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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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    28th January
    13:20 GMT -5

    "Now hang-!"

    My rings flare, and the orange light burns through whatever arcane defences he had active so quickly that I barely feel the resistance. I'm not sure whether that's due to his defences being weak, his nature being so filled with avarice that he couldn't resist the orange light effectively or… My own ability. Orange light radiates from his forehead, then dims to the weakly glowing brand.

    His eyes roll upwards as he tries to see what I've just done, then he tries to raise his hands in order to feel it. But they're still trapped.

    "Orange Lantern?" I glance back at Robert, and he points downwards. "People are staring."

    I nod. "Thank you for pointing that out. This way."

    I fly myself and my captive west and upwards, bringing us out of easy visual distance of the road. The second to last thing I want to do is create a massive crash.

    Buzz gives up trying to see his own forehead. "What is this?"

    "Essentially, it makes it trivially easy for me to alter your desires. If I want to, I can totally reshape your personality."

    "Fuck me, you sure you're a superhero?"

    "Hero, villain, I'm the man with the ring. Now." I lean in a little closer. Though just for effect; I'm not stupid enough to get close enough for him to do anything. "You want to be open and honest with me-"

    He blinks. "Was that supposed to be a magic word or something? Because as a demon coming up to the end of his second millennium I gotta say, you need more pizzazz. Half of magic is-."

    "-regarding your recent criminal activity here in Virginia."

    "That's not exactly a short list, mate."

    "The Devil Jizz."

    He shakes his head. "Never touched the stuff. I was on Earth when my old boss got done in by the First-."

    "Your old boss being?"

    "Beelzebub. Miserable bastard that he was. Here, you didn't have anything to do with that, did you? No one I asked could give me the full story."

    "The First did.. something to him in retaliation for Satanus giving Sabbac the Sword of the Fallen. Satanus took advantage of his weakness to steal his power in a more permanent way. What did he have on you?"

    "He offered to help me assassinate Emperor Caligula and ensure my wife's safety in exchange for eternal servitude. Then that thing in Fawcett happened and the bond just vanished."

    "You couldn't disobey him in the intervening period?"

    "Basically, no." He tries to shrug. "I could creatively interpret, and he wasn't giving me orders every day, but when it came right down to it… He was the boss."

    And just like that, we can't convict him for anything before Fawcett. Mind control, which is a near-absolute defence even if the subject initially volunteered.

    "The Devil Jizz."

    "Answer hasn't changed, mate. I've been out of the loop since Beelzebub snuffed it. Don't even know how it's made. I mean, I can guess roughly what's in it, but I'm not part of the pipeline or nothin'."

    "Your cult."

    "Hah! Wouldn't call them a cult. Bunch of bravos and psychos. Not exactly hard to talk them into things."

    "What were you doing with them?"

    "Keeping me hand in. Passing time. Might a' done something with Linda… Then an angel dropped in me lap and I had to go for it. Didn’t really work out like I intended."

    "Why did you think that binding the two of them together would work out? A disempowered angel and a cultist?"

    "What? No, I didn't bind them together. How the hell would that work? No, I just killed Noriel and used her death to transfer her knowledge into Linda. I figured her knowledge of magic and that would be useful. Turn Lindy into a real asset." He exhales. "Turns out, million year old angel has a slightly stronger personality than a teenager could handle. Used another spell t' try an' keep them apart, but now that you've countered that they're probably really mixed up right now."

    Oh poop.

    "So what happened to Noriel?"

    "Body got burned up by the spell. Soul's probably gone back to the Silver City… Might have regained her memories, might not have done." He grins. "And I say 'probably', 'cause if she was down here, she's still be in the firing line for all that shit Excalibris got up to."

    "If Linda only got Noriel's memories, why was she physically changing shape?"

    "Dunno, really. Linda knew a little magic, Noriel knew a lot. Probably an instinctive thing. Wonder if they'll call themselves 'Lindel' or 'Nindel'..? No, 'Loriel', perfect." I narrow my eyes. "Like the shampoo."

    "What other crimes have you personally committed recently?"

    "Drugs, obviously. Resisting arrest. Maleficium."

    "Grooming?"

    "Doesn't bother me, but I think she was over sixteen when we started fucking. I mean, I'm two thousand years old, so-."

    "The age of consent in Virginia is eighteen."

    "Oh. Then yes. Kidnapping… Though the guy was a murderer. His mistress might not have been in on it."

    "Did you murder them?"

    "Nah. Got Linda to do it. Her parents took her to this one priest, see? Thought a growing girl might need moral guidance in this sinful age." He chuckles. "Only he was having an affair. Murdered his wife, played it for sympathy… Wasn't even that hard to prove it to Linda. Which helped out my whole 'morality is for the stupid' angle. Not exactly a tidy murder, but we've all got to start somewhere."

    And if he's telling the truth about overwriting her brain then we can't charge her either. I suppose that we can at least locate the bodies and close the investigation.

    "You can provide me with more details later, but-"

    "Happy to!"

    "-now I want to know where the Devil Jizz came from. You say you didn't supply it, but you must have been aware of it."

    "Of course I was. See, the reason I wanted to kill Caligula was 'cause he raped me wife. Only I couldn't come at him openly without getting killed meself. Made the deal with Big B, she was safe… But she decided that 'cause I couldn't protect her it was my fault, an' she stabbed me to death. Beelzebub sorted me out, said I'd have the chance to win her over…"

    "Because she'd go to Hell for murder. Not faithful to the gods of Rome, then?"

    "Might have been Beelzebub's doing. Whatever: with him out of the picture I figured I could summon her up meself. Only her opinion on me hasn't gotten any better, has it?"

    "Where is she now?"

    "I dunno. That brothel of hers, maybe? She somehow wrangled being turned into a succubus-."

    Oh dear.

    "Orange Lantern to Doctor Fate, we have a problem."



    "Doctor Fate?"
     
  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    28th January
    13:25 GMT -5

    "Orange Lantern to Aquagirl."



    Nothing. Damn it. Ring, show me.

    "Buzz, are you talking about Carol Bowen?"

    "Yeah, that's it. No idea why she picked it. Valeria's a lovely name."

    The image appears in my mind, Fort Pickett… More or less as it should be. I don't know exactly what the arrangements the camp commandant made for our occupation were, but nothing.. particularly strikes me as strange about the soldiers' placement. And we didn't study the metaphysiques of her staff in any detail because Triskele was the greater threat and preparing for her required our magician's full attention. They could be disguised succubae using Devil Jizz as a disguise, humans looking for demonhood…

    "Orange Lantern to team. We've captured and interrogated Buzz. He's admitted several crimes but says that the Devil Jizz was being produced by Carol Bowen, who he claims is a succubus. I am unable to contact Doctor Fate or Aquagirl. Aqualad, orders?"

    "What is the status of Fort Pickett?"

    "Doesn't look like anything is out of the ordinary. However, several demons have demonstrated ways to defy my scans."

    "Time is of the essence. Take Cornwall Boy and perform reconnaissance. Inform us when you know more."

    "Confirmed."

    I fly rapidly down, depositing Buzz as I reach ground level.

    "Cheers, mate. I'll be-."

    "You want to stay right here."

    "-staying right here." He looks around. "Never really took the time to smell the roses."

    I fly back up to Robert.

    "Ready?"

    He nods, and the sky flickers as we transition to fifty metres from the front entrance of the base. While I could have brought us to the middle, defensive wards work best with established boundaries and there are all sorts of things a two thousand year old succubus could have set up. Still not seeing anything odd.

    "Cornwall? Are you getting anything?"

    He drops to the ground, looking towards the entrance gate. "Someone's using magic over there, and some of it feels like demon." He sounds a little despondent. "I can't… Really…"

    Because he's not a thaumaturgist, and his great grandfather has mostly been teaching him how to use his abilities rather than teaching him magic theory. And I'm asking him for something a pure magician could do easily but which he can't.

    "Fine. Let's-."

    Rounds patter off my environmental shield and Robert blurs away from me as a volley pings off the road where he was standing a second before! The soldiers at the gateway are kneeling and firing at us. Good accuracy, but they're only using mundane automatic rifles.

    "Soldiers attacking us."

    I generate construct armour and fly at them, Robert following me a heartbeat later. The soldiers recognise that their shots are doing nothing to me and switch to him, but all that happens as their rounds hit home is that a thin film of metal begins to spread across his chest. Ward Against Metal is a remarkably useful spell in the modern era.

    One bright spark has the idea of throwing a grenade our way, so I catch it and defuse it before it can risk hurting them. Honestly, that suggests to me that whatever enchantment is directing them has done a number on their combat skills. In an open environment the fragments the grenade throws out strike with less force than a volley from a rifle. I stop just before them, construct filaments flashing out and stunning them, taking hold of them as they fall and depositing them safely on the ground.

    "Cornwall, can you confirm that they're under demonic influence?"

    More shots strike my construct armour, and I raise a construct barrier to prevent deflections and near-misses hitting the soldiers on the ground.

    Robert kneels and puts his hands on a soldier's head. "Yes, definitely demon."

    "Orange Lantern to Angelica. Demonic incursion in progress in Virginia. Are you anywhere near a zeta tube?"

    "Yes, I'm on the Watchtower. What sort-?"

    "Two thousand year old ex-human succubus, her assistants and numerous mind controlled soldiers. Creating zeta tube construct now."

    "Recognised, Angelica, Two Seven."

    She steps out, wings flared and white/golden light radiating from her wings. "Be cleansed."

    The incoming fire falls off immediately, soldiers who had been sprinting towards us stumbling and blinking in confusion. Right, good. Ring, where is-?

    There's a yellow-gold flare of light from the barracks area, and a large purple-skinned demon is sent flying through the wall of one of the housing structures! Mister Quinn in full Doctor Fate mode follows up, a rain of ankhs flying from a golden disk floating just in front of his right hand biting into its skin! I generate railgun constructs and load mageslayers while Robert sprints towards the demon as it struggles to regain its feet. I'd guess that we're looking at Valeria, but we can confirm that once she's down.

    Mister Quinn spreads his arms wide, causing two golden disks to appear above the demoness. She gets her feet under her, just in time for a golden chain to drop down from each disk and wrap themselves around her arms and upper torso.

    "In the name of Order, I bind you!"

    Mister Quinn's got that. What can I do? Ring, locate the other people being held here.

    In a building-. Ah. I'm going to assume that she was siphoning power from them. Sex under the influence of demon magic… Neither they nor their partners appear in any physical danger, so I can leave that to a professional trauma counsellor. Where was the power going? Don't know. Ring, locate demonic sigils-.

    I fly at speed to the canteen, pulling the wall out of the way to give me space while I examine the drawing on the floor. Tula unsteadily walks towards it, sigils of water forming as she tries to do.. something.

    "Aquagirl?"

    "She already left. I'm… Trying to-." She sags, shaking her head. "No. She's gone."

    I fly closer. "Are you injured? Did she entrance you?"

    She nods. "It was.. subtle. I thought they were just being.. helpful. Friendly. Then she was all I could think about."

    I look behind me, to where the demoness… No, the human woman who was presumably enhanced by Devil Jizz, slumps in Mister Quinn's chains. The receptionist.

    "Where did she go?"

    "Back.. to Hell, I think. She had me draw.. this while she was working on the others. Doctor Fate-."

    "He's physically fine."

    I sigh in frustration. I think we can forget about prosecuting anyone, except some of Buzz's cultists. Any competent defence lawyer would point out that if Valeria could control Doctor Fate then none of her other employees stood a chance. And we couldn't use truth compulsion -even if it was admissible- because they probably don't know how much control of themselves they had.

    "Angelica is on-site. Have her check you over for any lingering magic, then head back to the Mountain." She nods. "I've got to go and check up on Ms Danvers."
     
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    28th January
    13:43 GMT -5

    "So…"

    Linda/Noriel sits across from me in the interview room. She's not completely unresponsive, but she isn't looking at me. Her hair is currently blonde, but her facial structure isn't exactly that of either Linda or Noriel.

    "We caught Buzz, and he will be facing charges of some kind. Valeria got away, but we've destroyed or acquired all of her assets in Virginia. All the members of Buzz's cult whom we've identified are now in custody."

    "What do you want me to say?"

    "I don't know." I sit back. "Given what Buzz has done to your mind, we can't charge you with anything. How about..? We start with a name."

    "I am not Noriel."

    "True."

    "I remember flying through the towers of the Silver City. I remember hearing all of Creation come into being as a harmonious crescendo. I remember the very first exothermic reaction. I remember the sacred joy of it all, and now I feel… Nothing."

    "I'm-."

    No. No. Now is not the time to question the validity of the beliefs of the angels. She's having a hard enough time of it without me kicking metaphorical sand in her face.

    "And… What about Linda Danvers?"

    "She is.. why I feel nothing. Every.. time that I remember something, I remember it as filtered through her. Her contemptuous bile.. taints… Every thought and action."

    "Extra-tainted because she was a fairly hateful person, or just normal human not-being-an-angel levels of taint?"

    She looks up very slightly, her eyes meeting mine.

    "Do not make light of this."

    "I'm not making light of it. I know that -to an angel- the normal human way of thinking about things is… Repulsive. But all I know of Noriel is her participation in Asmodel's putsch and her attempt to kill me, so… Those memories? I'm sceptical of their value. I don't think her existence was anything like as good as you appear to be implying that you do. Frankly, I'd say that not being either Noriel or Linda is a positive thing."

    Her head comes up. "What would you know of it?"

    "I went to Hell disguised as a demon once. Satanus set a trap for me which infused me with demonic magic until I effectively became a demon. It altered the way I thought about a lot of stuff." I shrug. "Didn't bother me at the time, because that then was how I thought about things. Hasn't really bothered me since…" I hesitate. "Except some things I said to my girlfriend, which were true for demon-me but not for normal-me, and for which I promptly apologised." Hm. "Do you believe yourself to be Noriel?"

    "Factually, I am not."

    "People often believe things that they can't prove with evidence. I've got a pile of hate-mail concerning some of the patently untrue things people believe about angels. Some people honestly believe the world to be flat, that fossils were made by the First of the Fallen to lure people away from the truth of Genesis… I knew a girl who honestly believed that leaving food in a tin in the fridge would cause it to become poisonous." I shrug. "If you want to be mostly-Noriel, that's fine. Treat Linda's perspective as an exposure to human vice you couldn't have gotten any other way and work to overcome it just as your kind encourage humans to overcome their vices. If you want to be mostly-Linda but with an added awareness of the wonders that the universe contains, that good and honest people do exist, that's fine too. Or if you want to forget them both and live your own life… Well, I'd encourage that."

    "Neither Noriel nor Linda were good at handling doubt."

    "Most people aren't. I didn't used to be."

    "How did you learn?"

    "Ironically, communion with a spirit greater than my own. But given that you as you have been alive for less than an hour, it would be unreasonable to expect you to make any radical decisions about your fundamental nature quite this quickly."

    She turns her head, taking in the various parts of the room. "What is to happen next?"

    "We'd like you to give a full deposition on Linda's activities. I personally would quite like one on Noriel's activities as well, so I have something to send to the angel fanzealots when they next accuse me of lying about what happened in the Silver City, but we're in America so I have to tell you that you aren't obliged to bear witness against yourself."

    "It would not precisely be bearing witness against myself."

    "American law hasn't yet had to adapt to permanent mental overwrites. But if you don't mind?"

    "I have Noriel's perspective on her crimes. What would you have me tell you?"

    "What was with the Superman costume?"

    "I believe that at some point she intended to attempt to implicate Kara Zor-El in her crimes."

    "Why? I mean, for a start, Kara can't create flames. And she's never been to Virginia. And she actually doesn't like using her exotic abilities."

    "In reality, Linda knew nothing of her. In her head, she had already decided that she already knew everything that she needed to. Kara Zor-El was new to the Earth, but already had the interest of the entire world. She had the affection of the world's most powerful superhero-"

    I cough quietly. Though I suppose that Kara and I do have a friendly relationship.

    "-and a well paid job despite not having any Earth qualifications."

    "And she was hurting herself with a radioactive rock because she wants to deny that any of it is happening because everyone she knew and loved died when Krypton exploded."

    "As I said, Linda knew nothing of the real her. To her, it seemed entirely believable that someone in her position might give form to their vices out of the limelight. She also role-played as Kara during her lewd encounters with Buzz."

    Yes, I suppose that would be one of her kinks.

    "I can detail-."

    "I don't need to know exactly what she and Buzz got-."

    "No, not-. Not that. Their crimes. I am happy to put everything in writing… Though my memory is fallible."

    "Thank you." I take a pad of paper out of subspace, along with a pen. "But -aside from that- what do you want to do?"

    "Live a good life, die without committing suicide and… Not return to the Silver City, but go there."

    "You are-."

    I'd like to try to sell her on the other options she has as a human. Or point out that humans who go to the Silver City aren't supposed to stay there. But this isn't the time, and I doubt that my credibility with her is all that great.

    "I meant in the short term. Where do you want to live? What do you wish to do with regard to employment?"

    "I assume that I still have Linda's apartment. I still have her skills as a sculptor, though my inspiration comes from a less ghoulish source."

    "But you also have Noriel's understanding of fire magic. Don't you?"

    "Yes."

    "Because I know some people who would consider that highly valuable. And since I imagine that Noriel used theurgy for just about everything, you might.. like doing something that neither of them did for a while. While you settle into… You know, existing."

    "That is an.. interesting offer. Though I am a little suspicious. You have no fondness for either of my… Component parts."

    "Because… Without wishing to sound hackneyed, we're all more than a sum of our parts. And I barely know the sum of you at all. How about it?"
     
  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    28th January
    21:34 GMT -3

    "Beatriz, I think-"

    Beatriz's head snaps around, a thin film of fire immediately appearing over her hands.

    "-I've found a fix-"

    The men -yes, they're all men- around her either start at my sudden appearance or take a step away. Beatriz herself on the other hand has already scanned and recognised me and is lowering her flame-level.

    "-for your combustion dysfunction."

    She smiles for her conversation partners. "Would you gentlemen excuse me? Paul and I have superhero business to discuss."

    A few nods from slightly calmed guests as Beatriz takes a rather firm hold on my left arm and pulls me towards the balcony. She smiles and waves at several of the conversation clusters we pass before leaning into me companionably. I doubt that anyone else attending this… Post fashion show party thing, can see how gritted her teeth are.

    "Did you have to do this now?"

    "No, but you made it clear how interested in this you were, so I thought that you might appreciate being involved from the start."

    "On balance, yes, but this is what I do for a living."

    "Pleased as I am that the Brazilian fashion industry doesn't immediately reject women with a bit of muscle on their frames, I can't help but feel that you're wasting your talents."

    "I don't remember getting a call from the Justice League."

    "Not.. superheroing. Police work. Or the Brazilian fire service. You are fireproof, yes?"

    "This pays better -mostly- and gives me enough time off work that I can volunteer to work with the police and fire service as a superhero."

    I nod as we walk out of the main hall and out into the Brazilian night air. January after sundown and if it wasn't for my environmental shield I'd be sweating.

    "I saw your blog entries. How is your training going?"

    She checks the distance to the other people out here. "My control's a little better, but I'm still-. Only as powerful as I was before."

    "Why exactly.. do you want to be a superhero again? And if you could avoid the bullshit answer you put on your website, that would be splendid."

    "You know who Hugo Danner is?"

    I smile broadly. "Yes! I managed to get a copy of his research from Green Lantern -the one who was part of the-."

    "The All-Star Squadron. I didn't know they actually found that. You know how to make the formula?"

    I nod. "Yes. LexCorp hired his son, and the first batch of Guard Dogs of Dawn should be undergoing their training now."

    "Dogs?" She frowns, then nods. "I.. suppose that makes sense. They're easier to train than people." She lets go of my arm and walks over to the edge of the balcony. "Did you ever wonder what would have happened if the Children of Dawn had won?"

    "I'd probably be down a mentor or two. Depending on whether or not they pulled their punches fighting Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. Flash had already left the Squadron at that point, so the modern Flash would probably still exist. The-."

    "I meant to Brazil."

    "I can't honestly say that I've studied Brazilian history in any detail."

    "Our last Emperor, Dom Pedro the Second, was overthrown in a military coup. He abolished slavery, instituted parliamentary democracy, championed free speech and civil rights, and he was replaced first by corrupt oligarchs and then by a military-backed dictatorship. Then a handful of idiots, then twenty two years of fascist military rule."

    "What exactly was your grandfather's job?"

    She looks back at me, but she's actually not glaring this time. "He was the Head of Counter-Insurgency. He told the field units who to grab from the streets and torture to death. He had thousands of people murdered." She laughs humourlessly. "And of course the amnesty law gave him immunity from prosecution."

    "There was a lot of that going around. I still remember the attempt to extradite Pinochet from Britain."

    She shakes her head. "Growing up, I actually liked Grandpa. Then he tried to persuade me to join the Brazilian Integralist Party and we had a.. disagreement."

    Ring, who are-? Oh. Yes, that reminds me a little of when I found out that Patrick Moore would have quite happily genocided Germany. You think you know the Gamesmaster, then it's sort of an uncomfortable 'ooh'.

    "Hugo Danner and the Sons of Dawn would have laughed off the military coup. I don't know whether or not he would have been successful at running the economy, but he was used to the American system of government. I would be astonished if the more unpleasant parts of modern Brazilian history would have occurred. And.. you would never have been born, so there's that." I frown. "Why do you ask?"

    "My grandfather's police murder anyone with strong political opinions while a superhero who would have saved the country rots in prison and you're still asking why I want to be a superhero and not a policewoman?"

    I nod. "Ah."

    "I couldn't face it. Not after my grandfather-. His son's working for LexCorp?" I nod. "I didn't think he had any children."

    "He got together with an old girlfriend shortly before coming to Brazil." I shrug. "I can give you his e-mail address if you want to send him a message."

    "Thanks. So what was that about improving my powers?"

    "We recently apprehended an individual answering to the name-" Provisionally, we have to call her something until she makes a permanent decision. "-'Noriel'. She claims to be the angel responsible for -amongst other things- fire. With her-."

    Beatriz' eyes light up. "She helped you create a ritual we can use to boost me?"

    Technically…

    "Wait." Her eyes narrowed. "You hesitated. Why did you hesitate?"

    "You remember when the angels marked me for death?"

    "Ah. I thought that was some sort of trick."

    "Technically, it was. It still hurt. Anyway, she and some Atlantean mages working for KordTech based the design for the spell on how she manipulates fire. Technically, it won't boost your raw power, but it will allow you do to much more with it."

    "What's the drawback?"

    "Magic is easier to directly counter than metahuman abilities, so don't slack off on your other training. And there's a small chance that fires might start… Pointing at you in defiance of local air currents."

    "And that's it?"

    "I don't use demons, and we already discounted the Parliament of Flames."

    Unhelpful, uncommunicative gits that they/it are/is.

    "So are you up for this?"

    "Yes." She straightens up, and I can see her shift mode into the intelligence agent she used to be. "Let's go."
     
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Uxoricide, part 12

    11th September 2004
    02:05 GMT


    "What?"

    Komand'r looks at me with a mild frown on her brow, and that.. slight edge of suspicion, deeply embedded instinct telling her that it might be time to fight or run.

    "How.. old are you?"

    She smiles and rolls her eyes, a slight shake of her head causing her hair to dance in the vacuum as the burning hulks of the Gordanian navy's ships drift past. "Don't worry about getting me a present. This is plenty."

    I lift up the severed head of the navy's admiral. "I… Thought that we could burn our handprints in this together."

    "Awww." She bats her eyelids mock-coquettishly. "Did you punch all the way through a spaceship for me?"

    I hold my arms out, gesturing to the Vega System. "I painted a star system red for you. This was just a matter of pushing back the rage for long enough to remember to keep this part intact. And working out which of them was in charge."

    I mean, they're not batch-produced like the Citadelians, but to a human they still look pretty similar to each other.

    "But to return to my question: which birthday is this?"

    "My sixteenth." She shrugs. "I don't usually make a big deal out of it." Her eyes grow slightly distant. "It's been a while since I've been in any one place long enough to bother."

    "So we.. got together.. when you were fifteen?"

    "You mean when we started fucking?" She nods. "Yeah, I was fifteen."

    "Oh."

    I don't think she can see my eyes through my faceplate, but she's giving me an odd look. "Why does it matter?"

    Ring, find me-.

    "ERRRwrrrrrrrahhH."

    Yes, silly me for asking a red power ring a civil question.

    "Could we please-?"

    She glares. "Tell me."

    "I will, but I want to have this conversation face to face inside an atmosphere." I turn to our left, where Lanterns Skallox and Zox are sitting on a floating lump of debris, watching us. Zox appears to have found a bowl of popcorn somewhe-.

    Ah. No, those are eyeballs.

    Zox notices me watching and holds one out to me. "What? You want one?"

    "In private."

    "Fine. Let's do this in Kysarr." She turns away from me, her hands glowing as she powers herself at faster than light speed back towards Tamaran.

    Skallox leans forward. His badly burned face makes it difficult to read his expression -not that this fucking ring helps at all- but the slight change in the angle of his jawbone makes me think that he might be trying to smile.

    "This it? You're finally going to fight to establish dominance?"

    "That's not how humans do things, Skallox."

    He gets off the debris, 'accidentally' knocking Zox's bowl out of his hands and forcing him to scramble to recover his eyes. "Why not? Lets everyone know where they stand at the start of the relationship. Far simpler than fighting every single time you have to decide anything."

    "I fight people I want to kill. I have no intention of fighting the woman I love."

    My environmental shield flickers and fails, and I notice Skallox recoil for a moment before flying forward and peering in at my visor. "You alright in there?" He reaches forwards to knock on my helmet with his right hand.

    Komand'r wants us to meet in Kysarr because it's the city the Citadel Empire destroyed on the day of her birth.

    My environmental shield reactivates, and I catch Skallox's wrist.

    And while that isn't why we're here to melt their faces, it certainly doesn't hurt to have a personal motive as well.

    "I can't hate everyone all the time, Skallox."

    He looks at me, and I really wish I knew what he was thinking. "Angry, then. The people you're closest to can make you angrier than anyone else. And it doesn't have to be all the time. A couple of minutes, if you beat her real quick. And then you mount her-."

    "Skallox, I like you. You're a good fighter, your help here has been invaluable and I get that you're trying to give useful advice. But you are the last person-."

    Having recaptured most of his meal, Zox shoves his face into his bowl, the action causing him to float in slow circles around his own centre of mass.

    "Second to last person I'd go to for romantic advice." I mean, at least Lord Atrocitus was married once upon a time.

    "Okay, you.. crazy alien. Whatever you say." He looks around. "I'll just go see if there are any lifepods or whatever."

    He generates a tin-opener construct.

    "Have fun with that." I turn in the direction of Tamaran. Ring, I've had enough of your attitude today. Kysarr. Now.

    The universe flares red for a moment, then I'm floating above the overgrown ruins of what used to be a Tamaranian city.

    "Why do you suddenly care about my age?"

    And Komand'r wastes no time in getting in my face. I float down, landing on a ruined but reasonably clear plaza and removing my helmet. She remains floating above me, arms by her sides and fists clenched.

    "Because, where I'm from, a person is legally a child until they reach sixteen. What I've been doing is illegal."

    "And burning your handprint into people's skulls isn't?"

    "Why would I care about whether what I do to some lunatic serial killer is legal or not!?"

    "Then why!? Why do you suddenly care-" Her eyes are glowing purple and energy is crackling around her fingers. I don't think she's doing it consciously, but like my ring her innate powers respond to anger. "-about my age?!"

    "Because if I'd have known I'd have waited! What I did, in my culture it's the same as forcing myself on you!"

    The lights in her eyes dim. Not completely, but I can see her irises again. "What? That's stupid. You weren't exactly my first."

    "Komand'r, you come from Vega. Are you really telling me that I should take what usually happens here as 'correct' or 'moral'?"

    "Who I have sex with is my choice! If I didn't want you then it wouldn't have happened!"

    "I'm not.. arguing-!" Right, Tamaranian. She isn't worried about an older man 'taking advantage', she's getting angry about me insulting her ability to exercise her autonomy. "I appreciate that, but in my mind I.. treated you poorly. I feel bad about that, and because I didn't know about it in advance I was a bit shocked when you told me." I hold up my right fist so that she can see my ring. "And that's the last thing-" My environmental shield dies again. "-I want to do. I love you."

    She blinks, eyes and hands returning to normal as she descends from the sky in a.. slightly uncontrolled way. "Uh-. W-what?"

    "I love you. That's why I-. Why the idea that I haven't treated you properly so horrifies me."

    She blinks again, her mouth hanging open slightly. "Um."

    "You are the last person in the universe I would want to harm, and while I appreciate intellectually that you don't see it that way, that's how I was brought up. I apologise for not explaining this-."

    "I just-. Ah… Need to-." She rises off the ground, pointing vaguely behind her. "Thing."

    "Thing?"

    "At the.. place-." I notice her wince slightly as she hears what she just said. "I'll.. see you later?"

    I get a fraction of a second of her wincing before she flies at speed in the direction of Tamarus.

    Huh.
     
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Uxoricide, part 13

    11th September 2004
    02:14 GMT


    "…why I ate my dentist." Lantern Zox grins for a moment, then looks mildly disappointed by my lack of a response. "Hey, that was a big deal for me."

    "Yes… Sorry. I'm.. just a little distracted."

    Obviously, anything that makes someone angry enough to call a red ring must have been pretty traumatic, but I can't.. quite work out why that set Zox off like that. Skallox, sure. He was accused of a crime he didn't commit by someone he'd served loyally and then was thrown in an incinerator on his order, and because red rings are shit at healing he's going to look like he's got a burning skull for a head for the rest of his life. But… Substandard dental work?

    "So…" Zox turns in the direction of Tamarus for a moment, then turns back to me. "She say no..?"

    "Huh?"

    "See, I did hear that crack about me being the last person you'd ask for romantic advice, but I actually come from a civilised region of space. Humanoids like you are everywhere, and even if you all look like shrunken heads on sticks to me, I do get that all the little shrunken head people come from somewhere." He grins in what I'm sure is supposed to be a reassuring way. And it.. sort of is, actually. "Tell Uncle Zilius all about it."

    "She's about half my age."

    "Uh-huh. So she's more fertile than you."

    … "Pos-sibly?"

    "That's a disadvantage in contract negotiations. But given how often you two have been mating, I don't think it bothers her. Does it bother her family? Are they worried that you're incapable of siring children?"

    "Her.. family is just her sister." Who appears genuinely happy that Komand'r and I are together, even if some of her friends are less sanguine about it. "Ah, and her k'norfka, who seems nice enough."

    "Ah, so he'll be handling negotiations on her side. Who have you got?"

    "What do you mean?"

    He blinks at me as if I've said something stupid. "The breeding contract. Obviously you don't fight each other; you're more the type to team up against other people. For money. And I approve: that's a sound way to both build up mutual trust and to create the financial security you need in order to support your offspring."

    "Ah…"

    "But if her family are getting professional negotiators involved, you can still find yourself at a disadvantage. If you haven't taken out a contract yet, you should get on that right away. I know some people. They really work more in criminal law rather than family law, but their firms handle it and they can probably do an internal referral."

    I hold up my hands. "Zox, we're not talking about breeding yet."

    "So you're taking out an option? I respect forward planning, but if you're concerned about getting too old to impregnate her, delaying it any further-."

    "No. No no. Zox…" I really need to get a database on alien cultures at some point. "I'm slightly past my physical prime, but I could wait another twenty years without it being a critical issue. She's young enough that my culture considers her-. Considered her a child until recently."

    He peers at me, realising that he's missing something but unable to work out what it is. "So… She's old enough to handle negotiations herself? That could actually work out best, but you should still stick to a standard contract format, otherwise-."

    "No, it-. I violated a cultural taboo. Like the guy who did your bridge."

    "Oh." He grimaces. "Well, you suck."

    "I know! And she thought that her age meant that I considered her beneath me, and I convinced her that I don't, and that I love her, and she.. fled."

    "Huh." … "No, I'm still on the bridge thing. What'd you do that for?"

    "It's not always externally obvious exactly how old someone is!"

    "So you just didn't bother x-raying her! Just like that skin-gnawing dentist!"

    "I made.. an unwise assumption based on appearance and behaviour. And my main concern is not the violation of the taboo itself, but on the implication for our relationship."

    He peers at me for a moment. "You didn't literally do my bridge, so I'm not that bothered-."

    "No, not you and me. Me and Komand'r. Like… You… Think a female has good genes and you want to sire children on her, and she's up for it but you don't bother making a contract first, and even though you acted with the best of intentions things get messy?"

    "Oh. Oooooh. I get it now." He thinks for a moment. "You should go talk to her. Poor planning or miscommunications in the initial stages can be counteracted, as long as everyone is prepared to work at it."

    I gaze towards distant Tamarus. "Yes, the initial shock should be over by now. Thank you for… Helping."

    He smiles warmly, red acid saliva dripping between his teeth and eating through the brick beneath him. "What are friends for?"

    But if I have ruined my relationship with Komand'r, I'm going to be angry with myself for a good long time.

    Space bends as I hurtle towards the royal palace, the universe snapping back to normal once I reach the settlement. Rather than the relatively conventional city I originally expected, Tamarus here is a largely-underground city running through a fat column of dense rock. I think it used to be some sort of defence silo, but as the attacks got worse Tamaran's people retreated to more defensible locations. I suppose they could expand again now

    I fly up and land in front of the main entrance. Komand'r stopped for a quick 'check me out' when we first arrived, but I haven't actually spoken to anyone myself-.

    A really.. quite huge Tamaranian I recognise as Mr Galfore stomps out to glower at me.

    "Is.. Komand'r in? We had a bit-" He glowers harder, folding his arms across his chest. "-of a miscommunication, and I very much want to talk to her about it."

    He growls.

    O-kay then. "Or you can get in my way. And since she loves you, I won't kill you. But I will injure you just enough that you won't be able-."

    Faster than I can react, he bear hugs me. "I am so happy that my little ember has met someone as bile-filled as she is!"

    "My bones, Mister Galfore! I need my bones!"

    "Ah hah hah hah hah!"

    He drops me, and I… Ugh. Good.. bluff-call. And my ring can't heal. I stretch my compressed joints a little as I follow him back into the palace. The few other Tamaranians I see give me a decidedly respectful look, but I'm not really in the mood to appreciate it. Mr Galfore leads me along a few corridors and comes to a halt in front of a door with 'Everyone Keep Out Especially Koriand'r' painted on it.

    He sniffs as he rereads it, then steps forward and knocks on the door. "Little ember-?"

    "I don't wanna talk to-!"

    "It's him."

    The door is wrenched open and Komand'r-. She stares at me, eyes wide and-. Has she been cry-?

    She grabs my right arm and pulls, wrenching me off my feet and tossing me inside before slamming the door on her guardian's face.

    I push myself up as she stares at me some more.

    "Komand'r-."

    "You love me?"

    "I'm afraid so."

    "Are you sure it's not just sex?"

    "Remember when we fought those dominators, and you couldn’t work out why I let you fight that big guy by yours-?"

    "You said you didn't want to intrude."

    "I couldn't. The beautiful savagery you displayed when you went all-out left me transfixed. Your wonderfully carnal fury left me speechless."

    "Oh."

    "I don't expect you to feel the same way-."

    "But I.. think I.. do?" She looks away. "Remember when we killed those vampires in Russia, and then sat outside their cabin as the sun came up? And I put my head on your lap and you stroked my hair and I fell asleep?"

    "Yes, of course I do."

    "I don’t do that! I don't.. relax around people like-." She looks at me, a little lost. "I like you. I like fighting with you, killing with you, fucking you... And that was fine but I could give it up at any time and now just being around you makes me happy and relaxed and I don't know what's going on!"

    I take a step towards her and she's on me, kissing me hard and wrapping her arms around me to trap my arms by my side. And then she pulls back. "I don't…"

    "Do you trust me?"

    "… No?" … "Yes."

    "Do you believe that I love you?"

    "Yes."

    "Then what's the problem? We can keep doing all the things we've been doing."

    "I don't like feeling like this. It feels… Vulnerable."

    "You're changing the habits of a lifetime. It's normal for that to feel uncomfortable. But you'll beat your discomfort like you beat everything else. And I'll be there to help."

    She stares into my eyes, and the vulnerability starts to fade.

    "Okay. I'll.. try it." She pauses briefly. "Have you.. still got the head?"

    I smile warmly at her, raising it with my right hand. "Of course I've still got the head."
     
  7. Threadmarks: Doppelgängered
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Doppelgängered

    1st February
    12:52 GMT +1

    "Oh." Thaddeus Junior lowers his… I don't actually know what that is, once he sees that it's just me. "You want something?"

    "I need to talk to Georgia, actually." And this time I came in via the door rather than just teleporting to her. I don't for a moment doubt that the Sivanas have improved their anti-intrusion measures since my return to Earth. "Is she at home?"

    He looks mildly confused. "No, she's in the workshop." His hands are already fiddling with the 'ray gun' in his hands as he steps back from the door. "Come in."

    "Thank you."

    He nods distractedly, taking some sort of matter sculpting tool out of his lab coat and using it on his ray gun. "Sure, whatever. This way."

    The corridors… Have been slightly modified since my last visit. Someone has put some paint on them for a start, and there are pictures… There are variants of historically significant pictures with members of the Sivana family replacing their original focus. I actually stop and wince at the sight of the Sivanafied version of The Scream.

    "Is your.. father branching out?"

    "Huh?" Thaddeus had made it most of the way down the corridor without realising that I was no longer with him. He stops tinkering with his ray gun and walks back, trying to work out why I stopped. "Oh, that. It's his parallel universe life coach guy. He suggested that Dad try something expressive that.. wasn't a ray gun." He shakes his head. "I don't get it. Ray guns are plenty expressive, aren't they? But anyway, Dad wrote a computer algorithm and this… Well, these are the result."

    "Huh."

    "Yeah, that was what I said. Eh, I suppose it covers the turret hatch." He heads back down the corridor. "You coming?"

    I.. take a step away from the painting, shrug slightly and then follow him.

    "Hey, Georgia. You got a visitor."

    With one false start, Georgia extracts herself from the interior of… Some sort of rocket? And pushes the welding mask up before looking around. She sees me and smiles warmly. "Ah, Orange Lantern! To what do I owe this pleasure?"

    "Georgia, I need help only you can provide."

    "Well, natur-."

    "Georgia!" Thaddeus glares at her. "We're not supposed to mind control him! Remember what Tia said!"

    "I didn't mind control him." She preens, nose up and right hand on her chest. "He's simply seeking me out because he recognises my brilliance."

    I tilt my head thirty degrees to the right. "She did not mind control me. I simply sought her out because I recognise her brilliance."

    She regards me contemplatively. "Or… Did I-? No, no, that was humour."

    I straighten up, smiling. "Well spotted."

    She nods, satisfied. "We're not quite so bad as Dad. What is it you need my help for?"

    "I need you to use your mad science powers for me."

    "I'm afraid we're a little busy with this sheeda mess-."

    "Hey!" Thaddeus glares at me. "What's so special about her mad science powers?! I'm a mad scientist too!"

    "But I need a mad social scientist, and you-"

    "It is a soft subject!"

    "-were quite emphatic that you don't respect the discipline."

    Georgia stalks towards her brother. "It's not a soft subject! Do you have any idea how hard it is to eliminate independent variables from a study of giant monster attacks!?"

    Thaddeus gesticulates, apparently forgetting that he's holding a ray gun. "Not as hard as making giant monster attacks!"

    Georgia and he square up to one another. "I couldn't use data from attacks I made, that would risk biasing the data!"

    "Excuse me?"

    "What?!" / "What?!"

    "If we could take this back to my original enquiry?"

    Thaddeus rolls his eyes. "Fine. I'll go and do some real science." He stamps towards one of the other doors. "Can't make strangle-broccoli with social science."

    Georgia waits until the door is closed before relaxing her posture and shaking her head. "There's no talking to him when he's like that. So." She turns back to me, smiling winsomely. "Who are we experimenting on today?"

    "Not experimenting. Putting into practice."

    "Oooooooooooooh. I like the sound of this." She grins. "What are we doing?"

    "Advanced technology does not propagate well through our society. Captain Cold robs banks rather than building freezers, despite the obvious financial incentives for him to do so. Superman sits on a treasure trove of alien technology that could revolutionise the way we live, but contents himself with inefficiently punching things rather than rendering that punching unnecessary in spite of his genuine desire to do good in the world."

    "And you want to know why? I suppose that Dad's example-."

    "No. It's not that I'm not curious, but I don't need to know 'why'. I need it to stop."

    She raises her eyebrows. "To stop?"

    "To stop. I don't know if it's psychological, something to do with our social structures, our evolutionary biology, our.. financial systems… But things aren't happening which -on the surface- it appears should be. And I need it to stop, so they can start. I don't…" I take a breath. "I'm pretty good at understanding the motivations of individuals, but… My empathic abilities don't work on groups. You're… Literally the only person I can think of who might be able to solve this for me."

    "Hnm." She frowns thoughtfully. "It's a puzzle. But… We're supposed to be working on the sheeda problem."

    "Your father and your brother are perfectly capable of making weapons. But the more widespread they are the better. It's nearly pointless if no one is prepared to use them."

    Georgia glances guiltily at her rocket.. thing. "We weren't planning on handing them out. This is personal."

    "But why? If the aim is just to beat the sheeda, shouldn't you want to maximise our chances? And it's not as if people haven't tried to kill your father or you before."

    She frowns, her right hand stroking her chin and her gaze distant. "That… Is… Curious."

    "If you can crack this, high value weapons created all over the world will suddenly become available en masse. And as I said, you're the only one who can do this. Mad social scientists don't come along very often at all."

    "I… Suppose that it wouldn't hurt to take a look. And you're right; it would benefit from my particular insight. Have to…" She glances at her rocket again. "Finish this off first…"

    "Thank you. I really appreciate it. Oh, and if you want to gather some first hand data I'm going to visit Captain Cold today. Do you want to tag along?"
     
    siflux, Pain4077, Simonbob and 3 others like this.
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st February
    07:24 GMT -5

    "Ah, sorry, Orange Lantern." The correctional officer who is escorting me through Belle Reve's entrance looks a little awkward. "With all the work we're having done on the prison, the usual interview rooms are out of action right now."

    "I hope that I'm not putting prison security at risk. I'm happy to reschedule."

    "Prisoners get mighty upset when their schedules aren't kept to. And no, Warden says the people you talk to are all low risk, so there ain't no risk to the prison."

    "I'm pleased that she thinks so highly of my efforts."

    The officer radios his control room and the heavily armoured door in front of us clanks open. This part of the prison is still fairly similar to how it looked when I first started visiting. The arcane containment wing is elsewhere, though there are a few glyphs attached to the walls to extend the simpler security spells to cover the mundane inmates as well.

    Leonard is already waiting with his own slightly burlier escort of two correctional officers on the far side. He doesn't smile when he sees me, but I do get a respectful nod. My escort gets a similar nod from Leonard's escort, then turns to our right and leads the way along one of the interior corridors. I fall in next to Leonard, with his escort bringing up the rear.

    "You doing alright?"

    "Can't complain."

    And that's probably all I'm going to get while there are witnesses around. A quick scan reveals no new injuries, and his body chemistry suggests that he's less stressed than he used to be.

    The correctional officer in front raises his right hand and comes to a stop just before an intersection. "Ah, just a minute. Laundry detail coming through."

    I nod, and there's a chime of warning as the security doors opposite us open and a pair of armed officers walk through, leading…

    The manacled Mr Crock and I make momentary eye contact. I smile, shrug, then turn to my left and raise my right hand to blinker my right eye so that I can't see him. The guards lead his group around the corner away from us and head towards the laundry room. Leonard gives me a small frown, then appears to brush it off.

    "Not far now."

    I lower my hand once more as we proceed to… I think it's a temporarily converted medical cell. Leonard's detail escort him to the actual chair on the right, while mine just smiles politely at me.

    "If you need anything else, just shout out and we'll be right in."

    "Thank you."

    Leonard slouches in his chair as his guards file out, though I notice that he's watching my escort very intently as the man leaves the room and closes the door behind him. I run a visible strobe of orange light around the room to make sure that Waller isn't playing silly buggers -she's usually pretty good about that, but it makes Leonard happy that I'm checking- and find nothing. Then I sit down opposite him, mirroring his relaxed posture.

    "So. Anything you want to talk about, Doctor Snart?"

    He tries to disguise it, but I can tell he's smiling. "Sam sent me a cake. They nearly stuck me in solitary when they realised that the silver ball things were tiny mirrors. Bastard probably thought it was hilarious." He snorts. "Think I'm the first person in America to become a doctor while in prison?"

    "I can't think of any others."

    "What was that thing with your hand?"

    I smile. "Amusing story. Do you know who Horatio Nelson was?" He shakes his head. "British Admiral in the eighteenth century. He was blind in one eye after a failed attack on a French fort, and his career was at a low ebb until the British navy tried attacking a Danish fleet in Copenhagen harbour. The commanding admiral signalled a withdrawal, Nelson raised his telescope-" I mime the action. "-to his blind eye and said 'I really do not see the signal'. He then ordered his half of the fleet in and shot the Danish fleet to pieces, an action from which we derive the phrase 'turn a blind eye', meaning to notice a thing but to decide to ignore it."

    "And what were you ignoring?"

    "Mister Crock. I'm friends with his ex-wife and younger daughter and I'm dating his elder daughter." My smile dims slightly. "And I told him that if he had any contact with any member of his family ever again I'd kill him. And while you can't make a threat and fail to carry it out without losing credibility, a chance encounter in a corridor doesn't seem worth actioning a threat over. So." I raise my right hand. "Blind eye."

    "'Any member of his family'?"

    "He wasn't quite as bad a father as yours was. He did appear to be trying to teach them lessons on how to be a criminal. Those lessons just happened to involve a similar level of bruising and broken bones."

    Leonard slouches back. "Fuck him, then."

    "Quite. How are things going with your mother?"

    "We've talked.. some." He shrugs, not meeting my eyes. "She says she's sorry for abandoning us. I believe her. For what it's worth."

    "I did notice that you never went after your father."

    "No point. All in the past."

    I nod, and wait for him to pick a new topic.

    "I got a letter. Some company wants to hire me to work on their freeze rays, once I get out. Maybe do some work from inside."

    My eyes widen slightly as I smile. "That's excellent. Are you actually going to go for it?"

    He shrugs. "Maybe. Depends. I want to know more about the man I'd be working for first."

    I nod. "Sensible. Who is it? What's the name of the company?"

    "Alva Technologies."

    "No."

    He frowns, clearly surprised. "What? Why not?"

    "Edwin Alva has an unfortunate habit of fucking over his talent." Can't directly mention Mr Metcalf. "Just a moment."

    Ring, court case summaries.

    Compliance.

    A pile of paper appears on the table between us.

    "Here's a few of the cases that have been brought by his ex-employees. The few whose cases weren't quashed by judges he owns were financially exhausted by his delaying tactics. I would strongly caution you against working for him if there was any alternative."

    "How many offers do you think I'm getting?"

    "I don’t know."

    "One other, and that's LexCorp, and I know you're not-."

    "Actually"

    He frowns. "What? We both know that LexCorp's-."

    "Yes. But. Most of their work is legitimate, Lex tends to treat his talent decently… As long as they keep up their side of the contract, anyway. And he generally doesn't use direct employees for skulduggery, because it's too easy for it to get traced back to him. If you made it clear that you weren't interested in returning to your former occupation in any way from the first… You'd probably be okay."

    "Never thought I'd hear a superhero recommending that I work for Lex Luthor." He regards me curiously. "You sure?"

    "Sure?" I shake my head. "No. But if those are your options, then LexCorp is definitely the better one."
     
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    1st February
    22:34 GMT -5

    "Frederick, I think you should think very carefully about-."

    He fires the second barrel of his shotgun directly into Richard's chest, forcing him to brace himself slightly.

    "The fuck are you?!"

    "Now, Frederick, think it through. Why would the result-"

    He turns to run, then trips over one of his net-entrapped colleagues.

    "-be different the second time?"

    Richard steps forward and handcuffs Frederick's ankles together before he can get back on his feet.

    "You know, it used to be that when people shot at me I had to dodge."

    "If you really miss it I could clone you a new body?"

    He pantomimes thinking for a moment, then shakes his head. "Nah, I'm good."

    "Uh uh uh!"

    Frederick tries to get to his feet, trips, and-

    "Uuuughfuckin'idiot!"

    -thumps his bound colleague on the back, causing his face to smack into the pavement.

    Richard winces in sympathy. "Okay, I'm calling this a mercy arrest." He effortlessly pulls Frederick's arms behind his back and cuffs him there as well. "Now, can you lie still or do I have to gas you?"

    "Ah, excuse me?" A woman in Congregation uniform jogs down the road towards us. "Can I help?"

    Richard nods. "I think we're freaking them out. Could you sit on them until the police get here?"

    "Sure, I can do that! Just a sec." She closes her eyes and bows her head, then two other Congregationalists flash into being next to her. "Do they have any serious injuries?"

    "Fuckin'idiotbrokem'fuckin'nose!"

    "No, no they don't." I glance at Richard, but he doesn't appear concerned in any way. "Thank you for your assistance." I take a data stick out of subspace and put onto it a full recording of the period leading up to the 'fight', as well as the confrontation itself. "Please hand this over to the officer in charge."

    She takes it. "Can do!" I nod, smile, and-. "Ah..?"

    "Gotham police are well used to this sort of thing, it won't be-."

    Richard walks forward with pen in hand as she pulls out a small notebook and holds it out towards him. "Who do I make it out to?"

    "S-shannon?"

    "Sure." He signs it and then turns to me. "Oh El?"

    I take it, and… I've never been all that sure what to put on these. The few times a 'fan' gets me in a position where I feel obliged to do this I just sign 'Orange Lantern', but Shannon here is actually being a useful auxiliary. 'Thank you for your assistance, Illustres, Orange Lantern Corps'. I look at it for a moment. Yeah, that should do. I float the book and the data stick to Shannon and the pen back to Richard.

    "Thankyou!"

    I look over to Richard. "Want a lift-"

    He crouches and then leaps, easily passing the third floor and landing on the roof.

    "-up? Okay then."

    I fly up after him, following as he begins to parkour across the rooftops.

    "Are we expecting anything else to happen this evening?"

    "Nah, not really. To be honest, things have gotten a lot quieter lately."

    "Have they?"

    "Yeah. I mean, Batman broke up the old families-"

    "With a little help from Mr Dent."

    "They were going down anyway. And once that happened, it was only a matter of time until City Hall and the police got cleaned out. Right now, we're seeing record low unemployment, so street crime's way down. Most of the 'theme criminals' are either in Arkham or Belle Reve."

    "Not Blackgate?"

    "No, the warden agreed that putting gangs with their bosses wasn't a great idea."

    "Are the Congregation making themselves useful?"

    "Yeah. They're so popular in Gotham now that it's almost like having a city-wide surveillance system. And they trust the police enough to actually contact them when they hear about something."

    "No internal corruption?"

    "Nothing substantial substantiated." We come to the end of the block and he accelerates, easily leaping from one side of the road to the other.

    "You know you.. could just use a kinetic belt for that."

    He lands in a roll, then springs to his feet again. "Sure, if I wanted to take all the fun out of this."

    "How are things with your foster-mother?"

    "It's…" He slows to a jog, then stops completely. "Well, my Arabic's getting better. She's… More… I think she's trying to Mom me, but she comes off more like she's conducting an interrogation."

    "She did grow up in the League of Shadows. But I'm sure that your future brothers and/or sisters will be grateful to you for wearing down her rough edges."

    "I'll remind them." He looks over the city rooftops for a moment, then turns back to me. "So. Zatanna's birthday?"

    "Y.. es."

    "Are you… Going..?"

    "How is.. she.. doing?"

    "Not all of us have your empathic vision, Oh El." He sighs quietly. "She seems… Okay? She's been spending more time with her school friends, and… Working on her stage act. She's going to be joining Mister Zatara on his next residency."

    "That sounds… That sounds good?"

    "She knows it wasn't going to work out. With you." I nod. "Was it.. the Star Sapphire, making her act like that?"

    "No, it was Drakul Karfang making her act like that. But… No. I.. had some people check the wards on the staff. They weren't breached, and they were doing what they were meant to. But drawing on its power required that she focus on love. And she wasn't just doing that for the fight with Nabu, and she didn't stop afterwards. Every time she used magic, she was focusing on how much she.. loved me. Thinking about the things that made her love me."

    "Kinda like how I ended up bulletproof."

    "No, if.. she'd called the Predator, I'd be trapped in a block of violet crystal right now. But… Yes, it's a similar idea. The enchantments contained the corruption, not the normal psychological effects." I sigh. "But… I don't want her to think that she's completely alienated me. I still.. like her. I only-."

    "You're only staying away because you want her to get better."

    I nod. "I don't think… Maybe after the birthday party? Would that work?"

    "I think she'd appreciate it."

    "Then that's what I'll do. So… What's your uncle up to these days?"
     
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  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    4th February
    22:46 GMT

    Jade raises her steaming cup of.. some sort of red coloured sap distillate, and regards it contemplatively. "I think this is the strangest thing about living here."

    I reach across her apartment's small table, take hold of her left hand and raise it to my lips. "The endless tracts of space separating you from your one true love?"

    She regards me with a look of affectionate contempt. "No. The food."

    I take a small sip from my own cup. "Doesn't taste that strange to me. I expected it to be sweeter, but that's probably because-."

    She nods. "Because you're thinking 'maple'. And rubber would be thicker. Whereas this tastes like tea."

    "Only tea doesn't come in this colour."

    "Or this texture." She takes a sip, and I watch her throat as she swallows. "I traveled all over Earth when I was a Shadow. I could fit in on every continent. But I haven't tried more than a tiny fraction of all the different food in this city alone."

    I turn, looking out of her window towards the… Well, the apartment block opposite. Maltusian cities are built very high rise, and at the edge of the city the cut off is so severe that it looks a little like someone cut along the streets around the central business district of a much larger city and plonked it down. Every apartment has access to holographic displays if the residents want a view, but you don't get much in terms of a 'real' view.

    "We could live here indefinitely and not manage that."

    "Oh?" She raises her right eyebrow and takes another sip. "Planning on moving in?"

    "Pushing the Reach back will take a while. You might decide that you want to live here, rather than back on Earth."

    "It's.. possible." She looks thoughtful. "But I don't think I will. It's too… Artificial. Too planned. It almost doesn't feel real."

    "There are-."

    The door opens, and Jade's flatmate walks in. I've seen her in the background during Jade's calls before, but this is the first time we've met in person. Green skin, black hair, face is.. slightly oriental in its configuration. From Tillettit, though since both her eyes are organic I'm going to assume that she's from one of the other continents.

    "Oh." She takes in Jade's pyjamas and relaxed demeanour, looks me over, gives me a friendly smile… And then blinks as she spots the rings. "Oh."

    "Good morning, or… Whatever time zone you're working on."

    "You're-. The Illustres."

    I turn back to Jade. "Jade, did you just not mention me at all? Are you too ashamed to talk about me to your friends?"

    "No, I mentioned you."

    "She did. I just.. wasn't sure that I believed her. You're-. Could you just make a construct or something, because I'm having a hard time-."

    I raise my left hand and generate a construct globe of Tillettit.

    "I'm really sorry. Um, My Lord Illustres. I am Darkstar Cadet Caccanah."

    I dismiss the globe. "I asked Lantern Coutara not to call me that. Please, 'Illustres' if you must, but my name is fine. I'm not in your chain of command."

    "No, but because of you my people have space travel now. And you wiped out a religion that was blinding all the women living wherever it infected."

    "Lanterns Coutara and Taranna did most of the work."

    "But it wouldn't have happened without you being there. It was always… Everyone else hated it, but the only way to change it would have been an invasion and.. so many people would have died, it.. just…"

    "I understand."

    "How long.. have the two of you..?"

    "We've been 'together' romantically for less than half a year."

    "I didn’t think Orange Lanterns-."

    I hold out my right hand and call the Staff of Love to me, laying my right palm over the crystal on the end and generating a violet sigil with it at the same time as generating an orange one over my left hand.

    "Orange Lanterns can feel love. Banning Orange Lanterns from feeling anything is counterproductive on several levels. It's just that below a certain level of self-mastery, feeling one emotion strongly enough to use a power ring usually precludes feeling another emotion strongly at the same time. And most of the current generation of Orange Lanterns are so focused on being the most powerful Orange Lanterns they can be that they're.. not looking for other sorts of emotional connection at the moment. There's no actual ban."

    She makes a minor gesture of obeisance. "I will.. bear that in mind. Do you want me to leave the two of you alone?"

    I look at Jade. "Don't think I haven't noticed you putting off speaking to Zatanna. Go. I'm not being deployed for another two days. And it's not as if it's harder for you to reach me in the Periphery than it is here."

    I stand, nodding. "You're right." She tilts her head back as I lean down and gently press my lips against hers. "I'll see you in a few hours."

    4th February
    17:49 GMT -5

    Ah, Shadowcrest. Good to see you again. I deposit the Staff of Love into a subspace pocket and take out Zatanna's birthday present: a near-complete record of magic as practised on Euphorix in the Vega system. They don't appear to have ever really adopted a scientific approach to it so I doubt that the record has much practical value, but I hope that she'll find it at least somewhat interesting. I walk up the path and…

    Ring, dial 'Zatanna Zatara'.

    Compliance.

    "Ah, hello?"

    "Good afternoon."

    "P-Paul?"

    "That's me. I'm walking up your front path now with a.. belated birthday present."

    "I'm.. not at home right now. I… Wasn't expecting-."

    "No, of.. course." I stop. "When are you… Free..?"

    "After dinner?"

    "Okay. Um. Do you… Want to meet up in the Mountain?"

    "I've… Ah, hang on." There's a beep, then her phone goes silent. I turn around and walk back down the path, returning my present to subspace. "Sorry, right. Um, I've been avoiding the Mountain? You said-. I mean, you're right, but you said we should avoid each other, and-."

    "I didn't-. I wasn't banning you from the Mountain. I'm not living there myself."

    "Oh."

    "Being in the same place.. with other friends, that's probably… Fine? And Kara's been wanting to show us some Kryptonian cinema for a while. I mean, if you're interested."

    "Yes, that… I'd like that. I'll… See you later?"

    "I'll see you later."
     
  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    4th February
    19:35 GMT -5

    "…so few examples of Kryptonian media still exist!" Kara shifts uncomfortably as Canis grins excitedly at her. "I am very grateful for this opportunity!" Expand My Horizons!

    "I wasn't-. It's not.. anything groundbreaking." She holds up a data stick. "This is just.. light entertainment."

    "All the better! Such works give a far better view of the cultural assumptions that underpin Kryptonian culture, so much more so than a deliberately thoughtful piece."

    "Ah…" She glances at me for guidance and I shrug apologetically. "Okay?"

    Wolf pads into the hangar and stops at the top of the steps, sniffing the air and looking down at Kara with a mildly wary air. Kara notices her and -grateful for an excuse to escape her conversation with Canis- walks towards-. Takes two steps towards the steps and then remembers that she can fly, then does that instead. Floating just above Wolf she holds out her hand, which Wolf cautiously sniffs. Apparently finding the scent acceptable, Wolf gives her a small lick and then turns around to head back into the kitchen. Kara follows her, which leaves me with Canis.

    "I understand that Zatanna will be joining us once more."

    "Yes. I wasn't banishing her, I just felt that being around me wasn't healthy. If anything, I was banishing myself."

    Canis shakes his head. "Illustres. You are a powerful New God. You must learn to accept that.. weaker New Gods will naturally come to arrange themselves around you. Choosing not to bed her is of course your prerogative, but pushing her away when she is clearly so devoted to you is harmful to both of your underlying metaphysical interactions and empowerment."

    My eyes narrow. And not just at his implication. I think I.. understood what he means, but the words don't…

    "My purpose is to guide people in realising their desires. She had a desire that couldn't coexist with mine or Jade's."

    "Because she desires monogamy? Would not changing that desire be more simple?"

    "Technically, yes, but I would transgress my nature to do it. And it wouldn't change Jade's feelings on the matter."

    Canis frowns. "I know that Lowlies are not without value; my own father began his life as a Hunger Dog. But I do not understand why you let.. her have such power over you. It is… Unnatural. My father was not permitted to mate with my mother until he had achieved his own God-Name, and you are far more powerful than he was."

    "Why do you think I encouraged her to join the Darkstars?"

    "I respect your optimism, but the chance of her achieving your level of power -even with your aid- cannot be-"

    "Recognised, Zatanna Zatara, B Zero Nine. Identity confirmed."

    "-great."

    Zatanna walks nervously out of the right zeta tube, hesitantly raising her right hand in greeting. I smile and return the gest-

    "Salutations!"

    -ure, while Canis strides over to her.

    "Hi, Canis..?"

    "Time permitting, I would appreciate it if you would talk through your fixation with Illustres with me."

    "A-ah?"

    "I wish to describe your heartache and longing in poetic form, and it would aid me greatly-"

    I squeeze my eyes shut and bow my head.

    "-if I could bear witness to your exquisite misery first hand."

    I walk over to him and lay my right hand on his left shoulder. "Canis, shoo."

    He doesn't tense. In fact, I can feel him.. relax. "Yes, Illustres. I apologise for overstepping my bounds." I remove my hand and he turns and walks up the steps towards the kitchen.

    Zatanna and I regard each other for a moment.

    "I'm sorry about-." / "That was-."

    We both look away from one another for a moment.

    "Why does he call-?" / "Happy birth-."

    Oh, this is getting silly. I take her present and card out of subspace and hold them out. "Happy belated birthday."

    "Thank you." She takes them and.. holds them slightly awkwardly. "Why.. did Canis call you 'Illustres'? I know it's your rank, but…"

    "He appears to have decided that it's my God-Name, and that calling me anything else would be infantile." She nods. "How are you?"

    "Not… Great, but… Better?" She shakes her head. "I know it's not… Good-. Healthy, how I've been…"

    "But people don't change how they feel just because they realise they shouldn't."

    "Yeah." She nods. "I think-."

    "Recognised, Wonder Woman, Zero Three. Identity confirmed."

    We both look around as Diana strides through the zeta tube, scanning the room for… Threats? What's going-?

    "Diana. You've finally-" Her gaze shifts to me-. Oh, what am I supposed to have done now? "-learned to block my empathic vision. Well done."

    She doesn't appear to register the compliment. "You must both come with me at once. It is a matter of the utmost importance."

    "Ah… Sure? Do you want us to bring the whole team?"

    "No. This requires only your particular skills."

    "Ah..?" I glance at Zatanna. "Zatanna isn't.. back on the 'active' roster-."

    "No, that's-" Zatanna shakes her head. "-fine. Romra pu!" Smoke coils around her as her armour reappears, and she shrugs at me. "I'm not injured. And I'm sure I can.. cope with being around you for a little while."

    "Okay, so-" Diana has already started back towards the zeta tubes. "-where are we going?"

    "You will be briefed upon your arrival, along with everyone else."

    "Alright, but do I need any-"

    "Recognised, Wonder Woman, Zero Three. Identity confirmed."

    "-special equipment? Huh."

    Zatanna frowns at the zeta tube. "Does she seem a bit.. off to you?"

    "Someone might have found out about the Noriel thing… Or she had to take a shift on the Watchtower with Guy or Mister O'Brian." I shrug as I walk into the tube. "Diana's usually fairly serene, but that doesn't mean that she doesn't get frustrated sometimes."

    "If you say so."

    I shrug as light flares-

    "Recognised, Orange Lantern, B zero six."

    -and I appear…

    Um. This isn't-.

    Construct armour forms around me just in time to stop the yellow construct gauntlet seizing me around the neck!
     
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    4th February
    19:40 GMT -5

    I jab a crumbler round into the gauntlet construct as it attempts to tighten its grip, causing it to-

    "Grugh!"

    -dissipate in a cloud of yellow-

    "Recognized, Zorina Zatara, Made Man of Owlman."

    -vapour what? I half turn as Zatanna materialises, looking just as confused as I feel at our emergence into a room which looks like a somewhat wrecked version of the hangar we just left. Zorina? Negative Fourteen, we're on Negative Fourteen. Which means-.

    Wonder Woman… Olympia, that's what my alter ego's files called her, dives at the still off-balance Zatanna, spear outstretched! I form a construct palisade-.

    "Pots!"

    Olympia jerks, snarls, then her skin shimmers as she breaks the rushed spell. Why can't Diana learn what I've been trying to teach her like that?

    "Ehtaerb ni erif!"

    Three yellow construct Olympias appear, the one just in front of me being shattered by a crumbler round almost immediately. This is their Alan, isn't it? What's he playing at? Another appears just behind Zatanna, swinging the shaft of its construct spear down onto the top of her head. Zatanna's armour shimmers faintly and the shaft is halted an inch from her scalp as the fire she conjured pours down the real Olympia's throat, causing her to wheeze and then dive for the pool. The fire was orange so it's probably not hot enough to do lasting damage to someone as tough as her, but I imagine that it's fairly painful. Her target gone, Zatanna steps forward and turns to confront the construct just as I destroy it with another crumbler shot.

    The third construct hangs back, growing a shield to accompany its spear.

    "Mister Scott, what are you doing? If you want our help just ask!"

    "Devorpmi lanosrep dleihs." Zatanna glances my way. "Mister Scott?"

    The air next to the construct Olympia shimmers as Capo Alan 'Al' Scott appears. Disappointingly, he isn't wearing a recolour of my Alan's uniform, but rather a grey, loose-fitting suit that escaped from the nineteen thirties. The ring on his right middle finger glows with power, and there's a pin in his lapel with-. Ah, not the yellow sigil. It's a circle with lines radiating off in a… V? No, an X. Huh, old school.

    "Mister Scott. You're looking less skeletal."

    "Hnh." He nods, smiling, his eyes visible beneath the brim of his trilby as glowing dots. "People are remembering why their grandfolks were so afraid of me. Does a man a power of good."

    Olympia shoots up out of the water, glaring at Zatanna as she pulls her right arm back to throw her spear-.

    "That'll do, Olympia." Alan raises his right hand in a 'stop' gesture. "I doubt that they'd go down easily, and we can't afford to linger here."

    Olympia's eyes flick towards him, but she obeys his instruction and floats through the air to land next to him.

    "If you have a request, you can just make it."

    "I find making a forceful impression more useful in the longer run." He shrugs nonchalantly. "But I suppose there's a time and a place. Howsabout you come along with us, and I'll explain what this is about someplace more convivial."

    "Howsabout fuck you?"

    His smile broadens slightly. "Howsabout fuck me?"

    "You're a senior career criminal, and Olympia is an enforcer and hitwoman. And I'm assuming given the-" I look around. "-state of disrepair this place is in that President Slade is still winning. You might be in a hurry, but Zatanna and I are innocent bystanders and we're not."

    He nods thoughtfully. "True. You might be able to cut a deal. But Slade's people are shooting first and leaving the questions for the morticians these days, and the two of you look just like known Syndicate members. And maybe you could fight your way out anyway, butWell, I may not know exactly how good you are, but you don't know exactly how good they are, either."

    "The zeta tube is right there."

    "Yeah, and it's just released a good deal of easily tracked radiation on a wavelength Slade's people know we used to use. Chances are, they're already calling a team together. And unless you know how to make zeta streams cross between parallel universes, I don't see how that does you much good."

    Zatanna shakes her head. "You're still not making much of an argument. We can both teleport. We don’t need you to evade whoever they're sending."

    "Teleport blockers, countermagic specialists, all kinds of exotic-."

    Olympia takes a step forward. "The 'peaceful' wing of the Syndicate is being threatened with extermination by President Slade, which will result in a slaughter which serves no one's interest. There is no point in being queen of a pyre. If you wish to avoid this, you will aid us."

    Zatanna and I look at one another. Empathic vision shows that she's inclined to follow my lead. Olympia and Mister Scott are both blocking me so I can't get anything from either of them-.

    There's a flicker in my empathic vision on the other side of the room, which then moves to get into cover. Someone using optical camouflage and a remarkably quiet teleportation system. But they're not attacking and my construct armour is still up. I'm curious as to who it is, but I don't recognise their desires well enough to identify them without taking a closer look.

    But we do need the time to gather information. And talking to my alter ego's allies-. Actually, where is he? He and Zorina are the obvious people to send on a job like this. Mister Scott must have gotten a full report from him, he knows that I was willing to help-.

    Be awkward if he's dead.

    "Fine. We'll hear you out. How are you planning on getting us out of a fortified mountain?"

    He waves his right hand and a circle appears on the floor. "Magic. Their countermeasures eliminate frequencies each time we use 'em. We just have to change faster than they can catch up. Take a minute to punch through the general countermagic field Medea put over the country."

    I take my power armour out of subspace and take a moment to check the controls. If there's already someone here, I doubt that it will take longer than-.

    Space twists, and a silver-skinned man in blue trousers appears in the exact point the other person teleported in at moments before. He… Looks like a mash-up of Captain Atom and Major Force, which means that he's probably this world's equivalent of the latter.

    Olympia immediately brings her spear to bear. "Have they sent you in to die alone, Q-Ranger?"

    "I'm just the tip-" He clenches his fists, green mist rising from each of them. "-of the spear."

    Constructs failing.

    My construct armour and Mister Scott's construct Olympia fail immediately. Probably a way around that, but I don't really want to start a fight with the man on behalf of some mobster supervillains.

    "But when it comes to taking down power rings-"

    The circle construct Mister Scott was creating dies as well. I appear to still have my environmental shield, though my construct armour is gone. So, area effect construct disruption and it's blocking our host's preferred form of egress. Still not completely convinced that I care, and… If I initiate hostilities it will severely undermine my claims of neutrality later. My armour doesn't have much in the way of integrated weapons, but assuming that Q-Ranger matches Captain Atom's power output I'm not too concerned.

    "-the tip is all you need."

    He stalks forward, then rises a little way into the air as Olympia moves to intercept him. I raise my right hand, the kinetic belt in my armour causing him to walk into what probably feels like an invisible wall. He pushes it with his glowing fists to no obvious effect, and I use the kinetic energy he's providing to dig a shallow trench matching the dimensions of the circle Mister Scott created with his ring. I jog towards it with Zatanna just behind me as Q-Ranger raises his hands and fires an energy bolt at Olympia. It passes unimpeded through my kinetic barrier but she effortlessly blocks it with her bracers.

    Mister Scott frowns at me, checks the floor and then nods as Zatanna and I cross the threshold and joins us. "Olympia. Now."

    She backs up, blocking an increasingly frantic series of shots from Q-Ranger with a cruel smirk on her face. "How long?"

    "About three second-" She blocks one more shot and then flies backwards at speed, crossing the perimeter just as the space around us turns to star-filled purple. "-s."

    And then the hangar vanishes.
     
  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    4th February
    19:45 GMT -5

    The room we appear in reminds me of Hephaestus's forge beneath Mount Etna. Mechanical technology covered in runes and shimmering with magic surrounds us in all directions as a brass circle on the ground around us crackles with electricity.

    "We're through! Shut it down!"

    "J-just a moment, Power Ring! If I don't-" I hear a clank as a lever is pushed into a new position. "-get this just right, Medea could track us."

    Olympia rolls her eyes while Mister Scott smirks. "Really?"

    "I don't like leaving-" There's another clank from somewhere behind something that looks like it escaped from the set of Thirteen Ghosts. "-things to chance. You know that. Gets people hurt."

    Huh. Add in some affected nonchalance…

    "I'm assuming that's your John Constantine."

    "Yeah." Mister Scott nods. "Not much use in the field, but he's a great researcher and theorist."

    "There." There's another clank, and then… Yes, that's John Constantine, but… Thick rimmed glasses with jeweller's magnifying lenses stuck on the bottom, a burn scar slash across his right cheek and a buttoned up laboratory coat combined with a tool belt. "Give it a moment to fully de-"

    Olympia strides across the circle, ignoring the shock as the residual electricity discharges itself into her legs.

    "-gauss. Right, yeah, nice work." He puts his hands on his hips as she strides past him. "Hope you weren't planning on going anywhere for another week."

    "Don't let her bother you." Mister Scott crosses the circle without incident and approaches John -14, laying his right hand on the man's left shoulder. "You did good work here. Mission successful. Take a break."

    John shakes his head, refusing to meet Mister Scott's eyes. "I.. can't, I can't afford the time. You know that."

    Mister Scott shrugs magnanimously. "If you're sure." He turns back to Zatanna and me. "Come on, let's get outta Constantine's hair."

    Zatanna and I glance at one another, then walk through the workshop after him. Olympia is already waiting for us before what looks like a heavily reinforced goods entrance. Ah, I see. The inner door is open while the outer door is shut. Once we're inside, she throws a lever and the inner door begins to close.

    "Where's Zorina?"

    Mister Scott glances at Zatanna. "Ah, kids today. No patience."

    She folds her arms across her chest. "Where. Is."

    "She's not on Earth right now." The inner door clunks closed and the outer door starts to open. "Otherwise we wouldn't need to be having this conversation."

    "Did you manage to kill Doctor Chaos?"

    "Yeah, he's dead and gone." He glances back at the now closed inner door. "And what's left of him is powering Constantine's workshop. The Don's back in charge, which is why the United States isn't a blazing war zone right now."

    We step out into a stone-floored foyer, and Mister Scott leads the way along an adjacent corridor.

    Olympia curls her lips. "I am unconvinced this is better."

    Mister Scott's eyes twitch for a fraction of a second. Ah, yes, demonstrating disunity before outsiders mildly weakens their position, but that only gets worse if he remonstrates with her. "Honey, you never did learn to play the long game. Now's the time for keeping out of Wilson's way while he and Luthor finish each other off for us."

    He stops, opening a door in the wall which leads into a small living room. Olympia marches through and takes up station behind the high-backed chair that appears to be the focus of the room. Mister Scott motions for us to enter and then comes inside, closing the door behind us and walking over to take the fancy chair. That leaves the settee opposite him for the two of us. I return my armour to subspace and take my seat while Zatanna remains standing.

    "If she's not on Earth, where is she?"

    "Oh, touring the galaxy. I don't know exactly where she is right now. Getting in touch would be tricky."

    "And my… Blue alter ego?"

    "He went with her." He looks at Zatanna. "Look, ah… Zatanna? You can sit or stand, it doesn't really matter to me. But this could take a while."

    Eying him for a moment, she walks around the settee and sits down beside me. Mister Scott smiles.

    "Now then. I'm sure you've got a lot of questions, but let me just give you a real quick overview. President Wilson is still in office, but he's coming up to the end of his second term. As far as we know, he isn't going to try and overturn the twenty second amendment, so that's it. The next fellah is almost certainly going to be the current Vice President, Alexander Luthor."

    Zatanna nods. "Superhero becomes supervillain, evil corporate executive becomes honest politician."

    "He was a superhero too. Beat Ultraman in a fight in central Metropolis right before the Decapitation." He smiles. "Darndest thing. Afterwards, he was more interested in winning the peace than finishing us off."

    "Okay, so..." I mean, yes, I can see a heroic Luthor taking high political office… And depending on how police statey things are getting, it might even be good that he won't be pressuring the Syndicate as much. But that still leaves the question… "Why do I care?"

    Mister Scott smiles. "Wilson might not want a third term, but it looks like he thinks we're… 'Unfinished business'."

    "You are."

    "Hah!" He leans back. "I'm not asking you to like us, Power Ring Orange. But the basic math hasn't changed. Moderate members of the Syndicate can only do so much to restrain some of the psychotic serial killers we've got working for us. At the moment, we're on the verge of getting everyone signed up to accept the new, softer touch Management. Once that happens, we can… What's the word?" He hesitates. "Downshift. Retool the Syndicate into an organisation that exists under the radar, to live in a society run under the rule of law."

    "I'm still not-."

    "Blue told you about Fawcett City, didn’t he?"

    "Yes. But I doubt that Wilson would do something like that a second time."

    "True, but that still leaves him punishment beatings, arrest and indefinite detention without trial, torture… Honestly, he's copying all our best tricks. Imitation might be the most sincere form of flattery, but I'm not getting any royalties out of it. And before you say anything, he's not just magically getting the people who deserve it, otherwise we wouldn't be having this conversation."

    "And what's Luthor's take on that?"

    "Son, if I knew what Lex Luthor was thinking, we wouldn't be having this conversation either. My guess is that he's gunna put up with it for another year." He makes a gesture of appeal. "But I don't know we can keep a lid on things for that long. The New Management is safe, but a lot of the Made Men aren't. And their families sure aren't."

    Zatanna shakes her head. "Why us?"

    "Normally, we'd put Blue on the case. But he's not here right now, and your face fits. Same with Zorina. The Zatara Crime Family all have their signature backward-talking magic. Can't fake it. That means people know you're speaking for the Family."

    "Wait." She raises her eyebrows incredulously. "'Zatara Crime Family'?"

    "Sure. Europe and North America's premier magic mafia. Is that not how it works on Earth Sixteen?"

    "No, it's just me and Dad. The rest of the family don't do.. anything like that."

    "Huh. Well, I suppose it wasn't all that likely everything would be mirrored. Here, it's your… Her, whole extended family. To varying degrees. Being able to say anything backwards is unusual. Usually comes with a restriction or two. But there are about two hundred or so people called 'Zatara' who can do it to some degree or other. The Don would be the fellah to talk to if you really want to ask about Family business."

    "So why are Blue Lantern and Zorina Zatara off-planet at such a critical moment? Because it sounds like this was the worst possible time for them to take time off."

    Mister Alan frowns. "Just unlucky, really. Figured we'd have a month or two before Wilson pushed this hard. Otherwise we'd just have asked them to delay their honeymoon."

    "What?" / "Huh?"
     
  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Earth -14
    Shadowcrest
    27th October 2011
    09:27 GMT -5


    I stand at parade rest outside the Don's drawing room, waiting for my invitation to enter. Given the events of the past year I could probably-. No, Zorina was very clear on that point. I could barge in and he'd have to take it, but if I decide to treat him as an underling then he can't be part of the Management and I have to be. A Manager can walk in on a Made Man. Made Men don't walk in on Managers.

    And to be fair, the Don has been perfectly happy to admit how much he owes me and the team. And aside from one extremely worrying moment when Doctor Chaos nearly talked Jonathan around to his way of thinking, the team has been solid in its support. And while I'm not sure that they all totally get what's happening around them with the Syndicate and.. post-Syndicate-domination America, neither overt nor covert observation shows anything worse than minor grumbling about having to actually pay for things now.

    Emperor Rickard was a mistake, and a costly one. But with The Answer, Don Giovanni, Capo Scott, Barracuda and the Director gradually being accepted as the new Management by the surviving Made Men, things are gradually getting-

    "Sure, Uncle Gio."

    -to a point where we're actually somewhat in control of things.

    The door opens, and I adopt a somewhat more relaxed posture as Zaccaria Zatara walks out. He's.. not a member of my team, having been dispatched to the New York base of the Zatara family in order to learn the family business by the cabal that directs the family business back in Sicily. As a result I haven't really had much to do with him, though he's always been polite when I've visited at Zorina's invitation. Now, he sees me waiting and his face… Stills in the manner of someone who has learned not to let their face betray them but hasn't learned how to affect the expression they desire.

    "Power Ring Blue."

    "Good morning, Master Zatara."

    He stares into my eyes for a moment, then gestures over his shoulder to the door. "Uncle Giovanni wants to talk to you."

    "Then I will attend to him at once." I nod politely. "Good day."

    He keeps watching me as I step around him and walk towards the door. Not sure what I've done to put his back up. The Don already said that he wouldn't be joining the Young Offenders, and not just because he isn't on President Wilson's radar yet. I'd use a nano-infection on him to eavesdrop and try to find out, but as Zorina said, her family regularly check for things like that and he'll feel obliged to strike back. And while his version of the family's magic only works on non-living things, that category includes both 'air' and 'power rings'.

    I push open the door and.. see that the Don already has company. He sits at the head of the table, while Mister Scott gifts me with an unsettling smile from his place at the Don's left. Zorina sits primly at his right, while Charles Tong sits on her right. But not her immediate right, and the gap and the abandoned teacup indicate that's where Zaccaria was a minute ago.

    "Power Ring Blue." The Don gestures to the empty seat next to Mister Scott. "Take a seat. We've got something to discuss."

    "Thank you for inviting me." I pull out the chair and sit down, briefly glancing at my Manager. Usually, Mister Scott isn't slow to tell me what he expects from me at this sort of meeting, but I'm not getting anything-

    "Tea?"

    -from him-. I jerk my head around as Mr Tong holds up the teapot. Ah yes, the one respect in which the New Management definitely beats the Old Management: much less alcohol. While I don't like tea any more than I like liquor, at least it doesn't burn my throat.

    "Thank you, yes."

    Mr Tong puts a sterling silver tea strainer over a cup and pours a dark-coloured tea into it. Cup filled, he sets the pot down and gestures to the sugar bowl. "Sugar?"

    "One, please." He uses a small set of tongs to deposit a single sugar cube into the cup before passing it over. "Thank you." I leave it to cool in front of me and turn to the Don. "What can I do for you, Don?"

    "I want to know what your intentions are towards my daughter."

    Unlike his nephew, the Don has excellent facial control. I don’t remember much about Giovanni Zatara from the comics, but I'm reasonably sure that he wasn't anything like as physical as the Don is. It isn't all muscle, not after two decades of running a Zatara Family branch from behind a desk, but he's still pretty tough-looking. My eyes dart to Zorina for a moment, but she's keeping her face deliberately blank.

    "Zorina is an extremely capable young woman-."

    "I'm not asking you for her school report, Paul. I'm asking about your personal intentions."

    "I don't-. I'm not romantically interested in her. Quite aside from the fact that I'm twice her age, I actually find her casual and unthinking ruthlessness quite unsettling."

    Zorina-. There's a small smile on her lips. And I don't know why.

    "I see." He takes a sip of his own tea, then returns the cup to its saucer. "Do you know why Zaccaria lives here?"

    "Training? I had been assuming that the Zatara Family intends to expand further into America, and he was here to learn the territory."

    "No."

    "Then… Are his parents weaker than you, mystically?"

    "Not a bad guess, but no. He's here to succeed me when I die." He sees the concern in my face. "Not now. Decades from now." He snorts quietly. "Whatever Wilson thinks. Zatara family tradition is that successful branches pass from father to eldest son. Since I don't have any sons, my sister Zenobia had a word with our mother and arranged to have her second son sent here."

    "What.. about Zorina?"

    "That's up to her. She won't get put out on the street, but she can't run the business."

    "That's.. ridiculous. She's got the skills, the magic ability-."

    "And?"

    "And you're saying that there's a blanket ban on her doing it because she's female. I didn't realise that your family discriminated-."

    "That's not it."

    "I'm sorry?"

    "We don't regard women as less important. You think fighting is more important than raising children? You think I don't respect my mother, same as I respect my father? No. No. It's just tradition that there are some things women do and some things men do. Not that I think it makes a whole lot of sense either." His expression hardens. "My own papa told me, my wife's body barely cold in the ground, that he wanted me to remarry. For Zorina's sake. Like I… Like I can't raise my own daughter right. Because raising children is what the women do."

    "I'm.. sympathetic, but-."

    "Zorina wants to take over after me, and there aren't a lot of ways that can happen. If Zaccaria wasn't here, we mighta been able to swing it. But he is, and picking a fight with the rest of the family wouldn't be a good idea. The other option is marrying well and running the business through her husband." I frown-. "Not another Zatara. But someone appropriate. We usually like to marry other magicians. It improves the chances of the children getting the powerful version of our family magics. But it doesn't have to be, as long as they've got something to offer the family. You're a Syndicate Made Man. A lot of our people respect you, respect your judgement. And you're probably going to join the Management one of these days."

    "Giovanni, if you want me to.. do interviews to-."

    Zorina giggles. It's a sound that worries me.

    "No, he wants to make sure that you haven't seduced me with your-" She widens her eyes slightly. "-wily ways." She turns to Giovanni. "Happy, Daddy?"

    He glowers. "I wouldn't say happy. He's right, he is twice your age."

    Zorina smiles confidently. "He's also Mister Scott's apprentice. The two of us being together will make it clear to everyone that the Management are here to stay."

    "Um. Zorina, I thought you were hitting on me because you enjoy making me uncomfortable. I didn't realise that you-. I mean, do you… Love me?"

    She smiles, shaking her head. "No. But… I respect you. I like you. I only joined the Young Offenders so that I could find a useful idiot to mind control, but you… You have potential."

    She pushes her chair back and walks around the table to me.

    "I'm sixteen in just over three months." She leans forward and kisses me on my right cheek. "Save the date."



    "Um? Excuse me?"
     
  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    4th February
    19:58 GMT -5

    "Really?"

    "Well…" Mister Scott shrugs. "More or less. Blue was running the team with Ultraboy, not with me."

    "He got married to a sixteen-year-old girl..? Because she told him to?"

    "They spent a lot of time together after the Decapitation, then they were trying to work out how to kill Doctor Chaos. I guess she just had to be a bit more forceful to make him think of her in that kinda way."

    Zatanna.. shuffles uncomfortably next to me, and Mister Scott regards us curiously.

    "You two… Not together? Blue's big problem was the age gap, and you two look like you're the same age to me."

    "No." / "No, we're… Not."

    "Alright." Mister Scott shrugs. "Hardly matters to me. What else you wanna know?"

    "Everything. To come up with a workable strategy for keeping your Syndicate going, I need everything. And some time outside. I want to check everything you're telling me."

    "Sure, we can set that up. But I was mostly talking about if there was anything you wanted to ask me. Not everything we do gets written down, y'know."

    "I didn't…" Zatanna glances at me. "Read the full report on the Syndicate. If… President Slade could beat the Syndicate when it was at its strongest, how are you still here?"

    Mister Scott shakes his head. "No, he couldn't. The Syndicate was effectively above the law for six years. Then Luthor got the smart idea of travelling to a parallel Earth to ask for help. We got… Blindsided. Well, I say we, I was retired at that point. We knew that Luthor had cracked our security, we just didn't think he had enough manpower to do anything about it. Next thing we know, he's back, and he's brought a team of Management recolors with him."

    "Who were they?"

    "The Justice League. Not the one from your universe. Ultraboy checked that before their little excursion to your LexCorp. They attacked Syndicate operations all over the United States." He glances to his side where Olympia has started grinding her teeth together. "Olympia got a front row seat at one of them, if you're interested in getting a blow-by-blow."

    "I will rip out her intestines when next we meet."

    "And then, when everyone was running around trying to defend the operations that were still going on, Luthor and the League attacked the moon base. Managed to jam the teleporters when it was only the Management on board. Wilson actually led the Marines boarding party himself. Which I kinda respect."

    "And… Then the League left?"

    "Sure. Mission accomplished. Except Wilson didn't actually think Luthor would be able to pull it off. He didn’t have anyone in position to attack all the other Syndicate bases or companies. And they didn't have anyone telling them what to do."

    "The League half-arsed it."

    Mr Scott shrugs. "I wouldn't be so sure of that. Maybe they had their own business to take care of back home?"

    "No, I know the Earth Sixteen Justice League. It's not on the job full time. If they could spend a few days here they could spend a few more, or come back a little later. If they didn't, it was because they decided that their involvement was no longer required."

    "Did the Syndicate try to rescue the.. managers?"

    "Owlman and Johnny Quick were killed during the League's attack. The rest? Hah, Ultraman killed President Wilson's wife. What did they think was going to happen?"

    "He killed him?"

    "Exposed him to blue kryptonite, then beat him to death with a crowbar in his prison cell. Power Ring got disarmed and then shot in the head. They had to use a nuke on Superwoman. We don't call it the Decapitation because the heads survived."

    "Okay, but if President Wilson hates the Syndicate that much… Why didn't he do anything about the rest of you?"

    "Putting something like that together takes time. And by then, Made Men had already started killing each other so he figured he didn't need to."

    My blue counterpart didn't mention that, but I suppose that it makes sense.

    Zatanna blinks in surprise. "What? Why?"

    "Because they're supervillains. None of them have any higher ideology than their own preservation and enrichment. The moment the Management were no longer around to referee, they reverted to type."

    "A little harsh… Blue and Ultraboy kept the Team alive, Jimmy Olsen took charge of Ultraman's people… But mostly true. Things really got going about… Oooh… Three weeks later? Pretty much died off now. A few bright young things tried to set themselves up as the new Management, but everyone else was just fighting over territory. Thanks to the Don, things in New York were pretty calm, but everywhere else was a mess."

    "Tragic."

    "It was for everyone who lived there." Zatanna frowns. "What, you think they're keeping it in the family? Wow, you really aren't Zorina, are you? People die in the crossfire, people die being in the right place at the wrong time. Having interests that conflict with the new kings and queens of the hill. Being anywhere near the more aggressive Made Men, now Owlman isn't around with the super sedatives. Or by thinking that they can actually arrest us now that the top bosses are pushing up daisies and not getting that we aren't any physically weaker."

    "Did anyone come after you?"

    "Oh, phsss, I was an old man, they didn't care about me. And the Syndicate members who did respected me enough to leave me alone. Think Olympia here got a few new notches on her spear though."

    Her hands ball into fists, her face twisting in anger. "It took the combined might of the Hellenic peoples to force the Amazons from Greece and they dared to think that-."

    Mr Scott reaches behind him and puts his right hand on her left arm. She flinches, and then calms.

    "There were a lot of bodies on the floor before anyone really got into position to organise anything. The surviving Justice Underground members -like Q-Ranger- got out almost immediately, which meant they could actually fight us without needing to have a whole battalion on hand. Blue was instrumental in holding things together. That's why him not being here is.. such a pain."

    "What precisely do you need me to do?"

    "Talk our guys and their guys into accepting something we can all live with. Thought it was gonna be an easy sell, then Wilson started up again and it's thrown everything out. Folks are getting skittish. Be nice if you could find out what was going on in the White House, check that Luthor's planning what we think he's planning."

    "And what resources do I have? What authority do I have?"

    He shrugs. "You're my main guy's younger brother. Folks know you're speaking for me and him both. You can't order us to hand ourselves over to the Feds, because that's not gonna fly with anyone."

    "Can I include the summary execution of Made Men in my plan? The truly monstrous ones?"

    He raises his eyebrows slightly. "Not an easy sell. Most of the people you're thinking about aren't actually Made Men. We liquidated a lot of our 'living weapons' so's Doctor Chaos couldn't use them."

    "Still…"

    "I'm not taking anything off the table, but you'd better have a good pitch to go with it."

    "Right. We'll need you to show me the exit so we can confirm any of what you've just told me, then we'll get to work." Hm. "Actually, are the parts of the Syndicate you're in control of doing anything right now that President Wilson might find particularly objectionable?"

    "Sure, everything. But if you're talking about stand-out objectionable… Yeah, one thing comes to mind."

    "Then I'm probably going to need you to stop doing that right away. What is it?"
     
  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    4th February
    20:06 GMT -5

    Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

    I look through the one way glass into the cell containing the bound, bruised and bloody form of Dame Carol Ferris. Her hair is shorn short and her musculature is considerably more pronounced than that of our Carol Ferris. Her pink gambeson is torn and dirty from the fight that resulted in the Syndicate 'acquiring' her, and she's-. Her eyes aren't focusing.

    "Oh God." Zatanna looks at me in horror. "Is she..?"

    "She's alive. Mister Scott, I'm going to need you to let me in there."

    "Sure, you can do that." He motions to an adjacent corridor. "Door's around here."

    I follow him, Zatanna opting to stay in the observation room. "What happened to her armour and her ring?"

    "Doc Strange got the armour and.. what was left of her ring. They're both in pieces." He stands by the control panel for the heavily reinforced door, looking me over. "You weren't planning on giving them back to her now, were you?"

    "I'm thinking about releasing her as a show of good faith."

    "Hm. Well, she hasn't really learned anything in here. But President Wilson isn't suddenly gunna call us 'partners in peace' just because we let one superhero go free."

    "I know. But I'm not trying to persuade him, am I?"

    He smiles as he activates the door release. "Knew you'd come up with something, son. Get to work."

    I walk into the cell and the door closes behind me.

    The walls are padded, and the chains attached in such a way that she can't move much beyond a small circle in the centre of the room. A circle that's already stained with urine and blood-.

    A small flare of orange light removes both, and I take a purple healing ray out of subspace and play it over her most obvious injuries.

    "Star Sapphire, can you hear me?"

    "S-saar 'apphire." She isn't looking at me and her eyes aren't focusing, but at least she's cognisant of my presence. "T-t-two."

    Her mouth is swollen and she's lost teeth.

    "Two eight."

    The swelling goes down as I watch, but purple healing rays don't replace lost teeth. Not in humans, anyway. She blinks as the ray starts to reduce the brain swelling.

    "Two eight one four." She looks at me. "Healing me for another round of beatings? I will never betray my comrades in arms."

    "Glad to hear it." I hold up the ray projector. "These don’t work on memory loss. This would be difficult if you weren't 'you' any longer."

    "Star Sapphire Two Eight One Four."

    "Yes, I know-. Oh, are you doing the 'name and serial number' thing?"

    "I have nothing else to say to the Syndicate."

    "You… Realise that by doing that you're effectively saying that the Syndicate is a government you are at war with, right? Rather than a criminal organisation? I doubt that was what you meant, but…"

    "Why are you talking to me, Power Ring? And why are you no longer blue?"

    "I've never been blue. And I'm talking to you because I want to send a message to President Wilson."

    She nods resignedly. "I wondered how long this would take. Do your worst; I will not fear you."

    I frown-. "No, not 'send a message' as in 'kill you and dump your body'. 'Send a message' as in 'I tell you something and then you tell him'. Do you understand?"

    "I am not so injured that I cannot understand simple sentences." She frowns. "Who are you? I had taken you for the Hope Diamond, but you are younger. And you are less cowed than he."

    "Lex Luthor isn't the only man who can travel to parallel universes. Where I'm from, we're called Lanterns."

    "Then why are you acting as an accomplice to their villainy?"

    "Based on the information available to me, I have cautiously concluded that a negotiated peace settlement is in the interests of the people of the United States, and that a military victory by the President -if achievable- would produce such.. horrendous amounts of collateral damage that such a solution would be better avoided. As such, I wish to make an opening offer."

    "How could I possibly accept anything you say at face value?"

    I take the Staff of Love out of subspace. "Does this look familiar?"

    She regards it for a moment. "An.. older design. We moved from crystals to power rings millennia ago. How did you come by it?"

    "My parallel's history is a little different to yours. The Zamarons never moved on from crystal. This drove… Our you insane until Green Lantern Two Eight One Four A removed it from her. I've since.. adapted it, as you can see." I put my right hand on the head and imagine that it was Jade in this position. The chains turn to violet crystal and then fragment, violet powder falling to the floor.

    "Thank you." She takes a moment to flex her joints, probably for the first time in several days. "But it proves little. Even Ultraman loved his parents and his son."

    "If I lend this to you, could you gain the proof you want?"

    "Yes." She regards me curiously. "Will you give it to me?"

    "I'll lend it to you right now, and then give it to you once we release you. Please be aware that I'm trained in anti-Lantern combat and it will put a major crimp in the 'releasing you' plan if you use it to pick a fight."

    She nods. "A gesture of faith from each of us, then."

    I hold out the staff. Her eyes flick to the observation mirror, then she steps forward and grasps the centre of the staff with her right hand. I release it and she pulls back slightly, placing her left hand palm-down on the Star Sapphire. She shudders as she makes a connection.

    "This isToo powerful." She blinks heavily as her eyes switch from pure violet to violet-irised. "An untrained mortal who attempted to use it-."

    "I know. I did say."

    She focuses, and strands of violet light reach out from her into the room. Three brush against my chest, then the rest swiftly orientate on me.

    "Show me what you love."

    Ah… The violet aura around her intensifies. but I don't.. really feel anything. Then the aura dims and she offers back the staff.

    "You spoke truly."

    I nod and take the staff from her.

    "You must understand that I do not have the authority to negotiate with you."

    "No, but you know the President, the Vice President and Quizmaster better than I do. I'd like something there's at least a chance they might agree to."

    "What are you authorised to offer?"

    "Nothing's off the table. But as you can imagine, there's a limit to what I could actually deliver on."

    She nods, notably less guarded now.

    "Then let us discuss the matter."
     
  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    4th February
    20:11 GMT -5

    "You should be sure to temper your expectations. President Wilson has hardened his heart to any Made Men who might seek his pardon."

    "We're not looking for pardons for everyone. But… Does that include everyone even slightly associated with the Syndicate, or just Made Men? If… An accountant who worked in an Syndicate-owned firm wanted to hand themselves in, or an engineer who worked on a Syndicate project and didn't commit a crime other than working for the Syndicate?"

    "There may be room to negotiate, for those only tangentially involved. But President Wilson has committed himself to the destruction of the Syndicate. And he will not adulterate his ambition. I do not know if he would consider you to be a full member yet, but by staying here and speaking on their behalf you are putting yourself at risk."

    I shrug. "We already have the technology to block the planeshift device your Lex Luthor used. I doubt that he's had the time to design a second device that works on a different basis."

    "You are not concerned for yourself personally?"

    "Not significantly." Hm. "What do you think the chance is of President Wilson removing all special legal measures and restoring habeas corpus?"

    "He believes that the extraordinary measures are necessary for destroying the Syndicate and restoring peace to America. Once the Syndicate is destroyed, then the pre-bellum legal mechanisms would be restored."

    I can't help but smile. "Did you know that the Syndicate didn't exist until Governor Wilson started targeting metahuman criminal gangs? I mean, the Managers knew each other, but cooperating was only ever on a case by case basis."

    "No. And while I don't know whether it's true or not it hardly matters now."

    "No? Because it seems to me that Wilson started a war that has made the country much worse off. Every time he escalated they escalated right back. If he'd just not done that, the country's supervillains would still be spending more time fighting each other than fighting anyone else."

    "They would still be supervillains."

    "Your starter for ten: what's the difference between 'kidnapping' and 'arresting without charge'?"

    She narrows her eyes. "Pass."

    "If you pay the ransom, the kidnapper lets you go. Wilson gave up the right to say 'the law says so' when he started changing the law to justify what he was doing. Ultraman was satisfied with running crime in Metropolis. Heck, crime went down after he took over all of the city's other gangs, even including his punishment beatings. Then he got threatened by something he couldn't beat on an organisational level. So he upped his organisational game and his brute force game, because the force at President Wilson's disposal was greater than what Ultraman had at his disposal."

    "Are you trying to claim that letting the Syndicate off scot-free is the best solution?"

    "How familiar are you with the Good Friday Agreement?"

    Which exists back on Earth 16, but might well not be a thing here. I really need to get out and update my database.

    "It was the peace settlement which brought an end to political violence in Northern Ireland."

    "Sort of. Fanatical groups remained active for years afterwards, but the main groups accepted that it was a fair deal and stopped bombing and sniping. Marching season still gets a bit tense. But, part of the result was that hundreds of murderers were released from prison having completed a mere fraction of their sentences. And the vast majority of them didn't re-offend. The British government devolved a lot of authority to the Northern Irish Assembly while the Republicans gave up on trying to unify it with the Republic of Ireland by force. Everyone got a situation they could live with, and if anyone breaks the law now then they're fair game."

    "The Crime Syndicate is not a political organisation, Citrine."

    Cit-? Okay, not sure what her jewel fixation is about, but at least it's orange.

    "Criminal gangs in Northern Ireland did a lot of fund raising. It didn't all go on guns. And they did punishment beatings, too. And while I rather missed the part of history where the British Army decided that treating Ireland like occupied territory rather than part of Britain was sensible, and that brigandage and murder were acceptable forms of policing, I know full well that they happened."

    "You think that the Made Men of the Syndicate will become legitimate citizens if the President gives them a… Mulligan?"

    "There was crime before supervillains. There would still be crime if they vanished. Even now there's crime, but since it's being committed by the state people are pretending that it isn't crime. But the last reliable statistics I was able to find said that supervillain-led criminal groups are actually slightly less violent than the regular kind. They can just escalate further if pushed. We've seen what happens when the surviving parts of the Syndicate are pushed."

    She looks thoughtful for a moment. "The offer President Wilson received last year was genuine."

    "Yes. Wait, you thought that it wasn't?"

    "The President believed it was an attempt at misdirection. I had no opinion."

    "Did he?"

    "Yes."

    "Because… People sometimes say that they want peace, when what they actually mean is 'victory'. Peace on their terms only. For example, take a look at how many Nobel Peace Prizes have been awarded in the Middle East. And compare it to how much peace has actually happened. People actually want peace when they're prepared to give up things they don't want to give up in order to achieve it."

    "And what is the Syndicate prepared to give up?"

    "All of their remaining strategic weapons. At least, those that aren't built into Made Men. Certain types of crime, so long as they are allowed to move into legitimate areas of commerce to offset the financial loss. Part of the Syndicate's combat strength can be… Sent into exile."

    "Exile? Where?"

    "Pick a failed state, or one run by criminal gangs already, or one where the government might appreciate metahuman muscle in order to solidify its hold on power. Creating a private military company out of the Syndicate's hard cases well outside President Wilson's area of concern. They won't complain too much about the work, and they won't be an immediate threat to America. Plus, if they die in combat, he doesn't have to worry about them at all."

    "Unless they seize a country and begin rebuilding there."

    "If they take over a country, that's even better. Firstly, there's less reason for them to come back to a place where there's a firing squad waiting for them. Secondly, running a country is actually really hard and takes a lot of time and intelligence, which is time and intelligence that isn't being spent on attacking American concerns." I shake my head at the obvious sub-par decision making. "Let me tell you: if I'd been running the Syndicate a couple of years ago, they'd have had a very different focus. So many ways they could make a profit-."

    Oh goodness me. That's how I get them on-side. Evil Alan can give me their personnel files and I can work out how they can make money legallyish. And it won't go like it did with our Lex because they'll think I'm one of them and they're actively looking for better options.

    "So that's my opening offer. Nothing is nonnegotiable, and the Syndicate does appreciate that while everyone would lose in the event of a direct confrontation they'd lose by most. I'm happy to meet with representatives of the President, or of anyone else if he doesn't want to be directly connected to what's going on."

    "I can request an audience with the President and relay that."

    "Not-. Lex Luthor will probably be President this time next year. You'll need to make sure you tell him as well, because he's going to have to live with it. And if the Quizmaster is as intelligent as his alter ego back on my home parallel, you should tell him so that he can make sure I'm not pulling something."

    She nods slowly. "I will agree to that."

    "Thank you. If you'll excuse me, I'll go and talk to Power Ring about letting you out."
     
  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    4th February
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    Mister Scott nods as I enter the observation room. "You got some good ideas there. Using someplace no one wants as a fallback point. And we were already shutting down mosta Owlman's boondoggles anyway."

    I nod back, then turn to his bodyguard. "Olympia, you're the blood knight of the group. How would you feel about heading to Africa or South America to kill people for money?"

    "It would be a welcome change of pace from hiding as we are now."

    Zatanna regards her with distaste. "I thought that your.. Syndicate was trying to avoid direct confrontation. Were you on Doctor Chaos' team?"

    "No. It was clear to me that Doctor Chaos was merely using us for his own ends, rather than trying to rule the world as the head of the Syndicate. And I will not be used by a shade."

    "Do you think your fellow blood knights would go for it? Or would they just take it as a sign of Management weakness?"

    She stares at me haughtily. "Why do you call me a 'blood knight'?"

    "The term refers to someone who fights for the joy of it. In context, I'm talking about the members of the Syndicate who can't do 'subtle' or 'white collar crime'. The ones who need to fight-"

    And I suddenly understand Owlman. At this point, Bruce Wayne could do the world far more good as CEO of Wayne Enterprises than as Batman, but he can't stop going out and crusade-caping. Owlman could have been richer and more powerful by doing almost anything other than building an apocalypse bomb, but… Once he knew how to build it, he had to build it. Had to use it. Not because it was a good idea, that wasn’t the point…

    "-and will act out if they can't."

    "I am not a petulant girl who cannot control her battle-rage."

    "So are you giving up on forcing Wonder Woman to eat her own intestines? Because a purely rational person would settle for killing her efficiently."

    "She rendered me insensate with my own spear!"

    Mister Scott chuckles, quietly and menacingly. "Think you're making his point for him, doll."

    Olympia snarls quietly to herself, turning her face away from both of us.

    "What's the arrangement for moving Dame Carol out of here?"

    "Gas, magic bindings, then moving a variable endpoint door somewhere we won't want to go again and throwing her out. Olympia, why don't you go get her ready to move?"

    Olympia turns and marches from the observation room.

    "And Zatanna? We'll need you to move the door."

    Zatanna nods slowly. "Because this is Shadowcrest, isn't it? I haven't really…" She places her right hand on the wall, closing her eyes as she… What, connects to the house's magic? "Since it's just me and Dad, we haven't really experimented with everything it can do. But if my.. family has so many magicians here…"

    Mister Scott shrugs. "I'm sure they won't mind throwing in a spell book or two as a thank you present if you pull this off."

    Zatanna doesn't look particularly pleased at the idea.

    "What are we supposed to call you while we're in company?"

    "Depends on how you wanna play it, son. You can call me 'Al' if you want us to be friends. Capo Scott if you want to make a business case for why we should try making peace with President Wilson. Or Power Ring if you want to appeal to the masses as supervillains and give them a target to crush. I'll respond in kind." He waves his right hand nonchalantly. "It's all about getting them into the right head space." He looks thoughtful for a moment. "Hey, ah… I've been wondering… Whatever happened to your me?"

    "I got him a new lantern. He rejuvenated and joined the Justice League."

    "Hah! Ah, you shouldn't ah said that. Now I kinda wanna go fight him. See which of us aged least gracefully."

    "See, this is exactly what I don't get about supervillains like you. What's the point?"

    "Point? The point is to be, son. It's not complicated at all."

    I shake my head. "The nearest thing I've got to a rival on Earth Sixteen is a man named Nylor Truggs. He steals pieces of schizo tech and then develops them for wider use. I think he's planning on using what he's collected to fight against an oncoming alien invasion."

    "Sounds like a superhero to me."

    "He murders the people who own any technology they're not using to his satisfaction."

    "Sounds like a really focused superhero. We had this guy called Brother Love who used to mind control people who.. weren't getting along. Course, that was back in the sixties…"

    "He murders them as a point of principle; they don't use what they've got so they don't deserve to live."

    Mister Scott nods, smirking. "Now that sounds more like a supervillain."

    "But how does it make sense?! Why do you people.. do these things? There must be.. some.. reason I'm not seeing."

    "Well, sure. Sure there is, son. Of all the books I've read, all the plays and films I've watched, no one put it quite like George Orwell. 'Always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless.'"

    "Nineteen eighty four. I never grokked it. The social control stuff… Sure, totalitarian governments use their control to reinforce their control. That makes sense. But real world dictators have a high quality of life. The Inner Party make their own lives objectively worse every time they do anything. And as far as I could tell, their own anti-technology policies would eventually remove their ability to maintain their control. I mean, I'm not Kantian, but that's… Just… Dumb."

    "You.. sweet, innocent boy." He shakes his head fondly. "I don't know if I can explain it to you. How did your Alan Scott get started? Let me guess, he was… Driving a train someplace, someone held him up and he.. tripped over his ring?"

    "His employer tried to blow up the train he was working on for the insurance money."

    He nods. "I used to work the railroads too. 'Till I realised how much money I could make holding 'em up instead. Built up a decent stake but the law was on my tail. Cornered me and my guys in an old railroad shed we were using for a bunkhouse. I grabbed an old train lantern to brain a guy with…" He shrugs. "And as I killed 'em one by one, I started to feel their fear, making me stronger."

    "Conditioning. The ring conditioned you. You made them afraid, it makes you feel good-."

    He shakes his head, visibly frustrated by my comment. "No, no, come on. Do me the courtesy of letting me have my own motivations. My ring lets me feel fear, it doesn't make me feel anything about it one way or the other."

    Or so I'm sure you'd like to think.

    "After I killed 'em all, I took all my money, went to Gotham and invested, bought a.. radio company. I was rich and powerful, and when you're rich and powerful most rules are things for the little people. And it wasn't enough. I kept a secret identity for years, not because I made money out of it, but because I wanted to doWhatever I wanted. I wanted a sort of power you don't.. get from money or connections. I wanted people to look up at the sky and pray that my yellow light didn't fall on them. The money was just a way of reminding people how powerless they were. Hell, half the time I just burned the stuff. Easier than working out how to fence it. Your.. Alan, did he ever run with a posse?"

    I nod. "The Justice Society."

    "I founded the Crime Lodge. A club for people like me to meet up and brag about things. To hang around the only other people like us, who.. lived like we did. And maybe push each other a little further. People came and went, but a few of us… We made that place, made it untouchable. Made ourselves untouchable."

    "My Alan gave it up because of a senate investigation. Why did you quit?"

    "Same reason I told Ultraman his whole Syndicate thing was doomed from the get-go." He sighs. "We got too big."
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2019 at 6:45 AM
  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    4th February
    20:22 GMT -5

    Through the viewing window I see Dame Ferris stagger and collapse. A moment later Olympia walks in with some worrying-looking chains and a full head container.

    Zatanna averts her eyes, frowning. "What do you mean, 'too big'?"

    "Olympia wanted to conquer the world. Heh, when you get access to our database, take a look at the file on Themysciran culture. It's an eye-opener."

    Um, yeah. Not sure what an evil version of Themyscira would be like, al.. though… America isn't evil. It's just that a few people changed ends. Themyscira might be exactly the same.

    "Did you lose?"

    "How do you lose at taking over a world?" He shakes his head. "At our height, there were only twenty one Crime Lodge key holders. How do you conquer a planet with twenty people?"

    "Cow them into submission?"

    "And get what? I told you, we were already untouchable. And because of that, we got a rather inflated idea of our ability to do anything other than wreck the place."

    "Destruction is the work of a moment. Creation, the work of a lifetime."

    He looks at me curiously, then shrugs. "Guess you could put it like that. We thought… We'd already peaked as super criminals, maybe world domination was the next step. The next rush. So we took over New York City." He makes a 'forward' gesture with his right hand. "Just strolled in to City Hall and announced it."

    "I can't help but notice that you don't rule New York now."

    "What the hell did I know about civil administration? Trash collection, electricity, water, sewage… Law enforcement. I managed a bit better than Whizzer-"

    Zatanna snort-laughs, then covers her mouth with her right hand.

    "-and Olympia. He couldn't really be bothered to do the actual work and she just shouted orders and threats and expected terrified people to respond intelligently. We didn't even last a month before we gave it up." He shakes his head. "I think if it had been a day, we coulda laughed it off. But it meant the world to Olympia, and I… Well, it didn't work out. We tried going back to the way things were, but… The old games got tired, there was nowhere to go… Some problems just can't be solved by a magic ring. Jace and I focused on our regular careers, Vicky… Olympia, went back to Greece to see if she could break the spell keeping the Amazons trapped on Themyscira. Didn't work, which is probably just as well." He nods to himself. "Maybe actually trying to do the work of running a country is just what we need to take the wind out of the sails of the Young Turks who're griping to me about 'letting Wilson walk all over us'."

    Olympia heaves Dame Carol over her left shoulder and marches out of the cell. Mister Scott blinks as he brings himself fully into the present, then leads the way out of the observation room.

    Huh.

    Well, that was… Revealing. What happens to a power tripper when the power trip ends? When the drugs don't work? When the high you expect doesn't come, when your reputation and ego take a huge blow…

    Though the fact that he didn't bother learning from his mistake and trying again is rather telling.

    Zatanna and I follow him out and then bring up the rear as the party strolls down the corridor, stopping in front of a.. blank wall. Mister Scott looks it over, then touches it with his right hand.

    "This'll do. One a' you wanna take the dame?"

    I pick her up with a construct and Olympia-. Victoria pushes her away, as if she finds touching her distasteful.

    "Wait until the door vanishes before you wake her up. And don't hang around; we're not sure how fast Medea can pick these up, but she can, and they'll be sending people to wherever you end up."

    "Or do hang around and just go over to their side."

    Victoria clenches her fists while Mister Scott just shrugs disinterestedly.

    "Yeah, maybe. Hell, if you can talk Wilson down it'd be worth it. But I think Blue would be disappointed if you died, so just you remember they ain't your kinda people."

    I nod. "How do we get back?"

    "Assuming you don't end up in the White House or something, I'll ask the Don to open you a door in… Twenty four hours."

    Zatanna shakes her head. "I need to tell my Dad where I am. They're probably already looking for us."

    Mister Scott shrugs with mock-helplessness. "Blue told you how to block our dimensional shift technology, so we can't use that. We don’t have another zeta radiation based gate, the Mountain is swarming with soldiers and Gubbins has probably already taken it apart. We can build another one… But we haven't yet. And I don't remember anything about Zataras being able to travel between alternate dimensions under their own power." He steps away from the wall. "All yours, sweetheart."

    Zatanna sets her jaw. "Rood ot erehwemos esle."

    Wooden panels rearrange themselves to form a door, and Zatanna grabs the handle and pulls it open. "Let's go."

    I float Dame Carol before me as we head out into.. a dark disused dockside warehouse. I can hear the subdued sounds of the city in the background, and the lapping of water somewhere closer.

    "Rood raeppasid."

    I generate a construct bed and set Dame Carol down upon it. "Please wake her up."

    "Sniahc llaf trapa." The chains binding Dame Carol fall apart link by link, and the helmet decays into flakes of metal to be blown away by an ethereal wind. Zatanna walks up to stand adjacent to Dame Carol's head and places her right hand on her forehead. "Nekawa."

    Dame Carol's eyes jerk open and she sucks in a lungful of air. I smile faintly, take the Staff of Love out of subspace and hold it out to her.

    "Feeling better?"

    She sits up and turns so that her feet are planted on the floor, then rises to her feet. "I do not fear death so much as dying with my work incomplete. Still, it is pleasant to be away from that place." She takes the staff in her right hand and the Star Sapphire in her left, a faint violet glow enveloping her at once. She holds it for a moment and then pulls, the Sapphire coming free of the staff.

    "I suggest that you be careful with that. The last wielder-."

    She shakes her head and places the Sapphire against her breastbone where it grows a faint violet crystal gorget. "Star Sapphires are trained to avoid losing ourselves to our passions. I had long suspected that the lesson was a holdover from ancient times. I suppose that now I have proof."

    "Now that you're free, what will you do?"

    "I will do what we agreed, and relay your offer of a conditional surrender. How shall I contact you with any response?"

    "Power Ring Yellow wants us back in twenty four hours. Meet back here in… Eighteen? If you haven't gotten an answer by then…" I stare into her with empathic vision, getting snapshots of her triumphs and tragedies, why she-. Ah. "Want to talk to me really hard and I'll feel it."

    "Very well." She rises slowly off the ground, flying towards the exit. "I will bid you a good evening."

    I nod, watching her go.

    "I suppose that's one way to make sure I can't use the staff." I look at Zatanna and she shrugs awkwardly. "It's not like I.. want it, but we're stuck on a parallel Earth. It could have been useful."

    "If we get desperate we can chase down Power Ring Green's gauntlet."

    She nods. "So what now?"

    "Now we do some research. Let's find out if any of what they've been telling us is true."
     
  20. Mr Zoat

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    4th February
    20:48 GMT -5

    Gotham City -14 appears to be a buzzing centre of industrial activity. More buildings are being demolished, built and rebuilt than in any city I can name back on Earth 16. Collateral.. damage as they finished off Owlman's faction? With Wayne Industries definitely not being the force for social improvement that it is back home, I can only suppose that someone is trying to make good on three decades of neglect in record time. Most of it appears to be… EnigmaTech? Yes, I remember from Trinity that one version of Quizmaster started calling himself that. I didn't read enough of it to find out exactly what triggered the rebranding or the siding with villains, but since this planet clearly hasn't been attacked by a Qwardian dreadnaught I can't be confident that the same situation applies.

    But if it is him… A rational superhero. Working on the economy, because a strong legitimate economy is the best way to prevent the re-emergence of a strong illegitimate economy.

    Why can't I work with people like that? I wonder if he'd consider mentoring our Edward Nyg-.

    "Gotham Economic Boom Continues'." Zatanna turns the page of her newspaper as I emerge from my data trawl.

    We're in a somewhat empty café near Grant Park, having walked through an oddly cheerful city. Richard might be right about headline crime being down, but there's still a certain undercurrent of nervousness in Gotham 16. Probably will be for years to come as people readjust. Here, people were wishing us a good evening as we passed them. Even the soldiers on both of the checkpoints we walked past were polite enough.

    "Reading between the lines, it looks like they're adapting technology seized from the Syndicate for civilian purposes. Once we're done with this whole thing, I'd-."

    Zatanna's eyes widen in shock. "Oh."

    "What?"

    She folds the paper back on itself, then in half, then turns it around. Showing me a picture of the mayor shaking hands with a heavily scarred man named Edward Nashton. Okay, what'sohhhhh.

    The mayor Thomas Wayne. Ring, check obituaries.

    Compliance.

    "Martha and Bruce Wayne died in Crime Alley. Thomases Senior and Junior survived."

    I seem to remember Thomas Wayne Senior going rather off the deep end in the comic. Here, he… Yes, the files I can access suggest that he's doing a good job. Although… Mister Scott's files on Talon suggest that he's still at large. But he was more 'the test subject that survived' than 'foster grandson', and while Wayne Senior isn't going quite so crazy as his comic counterpart he is an enthusiastic supporter of President Wilson.

    "Oh." She turns the paper back towards her. "Should we.. tell… You know."

    "We can include it in our report. But… That's not… His father. They were similar once, but-."

    The door jingles as a squad of armed soldiers enter. The first has his gun at the ready, though not quite pointed at anyone. The second has a scanner of.. some kind, and the third also has a gun at the ready. The woman with the scanner takes a look around, tenses her jaw for a moment and then steps forward.

    "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. We've detected an illegal holographic device on the premises. Would the person using it please stand up?"

    That would be legally tricky if the country was actually following normal legal processes, but the emergency laws make it quite legitimate for those soldiers to 'scan and shoot'. She's asking because she's not stupid enough to fire into a restaurant without direct provocation, regardless of what the law says.

    And likewise I'd feel kind of bad if I got a group of innocent civilians killed. I sheepishly raise my right hand and then stand up. The two soldiers with guns immediately fan out to cover me, though they don't raise their guns quite yet.

    "Sir? Would you mind explaining?"

    "I'm-. I'm sorry, I didn't realise it was quite this illegal. Um."

    She relaxes slightly at the sound of my very clearly foreign accent.

    "How-? How big a problem is this? I mean, I knew things were.. a bit tense here, but… Ah…"

    "Sir, I'm going to need an explanation."

    "I keep getting mistaken for this guy, and after the third time I got detained for an hour at a checkpoint I thought, you know, wear a facial mask…"

    "Why were you stopped?"

    "I look like a guy on the Syndicate list. I mean, I'm not him, but we do look a bit similar…"

    She nods sympathetically, and the guns droop a little further. "Sir, I know it's frustrating, but the law exists for a reason. We're fighting a major civil insurgency. Please deactivate your disguise immediately so that we can verify your identity."

    "Okay, but so long as we're clear that I'm not him."

    No direct acknowledgement, but I tap the hologram projector on my cravat anyway. The holographic mask I've been using to walk around with fades away immediately. No intakes of breath, I notice. And the corporal with the scanner is frowning slightly. Looks like Blue-me isn't that well known by people in general.

    The corporal waves her scanner at me again. "You're a close match for Power Ring, but you're too young and your body shape isn't quite the same. You're in the clear, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to confiscate the device."

    I nod sheepishly and take it off my cravat and hold it out. She attaches her scanner to her waist and steps forwards to take it from me.

    "Am I in… Any other trouble?"

    She puts the hologram projector in a utility pouch.

    "I'm willing to let this go, but please be aware that using holographic disguises in public is illegal."

    "Right, yes, sorry."

    The two armed soldiers step back, and the corporal leads the way out of the restaurant.

    Hm.

    I sit back down and generate a sound-deadening field. "Interesting."

    Zatanna nods. "They could detect your holographic disguise, but not my magic or your power rings. And either Star Sapphire hasn't reported in, or whoever she reported to hasn't added you to the system yet."

    "The checkpoints didn't detect the hologram, but those soldiers only had mundane equipment. Holographic displays are fairly common on Earth Sixteen… Even if they've been banned for a while, people could still have projectors. The detectors are rare, either expensive or hard to make, and they're used to getting false alarms."

    "But she didn't arrest you. Which.. means that they're not just interning everyone, even if they technically violate the emergency orders." She looks at me for a moment. "Do you think Mister Scott was lying about what President Wilson is doing?"

    "That's the problem, isn't it? Some of these emergency orders are pretty draconian, but if they're using sound judgement and only actually applying them when they need to… That's not necessarily a problem. It still leaves the.. practical issue of how to bring down the Syndicate without causing massive widespread destruction, but I am revising down my estimates on how many innocent people are being affected by the current level of government action."

    "Does that change anything? If we're trying to avoid a fight we're still going to have to help the Syndicate anyway."

    "It does make me think that President Wilson might be more rational than they've been trying to convince me he is. Which means that we might be able to persuade him to go along with it."

    "If that's true, why were they trying to make him look like the bad guy?"

    "Not sure. Maybe so they could claim that they got the president removed to strengthen their position with the Made Men?" I shrug. "Not sure."

    She nods. "So what's our next step?"

    "Find people protesting against the emergency laws who aren't sponsored by the Syndicate and request more details. But we can probably leave that until tomorrow."
     
  21. Mr Zoat

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    5th February
    09:21 GMT


    I narrow my eyes as I look at Hinon. "So… What exactly do you want?"

    "As I have already explained to Clarissi Dox-."

    "Politely." "The petitioner will know their place."

    She takes a breath, which I'm almost entirely convinced is for show. "What the Controllers want is access to the Orange Central Power Battery and the right to recruit Lanterns. Which I believe is fairly reasonable, given that we created it and you depend upon me to maintain it."

    "There's a good chance that the reason why Vega was such a mess in the first place was your mishandling of the Orange Central Power Battery. How much harm did Larfleeze cause because your security was inadequate?"

    "I am fully aware of our civilisation's failings. I have lingered here as I have because I consider us obliged to clear up after the Guardians' failings. May I presume that you will be more content with providing the security yourself?"

    I smile and walk past her, taking in the holographic display of Tamaran's orbital shipyards and defences. The Citadel shipping that we seized from Ermana forms the core of the Tamaranian Self-Defence Fleet, though both Clarissi Dox and Weaponer Lysis were leery about using them at all. By the standards they're used to -the standards of major galactic powers- they're a bit rubbish. The primary weapons of the Citadel battleships are optimised to work against large numbers of medium-sized ships at medium to short range, which is… Okay for Vega. That's what most groups use. But now those are ex-groups. The pirates evaporated under the fury of Princess Komand'r's assault, the local Spider Guild chapter hunted down and slain to a man by Princess Koriand'r and the remaining Gordanian clans are bending over backwards to satisfy us.

    Beyond the less than ideal loadout of the capital vessels, there's the fact that they're… Designed for Citadelians. Technologically simple and rugged, with parts that can be stripped out and replaced easily. Dox and Lysis both want to take full advantage of the g-gnomes' telepathic knowledge-sharing abilities to go in the opposite direction. Make the most advanced ships that we can and keep them in operation with telepathically-educated crew. They were even making noises about not bothering to finish the ships we took from Ermana in order to better focus on the next generation.

    I talked them down from that, since getting the Tamaranians some experience is our most immediate concern. I just wanted to get the things flying as soon as possible, but they insisted on upgrading their sub-light drives before considering them 'finished'. Now the battleships should at least be able to close with most opponents, though they still won't live long if we pick a fight with the Dominion or…

    Or Apokolips.

    But that's fine. For now. It would be ridiculous to pit a world that's barely recovered from occupation and enslavement against the most powerful civilisation in the galaxy. The Crown Imperium is the only local power of any size, and our relations with them are quite friendly. Once we drag that toerag Ryand'r back here, we'll be packing him off to their naval officer school. Oswin tried floating the idea of a dynastic marriage, but… Then he saw the look on my face and dropped it. I'm sure that Ryand'r is perfectly capable of hooking up with someone without external involvement. Anyway, we don't need to ensure that our ships are optimised for destroying theirs. The next threat we'll be facing will probably be the Spider Guild, and they're more inclined to raid than make direct attacks.

    We ended up agreeing to make the next generation of ships a compromise. Something more advanced than what the Citadelians used, but less than Colu or Qward would build. Something the Tamaranians can maintain themselves. And getting them educated is one of our largest bottlenecks right now. They need technically skilled people in every field, and we don't have the g-gnomes to speed that up enough. We can barely crew the ships we have, and that's drawing on Euphorian expatriates who might well up and leave once Kalista decides that she wants to go home. I ended up making a gift of a number of the docks we took from Ermana to the Karnans, not as a demonstration of largess but literally because we can't use them.

    But.

    "With the Lanterns under my command, I consider these defences adequate for now. But my interests are local, and I'm sure that you want Lanterns for something a little more significant than a dick-waving contest with the Guardians."

    "As you know full well, the Green Lanterns don't protect everywhere."

    I nod. "I am painfully aware of that. Where in particular do you have in mind?"

    "The Controllers are currently engaged in hostilities with the Reach. I take it you've heard of them."

    "Yes." I turn away from the hologram and back towards her. "And I know that they need to be fought. But Tamaran isn't strong enough to participate in any significant way against the level of force they can bring to bear. I won't even allow volunteer brigades."

    "Then it's a good job that I'm not asking for that, isn't it?"

    I suppose. "If I said 'yes', how exactly would it work?"

    "A small number of Controllers would come here to connect themselves to the Orange Central Power Battery. And then they would return to Maltus."

    "That's it?"

    "It would be useful if our Lanterns could receive training from yours, but given your understandable reluctance to become embroiled in our conflict with the Reach I doubt that you would agree. We have no need to forge either personal lanterns or rings here."

    "Would it be easier?"

    "Yes, a little."

    "Alright. They can work here, and I'll get Dox to assign some instructors."

    "And what do you expect in return?"

    "Half of the rings and personal lanterns they produce. I appreciate what you've done, but I'm a little tired of Orange Lanterns with voices in their heads limping back to the Central Power Battery to recharge."

    "That-. It will be a hard sell to my fellow Controllers, but I can live with it. Anything else?"

    "You mentioned 'clearing up the Guardians' failings'. I have one more for you." I alter the hologram so that it displays a psion. "These-."

    "You want us to recreate a species you rendered extinct? We have the genetic records from when we owned their ancestors as household pets-"

    What?

    "-but I'm somewhat surprised that you consider their resurrection desirable."

    "Can we go back to the 'household pets' thing?"

    "We created them and deposited them in Vega. Is that not what you were referring to?"

    "No, I was just referring to leaving them unsupervised by not patrolling Vega. They came from Maltus originally?"

    She nods. "One of our earliest experiments with biological augmentation. We had largely abandoned Maltus during their rise to full sophoncy. It wasn't until their fleet neared Oa in search of the 'Great Teachers' of their legends that we realised the extent of our bungling. I would rather they had learned wisdom rather than being destroyed-."

    "They're not all dead."

    "Oh?"

    "I kept a handful of their cloning specialists and child-educators alive. I.. was going to ask you to become their overseers, but having heard how you messed that up the first time I'm going to tell you to take them on as a client species. Oversee what they're doing properly this time, and keep working with them until they're capable of playing nicely with others."

    "Hm. Yes, we have other client species, and the psions at least are intellectually capable. That will certainly be easier to sell than losing half of our work."

    I wave my right hand. "Half of your work until all my Lanterns are equipped and I have a.. small number of spares. I am not interested in expanding the region I control at present, but I do want to make sure that it is protected."

    "That's a little better. May we also study your Lanterns so as to aid our Lanterns in coping with the orange light?"

    I nod. "Sure, as long as you share what you learn. I've long suspected that Tamaranian culture makes for Lanterns who are able to channel the orange light without going into crazy mode, and I am happy to help you avoid any incidents of that kind. Let's go talk to Dox, and… Nail down the specifics."
     
  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    10:02 GMT -5

    "I'm so sorry for keeping you waiting."

    Linda King of the Metropolis Star scurries over to the seats in her newspaper's waiting room and holds out her right hand.

    I smile as I stand up and take it. "Not at all, Miss King. Thank you for seeing us."

    I don't know whether the Metropolis Star exists back on Earth 16. The Daily Planet exists here, but it's one of those weird 'dog ate my alien' lunacy tabloids that America seems to produce in a bewildering quantity. The Metropolis Star on the other hand has a reputation for unflinching honesty and a fearless determination to find the truth. Which means I guess they change ends when matter changes polarity?

    They published stories about Ultraman while he was still an up-and-coming crime boss, resulting in several hospitalisations amongst their staff. They published stories about the Syndicate while they were de facto rulers of the country. And recently they've been publishing stories about the police state President Wilson has been creating, which has resulted in several arrests. Miss King has even published interviews with Syndicate members, including a seventeen year old on death row. She's ideal for our purposes.

    "And…" She looks at Zatanna. "You are?"

    I destroy the bugs and generate a sound-deadening field, then nod.

    Zatanna smiles. "Zatanna Zatara."

    "Ohh." Hm. Nervousness, but no fear. She doesn't think that we're going to threaten her. "I… Didn't know there were any other Zataras in America right now."

    Zatanna shakes her head. "I just got here."

    "I should.. probably warn you that our premises are monitored… Constantly. Usually when Syndicate members want to speak to me they arrange a meeting somewhere else."

    "That's not a problem for us."

    "I-. No, I don't see, but… Okay, if you're sure." She takes a step away. "Why don't you come into my office."

    We follow her through the main desk warren of the Metropolis Star, several reporters and subeditors regarding us with fascination as we pass. Miss King opens the door to a corner office to let us inside, then follows us in and closes the door behind her. Then she closes the blinds facing the main office. Then she crosses the room and closes the exterior blinds, which is a bit of a give-away if anyone actually is watching. Then she motions for us to take a seat on a small armless settee while she pulls over a quilted stool to sit down opposite us.

    "Can I record this conversation?"

    I shrug. "As far as I'm concerned. But… Some parts… Can't be made public without… Having some fairly negative consequences for a lot of people."

    "People being..?"

    "The population of America. That's not a threat from me. Just a… Realistic assessment of the likely outcome."

    "Okay, warn me when we get to those." She frowns at Zatanna. "You look a lot like Zorina. Are you her… Sister?"

    "Parallel universe double."

    "Like.. the Justice League." Zatanna nods. "So you're a.. superhero?"

    "Ah… Trying to be. But the situation here is… Complicated."

    "Normally, we'd work with the government against something like the Syndicate. But… Then I heard about what President Wilson had been up to."

    "I, ah…" She laughs nervously. "Have had disagreements with President Wilson, but he's not trying to blow up the entire planet."

    "Neither is the Syndicate any longer. At least, as far as I've been able to tell."

    Because while Victoria can block me and Mister Scott is filled with yellow, Mister Constantine was wide open.

    "You want to help them… Because they're less evil?"

    "Because if they're trying to reduce the level of violence considerably I can justify giving them a little help. But if Slade Wilson is turning America into a totalitarian state, I can't justify giving him the level of help he would need in order to secure total victory. But I can't trust what they're telling me." I lean back. "So… Is he?"

    "I-. Hm." She thinks for a moment. "I don't… Think so. He reacts like a totalitarian dictator to anything relating to the Syndicate, but no one who questions his foreign policy or healthcare policy gets treated in the same way. And totalitarians are total. It's all about them, their ego. I spent enough time in the Middle East and South America to recognise the psychology. For President Wilson, it's all about the Syndicate."

    "How… Bad has he actually got?"

    She shrugs. "We've got martial law everywhere there was a Syndicate boss, and a number of other places besides. We've got thousands of people in special detention centers and no sign that they'll be given access to a lawyer, let alone a trial date. The troops pulling law enforcement duty are a lot more willing to shoot than the police used to be-. Police used to be before the Syndicate took over."

    I nod.

    "But I don't know whether they're going to stay there when President Wilson leaves office. And I don’t know whether or not whoever comes next will keep up his policies."

    "Alexander Luthor, right?"

    "Like I said, Wilson only acts totalitarian with the Syndicate. I haven't seen any sign he's going to try and fix the election. But.. probably."

    "And what happens then?"

    She shakes her head. "Your guess is as good as mine. I'd like to think that he'd start some sort of trials process, but we haven't quite gotten to that part of the electoral cycle yet and I don’t think he'd want to undermine the President by openly disagreeing with his policy."

    "What's the general opinion in the country like?"

    "Mostly, extremely supportive of the President. Due process isn't usually popular until you're the one being denied it." She sighs. "Honestly, I think he could order the summary execution of everyone they're holding and get a round of applause in most places."

    "Do you know.. what proportion are actually..? Guilty?"

    "You'd know better than me. But… Even if they're all guilty of the things they've been accused of, a lot of it should be.. minor stuff. Instead, they're being housed in a military stockade, with all the problems that creates."

    I nod. Armies aren't designed for criminal rehabilitation any more than they are policing. American prisons are pretty unpleasant anyway, and the soldiers are going to be inclined to regard the people they're holding as guilty until ordered otherwise. Now I'm getting Marvel: Civil War flashbacks.

    "Now why don't you tell me something?"

    I shrug. "After Fawcett City, what was left of the Syndicate began rallying around new.. senior members. Those members then offered President Wilson a conditional surrender. His response was to go on television and give his 'no quarter' speech."

    "He did that because they-? And it was genuine?"

    "Owlman's bomb was insane. Think about it: what were they going to do if they actually set it off? Most of the Syndicate would die, let alone everyone they rely on for basic goods and services. With the old Management gone, most of the lower level organisers wanted to go back to being normal criminals. The 'threat to the world' thing looked like a bad plan when the ones masterminding it were dead."

    "There have been plenty of attacks since then."

    "Of course there have. The New Management made the surviving Made Men aware of their position when they tried to convince them it was the best route forwards. After President Wilson publically slapped them down, they lost face and members of the organisation began looking for other leadership."

    "I can.. publish this?"

    "Sure. Everyone in the Syndicate knows what happened, so you won't be undermining anyone." I make an amused snort. "And if what you're saying about public opinion is true, I doubt that anyone on the President's side will care either. And… You know that at the end of the Second World War, the Japanese offered to surrender before the atomic bombs were dropped?"

    She nods.

    "The American government refused it because it wasn't unconditional. I've got a worrying suspicion that this is going to go about as well as that did. Only this time, the Japanese have second strike nukes themselves."
     
  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    14:20 GMT -5


    "Laever."

    Zatanna continues staring at the Staff of, the runes glowing as she studies their interaction. Miss King's archive was enlightening, and with Mr and Mrs Kent murdered in their Aruba retirement home I may have to reconsider the 'exile' thing. It could have just been one of their criminal rivals, or Doctor Chaos trying to stir things up, but it would be very much in keeping with what I've learned of Slade Wilson's character to have organised the hit himself. The Kents weren't part of the Syndicate, though they were certainly involved in the country's criminal networks. They appear to have supplemented their farming income by being a step along the narcotic and people trafficking route, arranging for their neighbours to get cheap farm labour from Mexico and covertly growing and processing any number of plants that are illegal in the US. They sold the whole thing to their son once the Syndicate expanded into that area, and now almost every person of Mexican extraction in Kansas is in a prison camp for 'Syndicate-related criminal activity'.

    Mary Batson's parents died in suspicious circumstances years ago. Charles Vicker's parents died before his rise to power, and his brother died during it. Johnny Quick's parents were blissfully unaware of his activities in America until the Australian Federal Police knocked on their door. Only Miss Batson and Mr Kent had family who were Syndicate members, and unless the Super family somehow survived Fawcett City it's just Ultraboy and Mary Mayhem. A one-and-a-half year old and… Nine year old? Nine years ago is the first time Mary Mayhem showed up, about the time her… Whatever relation to her Mary Batson has, began taking control of Fawcett City.

    Both murderers. Both marked for death.

    "Are they coming?"

    "Probably. But you can hardly blame them for wanting to be sure that we aren't laying a trap."

    She nods. "Should I put up some sort of protective spell?"

    "No. If anyone is coming, they're almost certainly watching the place now. If they see you-."

    "If they see me casting a spell, they'll think it's a trap regardless of what the spell actually does. But that does mean that if they try and trap us, we're going to be less safe."

    "Which is sort of the point of this whole thing."

    She frowns, then nods in understanding. "Because President Wilson doesn't want to risk the Syndicate getting strong enough to take control of the country again? And talking to us could risk him giving them the opportunity to rebuild."

    "Not even that far. Just getting the ability to actually have discussions face to face without one side being tortured for information or killed out of hand.""Your armour is fully charged, right?"

    "Yes, though I don't know if it would stop Medea. Do you think that's the name their Circe took, or do you think she's actually Medea?"

    "Our Circe killed our Medea when it looked like she might fulfil the-."

    An area on the other side of the warehouse shimmers, vague outlines running into one another for a few moments before solidifying. One resolves into a heavily cyberised woman, another into a large gorilla who's wearing-. I can't immediately tell whether that's actual power armour or if he's just that big. Lady Sonar and General Grodd. Until recently the Syndicate thought that the former was dead and that the latter had returned to Africa. And between them, sitting on a floating sphere…

    "Enigma, I presume."

    Half of his face is covered by a metal mask and he's wearing a black suit with green trim. In addition to his sphere he has a question mark-topped staff, held in his right hand and resting on his knees.

    He's not smiling.

    The gorilla raises a heavy projectile weapon and points it directly at me. Empathic vision isn't working on any of them, but that gun isn't much more than it seems. Minimal threat. Scans aren't piercing Lady Sonar's armour, but I've seen records of what her soniguns can do. Some of the exotic effects might be a problem, but I'm not feeling all that worried. Which leaves the sphere. All sorts of weapons could be in there.

    "I understand that we have you to thank for the release of Star Sapphire."

    I can just about see the burned flesh underneath the half-faceplate. I'm going to assume that was a result of his fights with the Syndicate, though his profile picture still shows him having an unburned face.

    "I was able to negotiate her release, yes. If she passed on my message-."

    "Yes, you want to talk us into letting you all off."

    "That's not quite it, but yes, in effect."

    "You're not really selling the idea to me."

    "You know what the Syndicate still has in its arsenal?"

    "Some of it."

    "At present, the policy of the New Management is to close down their strategic weapons programs and avoid confrontation where possible. But if they don't end up with something to show for it, the Made Men will stop listening to them. How many people died at Doctor Chaos's command after President Wilson rejected their last offer?"

    "You mean, how many people did he kill?"

    I nod. "Yes. And order killed, and were killed in response. I'm not trying to convince you that they're nice people or that they'll reform." Though some might. Or rather, might have done. Given how my alter ego joined, I could well believe that there were other Made Men who were strong armed into it. Like Jade's alter ego, Sai. The reverse morality thing should have made her a hero here. Something odd happened there. "It's just that the consequence of carrying on as you are is lots more death."

    "And what would be the death toll in the long term of allowing the Syndicate to survive?"

    "I don’t know. Compared to what?" We watch each other for a moment. "How did the President or the Vice President take it?"

    "The President declined your offer. I'm only here out of a sense of personal obligation."

    "'Declined' as in 'you're going to try and bring us in' or 'declined'-."

    "There will be no deals with the Syndicate's Management. No bargains for leniency, no informal understandings, no expectation that we will do anything other than kill all of you."

    "Regardless of who else dies in the process?"

    "Regardless. The Syndicate is simply too dangerous to be allowed to exist."

    I.. nod. That's a problem, but hopefully we can work around them. "Very well." Is there anything else I want to ask him? "What happened to the 'quiz' thing?"

    "Ultraman burned off half my face, then murdered my wife, my son and my daughter. I haven't really been in the mood since then."

    "So is that it? Slade Wilson can beat a helpless prisoner to death with an iron bar because that prisoner murdered his wife? Should I let Ultraboy know that it's perfectly legitimate for him to kill President Wilson? And that afterwards he has to let Rose kill him?"

    "Oh, Ultraman killed far more people than just Lillian Wilson. And we bereaved are perfectly happy with what happened." He leans forward slightly on his floating sphere. "You think that letting them get away is justified by the harm avoided? I think that the harm we'll suffer is worth it to permanently get rid of them."

    "And then what?" He jerks his head towards Zatanna. "What happens when everyone in the Syndicate, and.. half the country are dead?"

    "Then -assuming that I am not amongst the dead- we rebuild. A society without supervillains."

    "A society which has abandoned the rule of law? Where a word from the President and the cries of the mob are enough to sentence a person to indefinite imprisonment or death?"

    "No. Once the Syndicate are gone, then things can return to normal."

    "And what about the families of the innocent people who the army killed? Why is what happened to your family more important than what's happening-"

    He presses something on his staff, as they start to blur again.

    "-to theirs?"

    And… They're gone.

    Zatanna sighs. "I don't think that worked."

    "No. But it was a long shot, anyway. Let's see what we can do on the other end."
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2019
  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    20:43 GMT -5


    I frown in mild confusion as Lamprey and Sea Witch promenade through the great hall, exchanging polite greetings with several Made Men.

    "I never heard how Lamprey ended up… Like that."

    Jonathan Kent watches me impassively for a moment. "Not like your version, y'mean."

    I nod. "I recognise Nanauvian blood magic, though he seems far more advanced than anyone I've heard of at his age. It's his.. attitude that I can't place."

    Mister Kent makes a small shrugging gesture. "Kidnapped when he was a kid. Some crazy shark wizard wanted t' see if surface worlders could learn blood magic. Lamprey was the only one who survived, an' he ate his teacher 'bout the same time as Barracuda's army broke through the city's walls."

    "Sure, I was there when he told our Kaldur that. And that would explain the brutality, not…"

    Jonathan's eyes follow his team mate for a moment. "Guess after what he went through, he learned not t' wear his feelin's on his sleeve. An' since his power comes from eatin' people, he usually goes 'zero' t' 'three hundred' in no time flat."

    "Our Tula's dating our Garth, but he said that he ate your Garth."

    "Oh, that ain't the creepy thing." Jonathan takes a sip of his beer, his eyes moving around the Great Hall. "You hear how that happened?"

    "No." I smile at him. "Go on, horrify me."

    "Our Garth was a junior officer in the Shayeris army. Him an' Tula were engaged, an' they were gonna get married once the Nanauvian campaign was over. He was doin' such a good job Barracuda invited him t' eat with the senior officers." Jonathan smiles unpleasantly. "Only he runs his mouth about Barracuda bein' an 'inferior surface dweller'. Barracuda takes it, then sics his assassin on him. Lamprey kills an' eats him, then decides that that means he gets Tula as well."

    "Ah."

    "So her family thinks, okay, the king's nephew's dead, and this Nanauvian guy's in tight with the Emperor's half-brother and he's goin' places, so they okay it. Tula weren't so keen, but I guess she figures she can put up with it 'til she can poison him. Only she puts the poison in his food."

    "And he detects it with magic, because the entire focus of his magic is eating."

    "Which she never bothered learnin', cause she's a stuck up bitch. But he figures, okay." Jonathan shrugs. "It's just poison. No big. They're married, right? And it weren't gonna kill him even if he hadn't spotted it. But he can't let it go completely. So he rips out her right eye, tears off her right ear and bites off one of her fingers, and eats them."

    I jerk my head away from him and back towards her. "She appears to have all her parts."

    "Atlantean wizards can grow stuff back. Her irises 're a slightly different color now, but other than that you'd never know. Only now, any time he wants, Lamprey can see everything she sees, hear everything she hears and feel everything she touches. Said if she tried it again he'd eat part a' her brain, too."

    Ew.

    Jonathan smiles. "Yeah, thought you'd like that one. Now what the fuck are you doin' here?"

    "Capo Scott felt that my alter ego's absence would weaken the Management position."

    Jonathan grimaces. "New Management bein' weak weakens the New Management's position."

    "You want to say that to Capo Scott's face?"

    That earns me a small glare. "Had Blue chewin' my ear off fer a year about keeping it cool. I get it. But I still think we could win."

    "Win..?"

    "Us against the Underground, against Luthor. Fuck it, us against the goddamn army."

    "Jonathan, even-."

    His eyes harden. "Ultraboy. I'll take 'Jonathan' from Blue, not from you."

    "Ultraboy… What's the Syndicate for?"

    He frowns, puzzled. "What d'ya mean?"

    "What is the Syndicate for? I threw a similar question at my parallel's Justice League once, and I'm still not convinced that they know. Your father was Management. One day, you might be too. You should probably have some idea of what the organisation is for."

    "'Who profits?'"

    "Which means?"

    "What, your ring don't do Latin? 'Who profits?' What d'we get out of it? What's the benefit, what's the angle."

    "Who profits from unlimited revenge? Is anyone paying you to kill all those people?"

    "No-."

    "Your father gave up his grudge with Owlman in order to beat President Wilson, because that's what he needed to do to keep the business going. Your father couldn't beat the Justice League-."

    His beer bottle shatters as his right hand clenches into a fist. "My Pa got ambushed. Wilson had ta' land a nuke on the moon base."

    "Not the point. Luthor still has his planar portal. He has access to thousands of parallel universes. Even in the event that the Syndicate could beat this entire world -and you'd have to, because people know about Owlman's bomb now- then Luthor-"

    "I know the bomb was stupid-."

    "-could call for aid from as many Justice Leagues as it took. One League stopped your father. One League, and the threat of one tactical nuclear device. If you pick a fight with this whole world, that includes two countries who wouldn't mind all that much if they had to carpet-nuke America to stop you. And even if you could win, there'd be nothing left; scorched earth, depopulated and wrecked cities, radioactive fallout and a nuclear winter. As a wise man named Wilson Fisk once said: 'there is no profit to be made in the destruction of the planet', and there really isn't. Am I getting through?"

    He looks down at his right hand, brushing the glass and residual beer off his skin. "Yeah. Sure. I'm gunna.. go circulate."

    "Sure. Enjoy yourself."

    He walks away, and a quick look inside him shows his conflicting desires battering against each other, with the one where M'gavv ties him up and-. Okay, not strictly relevant.

    I shake my head, and take a look at his other new team mates.

    Their Raquel survived one of Owlman's experiments involving what I suspect was their Arnus's ship. Arnus himself appears not to have survived into the modern day, though given that his ship gave him a human-seeming face and he could look like anyone I suppose that I shouldn't assume anything. She has flight, super strength and endurance and calls herself 'Skud'. She also seems… Kind of out of it, though whether that's intoxication or a result of Owlman's treatment I don't know. She's talking to Jackie Quick at the moment, or… Rather, being talked at by him, though she seems happy enough with the situation.

    Their Tula appears to be a pure caster rather than a battlemage. No Robert, no Donna, no Beryl, Roy or Canis, or Leonid or Amon. I know that in the Earth 2 comic J'onn J'onzz guessed that the Syndicate's villainous nature made it hard for them to make allies, but that doesn't seem to be a problem here. I guess it's the utter battering the Syndicate's been getting recently that makes it a less appealing organisation to sign up to.

    I wonder what the best way to get a few more of these people on-side is? I've got a sound argument, and doing what I want gets them what they want; they get to avoid dying to President Wilson's enforcers or executioners, they get to fight and dominate and get paid for it. But anyone without allies or subordinates in a gathering like this is going to have an uphill struggle. Zatanna would probably get more recognition than me, but she's busy pumping the Don for information on the Zatara crime family-.

    And then I hear the guitar.
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2019
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  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    20:49 GMT -5


    A cowboy escaped from the eighteenth century sets his guitar aside as the last of the notes fade away. Dull red leather jacket, blue bandana covering the lower part of his face and a decidedly black hat… The costume puts me in mind of Gregory Saunders, but he's a very old man back on Earth 16. I'm pretty sure that his lycanthropy is the only thing that keeps him functioning, and I don't know if werewolves have indefinite lifespans. This fellow's younger. Great grandson of the local version, maybe?

    A small crowd of Made Men have… Not 'gathered' but.. perhaps 'congregated' around him as he sits on the edge of the fountain in the middle of the Shadowcrest garden. The building is in the equivalent location to that of its Earth 16 double, which made me a little worried until Mister Scott explained to me that the exterior is protected by heavy duty illusions and wards. We can see out, but no one who comes this way will see anything very interesting. Speaking of the old revenant, he's over to one side of the garden talking to the local version of Hawkman and RobotmanManhawk and Automaton. Old cronies from the Crime Lodge days.

    Back on Earth 16, I've given Doctor Crane a little post-mortem fame by bringing his failed attempts to gain legal personhood back to public attention. Here, he's famous for not caring one bit about having a human form. Over the years his brain box has been plugged into wheeled and tracked vehicles, bipedal and quadrupedal robots, factory machines, mainframe computers and on one notable occasion an Apache helicopter gunship. His Syndicate file indicates that they have him working on facility management in one of their storage depots at the moment, because while physical frailty isn't as much of a problem for him as it is for his contemporaries he's still an old brain in there.

    "Any y'all got any requests?"

    Heck, this is as good a place as any to get some attention. I generate a construct banjo and let my hands glow with orange light as I pluck a few notes.

    Through the crowd I see the guitar player jerk his head around to look at me.

    "And who you suppos' to be?"

    I smile, shrug and play the refrain again as the crowd starts to part between us.

    He takes hold of his guitar. "Guitar leads this duet, jackass."

    I shrug. "I'm not stopping you. You're just not playing."

    "That how y'all want it?" He stands, guitar at the ready. "Alright. Ah'm game. Keep up if'n y'can."

    He skips ahead, playing the next riff. I take a couple of steps closer, echoing it as I go. He's already moving onto the next part as I finish. I'm not sure if he's annoyed about being forced to share his stage or he just wants to find out how good I am. Which makes me feel very slightly bad, as I've never played a banjo in my life and am barely having any input in where my rings are sending my fingers. I couldn't outplay an actual musician without studying an awful lot of professionals and taking on board huge amounts of data, but for something relatively simple where I only have to play off-

    He's getting faster, and he's smiling under that bandana. Yes, he thinks he's testing me.

    -one person rather than a whole orchestra, conductor and audience this works fine. Since the only part that's not being handled by my ring is the movement of the rest of my body, I make a show of copying his body language at the same delay as the notes are being played. He's still getting faster, and I really think that at this stage he's trying to make me fail. Maybe a little fail that only he will notice. A supervillain musician hazing.

    Sorry, it's a well-known tune and power rings don't trip up over keying.

    He reaches a fast pace as the song approaches its end, his smile calcifying as it requires all of his concentration to maintain his breakneck pace. We're only about a metre apart now, and I think that without my rings I'd need to splint my hand to recover from moving my fingers at this speed. But… He seems to be enjoying himself, and from the expressions on the faces of the crowd I'd say they are too.

    The music reaches a fever pitch, then with a final strum dies. Evil Vigilante and I stare each other in the eyes for a moment.

    "Hah!" He pushes his guitar to the side and holds out his right hand. "You're alright. Put 'er there!"

    I allow my construct to dissipate as I take his hand in mine and shake it, musician to fraud.

    "Name's Desperado. Fastest guitar in the west. You another Power Ring?"

    I hold up my ring. "I'm afraid so."

    "Three rings? You compensating fer something there, partner?"

    Best serious face on. "There's no such thing as too much equipment."

    There are a few sniggers at that, both from the crowd and from the man opposite me.

    "Y'know, you do kinda look like Bluey."

    "Family resemblance. Pleased to meet you."

    Okay, got a degree of attention. Now, how best to make use of it.

    "And I'm sorry about stealing your stage, I'll give it right back."

    "Oh yeah? I've run with rodeo clowns before. Show me what you can do."

    He walks away from the fountain towards his accomplices Black Knight and Pulsar. And.. now most of America's most wanted are staring at me.

    "You all know why we're here. Slade Wilson's people are pushing when they used to hide, income is down and the new bosses are telling you to take it and hide. And -understandably- you're pissed. An arse-kicking is a lot less fun when you're receiving rather than giving, and Doctor Chaos was talking some good shit, wasn't he?" I generate a construct helmet matching the one he housed his consciousness in. "Killing a few hundred people didn't work, clearly the answer is to kill thousands!" I dismiss the helmet. "After all, things improved so much after Wisconsin."

    "The sad fact is, business as usual? Is not going to work. We've gotten to the point where we are so hated that it's overwhelming their fear. It's not that they're less scared -and as I look around here I can see some very scary people- it's that they don't care that they're scared. People with nothing to lose will do crazy things. Kill all a man's friends, and he might just pop over to a parallel universe and recruit more. Kill a man's wife, and he might surprise you by invading your home with enough fusion bombs to split the moon in half. A little fear smoothes the wheels. A lot of fear throws everything out."

    "None of you are stupid. I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. You know that the same old scams aren't working. And you're all looking around for the new scam. So let me lay it out for you. Wilson's people are perfectly happy to repeat Wisconsin in every state if that's what it takes to win. And I'm sure some of you would be as well. But ask yourself this: who profits? If we expended the Syndicate's entire strength, all our secret weapons projects, everything… What do we get? A giant, smouldering wasteland to rule over. Do you want to live in a wasteland? Because I don't."

    "I didn't become a supervillain-" At all. … I think. "-to live in a wasteland. I became a supervillain to enrich myself. Maybe a few people around here like fighting for the sake of it, but I doubt you'd do it for free." In the second row, Vamp shrugs. "I'm not going to live somewhere without running water. I want goddamn running Champagne! Who profits? It should always be us. And if something doesn't profit us, then we shouldn’t be doing it! And right now, the United States of America is far, far too hot for us to operate profitably."

    "Someone with superpowers and no moral hang-ups can always make money. So that's what we're going to do: make money. Go places where we can make money, do things that make us money. Over the next few weeks, you're all going to be getting marching orders and shipping out to places where there's money to be made and no US army on every street to stop you. I'm sure you all remember how to take over other people's syndicates and make them work for us, it wasn't all that long ago you did it for the old Management. But if you've got a better idea, come and talk to me about it. People with good ideas could find themselves getting rapid promotion. And if you don’t have a better idea, but don't like my idea anyway and are going to piss and moan about having to work for your money, then fuck off. You know where the door is, and if you're really lucky you'll make it five paces before the Justice Underground shoot you dead."

    I take a moment to look around. Most of them are maintaining a disinterested front, but they're all paying attention. And I can see the undercurrent of fear that they can't completely ignore any more.

    "Syndicate, it's time to adapt or die. Your choice."

    I raise my right hand in a wave of goodbye, and turn away to head back into Shadowcrest. Now, the other part of handling the Syndicate. Talon inherited a lot of Owlman's old projects. Where's he gotten to?
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2019 at 6:40 AM
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  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Raquel -14 stares blearily at me. "Dunno. Duncare. G't… Medicine."

    She pulls a hypospray out of her equipment harness, and injects herself. Medicine or 'medicine', I wonder? According to my ring it contains psychoactive substances which are.. moderating the negative effects of what Owlman put her through, though I doubt that some of those compounds are purely medicinal. The effect of the drug isn't immediate, but she starts looking more relaxed almost immediately. I wonder..? How many people associated with the Syndicate are like her, and would gladly walk away if they could get palliative care elsewhere?

    "Hey!" The local version of Artemis spots me with Raquel and glares at me. "What do you want?"

    "Arrowette, have you seen Talon? I need to talk to him ab-."

    "Don’t care. Saw him sneaking off with Sai. Went-" She waves her right arm at the stairs. "-that way."

    I frown. "Sai didn't work with Owlman's part of the Syndicate-."

    Arrowette snorts. "Uh, yeah, I don't think they're talking all that much."

    Ugh? Ring, Jason Todd -14 isn't any older than Jason Todd 16, is he?

    No. Jason Todd, born 16th August 1999. Jason Todd, born 16th August 1999.

    Twelve-? I blink. "You.. think-?"

    She makes an exhalation of exasperated contempt. "You're just as bad as your 'big brother'. We're supervillains. They wanna go off an' do whatever? Whatever. Following the rules got my Mom stuck in a wheelchair and turned.. my.. Dad into President Wilson's boyfriend who I couldn't pick out of a police line-up. Fuck the rules and fuck you."

    "U-uh." No, this is irrelevant. I'll just… Knock. "Does it not strike you as odd, your sister being a Made Man?"

    Artemis puts her left arm around Raquel, who instinctively leans into her. "Nah, she's great at this stuff."

    "Her.. alter ego was a supervillain on-."

    "Yeah well she's not her. We're not just evil versions of you, we're our own people who just happen to be kinda like you." She regards me for a moment, then grins. "Wait, are you banging her?"

    "I'm going to go and find T-"

    "Hah! You totally are! Guess bizarro-Zorina doesn't put out."

    "-alon." I turn away and head for the stairs. "Enjoy the party."

    "Don't think Talon likes guys! But you do you! Asshole!"

    I walk up the stairs and look around. Shadowcrest -14 is either bigger than its alter ego or they've increased its internal dimensions with magic. Or.. maybe it links seamlessly to other buildings? Don't know, and it's not particularly important anyway. Empathic vision is limited to relatively short range, and I'm not.. seeing what I remember from Talon.

    I pick a direction and start walking. Talon is Jason Todd, notable for being kind of a thug, dying, and coming back from the dead as a murderous vigilante when he wasn't a flat-out villain. Our Jason Todd is living in a Wayne Foundation-funded children's home, but… Artemis had a point. Comic Jason Todd ended up as he did for in-character reasons. He was a thug because that's the life he knew. He was trying to get better under Batman's tutelage, and died trying to rescue… Either his mother or a woman he thought was his mother -I don't remember which- from Mr Napier. When he was resurrected he was understandably angry with Batman for leaving the Joker alive, and reached the conclusion that Batman's methods wouldn't work.

    Owlman grabbed people off the streets and experimented on them. That doesn't generate the sort of loyalty and gratitude comic-Jason felt for his mentor. Talon probably only stayed on because Owlman controlled his cybernetics. Which creates a very different dynamic. Comic-Jason wanted to please his mentor. Talon wouldn't. Oh, he might accept Owlman's methodology, but he wouldn't accept his ends.

    And Jade? Okay, say she's a purely self-interested agent. It could be an opposite of neutral is still neutral thing. Jade 16 joined the Shadows because she knew how to locate them and wanted to learn what they had to teach. And as a result of her upbringing, she didn't have any real hang-ups about killing people. Jade -14? She'd have left home at roughly the same time as the Syndicate got together. So… She'd have known where to find them, her home life was in a similar place…

    But Jade 16 did that despite knowing that her father worked with them. And Jade -14 would know where to find… The US military, or… Whoever. Maybe… My own alter ego talked her around somehow? No, she wasn't part of his team, and she was already with the Syndicate before he got here. What motivates her? Well, her father is a hero, which means that however much she dislikes him she wouldn't hate him anything like as much as my Jade hates hers. So she wouldn't reject-.

    I step out onto a mezzanine overlooking a library. On the other side I see Sai in full costume walking down the staircase. No.. Talon in evidence.

    "Sai!" Her face mask turns my way. "I'm looking for Talon." I float up over the railing and drift towards her. "Do you know where I might find him?"

    "I'm not his keeper."

    Sounds just like my Jade. "I wasn't implying that you are." I land at the bottom of the stairs. "Artemis just said that you-."

    "Surprise!"

    Huh?

    My kinetic barrier flares into life as a.. female Joker-lookalike slams a mallet into the back of my head to absolutely no effect. I frown at her.

    "Yes, that… Was surprising. Doctor Quinzel once hit me with a mallet, but hers was inflatable."

    The young woman looks at the mallet. "Would'ja believe that's never happened to me before?"

    "I bet you say that to all the boys. Look, have either-?"

    I suppose that the poison gas in the flower is a... An evil clown classic. I step into it and grab her with both hands. Rings, remove her equipment and-

    Compliance.

    -then-.

    I recognise her emotional makeup. She's the person who appeared in the Mountain just before Q-Ranger. And she didn't evacuate with us, which means…

    "And you're a hero."

    She grins in that too-wide Smilex way Mister Napier is wont to do. "I'm not good, I'm just drawn this way."

    I scan the area, just catching Sai sprinting down a corridor before the house's magic disrupts things too much. And she won't be running towards Talon. Chasing her is a bad idea.

    "Talon's doing something, isn't he?"

    "He's suckin' alla the way to the center of a tootsie pop."

    "Brand."

    She shudders as the sigil appears. Nothing in the files suggests that Talon knows the first thing about magic. Ditto with Sai and whoever this woman is. They can't bring down the wards. Slade's people already have most of the identities of the Syndicate members. Attacking to try and free Dame Carol stopped being worthwhile this morning and I know that she's reported in.

    "Take me to Talon."

    "You got it, boss man."

    She vaults up the stairs and dashes down the corridor, me close at her heels. We take a right, head up a small flight of stairs and through a door…

    And see Talon look around as the Justice League shimmers into being in front of him.
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2019 at 7:51 AM
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  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Armourcoldgunwidebeamgoldkryptonite!

    Now, if this were my Justice League, I'd be in a great deal of trouble. But it's not. Superman's shoulders are a little too broad, the red of his cape and boots a little too bright, and his hair has a little too much volume to it. Diana's.. pant area has more blue in it, and her tiara is smaller. Their Flash is a little slimmer, their Martian has a popped collar and.. isn't wearing much. Their Lantern Stewart has a shaved head, a goatee and an unarmoured costume, and their Hawkwoman is wearing bright unarmoured clothing that my version wouldn't be seen dead in. This is probably the Justice League variant who attacked the Syndicate's moon base a year and a half ago. The Syndicate didn’t have a great deal of footage of them in action, but from what I could tell their peak output was roughly in line with what I'm used to.

    Still: they're the Justice League. They almost certainly have years of experience on me, and they're famously powerful superheroes for a reason. And it's the famous bit that's going to cause them problems. I doubt that there's anyone with superpowers who hasn't at some point thought 'how would I beat the Justice League in a fight?'. Heck, there are probably plenty of people without superpowers who've thought about it, if only to mock Batman or Aquaman. The point is, while I might have trouble with someone whose abilities I don't know well, I know these six extremely well.

    SupermanweakeningconstructstriketoheadknockbacktakeDiana'spunchonkineticbarrierpullHawkwomanasidewithconstructcoldgunonFlash.

    And they haven't had me helping them cover their weaknesses. And they haven't tried fighting me before. They don't know my weaknesses. They don't know what I can do.

    ShockcrownFlashgreenblockedcrumblershockcrownvertigoonDianaandHawkwoman.

    The only person here whose abilities I don't know well is Talon and… Duela Dent, or.. Napier, or whatever she's called here. Talon is an athletic thirteen year old with a cybernetically enhanced brain. I hope. I'm.. sure someone would have done something if his implants were going to rip him apart as he grows Gunslinger Girl style. But if Owlman had weapons that could easily kill Lanterns then their John Stewart would have died on the moon. And Power Ring Green would have died years ago.

    ThanagarianriotgasonHawkwomanmoveNthmetalmacekeeptankingDianawithkineticbarrierfirecrumblervolleytobreakStewart'sbarrier.

    But what the heck am I going to do with a Justice League? Oh… Sai's going to call in more reinforcements, isn't she? Not a lot of times when it's possible to get so many Made Men together in one place, and no one really expects telepathy or magic to work on one of Owlman's… 'Products'. Both Talon and Sai have been Syndicate members for years and they're both under sentence of death. Talon could authorise Duela to attend on his own recognisance. Him bringing in one extra helper wouldn't raise any eyebrows at all.

    PsishockDianatitaniumchainsbindandclampstunHawkwomanmorechainsrefresh-

    **Stop.**

    Everything speeds up for a moment as I fight off J'onn J'onzz's mental command. Flash collapses, his costume covered in ice from his repeated attempts to speed through cold zones specifically designed to disrupt his super speed. His speed stops his attempts killing him right away as they would most people but he's still getting dangerously cold. Superman is trying to regain his feet, right hand smeared with blood as he cautiously probes where my construct hit. Hawkwoman can't do much more than flail under the effects of the vertigo inducer while Diana remains coherent enough to glare at me. Lantern Stewart is trying to shield his team mates, my crumbler rounds preventing him from… No, he's… Only maintaining a single construct. Huh.

    I grab Hawkwoman's mace with a construct, charge it with a generator construct and swing it through their Manhunter.

    **AAAAGH!**

    He staggers, curling up as the mechanism he uses for phasing is painfully disrupted. Fabricate phase-blocking chains, psi-suppressor and wrap him up, which leaves Lantern Stewart and Talon as eff-.

    Superman punches me in the helmet, his now human-strength blow easily absorbed by my kinetic barrier.

    "Kal-El, don't-."

    Two more punches, then I use a vertigo inducer on him. He collapses, and I chain him up while suppressing Lantern Stewart.

    "Kid, what's our exit?"

    "There isn't one."

    He doesn't seem unduly troubled. "Then I guess I'll have to dig deep-."

    I fire a rapid volley of crumblers to disrupt his environmental shield and then cut off his right middle finger with an x-ionised knife. The finger and his ring fall to the floor as he winces, and I swiftly recover both. He grimaces, then takes a fighting stance. I shock crown him and then chain him up as well.

    "Talon… What was any of this in aid of?"

    "How can you even ask that? You know what the Syndicate is. I know Blue only works with them because he didn't have a choice, but you're far more powerful than he is. You wouldn't let something like the Syndicate exist on your Earth."

    I construct grab his planeshifters and-. And they self-destruct, marvellous. I haul the recumbent Justice League into an approximate line and then remove their vertigo inducers. I then give Flash a quick coat of one of Trickster's anti-vibration gels and then give him a quick warm-up ring-blast. I then.. pull Lantern Stewart's severed finger out of his ring.

    "Lantern Stewart, if you hold still I can probably reattach this."

    "Don’t go to any trouble on my account."

    "Alright." I pick him up in a construct grapple and bend him around until I have access to his right hand. Put the finger back in place and then purple healing ray for a few seconds… And then drop him back down.

    "Don't put any weight on it for a few weeks." I sigh. "What the heck am I supposed to do with you?"

    Hawkwoman sneers. "You could let us all go."

    "That would be my preferred option if-" I hold up the planeshifter. "-this hadn't fried itself. Talon, what parallel are they from?"

    He regards me impassively.

    "Do you want me to send them back to a random parallel universe?"

    "Twelve."

    !

    "T-twelve?"

    Hawkw-. Hawkgirl smiles. "Worried?"

    "More.. embarrassed. I'm-. Ac-tually a.. fffan of yours."

    Kal-El 12 frowns. "You've got a funny way of showing it."

    Aaaaaaaggghhhhhh!

    I take a hologram projector out of subspace. "I'm-. I came here from Earth Sixteen. This is-" I activate it. "-my Justice League. The.. original seven members, anyway. I'm a member of a youth team run by our Batman."

    Flash gapes slightly. "Huh?"

    "My alter ego from this parallel has a blue power ring. I first came into contact with Earth negative fourteen when their youth team attacked our LexCorp. I'm here now because the Syndicate's new management want to… Well, survive. Having studied the situation in detail, I decided that the most useful thing I could do-."

    "Is let us go and help us take the Syndicate down?"

    The other Leaguers stare at Flash, who shrugs.

    "What? He might."

    "Is to finesse them into becoming a less malevolent organisation. A direct fight would risk massive collateral damage, and I'm not totally comfortable with how police-statey Slade Wilson is making things. This gathering of the Syndicate is happening so that the management can set out their new policy and you being here is really going to undermine that. Is there any chance at all I could persuade you to accept a parole arrangement?"

    I get glared at.

    "I'll throw in the mace, power ring and turning Superman's powers back on?"

    The glares continue.

    "Fine. Flash, how fast can you read?"
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2019 at 6:36 AM
  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Flash's-. Mr West's eyes blur as I scroll through pages and pages of information at super speed. Hawkwom-. Hawkgirl tried to keep up as he got up to speed, but had to look away as it picked up.

    "How did you turn my powers off? It felt like kryptonite, but it didn't hurt as much."

    "Kryptonite comes in a variety of different colours, each bypassing the kryptonian biological force field and having slightly different effects. Green causes radiation burns while gold kills off the organelles which give you your powers in the first place. The exposure I gave you will.. probably depower you for a couple of months, but they'll repropagate over time-. Ah, at that level of exposure. Sufficient exposure could remove your powers permanently."

    I kneel down in front of him as Talon's knife pings off my environmental shield.

    "Might I suggest that you invest in some sort of radiation shield? Kryptonite is the one relatively well known way of hurting you, and you don't appear to have ever worked out how to avoid it."

    "I've got a lead-lined suit I sometimes wear."

    "Then you're doing better than my Superman, but-." Wheelbarrow time. I hold out my right hand and use my rings to fabricate a radiation shield generator, then attach it to his belt. "That should protect against someone waving a crystal at you, but it won't stop a kryptonite laser so don't get careless."

    Lantern Stewart snorts. "This your first time taking prisoners, kid?"

    "I don't-. Look, I'm not really comfortable helping the Syndicate, I just think it's better than the alternative. I certainly don't bear you any particular malice."

    Their Diana appears to realise something. "You knew our weaknesses because you've fought your Justice League before."

    I nod. "Weekly sparring sessions with the Two Eight One Four Green Lanterns -our Lantern Stewart can do more than one construct at a time, by the way- occasional sparring sessions with Diana, Hawkwoman challenged me to a duel and there was the one time where they got mind controlled by Star Conquerors-."

    "Uh…"

    Hawkgirl looks at Mr West. "Flash."

    He blinks, and I stop the display. "Ah… Guys? I don't.. feel…"

    "Your brain can't hold all of the information you just took in anymore than we could if we read it all at normal speed. But if you wouldn't mind sharing your conclusions?"

    "I don't know. I guess…" He shakes his head. "He's got a video of President Wilson beating Ultraman to death."

    "Superwoman and Power Ring Green were also murdered."

    Hawkgirl narrows her eyes at me. "They were criminals."

    "They weren't convicted. They were entirely at the President's mercy, and he didn't even give them a show trial, let alone actual due process. And everyone else in the Syndicate expects that if they get arrested, the same thing will happen to them. Being a 'good guy' isn't like picking a team jersey, it's about doing certain things and not doing certain others."

    Mr West looks decidedly uncomfortable. "They've got martial law all across the country. And the Syndicate still has a lot of firepower. They-. Wilson sent the army after the Supers in Fawcett City, and-. And the city doesn't exist any more. I think… I don't like it, but… I think Orange Lantern might.. have a point."

    Mister J'onzz's face is almost completely expressionless. "If Orange Lantern is providing us with accurate information."

    "If I was flat out lying-" Talon moves towards the door and I send Duela to intercept him. "-then Talon would have jumped in to point it out."

    Talon-.

    Oh no, where's Batman?

    "I don't suppose that you left Batman behind, did you?"

    Diana smiles menacingly. "You really shouldn't underestimate him."

    "And you shouldn't underestimate a magic house owned by a supervillain that's also full of supervillains." I crank-. No. I remove Diana's lasso from her belt, take the end in my right hand and put the noose around Superman's neck. "Did Batman come with you?"
    Truth
    His eyes glow for a sec-.
    Truth
    "Are you trying to trick us?"
    Truth
    "I'm trying to persuade you by any means I can, but genuinely regard direct conflict as contrary to the interests of this version of America. The information I gave the Flash was accurate, and only as slanted as what I've seen was slanted."

    Wait, this version of the lasso compels truth at both ends? Darn it!
    Truth
    "Batman didn't come with us. He's hanging back until we secure an entry point for the rest of the Justice League."

    I drop that lasso and carefully use constructs to wind it back up. "Happy now?"

    Mr West shakes his head. "Were those..? Figures right? All the people who died in Wisconsin?"

    "As.. far as I know, yes. Approximately three million deaths. Six sevenths of the population. No one knows exactly what happened because everyone anywhere near the city died, but that's basically what I don't want to see happen everywhere else as well. That's what.. happens when two heavily armed groups square off and no one blinks. I.. spoke to Enigma, the leader of the Justice Underground, and he said he was fine-."

    I reach down and pick up the lasso again.
    Truth
    "That he was fine with the whole country suffering the same proportion of deaths if it meant that the Syndicate was exterminated. Are you?"

    League members.. look at each other. Mr West appears genuinely distressed by what he just saw, and the others... I suppose that when you're used to solving your problems by punching them, it comes as a bit of a shock when you find out that not only can you not solve this one by punching it but you may have actually contributed to three million people dying.

    Superman looks up at me. "So what exactly do you want us to do?"

    "Go home." I send his chains back into subspace and he stands, glancing expectantly at his comrades. No, not just yet. "Let the Syndicate finish reorganising and disarming. If in a few years the emergency laws President Slade's using have been revoked and the Syndicate is still causing problems then feel free to have a crack at them but until then the risks just aren't worth it."

    He rubs his wrists, then folds his arms across his chest. "Even if you're not lying, how do we know that the Syndicate isn't going to go right back to building giant bombs?"

    "Because it didn't work, they don't have the resources and everyone who knew how to make that bomb is dead." Could we..? "Mister J'onzz, how good is your false mind technique?"

    "It should withstand a brief inspection. I am surprised that you have heard of it."

    "My parallel's Mars is still inhabited." His eyes.. sadden slightly. "There aren't that many telepaths in the building. If I take you around the building, you could do surface scans of a cross section of Made Men. See what they're planning. If you-."

    The door opens. Duela is knocked forwards, but turns it into a tumbling roll and comes to her feet as-.

    Ultraboy stares at the bound members of the Justice League. Then stares at Superman.

    "Pa-?"

    Then he stares at the 'S' and lunges!

    "You're a dead man!"
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2019 at 8:42 AM
  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
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    I've enhanced Kon-El quite a bit. Danner Formula, his bond with Helios, his equipment and getting him training with Diana. I don't think that Jonathan Kent has any similar upgrades. He only had… Months with Ultraman still being alive, and after that he had far fewer resources to find a way to augment himself. I remember him being a bit faster back in LexCorp, but that was all.

    I think I can contain him without much risk. I step between him and Superman 12, my kinetic barrier flaring into life and causing Jonathan to rebound off it. He regains his balance almost immediately and glowers at me.

    "Ultraboy, stop."

    "What the Hell is-?" He looks past me and spots Talon. "You piece of crap. You-. I trusted you, you were-."

    "You were Ultraman's son. I was Owlman's test subject. I survived him implanting a computer in my brain by a combination of luck and the deaths of every test subject before me. I wasn't meant to live this long."

    "Yeah, we all knew Owlman was a psycho! I never treated you like that!"

    "You've called on me to plan theft, extortion and murder."

    "That's what we do ! You're our problem solver!" Talon twitches. "And you were good at it. If this is some sorta conscience thing, you picked a real bad-."

    "I've been looking for a way to 'problem solve' the Syndicate since before we broke you out of Cadmus. The only reason that mission even happened was because I was hoping to find one of Luthor's weapon caches."

    "Aaaagh!"

    Jonathan punches the kinetic barrier at full strength, making no progress. He takes a half step back, his eyes fixed on Talon as he paces his enclosure.

    Kal-El looks a little lost. "Who is this?"

    "Jonathan Kent, aka 'Ultraboy'. Ultraman's adopted son, created in a laboratory by Lex Luthor and freed during the Young Offenders' first mission. You don't have a Superboy, do you? Your Luthor just made Bizarro."

    "Our Cadmus cloned Supergirl, not me." He takes a step closer to the kinetic bubble, regarding Jonathan sadly. "I'm sorry to hear about your pa, but-."

    "Don’t give me that bullshit! You're the reason Wilson got him in the first place."

    "I didn't think President Wilson would kill him out of hand."

    Jonathan recoils. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?! Think I'd feel any different if he gave him a trial first!?"

    "If we hadn't stopped him, Owlman would have set off his bomb-."

    "They only rushed construction 'cause of you! The day you attacked the moon base, we found out Owlman got J'arkus killed 'cause Blue convinced him the bomb was a dumb idea. If you hadn't been there, Blue would have had time t' talk the whole management int' not making it at all!"

    Superman sets his jaw. "I'm not exactly in favor of leaving a supervillain in charge of the country."

    "What, you think Wilson never killed nobody? You actually know what he did in the army?" Jonathan snorts. "Blue looked it up one time. Guess he thought it'd make us see power his way. Just showed me that Wilson's full of shit."

    "Cathartic as I'm sure this is-."

    "Can't believe you actually beat them all." Jonathan narrows his eyes as he takes a look at the League. "Blue kept bitchin' 'bout not bein' at full power. Guess if he'd had one a' them lantern things that'd have gone a bit different."

    "Cathartic as this is-" I look first at Superman and then Mister J'onzz. "-I don't think it helps with our actual objective."

    Superman shakes his head. "Batman said we didn't know enough about how things worked here."

    "I'll listen to Batman's lectures on morality when he does what he should have done years ago and kills the Joker, but he has a point. You're not stopping a couple of gun-armed bank robbers here. If you want to swing your fists around in national politics you better be sure you know where your punches are going to land."

    "Hey, Orange." I look at Jonathan. "You could just kill 'em."

    "What does it take to get it through your thick skull that constantly killing people doesn't get you what you want? I don’t want money, I don’t want any power the Syndicate could give me, I just don't want a ringside seat at a massacre."

    I mean, for goodness-. No. No. Sonic baffle, kinetic prison, telepathic scrambler… And a dust sheet. I put the sheet over his bubble and the baffle and scrambler down nearby.

    "Okay!" Back to the Justice League. "Some things are sent to try us, and I really hope Eris is getting a laugh out of this."

    Diana looks slightly puzzled. "Her jokes usually involve more things being set on fire."

    "The evening is young, and this is a supervillain party being invaded by superheroes. Mister J'onzz? Still up for a walkabout, or… Do we move on to Plan Q?"

    "That would depend. What is Plan Q?"

    "I summon the Embodiment of Avarice and mind control the planet. I'm just having one of those days."

    "Then I will cooperate."

    "Okay. Talon, what are my chances of pulling this off?"

    "I can't calculate it. My information on your capacities is out of date. You could talk the Syndicate around, but Wilson won't let the Syndicate go into exile."

    "I realise-."

    "And neither will the Senators and Congressional Representatives who survived his purge. Or the army officers, or the Justice Underground. Even if you could get Luthor to agree to it. Or just.. people in general. And if I had an orange laser I wouldn't bother explaining this to you."

    Superman frowns. "Orange..?"

    "Lantern environmental shields don’t block light of their own colour. An orange laser would pass through that and any construct I could throw up and the Green Lantern Corps is lucky that Qwardians are colour blind. John, get some body armour."

    I lift my right hand and Mr J'onzz's bonds return to subspace.

    "To be clear: I'm resistant to telepathy. My armour blocks phased objects. My kinetic barrier blocks super strong strikes. And I'm really trying to save as many people as possible."

    He floats to his feet.

    "I understand."

    "We'll need to avoid Brainstorm" I clap Talon in irons, then shock crown Duela and remove her brand. "I realise that I can't stop the rest of you escaping, but… Please, unless you have a better idea, let me handle this, at least until Mister J'onzz can report back."

    A few glowers is probably the best result I could expect.

    I step around Ultraboy's time out bubble and push open the door, Mister J'onzz shifting to a new shape-. Ultraboy, apparently, behind me.

    "Did you get his biographic data?"

    "I'll manage."

    Got his voice at least. Okay, where's the best place to-.

    And then I hear an explosion.
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2019 at 9:37 AM
  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th February
    21:12 GMT -5


    I grab 'Ultraboy' with a construct and fly as fast as the narrow confines allow in the general direction of the sound.

    "What now?"

    Mister J'onzz appears to take it in his stride.

    "Would a kryptonian not be able to fly under his own power?"

    And there's now a lounge in place of the library

    "My Superboy is a kryptonian-human hybrid. I think that Ultraboy is similar. Last time we met he didn't fly."

    "I see."

    No more explosions, no running feet… I don't know what's going on here. I stop, listening, trying to scan…

    "Are you getting anything?"

    His eyes glow faintly for a moment. "No. The magics of this house confuse my senses."

    "Great, that-."

    "-s'nretnal noitacol!"

    A section of the wall panelling next to me grows up to the full height of the wall and sprouts a handle before swinging open. Zatanna steps back from the opening and I see Don Giovanni throwing glowing snakes through the air at a man in gold and blue power armour. He blocks left-handed with an anachronistically simple wood and iron shield, which… Causes the snakes to decay into motes of light. Armour matches what the local Lex Luthor wore, but I can't scan it and the helmet means-.

    Small lasers deploy from the armour's gauntlets and shoulders, flicking back and forth as they inscribe an arcane symbol in the wall behind the bruised and bleeding Don. My destructive pulse hits him in the side, buckling and blackening the armour at the point of impact. That's… Weak, but I am less well motivated in this fight than I usually am.

    The figure in armour immediately raises his right arm and fires a-. A blue laser at my face, which fails to penetrate my environmental shield. I respond with two construct micro-missile launchers, missiles firing and smashing into his weapons with just enough force to render them inoperable. The Don uses the breathing room to step outside of the near-complete warding circles and snarl at the armoured figure.

    "Hsurc!"

    Armoured plates tremble and I can hear them as they begin to deform. The armoured figure moves their shield just enough to block the Don's line of sight to the worst affected parts of his armour-.

    "Pord eht dleihs!"

    His arm jerks, but the shield is attached rather than being held. Alright, power armour and rush him. I swing my right fist, and he intercepts with a.. small kinetic barrier, then I bring my left fist around and slam it into the part of his armour damaged by my destructive bolt. Another force field shimmers into being, but this one is a general purpose plasmic field and nothing like strong enough to stop the force I'm bringing to bear. The armoured warrior is lifted off the ground and shoved-.

    **Sleep.**

    My armour's psi-baffles prevent me collapsing on the spot, though I still feel a wave of tiredness pass through me. Shouldn't be surprised, I suppose. I drop off a psi shock grenade tuned to Martian telepathic communication patterns and detonate it-

    **Ughf!**

    -and then follow up on my attack.

    "Laeh."

    Don Giovanni's bleeding stops and his burned clothing knits back together somewhat as I go for a grapple, x-ionised knives emerging from subspace and stabbing forward to punch through the outer surface of the armoured figure's armour, severing power and control cables where I can without causing undue damage to the person wearing it.

    "Dleihs sparts kaerb!"

    The shield falls to the ground at the same time Mr J'onzz does, and I take a firm grip of the armoured figure and go to work on the seals attaching the helmet to the rest of the armour. Constructs pull-.

    "Surprise, motherfucker."

    That's not Lex Luthor. That's Preceptor, the local version of Mr Crock. I suppose that anyone can wear armour.

    And-. Everything's shimmering and… And I'm in a workshop, in a powerful force field, and… Those are soldiers and that's half the Justice Underground. Huh, that's what Sir Solomon looks like. Pictures don't really do him justice.

    "Release Preceptor, and I will see that you receive a fair trial."

    My left hand closes over Mr Crock's head as I turn slightly.

    "Mister Vice President, I'm not sure that you have the power to make that offer."

    "Just fry us, sir!"

    "Not to a Made Man, but I'm fairly sure that you're not one." He's wearing the same armour as Mr Crock, though he's left the helmet off in favour of a heavy collar containing a force field generator.

    "And then what? I sit in prison until your fight with the Syndicate reaches its pyrrhic conclusion?" I release my grip on Mr Crock and step away from him. "I intercepted Talon's effort at summoning the Justice League. They're currently in chains in Shadowcrest."

    "They're alive?"

    "I don't.. want.. to kill people. I've just about got the Syndicate to the point where they're prepared to go into-"

    A weak laser shot from one of the weapons I missed on Mr Crock's armour shoots me in the eye piece and fails to penetrate my environmental shield.

    "-exile, shut down all significant operations in the United States-."

    "And you think we should foist our problems off on someone else?"

    "Not on a nice country, but there are plenty of places that the Syndicate won't make worse by taking them over. Somewhere lousy with strife which they couldn't make worse if they tried."

    Vice President Luthor takes a moment to check that the various armed men and women in the room haven't disappeared. "I'm not sure that you're in any position to negotiate."

    "Of course I'm in a position to negotiate. That's why Power Ring and Olympia brought me here: to try and negotiate a cessation of hostilities. You're my last hope for avoiding all-out confrontation."

    He frowns faintly. "You honestly believe that you're not at risk, don't-?"

    I

    step out and then

    back just in front of him.

    "Yes, and you've no idea-"

    Vice President Luthor doesn't step back, though he does up the output on his force field slightly. Lady Sonar takes a shot, but I'm already braced and my sonic cannon disrupts her blast quite nicely. Shots from the regular soldiers I just ignore, content to let my armour and kinetic barrier soak them.

    "-how annoying it is to me that the supervillains are the ones making the peaceful overtures. At the very least-"

    Soldiers fall back to give Sir Solomon a clear path. He strides forwards, fists balled, then punches me right in the kinetic barrier to no effect.

    "-you should be offering pardons to defectors, stripping away the support for the hardcore of nutters." I shoot a mage slayer round into Sir Solomon's left knee, causing the magics animating him to leave it. He stumbles, and I help him on his way with a right hook. "Or offering them terms of some sort. It's like you people want the country to burn. And I find that a very frustrating attitude."

    Q-Ranger's blast burns through my environmental shield and melts into my armour.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2019 at 6:29 AM
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