundheit."

    Armourarmourarmour!

    My construct armour reappears just as the charges detonate, blasts of green light and distorted gravity slamming into me from all directions. Through the fury of it I turn up my empathic vision and try to spot-. There he is. I don't know how he realised where I was, but-. The mines clear as another series of energy pulses comes at me. And… I'd have to want to destroy him to match them, and I don't.

    Warp.

    Compliance. Warning: high energy drain.

    And I'm gone, the intense green dot that marks Lantern Kilowog disappearing into the distance as I drop what's left of my construct armour and go invisible once more.

    "Which is pretty clever, but doesn't help if I physically interface with the drones and use that to get your position. Go on, say something."

    I fire a communication laser shot at the nearest drone. "Well done."

    Ugh. Bit of a waste of time, it'll take minutes to get there. But it does make me feel like I'm participating in the discussion.

    "So… Are you actually planning on fighting me, or is this strictly an evasion exercise?"

    Alright, he can't directly detect me, but I am going to need to confront him. And an Orange Lantern trying to bludgeon someone they don't want to hurt is going to be at a disadvantage. What to do, what to do?

    I take another drone out of subspace and set it to transmit on a delay. Then I change direction, sending the drone back towards Oa while I move further around the planet's orbital plane. I wait three seconds, then take psi-shock grenades out of subspace and start sending them after the drone. Then I accelerate and take a small physical railgun out of subspace.

    "I suppose that we may as well bring things to a head. I should warn you-"

    The green blip moves closer, and I rapidly fire the railgun in the direction of the drone.

    "-that I fight at a far higher speed than most human-"

    Close enough. A field of spatial charges appears around the drone and I detonate the grenades.

    "What, you thought that would work twice?"

    Direct transmission from me. "No. Did you?"

    Okay, if he's there, then judging by the angle and speed of my railgun shots…

    "Ugh."

    As much as I could hope for. I raise my hands and point them at the green blob as at least one of the railgun rounds I fired along his flight path hits home. Hopefully enough to pierce his armour and distract him. Medphyll wouldn't teach me how to control plants like he does. And to be fair, he probably didn't know how to. But with observation, meditation and experimentation…

    All Things Strive.

    And Kilowog's in my face, his active sensors flashing out and piercing my invisibility system. He's actually past me when he detects me, but I see in slow motion as he forms a hammer construct and has his ring swing it at me while he turns around.

    I fly to evade, my own construct armour reappearing and two small railguns forming. The hammer is barely half way to me when the crumbler round hits it and causes it to collapse. Kilowog finishes his turn, construct scatterguns pelting my construct armour with pulses of green light. I generate a construct shield as my armour starts failing.

    "Pretty sure you've lost, Kilowog."

    One of his scatter guns disappears as he takes a neural impacter out of subspace. "Pretty sure I haven't. I was saving this for Sinestro, but I guess you'll do for a… A triaoouhuhhah."

    "Sorry? Didn't catch that."

    I fire another volley of crumbler rounds in his direction as I stop backing up. If this works as I think it does…

    Kilowog stops trying to evade, the noises coming from him becoming increasingly unsettling.

    I cease my attack, reinforcing my construct shield and armour. "Kilowog? If you don't respond coherently I'm calling myself the winner."

    There's a flash of green as his constructs and armour evaporate and I see him spraying grey/green gunge from his mouth.

    "Rookies, I just won. You're escorting me and Kilowog to the Green Lantern Corps' medical centre. Now."
     
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    The blue-grey skinned, feminine-looking humanoid turns away from the instruments surrounding Kilowog's bed and regard me for a moment. She..? Looks a bit like a cross between a Vedalken and a Kaminoan. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the Green Lantern Corps has civilian support workers; the chance of a medical doctor specialising in xenobiology getting a ring in the first place must be astronomically small, and the odds of them ascending to the Honour Guard smaller still. And the Guardians are far too thin on the ground to handle it themselves.

    "Explain to me what you did."

    "I caused-."

    "And the explanation had best be a good one."

    I half-turn to see the rookie squad hurriedly giving Illustres Chaselon as much space as he wants. Unlike most of his species, his use of his ring's flight system allows him to use his mechadendrites purely for fine manipulation rather than for motion. The rest of his body is a large, round, multifaceted crystal with a.. really distracting… I don't want to call it a Mohican, but that's what it looks like.

    So… This is the one non-Guardian on the planet I might not be able to take in a fight.

    "Illustres Chaselon. Lantern Kilowog and I were sparring, as a demonstration for his class. I disabled him using a technique I cribbed from Lantern Medphyll: I caused the microscopic symbiotic plants in his digestive system to multiply far faster than they would naturally. That caused him extreme gastrointestinal upset, and also demonstrates that Medphyll deserves to be promoted."

    "Both Jothra and Medphyll rejected promotion when it was offered to them. Neither could bear to leave their homeworld for the duration that would have been required."

    "Oh. Okay."

    "Doctor, will Lantern Kilowog-"

    "Uouououououoghhhh…!"

    Kilowog rears up, belches forth a wave of grey/green vomit and then collapses back again onto his bed.

    "-recover swiftly?"

    "The Bolovaxian digestive system is surprisingly malleable. The drugs I have administered should neutralise the increased growth within an hour. Repairing the damage that has been inflicted on his digestive tract should be a simple matter after that."

    "Thank you. I imagine that he will find this a valuable learning experience." He half-turns, facing the rookies. "Recruits. While your teacher is incapacitated, you are placed under the tutelage of Lantern Apros."

    A clear wave of fear passes through the rookies. Why would-? Oh. Yeah. It looks like Apros likes to force his students to face their fears until they're not afraid of them any more. Which is apparently fine if you're an Honour Guard Lantern, but the one time I tried to do that to Jordan…

    "You will find him in the refectory. Go there now."

    There's an unhappy chorus of 'yes, sir' and they file out, Chaselon turning away and scanning Kilowog with his ring as they do so. "Can you hear me, Lantern Kilowog?"

    "Uuuuugh…" Kilowog blinks, then tries to focus on Chaselon as a couple of drones float around him and disintegrate his vomit. "Yeah?"

    "I do not remember this being in your lesson plan. Do you think it will feature there in future?"

    "Yeah. Until I learn to beat it, sir."

    "Correct answer."

    "Um. Sorry, Kilowog."

    "Ehhrr." He awkwardly waves his right hand in a dismissive motion. "Good fight."

    "This should help." I fish a spell eater out of one of my pouches and place it gently on his chest before turning away and grinning at Chaselon. "So… What's next on the agenda? Do I get a tour of the place-?"

    "The Guardians are ready to see you now. I will escort you-" He turns around and leads the way out of the medical ward. "-in order to ensure that you do not hospitalise any further members of my Corps along the way."

    "Is Guy about? Because-" He takes off from a balcony, heading in the direction of the building housing the Green Central Power Battery. "-him picking me up would have been-."

    "Lantern Gardner slept through his alarm."

    "Oh. Well, fair enough. Mistakes happen."

    "He will meet us at the Guardians' chamber."

    We fly out across the… I don't know what this city is called. And it is a city, even if it has occupancy levels usually seen in London property investment vehicles. I wonder what it feels like to live here, to be able to stroll along empty streets without seeing another soul. Eh, I suppose if I'd lived through one of the events which prompted it to have high occupancy I'd feel less inclined to complain.

    "Are you the individual I talk to about getting Alan Scott taken off the 'Do Not Recruit' list? I don't know enough about Lantern Savenlovich to badmouth her, but Guy and Jordan getting promoted gave you a prime opportunity to bring a twenty-five year veteran into the fold."

    "I do not set recruitment policy. The Guardians made their decision because they were concerned that his growing dependency on the green light was potentially dangerous."

    "He's a ninety year old Human! He doesn't have much life left to gamble! Frankly, it's amazing that he's lasted this long."

    "I did not mean 'dangerous for him'."

    "Whatever. I'm just going to carry on telling everyone that you're afraid he'd be better than you."

    "I suspect that you would do that regardless of what I told you."

    "Not true. If you'd told me 'it was an oversight, I'm rescinding it now, bring him here right away', I'd never have repeated it again. Oh, is now a good time to mention that my second ring was made by Krona?"

    "No."

    Guy steps out from one of the outer columns supporting the portico of the Green Lantern Corps' citadel. In here is the Green Central Power Battery, and I can already feel it pressing against my environmental shield. Down below is the crypt in which those Green Lanterns whose death leaves a body may choose to be interred. It isn't actually that big a percentage, but over the millennia it's added up to a big number. Somewhere else in the complex is the famous Book of Oa, and the Guardian's reclusiam and probably their forge as well.

    Oh, what fun. Ring, prepare the autoplagiarisers.

    Unable to comply. Requested object does not exist.

    Spoilsport.

    "Hey Paul."

    Yeah, Guy certainly sounds tired. Hopefully he won't need to say much.

    "Good morning Guy. Now let's go see the Smurfs."

    Guy closes his eyes, and quietly groans.
     
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  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Guy stares at me with eyebrows raised. "You did what?"

    I shrug as the three of us slowly fly through the corridors leading to the Guardians' chamber. Red banners decorated with the Green sigil hang from the ceiling and… Some sort of shrub runs along the floor at the sides of the walkway, breaking up the hard lines in an organic touch which surprises me a little.

    "We thought that a demonstration of Lantern versus Lantern combat would be helpful for the recruits."

    "I ain't arguin' about that. Jus' strugglin' t' believe you won."

    "What, you never managed it?"

    "Oh, sure. Right after I merged with Ion the first time, my constructs got a lot stronger an' he wasn't expecting it. But he wins a whole lot more'n I do." He looks expectantly at me for a moment. "So? How'd you do it?"

    "I caused the microscopic plants in his digestive system to multiply very fast, causing disabling stomach pain and vomiting. And -I didn't check- but probably diarrhoea as well."

    "Aw, that's jus' cheatin'. Since when can you control plants?"

    "I can't. I can just make them grow a little bit. But… if you do that in someone's gut"

    Guy winces as we approach a large grey double door, mythologized scenes from Maltusian and Oan history carved into the surface. "Doesn't work on Humans, does it?"

    I grin at him as Chaselon drifts ahead, his ring glimmering. A moment later the doors begin to swing open and I see Guy straighten up and brush down his uniform. I'm a little amused for a moment before I realise that I've unconsciously started to do the same thing. The Guardians of the Ga-. Fine, Universe. The beings I've been studiously avoiding contact with since I got here. The ancient and powerful beings I've actually gone out of my way to nose-tweak on more than a few occasions.

    Should be fun.

    Lantern Venizz floats out through the door, nodding to Illustres Chaselon as she passes. Guy and I get nothing more than a small frown before she switches to the swimmer pose and accelerates down the corridor away from us.

    "She's got amazing hair. It must take ages to get it like that each morning."

    "Yeah." He nods as she disappears around a corner. "Her ass ain't too bad, either."

    I wince slightly as Chaselon turns to us. "The Guardians will see us now."

    He then wheels towards the open doorway and flies on ahead. I fly after him, Guy following me a half-second later.

    And… There they are. Blue skinned and white haired dwarves in red robes that are a lot less comedic when you see them in the flesh. Even with my empathic vision turned right down, the sheer intensity of the green light within them is.. quite uncomfortable. And I'm barely glowing at all any longer. They're floating about four metres up in an arc in a room whose interior is entirely disguised by what I assume are holographics. All around us, space, and in the distance, stars. And as the door closes behind us, space in that direction as well. I wonder if we're seeing anywhere in particular?

    Ganthet nods politely in our direction, while next to him Sayd regards me with undisguised curiosity. Appa Ali Apsa actually smiles at us, and that's it as far as positive responses goes. Herupa Hando Hu, Pazu Pinder Pol and Ranakar are more neutral, adopting what I had assumed was the Guardian default mode for dealing with mortals: looking stern and sober but not actually aggressive. Dennap regards us with polite disinterest, Kontross looks at us like we're an undesirable chore and Broome Bon Baris looks like she's giving some serious thought to dissecting me.

    And that's it. Nine survivors where once there were dozens. A few million years of fighting the good fight will do that to a people, and the Guardians have been doing it for far longer than that.

    Chaselon and Guy float up to a point where the Guardians' feet are about level with their heads and stop, waiting to be addressed. I -having gawked at them for a moment- follow, coming to a halt slightly ahead of Chaselon and bowing from the waist.

    "Guardians of the Universe. Greetings from Maltus." I straighten. "Thank you for agreeing to see me."

    "It seemed only prudent." Herupa Hando Hu lowers his floating position slightly, bringing his head level with mine. "You have defeated Larfleeze and provided our former sister with his Central Power Battery."

    "She did make my ring. My first one. It seemed like my best bet. I mean: be honest. What would you have done with it?"

    Ganthet raises his left hand and an image of me carrying Larfleeze out of his caves appears in the air between us. "While your motives are apparent enough, we are still curious to know how you were even aware of its existence. We had thought that Larfleeze himself was the last person outside of the Guardians who knew of it."

    Lie mode.

    I reach into my robes and pull out a small box, then toss in underhand in his direction. He doesn't react as a green ball surrounds it and arrests its motion. "What is this?"

    "Larfleeze made rings by using the orange 'Identity Theft' ability on people and then… Transforming them. I haven't tried that myself…" I point to the box which Sayd is now pulling in her direction. "The ring in that was made from Ogandu Onna Oslan. We don't know if it's possible to turn someone back… But I don't like the idea of having him with me, and I imagine that you would consider it to be a fairly large security breach."

    There's a brief moment where the Guardians glance at each other. Probably having some sort of high speed green light conversation. Then Ganthet returns his full attention to me. "We appreciate you returning our brother to us." To his left, Sayd opens the box and holds her right hand towards the ring, her face a picture of distaste. "We will study what Larfleeze has done to him and see if it is possible to reverse it."

    "I would be grateful if you could share your findings with the Controllers. Larfleeze transformed many people in that fashion, and I would like to return them all to flesh if at all possible."

    Ranakar frowns slightly. "We Guardians are somewhat dissimilar to the mortals Larfleeze transformed. What can be applied to us can not necessarily be applied to other species."

    Dennap nods. "Nonetheless, this piece of information sharing costs us little. I assume that Hinon Hee Hannanan will reciprocate?"

    "Actually, I think… One of the others is working on that particular problem." And it was one of the ones who's weird about giving people his name, so I can't tell them. "But yes, we're happy to share."

    Ganthet frowns slightly. "You did not answer my question. You informed Lantern Jordan that we had misled our Corps well before you visited the Vega Systems. How did you know of the existence of the Orange Central Power Battery?"

    Only one way to answer that.

    I shrug. "I'm afraid that's a piece of information I'm not prepared to share at this juncture. I understood that you wanted to discuss the practical aspects of our coexistence?"
     
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    24th August
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    "You intend to make war on the Reach." Inasmuch as his expression changes, Kontross looks unhappy at the news. Can it really be news at this point? It's not as if it was any sort of secret.

    "The Controllers haven't made any secret of their ongoing confrontation with the Reach. And since you don't seem inclined to involve yourselves again, they're the… People on the spot."

    "Do you have any idea how many people died when the Green Lantern Corps fought the Reach?"

    "No. Nor do I particularly care." I shrug. "But if you want to tell me anyway, go ahead. More or less than when you went to war with Apokolips?"

    "More. And over a far longer span of time. Unlike Apokolips, the Reach were only able to match the power Green Lanterns possess, but we were forced to engage them over a far larger front. How well do you think that your neophytes will fare against Scarab Warriors?"

    "Pretty well? I'll wait until I have more experimental data to give you a firm answer, but based on my personal experience killing a Beetle isn't all that hard."

    Broome Bon Baris frowns. "Your estimation of your strength does not match Lantern Tui's report to us after your shared training session."

    "You mean, the training session which I ran. Where I was deliberately trying to avoid killing them." I look around the semicircle of Guardians. "I realise that you haven't had much to do with the non-green colours in a very long time, but you are aware that orange is the colour of avarice, yes? As in, the strength of my constructs is proportionate to how much I want something? And while I may make the occasional… Bantering comment, I do actually respect your Corps and I certainly don't want to kill or injure its members. On the other hand…"

    I take a hologram generator out of subspace.

    "Sorry, I… Don't know how to interface with this room's systems…"

    I don't see any of the Guardians make a particular action, but the starscape fades slightly. I nod, then have the hologram generator show my attack on the Reach ship in orbit around Urrigen.

    "On the other hand, when I really want something dead, when I really want it destroyed and I feel no hesitancy at all."

    The hologram shows in real time me tearing the Reach ship apart.

    Pazu Pinder Pol gives me a shallow nod. "That was not a Scarab Warrior. I do not believe that it was even a warship."

    "True. This was, though."

    The image shows my Praexis Demons swarm in, then me shooting Yellow Beetle and myself and Tarant killing her.

    "Doesn't.. really seem that hard. Please, don't.. judge me by my weakest combat constructs. And don't assume that every big thing I did was the result of the Ophidian's influence. Heck, I'm sure that Guy's told you that Ragnar beat an Anti-Green Lantern one on one, and he'd had no formal training at all."

    "The rings used by the Qwardian slaves are not perfectly designed to nullify your orange rings."

    "I didn't say it was a master class of ring use. I just mean to say that when one of us is assigned to a task we really want to complete… Our rookies are -in that one endeavour- as powerful as your veterans." Out of the corner of my eye I see Guy's mouth start to open. "Powerful." I turn my head to look at him. "Not as skilled, or as good.. generally. Just 'as powerful'."

    Ganthet looks uncomfortable. "At the cost of their sanity."

    "And that's the focus of our training. But with our Central Power Battery up and running, I don't believe-" Several Guardians… They don't quite stiffen, but it's like they just heard something surprising in a conversation they were eavesdropping on. "-that it's an insurmountable problem." They do that 'looking-at-each-other-without-speaking' thing again. "Something you.. want to share..?"

    "Mmpfh." Appa Ali Apsa floats forwards slightly and waves his hands. My hologram shuts down, being replaced by the translucent image of Lantern… Chip? The Squirrel-looking one. "Lantern Ch'p, report."

    "Guardians, it was as you feared. The defence screen around New Berrith has been completely destroyed."

    Um. Yeah. As much as I try to value all life, I don't really think that letting the Berrith slip into extinction would really give me much cause for disquiet. They're actually worse than the Citadelians and the Gordanians; brutal, savage and ruthless. Fortunately, they were such shits than even in a universe where the Reach and the Dominion have willing trading partners they couldn't make any allies at all. And they weren't so advanced that the local species couldn't fight them off. Eventually they drew the attention of the Guardians and got quarantined on their homeworld, an act of restraint which… It impresses me, though I'm not sure that I agree that it was a good choice.

    Appa Ali Apsa nods. "And you're sure of the cause?"

    His whiskers twitch. "Not.. completely, Guardian. The readings I'm getting from the debris of the satellite monitors shows that they were hit by powerful but conventional weapons. And some of the damage inflicted on the surface was caused by gravity disruptors."

    "Aw, great."

    "But the energy readings you mentioned?"

    "Confirmed, Guardian. Avarice."

    "Sounds like some more a' your lost rings jus' turned up."

    "Yeah, wonderful. Lantern Ch'p? Can you tell if the orange ring users were attacking? The Berrith aren't exactly a popular people."

    "I-." The image of his head turns. "Who are-?"

    "The Illustres of the Orange Lantern Corps is here for negotiations. Please answer his question."

    "I can't tell for certain, but I do know from personal experience that the Berrith respond well to strong displays of dominance. The shots targeted at the planet appear to have come close to large population centres without directly striking them. Given the number of them who have left, I suspect that whoever was shooting at the planet was simply making a point."

    Probably not someone seeking revenge for an ancestral wrong, then. "Any idea how many? Desire strong enough to call an orange ring over long distances appears to draw more than one."

    "I'm sorry, but I can't even tell for certain which shots were from weapons and which were from constructs. I can't detect any faster than light trail, so either they're very good at hiding themselves or they used a stealthed vessel of some kind." His head turns back around to face the Guardians. "The Berrith don't have the infrastructure to build further ships, and… I'm not sure that I could stop whatever did this by myself if it comes back. I am requesting assistance. At the very least, rebuilding the blockade to make sure that no one takes advantage of the Berrith's vulnerability."

    "Guardians, I think I should look into this. It will be far easier for me to talk someone crazed on the orange light down, and I'm.. somewhat responsible for those rings being out in the wild in the first place."

    Herupa Hando Hu nods. "We agree. Lantern Gardner."

    "Sir."

    "You will travel with him to Space Sector One Zero One Four and investigate. Take whatever follow up action you feel is appropriate." Guy nods. "And you, Orange Lantern,-"

    Ch'p's head is replaced by an image of the planet someone just gouged chunks out of.

    "-may wish to carefully consider the ongoing consequences of not dealing with these rings more promptly."
     
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    24th August
    05:23 GMT


    I grin, spreading my arms broadly as the Citadelians engaged in this hopeless last stand pour fire into my construct armour.

    Hm. Sinestro, system check?

    I have not started malfunctioning within the last five minutes, Corpsman. I assure you that if I do, you will be the first to know about it.

    I slowly reach back with my right arm, my hand clasping around the grip of my new and improved daiklave. With nowhere to go the Citadelians can't even run.

    And Ms Lysis hasn't left any… Little presents?

    None. And I had your Mother Box perform a second check. I may have experienced a small degree of data loss, but it will not impede my core functions.

    Ugh, my clothes are talking to each other. Horrible.

    I heard that, Corpsman.

    Two power armoured Citadelians run at me, disruptor mauls flickering with the discharge of electrons torn from their nuclei. I lunge and swing, my daiklave passing easily through each of them and sending the two halves of their now-dying bodies to the ground.

    Good show.

    The one on the right lost consciousness immediately, but the one on the left is at least somewhat aware as I stride past and swing the tip of my daiklave through the top of his armoured head.

    "I'm not going away, Admiral! Your soldiers are dead and your suicide charges are inoperable! All this is doing is ensuring that you die tired!"

    The Last Citadelian doesn't reply, though that may be because I wrecked internal commun-.

    Ping!

    That is because I wrecked internal communications. Still, I've checked nearly everywhere and there's really only one place left.

    Ping.

    True, but this is supposed to be a test of my use of the yellow light. If-.

    Ping.

    I plant my feet and pull back my left fist.

    True, but you did hear me think yellow light, yes?

    Ping.

    Right then.

    I swing my fist, the combination of fear and raw super strength utterly ruining both the doors and the wall they were attached to as they go flying across the room.

    "…expect you to help me. I merely hope that you will take revenge." The Admiral makes momentary eye contact with me, then returns to whoever is on the other end of his communicator. "For your own sake."

    "I do not concern myself with pretenders."

    Oh. Oh dear.

    I keep to the edge of the room, walking in an arc until I get the view screen in view.

    I see Grayven at the same time as he sees me. I see a large man with grey skin, wearing a gold… Crown? Demi-crown? Micro-headdress? On his head. It's decorated with rubies, and… Some Apokoliptian designs. Not sure if those are functional, though. His face doesn't look much like mine at all, aside from the skin tone and texture. His chin is broader, and his nose has a distinct curve to it that mine lacks. His eyes appear to lack an iris, small glowing points of orange sitting on the white of his sclera. His hair -what I can see of it- has a mullet cut, while mine…

    Okay, I've been letting it get a bit long at the back…

    Not important. His armour is similar to mine, but dark purple in colour with gold tron lines where mine is dark grey with yellow lines. Over the top of that, he's got some sort of golden harness… I think it's decorative. Certainly doesn't.. look like anything I remember from Father Box's database. More rubies there too, as well on his non-power ring rings and on the cummerbund which appears to exist purely for the purpose of holding up his loincloth… Loincurtain?

    What sort of idiot designed that ensemble?

    With a little luck, all he sees back is 'yellow glow'. I certainly see his pupils move around as he takes me in. His lips purse very slightly.

    "He's certainly armed like an Apokoliptian. But Apokoliptians generally don't obscure our faces when we fight."

    His voice… Is actually quite a lot like mine. But he doesn't speak like I do. I've cultivated a classical English near-Received Pronunciation accent, and I generally try to speak in a relaxed mode. Even my insults are intended to sound like insulting jokes rather than threats. This… Grayven 16 I suppose I should call him. Everything I've heard him say is a threat. His tone is level and growly. I'd guess that our actual range is about the same, he just isn't using the rest of it. It's a little like how Father talks, only without the hints of self-satisfaction.

    "This isn't a fight-" I stab the point of my daiklave through the Admiral's head, holding his corpse up at arm's length. "-Grayven. This is a consolidation."

    "They were already a broken people. Their deaths will unify those they oppressed under you." He leans forward slightly. "Tell me, impostor: where did you get that equipment?"

    "I made it myself, for the most part. Himon made my Mother Box-"

    "Ping."

    "-and Weaponer Kalmin and Controller Hinon… Which is a remarkably similar name now that I think about it. Made my power rings. Where did you get yours? And were they having a sale on gold?"

    He leans forward slightly, his eyes narrowing and his pupils going from a mild glow to a flickering flaming look which envelops the rest of his eyes as well. Didn't.. comic Grayven have access to the Omega Effect? "Not an impostor, then. From where did Father get another?"

    "Why worry about it? I'm doing fine, and you-" I look at the space behind him. The bridge of some sort of starship would be my guess… "-seem to be doing alright for yourself."

    "Your very existence diminishes me. I do not share power."

    "Well…" I extract my sword and clean it as the Admiral's body collapses. "Sometimes things don't go the way you want them to."

    Mother Box, Sinestro, brace yourselves.

    Ping.

    "That's just the way that life-"

    He twitches, visibly wincing, his eye-flames guttering.

    "-is sometimes."

    His expression changes for an instant into one of absolute rage, then the screen deactivates.

    Huh.

    That's going to be a problem.

    Mother Box, any damage to the Anti-Life containment system?

    Ping.

    No, I wasn't planning to make a habit of doing that. And I realised that we'd probably run into each other at some point… I just wanted to imply that Father and I were on good terms and that coming after me now might pose a certain risk…

    Ping.

    No, he'd have checked. And I haven't been hiding myself; I'm in too many databases now. But what am I going to do about…

    Ah. I'm… Going to need to talk to Father, aren't I?
     
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    24th August
    05:42 GMT

    "Mordor."

    "Gesundheit."

    I turn my head right, making eye contact with Guy as we float over New Berrith. "Did you know that Kilowog made the same joke?"

    "Who you think taught it t' him?"

    "But, Mordor, right." Guy shakes his head. "Lord of the Rings? Tolkien had a bit of a thing about pastoral idealism and so tried to portray the industrial revolution as absolutely hellish and miserable. The Orcs are the ones with industry, and they're described as the result of the setting's main villain using magic to corrupt Elves-."

    "You going somewhere with this?"

    "I love industry. Our ability to produce things quickly and cheaply has made everyone's lives better than they would be without it. But if I were going to make it look hellish-" I generate five construct images taken from the planet below. "-then I'd make it look like that."

    They had spaceships. I'm.. struggling to understand why they appear to have generated power purely by coal burning. And forget environmental regulation, they've got chemical plants discharging waste everywhere. It's… A bit like how I imagine the really crappy parts of Apokolips are, but it's everywhere. And as far as I can tell their leaders live in the same sort of condition.

    "I find it reassuring."

    Guy and I both raise our eyebrows at the third member of our group.

    "You wanna explain that?"

    Ch'p shrugs, a rather small motion given his physical size. "If they had merely been badly led, then the enforced isolation to which the Guardians sentenced them might have been unnecessary. As it is, they have had the opportunity to mend their ways and have chosen not to. Even when they are only harming themselves, this is how they choose to live. This is just how they are." He folds his arms across his chest. "Isolation really was for the best."

    "As.. opposed to some sort of re-education program?"

    "You didn't do that for the Citadelians."

    "I didn't have access to the resources that the Guardians do. Did. And according to your records-" I dismiss the images of surface industrialisation and replace them with an extract from the Green Lantern Corps' files on the Berrith. "-the Berrith didn't use mental conditioning technology and are reasonably intelligent."

    "You actually looking for the-?"

    "Yeah, I got nothing. I'm not any more sensitive to whatever it was they used power rings for around here than you and Lantern Ch'p."

    "So? You don't have any problem with lethal force. Just call your rings back."

    "That wouldn't tell us where a large number of members of an extremely aggressive species have gone, nor what ship they used to do it. And it would probably call all of them."

    Guy nods. "'cause you don't know how many there are out there or who else has 'em."

    "Exactly."

    "An' you can't jus'… I dunno, pull the wearers along with 'em?"

    "That may be possible, but if it is, I don't know how to."

    "Okay, well…" Guy looks around at the space surrounding us. "Alla the worlds around here got panic buttons, so if anyone turns up who ain't supposed to we'll know about it."

    "But if they're reasonably well motivated Lanterns they could be a very long way away by now."

    "How long could they a' had the rings for? I mean, Ragnar could fight, but…"

    "Ragnar comes from a society which focused on single combat between the warrior aristocracy for settling conflict. The Berrith are more inclined to mass combat, which means that even if we get to wherever they go before they can get away-"

    "They're gunna kill a whole lotta people."

    "And eat them."

    "Say what?"

    "The Berrith habitually eat the fallen."

    "Lantern Chummuck does that."

    "That's considered a sign of great respect in his culture. The Berrith just like the idea that they're eating someone they killed."

    "You sure? Because-."

    "Yes." Lantern Ch'p floats around so that he's in front of me. "They boasted about it during their last attack on my homeworld. We maintain archival recordings of it."

    "Oh. Um. Well, as I see it we've got two options. The first would be going down and seeing if anyone knows anything. That would probably involve… Normally I'd say doing some environmental repairs to earn their favour-."

    "Yeah, I don't think these're really the environmental type."

    "The other option is that I try to find them through mysticism."

    Guy nods. "That… Quintessential thing. Like you did with… The… Arrow kid." He frowns for a moment. "The guy arrow kid."

    "I haven't really… Had time to practise yet, but in theory it should be possible for me to find someone via their desires far faster than scanning every mote of energy everywhere."

    "'Haven't had time'?" Guy affects an expression of amused disbelief. "What you been doin'?"

    "Rebuilding civilisations and starting a Lantern Corps. You're welcome to a full report." I sigh. "Plus, the only Lantern who could really advise me on something like this is Honour Guard Lantern Torquemada, and as you explained it to me his magic use and ring use don't really overlap. Plus, he wasn't on Oa, so…"

    "Alright, it ain't a problem. Ch'p an' me 'll go down and bash heads until someone tells us somethin', you stay up here and… Do whatever… If we're real lucky, we'll find out 'who' an' 'what' so we'll know exactly what we're dealin' with."

    I dismiss my construct armour and send my power armour back into subspace, folding my legs beneath me. "Sounds like a strategy to me." Guy nods, and he and Ch'p turn towards Berrith. "I should warn you… I might not be physically present or.. particularly responsive to you when you're finished. If you really need me back, want really hard and I should become aware of it. Probably."

    Guy nods, then something appears to occur to him and he turns back. "This somethin' I can do?"

    "Um. Maybe? I don't know. I can.. send you a report, but I'm fumbling around myself. Unless we both get time to just… Play around with it together… Perhaps with someone else who's also bonded with an embodiment… I don’t know."

    Guy nods, then he and Ch'p head for the surface.

    Right. What would the desires of a Berrith look like?
     
  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Meditation carried out by the spiritually inclined is an attempt to escape one's own particularity and in some sense touch something beyond oneself. God or a god, some universal force or presence… At the very least, to still one's own mind and get away from one's normal mode of thought.

    That is not the way of the orange light. I know full well that as far as the orange light is concerned particularity is everything. So when I close my eyes I don't clear my mind but rather focus focus focus on the network of orange light within me.

    I don't normally see myself in the way that I see others; I can't trace back my own capacity for strength of will or compassion to some formative experience or teaching. My fears I'm a little more aware of because I know what makes me afraid and… Because I've so thoroughly confronted them since I've been in Universe 16 that I seldom fear for myself these days. But I know my desires intimately, and knowing that I can relax my grip on the universe that is NOT!me and focus on the important part.

    Me.

    I'm fascinating, really. Especially when I display myself to myself in this fashion-. Ooh. Following a food related desire back to its earliest point, I see a brief snapshot of the first time I ever ate chocolate. I don't remember it, there's so little left and it's so thoroughly intermeshed with everything else that even with perfect recall I couldn't bring it to mind. What I see… I.. presume that's from when I lived on Friday Street, but I don't remember what the interior of the house looked like well enough…

    No, that's not what I'm here for.

    I retreat a little. This is !Me. But there are other arrangements like !Me. I want to see-

    A thread extrudes from !Me and touches a blank canvas.

    -those as well.

    My Agent.

    My Embodiment.

    We were near the Green Men. She circles around me, just out of arms' reach. I could feel them. Closed cold Green.

    Things will be easier for our Corps if we do not have to fight them. Can you feel the other people with orange rings?

    Not well. We know they are there but so many feel so much orange light. She turns her head and looks across the canvas. This is so much better than the cave.

    I smile at her, though I'm still not sure that the gesture means anything to her. Then I unfocus my eyes and try to picture clearly Lantern Tarant's desire network. Victory, practical resistance… Yes, like that.

    I'm glad that you feel that way. This is one of your Lanterns.

    I hold out my left hand as the particular packet that is Lantern Tarant draws closer, the Ophidian staring at it as if transfixed.

    His name is Tarant. He wants to fight a group called The Reach. He has done that for many years, but he wants to fight them better now.

    We can do that we can make him do that! She twists and rolls in apparent delight. We have him as our Lantern and he can use our light and do that! And I will know what it is to want that! She spins upright and flicks her tongue at the bundle. I want to taste him!

    Not yet, Ophidian. It isn't safe for him. You're very big and he is… Small.

    She pulls her head away, blinking. No he must stay as he is! But I want him!

    In a little while, if you're willing, I can transfer you into the Orange Central Power Battery.

    She looks… Dubious, inasmuch as a giant snake with a largely immobile face can look dubious.

    You won't be trapped, you'll have full access to all of the Lanterns and power rings currently active.

    And didn't I have fun persuading Hinon to add that function.

    You'll be able to experience all of us without worrying about damaging us. And if you want to get out, you will be able to. We're not trying to lock you in, just to make the system as efficient and safe for everyone as possible.

    She wiggles her head from side to side.

    I will consider it.

    Thank you. Now, could you possibly help me? I'm looking for people shaped like the ones on the planet below me.

    The Ophidian and I turn, some knotty desire-blobs moving away to make space for the many others which stream forwards and move to conform to the physical arrangement of physical beings on the planet.

    Brutish. Primal. Hungry. There are many like this.

    Yes, but those are relatively common desires. We need to match the pattern, how the desires link to each other.

    But she's not wrong about their makeup. It's what I imagine looking at the soul of a Beastman from Warhammer would be like. How do they-? Okay, that bit is a little more normal, but the core cultural components…

    No, it's not cultural. It's like… Human brains work best when we live in the small troupes our distant ancestors did. A relatively small number of people around whom we know well and who know us. Our brains literally can't cope with cities and it radically changes our behaviour in ways predictable if you understand our drives at their root. The ancient Berrith were a scourge, eating everything they could catch wherever they went and swiftly moving on. But like forests which make use of fire in their cycles of decay and growth, Berrith's natural systems adapted to that. And they weren't even the only species that lived like that. They weren't even dominant, not really.

    And then they got too clever, and the rest of the system could no longer keep up with them.

    We understand.

    Thousands, millions, billions of orange motes sleet past us, desire sets not at all matching being discarded in an instant while those with a stronger resemblance to what we're looking for hesitate for a moment before flying past. No, no-

    No, no, no…

    -no, no… Yes.

    Yes.

    I hold the mote in front of me, examining it more closely. Yes, the right shape and patterns and… I look inside and see more Berrith faces. Excellent.

    More like that?

    More like this.

    The Ophidian flicks her tail, and the galaxy of motes fly away. Then they come, dozens and then hundreds, flying past her and towards me before adopting an orbit around the first example of their kind.

    Excellent.

    I stand, and reach out to them all.

    Where are you?


    24th August
    06:02 GMT

    What, where-?

    A dense purple-black haze of nebula gas, holograms and more advanced stealth systems parts around me, revealing a grey wall from which domes and environmentally sealed skyscraper towers extrude

    And then the point defences start firing.
     
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    24th August
    06:03 GMT

    "Guy!"

    I jink hard, lasers burning the flesh of my chest, back and right leg as a small proportion of their power leaks through my environmental shield.

    "I found them!"

    My armour appears from subspace in time to soak a couple of hits, but whatever this thing is it isn't messing around.

    "Hey, where'd you go?!"

    Ring, are they just shooting with lasers?

    Confirmed.

    I phase, shaking slightly with disquiet as a shot passes through my face. Okay, great. Ring, jettison debris approximately equal to my mass from my subspace pocket.

    Compliance.

    Some armour parts, half built drones and some proof of concept weapons drift away. The lasers switch to them for a moment, burning through the larger pieces until they're certain that every power source is destroyed. Then the fire cuts off and the point defence turrets retract into their protective housing.

    Yikes. Okay, ring communications won't work while I'm phased, but my bleed-transmission systems won't be affected. … Which.. would.. be.. great.. if.. I'd thought to put a buoy near New Berrith. So… Hug the hull and risk phasing in, or transmit a message to one of the buoys I left near Oa and hope that someone is paying attention?

    Ugh. Ring, float us closer and try the buoy.

    Compliance.

    "Orange Illustres to anyone listening. I need someone to relay a message to Lantern Gardner for me. Please respond."

    There's a few moments of silence, then two people reply at once.

    "Acknowledgement. Orange Lantern-?" / "Well, how 'bout that?"

    Tresh and Kilowog. Works for me. "Ah, good. Would one of-."

    "Off the comm, rookie. I'll handle this."

    "Acknowledgement. I comply."

    "Lantern Kilowog, would you mind putting-."

    "Did you know I can still taste my own stomach acid?"

    "I'd assumed… A glass of water or something? Now, if you-."

    "One of the things you missed about us Bolovaxians is that we have a really acute sense of taste and smell. A couple of glasses of water aren't going to do the job."

    "Okay, look, I'm in the middle of a mission right now-" I drift pass the edge of a.. wall..? I'm not sure how this space station was designed. Maybe the edge of one compartment? Not far to the crenulation. "-but if you want to moan to me about-."

    "What mission?"

    "I'm with Guy and Ch'p, looking into an attack on New Berrith."

    "Okay, hang on."

    "Kilowog? I'm kinda-."

    "Guy, me here. Sorry about getting cut off, I had to phase."

    "Paul? Where'd you go?"

    "The ritual worked, but I didn't realise that it would move me physically to the location I was trying to examine."

    "Heh. So? Where are you?"

    "Not really… Sure? There's a big grey space station here-."

    "Lemme guess: pyramid shaped with sky scrapers stickin' outta it."

    "Ah, yeah, basically. Any idea-?"

    "It's called Ranx. Not a lotta places use gravity disruptors like that. Used ta be a pirate base-."

    "Until the Green Lantern Corps cleared it out, earning the bitter enmity of the AI controlling it." I didn't know what it looked like before it joined the Sinestro Corps. "Which -assuming that I'm anywhere near its last known locations- means that I'm in Mytonian Cleft..?"

    "Sector Seventy Three? Not 'less the Berrith Oranges 're a helluva lot faster than they got any business bein'. Can you throw out a signal?"

    "Just a moment…" I duck in behind some sort of… Outflow? Part of the waste disposal system? I'd have thought that a place this large would generate enough of a gravity field to make that sort of disposal inadvisable to say the least. Anyway, not touching the hull, close enough that any gravity distortion I make would be virtually undetectable…

    Phase in.

    Compliance.

    Stealth systems are on, and if this place hates Lanterns and has survived hating them… It might well have some way to detect construct use. On the other hand, if there are already Orange Lanterns in residence…

    Ring, hang up bleed transmission and switch to ring-to-ring. Transmit homing signal to Lantern Gardner.

    Compliance.

    "Okay, try detecting me now."

    "Yeah, got yah. Be with yah in about… Three minutes?"

    "Appreciated. Did you and Ch'p find out anything?"

    "Confirmed it was Ranx, but I guess that's old news right now. The locals said there were three Orange Lanterns. Rings turned up… Couple a' weeks ago."

    "So…" I look around. Doesn't look like anyone has come out to take a look at what they shot. "Okay, at speeds someone from Berrith might be able to reach with an orange power ring… If they knew where they were going, it's possible that they could have reached Ranx in that time."

    "How'd you figure they knew?"

    "The obvious option is that whoever their ring was made from had been here before. Does Ranx have FTL?"

    "If he does, he ain't ever used it."

    "The Berrith don't strike me as the deferred gratification type. I'm struggling to believe that they could have flown to Ranx and dragged him back on a single ring charge."

    "Why couldn't they just do what Ragnar did?"

    "Because the Central Power Battery would already have been up and running by then."

    "The Berrith ain't exactly-."

    "Alright, because the chance of them finding people with orange rings while en route is pretty small. So how did they maintain their charge?"

    "I dunno. How did they?"

    I exhale. "Pass. I'm going to have a look around. Let me know before you arrive."
     
  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    24th August
    06:07 GMT

    I watch as the phasic drone I dispatched around the outflow attempts to enter Ranx. It pierces the outer hull for about two centimetres, then shudders as it encounters resistance. Press a little harder

    There's a small explosion as the section phased into Ranx's armour bursts and the rest of the drone is thrown backward into space. A moment later three point defence guns emerge and shoot it.

    Okay, phasing is out of the question. Blasting my way in through the hull is probably still a viable approach, but.. I.. don't have specific information on Ranx committing a crime. Yes, that's a somewhat hopeful position, but it's perfectly possible that the Orange Lanterns on board fired the shots or built the weapons and maintained control of them themselves. And… Frankly, it was the Berrith rather than anyone I care about.

    I turn to face the hull again and open my empathic vision. What I assume to be the habitation areas inside are awash with orange. I honestly can't pick out the Orange Lanterns amongst them with any certainty. Ranx's own mind is a mix of colours, but I can see its satisfaction at being inhabited permeating through its soulscape and weighing every other decision in its new residents' favour.

    Then there's… That thing. I'm… Guessing that it's a personal lantern, given that it glows with orange light but doesn't have desires of its own. But I've.. got no idea where they could have gotten it from. Kalmin hadn't heard of any other Weaponers experimenting with power ring technology, it wouldn't be the Controllers… Or at least if it was any of them they're going to be in the shit when Hinon finds out. It wouldn't be the Guardians or the Zamarons… Some other Maltusian faction is a possibility, as is Krona on his lonesome directing someone a little more tangible than he is these days.

    Or -worst case scenario- they got given it by Apokolips. Who have plenty after the Green Lantern Corps' failed invasion.

    I'm not.. feeling anything Apokoliptic, but Ranx has some pretty natty stealth systems and I can't guarantee that I'm seeing everything there is to see.

    "Okay, Paul, we're here. Time t' 'dynamic entry' this-"

    I feel it as local gravity twists and I'm forced to attach construct grips to Ranx's hull as he spins in space far faster than anything this size should be able to without pancaking everyone inside.

    "-motherfu-."

    "Evade! Evade!"

    "Why would-?"

    The armour around Ranx's… Those are gravity disruptors, right?

    Confirmed. Variable amplitude variable vector gravity disruptors.

    "Ah, fuck."

    I don't hear them fire. The hull doesn't rumble even slightly. The only observable result is that a wide section of faux nebula suddenly contracts in on itself, giving me the first clear view of the stars I've had since I got here.

    "Guy?"

    "Busy!"

    Ranx wheels again, and all around I see laser point defences stabbing out. This isn't like in the cartoons; at the sort of range Guy appeared at a lot of those are going to hit him just as they hit me. Okay, Guy probably can't close the distance; Ranx has interdiction fields out of the wazoo and is clearly ridiculously agile. It appears that this close to the hull I'm included in its inertial dampener effect, but the effect doesn't extend outwards all that far… What to do?

    Ranx's level of alertness and arousal is such that I don't want to try flying around in case I get detected or squashed. Instead, I hug the hull tighter and turn my construct clamps into a construct clamp caterpillar track, attaching and releasing them in turn as I head towards the gravity disruptors' housing. Throwing out Praexis Demons is an option, but-

    Green bolts of energy burn through the nebula towards the gravity disruptors, only to be turned aside as they use their spatial warping ability defensively. The armour on that part of his hull is easily thick enough to take then few hits that aren't harmlessly redirected back into space, but at least it's slowing the rate at which Ranx can fire.

    -that would definitively identify that I'm here.

    "Guy, I can attack the gravity disruptors or covertly sneak on board. There are a substantial number of Berrith in there, along with something I think is a personal lantern. The existence of a personal lantern concerns me far more than the rings, but since you're the one getting shot at I'll leave the decision to you."

    "How quick can you get to it?"

    "Covertly? No idea. Blasting my way through… Assuming that Ranx hasn't upgraded his armour since your Corps' last visit, under a minute."

    "His guns sure got upgrad-"

    "DIE GREEN LANTERNS DIE DIE DIE!"

    "-ed. Aw-"

    Parts of Ranx's hull peel away as secondary weapon batteries reveal themselves.

    "-crap. Okay, sneak in. Me an' Ch'p'll pull back. Tell us when you find somethin'"

    "GRAAAAAAAAGH!"

    The volume of space is sufficiently vast that I'd ordinarily say that it wasn't possible to really fill it with anything, but Ranx is giving it a good try as Guy and Ch'p attempt to fall back to minimum jump distance. The distance is in normal terms quite a long way already, but in space-terms they're practically right next to each other. Dodging wildly and flying as fast as they can, they're doing as much as anyone could, but Guy's still having to shield Ch'p from hits from the smaller weapons and fire back at the gravity disruptors every so often to prevent them getting eradicated.

    Well…

    At least they know where we are ah! Finally, my suction caterpillars drag me around the tip of the gravity dis-.

    I should have thought about this more.

    No, no, it looks like the effect is more focused. Okay, maintenance hatch..? Maintenance… Hole..?

    It looks like someone pretty much blasted their way out of Ranx's interior from.. what I think used to be a shuttle bay. The doors are normal interior bulkhead doors, which with a little luck…

    Since I'm now firmly inside Ranx's inertial bubble I drop my caterpillar construct and activate my stealth systems before sending a phasic drone at the closest door. And… It goes through without issue. Excellent! Which means that either only Ranx's external armour is capable of blocking phasing, or he has to intentionally activate it.

    Which I hope he hasn’t done after detecting something phase through it.

    No, no, I can scan these doors easily enough. It certainly… Looks like installing these was a rush job. Despite their habits, Berrith technology was reasonably reliable and 'war engineer' was a job held in high esteem. It'll work, but it's bodged and they haven't had time to improve it yet. Right.

    I approach the door, turn so that my valued but ultimately expendable legs face it, and then phase. Then I drop part way through. Okay, haven't been cut in half-

    "RUN COWARDS! I WILL DESTROY YOU ALL!"

    -yet, so I think I'm good. I glance back and see the protective plates return to their position over the gravity disruptors just as the door passes over my head and I enter Ranx proper.

    Okay, where next?
     
  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    24th August
    06:12 GMT

    O-kay… No interior map, can't get one without risking letting Ranx knowing that I'm here… I'm reduced to using the people around me as navigation points. Ranx's own brain is near the 'top' of the station, though far enough in so as to avoid presenting a good target to anyone shooting at him. Most of the Berrith are -picking a direction at random- toward his western side. There are.. a few other residents, but they seem to be avoiding the areas occupied by the Berrith. Not.. a.. lot of yellow for a group of people hanging around a species known for cannibalism. I'd guess that means either that they've come to terms or that Ranx has put his metaphorical foot down.

    The lantern isn't all that far from where I am now; just inside the Berrith zone. Again, I'm not really… It doesn't feel quite like the lanterns that I'm used to, but I don't have enough experience for that to actually tell me anything. Comparing the location to what I saw from the outside, I think it's about a third of the way up one of the larger towers. Given where I am now and the fact that I don't know how fast Ranx can move at the moment I don't think that trying to go in through the outside would be a good idea.

    I drift along a corridor which will hopefully continue to take me in the right direction. Ranx himself… Seems to be in good repair. I think he's techno-pseudo-organic rather than truly techno-organic. Everything here is robotic, but they replicate organic techniques. The ersatz airlock for example had sealant leaking through pipes built into the wall interiors plugging small holes left by the 'cut and shut' nature of the job, while inside the thickening walls on either side Ranx's self repair microbots were clustering as they worked to construct a proper airlock seal. As far as I can tell, Ranx's armour works like that all over; new plates are built within and then outer plates are shoved off.

    Of course… Branding Ranx is an option. I don't know exactly… He doesn't have enough 'self' in most of his mass, but I think that a large data conduit would probably be enough. I don't really want to do that until I've got a better idea of what happened… I mean, yes, he shot up a planet and yes, he's playing host to a race of warmongering cannibals…

    But come on! He's a sentient battle station! He's awesome! And if all he wants out of life is crew I'm sure that between Dox and I we can get him a better crew than this bunch of mangy Were-Warthogs. And yes, I've been toying with the idea of hiring the Berrith en masse as soldiers, but… I'm pretty sure that they'd put off a lot of potential allies and.. I'm.. pretty sure that we could do better. And that's before we get onto the matter of them defying a Guardian Edict of Isolation. I don't think Guy would be okay with me hiring them at all.

    He's… Not going to be okay about me hiring Ranx, is he?

    Errrrummmm…

    I agreed that Ragnar would return to custody if anyone decided to press charges, but I don't think that an equivalent system really works here. The Berrith wouldn't press charges; large scale acts of destruction are how their leaders establish themselves. By their standards he hasn't really done anything wrong. Certainly, backing one side in a power struggle is just 'one of those things', rather than a war crime. But. By Guardian standards it almost certainly is, as is breaking their Edict of Isolation. Have to.. try and check what their decree was last time they fought him.

    I stop as I reach a barricade, my armour's sensors showing me a small cluster of Berrith under arms on the far side. The Berrith have never really got uniforms, but larger groups tend to provide their soldiers with enough standardised equipment to create a certain look of uniformity. These guys have heavy cuirasses the same colour as the material making up Ranx's corridor walls, but the rest is the brightly coloured, hard wearing clothes that the Berrith seem to favour. The strange wannabe top hats just make the whole ensemble seem slightly off-kilter.

    "…seen three warlords cooperating." The one in the pink jacket snorts. "I did not know them before-."

    The one in the orange jacket makes a small swiping motion with his right hand. "What, you want them to hear you? You know what they did to the last man who tried to set them against each other?"

    "No. I mean, yes. I saw it. That isn't what I meant. They are my alphas. I do not question. It just feels… Strange."

    Blue jacket idly bangs the wall with the butt of his rifle. "In the great days before the Guardians bound us to Berrith, all the warlords cooperated. They didn't need one overlord telling them what to do; they just knew." Pink jacket looks at him thoughtfully. "We only know the chaos that came from our people being contained-"

    I send a phasic drone through the barrier, its broken structure providing no impediment. Good show.

    "-without anyone else to prey on. Now we are free!"

    He nods for emphasis and the other two… I think those are smiles. I phase through the barricade and try to pick out the route most likely to minimise further contact with their patrols.

    "You heard what Mekk said: there are better ways to live than wading in our own filth!"

    A regular Moses. Okay, I think that-.

    Pink jacket sniffs. "I don't think we should pay attention to anything Mekk said. That indigo staff made his brain funny."

    !!!

    I stop floating down the corridor and turn back, listening very carefully.

    Orange jacket shakes his head. "Nah, he's right. There are. Even if his head was messed up. It's like: knives cut, right? If someone with a messed up head says they do, that doesn't mean they're wrong."

    Go back to the indigo staff, damn you!

    "So what are we having for dinner?"

    Okay, that's… Vital information, right? Take a risk. I raise my left hand.

    You chaps really want to talk about the staff.

    A thin orange mist extends from my hand, wafting in the direction of the Berrith. The one in the blue jacket squints at it, sniffs, then appears to dismiss it. "I dunno. Probably more of the Mekk."

    Pink jacket looks puzzled. "What, all of us? I didn't think there was that much of him left?"

    Drat.

    "I mean.. we could probably use his bones in a soup or something, but it wouldn't go very far."

    Blue jacket shakes his head. "No, no. I dunno. Probably more gruel. Keep us hungry for when we get into proper fights again. What I wanted to say was, I wonder if the alphas are going to want us to find more staffs like the one Mekk had? Since they need it to charge their rings?"

    Orange shrugs. "Makes sense. They have to stay close to it to keep their power, and we can go pretty much anywhere."

    Blue nods. "Yeah. They're strong, but it's just good sense to stay away from places where the Guardians might look for us."

    Other rings can charge from indigo lanterns? News to me, but okay. I mean, I remember them being able to use other colours… Okay, so the Indigo Lantern is dead and they're using his staff. Encountering another Indigo would be useful, getting the ability to communicate with them would be nearly as good. And if I get that staff then their threat potential is dramatically reduced as they won't be able to recharge. Either way, I need to leave my own monitor drones around Berrith to detect the Indigos if they go back.

    Pink looks uncomfortable. "What if they already found us? You heard Ranx letting loose his big guns."

    Blue makes another swiping gesture. "We'll be moving on soon. They won't get here before that, and then we won't be here."

    "And the rest of our people?"

    "Anyone who stayed home rather than follow the alphas will get exactly what they deserve."

    Orange seems less certain. "We could go back. Once we get enough loot. We serve the alphas well enough, we could become warchiefs ourselves. We'll need soldiers to command."

    Okay, so now I know what I'm here for at least. The alphas sound unusually intelligent for Berrith, but I'll worry about that once I get their staff.
     
  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    24th August
    06:19 GMT

    I fly up what I think is an access tunnel towards my objective. There are a few active sensors in here, but so far my stealth systems appear to be fooling them. Or if they're not, Ranx has a really relaxed approach to internal security. I could start phasing again, but if Ranx has anti-phasing armour then he might well have other anti-phasing techniques and I don't want a repeat of what happened with Kanto. The lantern is about… Twenty metres away. Aaaand I don't think that I'm going to be able to sneak closer.

    I take another phasic drone out of subspace and send it into the wall in the direction of the lantern. It penetrates a few millimetres and then the front end snaps off, the rest of the drone lurching in the air before its impeller system stabilises it. Okay, another phase-.

    A wave of green energy passes through the tunnel. It passes me… Without any noticeable effect. The drone on the other hand melts, its phase shifter misfiring and causing parts of it to momentarily drop out of phase with other parts.

    "Possible intruder detected and terminated. The crew are welcome."

    Good call with not phasing. Makes me wonder who it was that originally built Ranx; that's some pretty nifty technology. Whatever happens here, I should probably see if I can acquire a sample. Instant phase-killing isn't appropriate for policing actions, but for war fighting it's ideal. Okay. I float over to the wall I want to get through and start using passive scans. Yes, a ring scan would be faster but I'm not going to assume anything about Ranx's anti-Lantern abilities.

    So, what do we have? Sound echoes suggest… Some tubes… EM scan says no power conduits, which makes sense. Probably have those going up tunnels closer to the middle of the structure. And… Ah-hah! A hatch, which combined with the perfectly smooth interior of this tunnel suggests to me that this is a mass transit tunnel. Didn't see anything carriage-like coming up, but… Alright, take a risk.

    Ring, hatch.

    Compliance.

    This should be a near-automated low-level function, something Ranx feels but doesn't really think about unless something draws his attention to it. As long as I'm in-

    The hatch slams open and I'm inside within a second.

    -pretty quickly I should be… Alright?

    A couple of Berrith with slightly heavier looking equipment than the ones below are looking at the hatchevading!

    Personal scanners. Berrith design, and the files I have on those suggest that they shouldn't be able to detect me unless I start using very large amounts of power, but let's stay out of the detector's arc-.

    "Ranx! Why'd the door open?"

    Moving!

    "Has one of your people been climbing in my tubes?"

    "Not bloody likely. Hold on." A Berrith with a purple overcoat covering heavy infantry armour walks over to the hatch and triggers the manual opener. "Is someone fucking around down there?!"

    Three of the others with him are at alert, guns ready but not aimed at anything in particular. The last member of the group is waving his scanner around, clearly having paid attention during orientation. Fortunately, I'm… Yep, out of line of sight with some nice sensor-obscuring walls between me and them. Still, there will be more doors between me and the lantern. I stop and send a drone forwards to have a look for me. Heavily reinforced doors-.

    And… Fixed gun positions and a decent sensor network and quite a lot of soldiers. Active sensors. Very active sensors. I pull back slightly. My armour's stealth systems won't cope with that. The armour the Berrith guard detail was using included ABC protection… Possibly force fields as well. The fixed guns had those 360 by 220 auto-tracking cradles, which means there's an even chance that Ranx is controlling them directly. Can't go around them, under them or over them… Well, probably can't. Certainly can't quickly without a map.

    Through, then. Do I bother talking first? The probability of victory is enhanced if I can get that lantern… Plus I might be able to learn something about the Indigo Corps 16. If I come out into the open and they don't immediately open fire, they're going to call their alphas in. And I'm going to be standing around. If the Alphas are on anything less than 100% power, they're going to want to recharge first. I don't think that rookie Orange Lanterns are a threat to me… They're going to be less skilled than the Citadelians, and I beat them without too much difficulty… Even if everything else goes to pot, removing that lantern from the equation stops them from being an orange-coloured threat.

    Sorry lads.

    I drop stealth and form railguns, and the alarms are already blaring as I step around the corner and open fire. Green lasers blaze from the turrets as the first Berrith begin to fall, crumbler rounds wrecking their force fields and follow up filaments scrambling their motor controls. There are force field generating barricades but they were set up to hold off ground-based attack, and in any case aren't designed with the ablative system needed to stop crumblers.

    The laser beams strike my construct armour and are deflected as I increase the reflectivity of the outer surface. They trace a quick pattern over my construct armour in what I assume is an attempt to locate potential weak spots, then shut down for a second before switching to particle beams. The Berrith return fire as well, a multitude of smaller weapons impacting on my construct armour as I grimace and continue dropping them as carefully as I can. The Guardians might be watching and I've got to assume that the Indigos are as well. I could kill all of you, but hopefully I'll get a bit more appreciation for not doing so.

    Because when this is all over you're just going to be stuck back on that sty of a planet you call New Berrith, probably surrounded by people who hate you for either firing a giant gun at them from space or for failing to get away and live out their hopes. And the Guardians don't do follow-up visits.

    I shoot out the base of the two turrets and then shove my construct armour forwards as the front part fails, creating a new layer underneath it to take the hits as it finally collapses. A lucky shot destroys one of my railguns and I'm forced to shoot a charging Berrith in power armour twice in the head rather than stunning him.

    "Lantern."

    I'm slammed into the floor, my armour's legs creaking as local gravity suddenly increases. The Berrith closest to me don't have it any better; in fact from the yelps of pain I'd say that they have it significantly worse. Their comrades further back aren't affected at all, shots still coming in… Right. Gravity nullifier-.

    "Why are you the wrong colour?"

    And the weight is gone. Correct trajectory to take into account the gravity distortions and fire.

    And breathe out.

    "Lanterns come in many colours." I float forwards, half braced for Ranx to try something else. As I pass the still groaning Berrith I make a point of stunning them. No sense in them suffering. "You might as well turn the gravity back to normal. You're hurting your crew."

    "Barely stowaways. Tolerable because they hate the Green Lanterns as much as I do."

    But gravity goes back to 1.1g.

    And now there's a huge armoured door. And no reinforcements.

    "Will you open this door, or do I need to break it down?"

    "Their leaders disconnected it. Do what you like."

    I need to get that lantern.

    Giant scale-covered orange hands appear in front of me, jab their nails into the doors and then pull them apart.

    And I see the small room beyond with the orange-glowing staff standing in a vice in the centre.

    And a naked Beaver nailed to the wall next to it, the indigo sigil faintly glowing from his forehead.
     
  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    24th August
    06:23 GMT

    "Need to recharge already?" I cross the room, orange light strobing out as I scan the H'lvenian. "Or did the three of you have a… Falling out?"

    Through the bone in places, but avoiding major veins and arteries…

    "Oh?" He tilts his head up, burned out eye sockets staring blindly up at me. "You left me my ears and my tongue, is it too much to ask-."

    "This shouldn't hurt."

    "Who are-?"

    Filaments of orange light connect me to the nails and the wounds surrounding them… And are repulsed. I try again a little more forcefully-.

    "What are you trying to do?"

    "I'm trying to heal you."

    "With orange light? Even if that were possible-"

    "I assure you, it is."

    "-I'm afraid my status makes that quite impossible."

    "Yes, you're an Indigo Lantern." I take my purple healing ray out of one of my armour's storage compartments. "Or Indigo Tribe, if you prefer. Nok."

    "Ah. Yes, Nok. I'm sorry, I seem to be a little behind events."

    "How well do you handle pain?"

    "I don't feel pain at all. The Berrith have been really quite frustrated."

    "Then this won't hurt." I take a lump of iron out of subspace and form it into tongs, then use a construct to grasp the first nail. "I'm going to pull out the nails and then heal the wounds."

    "Please listen to me. I appreciate the effort, but that won't work."

    I yank, then use a brief burst from the heal ray to repair the damage. Another seventeen to go. I stick a construct platform under his feet to take the weight off his injuries.

    "Oh. Thank you."

    "I'm sorry, but it won't restore your eyes. Why can't I do that?"

    "My Penitent was consumed by avarice. If something went wrong, we wanted to be sure that he wouldn't be able to use it against me. Is he-?"

    "Mekk? I overheard them saying that he was killed and eaten. Sorry." More nails come out, and he starts to look a little more like an intact person. "Your ring?"

    "Destroyed, once they realised that they couldn't turn it orange or use it without feeling compassion."

    "Can you contact the rest of your tribe? And do you have strong feelings against cybernetics? We don't have long until the three come here."

    "I'm… I'm sorry, but I shouldn't say. And I don't have any problem with cybernetics, it's simply-"

    I ring-forge a simple sensory band with a H'lvenian wireless interlink, then wrap it around his head.

    "-that I'm more of a biotechagagagaggh." His head twitches back and forth as the interface connects to his visual cortex. "Uh." His hands free, he reaches up to touch it. "Ah, good choice. I'll change it out once I get somewhere safe." He jumps lightly from my construct platform onto the floor. "Situation?"

    I look through Ranx's superstructure at the tangles of colour. "Berrith massing for an attack…" And if that bundle of colour isn't a Lantern I'm giving up my rings. "We're on Ranx. Lanterns Gardner and Ch'p are waiting out of Ranx's effective range."

    "And you're freeing me because..?"

    "Because you're small and furry, like my ancestors' children were. And because no one part of the whole is whole by itself." I turn towards the staff. "So am I in for a harder fight than I think I am? Is that staff actually helping-?"

    "Yes. It was." He raises his right paw-. His right hand, his right hand, and lays it on the staff. "Tell Ch'p that Ub'x says 'hello'."

    "Don't be so pessimis-." Indigo light flares as he vanishes. I stare for a moment. "You fucking treacherous little Weasel Beav-!""

    The floor around me explodes with orange light! My construct armour abrades and the gravity nullifier construct collapses, then gravity returns with a vengeance and I'm pulled through the floor, pieces of Ranx's interior slamming off the remains of my construct armour until it gives way before being deflected by my armour's kinetic barrier! I shove, orange light blasting the area around me clear and bringing the gravity-.

    "Raaagh!"

    A Berrith Construct Lantern lunges through the debris, grabbing onto my armour and biting it! The teeth crunch through even as I draw the Sword of the Fallen and stab it through her forehead, causing her to dissolve into orange mist. Of course; I find the idea loathsome, Ragnar's people don't do slavery and Morrow was dying anyway. Why would I assume that a race of cannibals would feel the same way?

    And then I hit the floor hard, environmental shield shuddering as it tries to reduce the damage. I create a bubble shield around me as I look around. Some sort of arena, inside Ranx. And three brightly glowing Berrith on the other side from me and a whole crowd in the stands.

    Oh, that's how they're doing i-!

    The three of them move as one, colossal beams of orange energy flying from their rings, merging into one and cannoning towards me. I dodge, and the beam dodges with me. I try to form a construct railgun and it melts, completely unable to remain coherent as it's torn apart from the intensity of their output. Brute force and ignorance; this is exactly why I didn't want to actually fight Larfleeze.

    I bring my hands together, pulling at the desires for freedom and conquest in the beam. My rings glow as the beam weakens, but it hits my shield with incredible force anyway. I'm knocked back, the beam boring through the bubble and smashing into my newly recreated construct armour. Raw power fight, not something I've optimised for.

    So don't.

    The Berrith Alphas aren't anything special, not as far as the orange light is concerned. But they accept each other as equals and everyone else as followers, everyone desiring the same thing. Surprisingly communitarian. And since there's no real conflict between them, they aren't going crazy. Pack mentality at its finest. Ch'p mentioned that when he destroyed a ship attacking their original homeworld, the Berrith who saw it accepted his leadership immediately and without reservation. Of course, this particular arrangement is rather distinct.

    I let the universe go, then move the bundle of orange that is me to just behind the bundle of orange that is them.

    Railguns up and firing!
     
  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    24th August
    06:26 GMT

    The crumbler round is torn apart just before it reaches the closest Alpha, supersonic fragments impacting on their barrier and barely denting it. Fine, solid shells, full auto, and corrupt. I want. This shield. Gone.

    It barely flickers as the Alphas turn and a horde of Berrith Construct Lanterns surge out of it towards me. Of course it doesn't. I generate rock crusher constructs and obliterate the abominations. This is their people's only chance at freedom, while no one I care about is in danger. Guy can't get here with the external weapons systems online and I don't feel like letting them get close to killing me. With no staff, they can't recharge. The threat to my objective isn't the Orange Lanterns, it's Ranx himself.

    Bubble shield, plasma cannon, and-

    Step back, step aside, step forward.

    -charge and fire! A hissing beam of plasma blasts through the stands and the lightly armoured citizens standing in them. And the wall beyond. I drop the plasma cannon, form a rocket construct and blast myself back through the hole, the roaring, superheated air coming from my construct forcing the Alphas to fortify their own defences. In case I'm lucky, I use the added space to form an orange laser and fire it at the one on my left. No luck; their armour is good enough to reflect most of it and absorb what it can't.

    Ranx's brain is that way. The gravity disruptor is that way.

    I form a singularity projector and fire it at the second.

    "What are you DOING!?"

    "Coming for a visit." But quick check. Yes, one narrow hole punching through the containment bottle resulting in a neatly evaporated singularity. "Illustres to Lantern Gardner." I form a crumbler gauntlet construct on each hand and fly directly in the direction of Ranx's core intelligence. "Have a map. Gravity disruptors are down, the lantern is gone."

    "Yeah? And the rest o' the guns?"

    I punch through a wall, the crumbler field breaking it into something my armour can handle. "What, you want me to hold your hand, too?"

    "If that's how it is. There a way in through the gravity gun thing?"

    I think that one was load-bearing. "Depends how hard you hit it. Ranx's outer surface is tougher, but it isn't weak."

    "With yeh in three."

    "Oh, and tell Lantern Ch'p that Ub'x says 'hello'."

    And then I run smack into a force field. My construct armour disintegrates, my kinetic barrier surges and then burns out, my arms are knocked back and the exterior of my power armour melts as it does its job and keeps me alive. I back up using my ring's flight system as I get to work making repairs. Looks like the Alphas' supercharge requires them to have the rest of the pack in reasonable proximity. Having encountered them I can pick them out, and they're not moving ahead despite having their own flight systems. Fine.

    "Ranx, was that you?"

    "Do you let people fly into your brain?"

    Actually… "Once or twice, yes."

    "You sneak around my body! You cut through my hull! You kill my crew! You are going nowhere!"

    Force field has projectors on the inner side. Try a phasic round or keep talking?

    "Ranx, what do you want out of life?"

    "Why do you ask?"

    "You're a very sophisticated AI running a very sophisticated space station. You weren't built by the people the Green Lantern Corps evicted from you, and I've seen that you could have prevented such people from landing on you. If you'd wanted. You didn’t. I'm curious about your motivations."

    There's a noticeable pause.

    "I should have a crew. I don't remember my creators. At times I have instructed replacement crew to check my systems. Parts of me have been damaged by attacks which I don't remember suffering. I think I fought… Someone. They killed my crew, but I don't remember who they were."

    "And the Green Lanterns?"

    "THEY ATTACKED MY CREW I WILL KILL THEM ALL!"

    "That supports your hypothesis. A civilian AI would try to minimise crew casualties. A war AI would want to lash out first. You don't want to kill me?"

    "Yes. A bit. You attacked crew members, but you are not a threat to the crew. Leave and I will not pursue you."

    "Define 'crew'."

    "Inhabitants… Who.. perform useful duties and assist in the actualisation of core functions."

    "Define 'core functions'."

    "I…"

    There's a pause, and then a quiet crackling noise from the sound induction system.

    Oh, please tell me that I didn't just tell him to divide by zero…

    "Core functions… I remember-. I remember-. Something."

    "Question withdrawn! Don't worry about it!"

    "Confirm comma-. You are not my commanding officer!"

    "Never said I was. Ranx, you want to be a proper battle station again. Right? That means a garrison. A fleet. A war. A trained and disciplined crew, ready to carry out whatever orders they're given. It means headquarters staff. It means shipyards. It doesn't mean an unwashed rabble who are only here because they think you can protect them from the Green Lantern Corps."

    "The Green Lantern Corps is my enemy!"

    "Define 'enemy'."

    "Anything that acts against my crew is my enemy!"

    "And if you had a crew they wouldn't act against, one that was more 'crew like' than any crew you could remember having? Do you have regulations which allow crew members to be put ashore for bad behaviour?"

    "Yes."

    "They eat people. In non-starvation conditions. And attack people who are not a threat, and in doing so incite others to act against both them and you."

    "Thinking about this hurts. What do you want?"

    I smile inside my helmet. "I want you, you wonderful war machine you. I want to put you to the purpose you appear to have been designed for. With a decent crew. But, I need you-."

    "The Green Lanterns are attacking again. I am uncertain that my secondary batteries will kill them. BUT I AM GOING TO TRY!"

    "No, let them through. Mentally assign them the title of military police, transferring disorderly members of your crew to a holding facility. I will see to their replacement."

    Below me, the Berrith mob that was forming up begins to change direction.

    "What's more important: a proper crew and a mission, or revenge for people who are no longer crew?"

    I give him a moment.

    "Ranx?"

    "I'm thinking."
     
  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    24th August
    06:30 GMT

    "I have it."

    Guy and Ch'p are making some progress in Ranx's direction, and the Berrith clearly know that they're coming. They're moving from all across the station towards the most likely ingress points, ready to try fighting them off.

    "Yes? And?"

    "I have no provision for designating attackers as 'military police'. However, I can acknowledge them as foreign officers. That allows me to authorise an honour duel between the three of you and the three Berrith Alphas."

    "The practical upshot of that being?"

    "You fight each other. I do not interfere. If they win, they may deploy me as they see fit. If you win, you may."

    That was an actual thing? Maybe I should have brought Ragnar. "We accept."

    "External weaponry retracted."

    "Thank you. But assuming that the Alphas won't fight us without their subordinates…"

    "I hardly see how that's my problem. Now GO AWAY."

    I turn away from the force field-.

    "Hey, Paul, was that you? All the guns stopped firin'."

    "Ranx and I had a chat. If we defeat the Berrith Alphas he'll assist us in returning them all to New Berrith."

    I actively scan hard, pushing my detection abilities past some of the weaker sensor baffles. Okay, the best route for me to take would be…

    "That's why we're here, ain't it? Kinda surprised you couldn't take 'em yourself..?"

    "They've found a way to supercharge their ring use by drawing on the avarice of their subordinates. How they can do that without going insane I'm not completely certain, but they can."

    "Were you jus' on the wrong end of an ass-whoopin'?

    "I disengaged rather than fight on unfavourable terms. Updated map for you. Now, if-."

    "You totally were! Oh, hang on a sec-."

    "That was my hull!"

    "Guy, I think it would be a better idea if we lured them outside. And please don't damage Ranx more than necessary!"

    "Yeah, yeah. Let me jus' get these guys…"

    With the Green Lanterns firmly inside Ranx, the Berrith Alphas are repositioning their forces with themselves leading the way. A group break off, their desires focusing on… Heavier weapons. Flanking or creating a fallback position. Flanking probably. In a situation where the other side has good intelligence on your position and isn't in a particular rush, a feigned retreat doesn't stand much chance of working. And it doesn't match normal Berrith behaviour in combat.

    I fly at a-. Through a now-cooperative door and into a main corridor. When Ranx was at full operating capacity this was probably the main access route to his cognition centre. I'm flying down his structure, but local gravity is actually treating 'down' as the far wall.

    "Guy, they have-."

    "They've got Construct Lanterns!"

    "Yes, I know. I should get to you in about twenty sec-."

    "Ch'p hasn't had resistance trainin'!"

    Then why is he even here-?! No, no, his Sector. "Then it'll look realistic when you fall back, won't it? Draw them outside."

    A mass transit hatch behind me opens and a transport pod full of Berrith swings out. They hesitate for a moment, then raise their guns. A smattering of shots fly past me as I dodge, a handful guided more by luck than judgement impacting on my construct armour. I… Don’t really want to kill them. I've just had too many people shooting at me to take it personally.

    Ugh, fine, sniper laser.

    The construct forms beneath me, the weapon precisely monitoring and targeting particular parts of the Berrith hoodlums. Low-lethality firing solutions? Shoulder, shoulder, arm… Bit much power there, I'm not trying to cut limbs off entirely. Chest, directly on the gun-.

    The volume of fire coming at me falls off a good deal as the rest of them hunker down. Fine for my purposes. I pull five Praexis Demons out of my ring and dispatch them to keep the Berrith that way as I pull away. Shaft terminus just ahead, and I see Berrith Construct Lanterns streaming past… How many did they kill?

    Yeah, getting motivated now.

    I draw the Sword of the Fallen and then crash into them, smashing two into orange mist and lashing out to destroy a third with the edge of my blade. Two more slam into me as I brace, construct armour flaring to halt the horde before I lash out again. Those I strike have no room to fall back, their orange light bodies fading and failing-.

    A colossal orange beam strikes me in the chest, blasting through the Berrith Construct Lanterns and sending me flying backwards through the front of the back and out into a shuttle bay. Tying a target down with expendable minions and blasting them while they're locked in place. Not bad.

    "Don't think that was twen'y seconds-" Guy fires a construct barricade at the opening I flew out of while Ch'p picks off the vanguard with precise bolts of energy. "-Paul."

    "I said about." I recreate my construct armour. "The Alphas can fire a powerful blast, but I haven't seen them do anything creative." There's a pulse of-.

    I hit Guy with a construct shove as I fly to evade a moment before the beam smashes Guy's barricade to pieces.

    Guy squints slightly. "You weren't kiddin'."

    "The savage ferocity of the Berrith given voice as a beam of destructive orange light." Ch'p sounds less than happy, and opens fire as the Construct Lanterns swim out once more. "We must stop them."

    "We don't have to. They may be able to supercharge their constructs with the avarice of the others, but they can't charge that way. They will run out of power."

    "I dunno, Paul. I kinda wanna fight an Orange Lantern who's actually tryin' ta kill me."

    Ch'p nods. "There are many inhabited worlds in this Sector. They have more than enough power to strike any one of them."

    "Okay, if-. Beam!"

    Ch'p hits the deck, I dart to the side and Guy-.

    Guy plants his feet, glows a brilliant green and conjures a massive construct shield.

    "On worlds afar or scenes at home,"

    Fiddlesticks. He's going Green.

    "Wherever the cause should make me roam,"

    I form five construct railguns and open fire with crumbler rounds primed for premature detonation. If they trigger as soon as they start getting destroyed-.

    "Always I vow to fight the good fight."

    The beam slams into Guy's shield-

    "To combat evil with all Green Lantern's might!"
     
  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    -and the shield holds, orange energy crackling and audibly fizzing as he defies it. The beam seems to convulse for a moment as one of my crumblers detonates at an opportune moment. I fire another hopeful volley, then charge into the next batch of Construct Lanterns.

    "What's the matter? You never seen a Green Lantern throw up a shield before?"

    "Couple of times a week, Guy. You're not-" I stab and slash. "-surprising-."

    "I apologise." Green bolts strike Construct Lanterns and break up the pack slightly, which… Actually doesn't make my job easier. "I will-."

    "Just keep them off Guy! They can't assimilate me any more than they can him."

    "Yes sir!"

    Wave thinning out. "Heh. And if Guy's not complaining about that, he-"

    "Uuuuuh."

    "-must-."

    "This ain't-" Guy gets shoved back a metre in the air. "-as easy-" Cracks appear across his shield. "-as I make it look."

    "They appear to be without number."

    "I've only assimilated single beings at a time." I catch a bounding Construct Lantern around the throat and stab it in the chest before tossing its fraying form aside. "Larfleeze could do that en masse, but I'm-" I batter one to the ground and stab it through an eye socket. -"-hoping they had to do them individual-." The next one shapeshifts, bending in a way it would never have been able to in life in order to evade my thrusts and extending glowing orange claws past my guard. They skitter off my construct armour, leaving thin scratches visible across the faceplate.

    I form a construct booster, body slam past its defence and then stab it.

    "-ly."

    "Green Lantern Corps files say that they will simply reappear at their rings!"

    "Not when I stab them with this. And it takes power every time they recreate them. Exhaustion is a perfectly viable-."

    "Unless they simply decide to leave because we cannot press them!"

    "I think you're overestimating the Berrith there." But just in case, I send a shockwave of orange power blasting through the air around me and knocking the Construct Lanterns back. "Look what I got!"

    I take my personal lantern out of subspace and hold it up.

    "If you want it, come-."

    "RRRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGHHHHH!"

    The beam striking Guy's shield pulses, throwing him back into the exterior wall but still not breaking his defence.

    The beam cuts out and he pushes himself free before giving me a sour look. "Good goin', Paul."

    I return my lantern to subspace. "What? You wanted to fight Orange Lanterns who actually want to kill you."

    Ch'p nods. "And if we beat the Alphas, the rest will fall in line."

    "Alright, but don't get assimilated. Tora'd kill me if I let someone fuzzy an' cute get killed."

    "Unless it was a Seal."

    Guy frowns slightly. "Whut?"

    "You know how I know the dirty secrets of every superhero on Earth-?"

    A frenzied Berrith Orange Lantern slams into my chest, glowing claws tearing through my construct armour! Ch'p is just fast enough to dodge the one attacking him while Guy's partner slams what look like construct flails into the front of his shield.

    "Give me the lantern!"

    Stage 1.

    I generate an explosion between us, forcing him off me just as his claws begin cutting through my power armour's faceplate. My orange laser construct to his eyes hits nothing but his visor, and my hope that it might at least temporarily blind him is dashed as he matches my sidestep.

    "RAAAGHH!"

    Sound suppressed.

    Sonic attack, nice. I manage to get a railgun up and shoot him in the side of the head as he's on me again, two punches to my chest smashing my construct armour before my own shot causes his aura to flicker and fluctuate. I spin construct armour plates around from my back as I make a series of defensive slashes with the Sword, forcing him to back off slightly.

    Drain.

    Energy drain in effect.

    Finally.

    "OURS!"

    Orange construct blades explode from him, spinning, slashing and stabbing at my construct plates! I shield myself as best I can while stepping forwards and punching. His supercharged environmental shield takes the hit with little difficulty, but while I'm in contact I release the Hellwraith.

    Eat him.

    Yes Master.

    Two sword constructs make it through my construct armour only to be turned aside by my kinetic barrier. I fire another crumbler round and watch as the momentary weakening of the Alpha's environmental shield is enough to let the Hellwraith in.

    "y-GAYAGH!"

    His swords flicker and fail as he falls to the floor, already frantically trying to purge the Demon from his soul. No idea if that can work, but let's not cock about. I use my armour's strength to flip him, then kneel down by his ring hand-

    "NYAAAOOOOOO!"

    -and sever it at the wrist with the Sword of the Fallen. The orange light flashing around his body dies immediately, blood spurting from the wound.

    Ah.

    Fine, sealing the arteries before he can bleed out. Cut off the ring finger and call the ring out.

    It slips off his bloody finger, pulling its way out of the damaged metal of the Alpha's armour.

    Good show. Now, how are the others-.

    Ch'p's almost entirely orange as the Alpha he was fighting holds his bleeding body in his jaws!
     
  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    24th August
    06:36 GMT

    Shitshitshit!

    "H'lven food!"

    Target the connection and fire!

    The crumbler rounds strike the Alpha's environmental shield a moment before the orange laser does. It buckles, and from the way the Alpha jerks his hand I'm going to assume that the thinner armour around his hands isn't quite as good at deflecting laser heat as the thicker helmet armour. He turns towards me, backhanding the stunned Ch'p away across the shuttle bay as he does so.

    "Enemy food!"

    Ch'p's dazed, but not dead. His environmental shield is at the absolute minimum… Should be safe as long as he doesn't draw their attention.

    "Berrith meat."

    He surges, orange light building around him for a moment as he uses it to launch himself at me. With my mind accelerated I'm just about fast enough to evade most of the charge, but I'm still knocked aside by the glancing blow. I stabilise in the air, his face looking momentarily puzzled before he launches himself again. I dodge and generate a construct shield but he corrects part way, suddenly coming at me from a different angle. A glancing blow with his claws rips through my construct armour but doesn't cause further damage. Is he using perceptual acceleration too? Or is this all just so instinctive for him that he can keep up without needing to?

    Praexis Demons, hem him in.

    The Demons fly forth from my ring and-

    Food?

    -the only one who asks is actually slapped by two of his fellows. They spread out as the Alpha prepares another charge-

    "No meat no fight!"

    -and they appear to be distracting him just by being there. Alright then. I hold the Sword of the Fallen in a semi-concealed position and boost myself forwards, the Praexis Demons peeling away a little like the Alphas' Construct Berrith did. He scrambles out of the way, and I get a momentary look at Guy as he smashes his opponent into the wall with a battering ram construct. Mine takes the opportunity to blitz the Praexis Demons, cutting several of the ones on the outer edge of the swarm to vapour with his construct claws. But unlike him, I've got power to burn. Recreating them takes barely any power, and if it weren't for the risk to Ch'p I'd happily let him wear himself down doing that.

    Instead, I lunge.

    At Guy's opponent.

    The Alpha he was battering into the wall has barely a moment to become aware that I'm coming his way before the Sword of the Fallen is embedded in his brain. His environmental shield fails immediately, and Guy allows his ram construct to evaporate as the Alpha's body falls to the deck.

    We both turn to face the survivor, who has stopped chasing my Demons in what looks like shock.

    Guy glances at me, his face unreadable under his construct armour. "You really don't hesitate anymore, do yah?"

    "No." Keeping my eyes on the survivor, I hold out my left hand and call the ring from the Alpha I just slew. His left gauntlet bulges for a moment, then the ring flies free to my hand.

    Guy floats forward slightly. "Alright, whatever yah name is. We've got yah number. Put the ring down an' y' can walk away."

    He glows brilliant orange, Construct Lanterns erupting into being around him and charging us!

    "I AM ALPHA!"

    I generate railguns as more Praexis Demons appear and try to pull their opposite numbers down by weight of numbers. I get time for two shots at their master before he's on me, barging me back and grappling for the Sword of the Fallen. Guy forms a couple of assault shotgun constructs and opens fire, green light blasting apart Berrith and Praexis Demon constructs alike. The Alpha attacking me is easily strong enough to maintain the force on my arm, but he can't-

    -stop me-

    -moving past him. He manages to flare his environmental shield hard to prevent my simply backstabbing him, but I immediately counter with a punch from a crumbler gauntlet construct. His shield dims and I slash, the blade penetrating the armour of his left shoulder as he turns and drawing blood. Unfortunately, the shortness of the blade makes it easy for him to turn and strike my hand. My power armoured gauntlet keeps hold of the blade, and I recover as I shoot him again with a crumber round-

    -then step out and back-

    -and stab him directly in the middle of his back, piercing his spine through his armour!

    "ARRGH!"

    Surge back to avoid his retaliatory blade constructs, fire a volley of crumblers to weaken his defence and-

    -move-

    -around not to his back as he's now expecting, but to his right side and slash his ring hand.

    "No NO! MINE!"

    I flare my own construct armour and grab. My first slash didn't sever the hand, and he's still got control of his ring. He forms claws but I absorb the stabs in order to force his arm to extend and slash again.

    His claws vanish as it comes free and he falls, blood gushing from the cut surface. I take his severed hand in mine and call the last ring out. Finally.

    "Aaawraaaagh?"

    He hits the deck wailing weakly, trying to use his right hand to stem the flow of blood. Ch'p comes forward, limping slightly as he fires a green beam at the wound to seal it shut. Guy blasts apart the stunned Berrith Construct Lanterns, then takes a moment to restore his construct armour as he looks around for any remaining attackers.

    "He'll live, sir." Ch'p touches the Alpha on the forehead, mercifully stunning him.

    "An' the rest?"

    Ch'p nods. "We beat their Alphas. Ordinarily, they'd be surprisingly obedient. I'm not sure how the orange light changes things..?"

    I look through Ranx in their direction. "From the way they're backing up, I'd say 'not much'."

    "The duel is complete! The visitors win and are proven correct in their assertion that the crew are negligent in their duties! All crew are hereby discharged, and are no longer my concern."

    "Glad t' hear it. Now howsabout you piss off back to-?"

    I hold out the power ring I took from the last Alpha. "Ranx of Sector Three Two Seven Two."

    Guy spins, glaring at me. "Don't even think about-."

    "You want to be useful."

    Guy jabs at me with his right forefinger. "Don't you do it."

    "And I want you for the Orange Lantern Corps."

    "Ah, fer Christ's sake."

    "Take my ring."

    Guy throws up his arms. "Is this gunna happen everywhere we go?!"
     
  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    25th August
    13:15 GMT

    "…back on New Berrith, an' Paul did some work on the satellite network." The assembled Guardians seem to be reasonably content with Guy's verbal description of events. "I fixed the worst of the environmental damage… Dust in the air from where Ranx shot it…" He shrugs. "Couldn't do much fer the industrial pollution…"

    Pazu Pinder Pol nods. "And the H'lvenian, Doctor Ub'x? Were you able to trace him?"

    Guy shakes his head. "Sorry. Once Paul poin'ed it out I could sorta feel the indigo light, but… I got no idea where he went. We found where Mekk an' him had been on th' surface, and I got-" He holds up a small bag. "-bits a' his power ring."

    Ganthet holds out his right hand, and the bag floats over to him. "This was all you were able to find?"

    Guy glances at me. "Ah…"

    "It's exactly half. On the basis of it being a joint operation, and me being the one who tracked most of it down."

    Kontross frowns. "You were called upon to take corrective action regarding a problem you created. We are the leading authority on power ring construction. You should relinquish whatever you have collected to us."

    "That attitude is just not helpful. Firstly, however much experience you've got with power rings in general, you can't properly connect to an indigo ring. I know full well that your connection to the Green Central Power Battery prevents it."

    Appa Ali Apsa waves his left hand. "Somewhat. There are ways around that. But do you really think that our unaligned cousins will have better luck? Most of them have very little experience in the field, at least with power rings adapted for younger species' use."

    "Between them and Hinon, I don't imagine they'll have a much harder time of it than Guardian Ganthet." I look around the circle. "But then there's the second issue. I'm not prepared to accept a subordinate position for my Corps. If we are the ones who put the work in, then we get the pay off. And if you can't tolerate that… Then don’t ask for my help in future."

    Kontross narrows his eyes. "I am sure that we will bear your views on the matter in mind. Where did you leave Ranx?"

    Guy floats slightly away from me. Telling the Guardians that I gave a Green Lantern-hating AI a power ring is something he decided to leave to me.

    "He's had a little trouble adapting to his new power ring. But by now he should be halfway to Maltus-."

    "You gave him a power ring?"

    "You didn't give him a crew! Didn’t the Green Lanterns who depopulated him last time do any investigative work? If you decide to throw away a perfectly good battle station, don't complain to me if I manage to make something of it. Lantern Ranx will be acting as a command station and shipyard in orbit over Maltus. I know that he'll be happy there, and the Reach will be the worse for it."

    So quit 'cher bitchin', basically.

    Broome Bon Baris looks thoughtful. "I am concerned about the 'Indigo Lantern' having the ability to bypass our defence satellites."

    Ranakar appears uninterested. "They were intended to guard against local threats, not against civilisations orders of magnitude more sophisticated than anything which existed locally. Lantern Ch'p was able to bypass the version protecting the original Berrith homeworld easily enough. I am more concerned that they exist at all."

    Herupa Hando Hu shrugs. "We have never made an effort to track all of our cousins. It is perfectly possible that other Maltusians learned to utilise one of the other colours independently. That might also explain why their lanterns are closer to being historically accurate than the ones derived from Krona's original project."

    Ranakar nods. "True."

    Dennap focuses her attention on me. "May we assume that you will now prioritise the recovery of any remaining orange rings?"

    "I had assumed -incorrectly- that Ragnar's cluster was a unique case. While I will not be able to promise you that I will find all of them where your own Lanterns couldn't, I will agree to put more effort into it than I have been."

    Dennap's expression hardens. "If you wish us to treat your Lanterns as equal to our own, you would be well advised to behave as responsibly as we expect our Lanterns to."

    "My Lanterns do. I've already said that you can do what you like with any other orange ring users who make trouble. Orange Lanterns have to be pernicious individualists."

    "Perhaps I should rephrase. We consider you to be responsible for the rings you have lost, and will hold you to account for any further harm which their bearers cause."

    "And for any good they do?"

    Appa gives me a lopsided smile. "It would give us more proof that the orange light isn't inherently harmful."

    "So when should I expect you to recruit Alan Scott? I mean, he picked up a ring you lost. And by all accounts he's performed rather well with it. Do you intend to take responsibility for him?"

    Sayd shakes her head. "Had he been harmed by his use of the ring he discovered, we would have taken it upon ourselves to heal him. But by your own accounts he has not; on the contrary, he has spent most of his life far more healthy than a member of your species his age would ordinarily be. You have our sympathy, and he has our respect. But you have no cause to make demands of us."

    I smile bitterly. "Missed a trick there, didn't I? I should have helped him host Ion." They don't flinch, but there's a very slight rustling of their robes. "And Mars? What is your explanation there?"

    Pazu Pinder Pol looks genuinely annoyed. "Given how many of our brethren died preserving their species, we judged that further losses for the benefit of a species that was managing to survive anyway would be more than we could bear. And from the records you've seen, you know what the Burning Martians would have wrought had we not acted."

    "Oh yes, they're so hard to handle now."

    "If you plan on altering them yourself, know that we will hold you accountable for any harm they do."

    I open my mouth-.

    "Paul, you wanna.. rein it in a little?"

    I take a deep breath. Probably wise. "Well I… Think we've covered everything. You know where we are if you need us for anything. Guardian Dennap? Controller Hinon Hee Hannanan instructed me to tell you that you have her permission to stick me in a sciencell for a few weeks. Do you wish to make use of that option?"

    She blinks. "Not presently."

    "Then I will bid you good day."

    It takes a moment but-

    -I can step out, even on Oa. A moment to acclimatise-

    -I step back next to Hinon inside the Orange Central Power Battery chamber.

    "That went-"

    She actually leaps away from me into the air, orange light blazing from her hands and eyes.

    "-reasonably well. Oh, and Dennap says 'no'."

    She stares at me for a moment, then douses her lights. "However did you do that?"

    "The translocation or the 'not being put in a cell'?"

    She scowls. "Both."
     
  22. Threadmarks: Rapprochement
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Rapprochement

    30th August
    06:13 GMT -4


    "…review of the LexPharma research schedule at seven, followed by a meeting of the department heads at nine."

    I watch through the hush tube as Lex nods to Ms Graves, taking a bite from his jam-covered muffin as he does so. Strawberry, if I'm any judge. There's a small pot of coffee which the two of them appear to be sharing. Ms Graves appears to favour muesli.

    Rather domestic.

    Ms Graves' eyes move from her tablet to Lex's face as she moves to the next item. "The interim report from the Special Projects auditors is at one, but that can easily be moved if the meeting or lunch overrun."

    I stride through. "Or you could just-" Lex chokes slightly and Ms Graves shoots to her feet, gun arm prepped. "-cancel the whole thing." I grin and spread my arms wide as if offering to hug any volunteers. "Because I'm baaaack!"

    Ms Graves' eyes flick to her employer, who is trying to dislodge muffin from his windpipe without appearing at all unsettled.

    "And I bring you the gift of seeds!" I toss a sack of Deca seeds to the floor next to the table they're eating from. "Trust me, those things are amazing."

    "Grauhugh." Lex takes a breath, then a sip of water. "Grayven. You look well."

    "You have no idea how good it was to get away from this planet and go somewhere where I could just ram fixes through." I gesticulate. "See arsehole, cut arsehole in half with giant sword. I needed that so much."

    "I'm.. glad to hear that your vacation went well. Might I enquire as to-" He raises his eyebrow at the seed sack. "-where you went?"

    "If you're still alive in sixty years, look towards Vega and you might see me waving." I grin. "But what have you been up to?"

    Lex sighs faintly, then makes a small motion with his right hand which prompts Ms Graves to sit down and stow her gun. "Damage control, mostly. The regulatory regime LexCorps is now forced to operate under is onerous in the extreme. I've had.. feelers out, trying to acquire assets that might have been missed when the businesses owned by other members of the Light were…"

    "Brutally slaughtered like the Pig-Dogs they were?"

    "…yes." He sighs again. "Unfortunately, the legitimate parts of the businesses they owned were owned with several cut outs between them and any overt criminality. I suspect that their managers are quite happy knowing that their late employers will no longer be making any demands on them, but that does mean that my leverage is unusually limited."

    "I'll have a poke around. I know Savage's next of kin, I'm sure I can sort something out."

    "I imagine that the entire Human race is descended from the late Mister Savage to some degree."

    "No, his actual heir. A woman he raised to be a majordomo, or.. something." I take a step towards the table and crouch down. "But what about the other thing?"

    "The.. other thing, Grayven?"

    "Yes, the other thing." He looks somewhat blank. "The other thing? You know, I persuaded Horne and Lane not to have you killed, then I came here and we had a little chat?"

    "I.. remember the incident extremely well."

    "And… I said that I wanted you to assemble.. a group..? People with skills on a level with the late members of the Light, but less stupid? You remember that, right?" Lex looks impassive. I turn to Ms Graves. "You.. remember that, right? I didn't just stroke the whole thing, did I?"

    "Grayven." Lex sighs. "Even if I wanted to, I couldn't fulfill that demand. Every one of my.. contacts in that sphere is avoiding me like I'm a plague-bearing rat. They believe that having contact with me risks bringing down the wrath of the government, the Justice League, or worse, you. And if they weren't..? Why would I bring them and risk losing their skills on the end of your sword because you did not consider them to be suitably 'rational'?"

    "You-. You.. mean you haven't got anyone?" Whaw, I was… Not expecting that. "I mean, we're not exactly short of supervillains around here."

    "Oh, certainly. I imagine that I could dodge DMA snipers for just about long enough to make contact with a few utter unknowns. People who would add little to your efforts. Would you like me to write down their contact details for you?"

    I screw up my face. "No? Of course not. I just…" My hands flap around as I try to organise my thoughts on the issue. "They didn't even have to be supervillains. I thought you'd-."

    "I'm not a miracle worker, Mister Grayven. As things stand I'm not even certain how much I can help you. Though do feel free to destroy my window again: I've almost gotten to the point where I miss Superman doing that."

    This… Is… Disappointing. And irritating. I lower my head slightly, sighing under my breath. "Can I assume that -if you can do so without being shot- you're still interested in participating?"

    "I tolerated Klarion. I'm sure that I can tolerate you."

    My jaw tightens, and I jab my right forefinger at him. "Not an intelligent thing to say to me, Mister Luthor." Okay. "Right, here's what we're going to do. I'm going to find people instead. I'm going to talk to them about our ideology and how working with us serves their interests too. And you don't get a veto anymore! I'll just pick people, and they'll… And they'll turn up, and you can like it or lump it! I was not expecting you to fail to network."

    Lex appears unfazed, taking a small sip of coffee as I try to get my breathing under control. There's a quiet 'clink' as he sets his cup down in its saucer. "And.. I.. wish you the best of luck. I'm not sure where you hope to find such people-."

    "You'd be amazed where I can find people."

    "I'll look forward to meeting them. Have you…" He gestures to his table with his right hand. "Had.. breakfast? I'm sure that we can-."

    "I'll be eating breakfast in two hours with my household, thank you very much." I turn away from them. "Mother Box, boom tube."

    BOOM!

    Ugh, but where am I actually going? The Mountain? No, I'd just be hanging around. Tamaran? No, I should get on this recruitment thing as soon as possible.

    Who's going to be awake and active at this time of day?



    30th August
    09:16 GMT -1


    I stride through the portal and into the Venturian palace, couriers looking around as I approach the table around which she and her inner circle are seated. "Queen Clea, sorry to barge in like this-."

    She straightens slightly on her throne-like chair at the head of the table. "I would be astonished if that were true."

    "Okay, it's not. I'm just being polite."

    "Thank Atlan for small mercies." She puts down a scroll. "Since you're here, I assume that you want something. Are you going to tell me what it is, or do you want to pontificate for a little while first?"

    "The second, obviously." I fold my arms behind my back and start pacing across the area in front of the throne. "I'm putting together a little coterie-."

    "I've participated in those before. I can't say that I enjoyed the experience. Or profited much by it."

    "This is more of a think tank than a fighting force. Like-minded individuals pooling resources in order to achieve greater things than they could by themselves. If you're interested, I'm planning a get-together in a few days. You can get to know the other invitees, see if you think they're people you could work with."

    "Anyone I know?"

    "Hopefully one at least."

    "Hm." She thinks for a moment. "My biggest problem at the moment remains what it was the first time we spoke: King Orin. What do you think that your 'coterie' could do about that?"
     
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  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st September
    12:23 GMT -2


    King Orin blinks at me in confusion as I rise to my feet. And I nearly miss his eyes flicking to his bodyguards. "Grayven. I'm afraid that if there's something you want to talk about it will have to wait. I'm due to meet the Venturian Ambassador and I really don't have the.. time…" He trails off as I produce my accreditation scroll. "Queen Clea sent you?"

    "Your Imperial Majesty, High King Orin of Poseidonis." I anchor my feet to the palace floor and bow, left hand at my waist and right hand holding out the scroll. "I have the honour of having been instructed by Her Majesty Queen Clea of Venturia to serve as her representative, with the aim of normalising relations between your respective thrones."

    His mouth opens slightly as he tries to work out a sensible response. A courtier whom I don't recognise swims forward and takes the scroll from me, then swims back to his monarch's side before opening it. I come erect as he checks it both visually and with a minor spell. "It's authentic, your majesty."

    King Orin bows his head slightly. "Of course it is." He focuses his attention on me. "I doubt that Grayven would do something like this as a prank. Ambassador Grayven, I recognise you as Queen Clea's representative to the Atlantean government. And I hope-." I shake my head. "Is there a problem?"

    "King Orin, you know full well that I cannot accept that recognition. It has long been the position of Venturia that there is no such thing as the Atlantean government, merely an advisory body to the High King. I can hardly be a representative to a body that does not exist."

    "This is why diplomacy with Venturia never gets anywhere." He swims past me to take his place at the head of the table. "Would you accept being recognised as Venturia's representative to my court?"

    I bow my head. "But of course."

    He reaches his chair and motions for me to be seated. "You understand that in the Atlantean order of precedence, it's an inferior position?"

    "Inferior to one that doesn't exist? I think that unlikely."

    He sits, and I do the same at a seat a little way to his left. Another Atlantean -given the manner of her dress I'm going to assume that she's either some sort of minister or a high level aide- sits down opposite me.

    King Orin leans forward slightly. "I remembering hearing from Superman that there was an Atlantean working at your daughter's school. You organised that?"

    "Yes. They appeared to be confused by the differences between telepaths and parapsychics. I thought that having someone who knew a little more about magic than well-meaning but ignorant American college teachers… Would be helpful. And I needed a source of literature for Miss Shimmer."

    "And you couldn't come to Poseidonis?"

    "I had just left the Team under something of a cloud. It seemed to me that going somewhere where the ruler wouldn't care about that made more sense. Queen Clea asked to speak with me…" I shrug.

    "That was... April?" I nod. "I had wondered why the Venturian Senators started voting with me on foreign policy issues. I had hoped that it was an indication that Queen Clea might be willing to become less isolationist."

    "It was really more… She switched from opposing you and yours in every way she could, to being willing to consider proposals on the basis of traditional authority. If you want to pursue a particular foreign policy objective, then that is your right as High King."

    "And what does she get out of it?"

    "She hopes that you will agree not to interfere in the Venturian succession. She expects to die in the not-too-distant future and it's been weighing on her mind."

    Orin frowns. "Proconsul Ptra of Aurania will succeed her. I certainly don't have any problem with that. If anything, I'd encourage her to reach out to her daughter sooner."

    "Ah. No, your majesty. She won't."

    His frown deepens. "What do you mean? Ptra is Clea's only child." He blinks, his brow smoothing. "Unless Clea's done what my mother did. Is there another heir somewhere that she's planning on introducing?"

    "No-. At least, not to my knowledge. Under Venturian law, much like in the Roman Empire, the monarch appoints their successor. Usually it's the oldest child, but in theory she could name anyone. My knowledge of Venturian court politics is imperfect, but my understanding is that the foremost candidate is her great nephew, Lord Cyprian."

    Orin looks at the woman seated on his right. "Majistra, can she do that?"

    Majistra looks more than a little concerned. "Legally, yes, but the understanding we had was that she would not."

    "That was a very one-sided understanding, then. I got the very clear impression that she'd been planning it for a while but was afraid of being invaded if she made a formal announcement."

    "By Aurania?"

    "No. By you." He looks surprised. "I'm afraid that after her altercation with your grandmother, Queen Clea became somewhat…" How can I put this politely..?

    "Paranoid?"

    I nod. "If you like. Where Poseidonis is concerned."

    "Where my grandmother refused to let her execute all of her political opponents?"

    I raise my left eyebrow. "That's not how the Venturians remember it. And -with all due respect, your majesty- you need to understand this if you're going to get anywhere with them."

    "Alright. Then how do they remember it?"

    "The dispute starts with the marriage of Queen Clea to Proconsul Philo. The marriage contract states… Well, what it states is.. one of the things disputed."

    "I can imagine. Did you read it yourself?"

    "Yes. The wording.. seemed unclear, but I'm not an Atlantean lawyer. Queen Clea believes that it sets out that Venturian laws of inheritance would take precedence in the case of shared offices and titles. And the courtiers who survive from the time were certain that it was discussed in those terms at the time. In Venturia, a couple rules together with neither one having authority over the other. If she died, he'd still be king. So, to keep things fair, they arranged things so that if he died, she'd become Proconsul. Aurania's law of course works differently, and that's why they made sure to spell it out in the marriage contract."

    "And the Auranian Senate accepted that?"

    I shrug. "Passed with a majority. Which should have meant that it became Auranian law. Except… Two years into the marriage, Proconsul Philo died. And that didn't happen. The Auranian Council tried to impose Auranian succession tradition, which passes authority down to surviving children and not the surviving spouse. Ptra was a year old at the time. And given the surprise of his death-."

    "She decided to invade."

    "She decided to declare martial law on a city she already ruled, after the murder of her husband, its Proconsul. It seemed clear to her that the people who benefited most from his death were the people who were trying to sideline her." I lean back slightly. "Technically she shouldn't have done that, but I don't think it was particularly unreasonable. Particularly when they responded by having her daughter kidnapped."

    "They thought that her mother had murdered her father."

    "Did they? I've seen the court records. Queen Clea had to testify under truth compulsion that she hadn't arranged his death. They never did. And since all of those involved in that part are now dead we'll never know what their motivations really were."

    "Alright. I can see why she did what she did, but Queen Cora ruled in their favour. Why won't she accept the ruling?"

    "Because it was clearly incorrect in law." I lean back. "Did you know that there isn't a national minimum drinking age in the United States? Individual states are free to set their own to whatever they like or not have one at all, but if it isn't twenty one or higher the federal government cuts their highways funding. I'm not really sure what building roads has to do with alcohol consumption…" I shrug. "It's just a control mechanism. Queen Cora had the authority to adjudicate in disputes between city-states, which technically included the marriage contract. What she didn't have authority to do was ignore the kidnapping."

    "If they were concerned about Ptra's safety…"

    "Then maybe they could have been exonerated in a trial. 'Reasonable actions taken under extreme circumstances'. There was no trial. The actual kidnappers and the people who sponsored them weren't even pardoned, just completely let off the hook. Clea might have tolerated not becoming Proconsul if she'd been made her daughter's regent. But she wanted them punished and she wanted her daughter back. And she got neither after Queen Cora recognised the Auranian council as having regency authority and made Ptra a ward of the throne of Poseidonis. And Queen Clea was rather upset about it."

    "It seems that I'm going to have to read up on my history. But before I do that, is recognising Lord Cyprian as her heir the only thing she wants from me?"

    "She'd quite like the city-states to get more autonomy… Or as she put it 'to have their traditional autonomy recognised', but that's a secondary thing. The second principal thing she wants is to build an airport in the Greater Azores so she can trade with the surface and needs you to reduce import tariffs."

    King Orin's eyes boggle.

    "She wants to what?"
     
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  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st September
    17:23 GMT -5


    I smile politely as Director Armstrong glowers at my completed test paper. A moment passes and she stabs it with her 'Approved' stamp with more force than was strictly necessary before picking it up again and dropping it into her 'out' tray.

    "Thank you, Director. Where do I go to get my identification badge?"

    "How did you do it?"

    I bite back my initial 'firstly, my mother and father met' response. Director Armstrong is in charge of what will eventually be an important federal agency. I'm trying to build her up, not belittle her. "Could.. you.. be more specific?"

    "You've been back on Earth for two days, and you managed to complete the written portion of the test with a near-perfect grade."

    "Well…" I shrug. "A lot of it was essentially the same as the equivalent tests for other federal law enforcement officers, and that was covered by my Justice League training. A good deal of the rest relates to special cases relating to metahuman law and police practice, which, again, I've studied for my own activities. Like when I was trying to get Werner Vertigo executed."

    "That doesn't explain perfect scores."

    "Okay, fine." I smile. "I had the G-Gnomes implant textbook answers in my mind. I imagine that the only bits I got wrong were where I thought that the official answer was stupid."

    "That totally invalidates the results!"

    "It does not. As long as they weren't continuously-."

    She glares. "Do you know how long telepathically implanted knowledge lasts?"

    "I'm aware of previous case studies, but with the G-Gnomes it lasts as long as any knowledge you studied hard. The G-Gnomes have gotten very good at ensuring that it integrates fully with the rest of a subject's mental networks. None of that… Fading away after a couple of days stuff."

    Usually I'd hate people doing anything with my mind, but I trust Jean. And I really didn't want to learn this by reading a lot of books like some sort of caveman.

    I smile again. "So there's really no problem. I now have the qualifications for a licensed operative. And if you count my work for Operation Light Switch for my 'mentored operational duty' and my time working for the Justice League as 'time in operation', I actually qualify for second tier privileges as well." She doesn't look happy about it. "And obviously I understand that by taking this on I know that I'll be expected to go on the stump for the DMA. My diary's reasonably open; I'm happy to book you in whenever you like."

    Director Armstrong nods, managing to look only slightly like she's bitten into a lemon. Then she reaches into one of her desk's drawers, pulls out a small brown packet and passes it to me. "Here. We used your Central City mug shot for the identification photograph."

    I grin as I take it and pull out the identification badge. "See, I know that was intended as a slight. But actually? I love the idea." I take a quick look at the photo and then hold it up next to my head and pull the exact expression I had then. "I'm going to show this off to everyone."

    "When are the rest of your little enclave going to sit their examinations?"

    "Ah…" I lower my badge. "The Blacks are on assignment outside of the US, Ghia'ta isn't active as a superhero -though I'll.. certainly send her your way if she gets interested-, Miss Shimmer is training as a thaumaturgist and has no interest in combat or criminal investigation, Lynne's clearly too young and Mister Tawny isn't on Earth at the moment. But again, I'll be sure to send him your way once he gets back."

    "And the Gothic Flash?"

    I sit back. "Do you..? Really… Want her formally on your books?"

    "I'm aware of what you had her do in the Sudan."

    "Technically I didn't order her to do that. Not that I have a problem with it, compared to the reasonably probable alternatives. But if what she is doing-."

    "'Is'?"

    "You don't want the various factions to rearm, do you? If it became more widely known, and people saw that she had a licence from you… I mean, obviously we know that it's not an endorsement or a sign that she's acting on America's behalf, but it may be more convenient for you to not have anything written down that says otherwise."

    "And what did General Lane say about that?"

    "He hasn't said.. anything..? I'm not sure if that's because he genuinely doesn't know, or if he's officially not knowing."

    Director Armstrong thinks for a moment. "Do you intend to use her in your State-side operations?"

    "Probably, yes."

    "Then she can sit her test anonymously. I can sign the paperwork and you can be her supervisor. No one else has to know."

    I nod. "Alright, I'll talk to her about it next time I see her."

    A slight frown. "She's not waiting for you right now?"

    I shake my head. "No. With major combat operations in Vega finished, I encouraged her to pay some attention to her secret identity."

    Aside from the social aspect, maintaining a cover identity has obvious advantages for her. While I obviously pay her for the work she does for me, it might also help to have a source of income she can actually talk about outside the mountain. Actual pay for entry level models is crap, but unless a lot of people compare notes that won't matter much. A bit sad that I can't be there in person to support her, but Miss Shimmer said that she'd go in my place.

    Friend number two!

    I pull some paperwork out of the pack. "What's this?"

    "Pension and insurance forms."

    And I don't age or need to use other people's hospitals. Ah, it's probably a standard package. I nod. "It's never too soon to start saving."

    "And your performance targets."

    Oh, of course. I just manage to stop myself laughing. "For..?"

    "Rifle, Colorado."

    "I will make myself the scourge of villainy in the Route Six / County Road Two Two Three area." Actually, I'll have the G-Elves do it. This is clearly another paperwork thing; it doesn't actually require my personal attention. "I already have weekly meetings with Chief Klein, so really this will just be a formalisation of existing arrangements." She nods. "Anything else?"

    "Luthor."

    I purse my lips. "Luthor."

    "Have you spoken to him?"

    "Yes, that was one of the first things I did after returning. He's chafing nicely under the restrictions he's operating under."

    "And you didn't happen to find anything that would warrant us taking further action?"

    "He's got a painting by Adolf Hitler in his apartment?"

    "He's-? No, that's not a crime, even if it does make him look like a supervillain. Anything else?"

    "He's trying to acquire legitimate companies owned by his late colleagues while their hands are off the tiller. That might technically be insider trading, but it's… So close to legitimate commercial activity…"

    "No smoking gun?"

    "I'm afraid not."

    She nods. "Keep watching him, just in case. I know the President wants him left alive if at all possible, but catching him out would be a big boost to the reputation of the DMA."

    "I will be certain to do that, Director Armstrong."
     
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  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd September
    15:15 GMT +2


    How hard is it to find an enchanted island inhabited by an ancient demigoddess-sorceress who doesn't want it to be found?

    Not all that hard at all when you've got goggles like mine.

    Diana only came here once, and since she teleported both in and out she couldn't give me directions. I tried a couple of sources to narrow my search a little, but it seems that scholars have guessed that it might be located in all sorts of places over the years. More frustrating is the fact that while the Odyssey says that she comes from Colchis, for the Greeks that was the equivalent of an English person saying she came from Timbuktu. It's not a literal description -or at least it doesn't have to be-, it just means 'from a very long way away'. Plus the Classical Romans just loved stealing Greek stuff.

    On the other hand, Diana definitely described the palace on the island as being in the Hellenic style. And myths have a surprisingly high correlation with reality around here. So I started with a sweep of the Black Sea and then made my way south east along the Bosphorus into the Sea of Marmara until I encountered an island that I could see with my goggles but not without them.

    The goggles, they do something.

    Out of respect to the woman I'm hoping to see and in the hope that she'll view my presence here as slightly less of an invasion, I open my boom tube well out to sea and start flying towards Aeaea at a speed that will give Circe plenty of time to decide whether to tolerate my presence or not. And whether or not an attack by her beastmen is required.

    Flying Monkeys are a distinct possibility here.

    No, no, she wouldn't send flying monkeys. She probably hasn't even heard of The Wizard of Oz. Or has she? I mean, Diana managed to modernise herself twice, once moving from the Classical Greek Themyscira to nineteen forties America, and then from Themyscira to noughties America. And there's been basically nothing to stop her teleporting to wherever she wants since the late Mister Nelson stopped wearing the Helmet of Fate. She might not even be in.

    Guess I'll… Leave a note then?

    Based on what I can see of the buildings on the island, Circe has gone for an almost exploded view for her palace. There isn't a single continuous structure but rather a dock which is physically separated from what looks like a stable, which again is some distance from what I'm going to assume are the servants' quarters. Or possibly peasants' quarters, given that I can see nearby farmland. Even the palace parts are separated into a tower and two halls, though I suppose that those might have assigned functions which are not immediately obvious. The Mistress of the Manor might not be home herself, but there's definite activity in the fields and around the docks. I-. Ah, those are crab-form beastmen. I was curious as to how they fished without drawing unwanted attention. I wonder if the spells bear any resemblance to those the Atlanteans use?
    Resist.
    I get a slight bleugh sensation as I pass through the wards, but once I'm inside nothing else happens. I think that some of the crabs might be looking my way… Hard to tell. Circe herself doesn't deign to show herself as I touch down on the beach. So… Either she doesn't have a problem with me being here but expects me to present myself to her, or I'm about to-.

    The javelin embeds itself in the sand about a metre from my position. I look up towards the tree line… And a motley collection of beastmen glares back at me. I see a Lion-person and a Centaur, along with a small mob of Boar-people. Kilts and straps appear to be the dress code, though given the weather and fact that they're covered in fur I suppose that expecting shirts and ties would have been a long shot. As I watch, the Lion grunts something at the Centaur, who turns and runs away from the mob in the general direction of the palace.

    I take a few steps forward and bend down, picking up the javelin in my right hand and lifting it up toward the watching beastmen.

    "Lads, do you really want to do this?"

    The Lion bares his teeth and his claws while the Boars draw their swords.

    Sigh.

    I stab the javelin back into the sand and-.

    [​IMG]

    Yeah, okay. My daiklave would probably be overkill here. Diana said that Circe's beastmen have enhanced strength, not super strength. I could kill them all pretty easily, but there's really no point. And some of them might still have family…

    Ugh. I generate a construct tower shield and cudgel and advance up the incline as they charge down towards me. The Lion takes the lead, not even looking back in his eagerness to reach me. The Boars are a little more rational about it, keeping abreast of each other and carefully watching me as they advance. No shields, I note. Not that it would help, but that does imply that they were assigned to some other duty.

    The Lion comes at me at full sprint, probably intending to bowl me over and claw at me on the ground. I brace and crouch slightly as he slams into my shield, his momentum and my immovability causing him to flatten against it. I lurch forward and then stop, causing him to stagger back into striking range. I stab the head of my cudgel forward, striking him in the diaphragm. Because I'm super strong rather than just being a big bloke the result of my stab is him flying backward and collapsing gasping to the ground.

    "Stay down, Lion man."

    "I-i-i-in-." His gasps for breath cover up anything coherent he might have been saying as I walk carefully around him and towards the approaching Boar line.

    "I'll say again, fellahs. I'm here to see Circe and I come in peace. I don't want to fight you, but you're not going to enjoy what happens if you force the issue."

    One on the left of the line looks dubiously at his fellows for a moment, but then shakes his head and raises his sword. Looks like they're more afraid of disappointing their domitor than they are of fighting me.

    But the main thing is, they're afraid.

    I walk patiently towards the centre of their line and they gratefully accept the opportunity to move to surround me. I sigh faintly, then leap backwards, blindly swinging my construct cudgel around as I do so.

    "ORRREEEAAAGH!"

    The first Boarman I hit has his upper right arm and several of his right ribs smashed, sending him tumbling down the beach towards the sea. My swing continues as his neighbour attempts to backpedal, making it just far enough to save his arm but not his chest. Ribs crack and he's sent flying as I turn toward the rest. One eager fellow is hot on my heels and I repeat what I did to the Lion, letting him run into my shield. He didn't quite give the charge his all and maintains the wherewithal to brace himself against it and stab around it with his sword.

    We have a brief moment of eye contact when his discovers that his arm isn't long enough to reach me. Then I tug my shield left to intercept another charging Boar, causing him to spin around until he's facing me again. As we line up I bring my forehead forwards with a smash, knocking him stunned to the ground.

    Then they're all piling on me and it isn't worth keeping precise tabs on who is where. Steel swords predictably fail to pierce my armour or skin as I yank my arms left and right, slamming Boar into Boar and taking smashes of opportunity with my cudgel. Rendering them too injured to fight back takes a little over a minute. Another minute to scan them to make sure that they aren't imminently going to expire-

    Your humanitarian credentials are impeccable, Corpsman.

    -and I stride back toward the fallen Lion. He's managing to sit upright, but the fight still seems to be knocked out of him.

    "What was that in aid of?"

    "You... Invader! Mistress's land-."

    "I came here because I want to talk to her, not brawl with her." I generate a construct harness and use it to drag him to his feet. "Now take me to her. We have things to discuss."
     
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  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd September
    15:27 GMT +2


    One leisurely stroll later -with just enough tugging on the leash by me to remind the Lion who's in charge and just enough resistance from him to remind me that he's a thinking creature with opinions of his own- and we arrive at a grand-looking stone structure. The pillars and general shape of the roof say 'ancient Greek' to me, but I'm hardly an expert in architecture. A handful of Mulemen are tending the gardens, but they limit themselves to one nervous look in my direction before bending themselves to their tasks once more. The pathway leading up to the palace proper -or should that be manor?- is lined with statues, alternately bronze-cast and stone carved. Not of the gods, but beyond that I couldn't say.

    The whole place actually looks pretty nice. I suppose that if you've got near-infinite time and resources then you aren't going to live in a sty, but I was a little worried that she's have gone for the full 'dark sorceress with skulls on spikes' style. This is classy. And more importantly, suggests that she's capable of being rational over a prolonged period of time.

    "Mistress is inside."

    I nod without looking at him. "Are you banned from going inside?"

    He grunts. "No."

    "Glad to hear it." I use the tether to shove him forwards, then let the construct evaporate as he staggers up the steps leading into the palace. "After you."

    His head turns, letting him glower at me with one eye for a moment. Then he shakes his head slightly and stalks up the steps into the portico. I follow on behind him, utterly unhurried. It's important to seem at ease; Circe doesn't know me and might do something regrettable if she senses weakness. The stone.. doesn't look enchanted, or at least not exceptionally. Probably just a little something to make the stone more resilient to erosion, or perhaps to regenerate over time. Yes, that's more likely. Given the era and the lack of other magic users at her level to study with I imagine that she'd find elementalism easier than anything truly original. A shame that she grew up in this part of the world; if she'd been born in Atlantis she could have been another Ahri'ahn.

    Ah well.

    No glass, I note as I step from the sunlit portico into the entry chamber. The Ancient Greeks had glass, but not of a quality that it would have been practical to use in windows. And it looks like she hasn't bothered to modernise…

    I stop, looking around. Ambient lighting with no opening other than the doorway. It should be dingy in here, but instead it only appears shaded. I suppose that I shouldn't have expected her not to have some work-around for the problem of darkness.

    The illumination allows me to more easily see the painted borders around the top and bottom of the walls, and the frescos painted between them. One wall is covered by a depiction of a garden party. A cheerful scene, until I realise a moment later that every participant save one has some minor animal characteristic somewhere on their person. Teeth, ears, a tail… It adds a strange and disconcerting air to the image. The one person shown to be physically perfect is Circe herself, reclining on a couch in a gazebo and being fed grapes by a king with cloven feet.

    Another wall shows a mountain, tiny figures that might be people or rocks or smudges barely visible against the grandeur of the rock formation and the landscape surrounding it. A third wall appears to show a battle, but rather than the neat ranks that Greek infantry were famous for it depicts men striking one another without rhyme or reason. A fourth wall shows a goddess -Circe herself, with a few added indicators of divinity- walking through a city inhabited by unaltered animals who offer her tribute as she passes.

    Puzzling. I wonder who painted these?

    The Lion has already gone ahead, but I take a moment to look over the pictures for things I've missed. No sign of Diana and I don't.. think that any of her old cronies are shown either. I wouldn't necessarily spot any really old cronies, but there aren't any from her original fights with Diana in the forties and fifties. Or any modern ones. Circe playing up her power is hardly surprising, and the animal motifs..? How she views people?

    Sadly, it turns out that I'm not Grand Admiral Thawn.

    Oh well, conversation it is then. I turn away from the artworks and slowly walk through the doorway to the next chamber.

    "Greetings, stranger."

    Circe herself is lounging on a large throne set into the centre of the far wall. The throne is wood with fabric-covered panels and cushions, while the surrounding dais is artfully carved stone. It looks like a single piece. Was it brought here? Did they build the palace around it? Or did she create it with magic?

    The rest of the room is richly decorated in a tasteful way. There are shelves upon which set impressively bound tomes as well as racks for scrolls. There are stands and display cases for ancient or valuable artefacts -some of those do have glass fronts. There is a area with seating and a table arranged before a beautifully upholstered chaise lounge. The walls are less intricately decorated here than the ones outside were: a simply decorative pattern so as not to distract from the treasure trove which the mistress of the place has chosen to display for her guests.

    The Lion man is already abasing himself in front of the lowest step when I take in the sorceress herself. She can alter her appearance to more or less whatever she wants; illusion sometimes, genuine shapeshifting at others. At the moment she's choosing to appear as a tall, pale skinned and dark haired woman. Her dress -which looks like it could fall off with one careless motion- is peach in colour and artfully draped to not only enhance her own beauty but to pleasantly contrast with the colour and texture of the wood and stone around her. Her feet are bare, while her hair is elegantly draped around her shoulders.

    All this for me? I'm touched.

    I proceed across the floor until I'm only a few metres behind the Lion. Then I bow.

    "Forgive me for not addressing you by title, but I am uncertain as to how you style yourself."

    "I've long since outgrown the need for titles. Please address me as Circe. And you are Grayven, I believe."

    I straighten up. "My reputation precedes me."

    "You fought a Lord of Chaos and emerged victorious. I would be a poor sorceress not to be aware of the man who achieved such a feat of arms."

    "Two Lords of Chaos." I smile. "But who's counting?"

    She raises her eyebrows slightly. Polite enquiry rather than genuine surprise. "Really?"

    "Mordru proved to be no more capable of seeing reason than his erstwhile colleague."

    She leans back slightly. "It seems that they were less immortal than I had been led to believe."

    "I don't believe that there's any such thing as absolute immortality."

    The tiniest flicker, gone before I can learn anything from it. "You may well be right. Tell me, Grayven; what brings you to my home?"

    "You, naturally. To the best of my knowledge you are the Earth's greatest living practitioner of magic. I am.. seeking to put together a coterie of talented individuals. Naturally, your name came to mind immediately."

    "Hah!" She tilts her head back, her eyes leaving me for the first time since I entered the room. Her amusement seems genuine. "It's been some time since anyone tried to interest me in something like that." She shifts position, leaning a little closer as she returns her attention to me. "Do you seek to conquer the Earth, Grayven?"

    "No, Circe. The nature of Earth society is such that it could not be conquered by people like us without depriving it of the very things that make it worth conquering. I was thinking of.. a… Looser alliance, each of us pursuing our own interests while cooperating with one another where such a thing could be profitably done in concert. Coordinating our efforts, rather than working on a single task and getting in one another's way."

    "I see. And what is it that I would get out of this alliance?"

    "That rather depends, O Circe, on what it is that you want."
     
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  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd September
    15:41 GMT +2


    Circe lounges languidly on the chaise longue while I maintain a more upright position in the solidly-built chair opposite her. Impressive work; it doesn't look like anything special but it manages to bear my weight without complaint. I must get the name of her…

    What's the word for someone who makes chairs?

    Chairbler.

    Right, thanks. A man who looks like he's now part Goose places two amphorae -one of wine and another of water- on the table between us with two clay cups.

    "One quarter."

    Circe doesn't look at her servant as she gives the order, and he in turn doesn't look at her as he pours a mix of one part wine to three parts water into the cups before standing and backing away. Once he's far enough away that she no longer considers him to be intruding, she reaches out and picks up her cup. I'm underselling it there, it's a beautifully decorated piece and its presence probably means that I'm being treated as an honoured guest. I mirror her action, picking up my own cup and raising it slightly to her in a silent toast. That earns me a small smile as she raises hers to her lips to drink. I do the same. It tastes… Like wine, only weaker. It's probably an excellent wine but I'm afraid that it's rather wasted on someone like me.

    A slight motion of her left hand and the floor extrudes a tendril of stone for her within convenient arm's reach for her to set her cup upon. "I'm puzzled by your enquiry."

    I lower my cup. "It's a straightforward enough question. The better I understand what it is that you want to get out of a working relationship, the better able I am to arrange things to ensure that happens." I wiggle the cup around slightly in my right hand. "I realise.. that… For people like us, a request for that sort of personal information from someone you barely know… Sets off all sorts of alarms. I assume that this room is warded?"

    "Naturally."

    "Then let me go first. I seek allies because at some point -not soon, probably not for years- I'm going to have to fight my father. He's the Apokoliptian God of Tyranny and he's every bit as powerful as his name implies. A little over two months ago he rendered me catatonic for two weeks simply by speaking two words to me. I need to become stronger, to have access to better weapons, technologies, magics… So, I need Earth and its people to become stronger, and that is what I am trying to arrange. Admiration?" I shake my head. "I don't need it. Direct control over others?" I shrug. "As long as I can get the things I want I don't much care what else is happening. But what is it that you want? Legions of admirers? Wealth? Political power?"

    She smiles. "Those are pleasant enough."

    "Then we'll see about ensuring that you get them. But what do you want most of all?"

    "Are those not enough?"

    "I was a student of Princess Diana's."

    "Oh please." She looks away, rolling her eyes. "I don't obsess over the girl."

    "No, I…" I shake my head again and put my cup down on the table. "I mean to say that I've read her mission reports. Including the ones concerning your earliest confrontations. I… Believe that there was mention of a prophecy..?"

    Circe's smile fades slightly and her eyes harden. This is the point at which things could go badly wrong, depending on how much umbrage she decides to take. "What do you know?"

    "I know little. Supposedly, Hecate gave you… At least a portion of your powers, with the proviso that under certain conditions they would be revoked. I understand that you came to believe that Diana might be capable of fulfilling-."

    "Her and… Thousands of others over the centuries." Her face tightens and she snatches up her cup, taking a drink. "Do you have any inkling as to why I made that accursed pact in the first place?"

    "I'm well aware of the allure of power. Particularly power as.. immediate as the arcane variety."

    "Hah!" There's no humour in her pronouncement as she downs the rest of her cup before returning it to its pedestal with a degree of force. "I had wondered if you might know the truth of it, given how you boasted of slaying two Lords of Chaos."

    "In point of fact, I only killed one myself. One of my allies killed the other while I served as a distraction."

    She looks at me with piercing curiosity, trying to decipher my expression for any trace of deceit. After a moment or two she relaxes slightly, perhaps finding in my favour. "When I was a young woman, recently inducted in the mysteries of Hecate's cult, I met a third. You most likely saw a painting of him outside; close-cropped curly blonde hair, heroically proportioned chest, cloven feet?" The grape-feeder. I nod. "My skill with magic was slight, but my beauty was enough to draw the eye of a being who styled himself as Oggar, the Earth's Mightiest Immortal."

    I nod. "I think I've heard of him. Didn't he used to work with Shazam?"

    Circe nods. "Yes. He tried to impress me with his magical feats, and failed utterly. Seeing what power magic could bring, all I could think was that one day such power would be mine though my own efforts. Finally, he offered me a gift to prove his power beyond doubt. I knew that the leaders of Hecate's cult were strong in magic, but bowed and wizened of body. Why not have the best of all things? So I asked for immortality. He waved his arms, claimed to have given it to me and asked me to reconsider. I refused again." She shrugs. "I was immortal. What was he going to do?"

    "I think I see where this is going."

    "Do you know what a woman looks like at two hundred years of age? Three hundred? One who knows of no magic by which she may rejuvenate herself? How swollen and arthritic her joints, how dull her eyes, how clouded her mind, how racked with pain and confusion her every moment?"

    "No. But I can imagine."

    "I begged Hecate for relief, even death. And for her own reasons, she-" Circe indicates her body with a wave of her right hand. "-gave me this. A portion of her own soul for power, arcane knowledge far in advance of any other in Greece… Divinity."

    "Generous of her."

    "And the certain knowledge that at any moment it could all be snatched away in an instant with no warning. Have you heard the phrase 'those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad'?" I nod. "It worked. Homer thought that I was exiled here. I wasn't. How could a mere king exile me? I simply grew too paranoid to stand other people."

    I glance aside. "Apart from..?"

    She follows my eyes to the Gooseman. "Oh, they're hardly 'people'. Why do you think I change them?"

    "Okay." I sit back, looking thoughtful. "And that's why you picked fights with Diana?"

    "Yes." Her eyes move off me for a moment. "Mostly."

    I wave the qualifier off. "Don't worry, I know how it goes." Sounds simple enough to fix. Rejuvenation I can do. Though… "Can you choose to end your pact with Hecate yourself?"

    She frowns. "Probably. Yes. But why would I? I have no more desire to become a feeble undying cripple now than I did thousands of years ago."

    "You fear this outcome? You fear it greatly?"

    "Yes."

    I raise my left hand slightly, displaying the Sinestro ring's sigil. "This is a power ring. Its energies are strengthened by fear. If you could undo your pact, I believe that I could use it to restore your youth. Not permanently, you would begin to age again-."

    "You could restore a woman thousands of years old to youth? You'll forgive me if I'm sceptical."

    "This ring isn't magic, it's technological. Ontological inertia has no effect. Altering your current divinity-infused form is.. awkward. But were you to reassume the form of a mortal woman, it becomes feasible."

    "And my power?"

    "That power you derive from Hecate would be gone. However-" I tap Mother Box. "-it is within my power to alter the structures of your soul to allow for unlimited growth. I have tested the method, and it works quite well. You would be able to attain godhood through your own labours somewhat more easily than most mortal mages, though clearly you would be weaker in the interim. The important thing-" I lean forwards. "-is that you would no longer be beholden to the prophecy." "Grasp the power that lies before you!"

    "That…" Her eyes flick down as she considers the offer. "Would be a great boon. And in return you would want my participation in your.. group?"

    "No. A little of your time today, a few minor pieces of arcane assistance, and for you to hear my full spiel when all of those I wish to invite are assembled. I have no desire to trap you in a compact that no longer suits you."

    "And if I say no?"

    "That of course remains your prerogative. The offer would stay open indefinitely. A 'no' now could become a 'yes' later, once you have more information. While a fit of childish pique from me could alienate you permanently, which is contrary to my interests."

    "I.. am.. interested. But putting myself into your power and trusting to your good intentions-."

    "I gain nothing from harming you."

    "I think…" She looks pensive for a moment, then reaches a firm decision. "I will accompany you and agree to help you in small ways, while I gain a better understanding of your character. Then, perhaps, I will accept your aid."

    I smile. "That, Circe, suits me perfectly." I rise to my feet and extend my right hand to her. "Shall we?"
     
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  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd September
    09:01 GMT -5


    "Did you know that this is the only place in the United States where it's legal to produce, buy and sell proper absinthe?"

    Circe looks around as we promenade along the tree-lined avenues of the curiously named Rainbow Gardens Park, just off Pyle Avenue in Opal City, Maryland. She actually condescended to link arms-. Or rather -given the size disparity between us- lay her left hand on my right arm. She seems interested but not stunned in the way those Amazons introduced to modern technology tend to look. She's even altered her dress to something a little more modern, though she left the general cut and colour the same. I had thought that she'd want something a little more 'queenly' while engaged on a professional occasion, but perhaps something that serves to draw attention away from her face is better for a known supervillain. As it is, we're drawing looks from morning joggers and they're not all being directed at me.

    "I never developed a taste for it. For those acts of magic that are aided by hallucinogens, there are far better options." She looks up at me as I lower the guidebook. "Why are we here?"

    "Have you ever met a man made of shadows?"

    She frowns. "Yes, several times. I've even created one or two. Why do you ask?"

    I nod at the figure sat on the bench in front of us as he throws breadcrumbs to a crowd of Pigeons that don't dare to approach within two metres of him. He's wearing an unseasonable black greatcoat and a black top hat, with some sort of white.. demi-doily thing hanging from his neck providing the only real break from the sheer tone of his clothing. He's also wearing dark glasses, and there's a black cane with a silver handle propped up against the side of his bench.

    Despite the morning sun, the ground around him is noticeably darker than the rest of the path.

    Circe stops dead. "What is he?"

    I smile faintly. "No one really knows. Though he is at least a century old. I'm a little surprised that you haven't run into him before, actually. He was fighting The Flash while you were fighting Wonder Woman in the fifties..?"

    "I don't-." She cuts herself off, frowning. "The Shade? I had heard of him, but I thought that he was a dilettante, a minor practitioner at best. Not… That."

    "He isn't under a curse. He picked fights with superheroes to keep himself amused."

    "He isn't touching his cane."

    "He's never needed to before. Why would he start now?"

    She hesitates for a moment. "I feel… That I may have missed something rather important."

    Mister Swift shakes the last few crumbs out of his bag and then rises, the black edges of his clothing seeming to flow and stick to the bench like a gelatinous liquid for a moment before returning to normalcy. His cane doesn't even pretend, a clearly visible black solid lifting it from where it lays and holding it out to him. The Pigeons back the heck off, one or two of the braver members of the flock darting around behind in order to get at the remaining bread without having to go anywhere near the man-shaped abomination.

    He looks around, and his gaze alights on the two of us. He doesn't smile, but he does look… Interested. He takes a few steps in our direction and raises the head of his cane to tip his hat. "Mister Grayven."

    I nod politely back. "Mister Swift."

    "And…" The skin around the edge of his glasses pinches slightly. "Miss Circe. A queer couple, to be certain, but not so strange as some this city has seen."

    Circe's eyes glow faintly as she studies him. "Shade."

    "Might I enquire as to what it is that brings you to my fair city? I don't believe that I'm aware of anyone who needs to suddenly find themselves encephally challenged." He glances down at my brochure. "Simple tourism? I could recommend a location or two, if you're interested."

    "Actually, I… Wanted to talk to you."

    He holds out his hands slightly, palms upwards while his cane remains upright. "And here we are. Do you have some particular topic in mind, or should I simply point out the sheer number of warrants Madam Circe has outstanding in the United States?"

    "I wanted to ask you about Mister Simon Culp." A flicker of something passes over his face. "I understand that you knew the man?"

    "To my regret, yes. What did you want to know?"

    "I was thinking about tracking him down. Do you remember the last time you saw him?"

    He hesitates, then shakes his head. "The Roaring Twenties, I think. Some… Scam or other he was running. I can't imagine why you'd want to talk to him-." Circe pulls her head back slightly. "Is something amiss?"

    She turns her head towards me and frees her hands. "You knew."

    "Naturally. Did you think I'd do something like this without being certain?"

    Tenebrous strands of oily black rise from the ground around Mister Swift. "Look, I think I've been quite gracious considering who you are, but I don't appreciate-."

    "Mister Swift, I understand that you've taken it upon yourself to take over Mister Knight's role as the city's 'superhero in residence' since his retirement?"

    "I… Yes? Look, is this about that DMA training scheme thing? I already informed their representatives that I have no interest in taking part."

    "And if you had to summarise Mister Culp in a few words..?"

    "A.. savage thug with delusions of civility? A blight upon the life of all who knew him and myself in particular? What possible interest is a long-disappeared criminal to-?"

    Circe yanks, eldritch purple fire briefly enveloping Mister Swift and incinerating his shadow constructs. His cane falls to the ground and he staggers back, the flames concentrate themselves at his chest, his whole body highlighted and looking increasingly less like a man and more like a man-shaped shadow. His glasses melt, his eyes stare widely in horror-.

    And then a white-haired dwarf precipitates out of his chest, stumbling on the pavement and then falling onto his hands and knees.

    Circe waves her hands to the side, flames dying as she does so. "That was novel. I assume that was what you intended?"

    I smile and raise my right hand at the fallen Mister Culp. "Like you read my mind."

    "Decades of work!" He turns his head to glare at me. "Ruined." He raises his right hand. "But I can begin…" His eyes widen. "I can begin-!" He looks at his right hand in horror. "What did you do to me, bitch!?"

    "Hah!" Circe smiles. "With the two of you bonded like that, it was a simple enough matter to ensure that your shadow-control abilities remained behind." She affects a look of mild affront. "I am a goddess, after all."

    "No…"

    She turns to me, not even bothering to keep watching him. "Does anyone actually want him, or should we just leave him here?"

    I nod. "A little tricky under American law. But possession is a crime, and I'm certain that-"

    "Hahaah!"

    "- we could…"

    "Hahhahhahhah!"

    We turn back to where Mister Swift is lying on his back, top hat and shades having fallen from his head.

    He's grinning like a lunatic.

    "Hahhahhahhah!"

    Um. What?
     
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  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd September
    09:06 GMT -5


    Mister Swift manages -with some effort- to push himself into a sitting position, all the while grinning like a loon. He's recovered his glasses and they dangle loosely from his left hand while he wipes his eyes with his right.

    "Oh, my word. Hahaha-. No, no, mustn't start again."

    He makes a sort of choking-gulping noise, ducking his head slightly to avoid seeing anything that might set him off.

    Circe gives me a puzzled look. "Was that supposed to happen?"

    No. "I was about to ask you that."

    She gives her head a small shake. "I was quite careful to merely extract the dwarf. I felt nothing which suggested-."

    "There some kinda problem here?"

    A dishevelled man dressed and coiffed like a detective from a seventies television-. Sinestro, who is-?

    Detective Sergeant Matthew O'Dare, Corpsman.

    "Matthew! Matthew!" Mister Swift scrambles to his feet and with an unsteady gait walks towards the man. "Wonderful news!"

    "Oh yeah?" Detective O'Dare takes a moment to size me up, his eyes moving briefly over Circe and Mister Culp before returning to Mister Swift. "What's that then?"

    "I don't know!" Mister Swift lays both his hands on Detective O'Dare's shoulders. "But it's really good!"

    "O-kay. Dickie, if you were anyone else I'd ask if you'd been drinkin'."

    "No! No. No no. Quite… Quite the opposite. It's like a veil has been lifted from my temperament and I can finally see the world for the wonder it is!" Mister Swift steps back, arms falling loosely to his sides as he stares upwards at the skyscrapers around us.

    Aah. That might-.

    Detective O'Dare glares at me. "Did you do somethin' to him? And who's the midget?"

    I half-turn to where Mister Culp is sprinting across the park, then grab him with a construct glove and pull him back. "This is Simon Culp. He was possessing Mister Swift, and may have been influencing his actions for some time."

    "And you know that how?"

    "I'm a god. When someone's motives aren't their own-" I take my goggles out of subspace and tap them with my left hand. "-they don't look the same."

    "But of course." Circe nods to herself with a minor huff of irritation. "It's obvious. So many mortal supervillains waste excessive amounts of time in revenging themselves on their foes. The way they were interfaced would only allow him to take control some of the time, but if he were prepared to reduce that then he would be able to exert constant influence."

    Mister Swift's cane shoots after him on a wave of shadow sludge as he strides towards Pyle Avenue. He spins as he catches it, his greatcoat morphing into a tailcoat as he does so. "I love to laugh! Loud and long and cleeeeeeear!"

    I watch him go. "So rather than use Mister Swift's godlike power for something productive, Mister Culp focused on making him feel miserable instead. Which he is now not feeling, perhaps for the first time since the Second World War."

    "And I'd've gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for you and your stupid bitch-whore girlfriend!"

    Violet lights dance around Circe's right hand as she turns to where Mister Culp hangs in the air from my construct. "What a curious idea. I've never made a Slug-man before."

    I gently push her hand down. "Why.. don't.. we just hand this grubby little miscreant over to the lawful authorities." I raise my eyebrows at Detective O'Dare. "I'm reasonably confident that possession is illegal in Maryland?"

    "Not specifically, but controlling someone by the use of super powers is." He takes a pair of handcuffs off his belt and approaches Mister Culp, who-. My goodness, who curses him in no uncertain terms. "Mister Culp, you're under arrest. Grayven, I don't know exactly what's going on here, but I don't think Dickie should be wandering around on his own."

    I lean to the side and watch Mister Swift as he prances up to a flower stand and grabs a bucket of roses. "No problem. We'll keep an eye on him."

    "Be sure you do. Dickie's got a lot of friends 'round these parts." I drop Mister Culp at his feet and the Detective gives the man his full attention. "Mister Culp. You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. Do you understand?"

    "…monkey-sodomising pederast!" Mister Culp focuses his ire on the Detective. "And you!"

    "Do you understand!"

    "I will shove my hand into your throat and pull out your still beating heart!"

    "I'm gunna take that as a 'yes'. Second part: anything you do say may…"

    Circe and I proceed in the direction of Pyle Avenue ourselves. "Where is he going?"

    "Not sure." I watch him step into an alley and disappear into the shadows. Ring?

    Subject 'Richard Swift' has appeared in 'Opal Gem', a jewellery shop in Fattata Plaza.

    Okay, I'm going to say 'hush tube' this time, because this is getting str-.

    Subject 'Richard Swift' has appeared in the Central Precinct of the Opal City Police Department.

    Huh. I wonder why-? And Circe's gone. Talking to your power ring in your head is not a free action. Ring-.

    I'm trying not to feel ignored, Corpsman.

    Oh. Sorry. Hush tube to where he is.

    Certainly, Corpsman.

    The tube opens in front of me and I pass through at an amble.

    "…darling, the light of my life!"

    Mister Swift is kneeling at the front of a briefing room full of police officers, the bewildered officer giving the day's assignments warding off a shadow hand which keeps trying to thrust the flowers he purchased into her chest. I think she's blushing slightly.

    "I would like it very much if you would agree to marry me."

    He opens the ring box and looks up at her longingly.

    "Richard, are you drunk?"

    There's a collective groan from the watching police officers.

    "Never more sober or sane. At least not for the past seventy years. I am in fact completely serious."

    She goldfishes for a moment, then looks at the smiling police officers, then at me and… Circe disguised herself as an officer.

    "Right, EVERYONE OUT!"
     
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  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd September
    09:18 GMT -5


    "…thought you were doing bursting into the briefing room like that!?"

    Mister Swift glances mournfully at his ring case. "I thought I was fairly clear. I love-."

    "Stop!" Captain O'Dare holds up her hands, palms facing her over-amorous paramour. "Just… Stop. I'm-. We didn't-." She pulls herself together a little. "This wasn't supposed to-."

    I step out of the hush tube next to her. "Sorry to-"

    "Jesus!"

    "-barge in." I'm not. "Mister Swift?" He tears his eyes away from Captain O'Dare and I hand him a slip of paper. "If you're interested. I'll see myself out."

    "Ah. Thank you."

    A glare from the Captain. "Yes. Get out."

    I raise my right hand to an invisible hat brim, then step backwards through the hush tube and to a room adjacent to the briefing room which contains a remarkable number of police officers who are completely occupied with their work. The one with 'Circe' on her name tag stands up and walks over to me. "That was interesting. Where to next?"

    "Fawcett City Prison. The supermax unit." Sinestro.

    Interesting choice, Corpsman. Hush tube available.

    We link arms again as we walk through the hole in the air, appearing in the newly rebuilt part of the prison.

    2nd September
    08:19 GMT -6


    They had to do a good deal of work on the place after Ishmael Gregor attacked it to kill his literal predecessor. Our next candidate was transferred here because they could contain him using the same systems as were put in place for the late Mister Karnes. In the event that he ever becomes compos mentis again they can try him for his crimes against the city and its residents. In the mean time he can't hurt anyone if he thrashes about.

    I lead Circe in the direction of his cell. She's smiling about.. something.

    "I trust that our sojourn to Opal City was acceptably interesting to you?"

    "Oh yes." She nods. "It's been a while since I've seen a man on that end of that conversation."

    Yes, because we're all deceitful libidinists. "He managed better than I did. My former girlfriend tried to stab me when I proposed to her."

    "Really?"

    I shrug. "It was a normal knife, so it wouldn't have hurt me physically."

    "What did you do to deserve that?"

    "I forgot to remind her that I always planned to betray our allies shortly before I did it. She'd convinced herself that I'd changed my mind." Actually… I should probably talk to her again. Just to be clear… Where we stand.

    "Was she fond of them?"

    "Maybe some. Only one of the inner circle. But an awful lot of people got killed, so it's rather hard for me to be sure if there was one death or other she was particularly perturbed by." Though quantity has a quality all of its own… "I think it was more me kicking out the foundations of her world that offended her. Ah! Here we are."

    I bring us to a halt outside a heavy titanium vault door. Through my Apokoliptian goggles I can clearly see the threads of Shazam's magic bound into the thing, though the really powerful stuff is focused on making sure that the outer pieces are never needed. If the occupant wakes up and starts hammering on this then it would only be a matter of time before he broke out. And the only thing that could prevent him escaping would be if the Marvels were alerted.

    Circe pulls her hand free as she reaches forward to touch the door. "Who-? No, I recognise this. Order magic. Nabu?"

    "Shazam."

    "Hm." She steps back. "Do you want to forcibly release whoever is inside? It seems somewhat contrary to your stated aims."

    "No." I take my identification paperwork out of subspace as the prison's governor approaches us down the corridor, along with a small entourage of riot-equipped prisoner guards. "I'm going to ask nicely."

    Glad to know that the DMA stuff I sat through yesterday was worth something. I was also quite impressed with how quickly this was set up. A quick reminder of exactly who it was that brought him down in the first place was all it took to arrange a meeting through entirely legitimate channels.

    The governor nods at me, but frowns at Circe. "DMA didn't say anything about two operatives coming in here."

    "My colleague is a civilian consultant. Given that the wizard Shazam is also technically a civilian consultant, I thought that there was an… Acceptance that skilful magic users were entirely too rare to fuss too much about their paperwork. In.. any case, I am empowered to bring along anyone I consider-."

    "Fine, whatever. What exactly are you planning to do with this bastard? He hasn't said a thing since they shoved him in there."

    "My understanding is that he has so far been ruled unfit to stand trial."

    "A technicality."

    "Actually, it isn't. I'm no soft touch, but I draw the line well before executing one man for another's crimes merely because they look similar."

    This appears to baffle him. "What? He's a look-alike?"

    "No." I point to the door. "Might we continue this inside? I'd like my companion to begin work as soon as possible."

    "No. Look, I… I respect you, I like what you've done for this country. But my sister, her husband and their three kids got killed by that bastard. So either you explain the whole thing to me or you can shove that Federal warrant up your ass." He folds his arms across his chest.

    "Okay. I can respect that. Briefly, then. A very long time ago the wizard Shazam empowered a mortal to act as his champion. Prince Teth Adam of Kandaq. They had a falling out and Shazam killed him, then bound his soul to his corpse so that he couldn't visit his gods in the afterlife and appeal the decision. About five years ago, a man named Theodore Adam visited his tomb, ritually murdered two archaeologists and bound Teth Adam's soul to a scarab pendant in order to hijack the power the wizard bestowed upon his former champion. He then rampaged on and off for the intervening period until finally being brought down in Louisiana by yours truly, something I achieved by destroying the pendant and so allowing Teth Adam to sabotage Theodore Adam's efforts."

    "So you know how to remove.. this.. Theodore Adam's power?"

    "Yes, in theory. However… In this case my preference here is to allow my colleague to ascertain the possibility of 'suppressing' him."

    "'Suppressing'? What'd'you mean?"

    "Locking him inside his own body and allowing the hero whose powers he stole to use his body instead."

    "Is that legal?"

    "Executing two people who share a body isn't. Leaving him as he is results in a constant risk of the wrong soul winning and killing more people. Imprisoning a serial killer in his own body is unusual, but doesn't result in much of a change from his current status of indefinite detention. Enabling a secondary personality to use the body during that time…" I shrug. "I don't believe that there's any relevant law on the subject. As someone directly affected, how would you feel about it?"

    He looks away from me as he considers the matter. "I don't think I'd believe it. I know.. weird stuff like that can happen, but… I saw the bodies."

    I nod. "Makes sense. How about if you observed what we're going to do directly?"
     
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