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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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    8th February
    13:37 GMT


    I float in space on the edge of the Liot'r system, watching the movements in near-Tamaran orbit. Hawk's Nest has been altered nearly beyond recognition since… Last July? The Thanagarian capital ships are floating in the void close to it, while what I assume is the new Tamaranian fleet is split between a defensive formation around the ex-Citadelian docking cradles and some.. sort of training exercise. I had been assuming that the Tamaranians would either use their own pre-conquest designs or just use the Citadel's designs for ease of logistics, but these are something different. It could be the Thanagarian influence, but without Nth Metal their designs wouldn't really work

    Tamaran itself has changed as well. I can see new roads connecting the major settlements, and a slight change in colour around farming areas indicating that they're cultivating a much larger area. Roads have an interesting place in Tamaranian society. As the people can fly- and generally do so faster than they can run- they don’t have the same utility for people-transportation that roads on Earth do. Historically, Tamaranians didn't really bother with them, and they existed for only a relatively brief period before they moved to repulsor-based flying transport vehicles which didn't have the same need for prepared surfaces. But now it looks like they've decided that simpler wheeled transport vehicles are the way to go rather than use what technological know-how they have left on civilian transportation, and wheeled vehicles are fulfilling the expanded need to move goods and materials around.

    Six months is nothing like enough time to undo the harm of forty years' malevolence, but I'm pleased with the start that they've made. I raise my-.

    Space in front of me bends, and a ship-. I feel a momentary intrusion in my mind which is swiftly recalled, though Xor visibly winces. As the ship comes alongside us I see its name written on the side: the Cometeer. Not exactly creative-.

    The man himself emerges from the rear of the craft, flying towards us wearing a refreshed version of his old uniform and covered by a golden halo. I wondered how a telekinetic could survive for an extended period in space. Sure, he could maintain a constant pressure on his own skin, but where was he getting his air from? According to Professor Zackro's notes, the concentration of various gasses in his bubble doesn't change, no matter how long he flies around for. Which suggests that he's telekinetically altering the composition of the air he breathes out, a feat which… I'm not aware of any other telekine who can do that.

    **Orange Lantern, welcome back.** He glances at Xor, who glowers at him. **I see you've been recruiting.**

    **Yes-. I'm sorry, do I call you 'Captain Comet', or is it alright to use your name?**

    He shakes his head. **I doubt there's any harm in it. The Tamaranians still don't understand the concept of 'secret identities'.**

    I frown. **Didn't you go public after the Astur attack?**

    **No, that was when 'Captain Comet' first started operating in public. May I say? Your mind is fascinating.**

    **Ah, thank you? What.. exactly is it about it that you find so interesting?**

    **I think… You're transcending your flesh. Not all of what you're thinking is present in your organic brain.** He brings his right hand to his chin. **I've seen things like that before, but never in another human. Oh.** He waves his right hand. **Pardon me. My curiosity got the better of me.**

    **Quite alright. I'd actually quite like you to give me a once-over. Not a lot of people have meaningful insight into what I am these days.** I turn to Xor. **This is Lantern Xalitan Xor of Sector One Five Eight Two. Lantern Xor, Adam Blake.**

    Blake nods. **Pleased to meet you. That feels like someone used psion imprinting technology on you.**

    "They did." Xor inclines his head slightly. "I do not want you touching my mind."

    Blake looks him over for a moment. "Alright. Is this acceptable?"

    "Yes." Xor breathes in slowly, then out slowly. "I was an orphan, taken in by the state. They gave me this body and shaped my mind with psion technology."

    "Is that why you're here?" Blake turns back slightly, gesturing towards distant Tamaran. "To see another world the psions created?"

    "They created that world?"

    He gestures to the surrounding stars with his right hand. "The psions created nearly everything around here. A few of the older species predate the time when the Guardians transported them to the Wombworld, but the Tamaranians have records of their entire people being transported to Tamaran. That's one of the reasons why I stopped here when I first came to Vega."

    "Did the psions program them?"

    "Maybe at first. None of the psions I've met knew."

    "The psions do not program them now."

    "No, no. The psions weren't interested in using the Tamaranians for social or psychological experiments. They just wanted to make certain that there would always be a population for them to experiment on. You're free to look through the archive while you're here." He glances back at the Cometeer. "Is Princess Koriand'r with you?"

    "No. Is she not here?"

    He makes a small shrug. "I assume that she's still on Tillettit, helping those poor women. Komand'r flew back once the Maltusians organised their relief mission." He smiles. "She can fly under her own power, now. She helped a lot of other Tamaranians by getting that cure rediscovered."

    "Oh, I hadn't checked whether that was successful. She's fully cured?"

    "No trouble at all."

    I smile. "That is good news."

    He nods. "So what brings you back to Tamaran?"

    "I thought I should check up on the place. I've also got-" Slightly out of date. "-messages from Queen Hyathis for the Blades of Alstair, along with personal messages."

    "I'm sure they'll be pleased to hear from the folks back home." He points at his ship. "Why don't you come aboard? Since I'm the only person around here who uses a telekinetic faster than light drive that's the only form we aren't interdicting. It will be a lot faster than flying at sublight speed."

    I nod. "Thank you."

    He flies back towards his ship's air lock and Xor and I follow him.

    "Mister Blake, do you..? Want to return to Earth? If you do, I'd be happy to sub in for you here for a few weeks."

    He turns, flying backwards into the air lock so that I can see him shaking his head. "My biggest problem has always been keeping my mind occupied. Myand'r put me in charge of-" Xor and I enter the air lock and Blake triggers it to cycle. "-rebuilding the planet, turning Tamaran back into a space age civilisation just as fast as I can. I've never done anything-. Well, there was one time when I tutored a few tribes in metallurgy so that I could get the parts to repair the Cometeer, but that wasn't on the same scale. I'm needed here and I-"

    The air lock interior opens and he leads the way inside.

    "-don't have anything to go back to. You thought about my sister's grave for a second when you saw me."

    I nod.

    "Her children-."

    "They never knew me. If they were like me, or if their kids were, I'd come back to give them the benefit of my experience. But as things stand I'm not sure that there's really anything to say. Tell you what: could you take them a letter for me?"

    "Of course."

    "Thank you." He looks out through the hull-. Oh, that was smooth. We've arrived in near-Tamaran space already. "Komand'r is in Tamarus at the moment, and she and the rest of the royal family are looking forward to talking to you again."

    Through the hull I see the glow of orange of the people of Tamaran grow closer as we descend through the atmosphere.

    "And I them."
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2019
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  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th February
    13:48 GMT


    "Illustres."

    Komand'r is smiling as Blake, Xor and I disembark, floating in the air with her inert ring on a chain around her neck. She still favours darker colours, but is showing a good deal more skin than she did when we last met. Probably a result of wanting to expose her newly restored skin to sunlight. Or perhaps an outward sign of her newly gained confidence in her position?

    "Lantern Komand'r. I'm afraid that Mister Blake-" I float off the ground towards her. "-spoiled the surprise, but congratulations on your recovery. How has the work here been going?"

    "Well.. enough. I believe that we would do better to expand our influence while Vega remains in disarray, though given the state of our navy that would most likely require the application of more Lanterns." She runs her eyes over Xor as she removes her necklace and returns the ring to her left ring finger. "Who is this?"

    Xor floats upwards while Blake goes to speak to the ground crew. "This is Lantern Xalitan Xor. He's being assigned to Sector One Five Eight Two to remove the corrupt elements of his home polity's ruling elite, and oversee a transition to an honest and honourable government."

    "Worthy work. Is he your new student?"

    "He was, but he now understands his own desires sufficiently that he no longer needs my oversight."

    "Oh?" She floats over to hover in front of him with their heads on a level with one another. "So, Orange Lantern Xalitan Xor: what is it that you want most in all the universe?"

    "To honourably serve a worthy master in the pursuit of a greater good."

    Komand'r's instinctive response is to narrow her eyes, but she catches herself and raises her eyebrows. "And with your new power, you have no desire to be the master yourself?"

    "Only if there are none better. I can lead soldiers in combat, but I… Am not.. comfortable, issuing broad commands where I cannot tell where my personal responsibility begins or ends."

    "And you are content with our Illustres as your master?"

    "Yes, for now. I hope that in time the government of the Alignment will produce one worthy of my service. For now, it is my duty to remove those who are not."

    "Are you killing them?"

    "No. Marooning them, with the materials they will need to set up a small farming community. I will leave the final judgement to another."

    "That seems… Weak to me."

    "You were raised from birth to lead-."

    "Hah! I was not."

    "You grew up in a palace, Lantern-Princess Komand'r."

    "I wasn't expected to lead or rule. At best, I would have been my sister's assistant."

    "I spent my early years in a barrack room with forty seven other War Hounds. I was educated only in what I needed in order to be a soldier, and psion machines were used to make sure that I thought as my masters wanted me to."

    "Psion?" Her environmental shield dims, but her natural flight keeps her in the air. "That explains why you are here."

    "I bear them no malice. They shaped me; they did not harm me. At most, I would like to know why they traded with my government."

    "They delight in any form of learning that involves someone being hurt. How old were you when they used their devices on you?"

    "I was not yet a year old."

    "Y-? You were an infant?"

    "We were taken when our minds were most malleable."

    "Yes. That would make sense to them."

    "It makes sense to me as well."

    Komand'r opens her mouth slightly, then closes it again. Then she turns to me. "Illustres, it has been some time and I was quite fraught at the time: did I thank you for rescuing me from Hny'xx?"

    "Not… Directly. But I rescued you because your captivity was an obscenity, not because I wanted you to thank me."

    Her face.. sort of.. relaxes, and she looks at me with a degree of openness I don't think I've seen from her before. She bows her head slightly. "Thank you for rescuing me."

    "You're welcome. Don’t mention it."

    She looks up, frowning. "Why not?"

    "Because while you're driven to command and inspire, while Xor is driven to live honourably, I am driven to better the universe around me. It was my nature to liberate you, and I could no more have ignored your plight than Xor could commit a murder or you could hold your tongue when insulted. No obligation arises from something that was as natural to me as breathing." I smile. "Cartoons intended for Earth-children are more subtle than psion neural programming devices, but they shape our thoughts just the same."

    "Perhaps we should import them."

    I wave my left hand, a Tamaran-format data drive appearing between my thumb and forefinger. I hold it out to her. "Feel free to review them at your leisure."

    She looks at it for a moment before taking it from me and sending it to subspace. "Thank you."

    Blake floats up towards us. "You kids ready to head to the palace now?"

    "Kids?"

    He nods as we turn in the direction of Tamarus and begin flying towards the palace. "Taking into account the time I spent on Citadel Complex, I must be at least eighty by now."

    "You don't look a day over fifty."

    "I could have looked younger, but thought that my appearance should reflect my actual age."



    "I wouldn't say that you look eighty."

    "I can't say I gained much useful experience while the Citadel had me hooked up as a generator. Besides, Tamaranians don't go grey. And with all of the differences between me and regular humans, I've never been sure exactly how long I've got to live."

    "I know a few experts in novel biology, if you want me to get someone to look into it."

    We begin passing over the suburbs, more than a few of the locals pointing upwards as we fly past. I can see their hopes flaring as they realise who I am. That's… Not why I do this, but it's still gratifying to feel. I can see the new building work that has happened since I last visited. It looks like the palace is entirely unaltered, but the areas that the gordanians directly attacked are being nibbled away at the periphery as the locals build new housing to replace what was destroyed. The roads inside the city are also being repaired in many places.

    "Unless Professor Zackro is somehow still alive, it'll probably be easier for me to work it out myself."

    "Alright, but you aren't invulnerable. There are good reasons to make sure that other people know how your body works; you could be too badly injured or insensible to provide doctors with information."

    "I was always worried that someone would try and weaponize my abilities. The Cold War was just getting going when I left Earth, and both sides were just as interested in superhumans as fission bombs."

    "I don't think the fact that someone might misuse it is a good reason not to try and use a technology properly. Otherwise… We wouldn't have any technology."

    "I understand your point, but what I can do and what a slightly better bullet can do are in entirely different leagues."

    "Sure, but what you can do and what people with superspeed can do aren't, and both the United States and the Soviet Union could have made more of those for nearly the whole duration of the Cold War. They didn't, any more than they fired their nuclear weapons at one another. There are limits to human stupidity."

    He glances at me. "I wasn't aware of that. The Flash's formula?" I nod. "Alright, I suppose you taking a few scans won't hurt. Now, how about I brief you on the state of Tamaran before you meet King Myand'r?"
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2019
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  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th February
    13:55 GMT


    A crowd is gathering around the main entrance to the palace as King Myand'r and Queen Luand'r proceed out, looking up as-.

    The supplicant goes to the one in the position of power. They're about to fly up to me, and that won't do at all. Instead, I transition down onto the step a short distance in front of them and bow. Not a full ninety degree job, that would probably be a bit much. But fifty degrees is fine for a national hero and senior Lantern when faced with the local monarchs.

    "Your majesties."

    I can hear a murmur from the crowd as Luand'r puts her right hand on my right shoulder.

    "Orange Lantern, you have no need to abase yourself before us."

    I straighten, smiling. Since I'm a few steps down from them, my head is slightly below theirs. I'm not exactly sure how that looks to Tamaranians, but humanoids tend to think about body language in fairly similar ways.

    "Thank you, your majesty. As I approached the planet I was able to admire the work which the Tamaranian people have done since I left. I'm pleased that you've been able to take full advantage of the opportunity presented to you."

    "If not for you then we would still be under the Citadel's boot heel. All that we have been able to build, we owe to you."

    I shake my head. "Perhaps that you can build it now, but I do not believe for a moment that the people of Tamaran would have been in such a situation forever. You would have freed yourselves eventually. I just sped it up so that we could all get on with our lives." I look up and beckon Lantern Xor to join us. He floats down, stopping a pace back from me. Stopping in the air; his feet are far too large to fit on these steps. "This is Lantern Xor, my new ex-student. He's desperate to learn what an honourable ruler looks like. Would you mind him shadowing you for a few days so that he can find out?"

    Myand'r blinks, his head tilted slightly to the side. Then he nods definitively. "Yes, of course. We would be delighted to show him how Tamaran is governed."

    Glancing at me, Xor brings his fists together in front of his chest. "Thank you. I relish the opportunity."

    Luand'r steps aside and gestures to the doorway. "Please, come inside. We have a great deal to talk about."

    I walk up the steps separating us, Xor landing as I reach the top. "Thank you."

    The two of us follow them inside, Komand'r and Blake flying off to return to whatever they were doing before we arrived. Curious that Myand'r and Luand'r aren't flying. But I suppose that the ground level of the palace is designed for foot traffic more than the upper parts.

    "I appreciate your renewed efforts to boost our standing." Myand'r tilts his head towards me as he speaks. "But that was a bit much."

    "How so?"

    "You made it look like we were insulting you by demanding your deference, despite everything you've done for us. That might not be so bad were we in a stronger position, but as things stand it made us look undeservedly proud and arrogant."

    "Oh. Ah, sorry. I can publically hit you in the face with a custard pie later if that would make up for it."

    "What?"

    "It's a form of comedic humiliation from Earth. The target looks a little stupid, but it's generally considered to be a minor embarrassment that a reasonable person should laugh off and so demonstrate that they aren't hidebound."

    "Unfortunately, no such ritual exists on Tamaran. I would worry that people might think that you were genuinely attacking me."

    "Alright, what sort of things do Tamaranian aristocrats who are on good terms with one another do together?"

    "Trade on favourable terms with one another. Encourage their children to marry-. Though I do remember that you do not look kindly on that practice."

    "No. Also, it will be at least five years before I have children."

    "I hadn't realised that there were any humanoid species with so long a gestation period. Or are humans only infrequently fertile?"

    "My girlfriend and I are participating in NEMO's war with the Reach. Given our roles, it's not really going to be practical for us to have children for at least that long."

    Luand'r starts slightly. "Practical? I knew from Adam that humans are not as given to indulging their passions as we are, but really."

    "Jade needs an opportunity to establish a professional role for herself. Much as I'd like to spend more time with her, this is the best for our relationship in the long term."

    Myand'r shakes his head. "I'm sure you know more about human courtship than I do. Having other Orange Lanterns here would be a reasonable alternative; a sign of your personal investment in our freedom."

    "Lantern Mother of Mercy is available, but she's not exactly social."

    "If I invite her to spend some time in the palace, she can leave at the end of the span without either of us being embarrassed."

    "Lantern Mother of Mercy covers the entire surface of a planet. You'd have to expand the palace quite a bit for her to fit."

    "A planet?" I nod. "Could Lantern Xor stay?"

    "No." Xor shakes his head firmly. "It will take a few days for my comrades to fly back to Alignment space. It would be dishonourable for me to abandon the fight after taking it up."

    Hm. "What else does Tamaran need?"

    "Teachers and electronics engineers, those are the areas where we are most in need. We managed to maintain… Reasonable records of our medical advances, and the thanagarians have been happy to help us build examples of our more sophisticated equipment. But truly becoming as advanced as we were in our prime requires our knowledge to spread more rapidly than we can make happen with our limited pool of educated people."

    I can't think of anyone in DC who had that sort of passion for teaching.

    I nod. "I'll see what I can do."

    Myand'r sighs. "But giving us more things won't serve the same purpose as a proxy would. It simply makes us more obliged to you."

    Right. What has Tamaran got that people on Earth-

    We walk past a corridor. Glancing down it I see a group of athletic Tamaranians in the traditional clothing of underwear and tassels.

    -want-.

    In the privacy of my own head, I wince at the obvious association. Something else, something-.

    "There are a couple of projects you could help me with."

    "Oh?"

    "Last year I talked one of Earth's more isolationist communities into sending a theatre troupe outside their country on a tour. Aside from an unfortunate event during their first performance, it went rather well. I'd quite like to do an exhibition on Tamaranian culture and history, give the people of Earth a look at what's going on off their world. I'm afraid that it probably won't lead to any new trading opportunities; the distance is just too great."

    "I'm sure that we can put something together. Do you benefit in some way from such an exhibit?"

    "I own a company which is making a role play game based on recent Vega history. A group of aliens visiting would be an amazing piece of advertising."

    "Role play game? I understand the words, but I suspect that you are referring to a specific artefact."

    "Ah, how to explain it..?"
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2019
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  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th February
    18:22 GMT


    Oh… Dear.

    Using the burned-out wreck of a gordanian battlecruiser for concealment, I have my ring give me a more detailed picture of near-Karna space than my own eyes could give me while simultaneously trying to piece together the contents of the ship's computer. Sadly, gordanians aren't big fans of automation or centralisation. The data I want is spread out across a dozen local data stores, at least some of which were critically damaged during the fighting which slew the ship. There aren't any backups onboard the ship and most gordanian clans don't do off-site backups either. They also don't seem to think that keeping a historical database onboard their ships is worthwhile…

    Extraction complete.

    Ah. Not unexpectedly, once word got out that the Tearing Bite clan had lost most of their warfleet, the Gizzard Spiker clan decided to finish the job. Rather than simply absorb their fellow Citadel allies, or support them for favours later, they decided to annihilate the competition. But that broke pax domum, which was all the other clans who wanted Gizzard Spiker taken down a peg or two needed to justify weighing in. And then some idiot blew up the Citadel, which threw every alliance into confusion... And then, just when things were starting to die down…

    My ring shows me a construct image of the Karnan fleet currently raining fire down in support of the slave uprising currently taking place on Karettah, Karna's northern continent. That part of the Gordanian fleet which survived the internecine conflict is staying quite firmly on the opposite side of the planet to defend their older holdings on Gordane. The Karnan fleet appears to consist largely of ships which fled the original Gizzard Spiker led take-over, but not exclusively. There are new builds there, based on the designs of the other ships. And clearly they've had access to raw materials. Most of the old fleet didn't leave without being severely damaged, and there's little sign of their old injuries now.

    How do I want to handle this?

    Honestly, I don't. Gizzard Spiker deserve pretty much everything they get, but a lot of the other clans aren't that bad. And the Karnans certainly aren't blameless for creating the situation which led to the original war. Yes, Karnans are formally enslaved to Gordanian clans in a way that the Gordanians were never slaves to the Karnans, but the difference between a well-treated slave and a poorly treated villein isn't particularly great. I don't know any of these people, and there's no obvious route that doesn't involve slaughtering one side or the other… Or at the very least forcibly relocating far more people than I could move. Best case scenario… Some sort of rerun of the partition of India, moving each people to their continent of origin when some of them have never lived there and don't actually want to move.

    But since I'm here, I should at least see if I can make the situation less bad.

    "Ring… Contact…"

    Who? Who? The only contacts I might have would be surviving members of Tearing Bite, and I doubt that they actually want to hear from me. I could ask Amalak to try taking the area, or… Providing a neutral force…

    "Contact the Karnans. Find me whoever's in charge."

    Compliance.

    "What?"

    "Orange Lantern here. Please put me through to whoever's in charge over there."

    "Orange-? Please hold."

    Not like I'm paying by the minute. He should be able to get hold of the Supreme Commander… Gaharrugh I think his name is, reasonably quickly. If they've got any sort of intelligence at all then they know what I'm capable of, and a Supreme Commander doesn't really need to do all that much when the attack is ongoing. There just aren't any strategic level decisions that need to be-.

    "Why are you here?"

    "Supreme Commander Gaharrugh?"

    "Mini-Beast the spider-fucker."

    "That's uncalled for."

    "Is it? When the Citadel Complex was destroyed, I held out a small hope that whoever did it would liberate my own home at the same time. And yet, here we are. You did nothing to help us, we begin the process of liberating ourselves-"

    "Blowing up the Citadel Complex was 'nothing to help you'?"

    "-and now here you are. Don't even think about-"

    I raise my right hand to my forehead.

    "-trying to intimidate us into leaving-"

    I appear in his ready room, and-.

    "-because you-."

    Queen Kalista and Sir Pren look up from their position to Gaharrugh's right. Sir Pren raises his hands from the table slightly, the air between myself and the three of them shimmering faintly as he generates a telekinetic shield. Good reflexes. An officer of the Crown Imperium was sitting on Gaharrugh's left but has now jumped to her feet and drawn her pistol. The soldiers behind me are a little slower on the uptake, but their… Crown Imperium-made grasers.

    "So you're sponsored by the Crown Imperium. Generous of them. Though I suppose that proxy-fighting is the only way to prevent Vega acting in concert against them."

    Kalista nods. "Until recently. Your actions have been both a help and a hindrance. By destroying the Citadel, you have created a situation in which this intervention could happen-."

    "Destroying the Tearing Bite war fleet probably helped as well."

    "That was-." Pren frowns. "Our reports say that the Beast destroyed it."

    "Yes, because I lured him in to attack it while I evacuated the slave workers at the facility it was guarding."

    "You also created an alliance between the worst of the pirates and slavers in Vega."

    "I felt it was better than your plan, as it was explained to me. The level of collateral damage that would have happened if the fighting on Raggashoon had continued in the way you hoped it might would have been appalling."

    Kalista glances at Pren for a moment. "What happened to Felicity?"

    "I took her on a brief sightseeing trip on Tamaran and then left her with a slave rehabilitation charity in the Crown Imperium. I don't know what she's done since then, but that was where I last saw her."

    There's a sort of rumble from Gaharrugh, and the navy officer next to him lowers her sidearm. "The alliance you created is the reason why the Karnan Fleet is trying to take back our homeworld without the Crown Imperium's overt aid. What do you plan to do to make up for all of the Karnans who died because our strongest ally is forced to keep their fleet back to guard against your pirate friends?!"

    Not a trace of red. His words are pure posturing.

    "Nothing, actually. If you ask nicely I might do something for you, but I don't consider myself even slightly obliged to you." I turn around and regard the soldiers with contempt. "Put those down before I insert them in you."

    Behind me, Gaharrugh nods. The guns are lowered and I return my attention to the table.

    "What exactly are you trying to achieve here?"

    "We're liberating our home, and destroying one of the remaining centres of the Citadel Alliance."

    "Exactly how many gordanian civilians are you planning on 'liberating'?"

    He glowers. "As many as it takes."

    "I prefer low body counts. With the clans most closely allied to the Citadel largely gone, I don't really bear any sort of grudge against those who remain. And from the sounds of things… Are you planning on going after Emana after this? And the Wombworld?"

    Nods.

    "I'm not exactly thrilled with-."

    Gaharrugh bears his teeth.

    "You allied yourself with pirates, slavers and cannibals. If you aren't going to help, then go! Before I kill you myself!"

    "Not just yet." I raise my right hand to my forehead once more. "See you shortly."
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2019
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  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th February
    18:27 GMT


    Where is he?

    There's a sort of spatial hiccup combined with a short flash of light over to my right, then a blast as the air absorbs the energy and turns into plasma. The strongpoint the local gordanian militia were using to suppress the karnan infantry evaporates -along with most of the defenders- and the attackers storm forward. A few are proper soldiers and those with the best armour are taking point, but the majority appear to be newly liberated slave labourers. They are only carrying masers and are dressed in simply tunics and leggings. The shot came from… There's no artillery in evidence…

    I look up and… Ah. One of the Karnan ships is in low orbit. That sort of energy pulse plasma weapon is what people who want a dedicated planetary bombardment weapon but aren't evil enough for mass driver use. Since the karnan fleet has been planning to take back their world for some time, it makes perfect sense that they'd have all the gear that they need.

    Of course, with the militia's defence failing here…

    Karnan soldiers take up position in a partially ruined settlement and fire down towards a small flotilla of overloaded boats trying to escape along a river. There are some weapons on those boats, but the majority of those on board are unarmed civilians-. Alright, 'civilian' is a bit of an unreliable descriptor where gordanians are concerned. Yes, the larger clans have 'military' vessels separate from their other vessels, but that divide only separates purely combat ships from multi-role ships which are very much combat capable. No clans have the sort of unarmed merchantmen that you see in the more stable regions of space. They'd just be targets in Vega. And all gordanians are taught how to fight. But these gordanians clearly aren't interested in fighting.

    Of course, firing on a retreating enemy is perfectly acceptable even by the more exacting standards of the Geneva Conventions. If you want someone to stop shooting you, stop retreating and start surrendering. Vega… A fighting retreat is usually a far better idea around here. Or a non-fighting retreat, hoping that whoever is making you retreat has something better to do than chase you down. If you try surrendering the people attacking you might take you prisoner in order to sell you into slavery, but an instruction to 'cluster up a bit more' would be more likely.

    Still…

    I transition to the air just above the boats and generate a shield construct between them and their karnan attackers. A volley of weak maser shots fails to penetrate it, then the fire… Just sort of falls off as they try to work out what the heck they're looking at.

    "Orange Lantern Illustres to gordanian ships. I am not here to support you. All I'm doing is covering your retreat. Keep moving, do not stop."

    I spot one of the militia members on the rearmost ship take aim at the Karnans on the bank-.

    I send a large construct hand down and grab his gun hard enough to deform the barrel into uselessness. Then I have the hand construct toss it into the water.

    "Don't push me."

    Bodies of those killed by the karnans are floating in the water… That one's still alive. The hand grabs them and puts them back into the closest boat, where the other gordanians immediately begin checking them over.

    Okay, in a normal military operation, the officers in charge on the ground would be reporting my presence back to their commanders, who would most likely order them to back off unless I directly attacked them. But this isn't a normal military operation. The karnans flat out hate the gordanians, and most of the 'troops' over there are at best irregulars. I can't expect the same command and control. They're lucky if there are enough regular soldiers to maintain any sort of communication, let alone anything approaching good command and control. I'd assume that they'd take a few shots at me, realise that they can't hurt me and then go looking for another target…

    I look up again.

    No. The people on the ship must have been advised that I'm around by now. That weapon system-.

    I put up an overhead shield just in case.

    It wouldn't hurt me. My armour and environmental shield are entirely too resilient. But it could easily wreck the boats and kill all of those on board.

    Incoming communication.

    "Yes?"

    "Ryand'r to Orange Lantern. Please respond."

    "Answer."

    Compliance.

    "Prince Ryand'r. I'd like a word in person, if you-" The ship above me fires, the laser failing to penetrate my shield and the plasma washing harmlessly over the sides. "-don't mind."

    "Of course! You are the first person I have spoken to who has news of my home!"

    I think a positron beam will do it.

    I generate a construct and carefully aim it at the ship that just shot at me.

    "Happy to share it. How soon can you reach me?"

    "Ah… Perhaps a minute. I am on my way now."

    I take a look around, looking through the terrain, tree-analogues and ruins for the orange lights which mark… Ah, there he is.

    "See you when you get here."

    I fire, my beam striking the shielding protecting the ventral weapon hardpoint and punching through to the weapon itself. The weapon is armoured, but as G'kar pointed out, weapons are by necessity one of the more weakly armoured parts of a ship. I dismiss the positron ray construct as the weapon above me dies. Hopefully that will cause them to get a belated clue.

    Never actually read a comic with Ryand'r in it. I don't think that he shared his sisters' extra powers, though he's apparently confident to fly around over an active combat zone naked but for his pants and a hair tie. I suppose that speed and agility should help, and it's not as if most of the infantry on his side are much more resilient. He slows as he reaches by shield, frowning at is.

    "Why are you protecting them?"

    "The people in these boats are too close to my definition of 'civilian' for me to be happy letting them die."

    "Oh." He nods. "That is a righteous reason."

    A smattering of shots from the karnan-held bank impact against my shield. Ryand'r turns to face the people who shot them.

    "It's okay! You can stop now!"

    "Ryand'r, I think it will take a little more than that."

    "I could try and get Tigorr to tell them to go someplace else, but that could take a while? He doesn't really talk so well when he's in beast-mode."

    "Then don’t worry about it."

    "Ah, okay?" He smiles hopefully. "You've been to Tamaran? Are the gordanians really gone?"

    "Yes. The survivors of Tearing Bite are marooned on another planet and your people are rebuilding with the assistance of a thanagarian mercenary group and Adam Blake."

    His eyes widen. "Blake's alive? That's amazing! I grew up with stories of how he sacrificed himself to protect our fleet-."

    "Yes, and the Citadel neutralised him and used him as a battery. He's recovered, as far as I can tell."

    "And my sisters?"

    "Recovered. I gave them power rings, and they both took part in the attack on Citadel Complex. Then they did some other work for me. Komand'r can fly under her own power again. She's on Tamaran at the moment."

    "When are they coming here?"

    "They're not."

    He frowns. "What? Why not?"

    "Ryand'r, do you understand why the Citadel grabbed them?"

    He shrugs. "Because they're evil. They enslave countless.-"

    "No. They took your sisters because you publically joined the Omega Men."

    He frowns in revulsion. "What?"

    "Tamaran was a vassal state of the Tearing Bite clan. When you, a member of the royal family, openly sided with their enemies, they risked losing face if they didn't immediately strike back. And since they couldn't get you, they took them. If you'd just left Okaara and joined them it wouldn't have been a problem, but you slapped them in the face with it."

    "That…" His eyes dip and he shakes his head. "No." He shakes his head again as he raises his head to glare at me. "I am not responsible for the evils of the Citadel, or their allies."

    "No, but you are responsible for the reasonably predictable results of your own actions." I point down at the boats. "Free the karnans, watch them slaughter the gordanians. Take a stand against the Citadel, watch as they retaliate against those you love."

    He floats back through the air. "I…"

    "Get out of here, Ryand'r. Come back when you've thought about it a little."
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2019
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  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th February
    19:14 GMT


    The gordanian militia on the ground keep nervously glancing up at me as they help the injured from the beached boats. They appear to be pulling out, an en-masse evacuation of the regions under the karnan fleet's guns. Which is sensible, but…

    Where are they going to go?

    The gordanian fleet -such as it is- could in theory send transports to ferry them over to Gordane, but that would put them within range of the karnan fleet's guns. And while the karnans might not want to risk leaving their positions to fire on a heat source they don't think is karnan, actual ships would be far more inviting targets. Gordanians have ocean-going ships, but most large-scale travel and trade was done by aircraft rather than sea vessels. And there's certainly no tunnels under the water or bridges across it. And… It's not as if the karnan fleet isn't going to go after the slave-operated fisheries and mines on that part of the coastline once they've finished with the interior.

    I could fly them over.

    I could

    There are karnans on Gordane, but many fewer of them than there are here. Gordanians as a whole stuck pretty much all their heavy industry on their own home continent, but there is still plenty of manual labour they wanted karnans for. The clans…

    I hadn't really thought about it, but clans like Gizzard Spiker and Tearing Bite didn't have much of a presence on Karettah. They just weren't that interested in agriculture or light industry. The clans who do-. Who did, are mostly clans who tend to avoid attacking anyone else. Yes, they owned karnan slaves, but that's more because karnans were the ones who were available rather than any sort of 'us versus them' mentality.

    I frown as I look down at the militia members below me. Who are they from? Clans usually have their own command structures, but in emergency situations like this irregulars tend to rally around whoever looks like they know what they're doing. That's… Stone Turner, Dirt Eater, Meat Barter, Blunt Claw… All the clans my most recent map say had a presence in this region. This evacuation must have started when the karnan ships first arrived, for some of them to get this far. Not completely sure who's in charge.

    One way to find out.

    I drift down, provoking some nervous backing up. The four closest militia members drift towards one another, though none of them go for their weapons.

    "Who is in charge here?"

    Three sets of eyes jerk towards the fourth member of the cluster, while he turns to look for someone he can offload me onto. I can see the same fears on his surface as I see in everyone else, but they're more… Bound up in the tasks he's performing right now. Gordanians don't have a standard uniform, but based on his equipment and decoration I'd guess that he's a non-commissioned officer. Or just a veteran.

    "Looks like you didn't step backwards fast enough."

    "Story of my life. What does the Orange Lantern want with us?"

    "I'd like to know where you're going?"

    "You and me both." He flicks his tail. "The rest of you, go find something to do."

    The three of them walk away to help offload the boats, and the non-com comes a little closer to me.

    "All the heavy forts on this continent came under bombardment as soon as the karnans secured their position in orbit. And even if we could get to them, they can't survive that forever. Can't hide in the mines, can't hide in the woods. The karnans might accept our surrender once they've got the bloodlust out of their systems but that doesn't do us any good right now. Best chance we've got is to head as far away from their ships as we can and hope that someone's feeling generous."

    "No one higher up in your clan-" Air hisses through his teeth. "-is organising things?"

    "How? What's left of the gordanian fleet's over the horizon." I shake my head. "We use our ships as communication relays. Karnans are disrupting everything else. Without the ships, we've got no way to talk to anyone."

    "Ocean ships?"

    "If the karnans haven't grabbed them or sunk them, there won't be enough and we'd be easy targets on the journey." He looks away, his eyes turning up-river towards the karnan-held area. "Never thought I'd see this."

    "Your reversal of fortunes?"

    "Yeah. Karnans doing to us what our great grandparents did to theirs. Always just thought that things would carry on like they had." He snorts. "You got any use for a few hundred gordanian slaves?"

    "Excuse me?"

    "If it was just me, I'd try fighting them guerrilla style. See how much time I could buy. But it's not. My clan mates, my family are-" He looks at the refugee… It's not precise enough to be a column, and the terrain is too broken anyway. Stream? Swarm? "-back there, and I'd rather they survive as slaves than get killed. The karnans gave up shooting once you showed up, so they don't want to fight you. How about it?"

    Hm. Tamaran could use additional agricultural workers, even with the thanagarian-Alstairian druids they've got helping them with that now. Not sure that they'd accept gordanians, even if they're not from clans that had any dealings with them before. This is… Far too many for the small colony Zaark has set up. Most other places I could send them are either too far away or not.. really appropriate.

    "Do you think that your clan superiors would agree to an exchange? Karnans in their territory for gordanians here?"

    "Ah. Some might. Mine would, but with this sort of war going on things are going to be getting run by a Grand Council, and… The Gizzard Spikers won't."

    "And if I present them with a fait accompli?"

    "What, you just show up with us and start making demands?" I nod. "Nothing helpful."

    "It's your peoples' lives. Any time you want to suggest something, go ahead."

    "There's nothing to say. No peace to be had. I guess you could trade us quietly, but you… Stand out."

    As I suspected, but it's useful to have confirmation.

    "No chance of a negotiated settlement?"

    "Not that I can see."

    Except… I'm an enlightened Lantern. Altering the desires of the people around me is simple. Doing it subtly is a little more difficult, but still well within my abilities.

    Ah.

    Pren's a telepath and Kalista is a magician. They've both got as yet unquantified ways to detect me trying something like that. Still, I'd rather this didn't turn into a slaughter and it's not as if trying risks anything significant.

    "I'd like to try persuading the grand council to be reasonable. Could you find me a couple of your people who could act as witnesses?"

    "Sure. May as well save two. Even if it's only for a few days."

    "Why would it only be a few days?"

    "There's no help coming. We killed ourselves, made the karnans' lives easier. No Citadel to back us up. Branx got their own problems, and we can't afford to hire anyone else. Any gordanian ship that isn't here has given up on keeping hold of this planet. Karnans are unified, full of hate, and their ships are all warships. Even if you did a swap, the karnans will go after Gordane before too long. They have to. And then, that's it."

    "You think they'll exterminate you?"

    "I think they'll kill enough that there won't be much difference. And if all of the karnans living in Gordane get evacuated, they'll have even less reason to try anything else."

    "That's not usual for Vega, is it? The Citadel didn't do that to the Tamaranians."

    "This fleet came from outside of Vega. Maybe they learned something new." He turns away from me. "Come with me. I'll find you some 'reliable witnesses'."
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2019
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  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th February
    19:28 GMT


    As we finally fly over the horizon I dismiss the positron beam projector constructs I had been pointing at the orbiting Karnan fleet. I'll… Hold off pointing one at the gordanians for the moment. If they start shooting me I'm just going to wreck the whole miserable lot of them and claim Gordane for the Orange Lantern Corps. Or maybe for Tamaran? It would be a fig leaf either way, but it would put me in a position to negotiate.

    I wonder how many gordanians there are?

    "Do either of you know what the total gordanian population is?"

    The older female purses her lips. Puzzlement. "The total in our clan..?"

    "No, your species. How many in total?"

    "How would anyone know that? How many of your species are there?"

    "About six billion. Most advanced countries maintain accurate censuses, but some places can't or can't keep them accurate."

    Her lips smooth. "Oh. We.. don't keep that sort of record. There's probably someone in our clan who knows how many adults we have, but no one keeps records for all of the clans."

    Gordanians have never had a unified government, so… Yes, I suppose that it makes sense that centralised data-gathering never became a thing. Frustrating as that is for me.

    "Would anyone know how many karnans are on Gordane?"

    "I doubt it. I don't even think that the clans would know. Individual overseers will know how many work for them."

    "If in the years to come, any gordanians ask how you lost, consider your inability to answer those questions."

    "I'm a farm overseer. What could I have done with that information?"

    "Started improving your relations with members of other clans once Citadel Complex was destroyed, with a view to improving gordanian unity in the face of the loss of a major ally."

    "Why would knowing how many of us there are help with that?"

    "Being more aware of the state of the region and the gordanians' place in it would inform your decision making."

    The other gordanian -a young female- lashes her tail from side to side in frustration. "He's right. The strength of the clan is the strength of all of its members. How is anyone supposed to do what's best for everyone if they don't know what it is?"

    The older is from Stone Turner and the younger from Meat Barter. That might explain why she gets it: Meat Barter are so legitimate that they're allowed to trade in civilised places. She's probably had a good deal more exposure to alien ways of thinking than the miners and farmers of Stone Turner. I.. had thought that Meat Barter only maintained a token presence on Karna itself. Odd that she got caught up in this.

    "Did you know that the karnans still had a fleet?"

    "Yes." / "Yes."

    "In that case, why weren't clan elders making pacts with other Vega powers? They should have known that someone might take a swing at you with the Citadel gone. Amalak would have taken a defence contract. There are probably Branx consortia in the same position as you who would form mutual defence pacts. There-."

    No. They probably don't know that the Crown Imperium is sponsoring the karnans, and… It might make things more difficult if I shared that information.

    "Was plenty of time for the clans to agree to cooperate amongst themselves. Heck, if the anti-Citadel clans had ganged up on Gizzard Spiker before the Karnans arrived, they might have been prepared to negotiate from the start. Or I could have come to Karna after I blew up the Citadel Complex and browbeaten you people into reforming. There were all sorts of things that could have been done. This is the result of actions taken and not taken by a lot of people."

    And there's the coastline. And the anti-air emplacements, bunkers and soldiers…

    "Orange Lantern Illustres to Council of Clan Chiefs. I'm here to try and bring about a negotiated settlement between you and the karnans. If you're not interested in hearing me out, please start shooting now so that we don't waste one another's time."



    Well, no one's shooting yet. I suppose that getting in touch with the emergency government-. Ring, that message did go somewhere, right?

    Confirmed. Message played through the speakers in the Council's meeting room.

    And thus neatly bypassed whatever layers of bureaucracy the gordanians actually have. However, they've now got to argue amongst themselves, and I doubt that Gizzard Spiker are going to be eager to meet the man who blew up their strongest ally. Still, if they ordered anyone to shoot it was immediately countermanded.

    "Is there anyone either of you want to talk to before we meet the Council?"

    "No." The older tilts her head to the right for a moment. "Representatives of our clans will be there, or what happens to us won't really matter very much."

    "As you will."

    The guns don't track us as we pass over the beach and head inland. Gordane tends towards a few large cities and vast areas of scrubby wasteland, as opposed to Karettah's speckling of small villages and large swathes of cultivated land. Not too much in the way of roads again because everything flies, though I can see where there are old roads that have fallen into disuse and disrepair. The city where my ring is telling me the Council is meeting is a short distance inland, a little way back from the mouth of a large river. From here I can see the large factory complexes and… Chimneys? No, cooling towers, which reach up into the sky, as well as the slight distortion from the anti-orbital force field. And the shapes of many anti-ship weapon emplacements.

    There are some gordanian fighter craft around, but attack craft aren't a big part of gordanian fleet composition any more than they are Citadelian. No, that's-. Gordanians are perfectly intelligent. They can pilot that sort of ship, but they're just as bulky as Okaarans and Citadelians and are evolved from ground-dwelling reptiles. Or… Engineered from ground-dwelling reptiles by the psions. Even compared to humans they just don't have the instinct for it, and unlike with the karnans their computers are too primitive to make up for it.

    "Council Convenor Rowk to Orange Lantern Illustres. We will meet with you. Come at once."

    "On my way."

    I end the communication. Demanding that I do anything is a bit rich, but I'm not petty enough to call him out on it. Not when the future of his species' viability is at stake. Or… Maybe that's just how gordanians talk, or maybe he thinks clearing his schedule to meet me at once is doing me a favour? I don't know enough about gordanian culture to assume either way.

    The Council is meeting in a fortified bunker located on the landward side of the city, its force field gleaming in the light. It's clearly highly resilient and the soldiers guarding it are professionally comported and equipped. The partially disassembled wrecks of several star ships which litter the area around it rather undermine that, but there was a good deal of fighting around here recently so I shouldn't be too surprised.

    "There."

    The young gordanian I'm pulling along with me points to a small squad, the leader of which is waving me down.

    "Thank you. Down we go."

    "Thank Auron."

    We land, myself at the front and my passengers just behind me. The head of the escort detail trudges over. His armour is far heavier than that of the militia unit on Karettah and incorporates a winged flight pack.

    "Orange Lantern Illustres and witnesses, here to see the Council."

    "Yes." He looks us over, perhaps wondering if he could get away with asking us to disarm. "When you're in there, don’t make any sudden moves. We don’t plan on starting anything, but things are on edge right now."

    "Yes, I noticed. But don't worry. If I wanted to start anything then this place would already be a hole in the ground. Lead on, would you?"
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2019
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  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th February
    19:57 GMT


    The two gordanians I brought with me troop out through the doors to the Council chamber, their body language speaking of profound depression. The Council wanted to speak to me first, but I felt that it would underline their position better if they listened to the witness reports first. The head of the escort detail who brought me down here slaps his tail on the floor in the direction of the door, and I nod amiably.

    "My turn, then."

    I create two construct-ushers to hold the doors open and stroll unhurriedly through, arms hanging loosely at my sides. There are six occupied seats on the right, representing those clans with the greatest military strength. Another eleven on the left, representing those who have strength that is less but still significant. And a huddle at the back of the room for those clans whose military strength is nonexistent, trivial or just not around here.

    A gordanian with the three yellow line and a white blob emblem of Unending Conquest waves to me from her place near the front of the huddle. Her position makes sense; while Unending Conquest have plenty of military force it's all at the other end of the galaxy. She's essentially an ambassador from a foreign power at this point. Though… If the Council were willing, having the more militant clans head out that way might not be such a bad thing. I'd be happy for them to spend their military strength fighting the Reach with a view to colonising one of their worlds at the end of the campaign.

    "Ladies and gentlemen. Councillors,-" Right. "-representatives,-" Left. "-and emissaries." Forward. "As I'm sure that you know… You're in the shit."

    The representative of the Meat Barter clan snorts in agreement. If their ships are all in the vicinity of Karna right now then they might well be finished as a clan. At best, they're looking at losing all of their on-Karna holdings.

    "The karnans are out for blood and there's no help coming."

    The Councillor from Gizzard Spiker takes a second to glare at the emissary from Unending Conquest, who happily wiggles her tail in response.

    "You might be able to negotiate something -in theory- but no one's listening. The people on the ground have been raised hating you from birth and now that they're here they're not going to stop killing while there are gordanians in front of them. They will -however- listen to me."

    A few of the assembled gordanians freeze, or straighten up slightly.

    "That's not to say that they like me, but I'm happy to act as a go-between if you want to try-." 'Talking things out' doesn't seem appropriate. "A negotiated surrender. And since I don't like wasting my time, I'd like to outline the things you will have to agree to give up as a bare minimum. Obviously, any karnans still held as slave workers anywhere will have to be handed over. You will have to give up any claim to territory in Karettah. You will most likely have to disarm to a considerable degree and make some sort of payment to the new karnan government. And you will most likely have to allow the karnans to go wherever they want in your territory in order for them to confirm for themselves that you are complying with the terms."

    "If you can agree to all of that from the start, I'll go to the karnans and see if that's enough to convince them to suspend their attack." I look around. "Well?"

    The Councillor from Blood Flecks drags the talons on his right hand across the material of their desk, creating an audible screeching noise. "And what do we get?"

    "Don't know. Probably not a lot. What do you want?"

    "The members of our clans in their territory returned to us. Guarantees on our territory."

    "What territory in particular?"

    Which I do need to know. The karnans might well want the gordanian species off Karna in its entirety, but several clans own territory in other places in Vega. A few even own territory outside of it.

    "Everything we hold now."

    "I think that unlikely-."

    The Councillor from Gizzard Spiker bangs his fist on the desk. "Then they will come here and die."

    Hm. Assuming no psion surprises… Ring, probable outcome of a confrontation, the karnan fleet versus the gordanian fleet and planetary defences?

    Likely behaviour of vessel commanders unknown. Unable to accurately predict. A direct confrontation would result in a narrow karnan victory. The gordanian combined fleet would be entirely destroyed at substantial cost to the karnan navy. The remaining karnan naval units would be sufficient to perform a rotating bombardment of remaining ground targets.

    More or less what I was expecting. De-orbiting the gordanian wrecks would be more efficient than shooting until their shields start to weaken and then backing off, but it would also be a good deal less precise. Would the Crown Imperium care about something like that? They… Might, actually. They're fine with slaughtering pirates and slavers outright, but bombarding civilian areas never looks good. And it would increase the chance of the karnans in the areas being targeted getting killed.

    "A lot of them will die, yes. All of you will. May I take it that the gentleman from Gizzard Spiker intends to make their victory so costly that their will breaks while some of you survive?"

    He beats his chest armour with both fists. "Yes he does."

    The others generally look less certain. Oh, I'm sure that the gordanians will fight if it comes to it, but good luck maintaining any sort of organisation with morale like this.

    "I don't believe that will work on anything more than a local level. These aren't karnan merchants or outmatched irregulars. This is a war fleet full of people who hate you. And I think that the Omega Men are a little-" There's a slight stir at the name. "-annoyed about me kill-stealing Citadel Complex and have decided that you'll be a reasonable substitute. Still, if that's your intent I will mention it to them. Anything else?"

    The Councillor from Blood Flecks looks around and gets a series of slow blinks. Compliance. He then turns back my way. "No. Go. Return when you have terms."

    I bow mockingly and then straighten, raising my right hand to my forehead.

    "…progress on all fronts, aid.. ed…" Pren slows to a stop as he notices me. This time it's him, Kalista, Gaharrugh, the officer from the Crown Imperium, a few other karnan officers and a… Huh, a news crew, who step back a little awkwardly and point a camera my way.

    And… We're actually in the same room.

    "Are you still here? It's been an hour and a half."

    Gaharrugh rises to his feet. "What do you want?"

    "I've just come from speaking to the gordanian Grand Council. They would like to discuss terms for their surrender."

    Pren blinks, risking a small smile as he sits back. Kalista blinks, not meeting my eyes, presumably trying to work out how this affects their strategy. Gaharrugh's throat rumbles, and the general smoothing of fur from the karnans suggests that they find the idea extremely pleasing.

    "Not joining them, then?"

    "I'm enough of a realist to know that civilians die during wars. But I wasn't about to let it happen right in front of me. My only real objective here is to keep the casualties as low as possible."

    "The 'Grand' Council can surrender when they crawl up to me on their knees and kiss my boots!"

    I ignore the snorting from several karnan officers.

    "Alright. Over what sort of distance?"

    "What?"

    "Over what sort of distance do you want them to crawl? They'd have difficulty getting here from their bunker-."

    "It wasn't a serious suggestion!"

    I give him a condescending look. "Please try and take this seriously, Supreme Commander. Millions of karnan lives are at stake."

    He steps towards me, towering over me. As if such a basic intimidation technique would work on me any more.

    "I am aware of that. I will accept the Council's unconditional surrender."

    "I'm not sure they would be willing to risk that. Could you present a more concrete set of demands?"
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2019
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  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th February
    20:35 GMT


    The Councillor from Gizzard Spiker floats in a ring-generated flight aura, a muzzle over his snout. The guards who headed towards us the moment he lunged at me slow to a stop, while the councillors, representatives and emissaries freeze.

    "Sir, please don't do that again. If you wish to register your displeasure, you may simply inform me of it."

    The Councillor from Long Striders cranes his neck slightly to see around his floating colleague. "In that case, let me register it. Disarming down to the level the Supreme Commander requires would leave us helpless against a great many of our neighbours. Our normal ships aren't well-armed enough to fight off dedicated attackers."

    "And how long do you think those raiders will exist for?"

    "What do you mean?"

    "The Beast -the one being whose presence kept the Green Lantern Corps from intervening in Vega- is now receiving psychiatric treatment on Maltus. Jarko gets his revenue from taxation rather than raiding, Amalak provides security services for pay, the Spider Guild are shipbuilders and the Citadel is gone. The sort of mass piracy Vega enabled was always a bubble economy and it just got popped. Karnans who've lived most of their lives in the Crown Imperium won't regard that as the cost of doing business; their fleet will be sent after anyone who tries that sort of thing just as soon as they've secured their home here. In addition, Tamaran is building a fleet. A few of the older delegates here might remember the way they used to use their fleet before their ill-fated attack on Citadel Complex."

    "Fewer raiders."

    "Fewer, if any. The price of them doing business will go up too much."

    "What about the branx, or the psions?"

    "I fully expect the branx to pivot, as you were doing before the karnans arrived. Those with close ties to the Citadel will lose out, while those with external contacts will gain. The psions have worked through proxies since they recovered from creating X'Hal. They're going to find themselves in an extremely hostile environment. They might leave, they might fortify. If they try raiding themselves then they're going to receive more attention than they can deal with."

    "Are you guaranteeing that yourself?"

    Am I?

    "I suppose that I am." I turn to the Councillor from the Gizzard Spikers. "Have you calmed down now?"

    He glowers, but doesn't strain against the muzzle. I float him back to his seat and then remove the flight aura. He makes a variety of small stretching motions, maintaining eye contact all the while.

    Then he sits.

    "Clan Gizzard Spiker will never disarm. There is no longer any purpose in you being here."

    The Councillor from Blood Flecks bares his teeth slightly. "Clan Gizzard Spiker would be well advised to make fewer definitive statements."

    The Gizzard Spiker councillor turns his way and snarls. "Clan Blood Flecks would be well advised to find its gizzard once more!"

    "If I may interject, gentlemen. The disarmament requirements would only apply to ships within Vega. If Clan Gizzard Spiker does not like the restrictions, they may wish to negotiate for passage out of Vega. Clan Unending Conquest have done rather well for themselves with only a token presence here."

    "Or we could just leave."

    "I imagine that you would die if you did. I doubt that your fellow gordanians would like you leaving them in the lurch like that. And even if you actually made it away, the Crown Imperium has 'Wanted: Dead' bounties on your entire clan for piracy. If you went anywhere near their space they would send their navy after you… In fact, there's a good chance they'd send naval vessels after you anyway."

    "Then by the First, what I am supposed to be negotiating for?!"

    "Safe passage. They might be prevailed upon to let you through their territory as long as you were definitely going somewhere else and staying there. I can provide you with a list of worlds you could colonise… Or you could carry on as you do here until someone important takes notice of you and kills you. Up to you."

    He takes a moment to glare at the other gordanians, but he knows full well that they'd happily hand his entire clan over if it guaranteed their survival. Heck, most of them were actively fighting Gizzard Spiker not too long ago.

    "Leaving… My clan will consider this. But what of the Green Lanterns? The karnans can't speak for them."

    "Ring, contact Green Lantern Green Man."

    "Compliance."

    "This might take a moment, depending on what he's doing."

    Blood Flecks looks at my rings with undisguised avarice. "What would we have to trade for your help? Or for one of those rings?"

    "You want a ring?" He tilts his head, eager but wary. "Here." I put a copy of my… Training guide, an editor-needed draft of my personal philosophy on orange light use, mixed in with practical lessons and reports from my own missions, onto the desk in front of him. "If you're interested, read that and reflect upon it. Master it, and you should be able to call a ring to you."

    He grabs it.

    "As for getting my help, you have nothing I want. The Gizzard Spikers have my enmity for working with the Citadel, and though I have revenged myself upon the Tearing Bite for doing the same-" I look over to the Representative of Tearing Bite. Mildly surprised that they've got enough force left for a place there. "-it is extremely unlikely that I could bring myself to help them. As for the rest of you, while I recognise that slavery does not automatically mean that the owned party is particularly mistreated, your karnan slaves appear to be used purely for manual labour and not kept as technically-owned helpmeets. I am not impressed. If it came to it I'd probably help the karnans, but I'd rather-."

    Green Man's image appears over my ring.

    "Illustres."

    "Lantern Green Man."

    "Given your company, I suspect that I will not enjoy this conversation."

    "Have you had any trouble from the mercenaries or the Spiders?"

    "Many minor complaints and many enraged messages from the government of the Crown Imperium."

    "But no acts of genocide or piracy."

    "None that have come to my attention. What do you want for the gordanian slavers?"

    "The karnans are on the verge of retaking Karna. I'm trying to negotiate a surrender. For obvious reasons the karnans want them to hand over or scuttle their war fleets. Some gordanian clans aren't prepared to do that and so will have to leave Vega."

    "How many?"

    I look around the room. "Anyone other than Gizzard Spiker seriously considering it?"

    Blood Flecks and Silent Stalking knock on their tables.

    "Three somewhat depleted clans."

    "And what do you want me to do?"

    "Let them go, and only pursue them for crimes they commit after they leave."

    "Let the most heavily armed gordanian clan, the clan most closely allied to the Citadel, leave the area and go anywhere they wish."

    "Yes. With my personal guarantee that -should they act out- I will respond as soon as I'm notified and exterminate them."

    "What?"

    "Exterminate?"

    "Yes. I'm only doing this to lower the death total on Karna on both sides. I'm not actually interested in helping them, just in getting a settlement."

    "I will.. consider the matter. Green Lantern Green Man out."

    "Right. I'll check back with the karnans."
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2019
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th February
    20:48 GMT


    "Just let them leave?! After everything they've done?"

    Genuine anger. I suppose that's fair. The Gizzard Spiker clan were the ones who first made an alliance with the Citadel. Before that, the karnans were more or less maintaining their own sphere of influence. And now I'm telling him that the part of his most hated enemies that he hates most wants to just leave. Of course, they're also the part which resent their loss of status most and will fight the hardest.

    "They will lose all of the local resource extraction facilities which the Citadel awarded them. Given the amount of rebuilding that you're going to be doing, I'm sure that you'll find having them handed over to you in full working order quite beneficial."

    "How could I possibly believe that will happen?"

    "Having negotiated this treaty, I will be its guarantor. While you are free to include a penalty tariff in your discussions, I was thinking five hundred deaths for each violation."

    "Five-?" There's a wave of fur across his body as the surprise momentarily makes it fluff up before he regains control.

    "As I said, if you think that is inadequate or would prefer fungible reparations rather than bloody retribution, you may say so."

    "Mm. I thought you didn't approve of mass killings."

    "I don't, but I do believe in consequences. The gordanians alive now aren't the ones who seized Karna. Though I understand why you do, it would be unreasonable for a disinterested party such as myself to try to hold them responsible for it. On the other hand, if they spit in my face and negotiate in bad faith…" I shrug. "My weapons are more precise than yours. I can be sure that I kill the ones who made the decision and carried it out, and do so without endangering allied civilians."

    "And you couldn't just kill them all now?"

    I think for a-.

    "You think you could?"

    "The deciding factor would be my own ability to maintain motivation while slaughtering defenceless civilians. I also wouldn't be able to reliably protect any karnan slaves in the area. But yes."

    Mass emotional manipulation isn't something I've practised. Not sure how I could practise it without being more than a little immoral. So while in theory I might be able to remove the desire to fight back from everyone in Gordane, there are all sorts of side effects that could come about as a result. Side effects like losing the drive to breathe or move out of the way of oncoming vehicles or pull one's hand out of a fire.

    "You actually believe it."

    "Are you willing to agree to that term?"

    "No."

    Kalista's face twitches, but she's too experienced to say anything while I'm still here. I think that the Omega Men would be very glad to actually achieve a peaceful resolution to the Vega conflict. Vigilantes in Vega don't usually live to see retirement.

    "Then-."

    "But I will agree to a temporary ceasefire-" He indicates an area on the map, places the fleeing gordanians have been retreating to. "-to allow the gordanians to retreat to these areas. I am willing to exchange our people for theirs. All for all."

    Ring?

    A map appears in my mind, and I update the map in front of me. Showing him where the surviving gordanians are is a slight risk, but he has orbital supremacy over this hemisphere. I'm not showing him anything he couldn't find out in a few hours.

    "If you can wrangle your troops here and here... Given how many irregulars they've recruited, I recommend organising a feast of some sort to keep them back."

    He growl-snorts. Hm. To be fair, the gordanians do appear to have realised that starving manual labourers is a dumb thing to do, and that rationing people working in food production doesn't really work. Their main control mechanism is limiting their chattels' access to technology, not limiting their access to necessities.

    "Or perhaps some sort of registration system so they can get in touch with relatives? I can direct gordanian refugees here-" I add orange arrows to the maps. "-around the karnans."

    "Acceptable. How soon can we begin the exchange?"

    "Eight hours."

    His whiskers bristle. "Why the delay?"

    "Gordanians don't see as well in the dark as karnans. They don't want to land at night. They have agreed to begin collecting karnans at once and have them arrive just after first light, but that's the earliest they're willing to do."

    Gaharrugh considers. He could probably get hold of floodlights, but…

    "Acceptable. That will allow us time to pull our forces back from the landing areas." He turns from the map to look at me. "They will be fully loaded when they arrive?"

    "I wouldn't recommend insisting on that, unless you want them crammed in. Gordanians take up quite a lot more space than karnans."

    "Mm."

    "So? A ceasefire, the gordanians retreat to extraction points and you allow transports in?"

    Gaharrugh looks around at the faces of his officers, and the Crown Imperium's observer.

    "Yes. I will agree to that now. The ceasefire to begin in half an hour-." A couple of officers wince, and Gaharrugh widens his eyes slightly. A mildly challenging expression amongst the karnans. Though he must realise that they have a point. Wrangling an armed mob over an area the size of a continent in half an hour is a bit of a tall order. "In an hour and a half. We will begin… Making room for their retreats when we can."

    "Acceptable. Will you deactivate your jamming so that the gordanians can coordinate their side of things?"

    "Yes. But there are to be no encrypted transmissions. We will be listening."

    "Understood." Hm. "What about other enslaved species?"

    "They come to us."

    "Including gordanians?"

    Like batarians, gordanians are perfectly happy to enslave one another. There weren't all that many, not with karnans so readily available, but when one clan conquers another they don't always just absorb them. There probably would have been more resulting from the little civil war they just had if the karnans hadn't invaded. Though between gordanians it's more of an extreme demotion than unpersoning.

    "No. They can keep them."

    "Understood. Do you have any other messages for the Council at this time?"

    "No."

    "Good show. Now, about my payment."

    "What payment?"

    "I don't owe either you or the gordanians anything. But given all of the land redistribution that's going to be happening I think you can spare me a few acres."

    His nostrils flare, but he doesn't appear to be particularly shocked. "What for?"

    "I wish to build a temple to my people's death god. It will be used exclusively for ritual and devotional purposes. You and anyone else who wish to visit are free to do so and hear the teachings of Lord Hades."

    He considers. Crazy Lantern wants to build a temple…

    "You have many rings-."

    I roll my eyes and hand him the book.

    "It's a training guide. Read and inwardly digest, then send anyone who gets it to speak to me. Now, if you'll excuse me?"
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2019
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  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th February
    22:14 GMT


    I dismiss my giant orange arrow construct as the nervous gordanian refugees get moving. They'd taken cover in what appears to have been a pre-takeover karnan fortification, and swiftly had any further line of retreat cut off by the slave uprising. I can only assume that the fleet didn't atomise it because they want to keep it intact for cultural reasons, but there were karnan regular troops heading this way before they got word from the Supreme Commander that the war was going on hold for a little while. Getting the mob to pull back to allow the gordanians to retreat took the officer in command a little while, but with the assistance of a small orange light show from me they were eventually successful.

    It's the same story more or less across all of Karettah. Whatever reservations Gaharrugh has about further dealings with the gordanians he appears to be genuine about this part. Travelling at night will be slow going for the gordanians-.

    My ring blinks.

    "Yes?"

    Guy's face appears, his expression torn between frustration and amusement. "Paul, why did I just get a call from Green Man 'bout you taking over a planet?"

    "I don’t know. Probably because he needed to refer his question to someone, you're in the Honour Guard and he knows that you know me."

    "Are you takin' over a planet?"

    "What would I do with another planet?"

    "Come on, Paul. Don't try pullin' that shit with me-."

    "No, I'm not taking over a planet. The karnan puppet navy the Crown Imperium's been supporting is trying to retake Karna and I'm trying to bring about a negotiated settlement."

    "Thought you were gunna talk t' the Spider Queen."

    "I'll.. get there. But I wanted to check on my maroonees first, then I went to Tamaran, and… You know, Karna. Come for the catgirls, stay for the brutal world-spanning war."

    "Did you do somethin' t' make that happen?"

    "Destroying Citadel Complex led to gordanian infighting, which may have resulted in the karnans deciding to invade. Personally, I think that letting the gordanians fight it out would have been a more sensible thing to do, but the karnans saw an opportunity..."

    "Right. And you want to let some a' them get outta town because..?"

    "Most of the gordanian clans are willing to surrender, but a few aren't. I want to have voluntary exile as an option."

    "Uh-huh. And you wouldn't be settin' them all up t'get killed, like you did with those Citadelians?"

    "Uh… Well, the Crown Imperium isn't a party to the negotiation, so there's nothing to stop them killing the exiled clans the moment they leave Vega. But the Crown Imperium is pretty obviously trying to establish a presence in Vega now that the Citadel is gone. With Amalak and Co. in the border region I doubt that they'll do something which would risk riling them up." I shrug. "Given what they've done I won't exactly be sorry if they get killed, but that's not my main objective here."

    "An' I guess there's too many t' maroon them."

    "I'm negotiating the surrender of people with a lot of hostages and strategic weapons. I'm not even going to imply that I'm planning that."

    "You gunna keep an eye on them?"

    "The karnans and Imperials are going to do that. And I'm sure that Green Man will as well. I've already promised them that I'll handle it if they make a nuisance of themselves."

    "Right." Guy looks away a little, thinking it over. He nods to himself, then turns back to me. "I'll okay it on one condition."

    "And that is?"

    "Green Man gets access t' Vega."

    I shrug. "I'm not stopping him. Given what the Guardians did with Larfleeze and the psions I'm not going to help him establish himself, but I won't just throw him out." I frown. "Doesn't the Guardian treaty with the psions still hold?"

    "I'm hopin' we can talk tha Guardians outa it. Or catch the psions breakin' their end now you're takin' their toys away from 'em."

    "I'll keep an eye out. Can I tell the Gizzard Spikers they can go?"

    "I'll tell Green Man I think it's okay. That's all I'm doin'."

    "Fair enough. Thanks, Guy."

    "Don't forget tha spiders."

    "Next thing I do. Illustres out."

    I lower my hand and look around again. Gordanians on their way, karnans staying where they're supposed to…

    I transition upwards, stopping high enough in the upper atmosphere that I can see pretty much all of the continent. The cease fire is… Holding. I'm not expecting it to hold perfectly, but they're… Doing a reasonable job so far. The gordanians are heading towards the pick-up points…

    I transition to the other side of the planet. Ships are sending their cargo shuttles down, and scared karnans are being escorted towards the landing fields. Given that most of them don't live particularly close to the landing fields and that the gordanians don't have a huge number of civilian transportation aircraft available there's a certain amount of shuttling back and forth. But… They do appear to be holding up their end of the deal.

    Communications…

    Jamming has been discontinued. Official communications are unencrypted and limited to permitted topics.

    Unofficial communications?

    Primarily short range personal messages.

    And I suppose that if the karnans were going to kick off about that they would have done so by now.



    I'm a little surprised that I got this far without mentally altering anyone, but I'm not going to look a gift-horse in the mouth.

    Hm. I wonder if any of the people who read my book will make decent candidates? A quick look around didn't show anyone with the desire-channelling instinct required. Even Kalista and Pren were more green-blue than anything. I suppose that until recently Vega has made it so easy to indulge in the self-indulgent forms of avarice use that the sort of people I'd like to recruit haven't really had a chance to come to the fore.

    Jarko's going to hate the idea of being surrounded by Crown Imperium territory. I should… Drop in, and make sure that no one is going to do anything unfortunate. Amalak probably won't care. If anything, I imagine that he's relatively well positioned to take advantage of an increased level of die-off amongst the old school raiders and pirates. Particularly if them being driven away from Vega causes more of the surrounding polities to retain his services. The Queen's position… Don't know.

    Alright, itinerary. Visit Jarko last, because I suspect that he'll want to make a big deal of it. Guy's going to be watching the Spiders, so they're the next stop. Then Emana, because that could explode and I'd rather get ahead of things this time. Amalak after that.

    I give Karna another scan. Things are still much as they're supposed to be.

    Hang on. Do I actually need to be here? Sure, I need to be here when the actual hand over starts, but… I'm just hanging around now. I'm not seeing any signs that anyone is planning to betray anyone, Gaharrugh and the Council were genuinely accepting this…

    It shouldn't hurt if I disappear for a little while.

    I raise my right hand to my forehead and focus on the desire network of Strand-Captain Fhomalhopos. And… There he is. Feels like he's in the general vicinity of their Control Nest. I should get a general idea of how the treaty is panning out before I meet with the Queen.

    I step out
     
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  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th February
    22:18 GMT


    and

    back in, surprised Spider Guild members scuttling back nervously. I'm on an… Open-plan bridge, on a space station of some kind. From the rough-hewn walls I'm going to assume that they built it into an asteroid. Not a normal Guild practice, but I suppose that they did rather have to hit the ground running with regard to their treaty refit commitments.

    "At-will teleportation?" Fhomalhopos steps off his dais, though given how Guilders move it looks more like he's flowing. "Is that new, Orange Lantern?"

    "I've learned it since I last left Vega. How have you been doing?"

    He makes a rasping-sigh noise. "Busy dealing with the constant nagging of our new partners. I decided to rush our first dock rather than build the entire generation in a more efficient manner in order to satisfy them. Dealing with inefficient alien egotists isn't something I thought would be part of my job… But as the Queen commands."

    "No big problems?"

    "We're making ships and guns for people I instinctively believe should be our enemies. Beyond that, nothing worth talking about."

    "So if I took a look in your refrigerators..?"

    "The meat would genetically match various people, but it's all cloned from tissue samples. It is no longer practical for us to kill intelligent prey."

    I shake my head. "Why..? Did you do it in the first place?"

    "I'm not sure." He comes level with me and stops. "A combination of our distant ancestors' primary source of food also being intelligent and thus us never really developing an instinctive aversion to the practice, and the social conditioning of growing up in a society where such things are normal. Of course, we are having to cut down on the usual manifestations of our dietary habits now. It will be interesting to see whether they survive more familiar contact with other species."

    He turns his head around to take in his subordinates and makes a rasping-click noise. Slightly crouched in shame, they return to their work stations.

    "What can we do for you?"

    "I'm checking up on you. And I want to speak to the Queen."

    "She is.. not directly involved in this work. I will be happy to show you anything you like." He gestures to the doors. "We have even modified former holding pens into places for humanoid entertainment."

    "The two requests weren't dependent. I want to speak to her regardless of what I find here."

    "She cannot presently leave her current environment. Is your environmental shield sterile?"

    "Yes."

    "Then you will be able to visit her." He flows past me and heads for the door out of the room. "Would you like to interview our current guests?"

    I look around, staring through the rock and metal surrounding us. Guilders are distinct enough from humanoids that I can tell the difference easily enough. Ring?

    Scans are unimpeded. Multiple members of local irregular groups present. None significantly injured or in distress.

    Which matches with what… I'm… Seeing…

    I tilt my head slightly at-. Really? I mean, consenting adult sophonts in private, but really?

    "No, that's… Fine. Are you having any trouble with the other Guild Nests?"

    "Some have made representations. Offers of aid in exchange for our virtual enslavement. We have passed on all so far."

    He accelerates and I float behind him as we pass through another door and down a corridor.

    "Strand-Captain, if there are any problems emerging, it would behoove you to make me aware of them now, while I can still do something about them."

    "Oh?" Three eyes rotate my way. "You didn't say that you were acting as a guarantor for our agreement. Has something happened?"

    "The karnans are in the process of reconquering Karna."

    "Yes?"

    "As you may remember, I dislike pointless slaughter."

    "What I heard from Amalak's people about your treatment of the last Citadelians suggests that your dislike is not universal."

    "No, it's just not overwhelming. For example, if you'd told me that you were eating slaves, I would have overcome it."

    "It would be impractical to get enough." A couple more of his eyes focus on me. "And impolitic, given that they would be the same species as our business partners."

    "I suppose that's an adequate reason."

    He enters a code to open the door, granting us access to a short section of corridor to the next door. They're both reinforced, designed to form seals in the event that part of the station becomes decompressed. The door we just passed closes firmly before the next one begins opening. The wall on the far side is transparent, giving anyone looking a clear view of a colossal space within the asteroid.

    Fhomalhopos scuttles out and gestures towards the scene on the far side. There are eight ships of various classes and in various states of assembly parked around the edge of the interior space, work crews of Guilders and robotic drones visible all around. Using them to judge scale… Not huge ships, but certainly not tiny.

    "We're working on the ships of some of the more vocal officers here. Small ships will be serviced in more conventional space docks. Commodore Amalak is 'giving' us some of his older ships to allow us to accelerate our dock-building program."

    "Thoughtful."

    "I thought that it was admirably rational, given that we would primarily be using them for him. Would you like to see them?"

    "And there weren't any explosives or monitoring devices in them?"

    "Bombs, no. Monitoring devices, yes. We left them in place. We would not be so foolish as to do anything we wished to keep concealed where they could easily see it, and their presence may reassure him."

    "And are you doing anything you wish to keep concealed?"

    He wiggles his mandibles.

    "Strand-Captain Fhomalhopos, I want this region peaceful. I'm not exactly going to be impressed-."

    "We do not plan to initiate martially aggressive action. It would be foolish of us to do so. If you wish to know more about our plans, you will have to speak to the Queen."

    "That's something else I want to ask you about. Why do you even have a Queen? Shouldn't the title be Guildmaster or 'Hive Father' or 'Hive Mother'?"

    His eyes wheel in all directions. Discomfort and embarrassment. "Those who would have ruled this Nest were killed in transit. We do not believe that the people who killed them even realised who they had killed. The Queen took over organising us after that point."

    "Alright, but what is she? I know perfectly well that female Spider Guilders don't usually look like that."

    "That is something which you will have to ask her as well. I-." He touches his collar for a moment. "Ah. It seems that she is ready to receive you."
     
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  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th February
    22:23 GMT


    "Have you..? Had something done to your carapace?"

    The Queen is… Bigger than she was when we last met. Both all-around larger and chunkier. Not that I can really make an aesthetic judgement; I have no idea what Guilder standards of beauty are. But my comment is based upon the fact that her outer surface appears to be a good deal more smooth than it was when we parted company. I mean, she was smoother than the others last time we met, but now it looks like she's had it sanded and buffed.

    She appears to have decided that meeting me doesn't require armour, though I'm a little glad that she's wearing other clothes. Currently she's dressed in loose dark green robes, standard Spider Guild fashion modified for her unusual physique. Her clothing is accessorised with… Bracelets? Anklets? Made of intricately carved bone. She's standing in a depression in the floor much like when we first met, though her throne-pit here looks a good deal better built than the relatively slapdash affair of her spaceship.

    "Yes." Her forelimbs are in constant motion, entering instructions on the computer console in front of her while her eyes are split between the monitors and me. "I felt that having some of the irregularities in my chitin smoothed might make me seem less fearsome."

    "It-." I look her over once again. I suppose… If I'm being entirely honest… "I do prefer the look, but you're a giant spider. I think that non-fearsome might be out of your reach."

    She nods jerkily, the gesture clearly not coming naturally to her. "That is true, but I wanted to reduce the effect as far as possible. I am pleased that you like it."

    Two of her eyes roll back and an attendant scurries closer to-.

    "Oh, I'm… Sorry. I hadn't realised that you were laying. I can come back later."

    "That will not be necessary." One eye tracks the attendant who takes the egg and moves it over to a diagnostic unit, then begins giving it a health check-up. "Or practical. I am laying constantly. Stopping would require that I undergo extensive biological modification."

    "If you're sure."

    "I am. And in any case, I am glad to see you again." There's a quiet… Scratching noise, as her inner mandibles flex against one another. "You were the first alien with whom I had a civil conversation, and without you my entire Control Nest would have been destroyed. Have you decided what it is that you want from us as repayment?"

    "No, I'm just checking up on how things are going in my absence. The Strand-Captain painted a fairly rosy picture."

    "The pact is being observed by nearly all parties. Early on a few ships tested the willingness of Amalak and Jarko to defend us. They were destroyed and their crews killed."

    "And is there anything you're unhappy about regarding the arrangement or how it's working out?"

    "I want to negotiate for passage to neighbouring worlds. It is not a pressing concern; we are too busy building ships for other people to build ships for ourselves. But once that part of our pact is fulfilled, I want to be able to trade information and materials without going through either of the other parties."

    "That sounds reasonable. I'll talk to them about it."

    "And I will be further in your debt. I-" She makes a quiet hissing noise as another egg leaves her body, this time from the other side. "-am a little nervous about what you may ask of us."

    "I.. am curious about a few things, if you don't mind talking to me about them?"

    "You asked why I look as I do."

    "Yes. Speaking purely for myself, I think I prefer you to normal Spider Guild females-" Two attendants rotate some of their eyes my way so they can glare at me. "-but your structure is a little unusual."

    "As you have no doubt deduced, I have been extensively modified. The Hive-Fathers who founded this Control Nest wanted somewhere to study self-modification away from more conservative Guild leaders."

    "Is it a taboo subject?"

    "There is no formal ban. But there would have been a degree of disquiet if their desire to modify us quite as extensively as I have been became more widely known, and in the Guild such disquiet usually results in the offending party being quietly killed."

    I run my eyes over her opisthosoma. "How did they do this? I didn't think that Guild biotechnology was advanced enough to perform modification of this degree."

    "They were able to acquire genetic material from species related to our ancient forebears. They took different paths, but were still compatible in certain respects. Their data allowed me to be created."

    "Were they trying to recreate your whole species in your image?"

    "Since they are dead, I will never know for certain."

    "Didn't they tell you anything?"

    "I was intended to be used to rapidly populate their Control Nest. Since they did not want me discovered, I was on board one of the ships of the first wave to arrive here."

    "That makes a certain degree of-." I look around the room. The early stages of Spider Guild expansion are usually handled purely by robot. "Are these..? All your children?"

    "Almost all. That was how I was able to obtain political control."

    "They deferred to you as their mother?"

    "No. I altered their minds in-ovum to respond to my scent and shape. It would hardly be practical for me to establish parental bonds with so many."

    I nod. "And those who weren't born to you?"

    "Accepted things or died, either killed by our local competitors or killed by those who were loyal to me. I have no future in Guild space and would have no future under a new Guildmaster. My choice was to dominate or die."

    "Fascinating." I can't be sure of course, but I think that she's telling the truth. Which means that there's no way that she'll risk calling in reinforcements from the rest of the Spider Guild. "Are you making any more like you, or are the rest of your children reproducing conventionally?" I frown. "And aren't you going to have problems with genetic variety?"

    "I do not know all that my fathers and mothers did about bioengineering, but within my body I carry genetic material from many. I can make children with little genetic relationship to one another. In the interest of security, I have made them more similar to normal members of their species."

    "But not completely."

    "No. I have made small improvements to every part of them. They are stronger, tougher, more resilient, more intelligent and their senses are more acute than those who are not modified by me. More radical alterations would require changes to their outward appearance that would risk triggering a conflict with the rest of the Guild."

    "Hhm. How good are you at alien genetics?"

    "I am an expert in molecular biochemistry. I cannot create aliens within my own body, but I could create zygotes of any species whose genetic information I can study."

    "And modifications to existing individuals?"

    "I can do that, though there may be side effects in some species."

    "Would that be a service you were willing to provide to your current treaty partners?"

    "Modifying aliens is not taboo. If they are willing to have a member of the Spider Guild make modifications to them, I am happy to provide the service."

    I nod. "I'll talk to Amalak about it. As for what you can do for me" I take another copy of my book out of subspace and hold it out to her. "This is a guide on how to be a successful Orange Lantern. I would be interested in talking to any of your people who can master it."
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2019
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  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th February
    23:02 GMT


    Emana is burning.

    There are small fires burning in a hundred locations in every major city. In space, slain satellites drift in uncontrolled orbits, the lights on their hulls flickering and dying. More than a few ships too, though most are merely crippled before either their assailants are targeted in turn or the boarding teams arrive.

    Fortunately, no one's been crazy enough to perform orbital strikes yet. The consortia are 'sorting things out' amongst themselves. At ground level that mostly amounts to small strikes against one another's holdings, data breaches, blackmailings, targeted assassinations and bribes. Individual companies which make up the consortia may be liquidated by force or financial manipulation, folded this way or that, bought or bid for…

    I have records of the last few Branx Corporate Wars, but I think this is the biggest yet.

    The government of Emana appears to be sitting it out, which considering their position is the only sane thing for them to do. Officials are doing their best to calm things down and limit the damage, but… At times like this there isn't a lot they can do. The High Conciliator appears to be… Talking to a regional governor. Providing reassurance and encouraging him and his staff to bunker down and wait for it to blow over.

    I wait for the call to finish and then

    step out

    and reappear in front of the now inactive screen.

    The High Conciliator regards me for a moment.

    "I was wondering if you might turn up. Are you here to gloat?"

    "Would it help if I did?"

    "Nothing will help in any practical way, but I might feel better if I had someone external to blame."

    "How did the mess out there even happen?"

    "Things have been tense since you destroyed the Citadel, but we had a negotiated exchange of powers lined up. All of the major consortia-alliances had agreed in principle… Then some.. little.. snap-horn speculated a little too hard on a synthetic currency and the economic knock-on effects triggered… This."

    "I'll admit that I'm not exactly choked with guilt, but that all sounds like it wasn't my fault."

    "No, I suppose that it isn't. Would you like a drink?"

    "Would you like a drink?"

    "Auron, yes."

    "Then it would be impolite of me to make you drink alone."

    "Hm." She hauls her not-inconsiderable bulk out of her office chair and lumbers over to a cabinet. "A full-on corporate war. I didn't think that I'd see one in my lifetime."

    "How long do you usually go between them?"

    "There isn't a set interval." She pulls out a decanter of a translucent yellow and two glasses. "The last one happened just before Tamaran fell. At the time they were-" She pours herself a full glass, takes a quick look at me and then pours me a finger. "-our last trading partner to still be resisting Citadel domination. Those who traded with them wanted us to take a more supportive position, those who traded with the Citadel were in the ascendance…"

    She puts the decanter and glasses on a small tray and carries them back to her desk. I generate a construct chair and sit down opposite her.

    "Now, the first corporate war, that was interesting." She takes her seat, setting the tray down on the desk and then passing a glass to me. I take it from her and nod for her to continue. "Someone… Probably the psions, started handing out faster than light drives like it was a bankruptcy auction. A great many of our larger corporations decided that moving to places… Planets in some cases, without Emana's 'restrictive anti-business laws', as in their best interests."

    "Wouldn't the set-up costs of new colonies more than-."

    "Not if someone else is paying the transportation costs. A lot of the time, the new colonists funded themselves, and the psions -or whoever- were paying for the ships. So, whole cities disappeared overnight, some of Emana's most profitable industries were no longer paying tax… The government more or less collapsed. We still don't really have an army."

    "I've yet to see a successful corporate state."

    "Oh, we weren't one. But it took about… Fourteen years to break down. Because it turns out that having legal remedies to the abuses of power by the powerful does a lot to defray social unrest. With that gone, their new corporate contract-holders-." She leans forward. "Read 'slave owners', could do whatever they wanted. Until the unrest resulted in a series of socialist revolutions from people who were tired of dealing with that shit. They won in some places and lost in others, and where they lost they did enough damage to make the settlements unprofitable and where they won they swiftly went after the places where they lost."

    I smile. "And let me guess: the corporations appealed for government aid?"

    "I'm not sure what they were expecting a basically defunct government to do exactly. But… Faced with the potential for bloody slaughter, my predecessor managed to negotiate a settlement. Of sorts. He reached out to the most stable worker groups and most sane management cliques, and… Found common ground. The war burned out, and a new normal was agreed upon. Consortia are a good deal better behaved now, and about a fifth of them are still run as cooperatives."

    "I didn't know that."

    "'Shares for the people'." She takes a drink. "We teach the period in schools. Our little attempt to remind would-be corporate titans that worker protection laws don't exist to protect workers from managers. That if you push people too far they snap."

    She reaches up and takes hold of both of her horns for a moment.

    "One.. stupid.. fake currency. And there's nothing I can do."

    "What exactly is your job?"

    "Picking up the pieces when other people have finished being stupid. The Citadel's gone and it isn't coming back."

    "Also, the karnans are in the process of taking back Karna."

    "A mass uprising?"

    "A fleet the Crown Imperium has been sponsoring for just this opportunity."

    "I respect someone who is prepared to invest long-term." She takes another glug, then stares helplessly at her glass. "I'm just annoyed that Amalak of all people is managing to make the transition we're so obviously failing to. I would have thought that a jumped-up pirate would… Flail around violently instead, and at least some of our consortia would have had the sense to put feelers out. As it is the.. Meat Barter clan will probably come through this with more of their infrastructure intact than we will."

    "Wasn't it part of your job to make sure that happened?"

    "No, it's part of my job to remind our corporate leaders that they should be doing it. But telling people they should take a hit in profitability now to create a contingency against a situation that will probably never happen is something of a hard sell."

    "So, what, they don't-?"

    "They have insurance." She splutter-laughs. "As if any insurance provider could cover this."

    I take a sip of my own drink, mentally-. Oh. Actually, that's not too bad.

    "What do you want out of this?"

    "We need to pivot our society. Probably execute-. I'm sorry, I will need to recommend that the continual existence of certain individuals is 'contrary to the legitimate business interests of the people of Emana', which amounts to the same thing. Then direct people to forge links with… The karnans, because there's no way that they have the facilities to support a fleet of any size with Karna. And Tamaran, they went dark suddenly so that was you?"

    I nod.

    "I saw images of the state of the place. Trade there. At-cost, because we're trying to build an image of ourselves as a business partner before one of the people the Citadel and psions alienated decides to take their wrath out on us."

    "But what do you want?"

    "I want to alter our society so that nothing like this can ever happen again. I want to force people to overcome their 'see-grab' instincts and take long-term factors into consideration. And once the fires are out I'll be able to. I'm just not sure what I'll have left to work with once my people are prepared to listen to me again."

    I nod and finish my drink before fabricating a copy of my book and sliding it across the desk to her.

    "You might want to take a look at this."
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2019
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  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    9th February
    01:27 GMT


    Amalak waves politely as I appear in front of his desk.

    "The Queen told me that you might be heading this way. Do you have a book for me as well, or is that a… 'Special friends only' thing?"

    "While it's true that you're not my type, I don't see any reason not to give you a copy." I fabricate another copy and deposit it in front of him. "Please bear in mind that this does not make you a member of the Orange Lantern Corps or entitle you to a ring at any point."

    "No, but it will be fascinating to learn more about you." He picks it up and flicks through it. There's a very small smile when he spots that I've written it in his native language rather than Interlac. "While I can hardly complain about the way you've dealt with me, you'll understand that your sheer power makes me a little nervous."

    "Quite understandable."

    "You left the Queen a little while ago." He puts the book down and regards me curiously. "Busy day?"

    "The Branx are in the middle of a corporate war. I did some firefighting. Then I checked up on Karna again."

    "How's their war going?"

    "You knew about that?"

    "I could hardly miss the karnan war fleet passing through my… Patrol zone. I tend to keep an eye on the Imperials, just in case Oswin decides that he's no longer prepared to accept the current state of affairs."

    "The balance of power is sufficiently in their favour that the gordanians are suing for peace."

    "And the karnans are lis-?" He nods. "Ah."

    "Friends don't let friends meaninglessly slaughter one another. Speaking of which, things alright between you, the Queen and Jarko?"

    "Much to my surprise, I haven't had any trouble with the Queen at all. Jarko… Some of his people make nuisances of themselves sometimes, and he feels the need to publically rail against my retaliation… Nothing of substance."

    "And how is your business going?"

    "Quite well. The… Minor pirate groups are already starting to drift away from Vega, but the threat from the Crown Imperium more than makes up for it as far as my clients are concerned."

    "How big a threat are they?"

    He waves his right hand in a gesture of uncertainty. "It's a matter of scale. Pirates might steal a few things or kidnap a few people. Oswin wants to conquer these worlds outright and incorporate them into the Crown Imperium as his personal duchy. Which would mean waves of Imperial colonists, marginalised locals-. Most importantly from my point of view, the government officials who are paying me would be thrown out and the military officials I'm working with would be shot. We're all building up, and without raids to fight off I don’t have to worry about actually taking casualties."

    "Is a fight with Oswin inevitable?"

    "Hm." He looks pensive for a moment. "I would be astonished if it doesn't come to blows eventually, but if Vega stops being a safe harbour… He would have trouble getting backing from the court. Empress Clryssa isn't stupid, she'll be keeping watch-."

    The door to the office slides open and Miss Gozzi walks in. Her expression doesn't shift out of neutral as she sees me.

    "Keeping watch to make sure that he doesn't start anything. You remember my adjutant, Vran Gozzi?"

    I nod politely to her. "A pleasure to see you again."

    She nods back, but doesn't-.

    "Oh, ask him."

    "Orange Lantern. Were you able to recover Vril Dox Two?"

    "Yes, and the Dominion won't be submitting tenders for prison contracts anytime soon."

    "And you have given him a power ring?"

    "I made him Clarissi, so, yes."

    "A clone of Vril Dox is in command of a Lantern Corps."

    "We're keeping an eye on him, but he really is very good at what he does."

    "Yes, I am aware of that. All coluans would be aware of that, if the majority of the population were capable of being aware of anything."

    "Would you like to meet him? Would that put your mind at rest?"

    Her eyes narrow very slightly. "Coluan minds are never at rest."

    "You do have holiday time which you've.. never used." Miss Gozzi looks at Amalak, a very mild expression of surprise and betrayal on her face. "It's unwise for an organisation to be completely dependent on any one person, and I'm sure that we could survive without you for a day."

    She turns her head to face me. "Orange Lantern, on your homeworld, is there a great historical tyrant whose name evokes fear and hatred even to the current day?"

    "Yes, Adolf Hitler, though since I can work out where you're going with this I met his clone last year and he's a rather nice chap. But I was just trying to put your mind at rest about the whole 'Super Hitler' thing; if you don't want to meet him then.. don't meet him."

    She turns her face back towards Amalak. "Commodore, what were you discussing before I arrived?"

    "Orange Lantern shares our concern that Admiral Oswin might do something prejudicial to our interests."

    "It is near-inevitable. The more important question is whether he will have the support of the Crown when he does."

    "Would it be productive for me to have a word with anyone?"

    "Do you know anyone in the Kranaltine court?"

    "I had a minute long conversation with Chief Minister Rikane last time I was in the Crown Imperium. Does that count?"

    Miss Gozzi nods. "Yes. Chief Minister Rikane is the highest non-royal official in the government of the Crown Imperium. He would be an excellent person to open communication with."

    "Have you-? "

    Amalak nods. "We get a member of Admiral Oswin's staff."

    "Okay, I can schedule that in. I have a request to pass along from the Queen."

    Amalak frowns mildly. "Alright. What is it?"

    "It seems that she's an expert on bio-augmentation. She's willing to offer you her services."

    "That's…. Interesting." He briefly makes eye contact with Miss Gozzi. "It's not really our focus but I can see the use for that sort of thing. And what does she want in return?"

    "Trade access to the worlds in your defence pact."

    "It's not a defence pact as such." He smiles. "Technically, they're my employers. But… I have no principled objection. I assume that she wants an escort thrown in?"

    "That depends on how safe it is."

    "Hm. A crew who would actually defend a Spider Guild ship… Yes, we can just about manage that. I'll contact her directly to sort out the details."

    "Thank you." I raise my right hand to my forehead. "Commodore. Miss Gozzi."
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2019
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  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    9th February
    01:34 GMT


    The rehabilitation centre on Rilsomtine has very visibly been upgraded. More staff and better social facilities, and I think that the rehabilitatee housing has been upgraded as well. Mylissa frowns at me as I use their link to the Imperium's communications network in an attempt to contact the Chief Minister.

    "Yes, he came through on his offer of funding, but that doesn't mean that we're in regular contact."

    "Do you know who Green Lantern Green Man usually gets when he calls the palace?"

    "No, I don't."

    "I suspect that it's someone more important than a Third Undersecretary." I glance her way. "How's Felicity been getting on?"

    "As…" Mylissa shakes her head. "Well.. as could be expected. She's very social, likes to make people happy, and has.. almost no life-goals beyond making the people around her happy."

    "Has she asked after me?"

    "She did after you left, but she accepted it when we said that we didn't have any way to contact you. I've…" She looks away nervously.

    "Yes?"

    "The.. karnan fleet is supposed to have left-."

    "Karna has been largely reconquered. The only ongoing conflict now is what form the gordanian surrender will take."

    "I.. don't think that you're supposed to have told me that."

    "Neither Supreme Commander Gaharrugh or the Imperial Navy Attaché made any request that I not share the information. And I'm not governed by Crown Imperium law anyway."

    "I am."

    "Then you better not tell anyone. Not that I think it will matter. No one is coming to help the gordanians. Certainly, no one with spies here."

    "What about Amalak?"

    "Couldn't care less. Same with Jarko and the Spiders. The Citadel Alliance was the Citadel and its hangers on. Everyone who wants to survive the Citadel's fall is reforming, and Amalak was always more of an opportunist than an ally."

    "That-. That's.. not-." She glances at the nearest information terminal.

    "No, well, you do live in the Crown Imperium, which has a vested interest in lumping all of its enemies together whether or not they're actually part of the same group or not. Please tell me that Admiral Oswin doesn't own the local news broadcaster?"

    "I don't think so?"

    "Alright, simple version." I generate a map of Vega and the territories bordering on the Crown Imperium as they were prior to my arrival. "Citadel and Friends controlled here." I colour Vega, with the major planets marked. "I freed Tamaran and blew up the Citadel." The Citadel marker vanishes and the coloured area evaporates. "No party was strong enough to take the Citadel's place, so while the Citadel's former allies cooperated between themselves they were only going to get weaker."

    "While that was going on, the alliance I brokered between the pirate groups and the Spider Guild was bedding in. Now, the pirates weren't allied to the Citadel, Vega was just a convenient place for them to do business." I mark the Control Nest, Asryx and the region where Amalak operates. "Other pirate groups operated in the area or flew through it, but none of them really had territory there. The Spider Guild arriving caused all of the other groups to gang up on them, and they lost their entire navy before surrendering."

    "The Citadel and its navy took no part in that war, because they knew that if they did they'd have a Green Lantern taskforce coming down on them. The branx took no part in it because their interests weren't directly threatened. Some gordanian clans were involved, but not the ones which were closely allied to the Citadel, because the ones which were closely allied to the Citadel had no motive to risk themselves. Since the Spider Guild's defeat and the Citadel's destruction Jarko has become less piratical because his losses in the war meant that he couldn't risk it and Amalak has expanded his legitimate private security work because suddenly the area has little special appeal to pirates and it serves his interests better to be seen as legitimate. With the Citadel and -more importantly- Larfleeze gone there's a good chance that Green Lanterns will regain access to Vega, and in any case visiting pirate groups aren't guaranteed the same old safe harbour."

    "With me so far?"

    "A reasonable summary." Chief Minister Rikane's face appears on the communication system. "Though Her Imperial Majesty's government would appreciate it if we were able to make the announcement of the karnan victory without it being spoilered."

    "Chief Minister-." Mylissa bows in his direction.

    "Miss Raul. Would you please leave the Orange Lantern and I alone?"

    She straightens slightly. "Of course." She rebows and then backs out of the room, the door closing behind her.

    "She was right, you know. Data management laws in the Crown Imperium are most likely harsher than what you're used to."

    "Do they apply to foreign diplomats?"

    "Not allied ones. Otherwise, some do."

    "Am I an allied diplomat?"

    He smiles pleasantly. "I certainly hope so."

    "Do you have a problem with me negotiating a settlement on Karna?"

    "No, but I would rather have had a little more notice. The original plan was for the karnans to be supported by the Imperial Navy and so achieve a crushing victory. We were.. still hopeful that they might win an outright victory, but with a little time to prepare we can put a spin on it. I suppose that the civilian casualties would have been very great if they'd fought it out?"

    "Yes, very."

    "Then there we are." He sits back slightly. "Ultimately, it isn't critical to the security of the Crown Imperium whether Vega becomes civilised purely because of our efforts or only partly. Our primary foreign policy objective is to stabilise our borders, not conquer Vega."

    "And your secondary objectives?"

    "Well…" He fans out his hands. "There are so many. An end to piracy and slavery, naturally. Partially to protect our own citizens and partially through moral concerns. I regard the Imperium as an architect of civilisation. That is the moral justification for our actions."

    "So you wouldn't want to annex a civilised region?"

    "That… Depends what you mean by 'annex'. Certainly, we have had civilised worlds petition to join the Imperium before and will most likely do so again. But forcing ourselves on them, no, of course not."

    "So how do you explain Asryx?"

    "That was before my time. Asryx was… Ideally, supposed to give the condemned and transported a chance to rehabilitate themselves through labour. They-." He looks decidedly awkward. "They and their descendants were supposed to become full citizens once their world was developed enough to admit to the Crown Imperium. But… The Court became… Somewhat divided…"

    "The Court had an attack of fascism."

    "Something like that. I'm not proud of it, but… A man in my position must sometimes be realistic about what can be achieved. You will note that I haven't pushed to invade Asryx, despite having good evidence that its new ruler supports the very barbarian forces I have dedicated myself to expunging."

    "If they re-entered the Crown Imperium voluntarily, would you grant Jarko the title of Marquis?"

    "Hehahahaoh my. Heh." He realises that I'm not laughing. "My word, are you serious?"

    "I brought Amalak, Jarko and the Queen together, because I also regard myself as an architect of civilisation. And sometimes being an architect means that you must convince foundations to remain erect in the middle of a swamp before you can build anything truly beautiful. Amalak is worried that Admiral Oswin might do something self-interested and plunge the area into war. I'm here to find out what assurances both sides want and are prepared to offer in return."

    "I see. I think.. perhaps that we should meet in person."
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2019
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  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    9th February
    03:01 GMT


    The courtier opposite me fidgets as I pointedly create a clock-construct showing the amount of time I've been here without seeing Chief Minister Rikane. I don't look at it; I just let it make its own statement. Initially, I tried engaging her in conversation, but apparently she's been ordered not to talk to me. At first I assumed that such orders would be limited to politics, but no. I tried asking her about Crown Imperium fashion trends and how my formal robes would look, at which point she politely informed me that she couldn't talk to me about anything at all.

    I'm not inactive; I'm adding a short section on imperialism to my book… Which might well cause a schism in a century or two-. No, no it won't, because by the combined wonders of bribing the God of Death and septophobia-reinforced orange light biomancy I'll still be around to sort things out.

    Hm.

    I wonder if I could talk Hades into reconsidering the waters of the Lethe requirement for reincarnating? Or at least making it temporary? Plenty of religions allow people to reclaim past-life-.

    The door finally opens and I dismiss the clock construct as I turn to greet Chief Minister Rikane-.

    And Empress Clryssa, apparently. She's wearing a surprisingly simple green dress, ornamented only by a gold… Tiara type thing which frames the upper part of her face but has only a thin circlet component to keep it in place. I perform a shallow bow in her direction.

    "Your Imperial Majesty."

    "Master Lantern. What a surprise it is to find you here."

    It-? Ah. The courtier who had been keeping me company is already out of the door, closing it firmly behind her. Of course. A 'chance encounter'. Good job I watched The West Wing, or I'd be jolly confused right now.

    "Not an entirely unpleasant one, I hope?"

    "I share that hope." She proceeds past me to a position at the head of a small table that.. I now realise doesn't fit in with the room's decoration at all.

    Rikane nods politely to me. "Master Lantern."

    I nod back. "Chief Minister. It seems that I must apologise for intruding upon you."

    "Think nothing of it. Please, be seated."

    He takes position standing to the right of the Empress, leaving me the seat a little way down the table to her left. Of course, I could create a construct chair and sit somewhere else, but… That would be petty. This woman does run an empire of a not-inconsiderable size and sophistication, and does at least a reasonable job of it. And it's not like the Thanagarians wheeled out the High Mor to meet me.

    I sit, and smile politely as I wait for the Empress to decide how we start.

    "I recognise that your robe means that you are a member of the Honour Guard of your Corps, but I am unfamiliar with the design which runs down it. Those members of the Green Lantern Honour Guard who have visited us wore plain robes."

    "It's my full rank insignia. Since it fell to me to establish a tradition, I felt that something which indicated both the wearer's rank and most notable spiritual achievements would be helpful in allowing someone unfamiliar with the individual to know certain things about them."

    "Spiritual achievements? Are you a priest?"

    Lanternism isn't all that popular in the Crown Imperium. The people having to live next to the Guardians' dumping ground has rather worked against it. Nonetheless, the Empress would naturally be familiar with Light Priests. Which reminds me: I really need to visit Karax at some point and make sure that they're not having some sort of religious implosion. And maybe bring Guy along.

    "It depends on how you're using the term. I serve the Ophidian directly and give spiritual advice to my fellow Lanterns, but I don't lead acts of worship."

    "And what is the Ophidian?"

    "Each colour has a great elemental being associated with it. For the Green Light of Will, that is Ion. For the Orange Light of Avarice, that is Ophidian. Until a little over a year ago, she was trapped on Okaara by Larfleeze, the one you might know as The Beast. She's… Part of why I'm here, actually." I fabricate my updated book. "Given what Larfleeze did to this region, I feel partly responsible for making sure that it gets normalised. It's not practical for me to stay here myself, but I've been looking for someone local who could take an orange ring." I put the book down on the table and slide it towards her. "This is a guide to the beliefs and practices necessary for someone to be a capable Orange Lantern."

    Rikane nods and comes around the table to pick it up and then walks back. "Thank you. I will ensure that it is circulated to appropriate people."

    "The High Conciliator of Emana, Supreme Commander Gaharrugh, Commodore Amalak, the Chief of Blood Flecks clan and the Queen of the local Spider Guild Control Nest all have copies. While I'm not restricted to one Lantern… I don't see any benefit in choosing Lanterns who will spend all of their time arguing with one another."

    "I… See. Perhaps if we move the conversation onwards?"

    I nod. "Certainly. Amalak and the Queen want peaceful coexistence. Amalak is-" I glance at Rikane. "-reasonably civilised, and he's recognised that it's no longer advantageous for him to treat with the pirates who made Vega their trading centre."

    "Amalak is a slave trader."

    "Amalak owns no slaves. Those he bought can pay off their cost to regain their freedom. It isn't fundamentally different to debtor-servitude as it exists in the Crown Imperium. He did of course deal with slavers, but that's true of just about everyone in the region. They didn't have much choice."

    "They would rapidly gain one if I ordered Admiral Oswin to secure the region."

    "They have a choice already. The distance is not great, any who wished to petition you to join the Crown Imperium could do so. Instead, they're more comfortable to pay Amalak for his security services."

    "I am not surprised, when they lie under his guns."

    "Are you sure that's why? Because it seems that would be relatively easy for a diplomat or intelligence operative to check."

    "And his less popular pirate allies?"

    "If you want them dead, then I'll include that in the demands list. But are you sure that you wouldn't rather that he give you their itinerary so that you can ambush them?"

    The Empress stirs slightly at that. "Would he really betray his business partners that easily?"

    "He knows which way the wind is blowing."

    "I'm not sure that metaphor translated properly."

    "No one likes pirates or slavers, any more than they like asset strippers or currency speculators. They can only survive if powerful people arrange things so that they can survive. The Citadel Empire is gone, the Branx are having a Corporate War which the Citadel-aligned consortia can't win, and the Citadel-aligned gordanians are going to be killed or sent into exile. The support structure is gone. Amalak knows that just as well as I do. That means that his primary revenue sources are the people employing him for protection, not the black market dealings he has with the pirates. The only questions are: do they get smart and stop coming or does someone kill them, and do they get killed by their former victims or an external power."

    "And Jarko?"

    "Jarko's in a tight spot. He can't fight your navy directly, and his ability to fight you indirectly is going to take a hit. On the other hand, you can't hold Asryx."

    "I think you underestimate our navy."

    "I think you underestimate how much everyone there hates you. You can destroy what naval units they've got and land troops, but it will be the bloodiest occupation you've ever seen. Soldiers on the planet won't be able to move for snipers and concealed explosives. And their friends will be attacking every weak point they can find, as opposed to what they're doing now which is stick to their own territory and impose taxes. If you really want the place, you'd be better off coming to terms with Jarko directly. But I honestly don't think it's worth it."

    "And the Spider Guild?"

    "Killing them results in the next Control Nest along sending a fleet because they can't be seen to allow that sort of thing to happen. The local Control Nest doesn't have a fleet and couldn't threaten you even if it wanted to. And if you want to check any of that, I'll be happy to escort a diplomatic party."

    The Empress inclines her head slightly. "You have given me much to consider. Are you able to remain on the planet while my ministers and I discuss the topic?"

    "I'd be happy to."
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2019
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  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    9th February
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    My physical surroundings fade into meaninglessness as I extend my awareness into the Honden. While I don't precisely need to come here in order to view an individual's desires in detail, I hope… I twist myself and the representation of the place, and… I can view groups of people in terms of their interlocking collective desires. Or -more accurately- reach a place from which every other part of them is absent.

    Not 'what does the Empress want'. What does the Court want? What does the Crown Imperium want?

    Are their desires currently irreconcilable with my own?

    Ah, I see that Crown Imperium propaganda has made Amalak and Jarko the faces of the region's piracy. A little awkward for those in charge. It would require a degree of about-facing for them to openly treat with either of them, and… The more idealistic Imperials would resist because it would mean that vile people were 'getting away with it' and the expansion-minded Imperials wouldn't like it because it would mean accepting a definite border in that direction. I'm.. not seeing a total opposition to an unoccupied border region, but-.


    "Oh, are-? You busy?"

    And back in the room. For a moment my body looks like a wire frame construct, only… The rest is there, but… Pushed.. back? Faded into the background, perhaps. Then the orange fades and I'm left with my material body and the baggy trousers and dashiki I was wearing. The sleep did me the world of good, but now I'm reduced to hanging around the palace. Yes, I can keep an eye on Vega from here if I have to but I was sort of assuming that the Empress and Co. would be deliberating and coming to a conclusion relatively quickly.

    The man watching me curiously from the edge of my circle is… He looks like a human superhero. He's wearing a blue skin tight costume with a yellow star insignia, though the shepherd's crook he's carrying is a discordant element. His costume is further accessorised by yellow bracers and swimming goggles, though those are currently pushed up to rest on his forehead.

    "Oh, not especially."

    Prince Gavyn. The Empress's brother and heir apparent. Narrowly avoided summary execution after his father's death, something Crown Imperium tradition apparently mandates when a new monarch ascends to the throne. Did some superheroing in a place which doesn't really have a tradition of that sort of thing, becoming a scourge of pirates and corrupt courtiers alike.

    A decent bloke, as far as I know. Not entirely sure why they've stopped trying to execute him. Maybe they had an attack of good sense?

    "What can I help you with?"

    He looks out of the window of the quarters the Empress was kind enough to provide for me, taking in the early morning light. "If you're not occupied, I thought that I might show you the capital? Do you ride, or do you prefer to fly?"

    "I usually teleport." I stand, switching to light armour. "I have been meaning to go back to flying more, but I'm afraid that I don't want to leave the palace in case her Imperial Majesty wishes to speak to me."

    "Oh yes? Something about Vega, isn't it?"

    "I'm trying to persuade her to radically change her foreign policy regarding the region between the Crown Imperium's border and the Vega Trench."

    He nods, smiling. "Because Amalak's not half as bad as we've been telling everyone he is, and Jarko has so much popular support that the only way we'll ever get Asryx back is to make him governor."

    "Among other things."

    "So what's your interest?"

    "Civilised behaviour is in everyone's interest. And… I'm a little concerned that I'm becoming too accustomed to killing."

    "Killing in general, or killings you perform yourself?"

    "Both. After I destroyed the Citadel, there were a handful I had as thralls. I… Put them in front of some automated guns and then removed my control. Most of them charged me and died when they remembered that I used my control to have them aid me in destroying Citadel Complex. I could have left them under my control. I could have marooned them. I… Didn't."

    He shakes his head. "I'm… Sorry, but I'm not sure why it bothers you. If you were unaccustomed to killing, I'd.. offer some reassurance about the.. necessity of it. But it's clearly not that."

    "It's more the fact that it doesn't bother me. Killing a person is a big deal. So while I can see the utility of being able to kill people without feeling bad about it, I don’t want to become too used to it."

    "I don't think I've killed enough people to have become that accustomed to it. Then again, I grew up knowing that fighting and enforcing justice with lethal force would be one of my roles in Imperial society. Whereas you've been a Lantern for..? Two years, your book said?"

    "I'm sorry if this is a sore point, but didn't you know that you were going to be killed-?"

    "It's…" He shakes his head. "My father was in good health. Past his prime, yes, but fit and well. I expected to have decades more. Time enough to make my mark. Perhaps even die nobly without forcing an executioner to dirty their blade. And Clryssa could have been killed, leaving me as the heir."

    "Why do your people do that?"

    "To prevent civil wars. There was a period in our history when… Different members of the dynasty routinely fought it out when their royal parent died. It used to be the rule that the rulers should only have one heir, then the royal family was assassinated, so… Now there's a spare."

    "If you're trying to talk me into giving you a ring-."

    "It would probably make the royal court more comfortable, but... Clryssa has to marry at some point, and it would probably make things easier if I wasn't around. Not that she doesn't love me, you understand, but-."

    "There's a cultural expectation that you're a threat, even if you wouldn't ever do anything in that direction."

    He nods. "I've tried to avoid being open about my views on… Anything, to try and avoid looking like I'm trying to undermine her in any way. Taking a commission in the navy or marines is out because that might make it look like I'm trying to gain support in the military." He taps his staff on the ground. "This was a lot easier when no one knew who Starman was."

    "So you want a role? A job?"

    "I'll take what I can get. And I'm sure that my wife would like me out of the house and back to doing something useful."

    On a practical level, he's not a terrible choice. Him joining the Corps would allow me to set his terms of reference, but the Court would accept his reports from the regions he was monitoring. He grew up in a civilised region but is aware that it is far from perfect. But I can hear it in his tone, in the lack of an orange light resonance. He doesn't want this. Oh, he might have decided that it's for the best for all concerned, but-.

    Huh. A curious thing to be on the surface.

    My eyes narrow. "Prince Gavyn, what are you afraid of?"

    "You did just say that you were afraid that you were finding killing too easy. Forgive me for being a little-."

    "It's not that." I'm having trouble seeing details. It's all… Blurry. Something someone who knew certain advanced mental or spiritual techniques might pull off. The Crown Imperium doesn't have a native magical tradition, there were maybe a handful of Euphorian magicians off their planet when the shield went up… "What are you hiding?"

    "I don't know-."

    I reach out to Karna, but… No, no, everything's still there, the mass of conflicting desires for conflict and safety. Gordanians and karnans don’t feel all that different, not when viewed with such imprecision. Alright, then what-?

    And then I suddenly know how Obi-Wan felt when Alderaan was destroyed. Like a.. chunk of colour just vanished, a particular way of viewing the universe, or wanting. Where was it where was…

    It.

    "I see."

    I'm too late, but I raise my right hand to my forehead anyway

    step out

    and then look down upon the now-molten surface of Wombworld.
     
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2019
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  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    9th February
    12:48 GMT


    The ships arrayed around the planet are still firing, but at this point… There's no point in trying to stop them. Everyone on the surface is dead. I can see a handful of points of yellow light from what I presume to be heavily shielded bunkers, but… The attackers aren't pushed for time. And… You don't put regular civilians or experimental subjects in bunkers like that. If anyone deserves this it will be the people there.

    A few more lights go out as my jaw clenches and I take a closer look at the ships doing the firing. The ships closest to me-

    "New Vega Alliance fleet to Orange Lantern."

    -are Crown Imperium vessels. Markings indicate that the group is comprised of nearly all of Admiral Oswin's command, plus.. all of their fleets apart from the Home Defence Fleet. And those ships… Those belong to Amalak. A smaller flotilla have hulls decorated with the design that shows their membership of the Jovial Marauders. Another detachment is made up of the ragtag group of ships that the Omega Men have acquired over the years.

    "New Vega Alliance fleet to Orange Lantern."

    And ships from Emana. And from those worlds neighbouring Amalak's territory that still maintain their own fleets, and from Vega's numerous minor powers and-.

    "New Vega Alliance fleet to Orange Lantern."

    **Illustres to Adam Blake. I would like an explanation, please.**

    No response. Oh, come on, a single mind in space should stand out well enough for him to-.

    **Yes, it does, but I had to explain what you are doing to my fellow commanders. They're somewhat concerned.**

    Concentrated fire on one of the oceans finally breaks through the clouds of steam to puncture the planet's crust beneath, the planet's mantle explosively venting into the upper atmosphere.

    **I'm still waiting for an explanation.**

    **You weren't here.**

    ?

    **People aren't that complicated. It was a matter of initiative. You destroyed the Citadel and then left. The fate of Vega was left entirely up in the air and there wasn't anyone with the status to bring people together.**

    **So, what, this-.**

    **I'm not complaining about what you did, Paul. But you left, and Vega had to forge ahead without you. And this is what happened. That peace you thought you were trying to broker? I did that four months ago.**

    **And did the psions forget to protect their home from telekinetic faster than light travel as well?**

    **As it happens, yes, though that isn't what you want to-.**

    **Where's Koriand'r?**

    **She was attempting to recover some of the psions' slaves. Unfortunately, there wasn't really time to mount a serious rescue-.**

    Of course there wasn't. I look-. I transition downwards as far as I can and then generate an armoured construct wedge to force my way through the airborne rock, ash and superheated steam between me and the faint glow of Koriand'r avarice. There's a surge of light from my right as one of the ships high above me tries firing again, though what they think they're hitting is anyone's guess. There's too much stuff in the air; energy weapon hits will disperse through this mess without doing much to the ground beneath it.

    "Illustres to Lantern Koriand'r, stand by to be relieved."

    I brake and erect a construct bunker to shield Koriand'r and the… Handful of people she's holding from the superheated water and rock around us. She looks at me in relief and what was left of her shield-bubble fails completely.

    "Thank you."

    "Where are you taking them?"

    Five tamaranians, eleven dredfahlans and a changraylynian. A tiny fraction of the number they would have been holding.

    "There is a ship from Changraylyn above us. Their people refuse to fight, but they will take refugees."

    Ring, scan.

    "Okay, got it. We can-."

    My construct judders and the rescuees cringe in fear as.. a railgun round strikes us and then rolls off the shield into the churning mass!

    "Illustres to fleet, the next idiot who shoots me gets a positron beam in their reactor! I am NOT in the mood."

    **Admiral Oswin is confirming your instruction. Is Koriand'r alright?**

    I look her over. **Appears to be. She's got a whole seventeen slaves with her.** I smile at them. "Nothing to worry about. We're heading up now."

    And up we go, slower than on the way down. There are pockets where the material in the air has been converted to plasma by the bombardment. My constructs are strong enough to take it, but I'd rather avoid them anyway.

    "Lantern Koriand'r, once we're out, will you be able to escort them to the ship?"

    "Yes." She flexes her left hand and her environmental shield flares as we leave the atmosphere. Such as it is. "I will gladly see them to safety."

    She recreates her shield bubble, and since we appear to be out of danger I allow my own construct to fade away.

    "I will speak to you once this operation is over."

    She looks mildly puzzled, but turns and flies her charges away.

    **As I was saying, there wasn't time to rescue them all. The psions have been working on reverse engineering Dominion mass transit portals. They were planning on relocating to another safe area.**

    **They thought that the dominators would take them in?**

    **Could we have this conversation face to face? All of the commanders are on Admiral Oswin's command ship.**

    I step out

    and reappear in their war room. Admiral Oswin is leaning back in his chair at the centre of the table's arc, looking rather pleased with himself. Komand'r and Blake seated to his immediate right while the place to his left is occupied by an okaaran warlord I know works for Amalak.

    "Orange Lantern." Oswin's smile broadens. "So glad that you could join us."

    "Was there a reason I wasn't told that this was in the works? And no-" I turn to Blake. "-Blake, the fact that I wasn't prioritising it myself isn't an excuse for not giving me a one minute call by power ring."

    Oswin shrugs. "What business is it of yours?"

    "I made it my business when I came to Vega. How many ships did you lose attacking the psions' orbital defences or from their ground-based weapons? Do you really think that the two Lanterns I assigned to this region are the sum total of the force I could call on?"

    The Okaaran looks at me curiously. "You are not troubled by our planetary cleansing?"

    "I'm troubled by it in the sense that it represents a sub-optimal resolution, and one that could easily have been avoided if someone had called me. Based on the force available to you I recognise that it wasn't a terrible solution."

    Komand'r looks pleased, though Blake merely looks thoughtful.

    "Though I should make you aware that the continuing presence of the psions was the only thing keeping the Green Lantern Corps from returning to this region. Green Lantern Green Man."

    My ring blinks, then a construct of the man appears in front of me.

    "The psion species is now either extinct or near extinct. These people would like to talk to you about it."
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2019
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  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    9th February
    Who even cares?


    "Hey, Orange."

    I continue staring moodily at the clouds of Karna as they sail beneath me.

    Guy sits down next to me on the lump of defence satellite hull I dragged here from the Wombworld. I suppose that we may as well call it something else, now. I'll vote for 'Sheol' if anyone bothers talking to me about it.

    "Kind of a shitty way t' end tha day, huh?"

    "It's only midday. If I can stop the karnans and gordanians killing each other I'll…"

    I'll what?

    "I won't feel completely terrible about it."

    "'least it wasn't tha Queen causin' trouble."

    "You ever.. have a planet killed on your watch?"

    "Well…" He shrugs. "When you're on tha Honor Guard, every planet's parta yer watch."

    I turn my head and glare at him for a moment.

    "Had a crazy AI turn a planet inta paperclips one time. I mean, we evacuated it before it killed everyone, but I still got a ringside seat at a whole world getting' 'maximised'."

    "To be clear, I don't care about the psions dying at all. They were every bit as bad as the citadelians."

    "Yeah? What about their kids?"

    "Psions are vat-grown from tailored genes. Then they get raised by other psions. As a technique it's not-. It wasn't quite as reliable as what the citadelians did, but it was pretty close. That isn't like the gordanians, where they're just 'martial' and 'aggressive'. There aren't any non-mad scientist psions any more than there were non-warrior citadelians."

    I turn fully to face him, crossing my legs as I do so.

    "The Guardians changed their minds that quickly?"

    He nods. "Logic, right. No point holdin' up yer end of tha treaty when tha other guys 're all dead."

    "Did the 'New Vega Alliance' okay it?"

    "They didn't complain too loud."

    "Is someone going to kick Gretti into doing his job, or is Green Man handling it himself?"

    "Wouldn't mind kickin' Gretti, but with tha Vega Alliance workin' on the pirate problem… Or, y'know, not causin' it so much, I'm not sure he needs help."

    "I could have helped them do this better."

    "Yeah."

    "Dox would have loved training our Lanterns against the psion defences."

    "Kinda cold."

    "The psion civilisation was evil, but it was a relatively small and contained evil. I'd rather we discover the problems with our training here than against the Reach." I exhale. "If they'd actually talked to me, I'd have been delighted that they'd-."

    I feel an impulse from down below.

    "Excuse me."

    I send a tether down, then yank, a surprised karnan woman with a simple laser weapon appearing in front of me.

    "Put the gun down."

    "Wh-? What?"

    "The gun you were about to fire. Put it-."

    She focuses on me. "You're protecting them? After what they did to my family, to my-."

    "I'm protecting the ceasefire that is preventing millions more people dying. Once Karna is at peace, you are free to pursue your personal vendettas without my intervention, but until then I will not let you make the situation worse. Now put down the gun."

    She hesitates, then releases it and I let it float away into the void.

    "Thank you."

    A flash of orange and she reappears at ground level.

    "Ah, that they'd sorted things out without me."

    "That was new."

    "Only good thing about this trip. I knew Blake was intelligent, but-."

    "No, I meant grabbin' people off the ground like that. How'd you pick up on that, anyway?"

    "I can search large groups for particular desires. You should be able to do something similar."

    "Heh. Nice." He idly looks down at the planet before returning his attention to me. "So what you got goin' on next?"

    "I'm making sure this bit goes alright, then I'm… Going back to Earth. I'm going to try putting Doctor Roquette in touch with Leonard Snart, she was having problems setting up cold fields for her nanofabricator… Unless you think there's something else I'm missing?"

    "Nah. 'less you think there is?"

    "They're working together more or less rationally. I could stick my oar in, but I'm not feeling any pressing need to." I shake my head. "Would you mind looking after this for a few minutes? I need to go and talk to Koriand'r."

    Guy nods. "Think I can handle that. Keep tha kitties from shootin' the crocs, right?"

    "Close enough."

    I step out

    and reappear on Changraylyn, a handful of grey-skinned melted-waxwork-looking locals looking around before they go back to ignoring me.

    "Lantern Koriand'r, do you have a moment?"

    The priest she was talking to bows and then walks away, leaving Koriand'r and I alone.

    "You are unhappy."

    "Yes, yes I am."

    She nods solemnly, walking closer and… Hugging me? I instinctively hug back, but I'm.. not sure why she's doing th-.

    "I used my ring to find as many of the psions' prisoners as I could, even as the fleet began firing upon the planet. It showed me them dying whenever their cells were hit." She sniffs. "I was not skilled enough to save even a fraction-."

    "And that's why I'm annoyed. Koriand'r, why didn't you call for aid?"

    "You gave us these rings and charged us with protecting this region. I did not want to let you down further by calling for help."

    "Koriand'r, I don’t care about that. And neither should you. What matters is creating a decent civilisation, providing succour to the good and making sure that the bad can't hurt the good. The whole reason why we have a Corps is so that the parts which are faced with more opposition, the parts which are having a hard time, can get help from the rest. You feel bad calling for help? Lantern Ragnar would feel that he was being lazy because he missed out on the fight. This job doesn't just require that we put our bodies on the line, but sometimes our pride as well because the outcome for the people in our care is what matters most."

    I pull back slightly, looking her full in the face.

    "Do you understand?"

    She nods. "Yes."

    "Okay. Now then, since the 'New Vega Alliance' has things planned out so well, where can I make myself useful?"
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2019
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  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Earth 12
    6th February 2005
    09:01 GMT


    Six of the world's most powerful people sit around a table, carefully avoiding making eye contact with one another.

    Martian Manhunter is martian, so the lack of eye contact doesn't have quite the same significance for him that it does for his human colleagues. Superman is kryptonian, but as he grew up around humans he's internalised their body language and his says that he's 'uncertain' and 'ashamed'. Flash-.

    "Soooo…" He looks up and then sweeps his eyes in a circle around his friends. "Are we gonna talk about what happened, or just sit here 'til-"

    Diana's jaw tightens, and she slams her right fist into the surface of the meeting room table. Hard enough to dent it, but not break it. Flash notes this and feels oddly pleased. A couple of years ago, that wouldn't have been the case.

    "-Bats shows up."

    "Alright." Green Lantern nods. "I'll go first, since that guy was obviously a Lantern."

    Martian Manhunter's brow moves in a gesture that might be an approximation of a frown. "I was unaware that power rings could be made in colors other than green and yellow."

    Flash nods. "Yeah, what's up with that?"

    "When the Guardians threw Sinestro out of the Green Lantern Corps, he went to a planet called Qward. Gave them everything he knew about the Corps. In return, they made him a knock-off power ring out of a material called 'qwadamite'."

    Flash snorts. "Really? That's what they called it?"

    "It works well enough. I suppose there could be an orange material that works in the same way, but if there is then I've never heard of it."

    Manhunter bows his head slightly. "For our purposes, it is enough that it exists. It would be more productive to examine how he defeated us."

    Hawkgirl exhales sharply. "You wanna go first?"

    "In my case, he forced me back into phase by using the matter disrupting effects of your Nth metal mace. I believe that I noticed a power ring construct of some kind attached to it."

    She nods. "Nth metal doesn't usually do much to phased targets. If you add a big enough generator it'll damage just about anything, but the kind of power you'd need to-." Her face twists into a rictus of rage. "He nearly blew up my mace!"

    Flash winces. "How bad would that be?"

    "I don't think that Thanagar will give me another one!"

    Green Lantern shakes his head. "How big would the blast be?"

    "We would have been vaporised." Her eyes flick to Wonder Woman. "Most of us. Wonder Woman might have survived."

    "What about-?" Flash caught himself and looked at his despondent kryptonian colleague. "Ah, you feeling okay, big guy?"

    "Completely fine." He nods at Manhunter. "J'onn, you were saying?"

    "Once my phasing ability was disrupted, he bound me with a chain that was designed to prevent me from phasing through it and placed a device which suppressed both my telepathy and my telekinesis on my head. I tested the strength of the chains and found that I could not break free."

    Manhunter turns his head slightly to indicate Wonder Woman, whose right hand is still clenched into a fist.

    "He put up a force field I couldn't even damage. Then there was… Some sort of energy discharge, then I could barely stand."

    Green Lantern nods. "I recognised the force field he used. It's called an 'inertia shield'. It's used by the terminans for crash-protection during space ship crashes. It'll soak up any kinetic energy you throw at it."

    "How do you break it?"

    "You don't. Lantern Corps records are pretty clear. You could use an energy weapon or a gas to bypass it, but kinetic energy won't work."

    Flash smiles. "Hey, looks like there are problems you can't solve by punching them."

    "Or by-." Wonder Woman visibly bites down her reply, and Flash decides that maybe he should be a little less flippant about this. "How did he beat you?"

    "I.. don't know." And he really didn't. Sure, he fought people who could keep up with him or slow him down before, but that was like… "Every time I started to move, I just… Stopped. I kept trying, and it.. kept happening."

    Hawkgirl frowns. "Where did the ice come from?"

    He had started getting cold. But he'd been frozen in a giant block of ice when he raced Superman around the world. Vibrating out of that had been really easy. So, what..?

    "Vibrations." He sits up a little straighter as he realises. "Heat-. Heat makes molecules vibrate. Did anyone see if he was pointing some sort of gun at me?"

    Green Lantern and Superman nod, and Green Lantern generates a small, weird-looking gun construct. "Like this."

    Flash's eyes narrow. "It looks.. kinda like a cold gun, like Captain Cold uses." His eyes widen. "That's what he was doing! He was using it to reduce my kinetic energy to zero, or.. close. I mean, I don't know how he was shooting fast enough to keep hitting me when I started moving again-."

    "It's possible for someone to speed up their brain with a power ring." Green Lantern shakes his head. "Mental impulses travel faster by ring than they can along nerves. I can't do it, but I know a few Lanterns who could. If you weren't moving at full speed, that might have been enough."

    "Well, that's one mystery solved." Flash looks puzzled. "I wonder why the ice guys I fight haven't ever tried that?"

    "I'm glad the people I fight haven't tried using gold kryptonite." Superman shakes his head. "Green kryptonite hurts, but I can usually avoid it. I can't help wondering if his Justice League knows that he knows exactly how to take them all down."

    Green Lantern looks at his belt. "Does the radiation shield he made for you work like he said it does?"

    Superman nods. "According to STAR Labs, it works just fine. And he was right: this would have been really useful to have a few years ago. It's a lot easier to wear than a lead suit, that's for sure."

    Green Lantern nods. "I know what he did to beat me. I just don’t know how. Every time he shot my shield I couldn't hold it together, and I couldn't call back my ring before he grabbed it."

    Wonder Woman nods. "I still want to know why I was so dizzy."

    "A sonic weapon." They all look around as the door closes behind Batman. "Something designed to affect your sense of balance. Since you can hear normal volume sound, your inner ear can't be as tough as the rest of you. He noticed, and took advantage."

    Hawkgirl moues. "Just what we needed: Batman with a power ring."

    Flash leans forward as Batman takes his seat. "Not like you to be late for a meeting, Bats. What was the hold up?"

    "I went to meet our version of the Orange Lantern."

    A few eyes widen as he puts a profile up on the monitor.

    "Peter Wynne, thirty eight, a British national. He hires supervillains and helps them find legal uses for their skills."

    "Oh, hey, I've heard of him." Flash points at the screen. "He got Lenny and James jobs!"

    "Yes. He also has an orange power ring."

    Green Lantern frowns. "I don't remember seeing anyone like that flying around."

    "It's almost completely out of power and he doesn't have any way to recharge it." Batman reaches into his utility belt and pulls it out. "He also didn't notice when I switched it with a fake. Green Lantern, we need the Guardians to analyse this as soon as possible."

    Green Lantern picks it up with a construct hand and brings it over to him. "Sure, but what happens if he tries to use it in the mean time?"

    "We'll return it when they're finished, but we can't take the risk of being so unprepared again."

    Superman frowns. "You think we'll have to fight him again?"

    "It doesn't matter. We have an enemy whose abilities we don't understand. Every vulnerability he exploited was one any of the League's other enemies could have used. We were lucky that he didn't want to kill you, and we can't afford to rely on luck."

    Hawkgirl nods. "So what do you suggest?"

    "I plan on asking Mister Wynne to join the League as a consultant, in order to examine League operations for weaknesses which we haven't noticed. Everyone has vulnerabilities, but when the world is depending on us we can't afford for our enemies to know ours better than we do."
     
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  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th November 2010
    15:18 GMT -5


    Diana looks on with mild puzzlement as I leaf through her photo album.

    "It would help me if I had some idea what you are looking for."

    Group photograph from nineteen fifty one… Alan's smiling, but… Magnify… Hm, the picture quality is too low for me to be certain… I continue flicking through, making sure to record the images and the dates.

    "Pictures of Alan."

    "Alan's own collection is larger and in better condition than mine."

    "Yes. But if I asked to do this with his collection he'd ask why I was interested."

    "Are you saying that my interest does not present the same problem?"

    "I fully intend to talk to Alan about it, but I'd like to have a solution to the problem before I do. Or… If there's no problem, I don't need to bring it up at all."

    She waits patiently for me to give a helpful answer as I move on to the album from just before she went back to Themyscira. From the.. composition…

    "You took these yourself?"

    "Jay taught me. You'll have to excuse the blurring."

    No, but it does mean that I probably won't get anything else useful out of this. Alright then. Ring, combine this with what we got from Mrs Hunkel and Mr Garrick

    Ah.

    I take a holographic projector out of subspace and arrange the images in chronological order.

    "While it may not be readily apparent to someone who grew up on Themyscira, Alan looks a lot younger than a man his age usually would. And he started looking younger recently. Looking at the photographs of him I've been able to find, it looks like this isn't a recent phenomenon either. His appearance is basically unchanged for all the time he was in the Justice Society and then he suddenly-" I point to a picture. "-enters middle age when it breaks up."

    "That could be explained by him exercising less. Or by the stress of what happened to Rose."

    "That would only explain the changes that happened then. Not all of the other ones." I sigh. "By comparing his cycles of rejuvenation and decay with.. everything that was going on in his life… As far as I can tell, it depends on whether or not he was regularly recharging his ring."

    Diana's gaze grows a little distant, perhaps trying to match what I'm saying with her own experiences. "I.. see."

    "And now he can't recharge. I mean, you've seen him change, right? Compare-" She's nodding. "-how he looked when I first arrived to how he looks now."

    "And what do you intend to do about this?"

    "Giving him back his personal lantern wouldn't work because it's the wrong colour. There wasn't enough green light energy left on the Maltusian ship to make much difference. Which means I need to talk one of the local Green Lanterns into letting him recharge from their personal lanterns."

    Diana looks dubious. "Hal was clear that the Guardians were forbidding members of the Green Lantern Corps from allowing Alan to recharge using their equipment. I doubt that-."

    [​IMG]

    "Yes, but if I don't ask-" I begin returning the albums to their shelves. "-I'll never know. And since the next best option is working out how to tap into the green light directly, I'm hoping that I can talk them into moderating their position."

    5th November 2010
    19:40 GMT -5


    Hal shakes his head. "No can do, Orange. The Guardians were real clear about it."

    I nod. "But if you could, would you?"

    He frowns. "What's that supposed to mean?"

    I hold up my hands in a pacifying gesture. "I'm not trying to start a fight. And I'm not.. asking you to throw your career away and flat out defy the Guardians. That wouldn't do Alan any good. I just want to make sure that if I did wangle an exception, you would be willing to let him use it."

    "Of course I would!"

    I nod. "In that case, I need two things. I need you to tell me exactly what the Guardians said, and then I need everything you have on Green Lantern Corps rules and regulations."

    Hal's still frowning, but it's more thoughtful now. "The rules and regs? What for?"

    "Guardians like order, but they've run a Lantern Corps for millions of years. I doubt that they've done that by deciding things on a case by case basis, but I suspect that the rules are immensely flexible in order to incorporate all of the different mindsets the different species they've worked with possess. If I can find an argument based on existing Corps rules, they'll probably accept it."

    "O.. kay. Ah." He looks away for a moment as he tries to remember. "'This.. Alan Scott is not a member of the Green Lantern Corps. You may work with him or not as you see fit, but he is not to be treated as different from any other citizen of your homeworld.'"

    I narrow my eyes slightly. "Nothing specific."

    "Ah, no, but we're not normally allowed to share our rings or lanterns with anyone. And… The rules and regs are about a million pages long. I think it's only people like Salaak and.. Sinestro, who've bothered reading it. You sure about this?"

    "Alan will die if I don't. Hit me."

    He shrugs, then raises his right hand. "It's your brain. Send."

    A ball of green light leaps from his ring to mine-.

    Grgh. Ring, organise. Find me something useful.

    Compliance.

    Oh yes.

    "Got it."

    "You.. got it? That's it?"

    I got a massive headache, but… "Non-emergency civilian aid. Outside of the emergency situations designated above, members of the Green Lantern Corps are authorised to use Corps resources in order to provide medical aid to those in their Sector or to such others as they may encounter in the performance of their duties, restricted to technological devices at or equivalent to devices available in the society in which aid is being provided."

    "Yeah? And? Humans can't make lanterns."

    "We don’t have to, it doesn't matter. Okay, this means that you can use a dermal regenerator anywhere where they have dermal regenerators, but if you go somewhere where they don't then you can't but you can still use construct-splints on broken bones or use construct-needles to sew wounds shut."

    "Okay?"

    "Ra's al Ghul claims to have created the first Lazarus Pit in the fourteenth century, and Batman's investigation confirmed that that's probably true. That means that you can use Green Lantern Corps equipment to provide aid equal to something which can cure death, because in theory any human could get access to it."

    His face stills.

    "You can literally fly anywhere in this Sector and bring back any medical technology you can legally acquire and release it for public use. You can't sell it, allow others to profit directly from it, explain how it works yourself or spend more than… Ah, 'a reasonable amount of time' doing that rather than working on law enforcement, but you can do it. Since 'Corps resources' explicitly includes your lantern and ring, you can let Alan recharge so long as him doing so isn't 'prejudicial to the wellbeing of life and order in your assigned Sector'. I don't think that some of these rules were written with Earth's particular brand of madness in mind. Oh! Got another one."

    "Another..?"

    "Another way to let Alan recharge. It's from the section on the remuneration of 'mentors, aides and assistants'. You're allowed to hire people to assist you in your work, or benefit from relationships equivalent to what would exist in your society if you were not a member of the Green Lantern Corps. Humans have had apprenticeships for as long as we've had jobs, and sidekicks for nearly as long as we've had superheroes. If Alan agrees to tutor you, then you can class him as an 'auxiliary instructor', which doesn't let you do more than pay him. Except, since you're both American, and it's 'in keeping with local custom' for Americans to receive healthcare provision via their employers… The rules explicitly don't differentiate between insurance and direct provision. You're obliged to make sure that he receives it. Which, again, includes the use of Corps resources because in some places you have to let your weapons tutor try out your weapons as part of a coming of age ritual."

    Huh. That wouldn't work if either of them were from somewhere with state-provided healthcare. That's the first time America's backwards attitude has come in handy for anyone.

    Hal looks at me dubiously. "And you think the Guardians will buy that?"

    "Can't know until you ask. But I'd be surprised if it didn't work in the short term. Are you willing to give it a go?"
     
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  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Conqueror's Moon

    10th February
    08:01 GMT -7


    "While I'm perfectly happy-" I try to avoid frowning as Sunset attaches one of her experimental thaumic flux detectors to my forehead. "-to assist you in your work, I was rather under the impression that you'd cracked the whole-" Another goes on my right shoulder. "-alicorn transformation thing."

    "I… Think I have."

    Another sensor goes on my right hand, then she holds out another while looking at my bare chest.

    "Um."

    I alternately tense and relax my left and right pecs, and she moues.

    "Could you… Like, not do that?"

    "Has someone started finding bipeds attractive?"

    She looks away, trying not to squirm. "Circe… Had a.. talk with me. Adom… Was.. there."

    She's actually blushing. It's adorable.

    "You know?" I take the sensor from her and stick it on myself… Myself. "You should write a paper on the subject. There are so many humanoid species around the place that your experience as a quadruped is rather interesting, from a social psychological point of view." Hm. "Nudity isn't sexual on Wilson, is it?"

    "It might be in some places. Not in Equestria. But I know it is here."

    "On Apokolips, it means 'I trust you enough not to wear armour around you'. That's a big deal, but it's not always sexual."

    "I think I'll stick-" She passes me the box containing the rest of the sensors and I obligingly begin attaching them as well. "-with magic. Wait." She frowns. "You walk around people who don't wear armour all the time."

    "Yes, but I have thirty years of memories of that being normal. At most, it makes me feel like I'm living on a weirdly friendly planet. It's actually quite nice. Even when I was on trial for murder… Everyone in that court room was my friend."

    "Huh." She frowns. "I.. suppose that makes sense. I keep thinking that I need to be on my best behaviour, because… Big, formal events are the only times when ponies wear clothes like this."

    "You're completely free to wander around naked if you want."

    "Yeah… I… No. I tried that with Circe, and it was just… Awkward. And it makes my teats uncomfortable."

    "You could just wear a bra. Since you're going back home in a couple of months… Might be worth getting used to again." She looks at me sceptically, and I fan out my hands. "Alright, you don’t have to." That's all of the sensors. "So what's this about?"

    She stands back, folding her arms across her chest. "I think I've worked out alicorn transformation. Everything I know about thaumaturgy, mathematics and Equ-. And Wilsonian magic-" I smile and nod approvingly and she rolls her eyes. "-tells me that I'm right. But… Newtonian physics works well enough over a small area. There could be something… Something I don't know about that I'm not taking into consideration. Celestia's a lot bigger than Cadenza and her mane and tail shimmer-."

    I nod. "And that shampoo is probably really expensive."

    "I tested her shampoo when I was eight. It's not her shampoo. It could just be her age, what happens when the higher magic levels in her body keep building up, it.. could be something about her link with the sun… I don't know."

    "Could it be a spell?"

    "Ah… It could. Celestia's really good at magic." Another eye roll. "Allegedly. And when she realised exactly why I wanted to study her she forbade me from studying her, which made doing it really difficult. It's possible that she used a glamour I couldn't detect, but… I don't think so. I'm mostly worried that there's something more that I don’t know about because the evidence for it is hard to detect."

    I nod. "A reasonable concern. So what's all this for?"

    "I want to study your god-powers. Given how you've described the process of getting it, it sounds like the closest analogue to getting a cutie mark or becoming an alicorn. And since-. Actually, are you going to Awaken Persuader?"

    "Not any time soon. I'm actually curious if a human can trigger the process without someone external forcing it."

    "You do know that she doesn't answer to her name when she's got her armour on?"

    "Refuses to, or literally doesn't recognise it?"

    "Neither's exactly healthy."

    I shrug. "I don't even remember my juvenile name. If she's close to making a breakthrough on her own, that might be part of it."

    "That… Just seems…"

    "Cruel?"

    "Irresponsible. She's a crazy murderer who you're encouraging to become crazier."

    "I'm encouraging her to acquire skills in a profession she loves. You've spent time with her when she's in Elise-mode, haven't you? How does she seem to you?"

    "Weirdly… Happy? Even with all of the bruises."

    "There you go." I give the sensors a quick check. Everything in place. "So what exactly do you want me to do?"

    "Just… Do whatever it is you do. I'll be recording it-. Or… Trying to, anyway."

    "Trying to?"

    "What you do isn't like normal magic. When I tried this with Circe I couldn't get a clear reading, but I'm hoping that's because of all the regular magic she uses. Since you don't use other forms of magic, it shouldn't be such a problem."

    "Okay." I pick up a plasma lance from the ground next to me. Should be simple enough.

    It's a simple device, fuel, battery, the magnetic 'rifling' system which keeps the cloud of charged particles going where the shooter wants them, coolant to make sure that the rest of the gun doesn't melt and the mass of the body of the gun. But as I impress myself upon it that rapidly stops being the case. Now it's a tool, an instrument by which my territory can be defended and expanded. A symbol of the power of my legions and the order they bring, its fire scourging those who oppose me from the universe. And those manufacturing centres which produce it are evidence of the industrial power of my realm, the purpose I bring to the lives of all those who give of themselves to me.

    "Getting anything?"

    "Kind… Of..? I don't think that it's… Big enough." She fiddles with the crystalline array which she's using to aid her sorcery. "Can you try something over a wider area?"

    "Yes, but the effect will be much smaller."

    I don't bother mentioning that I'm effectively… Not mind controlling, but certainly mentally influencing people. I can cow peoples' spirits but I'm not going to be doing that here and now.

    "I'm really more interested in how what you power up links to you than I am in the exact mechanism. Once I'm an alicorn I'll have all the time in the universe to learn to do this for myself. I just need to make sure that I don't need to learn it first."

    "Alright." I put down the gun, now simply a gun again rather than an instrument of my will.

    Hm.

    I close my eyes and reach out across the Challenger Mountain facility, feeling the weak shimmers of essence of each of the genomorphs and the more substantive resistance from Knockout's own divinity. She has accepted me as her overlord so I can bend her-. Ah, she feels it. And in any case her nature isn't actually opposed to mine. In another part I feel Mortalla's weaker soul, her nature far more… Synthetic. I'm not sure what Desaad did to make that happen, but I don't think he did it with a Father Box's aid. While she doesn't appear to be aware of what I'm doing, her nature isn't opposed to mine either.

    I spread my awareness to every corner of the facility.


    Sunset's device beeps, and she smiles.

    The First Brick.

    And then it explodes.
     
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  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    10th February
    08:11 GMT -7


    Sunset brushes off the remains caught by her lab coat's protective enchantments.

    "Oooooohhhh… Kay. I think I know what the problem was."

    I nod as I scrape the burned remains of the last sensor off my left arm. "And what was that?"

    "You used your god-powers on the area the sensors were in. And on the sensors themselves. And on me."

    "You didn't specify-."

    Sunset leans towards me, her right finger outstretched. "You haven't conquered me."

    "Sunset, you're a vital part of my research and development infrastructure. Conquest isn't about-. I'm sorry, isn't just about destroying anything in your way. It's about all of the mechanisms which make that destruction possible in the first place." Hm. "I wonder what would happen if we gave Celestia a book on plasma physics? I mean, your people don't even have radio telescopes yet."

    "How much time have you spent planning what you're going to do in Equestria?"

    "Um." Lie mode. "Oh, not long. Oh." I frown. "You're okay with me coming, right?"

    Sunset looks away. "Eerrrrrr…"

    "Oh, come on."

    "Look, it's-. I'm fine with you being there, I just-. This is my thing. You know? Me making my big return and proving Cel-everyone wrong."

    "I quite understand. You making your mark, showing off what you've learned and turning into an alicorn in Celestia's face takes precedence. But… Don't you think you'd find it satisfying if you demonstrated the value of your research to your fellow ponies?"

    Sunset gives up on trying to get anything from what's left of the sensors and levitates all of the fragments into a thaumically isolated disposal unit. "I… Suppose… I'd find that satisfying. Doing something Celestia wouldn't or.. maybe even couldn't do. Do you have any ideas?"

    "The stories you told me about your nation's history involved small groups of heroes fighting monsters against the odds. How capable is your regular army?"

    "They're not." A g-promethean walks in with a new tray of sensors and hands them to her. "Thanks." She goes to hand one to me and then stops, frowning. "Wait, I didn't call-?"

    "God-power."

    "Mn." She hands them to me one at a time and I start attaching them again. "Raw magical power is the main thing that makes a fighter useful in Equestria. There's basically nothing that Princess Celestia can't overpower. All the most powerful pegasus ponies end up in the Wonderbolts; they're the best fliers, but they're trained as show-fliers rather than warriors. The strongest unicorns are usually the magical talents like me, and because Equestia hasn't had a real war in almost a century I don't think any pony in my generation took battle magic as a speciality. Plus, since we get cutie marks when we're young…"

    "A pony would have to be a natural battlemage from foalhood."

    "Right." She nods. "And earth ponies struggle to hold weapons, let alone fight effectively. Hooves and mouths aren't as good as hands for manipulating things."

    "So: weapons ponies can use. Some sort of saddle-mount? A cadet system for pre-mark foals, and… Magic training for earth ponies?"

    "Which doesn't exist yet."

    "Not in Equestria. Didn't you say that the three tribes migrated there from somewhere else?"

    "It's a story; I wouldn't take it too literally."

    "But I've got boom tubes. If Equestria hasn't ever checked back on the old homelands, there could be all kinds of forgotten stuff back there."

    "The story says that everyone left, and that was over a thousand years ago at least. Even if it's true, I doubt there's anything left but ruins." She checks my placement and then steps back again. "Ready to go again?"

    "Yes, but what do you want me to do differently?"

    "Try… Reaching further away and… Use less power?"

    "Alright, I'll give it a go."

    Not… Really something I've got much experience with. Usually, using as much power as I can is best. Hm. My link with Lynne is usually fairly low power, but… It's there all the time and I'm not sure that it would really register properly.

    Hmmm…

    Who have I shaped?

    I feel Kon-El as he sits in a classroom in Happy Harbor.

    Beneficent Oversight.

    I can.. feel the difference as he focuses harder on his work, on the teacher, distractions fading from his mind.

    In Dakota City, Edwin Alva's lawyers are working on ways to impede Doctor Metcalf's newfound freedom.

    Be Humbled By My Purpose.

    And suddenly their own outlined arguments feel inadequate and nonsensical, a confidence that they could tie him up for months at least evaporating.

    Freedom stands on the bridge of a warship, his eyes focused on-.

    He knows. But there's someone else-.


    My vision shatters.

    "Uhg." That was.. odd. "Was.. that helpful?"

    "It.. was. What happened at the end there?"

    "Not sure. Mother Box, where's Scott?"

    "Ping."

    So not on a-. No, of course not. So what the heck was I seeing? "Sunset, what do your readings say?"

    She studies her device for a few moments.

    "I.. think your 'god power' works by rearranging local magic fields indirectly to produce an effect. But you're not using local magic to do it. I.. think I just got a look at the Source."

    Heh. "I doubt it."

    "No. Really. I think it's treating the universe as one high-intensity magic field, even those places that are actually thaumically weak. I don't… Even know how that could work."

    "Does it help with 'Project: Alicorn'?"

    "I won't know until I analyse the data in detail. What did you do, exactly?"

    "Buffed Kon's learning ability, debuffed Edwin Alva's lawyers and I was going to have a go at buffing Scott, but something… Interfered."

    "Well…" She creates an illusionary image, wiggly lines which are… Probably.. has.. something to do with local thaumic resonances. Honestly, just as I learn one of her graph formats she changes it to something else. Disadvantage of someone working on the cutting edge, I suppose. "This is what it looked like when you were warming up."

    It's not really a peak, but there's a more defined shape to it.

    "This is the second part."

    The shape's different, but the structure is similar. Me, I suppose.

    "And then…"

    The third section starts similar, then.. there's another shape. And then… My shape… Doubles… Blurs..?

    Another me. And Scott on a ship I now recognise as thanagarian.

    "I.. think I need to check up on Earth 50. Now."
     
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  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    10th February
    08:19 GMT -7


    "So this pattern is… Another 'you'?"

    Sunset scurries along behind me as I stride in the direction of my 'reinterpretation' of the portal generator Mr Wayne 50 used to break me out of gaol last year. It hasn't been a high priority. My work here and on Tamaran keeps me more than busy enough without worrying about parallel universes as well. I only really built the thing in case… Lynne ever wanted to go back. Some day. Perhaps to visit her grandparents, or… Other relatives? I'll have to look into it when I'm there.

    "Probably."

    "Didn't you say there was another version of you in this universe?"

    "Yes. But I don’t know that he's from here originally. He could be Grayven Fifty. Heck, I'm not sure that this universe is really the one I originally came from, so he could be Sixteen and I could be… Something else."

    "So your god-power can go from one universe to another without a portal. That's… Fascinating."

    "Don't get too excited; I think that's to do with how we're linked to the Source. I doubt that alicorns work in the same way." I stop as the Apokoliptian technology built into the bulkhead confirms my identity. "Though… It could be because Scott came here, and… Our souls touched…"

    "Do you think he'd mind if I scanned him?"

    "You can ask."

    Though… Huh. Okay, Scott and Barda know I was faking. Fakingish. But the rest of their team probably don't. So I either need to get a message to him that the others won't pick up on, or link up with the remaining Lords again and get an update from them. That.. sounds more sensible, actually. And it will be nice to see them again, see how they're getting on.

    There's a chime from the bulkhead and I demand its obeisance.

    "Could this take me to Equestria?"

    "Theoretically, yes." I lead the way through as the door opens. "In practice, you should probably avoid it. Scouting out destinations using this technology is highly inefficient, and it wouldn't transform you back into a pony. Plus, it's purely technological, with none of that useful 'sympathetic resonance targeting'-"

    "That's not what it's called."

    "-that magic transportation systems tend to have. And we don't have Equestria's coordinates."

    The bulkhead seals itself behind us, and a half-dozen types of defensive and obscurative fields reactivate. I really don't want relatively casual parallel universe travel being a thing. I remember in… Ex Machina, where a man from a parallel universe tries to warn the cast of the dangers of immigration and they all write him off as a deranged Republican. But I remembered an episode in series one of Sliders, in which a parallel universe version of Quinn Mallory slides the entire population of his Earth to another Earth. Going from six billion people to twelve billion people in an instant causes total social collapse and mass starvation. It's not that the Earth can't support twelve billion people; it certainly can. But Human civilisation can't, not without a lot of time to build up.

    Plus… Well. I might need an edge at some point.

    My version of the device -which is even now going through its warm-up sequence- is a highly modified boom tube. I didn't realise until I tried building one for myself, but the one Batman 50 built uses a stupid amount of power and has to be activated very slowly. The main reason they had to make do with me is that they literally couldn't open it again. Of course, that wasn't a problem when his word was law and he could take whatever he wanted from the US power grid… Anyway, using a boom tube makes it work better with all of my other New God technology and cuts down the power requirements to something a little more manageable.

    I'm also planning to use this to give myself the ability to re-enter Equestria as a biped if the pony thing doesn't work out.

    Ping.

    Alright, whereabouts to go-. Wait.

    "Sunset, are you planning on coming with me?"

    "Yes?" She shrugs. "I need to get a look at other New Gods, and find out what happened with you and the other Mister Miracle."

    "Fine, but I don't know what conditions are like on the far side, I'm a known would-be alien conqueror and you're not properly equipped."

    She frowns. "What do you mean, 'would-be alien conqueror'? You said that you'd met them before."

    I regard her in puzzlement. "Did you actually read the mission report?"

    "No?" She shrugs. "Wasn't that where you picked up Lynne?"

    A-ah-h. "Okay, I'm happy to have you along, but you need to read the file and you need to get some armour. I helped their new global-tier super team gain acclaim by going full alien hamlord conqueror, so we can't expect a positive reception."

    "Aren't you going straight to your brother? Their version, I mean."

    "No, I need to get the lay of the land, first. For all I know my alter-ego has already invaded their Earth. And he probably can't let anyone know that my attempt to take control of America was less than authentic without damaging his credibility."

    "Okay." She nods. "I've got.. protective spells on my lab coat. But… Yeah, I suppose it's not a good idea." She frowns at me. "Are you going to go like that?"

    "Of course not." I take a charm out of subspace and put it on, my appearance shifting to that of an unremarkable human man. Won't fool another New God, but should work against most mundane forms of detection. "Now, off you trot. I'll contact you once I'm prepared."

    She nods and takes a step back as the-

    BOOM!

    -boom tube opens up. Now, that.. should open up in the Chihuahuan Desert, so there's not much chance of me being spotted. Still, need to move quick. I jog through the portal as Sunset tries to work out how to magically hack the bulkhead door that can only be opened by a New God.

    Be interesting to see what she comes up with.

    And… Out again, the boom tube shutting off behind me. No local response… Yet. Well, if Grayven 50 is invading, he isn't invading here. I strongly suspect that a planet that has been attacked by Apokoliptians repeatedly over the past decade will have boom tube detection equipment, so I should relocate reasonably quickly.

    Sinestro?

    Under my illusion, my armour glows yellow.

    Lantern Grayven. I see that we have returned.

    We have indeed.

    Nearest settlement of any size is… Las Cruces. Can't use hush tubes from here, boom tubes would risk drawing attention. Low level flight it is, then. I rise a short distance off the ground and begin flying north.

    Sinestro, while you were active around here, did you have any contact with my alter-ego?

    No, though from what I heard he would have made a reasonable yellow ring user. He supposedly shares your virtues without your moderating influences.

    Hm. Begin passive interception of local communications. Is Grayven Fifty here already?

    It appears not.

    Good show. Give me the status of the Lords and Stormwatch.

    Nothing recent about the Justice Lords is being openly discussed. Stormwatch are still active, and while I cannot determine how representative a sample I am receiving they appear to be reasonably well regarded.

    A detailed examination will have to wait until we reach Las Cruces. Internet cafes are still a thing, aren't they?
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2019
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  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th December 2004
    20:54 GMT -6


    I ignore the sound of military jets overhead. That isn't the first time they've flown over the town, and other warplanes have also been flying a search pattern around my entry point. Someone definitely picked up on my entry, though they didn’t spot me specifically. I… Could pick a fight. I doubt that they've got radion weapons-.

    Lantern Grayven, I've warned you about that sort of thinking before.

    Alright, but statistically. And I've got you. I could grab a pilot or two, follow the trail up the chain of command…

    The waitress puts a mango milkshake down next to me.

    "Thank you."

    I pick up the cup and suck on the straw as I locate the local Wikipedia-analogue and start reading. I'm having a little difficulty with the keyboard as my glamour doesn't actually alter my size. But if I hold my hands close and have Sinestro trigger the keys, it should pass muster.

    Lords, Lords…

    Ooh, lots of citations needed. Looks like there's been a bit of an edit war here. Ugh. No, the information presented here is worse than what they let me copy from their database. Maybe if I look at their individual pages? Kal-El… Is believed to still be in his Fortress. Batman hasn't been seen-. Ah, apparently he managed to avoid detection by any member of the public last year. John didn't, and there are a few possible sightings…

    I open a superhero fansite I remember from my last visit. Confirmed sightings… Most of the ones listed for him have a note saying that it could also be Rayner, which… Yeah, okay, their constructs are the same colour and John's got enough sense not to let people confirm that it's him. One alleged sighting of Diana since the Lords' break up… Possible. Nothing on Shayera, J'onn is almost certainly still on Mars-. Important point is, they haven't been captured or killed.

    Stormwatch… Ah, Kara In-Ze has switched to a black and yellow costume, the 'S' of House El replaced with what looks like an inverted 'A'. In kryptonian society, yellow meant 'synergy' or 'cooperation', while black meant 'it doesn't show the dirt'. I… Assume that she's trying to separate herself from Kal-El's 'brand'. I've got no idea what House Ze's emblem is. I suppose there's no reason why it couldn't be an inverted 'A'. Apparently, she's making her home in Metropolis these days, though it's been a little while since anyone's seen her out and about. Huh. Maybe she went with Scott to wherever he went?

    Actually, the colour scheme puts me in mind of Adom.

    The others seem more or less the same. I'm not going to risk looking up William Batson on a public computer, but-.

    Oh.

    They kept the youths.

    Stretch, Brute, Char and… Metallica. Lynne's fellow inmates are now… Sidekicks? Wards? Of Stormwatch. I'd be curious to know whether they have civilian identities. Thinking.. about it, I suppose that they're not much younger than Kara. Certainly, they're older than William. I… Honestly haven't given them a thought since…

    Hm.

    Do.. I.. look up mys-oh who am I kidding?

    Ah, some good pictures. Little bit of video… Sound quality's a bit patchy. Maybe I should see about taking public speaking lessons? Nothing public about another version of me or any more recent sightings, so my alter-ego isn't on Earth yet. Scott and Barda said that they went to meet him… But they don't have the same formal relationship with Earth's governments that the League back home do. At least, they didn't when I left. They certainly wouldn't be obliged to report a rampaging Apokoliptian warlord to the general public.

    Thanagar, what do people know about them? Do people know-? Hm, several sites mention that the device which was going to destroy the Earth was intended to transport their fleet, but there doesn't appear to be anything concrete about exactly what happened to them afterwards. Or the people they were attacking or being attacked by.

    I suck down more of my milkshake. It's so nice to have proper plastic straws and not those weird paper ones.

    Ugh. Getting in contact with Stormwatch would be so easy. Ring-to-ring communication with Rayner, ultra-high frequency message to get Kara's attention… I've got Thanagarian communication protocols which should let me communicate directly with their ship. But it's still a sub-par option. My disguise will not stand up to examination by Scott, Barda, or Zatanna.

    Find the Lords…

    Richard could probably get me back in touch. And I suspect -quick search, yes, he's still around- that Timothy could as well. Richard… Might buy 'I want to make sure that my brother is alright', but it's probably best not to risk it. Alfred Pennyworth-. Oh. He's dead. Shiera didn't really have human friends outside of her team mates, John spent a decade off Earth as a Lantern and rather fell out of contact…

    Themyscira or Mars? I did give J'onn some long ranged communication equipment when we last spoke, but there's no guarantee that the Lords will be responding promptly. On the other hand, Themyscira doesn't even have that. But at this point Diana 50 will have either gone totally mental or she'll have sorted herself out. And if she's wigged out completely, that's probably worth knowing about as well. Not that I think it would come as a surprise to Batman, but I don't want to get blindsided by a desperate demigoddess.

    Al.. right. Nearly time to get moving. Does Stormwatch have an e-mail address? Well, there's the name of a press agency. It's better than nothing, I suppose.

    Dear Stormwatch, nice to see that you're all doing well. Thought I'd stop by to make sure that my alter-ego wasn't making a nuisance of himself. You know how to get hold of me. Yours faithfully, Grayven 16.

    Yes, that should do it. I down the rest of my milkshake, pay at the desk, and step outside. Using a boom tube out in the open risks blowing my disguise since it can't be reconfigured on the fly. But there's a convenient alleyway, and a quick construct will prevent the security camera from reporting my presence. Around the back, no one looking-.

    Lantern Grayven, an… Alternative, has arisen.

    Oh yes, what's that?

    A mining ship called the Hockalint is broadcasting a distress call not far from this system. They appear to have tripped over a vein of unrefined Nth metal.

    That's worth grabbing, but I'm not sure how it helps.

    It seems that the Lords are trying to regain their humanitarian credentials. They answered. The source is a dumb drone, but the transmission appears to be recent.

    Heh. Teach me not to over think things. I take off my ward.

    Fine, open a boom tube to wherever the Hockalint ended up. I'll lend a hand, if the Lords aren't already finished.

    Very well.

    Boom!

    Arms confidently folded behind my back, I stride through the portal-

    -and jerk my head back as a powerful white-blue plasma bolt burns past my face!

    Armour and what? I rise into the air as some sort of mobile anti-air platform opens fire at a target above me. It's.. Shayera, who's ducking and weaving-.

    The fusion cannon on my right arm fires, blasting through the force field and armour protecting the AA emplacement and incinerating both the gun and the crew. I shoot upwards on my aero discs, a construct shield soaking a smattering of plasma bolts fired by the attacking infantry.

    Shayera slows her movements as I approach.

    "Grayven?"

    "Hey there. Feels like it's been months. Who are-?"

    A flight of thanagarian soldiers rises up out of the jungle.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2019
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  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th December 2004
    21:03 GMT -6


    Heh.

    Heh. He-.

    No, no, wait, I've been here before.

    "Just in case, these guys don't have radion-?"

    "Which Grayven?"

    "The one with the-" I hold my right fist in her direction. "-yellow ring? The one who fixed your bones? Grayven Sixteen?"

    She nods, and lets out a relieved breath.

    "This is what's left of the Thanagarian Resistance."

    The flight of soldiers grow closer. Seven of them, armed in the same way as the marines I killed when I overran the bridge of the Thanagarian Mothership.

    "This many? I think I know who wins the title of 'Best Grayven'. But seriously, radion weapons?"

    "They haven't fired any at me."

    We both smile. Ah…

    "And why are they shooting at-"

    The first soldier swings his mace through my construct, smashing it asunder as he continues his upwards charge.

    "-you?"

    She brandishes her own mace. "How about we deal with them first?"

    "Alright. Are we taking them alive, or-?"

    She dives, viffing in the air to take hold of the shaft of the first soldier's mace with her left hand in order to turn aside his swing while her swing takes him in the unarmoured flank. There's a crack as the entire lower part of his torso skips sideways while still being tenuously connected to his upper torso and legs.



    Okay, I can work with-.

    "It's the Praetor!"

    Again?

    Lantern Grayven, I would be less quick to complain about how your enemies hand you victory.

    Fine, I can work with this. My fusion cannon construct shrinks slightly as I refine the confinement beam to create more precise shots. Shayera meanwhile uses her first opponent's corpse as a temporary shield to block shots from the rest of his squad then thrusts it at the gunman on the left. He struggles to stow his gun to catch his late colleague, giving Shayera the room to turn her dive into a swoop and mace him in the side of the head. His nth metal helmet takes the blow reasonably well, but he falls bonelessly out of the air a moment later as she follows up with a smash to his right wing.

    And then I fire, shooting the gunman on the right through the neck and neatly severing his head from his shoulders. And another and another. The remaining three get a clue and turn to flee, dropping face first towards the forest canopy, madly flapping for it.

    A mechanical claw construct constricts the lead soldier and yanks her back towards us, the others slowing for a moment to look on in horror, and as such being too distracted to evade Shayera's diving swing.

    "HhhhhhhhhAYAH!"

    I wince slightly, then dismiss my fusion cannon as my new victim comes closer.

    "Hello there." I smile politely. "Did you send a fake distress signal?"

    And she's panting in terror. Un.. productive.

    Shayera takes a moment to check that her falling former compatriots are really dead and then flies back up towards me.

    "What brought you here?"

    "I think that my brother might have done something unwise regarding my alter-ego. I wanted to make sure that he was alright." I gesture to my prisoner with my right hand. "You want this one for anything?"

    "Not right now, but keep her with you."

    "Alright, so, bring me up to speed."

    "The other Grayven won. The ships we sent back reached Thanagar just in time to pick up escape pods from the Thanagarian fleet as the gordanian fleet took up position to start landing troops." She looks around. "This planet is on the edge of what used to be the Thanagarian Empire. It was being built up as a staging area before it was abandoned due to the war starting. They've been using it as a base of operations."

    "So… No 'Hockalint'?"

    She smiles ruefully. "You caught that too?"

    "And your response. Jolly generous of you, considering."

    "Beats going stir-crazy on the Watchtower."

    "Are any of the other Lords here?" I look around, bringing my goggles out of subspace. Ah. There's definitely a subterranean base here, but it's shielded against New God technology and I can't get a clear look. No other troops are approaching our position. "I was hoping to have a chat."

    "Diana's here somewhere. We were separated when they sprung their trap."

    "Diana's back with the team? Is that… Entirely…"

    "She didn't do anything the rest of us didn't. And.. she's… Changed more."

    I frown at her and scan the surrounding landscape. "The lack of explosions and plumes of earth was a bit of a giveaway there. Are we hanging around or going back to Earth?"

    She crosses her arms. "We're not leaving Diana."

    "I didn't mean-."

    "Lantern Grayven, a Thanagarian Command Carrier has just entered orbit. You may wish to take cover."

    I raise my left eyebrow. "The fighters will take minutes to arrive at best, and its primary weapons aren't good at penetrating an atmosphere."

    Shayera frowns. "I didn't know there were any Command Carriers left. Apart from-."

    The sky blurs, trees explode into pulverised chips around me as I'm slammed into the ground! Through the clouds I see the glow-

    "Warning: will detected."

    -of someone-. Of Rayner using a construct to attack Shayera while my head is violently turned from left to right and back again by someone pounding on my faceplate.

    I create an inverted pile driver construct in the ground beneath me and fire it, sending me hurtling into the air and knocking whoever that was-. Ah, Batson. Off me for a moment before he turns in the air and blurs after me.

    But this time I'm ready. A sonic cannon combined with a vertigo inducer forms on my right hand and fires. Batson's eyes widen and he's forced to evade, his flight slightly unsteady as the intense sound wave tears a swath through the forest below us. Another construct releases a cloud of noxious gas around him, but he seems-.

    "That won't work again, Grayven. And I can cope with the sound!"

    "Then I suppose I'll have to do this the old fashioned-"

    I take a purple death ray out of subspace and shoot him with it.

    "-way."
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2019
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  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th December 2004
    21:07 GMT -6


    Batson is fast-.

    He winces and tries to evade the beam but it's light speed. His best logical option-.

    I raise a construct shield and hold it over my head as he flies underneath me.

    "Shazam!"

    The lightning bolt strikes, shattering my construct and hitting my body. My armour soaks most of it but I feel an uncomfortable tingling in my left arm. Why are my.. constructs this.. weak?

    Fear. The thanagarians are either dead, flying away or staying back, and Batson's got the Courage of Achilles. I'm not scaring him, I'm not scaring Shayera and I'm… Probably not scaring Rayner.

    Sorry, Sinestro.

    My construct gun vanishes from my right arm and a new one appears on my left. It looks… Slightly more solid than its late yellow counterpart, which I suppose will have to do.

    And Batson's looping back so shield over my head again.

    "William, why are we-?"

    He flies underneath me and then changes direction to fly up underneath me! As soon as I spot his intent I try to evade but he's actually pretty quick. He grabs my legs-.

    "Shazam!"

    Conductive cables!

    The cables appear, running from my shield to Batson himself.

    "Huh?"

    Then the lightning hits, blasting down from wherever the Wizard's lightning comes from and pouring into my shield. The shield lasts a fraction of a second, but the lightning is mostly redirected around me and into Batson.

    Owowowowowow.

    And now Batson isn't grappling my legs so much as hanging off them, opening his mouth-.

    Gag him.

    By your command.

    "Shaumpf!"

    I wreath him in orange chains and then pull him up so that our eyes are level.

    "You should really talk to the Wizard about that weakness. That could get you killed."

    He glares, but it turns out that the most righteous youth on the planet just isn't very good at actual malice. He looks like a grumpy puppy or something.

    "No, seriously, that's your main form of ranged attack and all someone needs in order to end you is a copper wire. Now, if I take the gag out, are you willing to have a civil conversat-?"

    A hammer construct hits me in the face, knocking me back in the air as it flies around and comes at me again!

    "Mister Rayner, it's poor form to-"

    I draw the Sword of the Fallen with my right hand and stab the construct in the head, causing the construct to shatter.

    "-take advantage of the fact that your opponent doesn't want to kill you!"

    "Oof."

    Rayner's construct wall of American football players shatters under Shayera's assault, his follow up brick wall construct failing a moment later. That's the thing to do with Green Lanterns: don’t give them time to focus. Keep them off balance. For a low-will high-creativity type like Rayner it should be particularly effective…

    Right… Up until the point where Shayera smashes his rib cage in and kills him because her mace doesn't have a stun setting. Need to stop this before that happens.

    I turn my attention back to Batson. "I'm going to remove your gag. Don't say 'Shazam'. Okay?"

    He looks back sullenly. "M-mrurh."

    Dismiss.

    "Why did you kill those people?!"

    "Can you narrow it dow-?"

    "The thanagarians!"

    "You mean just now? Because they were trying to kill Shayera. And probably me. You have realised that-."

    "You're the Grayven from January, not the Grayven from Thanagar. Wisdom of Solomon. But did you need to kill them?"

    "Strictly speaking, no, but keeping them alive seemed like an unnecessary risk to Shayera's safety. If you try and kill someone, you lose the right to complain about them trying to kill you. And anyway, they sent out a fake distress call. That's very illegal in most civilised regions. So yeah, heard a distress call, came here, got attacked."

    "Why did you come here?"

    "There was a distress call."

    He regards me sceptically.

    "And I wanted to link up with the Lords who'd signalled they were responding, and I was interested in the nth metal ore. Honestly, I was just expecting some miners. Is there any chance you could call Rayner off so we can go our separate ways?"

    "You tried to take over America!"

    "And I saved millions of lives while getting hit by a nuclear weapon your 'totes legit' president shot at Washington. I really do think that you'd have to be rather unreasonable to bear a grudge about it." I look upwards towards where their ship is settling into low orbit. "The only reason I'm not gagging you, grabbing Shayera and boom tubing away is that I want to make sure that Scott's alright before I leave."

    "Mister Miracle? Why wouldn't he be?"

    "I was practising with my god powers earlier and when I tried empowering him I got interference.. probably from your Grayven."

    "Um, we dropped him off on Thanagar."

    My eyes widen. "Okay, I know he's good at escaping stuff, but another me isn't going to use X-Pit style traps and tricks. He's just going to carry out an orbital strike on the area Scott is in if he feels that his authority is being undermined. Scott isn't even bullet proof. What the hell did you leave him on occupied Thanagar f-?"

    "We're trying to evacuate refugees because the other you is using reprisal attacks to keep control of the thanagarians."

    Ah heck. What exactly happens if the God of Conquest wins a god-fight with the God of Freedom? Nothing good, I'm sure.

    "Fine. I don’t object to that and Shayera is probably all in favour." I look around. "Are we good now? Can we call an end to hostilities?"

    "Can I turn back?"

    "I don't know, Batson. Is Kara in a position to blindside me yet?"

    "Ah…"
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2019
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  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th December 2004
    21:23 GMT -6


    I ignore the thanagarian refugees shrinking back from me as I scan Kara In-Ze, while she glowers feverishly up at me.

    Richard looks at me impassively. "So what's wrong with her?"

    I lean forward slightly. "Have we been visiting our hermitage-dwelling foster-brother?"

    "Yes. He needs.. to know someone still.. cares."

    Richard looks concerned. "Are you saying that whatever the Justice League did to the Lords is infectious?"

    "No." I shake my head. "But Kara breathed in a little of what I did to Kal-El to make certain that his powers never came back."

    Richard blinks in surprise, while Kara just closes her eyes. I hold out my left hand and generate an image of gold kryptonite's molecular structure.

    "When I visited him I introduced a small amount of gold kryptonite dust into his farm."

    "I offered to help out."

    I nod. "And I imagine that your powers have been waning ever since. Unreliable flight, perhaps? Stuttering heat vision? Disease vulnerability is a slightly surprising-."

    "Is it permanent? Can you help her?"

    "Sure. No problem. At this point, her natural force field is so weak that it isn't interfering with my rings at all. Then she'll just need some sunlight and she should throw off the rest of the flu herself."

    I stand there for a moment, waiting-.

    "So are you going to do it, or just stand around all day?"

    "I am.. prepared to offer my services as part of a wider cooperation agreement, certainly."

    Richard's eyes narrow. "What… Kind of agreement?"

    "Stormwatch will cooperate with me until my brother and sister in law are safe. Then, I will peacefully return to my own parallel."

    "I don't think they're in any special danger, so sure."

    "And Ms In-Ze will take me out to dinner."

    "What? / "What?"

    "It seems to me that she is the one most likely to be carrying some lingering frustration towards me relating to our previous encounter. I think that getting to know me socially will help to counteract that. And she'll owe me personally for fixing her up."

    "You said all you wanted was to make sure that Mister Miracle was alright."

    I roll my eyes. "Well, if you want Kara here to have a mystically enforceable unpaid debt to an alien god, by all means-."

    "Just.. do it."

    I smile. "As you will. This shouldn't hurt."

    I reach out with my left hand and remember how much fun I had during our last meetings. Not exactly a deep relationship, but I do genuinely want her healthy again. Orange light pulses out, the kryptonite in her system being reduced to its component atoms. Hm. Extensive organelle damage. It's irregular, she should be able to regain a portion of her exotic abilities almost immediately, but… Undesirable. So I repeat what I did with Kal-El 16 and give her a full restore. And that nasty virus and a few of the side effects

    I step back half a pace as she sits up. "How do you feel?"

    "Better." I raise my eyebrows and look expectant. "I hope you like takeout. Cheap, quick to eat takeout."

    I smile back. "Oh, it's the company more than the food. What's with the new costume?"

    "I didn't want to wear Kal's colors anymore."

    "But they're not Kal-El's colours. They're the colours-."

    "Colors of House El, I know."

    She gingerly floats herself off the bed and onto the floor, using her flight to bear her weight until she's certain that her legs can manage it.

    "Which means that -however much of an arse he's become- they also represent generations of other people who mostly lived up to their ideals. Like Bur-El, who invented the telescope to better calculate tidal patterns, or Shu-El, who-."

    "And Pir-El, who blew up four cities and killed their entire populations in a pointless war, and still got a statue made of him."

    Oh she's just a treat.

    "So is that House Ze's emblem?"

    "No, we're not a noble house. It's…" She looks away. "The logo for my dad's favorite chariot polo team."

    "As good a reason as any." I raise my eyebrows. "You know, you could just make it your house emblem. I doubt anyone would complain. Or I can. True, it would be in the Apokoliptian peerage, but-."

    "Why are you-?" Her eyes widen and she puts her hands on her hips. "You're annoyed I stopped wearing the costume you made!"

    I shrug. "I thought the colours looked better on you. More upbeat. The black's just-."

    She blurs forwards and up, floating just in front of me with her head a little above mine. "How I dress is not-" My smile broadens. "-your con-." Her face freezes for a moment. "Are you getting turned on by this?"

    I nod my head to the left. "Little bit. You're just so spunky. Hey, do you want to-?"

    "Dick." She leans around me. "Why are we still here?"

    "Well, Kyle's still tracking down Wonder Woman and finding out what the thanagarians using the base are doing. But if you're feeling better you don't have to stay in the infirmary."

    I raise my left hand. "Grayven to Lantern Rayner."

    "Green Lantern here. Oh, it's-. What?"

    "Are we dropping off the refugees yet?"

    "Can you put Nightwing on?"

    I shrug and generate a body construct for him to use.

    "The thanagarians are mostly the survivors of their attack on Earth, with a few others they've picked up around the place. They aren't all that interested in taking on civilians, and… I'm… Not sure they've got the resources for it, anyway."

    "What about the fake distress signal?"

    "They thought Hawkgirl betrayed them to Grayven. They wanted to trick her into investigating."

    I raise my right hand to my mouth. "She didn't! She was barely alive throughout that whole thing!"

    The Rayner construct glances at me while Richard nods. "Did you find Wonder Woman?"

    "She's why I had such an easy time getting in. Are we making some sort of deal with the Lords as well?"

    "We might have to. And.. this was a humanitarian mission. I don't know about you, but I'd feel bad about discouraging them."

    "Yeah, okay. Are we giving them a ride home? The thanagarians blew up their javelin."

    I shake my head. "No need. I can open a boom tube."

    Kara frowns. "Hold on. If they can't take the refugees, where can we take them? They're not going to get a very friendly welcome on Earth."

    Richard shakes his head. "It's our only option right now." He walks over to a wall-mounted intercom and activates it. "Barbara, set a course for Earth. We'll leave once Kyle's back on board."

    I smile at Kara as I open a boom-

    Boom!

    -tube down to the surface.

    "Pick me up at seven?"
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2019
  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th December 2004
    21:35 GMT -6


    Boom!

    "Don't those things come with a suppressor?"

    Shayera swoops through the boom tube and lands in the empty hangar, myself and Diana walking through at a more sedate pace behind her. She's not wearing either the traditional leotard of the Wonder Woman nor the old body stocking thing. Rather, she's just wearing normal Themysciran guard armour in what I'm assuming is an attempt to visually separate her new self from her former self. Or maybe not; it does cover more of her skin than the leotard. Maybe it provides better protection.

    "I can build quieter ones, but not at a man-portable size."

    Diana… Has been avoiding my eyes. A radically out of character development, both in Universe 50 and Universe 16. I should probably sort that out.

    "Ah, Shayera, why don't-" She looks around. "-you go and tell Batman that you wrecked his ride. I need a quick word with Diana."

    Diana tenses, and Shayera's eyes narrow slightly. "Alright, but if I hear fighting I'm coming right back."

    "Of course."

    She regards first me and then Diana for a moment, then flaps her wings and heads for the hangar door. I wait for her to pass through it and for it to close behind her before turning to Diana.

    "So. You appear to have regained your divine abilities."

    "I-. Yes." She meets my eyes, showing a little of the resolve I was expecting.

    "Did you apologise to your sponsors?"

    "Not.. at first. After you-. Even after you left, I still couldn't.. bring myself to accept that I'd made a mistake. But I couldn't keep living like that. So I went to the shrine where the Wonder Woman's equipment is kept and bound myself in the Lasso of Truth."

    Ooooooooooh. Not only would that compel total self-honesty, but it's… Basically re-enacting what Herakles did to Hippolyta.

    She sees my expression and nods solemnly. "It is no easy thing to confront all of your assumptions about the way things are and have your self-deceits torn away. You were right. Batman.. was right. And I am ashamed that I let my pride prevent me from seeing it sooner."

    "And your powers came back afterwards?"

    "No. My powers came back after I apologised. To my mother, to Captain Philippus… I asked Batman to let me use the Watchtower's communications systems to let me apologise to the world."

    I nod, then step forward and lay my right hand on her left shoulder. She.. doesn't really respond.

    "While I doubt that anyone else really cared, I respect the level of humility that shows, and your determination to do better."

    Her eyes flick up to meet mine for a moment, then return to facing downwards. Yes, I suppose… Something like that, you don't just return to the status quo ante bellum. Still, it's a good sign that she's here. Depending on what my alter-ego's gotten together, we may well need her strength.

    I lift my hand off her shoulder. Now is probably the time to pick up Sunset.

    Diana takes a step in the direction of the exit. "Batman should be in the command centre. I can show you up."

    "Would you please excuse me for just a moment first? I need to pick something up from my own base of operations."

    "Ah. Yes?"

    "Mother Box, open up a tube to the Mountain."

    "Ping."

    Boom!

    I step through.

    10th February
    09:02 GMT -7


    "Hey, Sunset-."

    "Hah!" The door between the parallel universe portal and the rest of the Mountain… Opens, and Sunset punches the air, pale blue light glowing around her hands. "Got it!"

    "Um."

    She turns around to face me, smugness fighting with irritation in her expression. "Did you lock me in on purpose, or did you just forget that you reengaged the lock?"

    "Oh, that was totally intentional. Good work." She inclines her head slightly and raises her eyebrows. "Come on through and I'll introduce you to people."

    "I'll need my equipment."

    "You can get it after I've introduced you. You can't know what you need until you've gotten a feel for the magics of the place."

    "I.. suppose." She walks past me through the tube. "Just don't lock me in a parallel universe for half an hour."

    26th December 2004
    21:38 GMT -6


    "Sunset, this is Princess Diana of Themyscira. Diana, this is Sunset Shimmer, my magical minion-."

    "Not his minion."

    I look at her sceptically. "You are literally my minion. I pay you, you do work for me. That's pretty much the definition of minion."

    "No, minions are entry level labourers and thugs." She crosses her arms across her chest. "I'm a skilled professional heading my own department. That makes me a lieutenant. At least."

    I turn back to Diana. "This is Sunset Shimmer. She's a lieutenant. At least."

    "Hello, Sunset Shimmer."

    "Are you a demigoddess like our Diana? Can I study you?"

    "I.. suppose that I am. And… What do you mean by 'study'?"

    "I'll let you two get acquainted. Mother Box, boom tube to command."

    Ping.

    Boom!

    I stride through, arms held wide.

    "Let joy be unbound, for I have-."

    "Grayven!"

    John glares at me as he keeps rocking a construct cradle, in which lies…

    I amble closer as the infant looks up at me.

    "Three hours, getting him to sleep."

    "I am most terribly sorry." I make eye contact with the baby. "Hello, tiny human."

    "Nmmrarmarn."

    The baby wiggles its arms in my general direction and closes its eyes again. I crane my neck in John's direction.

    "Yours?"

    "Mine and Shayera's."

    Hm, not seeing any wings. Not that I know enough about human-thanagarian hybrids to know whether that's typical or not.

    "What's his name?"

    "Rex Stewart. Rex Grayven Stewart."



    "I can be available to babysit at very short notice."
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2019
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