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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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    11th February 2012
    04:34 GMT


    And… Bit more decorative-.

    No, no. Any more fretwork and it's just going to get covered in whatever the local moss-analogue is. Simplify it… Yeah. Hades always struck me as the practical sort of god.

    **Very Greek.**

    I glance back as Blake floats down behind me. I create a construct psi-shield.

    "I'm a Hellenist."

    He looks at me for a moment, and then bows his head. "Alright, out loud it is then."

    "I'd appreciate it. I'm not feeling especially trusting right now."

    "Why Hades?" I stare at him, and he gives his head a small shake. "It's on the wrong planet if that's why you built it."

    "Neither the karnans nor the gordanians have a God of Death. A lot of people died without funerary rites. Not only can that be deeply unpleasant for the departed, the arcane side effects of spirits remaining in the material world can be dangerous for the people who remain." Oh, right, he left before-. "The existence of the soul-."

    Blake nods. "I knew Lance Gallant. I know the sort of power the dead can possess."

    "Lord Hades likes to be kept busy. Hopefully, we can come up with a way to lure the unquiet shades of Karna here, and into his care."

    "You've met him in person?"

    I nod. "Several times."

    He frowns faintly. "Hm. I'm curious. What made you convert?"

    "I used to be an atheist. Then I received unambiguous evidence that souls, gods, and all that sort of thing exist. At that point, picking an afterlife services provider seemed like a sensible plan. Are you religious at all?"

    "No, though I.. do respect your pragmatism. I originally came to Vega because I heard of X'Hal and wondered if she might be like me. Someone who -by pure happenstance- became a more advanced specimen of the species that bore them."

    "Even the psions don't know what the psions did to her."

    "It was why I came here. It wasn't why I stayed."

    "Alright, fine, polite small talk done. I can't believe that you didn't consider the idea that I'd be willing to provide additional support. And you know how I'd think about a request in a place like this better than our non-human friends. So what the heck were you thinking by not calling me in?"

    He nods. "I certainly considered it. I don't know precisely how skilled most members of your Corps are, but assuming that they had a slightly more intense training than the princesses, my estimate was that a force of fifty Lanterns would have reduced the deaths on our side by perhaps ten thousand. And you can add to that another thousand or so test subjects from the psion laboratories. The cost to you would have been between two and four Lanterns, though I agree that your commander would have most likely considered it worthwhile to give the rest field experience."

    "And it would have cost Vega…" Heh. "The 'New Vega Alliance' its founding myth. Outsiders coming in to fix the problem."

    "And building trust. The next few months will involve building the relationships between the parties involved. That sign of unity and power will bring Vega's minor powers into alignment."

    "Did you run calculations on the lives saved in the long term?"

    He shrugs. "That sort of calculation just isn't possible. There are far too many unknown variables. But knowing what I do about history -human and alien- I strongly suspect that it still works out for the best. Unless you move the Orange Central Power Battery here, or leave a major garrison fleet to do what the Alliance is doing right now."

    "And what is the Alliance doing right now?"

    "Ending the Branx Corporate War by eliminating the Citadel-aligned consortia. Then all that's left is a show of force in front of anyone who might be thinking of carrying on in the old way."

    "And by eliminating..?"

    He shakes his head. "They're not psions. I doubt that we'll have to kill all that many. But the consortia will be broken up and their remaining assets appropriated by their government."

    "I didn't think that the Branx had much of a central government."

    "And that's one of the things we'll be changing. Ridiculous concept."

    "And the Spiders?"

    "What about them?"

    "I killed the citadelians and I won't mourn the psions. I like the Queen."

    He shrugs, shaking his head. "She's keeping to the terms of the agreement you thrashed out last year. And no one wants to incite an attack by the rest of the Spider Guild. No, I imagine that she'll do her utmost to make herself invaluable in the coming years."

    "And the gordanians?"

    "A fight here might have been useful, but I think we can make your peace work in the long term."

    "Heh. Hm-uh." He raises his eyebrows. "It's just a bit strange for me, being on this side of the conversation. I'm assuming that you'll be sticking around to oversee things?"

    He nods. "I think so. Sorting out a mess like Vega, that's a job that might actually keep me occupied. And I meant what I said about Earth. There isn't anything… Anyone there I miss."

    "Anything? I think I'm going to need to keep track of Koriand'r and Komand'r a bit better. If there's something you want me to pick up for you..?"

    "Food, mostly. Bread made with actual wheat, coffee from actual coffee beans. Bacon from a pig."

    I wave my right hand. "Write me a list. I'll bring a shipping container."

    "That's… Surprisingly generous. You're not at all angry?"

    "No, I am. I don't see a point in throwing a strop over this. Ferrying a few home comforts is a small price to pay for keeping in touch." I bow my head slightly. "But really? You couldn't have explained this ahead of time and let me use a small squad of Lanterns to hit the Wombworld prisons? It's not like people around here don't know me."

    "I considered thousands of variations of the plan, a sizable proportion of which involved you to a greater or lesser extent. Ultimately, using foreign Lanterns would have generated additional political uncertainty which would have claimed more lives than your involvement would have saved."

    Everything I know about Adam Blake, learned from records on Earth and Tamaran, tells me that he's being honest. On Earth, he was very much on the idealistic end of the superhero spectrum. In Vega he learned ruthlessness, but not… It seems unlikely that he'd kill a thousand innocent people to carry out a personal revenge.

    But I'm still angry.

    I'm still angry.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2019
  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th December 2004
    23:47 GMT -6


    "Hng."

    I come to the end of Batman's clearly written and logically structured report on what's been happening since my last visit. The United States 50 is pursuing the same moderate, sensible policy relating to superheroics that the United States 16 is, with the added bonus that SHADE's agents are already used to working under the government's aegis. Other countries are… Well, they've been building up their superhuman development programs ever since the Lords vanished. Even Europe, which back on Earth 16 more or less follows the American laissez faire model, is leaning on superhumans with vigilante inclinations to join the police force if not the military.

    China's.. about the same. I somehow suspect that they were actually pretty okay with the Justice Lords taking over America.

    I frown.

    "Batman, did anywhere approve of the Lords taking over America?"

    "A number of countries expressed their support in the immediate aftermath of the summary execution of Lex Luthor. No one wanted a nuclear war."

    John shakes his head. "No one with any sense, anyway." He looks a little uncomfortably at Sunset as she sets up a laser drone to project a circle on the floor around him. "Why exactly are you doing this?"

    Sunset smiles brightly. "I'm trying to learn how to become a god. I want to get as much data as I can from people who've been empowered by different forces."

    "Uh.. huh."

    I give him a mild frown. "Have the Guardians been in contact about your empowerment?"

    "No. I don't even know if they-" Sunset's sensors glow a faint green, prompting her to give them a puzzled frown. "-know. I've been making a point of avoiding the Rayner kid, so he can't confirm how I'm still using the green light."

    I nod. "And how are you doing for resources?"

    "We're.. managing. Losing the Javelin will make things a lot harder until we can build another." I raise my eyebrows. "We've been using it to mine asteroids for raw materials. The Watchtower a has foundry which we can use to fabricate what we need to keep things running."

    The door to the meeting room opens and Shayera strolls through. "Are you up to date yet?"

    "More or less. Never thought of you as an engineer."

    She glances at Batman, then shrugs. "We can't just order everything from WayneTech anymore. Or the US space defence budget."

    "I think I can help you out here. My Lex Luthor is building starships based on Theodore Knight's designs."

    John frowns. "Luthor?"

    "Ours is a good deal more rational than yours. And I'm keeping an eye on him. I can have a few dozen cosmic converters brought through in a.. day or so. Ship designs and parts should be simple enough, including a luminal drive. It's a bit different to the warp drives you're used to, but I'm sure that you can adapt." Aaaah… "Actually, I can offer you people to fully staff this place again. There's a synthetic species working for me-."

    Batman inclines his head slightly. "The genomorphs."

    I nod. "Right. Hm. I'm happy to Awaken you, though if you're anything like Batman Sixteen you'll turn it down. Without that, there's no point in using New God technology… Other than hush tubes? They're the silent version of boom tubes, perfect for stealth insertions-."

    Shayera smiles. "And not waking the baby."

    "Heck, if you want…" I shrug. "I suppose you can't really spend time on Earth, being former super-dictators. But there's no problem with you spending time on my Earth. You look different enough from our versions of you that I doubt that anyone would spot it."

    "I thought the-" She glances at Batman. "-power requirements-."

    "Batman building that portal with human technology was amazing, but I use Apokoliptian technology. It's a little more advanced. Still not exactly cheap, but that's what the cosmic converters are for."

    Batman nods. "And what do you want in return?"

    "Any information you have on my alter-ego. And possibly your help if Scott is in over his head."

    Shayera nods and presses a button, causing a screen to appear displaying the region which Grayven 50 controls. Pretty decent going, actually, and far enough away from Apokolips that he doesn't need to worry much about interference. Did he set up there before or after Darkseid's death?

    "How long ago did your Darkseid die?"

    "Four years ago."

    "Do you know how long ago he had New Gordane settled?"

    Shayera shrugs. "I saw the same intelligence reports from Hro's command ship that you did. We never found out when it happened because no one was looking that way. The first Thanagar knew about it was when the ships that usually guarded that part of space disappeared. And given the fact that he uses boom tubes, he wouldn't need to move his people by ship."

    Batman regards me impassively. "How would you do it?"

    "I'd pick a world that was inhabited but primitive. I'd settle in a reasonably empty area and set up widespread farmlands and schools. Nothing planetside is easier to mine than asteroids but my people would need somewhere to live."

    John frowns. "Why not set up somewhere uninhabited?"

    "Gordanians aren't the best farmers. The locals would be a source of labour, and because they'd benefit from improved technology they probably wouldn't resent being gradually folded into the new civilisation. Gordanians don't breed all that fast, and-."

    John raises his eyebrows. "You think he could walk in there and the natives would just accept it?"

    "He'd just need to find a settled group that had farming and make a deal. Plus, I assume that he has the same god-voice that I do. If he conquered them, he could use that to ensure that they stayed conquered as long as he treated them with basic decency."

    Shayera presses another button, and we get a close-up of the surface of Thanagar. "He's not doing that on Thanagar."

    "No, he is. There." I point. "Lizarkon auxiliaries. Almost certainly locals. Given how unified and militant the thanagarian population is… My ability isn't outright mind control, it's a constant mental nudge. Someone who hates him isn't suddenly going to start cooperating, and he's the only one who can do it. But with all the dead in the war, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that the lizarkons now represent an outright majority of the population. He can put a few community leaders into positions of power, give a gordanian clan chief governorship until a local has proven themselves worthy of the role, and his powers will make a neutral party inclined to go along with him."

    "And what about my people?"

    "If he hasn't killed them all yet then he probably isn’t going to. Multi-generational re-education programs? Or…" Oh dear. "Did your Thanagar have the Equality Plague?"

    She shifts awkwardly. "Yes."

    "That.. might do it. There's no obvious reason for him to have a conflict with Queen Hyathis. She doesn't have any reason to cure it a second time. His god-name might well let him act as Lord High Equalizer. Heck, he might accept Hyathis' vassalage and give the planet to her."

    Batman's eyes dip for a moment, then he looks at me. "How does that affect Earth?"

    "If he has to stay around to hold the planet, Earth could be safe for decades. If he's able to speed that up… Earth's quite an attractive prospect."

    He looks around at his colleagues and nods. "Then we need more information. You'll have our help."
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2019
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    27th December 2004
    01:21 GMT -6


    Boom!

    The tube opens once more and Jean walks through, a new g-goblin at her side and a gaggle of g-elves, g-trolls, g-dwarves and g-gnomes following on behind them. This one has Ixy's open and youthful face as opposed to Jean's more matriarchal cast. The new one is also a little broader and has a noticeably increased amount of muscle mass. The effect is… Interesting. While Ixy was clearly designed to look like a young girl, Dubbilex an elderly man, Ecksey like his athletic younger brother and Jean… Like a combination of my female grandparents combined with Mrs Bale from As Time Goes By. This one is more androgynous.

    Which must be a deliberate decision on their part. I mean, yes, genomorphs don't reproduce sexually and have no interest in introducing the capacity to their species. Even if most people refer to Dubbilex and Ecksey in the masculine and Ixy and Jean in the feminine those aren't biologically accurate descriptors. They just assume them to fit in better with the sexually dimorphous species around them. So either they've decided that they don't want to fit in that way any longer, or they're testing this out, or… They don't think that the g-goblin getting assigned here needs to fit in like that.

    "Mister Grayven. Mister Batman." Jean nods politely as the boom tube closes behind them. "This is the newest g-goblin, Mito. I believe they will be able to meet your organisational and labour requirements."

    Mito.. themselves, bows from the waist, then straightens. Ah, this one has a more substantial tail as well. I wonder why?

    Batman regards them impassively. "Do you have a lot of experience?"

    "I was literally decanted earlier today." They blink. "However, I have been given access to the memories of all other g-goblins. I have Ecksey's knowledge of space station maintenance, Jean's knowledge of household management, Ixy's knowledge of human social interactions and Dubbilex's breadth of experience." They blink again. "They in turn have access to information and insight provided to them by over a hundred thousand genomorphs. I am perfectly capable of meeting your expectations."

    "How soon can you begin working?"

    Mito's horns glow for a moment, and the other genomorph types disperse. They then pull a datapad from a pocket and begin typing. "Fabrication of the more substantial parts is already in process. We will begin analysing the current structure of the Watchtower now in order to assess the most effective way to implement the upgrades. Assuming that we are granted access to all technical data, we will have a work plan available to you within an hour."

    Batman nods. "What happens to the other genomorphs if you are injured or killed?"

    "You will have to either wait for a new g-goblin or accept reports either nonverbally from a g-dwarf or telepathically by a g-gnome. Since we took control of our own creation, new genomorphs of all types have had modifications made to their cerebral structures which allow them to function more effectively if they are deprived of contact with the Genomorph Entire. All genomorphs can understand spoken English, though there will be a decrease in efficiency as they will find it harder to coordinate."

    "I see." Batman gestures to the closest computer terminal, where a cluster of g-dwarves are waiting. "I'll enter your people onto the system now."

    "Thank you."

    Jean watches as they join the g-dwarves, then turns her attention to me. "Do you require anything further, Mister Grayven?"

    "No, thank-."

    Shayera smirks faintly. "Do genomorphs do babysitting?"

    "Certainly, though so far we only have experience with older children. And development of the g-lamia has stalled somewhat due to lack of utility."

    "What's a 'g-lamia'?"

    "Genomorph phenotypes are named after mythological creatures, their name prefixed with a 'g'. Lamia was a figure from Greek mythology who ate children." Shayera frowns. "As a witticism, it would have been more effective if you knew that in advance."

    I clap my hands together. "Excited to be heading back home?"

    Shayera looks at me, then looks away. "No."

    "You could use the opportunity to introduce John to your family? Assuming that they're still alive, of course."

    "I'm an orphan." She exhales sharply through her nose. "Which is just as well. If anyone recognised me on Thanagar they'd try and kill me."

    "Really? The only people who know you came down on Earth's side were Talak's crew, and I doubt that they've had the chance to spread the knowledge. Everyone else would just know that you'd been sent on a long term mission. You must have a few personal contacts to draw upon."

    "I spent my whole adult life in the military. I doubt any of them survived."

    "Ah." I look away. "Sorry. I feel like a heel now."

    Her right hand clenches the handle of her mace, causing the head to crackle.

    "Why didn't they just ask for help?! Gah!"

    I shrug. "Why didn't they come to terms with Grayven earlier?"

    She grimaces. "Surrender?"

    "That's probably what the gordanians did. Aliens can't join gordanian clans. Grayven would have had to conquer one and convince the survivors to abandon tradition… Which he could use his god-voice to do. Then he'd have to either conquer other clans by force or talk them around. Probably both. Depending on when this happened and what was happening on Apokolips, he might have been able to draw on other resources, but based on what we saw and Thanagarian Empire records… I think he might be the only Apokoliptian involved. Point is, the very people who serve as his generals and governors bent the knee and benefited from it. He offered the Thanagarian Empire the same deal several times. They just didn't take it. Ever. If they had, I can't see any reason for him to treat them differently to how he treated the gordanians."

    "We have pride."

    "Yeah. You also don't own your homeworld any more."

    "Grayven doesn't own his homeworld either."

    I regard her sceptically. "Would you want Apokolips?"

    "I don't know. I've never visited."

    "You… Haven't been keeping an eye on it?"

    She rolls her eyes. "And how exactly would we do that? With our one human-built faster than light ship?"

    Oh. Yeah.

    "Alright, well, it's going to be a while before Batman and Mito have this place ready to support the hush tube we'll need to sneak onto Thanagar, and I've got a date tonight. How about we have a look around Apokolips first? See how they're getting on in Father's absence?"

    She hefts her mace-. "And make them think that 'Grayven' is threatening them?"

    "I was thinking more that we kill anyone who looks in danger of getting things organised, but… Sure, we could sic them on my alter ego if you like. I'm guessing… Virman Vundabar, Granny Goodness and Desaad require most attention. Virman will have the best conventional weapons, Granny the best warriors and Desaad the most sophisticated technology."

    "Granny Goodness mind-controlled Superman a few years ago. He killed Darkseid in revenge, but I don't think he managed to kill her."

    Hm. "My conquest aura should let me… Influence a faction if I slay their leader. Granny's Furies might be useful for attacking Thanagar, especially if we're trying to start a war between them."

    "It's all the same to me. Why don't we run it by John and Diana and then decide who we're crushing first?"
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2019
  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    27th December 2004
    01:58 GMT -6


    Boom!

    I look up as I stroll through the boom tube out onto the surface of Apokolips. The map I have of Apokolips 16 doesn't quite match-. Doesn't match at all, really. I.. think that's the Tower of Rage over there, but they don’t appear to have ever fully rebuilt it from when the upper levels were destroyed during Superman's climactic fight with Darkseid 50. And the vast plaza around it where armies once marched to display Darkseid's power has been torn up by the treads of thousands of dragon tanks and blasted by the fire of a million weapon blasts.

    "Intruders!"

    A… Hunger Dog armed with some sort of primitive power axe leads a charge by a rabble of militiamen.

    "For Granny Goodness!"

    Shayera takes to the air beside me. "I feel almost bad for them."

    "Actually… Yeah."

    I hold up my right hand and lift them off the ground with a series of yellow bonds. Plenty of fear on Apokolips. A couple make a token effort at struggling, but the rest drop their weapons and cower as much as their restricted movement will allow them.

    "Fighting these bottom-feeders would be an almost-embarrassing waste of our time." I fold my arms behind my back and take a few steps forward. "Scum of the Armagetto! I am Grayven, son of Darkseid. You have until the count of ten to find me someone worth killing or I throw you at the walls in the hope that someone important investigates." Heed My Commands!

    I release my hold and watch for a moment as they scurry away.

    "One!"

    "I better get a good fight out of this, Grayven."

    "Two! Why? You got to fight those Thanagarian soldiers."

    "Exact-"

    "Three!"

    "-ly. They were other Thanagarians."

    "Four! So fighting your evil countrymen isn't fun, but fighting mine is?"

    "Fun for me."

    "Five!"

    A piercing, shrieking… Growl, pierces the air, prompting both Shayera and myself to look upward as a flight of stub-winged parademons launch themselves from a nearby defunct chimney and take to the Apokoliptian sky. Some have.. some sort of halberd, while the rest are contented with just their claws. The swarm of them flies up into the sky, circles around-

    I generate a pair of anti-aircraft autocannon constructs. "I'll take the five hundred on the right. You take the five hundred on the left."

    "I want five hundred and one."

    -and dives for us, shots from the few with the wherewithal to aim their haft-mounted blasters pattering off the ground around me. Shayera flaps her wings and surges into the air as I generate a construct gun shield and I open fire, yellow bolts flying into the oncoming flock. My first target is hit, my shot punching through his abdominal armour and into the engineered flesh beneath in a spray of purple blood. The flock responds at once, those stubby wings which don't provide much in the way of speed apparently granting them surprising aerial agility. I calculate an angle to maximise my odds and then change the angle of my guns, firing through the space where the parademons are the thickest as-

    "HhhhhhhhhAYAH!"

    -Shayera viffs around an outstretched halberd blade and batters a parademon around the jaw with her mace. It jerks in the air, dropping its weapon in shock as the mace's energy discharge pulps flesh and pulverises bone. It's a testament to their resilience that his entire head isn't obliterated, but as it wallows stunned in the air she performs a small swoop and slams her mace up into the-. Not the jaw so much as the exposed palate, then brings it down on the top of its head.

    Yeah, looks pretty dead to me. Only five hundred to go.

    I draw my daiklave-

    "ReeeEEEegh!"

    -and swing it through a parademon who dives at me, claws extended. He attempts to parry my swing with his claws, and has them sliced off as a result, He lands, dumbly staring at the bleeding stubs of his severed digits for a moment before I create a fusion cannon construct on my right forearm and shoot him in the head.

    My flak cannons are doing reasonable work, wounded and maimed parademons dropping out of the flock as they focus on evading rather than closing the distance. I see they've got some self-preservation instinct, then. Which is making Shayera's job easier as they stop focusing on her and she starts striking at their wings. Three parademons dive for me from different angles and I sidestep, bringing my daiklave around in an arc that neatly intersects with their flight paths. The wonderful thing about a blade like this is that I barely have to aim; there's no need to aim for the weak spots in their armour when neither their armour nor their flesh provides significant resistance. So long as I can move my arm I can kill-

    Make Me Happy

    -any…

    As one, the parademons turn to face me and then dive at me. Ah, someone's paying attention, then. Mother Box, boom tube to a mile away.

    Ping.

    That's at once frustrating and mildly pleasing. Alright, fighting. Need momentum. With so many parademons coming right at me my flak cannons are killing them far faster but-.

    I swing my daiklave through a parademon and turn aside to try and deflect its corpse's momentum. Partially successful, but the speed and mass of its torso still impede my-.

    A parademon grabs my sword arm. Another endures a slice through its shoulder well enough to grab my legs. I fire my fusion cannon through the flock but one of the quicker parademons manages to sink its claws into my construct and destroy it. Another attaches itself limpet-like to my face, roaring at me in an attempt to distract me. The world around me darkens as more and more parademons pile onto the heap above me, until my vision is reduced to the snapping snarling fangs in front of me.

    Heh.

    Parademons are far stronger than normal humans, but they're still… Augmented strength, rather than super strength. Spider-Man strong rather than Thor strong. Or Venom-Buster strong rather than… Well, me strong. Awkward as this position is, it's really no more awkward than normal humans doing it to Superman, or trying to tie up a normal human with a reel of liquorice. But my hope is that if I look like I've been bested that Granny will stick her head out in order to make a start on my 're-education'.

    I take a moment to relax and then go limp. The only risky part here is that Apokoliptians probably have forms of aura-reading that I'm not familiar with. A defeated God of Conquest would feel rather different to one biding his time… But maybe they'll chalk that up to arrogance. As long as I avoid actual god-speech-.

    There's a shift in the mass above me, the parademons getting orders and moving in a more controlled way than what their usual instincts instruct. The area around my face gradually becomes lighter as the height of the pile decreases, though the number surrounding me remains more or less the same.

    "So who do we have-" The last parademon moves aside, and a face covered by a black and silver mask looks down at me. "-here?"

    I smile. "Lashina. Is it my birthday already?"

    "Grayven?" She smiles back in what looks like genuine pleasure. "I didn't know you were back on Apokolips."

    "Are the parademons yours? I don't mind being tied up, but they're a bit more butch than-."

    "Outa the way. Granny wants him now."

    Lashina shrugs, and her position above me is taken by Stompa, who raises her right boot.

    I may have misjudge-.

    Stomp!
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2019
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    27th December 2004
    02:02 GMT -6


    Owfuckingfuck!

    Stompa raises her boot again and takes a look at me.

    "Huh. Think I'm losing my touch." She lifts it a little higher. "Oh well."

    I brace with my feet and thrust my arms upward out of the parademon huddle, some losing their grip while others frantically try to hold on. I grab her foot and twist, causing her to lose her footing and fall on her arse.

    None May Conquer Conquest.

    Then I shove my arms out to the sides, yellow light thrusting the parademons off me! I trigger my aero-discs as the two Furies scrabble back. Now that the parademons are in one convenient location and appropriately fearful, I hold my hands out to either side and project cutting beams into the parademon pile. Parademons dead or cringing, I calmly fold my arms behind my back.

    "Where's Granny?"

    Lashina readies her ribbon-whip while Stompa gets her feet back under her-.

    "And where's the other-?"

    Surprise!

    Claws! Claws scraping my cheeks as a weight lands on my shoulders! I feel them bite in as I form manacles and clamp them around Mad Harriet's arms before lifting her off me and dangling her before me. My facial wounds… Aren't healing particularly quickly. They're shallow enough that they should close up almost-.

    Mad Harriet bends, kicking out at me with both feet. She.. really doesn't know when to stop. I wonder how Granny keeps her under control? I idly lean back slightly, catch her ankles at the apogee of their swing and then gently push them back down.

    Then I float forward and backhand her across the face hard enough to break my own construct and send her flying to the feet of her colleagues.

    "Is that it?" I look around, my face a pantomime of sadness. "Is this what Apokolips has been reduced to? Mindless, aimless charges into prepared positions?"

    Shayera swoops down and floats just behind me, the head of her mace covered in off-purple scabs where she struck before its disruption field could fully re-establish itself.

    "Even my gordanians could manage better than-."

    Something hits me in the chin, snapping my head backwards as I feel another impact to my abdomen. Environmental shield and armour soaks most of it, but I'm still sent flying upwards before-

    Two red dots.

    -a series of impacts focusing on my face and chest. Fuckingfah! Construct armour!

    It forms, and I see a half-second of black-red blur before it shatters and -I raise my arms to protect my face- the strikes start again. Alright -agh- it's kinetic impacts, create a kinetic barrier-.

    There's another strike and the barrier triggers-. It's supposed to appear for a moment and then fail, but for some reason it's staying active. My attacker's right fist appears to be… Stuck..? In it. Said attacker is dressed in black, red and silver armour of Apokoliptian design not too dissimilar from my own. Silver boots, silver gauntlets, shoulder and neck guards and a silver helmet with a t-shaped visor. The rest is black but for the red tron lines. They're also short-. No, young. Assuming standard pattern humanoid development I'd say that they're younger than Lynne.

    A boy or girl this strong and fast? I can't think of any-.

    Two red lights appear behind the visor, then I get to see the construct generating my kinetic barrier melt for an instant before failing completely as the kryptonian child turns his eyes towards my bruised and bleeding face!

    "Good, child! Kill this disobedient boy for Granny!" Pain Begets Loyalty.

    AAAAAAGHHgold kryptonite radiation!



    Graaaghh! Mirror!

    The stealth heat beams coming from his face hit my construct and are deflected-

    "Agh!"

    -back into his eyes, causing him to drift back slightly in the air and cover his face with his hands before he recovers and returns his attention to me. Alright, fine, radiation didn't work on Kara last time, bit silly for me to think it would work through fully enclosed Apokoliptian armour.

    "Finish him!" Remember the Lash!

    Okay, problem. His armour protects him from kryptonite radiation. Red sunlight might work, but his armour is fully enclosed. And I'd rather not kill a child if I can help-.

    There's a blur, and small legs wrap around my neck and strong arms grip my head and I feel the pressure constricting and turning! Okay, actually in danger now. Open fire!

    Six drone weapons drop back into phase and open fire, death rays and blasters hitting my assailant in the back-.

    And he's gone, and-. Two of the drones vanish from my awareness as he moves faster than they can track. Ugh, Apokolips: this child won't be a part-timer like Superman, he'll have been trained in his powers since birth. Constant exposure to pain and Granny's conditioning-. Where is the old hag? The Champion's Challenge.

    Mad Harriet might be crazy, but that doesn't let her just ignore a concussive head trauma. She's down for now. Stompa isn't fast or agile enough to hit Shayera in an open environment and is punch-drunk from repeated Nth metal mace strikes and Lashina-.

    I block her whip strike with a buckler construct and then hit her in the chest with a full-.

    "No!"

    Jghh! I feel my armour crack, and my spine with it! I'm knocked flying across the Apokoliptian landscape by the force of the strike! But at least I can feel this injury healing. I take control of my flight and warp back towards my opponent, feeling slowly returning to the lower part of my body. He's stopped to check on the staggered Lashina, curious. Now, what else works on kryptonians?

    Ultrasonic blast.

    The air shimmers with the force I'm putting into it, and I have to grab Shayera and shield her to prevent her falling out of the air.

    "Aaarghh."

    The kryptonian boy grips the side of his helmet, knocking the weird panel ornaments off as he does so.

    "Did you know they had a kryptonian?"

    Shayera shakes her head. "Where did they get a kryptonian from?"

    "Kal-El was here for weeks. They might have cloned-" Lashina looks at him with genuine concern. "-him. Though I'm not sure why he's not an adult."

    Still, we've done what we came here for. Granny will now think that Grayven 50 is gunning for her. Mother Box?

    Ping.
    I Stand Triumphant.
    How about now?

    Ping.

    Good show.

    "Vulture, we're leaving." Shayera nods. "I see that Apokolips isn't even worth my time."

    Boom!
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2019
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    27th December 2004
    18:59 GMT -5


    Kara stares at me.

    "Who are you and why are you in my apartment?"

    "I know I told you to pick me up at seven, but I thought-"

    Her face hardens and her fists ball. "Grayven."

    "-that since I didn't give you a number or a forwarding address it really made more sense for me to come to you." I point to where the amulet makes it look like my face is. "Like the glamour?"

    "Uhh." She gives me a brief once-over. "Beats being seen with you in public."

    "Great! How do you feel about children?"

    "What?"

    "It's breakfast time in my home parallel, so my children are waiting for the most important meal of the day. If them eating with us will totally-."

    "You have..? Children?"

    "Yes. Didn't.. Scott say?"

    She looks at me with an air of cautious suspicion. "No..?"

    I frown. "What did you think happened to Lynne?"

    "Who's 'Lynne'?"

    Wait… Ah. No, she wasn't there for that bit, so if Scott and Barda didn't mention that they were handing Lynne over to me… So where were they keeping her before that, in their own home? All Lynne told me was that Scott and Barda looked after her. I just assumed…

    "The telepath SHADE were using to broadcast the Anti-Life Equation? They were keeping her with the four who ended up joining Stormwatch?"

    Kara shakes her head. "Why is she with you?"

    "Scott and Barda handed her off to me."

    Her eyes widen and she lifts slightly off the ground. "They did what?"

    "Handed-." I raise my right hand to my forehead for a moment. "Okay, I think you're missing out on some rather pertinent data."

    "Yeah I think so too."

    "Anti-Life exposure caused serious spiritual damage to Lynne, far in advance of what Director Todd or the other children got. In order to fully repair her I gave her a portion of my soul to.. patch over the hole in hers."

    She turns her glare down for a moment. "Why?"

    "Because I hate the Anti-Life. I really, really hate it. If you haven't.. grown up with it, I don't think you can understand. The way it constantly leaches off your soul, saps your drive to build anything."

    "You tried to take over the Earth."

    "As I said at the time, I believe that I can run the planet better than any currently existing government. Destroying the place is the last thing I'd want to do."

    "Did you already take over your Earth? Are you trying to collect the whole set?"

    "By proxy, one or two failed states. I'm influencing a lot of others. But none of them had government agencies trying to use the Anti-Life. When a human military dictator takes power, they last… What, maybe fifty years? When a population is infected with the Anti-Life, that's it. They will never love or hate, experience joy or sadness… They're just.. not… people. That's what the Anti-Life is, what it does. It's why Darkseid likes it so much."

    "Who's your dad."

    I shrug. "I didn't pick him. Heck, my mother didn't even pick him."

    "Ah..?"

    "Desaad grabbed some human woman, wiped her mind and altered her to look like Kalibak's mother." I shrug. "So if you're trying to link me to him you're not going to get anywhere. And anyway, Darkseid has four sons. Three of them hate it and the other hates everything."

    "Oh." She frowns, not quite looking at me. "So, that's Lynne. You said 'kids'."

    "There's an Atlantean girl I'm fostering, and a group of vampire-succubus hybrids I picked up on an island."

    "A-. Are they safe?"

    I nod. "They are now that they're fully medicated and properly fed. Though I'd appreciate it if you didn't bring it up with them. I.. really emphasised the importance of them taking their medication, and the younger ones have developed a bit of a complex about it. Which is good, because it means they won't eat people any more-."

    "They ate people?"

    "They were starving. They had no access to other food that they could eat. And they ate their mother and older siblings. If I hadn't picked them up they would have eaten each other until only the youngest was left. It's not something they can control-. Well, maybe they could have learned to eventually, but with their parents dead there wasn't anyone to teach them."

    "Um." She blinks, then frowns. "Wait, wait. How did they get Lynne to you?"

    "What, Scott? Upgraded boom tube, same as I used to come back again."

    "And that was… How long after you left?"

    "About a month? They went to see your Grayven first, which was a bit of a mistake. I assume that things were a bit busy here at the time?"

    "They… They didn't even tell us that you weren't our Grayven until-. And you'd already recovered from the nuclear bomb?"

    "Yeah. Sure. Couple of days in the mana infuser and I was right as rain."

    "I don't-." She shakes her head. "I don't understand. You tried to take over America, got hit by a nuclear weapon, escaped… You were fine a few days later. Why didn't you try again?"

    I shrug. "You seemed to have things in hand. I might have been a bit pessimistic in my assumptions. I can admit when I'm wrong. That was part of why I decided to soft-pedal things on my Earth."

    "No, no wait." She sinks to the floor, not looking at me. "I know Batman got in contact with Dick after you came through."

    "Yes?"

    "You attacked the Thanagarian ship after you found out that the President had been replaced."

    "Not wanting to get into a constitutional argument, more or less."

    "You already visited Scott and-. No." She looks at me. "No."

    "Glad that's cleared up. Breakfast?"

    "You-. You were faking?"

    "Faking?"

    "I thought it was weird someone gave Elize a vial of speed formula right when-. Was that you as well? And you've got a power ring, so you could have called Kyle."

    "I did call Kyle; the Thanagarians were trying to blow up-."

    "I… Can'tBelieve-." She takes a moment to compose herself. "Why did you abandon your spy?"

    Huh?

    "What spy?"

    "Corporal Guy Gardner."

    "That was the man in the Stryker's Island facility? The one who tried using this ring-" I raise my right hand. "-on me?"

    "The man who opened the vault for you."

    Eh?

    "Kara, I'm nearly as strong as you are. And I'd demonstrated that I could open boom tubes. Having the vault 'opened for me' saved me maybe ten seconds. Besides, I'd only just arrived. Even if Corporal Gardner had been willing to sell out, I hadn't had enough time to locate him and make him an offer."

    "So why did he do it?"

    "If.. I had to guess, because at that point he knew that your other weapons were worthless and wanted to get something that might actually work just in case you didn't reach the island in time. And he nearly did. If I hadn't recognised him from his alter ego on my Earth I could have lost that fight." I frown. "Wait, what happened to him?"

    Kara looks rather uncomfortable. "He was.. sentenced to.. life in prison."

    I snort. "Not to tell you how to do your job, but you might want to get him released."
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2019
  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    27th December 2004
    19:42 GMT -5


    Aelia looks askance at Maeve and Mary as the two of them focus on their mobile telephones to the exclusion of all else. Mary is looking up pictures of me from Earth 50, while Maeve is looking up historical events to try and see how they're different here. My namesake is trying to keep his three youngest siblings contained by talking to them about the book they're reading for their English class. Bethany-

    "Are you dating Daddy?"

    -is doing a surprisingly good job at making Kara uncomfortable while simultaneously convincing her that this represents the real 'me'.

    "Ah? No. No, this is just.. breakfast."

    "Are you an alien? Are you a superhero?"

    "Yes, I'm an alien and yes, I'm a superhero."

    I was curious to see what the response amongst locals was when Supergirl turned up with my family in tow to a local diner. It's actually been more than a little muted. One person came up for an autograph, but she was clearly doing it for her young daughter. Everyone else… We're getting the occasional glance, but that's about it.

    "What's your superhero name?"

    "I'm Supergirl."

    "Oh, like Superboy! Is Lex Luthor your daddy too?"

    Kara stares at me. "What?"

    "Our version of Bizarro. Lex had a company called Cadmus create a young man using a combination of his and Kal-El's DNA. Fortunately, he takes after his other biological father and his adoptive mother."

    "Is he crazy like Bizarro?"

    "No no. Perfectly rational. His… The first full-clone of Kal-El Cadmus made was afflicted by an intense, constant rage, but M'gann and I fixed that."

    "So is Superman your daddy?"

    Oh, Bethany is a treasure.

    "N-. No. We're.. friends."

    She looks around awkwardly as she says it. Hm. I suppose that it's rather different, having been a superhero associated with America's first formal oligarchy and then a paramilitary soldier. People don't ask for autographs from members of their dictator's family, and I doubt that they ask for soldiers' autographs all that often.

    A bell chimes as the restaurant door opens and Richard walks in wearing civilian clothing: blue shirt, jeans, and a leather jacket. His eyes sweep the restaurant, but the most reaction my party gets when he realises that Kara is with us all is a blink. Kara meets his eyes for a moment and then sags the slight sag of someone caught doing something mildly embarrassing by a work colleague. She awkwardly waves her right hand and he walks over.

    Richard's eyes are on me as he approaches the head of the table. He's trying to place me but is clearly coming up short. I know that Zatanna's on his team, but perhaps bound spells aren't really her thing? This glamour is pretty cheap as they go. Someone like Richard should probably make a point of getting his hands on that most basic part of a countermagic suite: illusion-defying glasses.

    "Hey, Kara. And… I don't think we've been introduced?"

    "Good evening, Richard." His face freezes as he recognises my voice. "No, I don’t think we have. I've done some work with your father."

    "… Seven. And…" He looks around. "Did you kidnap a middle school class?"

    "No, they're all mine." The door to the female toilet swings open and Lynne emerges, recognition flickering in his eyes. "Did Scott tell you about Lynne?"

    "He.. said that he found a home for her. I didn't realise he was talking about you."

    "'fraid so. Oh, update on Apokolips: the civil war is still going on and the whole planet is getting wrecked, which is terrible in humanitarian terms but is probably quite good for Earth. Ah, but Granny Goodness has picked up a kryptonian child from somewhere."

    "How dangerous are they?"

    "If I took my glamour off you'd see a face covered in bruises, and I only just got back feeling in my left leg."

    "Where did they get a kryptonian-?"

    Kara's eyes widen. "Lashina."

    I nod. "Yeah, she was there. Seemed to have some sort of rapport with the child."

    "Kara?"

    "When.. Kal was mind controlled into thinking he was Darkseid's son, he.. was.. dating Lashina." Her gaze grows somewhat distant. "God, I don't even… Should we.. tell him?"

    Richard frowns. "Wait, aren't they different species?"

    I shrug. "Lashina might be able to make it work using domain powers-. Actually…" I hold out my left hand and fabricate a pack of kryptonian oral contraception tablets then pass them to Kara. "Humans… As a result of living in a high magic environment can also bypass some incompatibility issues, so-."

    She snatches it and shoves it into her handbag.

    "You're welcome."

    "The point is, Kal's got a child he doesn't know about growing up on a hell planet."

    I smile faintly. "Under Apokoliptian law, Granny Goodness gets custody."

    Richard holds up his right hand. "This is-. Yeah, okay, this is a problem we'll have to deal with. But what we're dealing with first is that Mister Miracle missed a scheduled call in." He looks at me. "Looks like you were right."

    "To be.. completely fair, there are good reasons why he might have missed it. Including allowing himself to be taken captive. He got away from Granny Goodness' Orphanage plenty of times, but since he had no way off the planet he ended up going back. Until they finally stuck him in the X-Pit." Maybe I should lend him the Sword of the Fallen, let him stab the-? No, he'd never go for it. "What's the protocol?"

    Richard shrugs. "We go get him back. But we've only got one ship, and their fleet is on alert for us."

    "So you need a way to sneak in quietly?"

    "Yeah, and I don't think your boom tubes are gunna cut it. Even if the sound doesn't give them away, the other Grayven's gotta have ways to detect them."

    "Yes." I nod. "That's why I've got a team building the silenced version on the Watchtower. I'm not about to leave my brother high and dry." … "And I guess we could pick up Barda too."

    "Mister Miracle didn't say anything about a silenced version."

    "Father didn't really want Scott to amount to anything. They were just trying to turn him into another near-mindless soldier drone. He didn't get what you'd call a complete education. And living on Earth, he didn't really have any reason or opportunity to study the technology."

    "And you did?"

    "No, I stole Desaad's Father Box, which had all his records. I mean, I had a pretty good education-. Hey." I turn to Kara. "When you haven't just eaten, remind me to tell you about the time Desaad gave me a sex education lesson. See, he had this anatomical specimen-."

    Richard leans towards me. "You can get us to Thanagar?"

    "Sure? The work should be finished soon. You just need to get in contact with your father and plan out the mission."
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2019
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    27th December 2004
    21:14 GMT -5


    "Hey, you're not dead!"

    Eliza Harmon smiles up at me, vibrating faintly. She's learned to build up speed and apparently remain at normal speed, to anyone who isn't specifically looking for it at least.

    I smile back.

    "Hey, neither are you! Brave, still wearing the Flash's ccccccoooooollllll-"

    For a fraction of a second she frowns, and the rate at which she's vibrating slows.

    "-lloooooouuuuurrrrrssssss."

    "Ttttthhhhaaaatttt-."

    I lean down quickly. "Hah! Got you."

    She suddenly stops vibrating. "You-? Ah, damn it! I didn't-"

    I reach behind my back and start removing the 'kick me' signs.

    She smirks. "-get you to go through the portal with those on."

    I look a-. "'Nuke me'? Really?"

    "How'd you spot those?"

    I point over to the other side of the embarkation area, where Batson is covering his mouth with both hands and is heroically failing at stopping himself laughing.

    "Bi-lly! You gave me away!"

    "Hahhah! That's great!"

    "Look." I take a heavy breath, closing my eyes for a moment. "I decided to contain that nuclear blast in order to prevent the rest of you getting incinerated. 'Kick me' signs are fine, but if you want to joke about the nuke, maybe I'll decide to just shield myself next time and let the rest of you handle the blast yourselves."

    "Yeah-. Ah-. No, don't do that."

    "Thought not."

    "I didn't realise.. you did it intentionally."

    I frown. "Why the heck would I intentionally trap myself in a shield bubble with a suitcase nuke and a killer robot?"

    "I dunno." She shrugs. "People make stupid decisions under pressure."

    "No, the stupid bit happened a moment later when I got angry enough to shut down my construct armour and started evaporating. The decision to protect you was deliberate."

    "Okay but, um, why?"

    I lean down and condescendingly pat her on the left cheek with my right hand. "Because you're just so adorably helpless and pathetic. Like a little puppy. With one leg."

    Batson's face falls, and I roll my eyes.

    "It's not a real puppy, Batson."

    "No, but it's a total mood-killer. And." He looks awkwardly away for a moment, then straightens up and looks me full-on. "Thank you for stopping us getting nuked."

    "You're welcome. You I'll happily shield again, though I would suggest that we all strive to avoid situations where that's necessary."

    Batson smiles at me, then looks pointedly at Ms Harmon. She looks puzzled for a moment, then she gets it. "Aoh-! He was trying to conquer America!"

    "And that would have been a whole lot easier if he'd let us die. He didn't. Not everyone we fight is a total monster, and we should always be encouraging them to listen to the better angels of their nature. And one of the ways to do that is thanking them when they do something good." He gestures to me with his right hand.

    "…" She rolls her eyes slightly. "…t-hanks."

    "Ah, and I thought I was going to get to watch a puppy getting nuked today. Good puppy."

    I pat her on the head, but my heart's not in it. I sniff, quietly, as she turns and walks away. I did a good job picking those two.

    The door to the embarkation room opens, and the rest of Stormwatch walk through. Richard, Rayner, Zatanna and 'Katar'. No, no, Katar, he's had it legally changed. It's not like the original Katar Hol whose memories he copied had a unique name or anything. Heck, if one thanagarian chose to model themselves after another back on Thanagar 16 it would be considered a profoundly respectful gesture. Not so much if an alien did it…

    "Alright, everyone. We've got a plan."

    Richard glances at Rayner, who generates a film projector construct which shines a.. full colour image of the city of Enndupar. Back on Thanagar 16 that.. was the centre of Thanagar's entertainment industry. It technically still is, though government censorship is increasingly encouraging creative types to work from the colonies. Here? I'd guess that it was the same before my alter-ego took over.

    Now? Pass. Apokolips doesn't really have an entertainment industry, and I've never bothered to find out if the gordanians do.

    "This is Enndupar, which is the last known location of Mister Miracle and Big Barda. Scans-" Various markers get added to it. "-show this is where-" He glances at me. "-the other Grayven has stationed troops. Enndupar isn't a high priority target like Thandalar so there aren't all that many."

    Katar's jaw clenches, and he shakes his head. "Because there don't need to be."

    Rayner creates a second projector, showing ooooooh. That's a big ship. And that's a big ship. And that's a really big ship. My alter ego appears to have been doing a lot of rationalising with the gordanian fleet doctrine. Several gordanian battleships-? No, command carriers, are in orbit around Thanagar, showing the signs of having been augmented with Apokoliptian technology openly on their hulls. Around them are their escort assault ships as well as dozens of flights of attack craft: fighters and gunships.

    And sitting in pride of place directly over the capital is… Hm, it's actually slightly smaller in terms of volume than the gordanian battleships, though I'm sure that its mass is far higher. An actual Apokoliptian battleship. Grey hull, tron lines everywhere and… A prow-mounted hyperblaster. An honest-to-the-Source faster than light weapon. How did he even get-?

    "Grayven?"

    "That's an Apokoliptian battleship. It's probably about as deadly as the rest of his fleet put together. And it will have a fleet-scale boom tube generator." Um. "Not saying that it's a priority or anything-"

    Richard shakes his head exactly once. "We're not helping you steal the ship."

    "-but it would make our lives a lot easier if we took control of that ship. It's almost certainly where the other Grayven is, and being Apokoliptian he's not going to have a captured New God held too far away from him. And he'll be using its systems to project his divine essence-"

    Eliza grins. "That sounds dirty."

    "-across his entire fleet-"

    She grins more. "That sounds dirtier."

    "-to ensure that all of those beneath him please him in performing their duties with the utmost vigour and enthusiasm."

    Eliza raises her hands.

    Richard looks at me. "And you're sure that's where they are?"

    "No. I'd say… Forty percent chance? If it were me, I'd dump him somewhere with a boom tube blocker so he'd be stuck there. My own ship where I'd have to personally aura-suppress him would be a distant second as far as preferred options go. But I like him and this Grayven doesn't. There are also things he could use him for that would help him hold Thanagar, and those would require close proximity."

    "And he couldn't do those somewhere else?"

    I shrug. "Sure. Anywhere where he's in complete control, surrounded by tonnes of Apokoliptian technology and close to Thanagar. So unless he's really rushed construction of a facility on the ground… No, if that's what he's doing."

    Richard nods. "Okay then. Here's what we're going to do."
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2019
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    27th December 2004
    21:21 GMT -5


    "…still say-" I point my right arm at an automated gun turret and fire a fusion beam at it, burning metal and detonating the power cell. "-that we should call this 'Plan Gorkamorka'."

    Kara uses her heat vision to stencil a section of metal wall in the side of the prison camp, which Batson grabs and uses to snowplough eight of the lizarkon garrison into their own barracks before folding it around to trap them there.

    "Why would we call-" A marksman in the guard tower hits her with a focused plasma beam. She ignores the hit and stares at the gun, melting the metal of the containment chamber without puncturing the plasma bottle or battery. The sniper drops it and scrambles back at once. "-it that?"

    "Because it's a perfect combination of-"
    We Are Assailed!
    "-cunning and brutality!" That wasn't me. An automatic system, or… Apokoliptian technology here, he'd feel it. I'm not totally sure how it works. Rally to My Flag.

    A wing of gordanians with flight packs shoots over the blasted remains of the old thanagarian defence silo, weapons at the ready. Then they spot me and freeze in bewilderment. United, Divides.

    Ball and chain constructs appear around their left legs, causing them to plummet to the ground. A group of air stewardess constructs then appear and with a smile neatly pluck their guns out of their unresisting hands.

    I should probably take a look at their.. gear at some point. See if my alter ego has learned anything about how to make New God technology easier to use for people who aren't New Gods. It would certainly help me with sprucing up the Watchtower if John wasn't the only one who could use the upgrades.

    "No one else knows what it means!"

    One frustrated glance at me, then she rockets into the sky to intercept.. a fighter squadron flying in from Thandalar. Pretty good response time.

    Eliza appears in front of me, dropping numerous examples of Apokoliptian technology on the ground in front of me as she does so. "This what you want?"

    "Yes, thank you. Good fetching."

    I float them up so I can get a better look at them. Nothing particularly outstanding, they're mostly just the bare minimum he needs for expanding his awareness. I begin constructing an aura disruptor, ignoring the explosions as the fighters lose their fight with Kara and collide with the ground. Kara drops down a moment later, the sorry-looking pilots held in her hands by the collars of their jumpsuits.

    Pff. Superheroes.

    While I'm only really trying to attract Grayven 50's attention by doing this, I'm.. a little… Concerned. I don't know how my own spiritual force will measure up to his. He's been a fully empowered New God for… Some time. And the volume of his territory is greater than mine. Even if I'm generous and count all of Vega thanks to the Orange Lantern Corps' hegemony. And I'm not completely sure how there being two of me will affect things, particularly with him having far greater personal experience of this sort of thing. He actually grew up on Apokolips, while the only person I've had to practise on has been Knockout. And with her officially working for me she doesn't really resist.

    If anything, she seems to enjoy being subjected to…

    Yeah.

    The main internment block shakes as Batson takes out a wall, and then the thanagarian internees stream out and towards where Eliza is sticking a metal bar through the hush tube portal to mark out where it is. I'm not exactly sure what made the other fellow send these particular thanagarians here. Military personnel -the few who survived the conquest- are housed at a far more secure facility.

    Sinestro?

    They appear to be lower level officials in regional government and their families, Lantern Grayven.

    Yes, he'd already decided to do away with existing power structures but he'd need someone to administer the thanagarian areas. Presumably he was holding them here until things were stable enough for a re-education program. And now they'll be guests of Queen Hyathis, the only person we could think of who both wants thanagarian settlers and could organise a food supply for them at short notice. I doubt that they'll appreciate it, but hostages can't be choosers.

    Alright, area unconquered, and done in the style of Earth-based superheroes rather than a rival warlord. While Team Morka are busy trying to hack local computers and find people to interrogate, I think that Team Gorka's brute force effort is now ready.
    Plant the Standard.
    My own yellow light flows into the device, but there's no other visible effect of my arcane declaration of intent. Ah, but of course. I'm reading as near-identical to the other fellow. There's no harm in planting your flag on land you already unquestionably own. I need something a little more relevant, something that directly challenges the current overlord.
    Challenge the Hegemon.

    Currents of power and intent jerk and jangle, twisting into alignment with my God Name. Like ripples generated in the surface of a body of water by a propeller touching the water, I can feel my impetus spreading outwards, gradually mixing and fading into the network of other patterns of arcane energy already residing here. There's none of the resistance that there would usually be, at least at this stage. Thanagar has nothing like the strength of background magic that Earth has, and the ripples simply aren't… Distinct enough or invasive enough for Grayven to feel yet.

    Of course, if he weren't here… Whoever had hegemony would begin finding their works disrupted, their personal authority suddenly less unquestionable. Power lies where people believe it to lie, after all. I'm not sure exactly what it looks like; I haven't used it much myself. I don't want Tamaran to be propped up by one alien and on Earth it… There would be risks I don't want to bear, and simpler and more legitimate-seeming techniques I could use instead.
    Lead from the Van.
    Almost makes me want to pick a place and…


    No. No. What was that? Ah. Ah, I see. The.. layers Grayven 50 is using to build up his influence. I haven't seen this before. With Apokolips, the whole place is just so overwhelmingly WRONGWRONGWRONG, and none of my other New God contacts have put the.. time into the places I've encountered them to achieve it. And because our natures are so similar, I'm susceptible to... Blowback.

    But then, so is he.

    Lead from the Van [relates to] Challenge the Hegemon.


    I watch my colleagues, the people I led here, finish escorting the former prisoners through the hush tube in opposition to the Hegemon's designs. I stand on an enemy-held planet under an enemy fleet and spit in my foe's face because I love my brother and he'd get all mopey without Barda and because I wouldn't even think about leaving this to someone else. I MUST be the one to make this challenge.

    The two strains of my God Voice wrap around one another, spreading together and reaching further into the network. What else-?

    Moved by My Design.


    Oh, that's not even hard.

    Lead from the Van [relates to] Challenge the Hegemon [relates to] Moved by My Design.


    We're here because I brought us here. My work with Sunset, with the Lords and Stormwatch, my familial ties, my drive to involve myself in events. That same drive that led me to lead this assault, to challenge whatever ruler stands in opposition to me. Even this team came together because I wanted them to.

    Another shift in the networks, this one over a far larger area. And I can feel it begin to undermine other related parts of my/his nature, aligning them to me rather than him.


    "Stand by, team. I think we're-"

    ALL SHALL KNEEL!
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2019
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    27th December 2004
    21:25 GMT -5


    "-about t-to…"

    All Shall Kneel [relates to] Moved by my Design.

    A legion unseen kneel as the Hegemon-. I… I'm holding out my arms and acknowledging their fealty and.. I'm kneeling my-.

    Like heck I am.


    When we wound up the Light Mark 1, the Justice League mistrusted me and had found my plan distasteful. But they went along with it, because they had no better alternative and knew that the results of not doing so would be worse. I aided Jonathan and in return I am now considered a friend and valuable government advisor. I aided the Chinese and the same happens. And with the Light Mark 2 I am reshaping the world without any brutal displays of dominance.



    Being made by me personally. And yet, my personal legitimacy increases without significant resistance. My ego is not so fragile that I need everyone around me to abase themselves before we do business, and I'm confident that they will come around to my way of thinking about things eventually.

    All Shall Bow in Time [subverts] All Shall Kneel.

    "Grayven?" I'm dimly aware of Kara floating next to me. "Are you okay?"

    The network didn't completely shift away from me, though the strangely dissonant desire to kneel before myself did.. make it somewhat unclear who and what was taking precedence. I suspect that my alter ego knows that he's being assailed by another New God (or New God equivalent) but doesn't know their particular nature.

    "I didn't expect this to be easy."

    No immediate counter strike.

    Challenge the Hegemon [subverts] All Shall Kneel.

    Because naturally, if I'm challenging then I'm not kneeling. Or being kneeled to. My reach across the metaphysical realm of this planet is growing broader, if not stronger. And… Then I'm feeling the breadth of the region of space this Grayven has occupied, an… Impression of settlements and shipyards, workers and warriors all labouring both for themselves and for Me. For My empire. Dimly, I am aware of places where this is not happening, but they are small in comparison to the vast areas that are.

    Beneath My Contempt [subverts] Challenge the Hegemon.

    Because you're not really 'challenging' if the challenge isn't substantive.

    And I can't argue the point. This isn't intended to be more than a feint or a raid. I came to him, he didn't come to me. On the other hand, if he's bothering to make an effort then I'm clearly not beneath his contempt. But… None of the counters I can think of really fit me. There are plenty of Divine Truths that could be spoken to counter that by Scott… Even by John or Diana, if they knew how to do it.

    Hmm.

    I remember killing Savage with little difficulty. I remember the League's bizarre attitude to Nabu and Klarion and their failure to predict that I might take active issue with it.

    Attack Complacency [undermines] Beneath My Contempt.


    "Grayven, Nightwing says the fleet is moving."

    And suddenly we're worth dealing with. I doubt that he'll want to use his ships to carry out orbital strikes, but…

    Flies Trapped in Amber

    Wait, what? That felt different, and… Entirely unrelated to conquest. And weaker. It coils around everything, weakening the whole network because the idea that I'm in an invisible prison is something that no version of Grayven could possibly tolerate.

    And yet, it's working. I can feel the results myself and I'm forced to consider: am I working in accordance with someone else's plan here? Could Grayven 50 have made a specific plan for this? No, it felt… More general. Like… People in general are trapped. It… Did he do something to Scott to make him say that? Or is there a New God of Unfreedom I don't know about? With Darkseid dead there's probably some metaphysical room opening up.

    I… Again, I can't think of a counter I could-. I mean, against Scott I'd have all sorts of things about how most people with freedom keep doing all the same things they did when they didn't have it, but against the statement that everyone is trapped permanently… We're all connected to the Source, and… I haven't yet confirmed that there isn't a Divine Plan for each of us. I know that Destiny's book is a thing and that a few people have ducked it…

    Ah, fuck it. If all that I've done hasn't broken me free by now then I can just work at it some more. I know that it can be done. Being trapped isn't inevitable.

    Drive to Overcome.


    "Found my brother yet?"

    "Not yet." Rayner's got some sort of radar construct and he's waving it around. I'm reasonably confident that he knows what he's doing. "But I'm getting a whole lot less interference. Keep doing whatever you're doing."

    Invisible Chains / Chains Willingly Embraced

    The metaphysical landscape twists, all that I thought I'd claimed reverting and strengthening as-. They combined? That's a thing? Ugh, I was right: he does know more about this stuff than I do. Perhaps I could just directly-?

    Uh, no no no no-


    "Grayven?"

    -no. How can I-? Okay, another Conquest-God, and from the sounds of it someone who downed a bit too much of the Anti-Life cool aid. I'm not supposed to be trying to directly fight either of them, just-.

    I look at my left hand, my armour and device already picking up the orange glow. Not.. sure if this will work, but what the heck?

    Assimilate.



    Nothing. No, of course, but how do I..?

    Oh-. Fiddlesticks. I know full well that the Ophidian is in the Central Power Battery on Tamaran. I'm trusting Controller Hannanan to keep her under control. But she's a spiritual being I have a connection to who is one with the orange light. She should be able to bridge the gap… In theory. But: parallel universe. I could use my domain-powers to rein in an elemental nominally under my control anyway. The one here..?
    Grasp the Nettle.
    Ophidian. Ophidian.

    My ring sparks and I feel a horrible force pulling at my metaphysique. I try.. pointing it at the power that is like mine in the local energy systems and it starts.. pulling at those as well.

    Slap Down the Impetuous-.


    The voice sounds like the gnat!

    And the pressure's… Off. Mostly. And I feel the orange light permeating the local systems but whoever the gnat was, sounding like him is clearly enough to make the Ophidian come after you a little harder. Larfleeze, maybe? Not like I heard him talking. But it looks like Grayven 50 and whoever the other voice was weren't expecting-

    "Got 'em! They're-. Oh cr-."

    Boom boom boom!

    Huh?

    I lose my connection to the metaphysical and to the Ophidian as a blinding light gagh! I shield as a gordanian destroyer drops through the atmosphere and opens up with its main gun. Okay, between Rayner and myself the barrier is holding, now if-.

    Legions Undiminished.

    Our shields fracture, and everything-.
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2019
  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugggghhhhh
    Darn it


    I open my eyes even before I'm fully conscious, and realise that that probably wasn't the sensible thing to do. I'm… Lying in an open-top sarcophagus riddled with Apokoliptian technology. I… Can't move? No, I can a little, but I think that someone's.. turned the gravity up or something.

    Good to hear from you again, Lantern Grayven.

    I frown.

    I've been taken prisoner and-

    I look down and see that both rings, Mother Box… All my equipment is still in place.

    -they left me with you?

    These people aren't stupid. That means that either the mechanism they used to subdue you prevented them from removing them, or they consider them to be irrelevant.

    Easy way to
    -

    A vague yellow glow forms around my right hand, failing to form any sort of stable object.

    -find out."

    Curious.

    I'd like a little more than that.

    The strength of your constructs is based on-

    The fear I inspire, I know.

    -the fear you inspire is the most important factor, yes, but there are others as well. The fear you feel can be used. Indeed, it's necessary to form the initial connection, though constructs created purely using such fear are… Initially unreliable. As you learn to command your fears, they improve. But the ring will respond to general, background fears as well, providing you with a basic level of construct strength.

    So what does that mean?

    A sophisticated empathic barrier, most likely based on the 'soul power' of whichever New God has taken you captive.
    -
    I'm.. not.. feeling anything. And-. Hang on, if I'm cut off from emotions in some way, how are you still funct-? Wait, are you mentally sophisticated enough to have your own fears?

    I can't make any direct comparisons to my former organic self, but I believe so.

    Oh. Sh-shazbot. Look, if you want a physical body or something I can sort you out-.

    Focus on the present situation, Lantern Grayven.

    I can barely move. Can't use-. Ring?

    A misty orange glow.

    Can't use my rings. Mother Box?

    P-ping?

    She sounds pained, as if straining to 'ping' at me from a great distance away. I don't know if she can be repaired if whatever's happening here seriously damages her.

    Mother Box, do something about this.. device if you can without damaging yourself. Otherwise, don't worry about it. Just remain calm.

    Ping.

    I try triggering the aero-discs in my boots. Nothing.

    Hm.

    "Giving up?" Give Up.

    A man in black and purple walks into my field of vision from the side of the room. And it appears that I'm upright. The design of his costume is fairly close to what Scott wears, but I can't feel anything Anti-Lifey from him. Which means that he's hopefully not a mind-controlled Scott. Of course, I'm not feeling anything else

    Hang on. Didn't he work for Solomon Grundy in the comics, when he tried to do… Something or other with Red Tornado?

    "Doctor… Nobody, right?"

    "Doctor Impossible."

    "Really?" I frown. Wasn't he a Soon I Will Be Invincible character? Wouldn't that have caused a law suit? And where the heck did I get Doctor Nobody from? "Is there a reason why you're dressed like my brother?"

    He regards me disinterestedly for a moment, before stepping back out of my visual range.

    "You claim that Scott Free is your brother?" Helpless in my Power.

    And there's.. me. Straighter hair than the Universe 16 version, and the armour is a little less ornate, but basically the same in appearance terms. His expression on the other hand… He's genuinely curious, whereas Grayven 16 went right to 'hostile' immediately.

    "Yes. Yours too."

    "Highfather's son is no brother of mine." He takes a step closer. "What are you? When I heard from the Thanagarians that they had encountered me on.. 'Earth', I had assumed that they were simply mistaken. I was prepared for an impostor, but you matched me. You're a New God." He turns his head to look in the direction Doctor Impossible walked in. "You see? I thought it unlikely that you would be the only one."

    "The readings are inconclusive. He could be anything."

    "Parallel universe, actually."

    "Really." He gives me a closer look. "The face is different, but I suppose that your life has been somewhat different to mine."

    "I'm also less proud of my abdominals than you are."

    He seems mildly amused. "Have you lived around aliens for so long that you've picked up some sort of.. body-squeamishness?"

    "Did you live around Father for so long that your first response to everyone is to demand that they kneel?"

    "Father? Hardly. Now that Darkseid is dead, I see no reason to prevaricate. I lead, my followers follow. That is simply the way things will be." Mine is the Majesty!

    "How limiting." Cultivate Excellence. "You're using Apokoliptian technology to augment their ships. Don't try and tell me that having them kneel isn't a part of the ritual binding you use to reinforce that connection."

    "Very well; I won't. Gordanians have many valuable qualities, but they have no knack for spiritual communion."

    "Is that why you wanted the thanagarians so badly? The Seven Devils certainly aren't around any more."

    "No. That's why I want Earth."
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2019
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    I beg
    Your pardon?

    "Yes, you should."
    "At the risk of hypocrisy…"

    "I may have left Apokolips long ago, but that doesn't mean that I'm ignorant of what occurs there. Darkseid wanted Earth, valued its acquisition enough to spend significant amounts of time focusing his efforts and those of his Elite in attacking it."

    "He got fixated on Kal-El, and took it personally when he didn't easily win. A poor decision on his part." Responsibility of Sagacious Rulership.

    "Yes, one of many. But Kal-El is hiding powerless in his arctic hermitage."

    "He was hardly the only reason."

    "Yes. Kara In-Ze thwarted Darkseid's effort to destroy human civilisation with a comet. But Kara In-Ze is stranded on Thanagar, along with the rest of her Stormwatch colleagues. Not to mention several of the surviving Justice Lords." He gestures to me with his right hand. "And you dealt with SHADE and their Anti-Life fragment. And as for whatever's left… I have a fleet."

    "Rayner could get Stormwatch back in plenty of time to attack your ships."

    "Yes, and if I hadn't picked him up at the same time I did you, I may have had to hunt him down in person."

    "What have you done with him?"

    "I have secured him in a cell some distance from yours. Separated from his ring he's little threat."

    "Not that I'm ungrateful, but why leave him alive?"

    "If I were to kill him, the Guardians would simply anoint a replacement. And most likely revenge themselves upon me. No, far better to hold him incommunicado until after my conquest is complete."

    "And… You think that will prevent him acting against you?"

    "The Guardians have a record of acting against interstellar conquerors which can at best be described as 'patchy'. Once I establish myself, so long as I do not behave in a completely monstrous manner, it is unlikely that they will take any direct action. Lantern Rayner is far more manageable as a solo agent."

    I catch myself about to nod, then nod anyway. Not like I would behave differently if I had his objectives.

    "You're conquering Earth because Father couldn't?"

    "Why would you assume there to be a single reason? Yes, when I conquer Earth I will prove myself to be a more capable ruler than Darkseid, but more than that: the authority I gain will bring the fools burning Apokolips down around them to heel."

    "I suppose that will make it easier for you to kill them."

    I blink, but now that I've said it… Yes. I could use a Fury, perhaps even all of them. But Granny Goodness, if she fell into my hands? Desaad? Even if they made willing noises, even if they actually submitted spiritually… They're just too… Not-With-The-Program. They'd take the initiative in stupid situations, monster it up for the heck of it.

    Grayven 50 smiles. "Yes, it will. This is genuinely fascinating; I've never encountered anyone quite on my wavelength like this before."

    "You implied there was another reason."

    "I know what you did for former Green Lantern John Stewart. Humans can become as we are, their souls reforged by the power of the Source. You were right; Apokoliptian technology requires New Gods to use to its fullest extent."

    "Human lieutenants can do more for you than gordanians or thanagarians. Lizarkons?"

    "No better than the gordanians, and less reliable. It will be a generation before I will be able to trust them with anything significant."

    "But do you know how humans get their god-names?"

    "Not yet. But there are six and a half billion of them. I'm certain that I'll work it out before their population drops to unsustainable levels."

    "Or you could ask for volunteers, which would generate less unrest and make it easier to control the independent variables."

    He frowns. "That doesn't sound like me. Why are you so hesitant?"

    "Because I'm permanent; here for the long term. Yes, grabbing people off the streets makes a bigger impression but it doesn't get you the solution any faster. With six and a half billion potential volunteers you're not going to run out of willing participants any time soon, and with no other New Gods working with you you'll have to do everything yourself anyway."

    "But making an impression makes it easier to ensure compliance with my domain powers."

    "Not being an arse about it means that you don't have to use them in the first place."

    "That explains your relative inability. Still… There may be something in what you say. How much of the Earth of your parallel have you conquered?"

    "I don’t directly rule any of it. I've deliberately tried to avoid doing anything so divisive. I'm heavily invested in a few places, but making it look like local work prevents other interested parties complaining too loudly. Ultimately, I want people to acknowledge me as their sovereign because I represent a more appealing prospect than their alternatives. How did you take over the gordanians?"

    "I made an offer to the survivors of a small clan, educated them, built them up and then used them to dominate others until I was hailed as Chief of Clan Chiefs."

    "You were recognised as legitimate because you co-opted their social conventions. Human society does not have an equivalent mechanism."

    "Then I'll build one." He shakes his head. "I'm really not sure why you're so insistent on soft-pedalling them."

    "Every time you wilfully, unnecessarily make an enemy, you create an extra opportunity for things to go horribly wrong. Why are you in a hurry? What do you lose by soft-pedalling them?"

    "Pride." "Military conquest."

    "My Lord Grayven." At the very edge of my vision I see a… Tamaranian woman? "The fleet is ready."

    "Good." He turns away from me and activates a view screen. "I am aware that you have been augmenting the Justice Lords' home with Apokoliptian technology. No doubt that was how you arrived on Thanagar without me immediately feeling it." The screen shows a view of space as seen from his ship's approximate position. "And of course that could be used to bring your allies back."

    A giant, ship-scale-. No, fleet-scale boom tube opens in the region of space directly in front of the point of view. Through the tube and off to the right I can just about see Earth and its moon, while the foreground is rapidly filled with gordanian ships. Hro Talak's prediction coming true a few months late.

    "Target acquired, my lord."

    "Charge and fire."

    Nothing happens for a moment, then there's an explosion in near-Earth space an instant before a red beam connects it to this ship. The firing pattern of the hyperblaster main gun.

    "Advance."

    The point of view leaps forward an instant later, the gordanian ships falling aside and…

    The wreckage. There isn't all that much left, but… There were only two things of any size in near-Earth orbit. And those parts aren't Thanagarian. He just shot the Watchtower. Rex, Batman, the genomorphs.

    Sunset.

    I try to stretch out my arms, pushing against whatever energy field is keeping me here! I Will Overcome!

    "No, you won't."

    Grayven smiles smugly as I make no progress. "Fond of them, were y-?"

    "Life=Pain."
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2019
  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Life=Pain.
    Life=Pain.


    The girl I took into my home, took into my family, the bright and vibrant young thing who blossomed under my tutelage was just casually killed by my alter-ego.

    Grayven cringes and grabs his head while the tamaranian takes a fighting pose, a glowing starry-blue claw forming around her right hand. I walk out of the upright sarcophagus, my steps leaden.

    I remember her infectious enthusiasm, the joy she felt at arcane discovery and her anticipation for her return to Equestria, where now I will not even have a body to return to her former mentor.

    "Anti-Life, he gave you-!"

    "My Lord?"

    Her face her face her face her face-

    "No. You can't control it!" He smiles, an expression I'll never see on Sunset's face again. "I will learn so much from your-."

    "Pain."

    He staggers. "No no! You-!"

    "There's nothing to control. It just is."

    "Madman!"

    "Every action you take, every thought you have."

    The tamaranian's claw strikes my armour, biting at it but failing to penetrate.

    "Life."

    She looks up to the sky and admires the beautiful fires in the sky which she learns were the Citadel and gordanian landing craft when one drags her away-

    "Ah!"

    -to begin her life as a valueless slave. She will be violently raped for the first time that evening, back before she learned not to try fighting back.

    She stumbles, half-collapsing, her claw fading away into nothing.

    "Pain."

    "Tube!"

    Boom!

    "Life."

    Grayven darts forward to grab the tamaranian, then dives for the tube opening. I could follow, but why bother? It works out the same anyway.

    Life=Pain

    I made Lynne a safe home, and now one of her friends is dead. It was bad enough when Father showed up, but this? The idea that any of her friends could just be gone in a moment will drive her to shut down once again.

    Why am I even standing? It will…

    Why did I chase them off?


    I-.

    Sunset's dead. Rex is dead too, from events his infant mind couldn't begin to-.

    "Grayven? Oooooh no."

    I look up as Scott tries to decide whether to leave the room or not. It won't matter. In here is the man who brought him to the attention of his Grayven, out there the angry New God who has certainly decided that keeping him alive is no longer necessary.

    "Anti-Life infection. Mother Box?"

    "Ping." / "Ping-g."

    "But just a little one. Ah, okay."

    He leads the gordanians away from the refugee extraction point, smiling as he dodges around their fire and the force fields close around him and his instinct-

    "Yeah, but that was then-" He steps forward, taking hold of my hands. "-and this is now." Always a Way Out.

    -deserts him-

    "Which was pretty scary, I don't mind telling you-"

    Fear.

    "-but it just made me want to get free that much more."

    ...

    "Uuuuhhuuhuhuh."

    "Yeah, you can say that again."

    I'm shaking as I meet his eyes.

    "You know, out of the two Grayvens I've met, I definitely like you the best."

    Sunset's dead-. No, no, that way lies the death spiral.

    "You're.. only joint first, for Scott Frees. Your Barda's bringing up the rear."

    "What did you do?"

    "I've got an Anti-Life fragment inside me. The-. Your Grayven destroyed the Justice Lords' Watchtower. A dear friend of mine was probably on it, and the son of a couple of other friends. I was trapped in that-" I glance backwards at the machine, whose tron lines are gently smoking where they tried coping with the Anti-Life and came up short. "-device and it was the only way I could come up with to get out."

    "Well, thank you. I was trapped in another one until you did that. The guy in purple and black was blocking me somehow. Constantly changing what the Sarcophageus was doing to keep me inside."

    "'Thank you'? She's dead, Scott-."

    "Not necessarily. Batman… Is a very cunning man. They might have made it out. You don't know that she's dead."

    "I-." Intellectually, I know that he's right. There are ways they could have escaped. And I know that how I'm feeling is an effect of Anti-Life exposure. I should focus on the feeling of hope in order to free myself faster.

    But I'm just not feeling it quite yet.

    "Barda?"

    "Somewhere else, I hope. Mother Box?"

    "Ping."

    "Looks like black-and-purple is blocking my boom tube again. Can you get up?"

    "I think.. so."

    I plant my right hand on the floor and push, get my feet back under me…

    Sinestro?

    Still here, Lantern Grayven. Please try to avoid situations where you might need to do that again.

    Will.. do.

    I nod to myself. "Where do we go from here?"
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2019
  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    27th December 2004
    22:08 GMT -5


    "He was preparing to leave when we arrived."

    Scott checks both directions, his multi-cube set to a sensor-disrupting configuration.

    "You bet he was. I doubt he was expecting you to turn up, but this whole set-up was definitely intended to lure Stormwatch away from Earth." He glances back at me. "How are you holding up?"

    "I'll have nightmares for weeks. And I'll need Scott Sixteen to check the containment; I probably wrecked-"

    Sunset frantically shields herself with magic as the station is destroyed around her, her weak defence lasting just long enough that she knows that she'll die before it breaks and her lungs collapse. She shouldn't have come here.

    Hinon's words ring true and the Dog Soldiers burst through the walls, their blasters scything down the few who dared dream-.

    "Whoowph." Freedom from Limitations.

    I pick myself off the floor as Scott holds his Mother Box up to me. I feel… Better…

    "Ping."

    "How exactly did the other me contain it?"

    "'Exactly'? I don't know. He said that he made a pearl from my soul to surround it. I felt better after reaffirming each part of the emotional spectrum. Would you mind helping?"

    "I'll do a lot of things to stop that leaking out again."

    I nod. "Are we in the clear?"

    "For the moment, sure."

    I hug him, pulling him tightly into me. Scott takes a moment, then grips with his left arm so he can pat me on the back with his right.

    "You know, for some reason, I never get this from Orion."

    "Or Kalibak. You should visit. I can't imagine not having Lynne with me, and I owe that to you and Barda."

    "Alright. After we deal with Grayven the Anti-Hugger. Ah. You gunna let me go..?"

    "Yes." I release him. "But I may need to grab you again later."

    "Alright." He peeks out of cover again, then leaps, sticking to the wall and scrabbling up until he reaches the ceiling. He then proceeds to scurry out of my line of sight.

    I know that I wasn't entirely coherent last time this happened, but I remember feeling really weak. This time… I didn't feel any physical weakness when I used the Anti-Life fragment against Grayven and the tamaranian. Psychologically, yes, it was horrible… Darkseid certainly wasn't weak, for all the Anti-Life fragments he acquainted himself with. I wonder what was different this time?

    Scott drops from the ceiling, twisting as he does so to land lightly on his feet. "One squad of guards who won't care whether we walk past them or not."

    "Ah."

    "Because I dosed them with something that inhibits their initiative."

    "Oh. I wasn't sure-."

    "Bodies would be a giveaway. Your alter ego would probably feel it if a soldier sworn to him died."

    I nod. "True. I don't suppose they're coherent enough to know where Barda is being held?"

    "No. I don't even know that she's on this ship." He holds out his Mother Box and waves her around for a moment.

    "Ping."

    "I suppose it's as good a direction as any other."

    He leads the way down a corridor which looks to me like most of the others.

    "Wouldn't Barda have broken free at the same time as we did?"

    "Barda doesn't have the resistance to the Anti-Life equation that we-. Ah, that I do. She might not have got away before the Sarcophageus reactivated."

    I should be thinking, but I can barely focus well enough to trudge after Scott. Frustrating as I'm sure this weakness would be if I could focus well enough to get properly angry, it's.. interesting. Grayven 50 fled rather than confront the Anti-Life, and I'm.. if not exactly skipping like a summer lamb, then at least functional.

    "What do we do after this?"

    "After we free Barda and Kyle?" I nod. "Try and stop Grayven. I don't think he'll destroy the Earth, but I still don't want him taking it over."

    "Why?"

    He stops, glancing back at me. "You do remember what I'm the god of, right?"

    "Do you remember what I'm god of?"

    "Ah. Actually, no. I don't think anyone ever told me."

    Oh. "Conquest."

    "Huh."

    "I'll kill him for killing Sunset and Rex, but that's personal. If you look at the governments of Earth, why are you certain that Grayven is worse?"

    He snorts quietly. "You or him?"

    "Both, I suppose."

    "Earth has hundreds of different ways of ruling. Grayven can use his divine powers to make himself supreme."

    "Yes?"

    "So that's it. No one will ever try out other systems of government again. I'm not just 'I'm free now', I'm 'I'm becoming free'. I'm recognising the value of freedom. I can live with a degree of tyranny as long as people can see it for what it is and fight against it. If Grayven takes over, that's it. No more systems, no more noble experiments, just Grayven, stamped on the face of the human race, forever."

    How melodramatic. "Are you coming over all libertarian on me, Scott?"

    "No, because I recognise that threats to freedom don't just come from governments." Break the Wheel.

    "Heh. Tell you what: once I become an absolute autocrat of somewhere I'll invite you over and see if you can find any actual faults in the system I create."

    "And if I do, you'll give it up?"

    "No, I'll fix them. I want my people happy-. Well. Generally satisfied and happy at times. An external hostile viewpoint would be useful in identifying problems."

    "I think you're missing the point."

    "We are rather different people, but I prefer engagement to-."

    The wall in front of us explodes, and-! Barda stomps through.

    "Scott, you found him for me."

    "Barda." He holds up his hands in a placatory gesture. "He's not the Grayven from this universe."

    "I know. And?"

    "We might need him." She appears sceptical. "And he's carrying an Anti-Life fragment. We don't know what happens to those when the one carrying them dies."

    2nd Best Barda growls under her breath, then glances back through the wall rubble as a ringless Rayner emerges.

    I nod to him. "Rayner. If you're injured, I've got a purple healing ray."

    He nods. "Yeah. Thanks." I remove one from subspace and toss it to him. He catches it, examines it for a moment and then plays it over his body. "So. What's our next step?"
     
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2019
  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    27th December 2004
    22:12 GMT -5


    I frown. "Rayner, can you feel your ring?"

    "N-."

    "Oh, and is that motley of yours armoured?"

    "No. I can't feel it and it's not armoured. I don't think I could get any armour on Earth that would stop a gordanian blaster."

    Sadly, the closest New Gods have to a 'Jesus Christ' is standing next to me and wearing red, yellow and green and fiddling with his multi-cube. But how is this man still alive?

    "Yes, if only you had a device which allowed you to travel to other worlds in search of better equipment. Rayner, I don't care if you want to be a prat when it's just your life at risk, but you're on a team with my brother and I'm not happy about you imperilling him. Here."

    A basic plasmic shield generator attaches itself to his waist.

    "You know, Kara tried to tell me you were faking the whole 'alien warlord jerk' thing, but you really weren't, were you? You're an alien, a warlord and a jerk."

    "Yes, healing you and upgrading your equipment. What a jerk. Scott?"

    "I think I got him." He nods to himself. "The other Grayven is preventing me from directly tracking his location, but this is an Apokoliptian ship. It's designed to allow the New God commanding it to feel the whole thing."

    I nod. "And you and your Mother Box can track it back?"

    "… No. But I can set up a boom tube that can take us right to him, wherever he is."

    Barda pats the head of her mega rod against her left palm. "How close?"

    "About ten feet away."

    Hm. "We'll be surrounded, reinforcements will be upon us sooner rather than later and he can just boom tube away again."

    "No, I can stop that. Not.. usually my thing, but 'freedom' includes the freedom to take the consequences. He could run on foot, but I don't think he will."

    No, me neither. I raise my hands slightly, examining my rings. If we go through Rayner will die. Without a ring, he's basically useless even as a human shield. "Rayner, how good are you at focusing your fear-"

    Lantern Grayven?

    "-or your avarice?"

    "'Huh' and 'don't know'." He follows my gaze. "Wait. Do you-?"

    "You can't fight like you are."

    "Hang on." Scott fiddles with the multi-cube a little more. "Oan technology should stand out. It's the only major thing around here that isn't designed to conduct God Speech."

    Rayner and I watch him for a moment while Barda starts pacing. A moment later his proddings become less sure.

    "Which.. also means that there's nothing to connect to it."

    I shake my head. "Rayner, can you do remote ring control?"

    "Yeah, close up. Not from the other end of a huge starship."

    I sigh faintly and then step towards him, laying my hands on his shoulders. He looks a little puzzled, particularly when I make a point of rubbing them.

    "Er… You wanna tell me-?"

    "Scott, is him calling the ring enough for you to trace it?"

    "Maybe. It might let Grayven know we're here, but since we're going to be moving anyway, I guess that doesn't matter."

    "I'll boost your calling ability. On two?"

    He frowns faintly, then nods. "One, two."

    Stalwart Retainer's Determination.

    "Oh Whaw. Ring, get over here!"

    Rayner gestures towards one of the walls with his right hand.

    "Scott?"

    "Not.. sure. I think the ring's in the same place Grayven is."

    I nod. "Makes sense. Can he use it himself, or have someone else use it? Maybe.. by cloning Rayner's skin to make a glove?"

    "Why are you asking me about the interactions between New Gods and power rings?" He points at my hands. "I'd have thought that you'd be the expert."

    "Jack of all trades, I'm afraid. Haven't really studied the interaction in any detail. Last time someone took one of my rings I stabbed them until they gave it back."

    "Hm. Well, I expect that the Guardians of the Universe would give it better security than that, but there's still a cachet in wearing one. Particularly to species from Vega."

    "Alright." I nod. "Rayner, get your ring back as fast as you can. Barda-."

    "Don't tell me what to do."

    "I will attack targets of opportunity. You hang back and keep an eye on everything while your good lady wife does as she feels appropriate. All s-?"

    There's a quiet puff sound as an object-. As Rayner's ring punches through a wall and lands on his finger.

    I release his shoulders as construct armour flows over his body. "Good enough?"

    "Ask the other Grayven. Watch Scott's back?"

    He nods. Right then. Sword of the Fallen as a finisher, daiklave, fusion cannon as a chaff dispenser. Cast Down the Rival.

    Barda takes position as close to me as she can stomach and then-

    Boom!

    -the tube opens and I'm charging through. Grayven's on a command dais ahead of us and to the left-

    I take a blaster shot to the left shoulder as one of the more on-the-ball gordanians takes a shot. My return shot incinerates him and the three standing next to him.

    -while next to him stands.. Bernadeth? What's she doing-?

    Grayven's eyes glow for a moment, then a beam of red energy zigzags through the air. I counter by dumping a lump of steel directly into its path. The steel is vaporised when the omega beam hits it, the blast exploding across the room with enough force that I need to reinforce my armour to avoid being knocked back. Barda throws her mega-rod at Bernadeth, who darts aside and draws a short sword. Most of the explosion passed, I leap at my alter ego, daiklave slashing at his eyes. He activates his armour, causing it to expand to cover his entire body in solid metal plates, then steps forward, using the thick armour of his left forearm to expertly turn my blade aside.

    I raise my gun to shoot him in the face as he fires his omega beams again.
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2019
  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    27th December 2004
    22:16 GMT -5


    His head jerks back as the stream of ions hits home, but he manages to redirect the omega beam, the glowing red lines hitting my fusion cannon construct-.

    "Errugh."

    Construct, destroying it with enough power left over to severely abrade the armour protecting my right arm. I know that Kal-El could take hits from Darkseid 50's omega beams without being disintegrated or disabled so I.. ssshould be able to do the same. But let's not take a chance.

    Two hammer constructs slam into his head, first from the left and then from the right as I fabricate a quick-drying super adhesive. Kal-El disabled Darkseid 50 by covering his eyes and causing a flashback into his skull, and even if I can't replicate that blinding him would be pretty darn helpful. The hammers fade and fracture as they hit him, so I create a third and bring it down on him.

    He intercepts it with the back of his right hand, obliterating it with casual ease. I stab my daiklave forwards, point aimed once more at his eyes, but he claps his hands around the flat of the blade and holds it in place. Resistance is Futile.

    He presses, but the blade survives his effort even as I fail to push it forward.

    "Resilient."

    I could invest power in it and try and push through, matching my soul against his. But while my rings give me adaptability I'd be astonished if he didn't have the edge in raw power. And-

    "But insufficient." Unstoppable Advance!

    -the daiklave blade snaps, Grayven 50 smiling faintly as the shards fall to the ground. His smile obscured a moment later as I spray his face with my adhesive. I pull my hilt back and -no point keeping it- drop it to the floor as he swings for my face with his left fist. I turn the blow aside as he tries wiping the gunk coating his face off with his right, failing as it flexes under his fingers.

    Okay, with all that armour his face is the only obvious vulnerable spot. Try using the Sword of the Fallen? No, not yet. I use my temporary hold on his left arm to pull him closer and strike his abdominal armour with my right knee. Ugh, the force of the hit lifts him slightly off the ground, but I'm pretty sure that his armour took all the damage. He's not braced against anything, striking isn't going to work.

    Red light seeps out from the thinner bits of Grayven 50's facemask as ohshit. The covering atomises as a point blank graaagh!

    "You may use the Anti-Life, but I was born to it. Moulded by it."

    My face is on fire, every nerve screaming! Eyes blinded or gone. I haven't quite fallen but my stance-.

    "A pale imitation."

    I feel something strike me in the chest and the floor disappear beneath my feet. I get just long enough to think 'good, he's a clumsy fighter too' before I hit… Something, something which craters around me. I take a breath… Yes, breathing fine.

    Sinestro, eyes.

    At once, Lantern.

    And I grab a chunk of deck and use it to block his omega beam shot just in time to prevent him shooting me again.

    "I was getting tired of seeing my face on someone else's skull."

    He walks calmly towards me, negligently grabbing a guard rail and throwing it to intercept a smash from Barda that would have crushed Bernadeth's skull. Rayner is using his armour to protect him as he takes pot-shots at targets of opportunity, though I see his personal force field shimmer as Doctor Impossible works out the green laser trick. Scott's taken cover from the fire from the remaining gordanian marines and is trying to do something with his Mother Box.

    I take a minigun out of subspace and fire directly at Grayven 50's face, solid slugs hitting his still-glowing eyes and causing him to blink and cancel the omega bolt he was preparing. I step forward, an odd feeling coming from my flensed face as my nervous system tries to interpret input from exposed muscles and bone. As we're in near-Earth space my mana siphon will work to reassemble me, but I'm sure that I'm looking the worse for wear right now.

    As we close the distance Grayven 50 reaches out and grabs the barrel of my gun, the motor fighting briefly against New God strength and burning out as the muzzle deforms under his fingers. I reach down with my left hand, draw the Sword of the Fallen and stab him in the chest as he smiles, confident in his victory. The Sword pierces his armour easily and-

    "Too short a blade."

    -doesn't reach his skin beneath before the hilt catches. I jerk it back just before he can bring his right hand down in an attempt to disarm me. Slash, and it turns out that the thick armour on his bracers is enough to prevent me striking his flesh there too. Still makes his head the only viable target.

    Then his helmet extends up from his gorget and covers his head as well. Aside from the two glowing red wells which mark the location of his eyes.

    Before he can fully adapt to his new visual field I take an iron beam out of subspace and smack him around the eyes with it before firing a heat beam, melting it onto the front of his new helmet. Doesn't look like it's really sticking, but it should buy me a moment.

    I've got a small radion blaster, but much like how the thanagarian fighters had to blast through my construct armour in order for it to do anything, this armour… Definitely has some non-Apokoliptian elements. I switch my heat beam to a cold beam construct and fire it at his chest as he pulls off the lump of semi-molten metal and throws it at my face. I ignore it as-. No frost build up, his armour is-.

    Hah. I redirect the beam to the stab hole I made a moment ago, the beam piercing the armour's insulated exterior for a moment and penetrating the internals.

    "Hurr."

    He half-turns to block the shot, interposing his right bracer as I move the construct to keep the puncture in sight. An omega beam lances out of his eye slits and destroys the construct but I'm already changing tack, punching him in the face plates the moment the beam fades away. I - won't - penetrate - it - but - it -doesn't - appear - to - have - a - self - repair - func-.

    His eye holes flare red as he punches me in the right wrist with his right fist, his eyes glowing red again. This time I just fire a construct through his eye holes, trying to force a feedback blast by applying pressure to his eyes. There's a red flicker as the construct dies, but no actual beam, which is definite progress. Alright, just cut the fucking helmet off and then-.

    Boom!

    I spare a half-second to glare at my sort-of brother. "Scott!"

    "It's inbound!"

    "And?"

    There's a click from Grayven 50's bracers. The one I stabbed doesn't really do much, but the other has an unsettling red glow-.

    "Agh!"

    Whatever healing my face had managed is undone as Grayven hammers his left fist into my face! Not a full-on omega beam but ow! My vision goes for a moment as it disrupts the constructs I'm using to see with, and I fly to the side to dodge any follow up attack as I reinstate them.

    "Is that it?" "It appears that I am the superior manifestation of Conquest."

    People coming through the boom tube… Granny Goodness. Right, construct armour covering my face and Apokoliptian armour, he's clearly Grayven, let's have her-.

    "Grayven, dear child!"

    Huh?

    "Granny has brought her best helpers, as agreed."

    "Good. Kill my brother, the traitor and the Lantern. I'll finish the impostor."
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2019
  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    27th December 2004
    22:18 GMT -5


    Yes, I suppose that I should have realised that Grayven 50 would have some sort of contact with the factions of Apokolips. On the other hand, Granny Goodness is wearing her default outfit and not any armour. But-. She's the faction leader. If I kill her, Grayven 50 can step into her place and take her resources. She might be willing to tolerate him at the moment but she doesn't work for him. Unless she.. thinks that he's a reasonable Darkseid stand-in? How loyal was she to Darkseid?

    And the others? I'd rather rehabilitate the Kryptonian boy. That means that leaving Lashina alive gives me the best chance. She won't be happy if I kill the other Furies. On the other hand, is there any real way out of this that doesn't involve killing Grayven?

    No. No there isn't.

    Stompa leaps through the boom tube as Granny Goodness steps aside, angling her feet at Rayner. He evades easily, then robotic arm construct which grabs her and throws her at Mad Harriet, knocking the lunatic off her feet. Lashina comes through next-.

    Grayven 50 returns his attention to me, his eyes glowing again. I drop a bucket on his head and then create jet engine constructs and blast myself across the room. Weak blaster shots pitter patter off my construct armour, and I intercept a ribbon from Lashina with the Sword of the Fallen. She tries to bind my weapon but her whip fails to entangle it before it slices the ribbon in two. She scowls under her mask and leaps at me with her severed weapon held between both hands so I slam a pile driver construct into her abdomen and shove her back.

    Granny Goodness spots where I'm heading just fast enough to turn away and scramble for cover, but not fast enough to actually get away. I strike her in the back with a smile on my face, only my right arm wrapping around her shoulders preventing the impact from sending her flying. Seize the Initiative.

    "Granny-." So Grows-.

    I draw the Sword of the Fallen with my left hand and slash it across her throat, blood spurting across the deck as her arteries are severed. I'm not sure whether wounds from the Sword will kill New Gods outright or just prevent regeneration, but that should do it in either case. I release her and cancel my jet construct, allowing her soon-to-be corpse to slam into the wall as I use my ring to absorb my momentum. She ragdolls, blood still spilling from the wound as her left hand tries to grip her throat and her right-.

    I dart towards her and grab her Father Box before she can call up a new boom tube. Mine Now. Then I grab her by the hair and hold her up.

    "Now-!"
    Unwilling Servant [subverts] Seize the Initiative.
    The omega beam from Grayven 50 hits her in the chest. Her body explodes, though fortunately for me it's a clean explosion without any of that unpleasant goo-splatter.

    "Granny!" ˥ǝssous ˥ǝɐɹuǝp.

    Lashina's distraction allows Barda to get a solid hit to the top of her head, knocking her to the ground. Stompa and Mad Harriet appear somewhat discomported, while Bernadeth's too busy dodging Rayner's strikes to pay it any attention. I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised that Grayven 50 did that. We did both agree that she needed to die, and he did prevent me from showing off. On the other hand, he just acted against a member of the group the Furies belong to. He'll have a harder time getting them under control.

    Whatever. I take a replacement daiklave out of subspace while frantically transmuting and x-ionising a series of metal darts just a little smaller than the eye openings of Grayven 50's armour. Then I march towards him. Unstoppable Advance.

    His eyes glow and I grab a console, ripping it from the deck as I pass. The omega beams lance out and I move to interpose-. The beams slalom around to my left before darting back in, and I'm forced to dash forward to avoid being struck by them. They curve back around, but this time I just throw the console at them too quickly for Grayven 50 to redirect. I accelerate as the blast wave passes me.

    "Hm." I Stand Inviolate.

    Grayven 50's eyes glow again and I raise my right arm, forming a coilgun and loading an x-ionised dart. Track, aim for the left eye, fire!

    The red light seeping from his helmet flares slightly just before the dart hits home, but he-

    "Agh!"

    -staggers anyway, his right hand instinctively rising to shield his injured eye and incidentally blocking my shot at his other eye. No matter. Three paces, two paces-

    He drops his hand and one-eye omega beams me, striking me in the chest. "I will strike you down!"

    Aaaaaaaaaaagggghhh! The pain is-. My armour smoulders and my ring flickers, but I can't stop! Grayven 50 takes a step back as I keep coming, his eye glowing-

    "I will make your power mine!" "Your power will become mine!"

    -another coilgun shot forces him to look away! I swing my daiklave across, biting into the right side of his helmet and knocking him off his feet! The helmet has a vicious tear in it where the daiklave hit -not enough, not unless he stops moving entirely, but I'll take it- and he's a little slow in rolling to his feet.

    He gives me a one-eyed glare. Not By Strength,-

    Something.. changes…

    I duck, and the radion beam goes over my head. Who-? I look in the direction it came from and just catch the muzzle of a radion beamer poking through a hush tube. Given how brutal we are there are only so many New Gods who could pull that off-. Kanto.

    -By Guile.

    Orange light leaps out but the gun is withdrawn and the tube closes before it can penetrate. Great, my chest is still burning from the omega beam, my rib bones are.. humming, breathing hurts, and now this arsehole can make attacks of opportunity. And that wasn't a knockoff weapon like the thanagarians were using. The version used by Darkseid's personal assassin probably would punch through my ring-based defences.

    No.

    I swing my daiklave at Grayven 50 but he slams his right hand onto the floor, causing his whole body to leap off the deck and back to his feet.

    How do I persuade Kanto to stop? Convince him that he's wasting his time on a lost cause?

    I maintain two gun constructs, one loaded with darts and the other a cold gun. A freeze shot to Grayven's head probably won't kill him, but it will hurt. Rather than risk him wrecking my backup daiklave I keep it moving, swinging it in his direction. He's forced to assume a boxer's stance, his gauntlets up and ready to block serious shots as he backs up. I step forward a little quicker than he's expecting, blade slicing through his left guard. He retaliates immediately, right fist swinging at the flat of the blade -I pull it back- and then he surges forward, body checking me and pushing my daiklave aside. This close it's useless so I drop it, can't reach the Sword-.

    His right eye glows next to my face as my ring and aero-discs struggle to keep me upright! Can't get the dart gun in place, but the cold gun-! I can't get a decent grip on him but I yank him left as best I can while tilting my head right-!

    The cold beam hits his left eye hole, the beam continuing to pour on as he tries to maintain his focus-.

    "Ruuuuuugh!"

    He loosens his grip, pushing me back as he turns his head away. The omega beam leaps out a moment later, but he targets my construct rather than anything vital. It's destroyed, but now I can bring my hands up. I grab the Sword of the Fallen and swing it at the crack in the side of his helmet-.

    And a blur in black armour punts me across the room!
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2019
  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    27th December 2004
    22:20 GMT -5


    I-

    Wall!

    -just about keep my grip on the Sword of the Fallen, but my construct needler and supply of needles are gone. No immediate follow-.

    I see the gun muzzle and interpose a construct shield just before it fires, energy washing over it. The shield survives, but it's so heavily abraded that I abandon the construct as the gun retreats.

    Would Kanto keep attacking if I killed Grayven? Can't really see the New God of Assassins stopping just because his sponsor is killed. On the other hand… Is he the New God of Assassins? I shouldn't assume that just because he's a New God who works as an assassin. He might well be God of Intrigue or something and Darkseid found him most useful as an assassin. If that's true, he wouldn't kill me unless there was some sort of payoff for doing so.

    Grayven 50 is still standing, but there's a slight shaking in the damaged parts of his armour that suggests to me that it's taking an effort for him to maintain the front. Rayner is fighting the handful of Dog Soldiers who came through the boom tube before Scott shut it down while Barda and Stompa are whaling on each other with abandon, blood seeping from a dozen wounds on each. Scott and Doctor Impossible are.. dancing around one another, although I dimly get the impression that there's more going on than that.

    Lashina has made her way over to the injured Grayven, her son floating protectively above them. Looks like they've made a few alterations to his helmet. I suppose that even in times of hardship the elite can generally get hold of what they need in order to remain effective.

    "Lashina. Apokolips is a dung heap. I will offer you and your son sanctuary and a far higher quality of life than you presently receive if you'll step aside." Majestic Generosity.

    "You.. killed Granny."

    "I think he-" I point to Grayven. "-got in there ahead of me."

    I remember in the comics that Parademon rather liked being tortured by Granny Goodness, and slept better after being seriously hurt than he did usually. With both Darkseid and Granny Goodness dead, Lashina… Probably doesn't know what she's supposed to be doing.

    "There's no one to tell me what to do anymore."

    I glance at Bernadeth. "Except Bernadeth, Desaad and… Kalibak? Look, even if you win… How do you benefit? You get the same position under Grayven that you had under Darkseid, only he's far weaker. The gordanians won't follow you, I doubt that you have the knowledge to control or repair this ship. Be sensible." I spread out my hands. "Heck." I toss Granny Goodness's Mother Box to her. "Feel free to just take off. Go somewhere nice."

    "Ping."

    "I…"

    "Lashina." Grayven 50 pulls himself to his feet, left eye managing a weak and sporadic glow. "Obey me or be unmade." I Command Here!

    The response is immediate and obvious. Lashina attaches the Mother Box to her… Belt-thing, then adopts a combat pose. "Kill him, my son."

    I generate a reflective shield just in time to catch his heat vision, the thin line of wavering air bouncing off and striking Lashina's right shoulder. She winces and sidesteps to avoid it, but doesn't cry out or otherwise react. But I know what's coming next. Inertia shield. The boy spots what I'm doing an instant later and cuts it out-.

    And he's in my face again, punching-! The shield soaks it again, but this time he's not committing to individual strikes so much and his hand doesn't get caught. Just a volley-.

    There's a flicker of red from behind him and I throw out my legs, falling onto my arse as the omega beam blasts into the wall just above me. The boy kicks at my head but he's sufficiently distracted that I'm able to catch hold of his leg with my right hand. I grip it as tightly as I can but some combination of the armour and his innate toughness means that my grip doesn't do any damage. I get my feet back under me as he attempts to use his innate flight to loosen my hold. Not a good plan: experience tells me that he'd do better manually prying my fingers off. I use the opportunity to exert myself and smash him into the deck. Then stamp-.

    Darn, he dodged! He kicks my left leg-. Ow, armour holds, but he's strong enough to hurt me anyway. How do-? Air, his armour doesn't have an air supply. Purification filters? Gold kryptonite dust, transmute it. He kicks again, and my leg goes out from under me. I don’t fall thanks to my rings, but it's-.

    Uragh! Do-wd! Nugh!

    R-right! Cold zone! Let's see how well insulated that armou-!

    The kryptonian stops, falling to the floor a short distance away from me, a film of hoarfrost covering his left side. I-. Shit, how do I breach his armour? My daiklave is.. over there, there's-.

    I snatch a dart and stab it into the jaw area of his helmet. It penetrates, and I see a small amount of blood-. More gold kryptonite! Gold kryptonite laser!

    "No!"

    Lashina darts towards me and I take a step back, dismissing my constructs. "He'll be fine. I don’t like killing children. Yield."

    She slows to a stop next to her son, her eyes darting from me to him and back again. Then she picks him up and flees.

    "Okay." I float slowly towards Grayven 50. The flesh on my face is now just about covering all of the bone, there's a wobbliness in my left leg which suggests that the bone's broken and I think I'll wait until my torso is healed up before returning to the Mountain-. Before confirming Sunset's death. "That it?"

    His eyes are both flickering now. I think that cold beam did more damage than I was expecting.

    "No." "There's always another layer."

    "Desaad as we-?"

    There's a flare of light as the palm of my left hand evaporates in a blast of radion. Mmmm! My fingers and my ring drop to the deck and then the muzzle appears in front of my face.

    "Humans know how to resurrect your wife."

    The tube aperture moves backwards revealing the lithe form of Kanto, his gun pointed carefully at my head. "I doubt that."

    "Lazarus Pits, cloning combined with a séance, there are plenty of ways to manage it. I'll help you if you help me. She was killed by your predecessor, wasn't she? By an essentially conventional weapon? What has my alter ego even offered you?"

    "A return to normalcy on Apokolips."

    "I'm pretty sure I can match that."

    "Impress me." "An alliance of convenience until it is no longer convenient."

    He vanishes again, taking his gun with him. Fine. I'll need to cut off my stump later so it will regenerate, but I can function like this. I call the ring to my right hand instead, then look at Grayven.

    "And now?"

    Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2019
  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    27th December 2004
    22:23 GMT -5


    Doctor Impossible vaults through one even as streams of heavily armed gordanian marines storm through the rest!

    "Scott!" "There's such a thing as too much freedom!"

    "This ship is my bastion, the cornerstone of my empire." Gordanians with large shields lead the van while others with heavy guns follow behind them and open fire! "You will not take it from me." Empower the Loyal Vassals.

    Construct armour forms around my body as I lunge at the closest group, weathering the fire in order to get into melee range. If my armour was anything like in one piece I could probably take it but as things stand-.

    Owowarrrrgh. None of the shots penetrated me before the construct went up but I've got a painful burning sensation everywhere their shots landed. High-end plasma beam projectors. Gordanians back in Universe 16 couldn't maintain those at their level of technology. As things stand I'm going to need to hug their lines, use them to queer one another's aim in order to avoid getting shot dead by minions.

    The shield-bearers brace themselves and activate the force field emitters contained within their shields as I generate a construct power fist around my right hand and slam it into them! The shield-aura buckles for a second and then fails, the feedback from whatever system they used sending the two closest flying backwards at a considerable speed! The rest shuffle closer to re-establish the shield but I'm pulling my daiklave over from where it fell even as my fist strikes home-.

    Boom!

    I don't even look around as three more gordanians get pulverised and my construct armour breaks -ahrgh- and the shots from the gun-armed ones start hitting me again. Right, grab gordanian before they can put the shield back together, chuck him at the rest, reclaim the daiklave and swing wildly!

    "Augh!" / "Nhh!" / "Aaiy!"

    "Metallica, cover his eyes!"

    "You got it, Uncle Scott!"

    And there're the shooters! A short-lived orange shield absorbs most of their point-blank volley and then the daiklave slices easily through their armour. Their armour does nothing to impede the blade, and as chunks of lizard-soldier fly through the air I feel the rest of them begin to quail. Sinestro, you there?

    Self-repairs are mostly complete. Simple constructs-

    The gordanian unit around me starts to try falling back. I focus on the largest group and begin klaving them into pieces.

    -are available, but I won't be able to actively assist you.

    Another shield unit begin closing in around me-

    "Rrrrrrrraaaaah!"

    -but a heavily built man charges into their side, circumventing their force fields and knocking several down. That appears to have been his objective as he stops to stomp on each of the fallen. Their armour… Kind of holds, but it's damaged and it doesn't look like the wearers are getting back up again.

    That's the youth from the SHADE facility. Brute. Seems that he likes his-.

    Ow! Shot me in the.. head-! I grab a shield from one of the fallen before charging the rest of the second shield squad. Something else I need to be mindful of: I'm decidedly not immune to the effects of blood loss. Which is why I can't afford to cut off my left forearm at the moment. I need to consider-. If we've gotten boom tube access again, I could pull back.

    There's a flash of light as Grayven 50 fires a large gun at Barda, who takes the hit and is sent flying with what's left of her armour a smouldering ruin. A moment later a cloud of iron filings wraps itself around his head as a woman apparently made of metal directs it to prevent further omega beam shots. Char is using some sort of staff to focus his energy projection ability, sniping gordanians from behind a shield that Rayner has erected to protect Barda. No sign of Stretch, but with the amount of fire being thrown around that's probably for the best.

    "Hey, my man!" Brute smiles at me as I slash a gunner's chest open vertically. "Good to see yah again!"

    I crouch and shield-block as another volley of shots comes my way. "Really?"

    "Sure." He stands and takes it, his costume rapidly being abraded but his skin being unmarred. "I mean, you look like shit, but a'm always up for fightin' aliens!"

    Fire slackens and we charge.

    "See how pretty you look after being hit by the omega effect."

    "Nah, I'm-" He punches a gunner through his gorget, pulverising the lower part of his head and sending him crashing to the deck. "-good."

    Flickers of light emerge from Grayven 50's helmet as he burns through the metal coating with the omega effect.

    Okay, I can klave through his armour, then stab him. There can't be many more things he can pull out of his arse.

    "Brute." I point to Grayven 50. "That way. Metallica, try ripping open his helmet!"

    "You got it!"

    The doors out of the room open as more soldiers storm in, their weapons trained on myself and Brute. They're smaller than those used by the hit squad, but I shift position so that I'm behind Brute because I'm not all that confident I could survive the extra attention. Nearly-.

    There's a flash as Grayven 50 gets his eyes clear and takes a shot, hitting Brute in the chest and sending him crashing to the floor! I leap over the youth and swing, daiklave shearing through Grayven 50's helmet and cutting into his face! He strikes the blade with his still-active gauntlet and wrecks it, but I use the opening to grab his shoulder and stab the Sword of the Fallen directly into his head!

    "Argk!"

    And stab again and again, until I'm sure that he's not moving. Then I take a firmer grip and slice around what's left of the gorget until the helmet falls off.

    Damn. He looks nearly as bad as me.

    The eye which I shot with the dart is mostly there, though whether that's because the shot was only partially successful or because he regenerated I'm not sure. The side of his face which I cold beamed is frozen in places, solidified and unmoving even as his muscles go slack across the rest of his face.

    Right, stare at his ugly mug later. I hack at his neck, lift his head free and then hold it out at the gordanians. They stop firing.

    "He's dead. You can retreat to the rest of the fleet and go back to Thanagar. Or you can die, along with all of your comrades once I take control of this ship's weapon systems."

    Squad leaders look at one another for a moment, then one of those who came in by boom tube beats his chest with his right fist. I don't hear anything, but from the way they form up and march out I assume that whoever that was gave them orders by a radio built into their armour.

    I drop the head, then turn and-. The rest of the youth squad are checking over Brute. The skin has been burned off his chest, exposing muscles and.. even bone in a few places. He spots me looking at him.

    "Guess you were right."

    I trudge closer, Char looking at me as if he thinks I can fix this. Lucky for him that he's right. Brute doesn't appear to have accelerated regeneration, which means that these injuries would be crippling without exotic healing. I take a healing ray out of subspace and fire it at him. The others don’t recognise it, shrinking back for a moment before they spot his flesh knitting back together. Once he's mostly intact again I toss it to Scott. Barda's conscious but not exactly full of the joys of spring. He nods in gratitude as he catches it.

    Mother Box, open a boom tube to Thanagar. Bring Stormwatch and the Lords back. I need to give John, Shayera and Richard the bad news.
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2019
  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    27th December 2004
    22:31 GMT -5


    I can feel it through Grayven 50's command ship as the gordanian command carriers begin to disengage. The New God technology he built into their ships makes it.. easy. And a part of that might be due to me being spiritually similar to him… I don't know. I presume that they're heading back to Thanagar, but frankly I don't care all that much. It's possible that with their paramount chief dead that the gordanian clans who unified under him will fracture once again, or maybe like the clans who followed Genghis Khan they will remain organised in the manner he arranged them.

    I imagine that it left rather an impression.

    They could have stayed. The more intelligent amongst them must have realised that I couldn't get full control of Grayven 50's command ship as quickly as I implied. But perhaps the issue there was that Grayven 50 wanted to conquer Earth in order to recruit a new generation of officers. With his death that same incentive doesn't exist. However useful they were finding New God technology, they don't have anyone else who can use it. They might not even be able to build it any longer.

    "And done."

    Zatanna 50 steps back as I tentatively raise my right hand to my face. Well, for better or worse, it's back again. I then raise and flex my left hand.

    "Thank you. Have you gotten practice since my last visit?"

    "I've had practice." Zatanna glances at Barda. "You aren't the only New God who takes a lot of punishment."

    I nod, standing as I do so. Sinestro, armour repair.

    A glow covers my body as he gets to work. Mother Box will need to finish it off, but for 'simple' transmutation work it's easier to just leave him to it.

    In progress, Lantern Grayven.

    Richard turns away from where Scott is interfacing his Mother Box with the ship's systems. "Feeling better?"

    "Physically. I'm sorry about your father."

    He shakes his head. "I'll believe he's dead when I see the body."

    "Hyperblasters don't leave bodies."

    There's no view screen to look at, but he glances away for a moment. "John's not coming back in until he finds something. Shayera's not either. I… Look, if you think you'll have an easier time of using the ship's sensors than Mister Miracle-."

    "I'll try. But-" I shake my head. "-I'm not expecting to find anything. I'd like little better than for Sunset, Rex, Batman and the genomorphs to still be alive. I just don't think a version of me would be that sloppy."

    He nods. "No, but look anyway."

    I nod back and head over to where Scott is regarding his Mother Box with a degree of puzzlement. "Having trouble?"

    "How much contact with Apokoliptian warships do you think I've had?"

    "Scott Sixteen had some. They were training him as an aero-trooper before he left Apokolips." I attach my Mother Box to what's left of the console next to Scott's. "Mother Box, interface."

    "Ping."

    Like when I felt the gordanians leave, I don't technically need Mother Box for this. In much the same way that companies managed perfectly well with filing cabinets before electronic databases were invented. I can feel just fine but it I want precision in a timely manner a Mother Box assistant is very useful.

    Right. I Am Your Master.

    Ping.

    Scott looks at me appraisingly and Barda stares as the texture of the space inside the ship changes. I hadn't noticed it before… Perhaps the sarcophagus and the Anti-Life were disrupting it? The ship doesn't have a Mother Box equivalent or a more conventional AI; Grayven 50 probably didn't need one. Alright, records and sensors.

    Ping.

    "It's showing me organic chemicals. The Watchtower's waste disposal was located towards the base of the structure, wasn't it?"

    Scott shrugs and looks at Richard.

    "Yeah."

    I use the ship's records to map the effect of the shot on the Watchtower. Grayven 50 was more concerned with demonstrating his power and undermining me than he was with making certain that everyone on the station was killed. Which makes sense; if I was going to do anything the first shot would have spurred me to act, and he could have finished off any survivors afterwards. Which he didn't do, because he was busy getting his head back in order after the Anti-Life exposure.

    Faint hope. What was it Moist von Lipwig said about hope? I actually don't remember. Something along the lines of it making you buy any con just so you could convince yourself that you weren't being fooled. I'm not going to find anything just looking like this.

    "Mother Box, boom tube to the Mountain."

    Ping.

    Boom!

    The portal opens in front of me.

    Anyone make it back there?

    Ping.

    No, I didn't think so. Close it down.

    I go back through the logs for the ship's esoteric sensors. There weren't any New Gods in the target area, and I assume that Rex won't-. Wouldn't have been displaying his father's innate green light manipulation abilities. Or perhaps that would have been something he picked up later. I don't remember whether Jade was green from birth or not.

    The New God technology I built in registered, but the targeting system was only set to compensate for shields and weapons. Shields… They were a little further down. They didn't have enough New Gods to get full use out of them or maintain them, and it would have interfered with their stealth systems. If… They got out, it would have been by the one boom tube I built or Sunset's magic. The ship can detect shifts in magic fields, but it didn't really have a background standard for Earth.


    "Zatanna! Could you check to see whether someone used magic in the area of space where the Watchtower used to be?"

    "Not easily. New God weapons and technology mess around with magic too much."

    "Alright. Sinestro, connect me to John's radio."

    "Stewart here."

    "John, we're looking for bodies that aren't there. Either they were totally destroyed, or they got away."

    "You got a better idea?"

    "Create a construct-replica of the Watchtower. There are hiding-spells that are triggered by the existence of a safe space at the exit point. In theory, Sunset could have cast one." I look around. "Zatanna, Richard, could you pop down to Earth to make sure that they haven't appeared there?"

    Boom!

    I frown. That wasn't-.

    Kanto strolls through, no longer holding his anti-New God gun. "I believe that you may have misplaced something."

    Sunset walks through, looking around in obvious alarm, Rex on a sling across her chest. "What the buck happened?"

    I dash across the intervening space, hauling her and my godson up and embracing them as tightly as I dare. "Where have you been?"

    "There.. weren't any New Gods on the Watchtower so.. I went to Themyscira. I took Rex because Batman said he needed to get out more. Why?"

    "My alter ego destroyed the Watchtower. I thought you were dead."

    "Ah yes." Kanto smiles smugly. "About 'being dead'."

    "Next thing I do after returning Rex to his parents."
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2019
  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th February 2012
    22:43 GMT -6


    "…in front of him, then showed him my diplomatic passport."

    I take a sip of my drink, which in defiance of my usual custom is actually alcoholic. I'm even letting it intoxicate me a little. Just a little, but… I'm still feeling unhappy about Vega. Perhaps a mild amount of mind-altering will give me a new perspective?

    "Are you rilly supposed t' use it like that?"

    I sit back in my seat. I think Harleen just shifted from 'casual' to 'slightly professional', which… That's not a terrible idea. With someone like me -including me- the people around me have good reason to want to make sure that I'm thinking straight.

    "Generally, Queen Hippolyta is happy for me to use it to duck certain vexatious consequences of my work as a superhero. Specifically…" I shrug. "I'm honestly not sure if she's ever touched a computer in her life, so I've got no idea how I'd even start explaining 'microtransactions' to her." I smile. "Though if they try talking her into rescinding my immunity, I'd love to watch them."

    "Yeah, but it's kinda out of charactah, ain't it?"

    "Y-ess… Sort of." I slightly raise my left hand and rotate the rings so that they're 'sigil up'. "Just because I can focus on long term things, that doesn't mean that I don't still feel the same impulses to implement quick fixes to the things in my immediate environment. I just think twice before I do it. And after the week I've had, I felt the need to do something a little impulsive."

    "What happened?"

    "Some.. people I was giving a great deal of leeway to used it in a way that I'd rather that they hadn't. And now I'm giving serious thought to whether I need to keep closer watch on the people I give rings to."

    "How bad are we tawkin' here?"

    "Hard to say. I'm not even completely certain that they were in the wrong." I shake my head. "There was a planet inhabited by a really evil species. And I don't.. mean just.. 'they had a bad government' or whatever, they literally biologically and sociologically engineered themselves to be as cruel and vicious as possible and to enjoy it."

    "'Was'."

    "Yeah. The thing is, they had a lot of 'test subjects' on their planet. And they were planning on fleeing the region. I'm not usually one for palming problems off when I can resolve them, but if they'd offered to trade their hostages for the ability to leave… I'd probably have agreed. As it was, they were all killed and only a handful of their prisoners were rescued. And… A lot of people I trusted… To a degree, anyway, went out of their way to keep me out of the loop. And… I effectively decided not to deal with the problem myself, so I'm annoyed with them for excluding me but also annoyed at myself for being annoyed about them taking the initiative. I mean, orange light; their desires aren't going to line up perfectly with my own."

    "You should probably-"

    "Talk to them about it." / "-tawk t' them abowt it."

    We both chuckle quietly. It's an oldie, but… Yes. Talking to Komand'r and Koriand'r about what I expect from them and what they expect from me is something I'm going to need to do. In a little while. Let things settle down. I checked before I left and there really isn't anything they have planned that I don't approve of.

    "Hey, lady. Halloween was five months ago." I look over towards the door as the doorman intercepts my other guest. "And I'm gunna want to see some I… D...."

    A slightly-built figure in an all-enveloping cloak and wearing a decorated porcelain mask stares at him for a moment and his whole body locks up. Then she walks past, a damp patch appearing at the crotch of his trousers and trickling down his right leg.

    I hold up my right hand in a wave to get Melinoë's attention as she studies the bar. She spots me, but keeps going until she has the whole place surveyed and the bouncer partially collapses against the wall before heading over to us.

    "That ain't somethin' you see every day. Do I run now..?"

    Melinoë stops at our table and stands there motionless. Alright, I suppose that it's for me to make the introductions.

    "Thank you for joining us."

    "Father insisted."

    Her tone is frostier than usual.

    "Have I done something wrong?"

    She folds her arms across her chest and looks away.

    "I am unhappy to be called upon in this manner. My brother has been making.. lewd insinuations, about our interactions."

    "I'll put him straight when I see him." I turn to Harleen. "Doctor Harleen Quinzel, this is Melinoë, chthonic nymph of-."

    "Madness. Yeah."

    "Madness and nightmares. Don't assume that I can't touch you just because you're sane."

    Shadows coil under her, forming themselves into a stool. She sits, then removes her mask and places it upon the table. Harleen blinks in surprise as she gets an unimpeded view of Melinoë's face. The lighting in here is too low for her to see the skin tone clearly but the horns are very obvious.

    "Why am I here?"

    "Since I've been helping your father find new relevance, it hit me that I could do the same for you."

    "Ahum..?"

    "You want me to spread madness and nightmares?"

    "There was a short story written by my favourite author, in which a travel agent tried to convince the devil that while no one wanted to be stuck in Hell permanently, plenty of people would pay to go there temporarily. People like dabbling with fear or horror in controlled environments. That's.. basically what horror films are."

    She regards me carefully. "Go on."

    "It wouldn't take much effort to make marker tokens, which could be taken by people who actively want nightmares. Then you could practise your trade upon them."

    "What sort of idiot would volunteer for something like that?"

    "Hey, that's your future cultists you're talking about."

    "And you think people will volunteer to be struck mad too?"

    "For just a little while?"

    Melinoë deigns to look at Harleen. "That is within my power."

    "Are you-? Yeah, just abowt ev'ry shrink on the planet. You could get all kinds of insight if you could get a disordah for a whyle then go back to bein' neurotypical."

    She seems genuinely excited at the idea. Melinoë just looks puzzled.

    "Perhaps I was premature in my assessment of your mental state after all."
     
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2019
  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    30th December 2004
    14:13 GMT -4


    "I'm… Curious." Kanto watches me cautiously as I study the five hundred year old mortal remains of Claudia Romanus. "You were not in attendance at Darkseid's court when I gained my god-name. Kanto Thirteen hadn't the wit to speak of my time on Earth. I chose not to, and I never heard Lord Darkseid do so. So how did you know of it?"

    Sinestro?

    I'm sure that you can come up with a convincing lie on your own, Lantern Grayven.

    I meant, with the reconstruction.

    The basic structure is simple enough. However, without a portrait, it simply isn't possible to recapture the specifics.

    "Are you sure that you don't have a portrait?"

    "It would have been hard to explain to her brother why I, a lowly page of insignificant birth, wanted a picture of his sister. I intended to have one commissioned after the wedding, but alas that proved impossible."

    I can still see where Kanto 13's bomb tore open her abdomen; the damage to the bones of her ribs and pelvis is quite significant. The metallic residue suggests that her mortician more or less had to use some sort of metal corset to make the corpse stay in one piece. I hope that she lost consciousness quickly.

    "If you don't mind me saying, you're being surprisingly easygoing about this."

    "I don't mind you saying that at all." "You heard what Lashina said when Granny died?"

    I smile. "Alright then. Have you considered the possibility that Cesare Borgia wrote something about his most unusual page, the man who married his sister?" "Yes, of course."

    "Considered. And dismissed. He wouldn't write anything so frivolous. One of his courtiers might have done, but the chance of it surviving for so long is… Slender." "She was bound to Granny Goodness, as I was bound to Lord Darkseid. With his death, some of the truths he impressed upon me seemed somewhat less true."

    "I spent some time in a parallel universe, far more removed from this one than the one where I now make my home. There, I read it in a comic book."

    "Hm. And how did the author know, I wonder?"

    "Pass. Look…" I gesture to Claudia's corpse. "I've got a full genetic work-up, and the analysis of her bones gives me enough information on her general state of health and diet that I can mostly repair her body. But without a visual guide to work from it won't be exactly the same, and even as an aristocrat her health would have been less good than that of a modern human."

    "Your alter ego's entire reason for taking Earth was to turn humans into New God lieutenants. And if learning such a technique was within his grasp, then it puts a new spin on the abilities of this Sector's former Green Lantern."

    "Yes, thanks to the Father Box of Desaad Sixteen, I know how to do it. But perhaps we should give her a little time to adapt to being alive once more before revealing that her beloved is an alien god-assassin."

    "And of course you'll need to decide what you want in return."

    "No. That isn't how I conduct my affairs." I theatrically hold my hands over the bones and begin. Restoring the bones to pristine condition is simple enough, though if there were any older breaks in the time-eaten parts those will be vanishing. Then comes cartilage and connective tissue. "Spend time with your wife, live the life that Kanto Thirteen and Darkseid denied you. And then, at some point in the future, if you actually want to work with me, then get in touch."

    "What happened to you, to make you this different? Or am I similarly liberated in the universe where you make your home?"

    "I've never met Kanto Sixteen-." I frown as I reassemble Claudia's muscles and organs. "You know, given how Kantos used to be numbered, using 'universe numbers' to refer to the different versions of you is a little confusing."

    "I know who you mean."

    "Well, him. So I've only got Desaad's old notes to tell me about his behaviour. But nothing there suggests that he's all that different to you. But consider the issue: the bonds binding you to Apokolips exist in your soul, tied to your god-name. The core of your identity is indelibly imprinted with that way of life. So if you want to leave…"

    Kanto frowns at me, then his eyes widen and he actually steps back. "You would have to destroy-! You did that?"

    "From what I remember, yes." Nerves, veins and arteries, brain… No way to actually make the neural connections that she would have had in life, but I can create an unspecialised network. Skin and hair… And a dress where it won't matter if it gets coated in Lazarus goop.

    "I'm impressed."

    "Putting a person back together isn't that hard with a power ring. Even the Green Lanterns can sometimes manage it."

    "No. Your determination. Your single-mindedness. You destroyed everything you were in order to become yourself."

    "If I could have killed Father instead, I would have." I cut off the flow of yellow light to the now-repaired corpse. "Does she look like you remember her?"

    "As close as I could expect a lifeless corpse to." He reaches forward and picks her up. "Still confident that you can deliver on your bargain?"

    "More confident than I would be about having you coming after me and mine."

    I lead the way over to where Sunset and Richard are checking over the Apokoliptian device I created for this process. The local version of Ra's al Ghul apparently didn't have quite the degree of knowledge that my version had, and even though it meant taking the construct-Lantern out of the basement where I'd had him writing his memoirs I felt that the increased reliability was worth the mental discomfort. But neither my Ra's nor the records Richard had access to via Batman could explain what this thing did to recapture the soul of the one it resurrected.

    Which is why in place of the pool or a sarcophagus, the gently-bubbling goop fills one of Grayven 50's modified Sarcophageuses. Those things are designed to play about with souls, and with my Mother Box plugged into it to provide a link to the Source… That should be enough to return her soul. I still don't know enough about mind-soul interfaces to know how much she'll remember… Well. If this fails then I'm sure that Sunset will embrace the challenge of improving the system.

    Speaking of-.

    Ping.

    Good show. "Now, Kanto, I must warn you that people resurrected by the Lazarus Pit are usually somewhat insensible for a time. And that there is no guarantee that we will succeed on our first try."

    "I understand." He reverentially lays her in the goop bath, then steps back as Sunset presses the button to submerge her.

    Hm. I should probably stick around, but this whole process could well end up taking hours. I sidle up to Richard.

    "How are you and Timothy holding up?"

    "I still can't really believe that he's dead."

    "I realise that you're not certain of your own feelings towards him, but he had a major impact on your life. It's only natural-."

    "No, I literally can't believe that he's dead. He had a minute between the boom tube opening and the Watchtower being destroyed. There are dozens of contingencies he could have activated in that time."

    I nod. "I see. I hope that you're right."

    "How are the Lords settling in in your mountain?"

    "Well enough. Diana appears to be enjoying training with Knockout. I don't suppose-?"

    "I've thought about it. I think maybe we could have them join the team. Eventually. But not yet. And I'm sure they're due some parental leave."

    I nod. "I'll pass that on." We watch the goop for a moment. "Hey, is there any chance I could take the ship off your-?"

    "No."
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2019
  23. Threadmarks: Guys from Gotham
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Guys from Gotham

    16th February
    20:12 GMT -5


    Huh.

    That's… The bat-signal. I'm honestly… A little surprised that a twenty-first century Gotham uses it. I mean, it sort of made sense when Batman was first published. Telephones were strictly fixed point and connected to traceable wires, and Batman would have to have been waiting around by it to get a message. Or Mr Pennyworth could have taken a message, but the man himself might not have picked it up for hours. And a radio wouldn't have been much better. But… Even in the eighties a bat-pager would have made more sense. It's not as if a giant light shining up into the sky is a subtle signal. Criminals would know that the police were calling in Batman anyway.

    Maybe… To get around jamming? But it doesn't work in the day

    Pass.

    Actually, where is Batman?

    Hm. Well. I suppose they can't expect him to turn up all the time.

    Still, I am… Living here now. And Richard has school tomorrow. And I'm not.. doing anything this evening that I can't put off.

    I smile and raise my right index and middle fingers to my forehead.

    Commissioner James Gordon, Detective Harvey Bullock and a couple of uniformed officers I haven't met before are standing next to the signal on the roof of police headquarters. Gordon's holding a paper folder-

    How quaint. Ring, copy it.

    Compliance.

    -in his right hand. None of them seem particularly excited, but then I suppose that they're used to Batman taking a while to arrive. And a person's capacity for being horrified… Takes a bit of a beating in Gotham.

    Well, let's see what's going on. I let my environmental shield glow as I head towards the rooftop. Harvey spots me first, and subtly makes eye contact with Commissioner Gordon before gesturing to me with the end of his cigarette. Then Gordon spots me and… Doesn't exactly look thrilled.

    "Something I can do for you gentlemen?"

    "Orange Lantern." The Commissioner walks to the edge of the building closest to me as I stand in empty space adjacent to it. "Thank you, but that won't be necessary."

    "No?"

    Harvey frowns at me. "What you doin' here, anyway?"

    I smile. "You'll laugh."

    "Yeah?"

    "I live here now!"

    He drops his cigarette, but his facial expression doesn't change all that much. "Since when?"

    "Christmas. My girlfriend moved away for work but she wanted to keep the place, so I'm house-sitting for her."

    Harvey snorts. "Yeah, word of advice, buddy? If she moves to a different city-."

    "Planet."

    "That too. Then she's gone."

    "I can instantly teleport interstellar distances, so it's not really that far… It's like she's got an overseas posting with the army or something."

    He looks sceptical. "If you say so, buddy."

    "So… What's the signal for?"

    Gordon turns to me after wandering back towards the signal. "It's for Batman."

    "I'd… be happy to help?"

    "Orange Lantern. I'm… Grateful for the offer, but last time you were working in this city we got invaded by plants, zombies and plant zombies."

    "That wasn't last time. Last time was when I apprehended Otis Flannegan."

    "It stuck in my mind."

    "I didn't bring any of them here."

    "And then there were the angels. Do you know how many religious crazies we had to deal with because of that?"

    "Hey, I was the victim there."

    "We'll wait for Batman. If he wants your help, fine."

    "Could be a long wait."

    "Batman is a highly skilled criminal investigator with an excellent understanding of the minds of deranged criminals. We need his intellect. We don't need your… Firepower."

    Harvey snorts, while Commissioner Gordon looks hopefully at the bat signal.

    "I just.. happen to know that he's in the Ukraine right now and probably won't make it back."

    Commissioner Gordon sags slightly.

    "Come on: don't look a gift-Lantern in the-" Hm? "-mouth."

    I look up as Batwoman cape-glides down from a nearby building and lands just in front of Gordon.

    "Batman is unavailable."

    Gordon glances my way. "We heard." He lifts up his folder-.

    Ring, summary?

    Thefts of chemicals and medical equipment have led Gotham police to believe that someone is creating Smilex. Joker is still confined to Arkham Asylum. Thieves unidentified, but not wearing Joker motifs.

    Can we scan for Smilex and its derivatives?

    Smilex found.

    I'm sorry, say that again?

    Smilex found.

    Huh. Someone's not connected to the criminal grapevine very well. I'd gotten a bit used to not being able to skip to the end like this. I mean. okay, those concentrations are probably left over from one of Napier's old crime sprees, but… Yep, that's the stolen equipment.

    I transition across the city, to a professional-looking low rise business complex. Just the sort of place for start-ups, and my target isn't the only one with gas tanks. Hah, reminds me of that time back on Earth Prime when the Cells4Life lab team left a nitrogen tank in the hallway and people started panicking about it. But that's definitely Smilex and a.. few novel variants. One man inside. Smilex is very illegal, theft is somewhat illegal and I'm pretty sure that he's breaking zoning laws too.

    I drift towards… Whoever that is, the walls and racking in my way breaking into bits and floating aside. He draws a gun -just a chemical kinetic pistol- and I bind him in construct chains before shutting down and grabbing all of his equipment.

    Right, that's… About everything. And transition.

    "Commissioner?"

    They look up in astonishment.

    "Looking for this?"
     
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2019
  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th February
    21:27 GMT -5


    I watch as Talia feeds another swab into a DNA analyser.

    "You know, I could probably do that faster, too."

    "If you cannot remain quiet while I work then you are free to leave."

    The Morpheus-lookalike I picked up from the laboratory is apparently called 'Doctor Kaligari'. Can't say I've ever heard of him, but then Gotham generates more lunatics than any rational person could possibly remember. Or… Do they go mad and then come here? No idea what his real name is. Shouldn't be too hard to track a man with his physical oddities, but with government computers now virtually all warded I can't just casually mass-hack the whole system any longer. Which I intellectually appreciate is a good thing…

    "Did I do something to annoy you lately?"

    I casually scan the laboratory equipment I recovered, uploading-. Using a construct cable to connect my ring to the cave's computer and uploading everything I discovered. None of the prints are reliable enough to identify anyone with any certainty, DNA samples… Don’t prove anything other than that some dead skin or hair blew in through an open window. Blood would be a bit more telling but it wasn't likely that any would remain on laboratory equipment.

    Talia looks up as the computer reports the upload. "Your time would be better spent analysing the Smilex-derivative."

    "Alright, but you haven't answered my question." Hm. "Looks… Weirdly short-lived. The result would be a lot more subtle than the usual 'laughed themselves to death' effect of the stuff Napier uses. And… Given the psychoactive component-."

    "Recreational."

    "Perhaps. It was originally intended to be an anti-depressant." In much the same way that Viagra was originally intended to be used to treat high blood pressure and angina. It does work for that purpose, but that's not what anyone thinks of when they hear it. "Ah… I think the results would be… Heightened aggression, intense bursts of emotion and an altered perception of reality. But what that would actually mean for people's behaviour… Not sure."

    "They would become like the Joker."

    "Or they'd become a slightly more vicious breed of drug-addled lout. The Joker… I've never really understood what's so special about him."

    "Neither have I."

    I could make a crack about Ra's al Ghul playing second fiddle to a clown, but… As a villain, Ra's makes a lot more sense to me. His goal made a sort of sense to me. Even his mistakes make sense to me in terms of who he is. Napier… I don't.. think that plot armour really exists, but I'm struggling to come up with reasons for Napier not to be dead.

    I'm not sure what I'd do if he got out of Arkham again.

    "Yes, but… I mean I don't understand the chemical processes which turned a failing comedian into a serial killer. He's clearly a lot more intelligent than he was before…"

    "My father once tried to identify the precise mechanism by which Jack Napier became the Joker. He thought that it was more likely to be alchemical than chemical."

    "Did he learn anything?"

    "Only one test subject survived. He and the four Shadows he turned were killed attempting to murder my father a few days later. The behavioral changes he showed were in some ways similar to those experienced by the Joker, but clearly dissimilar in others. He described it more in mystical terms. Dissecting his brain revealed a few changes, but as you say, it is difficult to draw hard conclusions."

    "Just as long as you're not going to suggest that we try the stuff."

    "No, that would be foolish. And I am annoyed with you for undermining me before Commissioner Gordon."

    "Then you should learn to make better use of your assets. I may not work for you, but I'd be happy to cooperate."

    "If you disliked my command style then you should bring the matter to me in private."

    "Okay, stop you right there. I'm the Illustres of the Orange Lantern Corps. Remember all of those people who turned up when the angels murdered me? Yes, I'm the second in command of that organisation. I'm not one of Batman's projects. I'm a capable superhero in my own right and the only reason I take orders from Batman on team missions is because it's more efficient than bringing in enough assets to create my own organisation from scratch."

    "You -on the other hand- would be in prison serving multiple life sentences right now if Mister Wayne didn’t love you. I neither need nor want your permission to operate in Gotham, or talk to Gotham police, or stop crimes in Gotham. You do not outrank me. I do not take orders from you. When I offer to cooperate, that is what I am offering to do. And while you are free to respond in a truculent manner, the result will not be me throwing a teenage tantrum and storming off to my room to sulk; the result will be me investigating without you. Up to you."

    She regards me-.

    "Hey Oh El." I look around as Richard enters the cave. "Making friends?"

    "Seems unlikely. D-?"

    "Robin." Talia turns to her adopted son. "Do you have any new information about a Smilex-based narcotic?"

    "Ah…" His eyes narrow slightly. "No. There's been a little more cocaine on the streets and a little less heroin, but nothing exotic." He walks slowly down the steps into the cave-proper. "Is that what the Bat-signal was for?"

    "Orange Lantern decided to retrieve the chemist and his laboratory in a flamboyant fashion. We will investigate, but I suspect that the mastermind will go to ground."

    "Ah." He nods, then looks at me. "Oh El? We usually avoid doing things like that because it makes it a lot harder to find anything out."

    "That may well be, but it did get several gallons of Smilex-derived narcotic off the streets, along with the man making it. And, frankly, I think that's worth delaying the investigation for." I turn to Talia. "Why don't you leave this part of the investigation to me and.. go out and interrogate some drug dealers?"

    "I don't trust that you won't miss some useful detail. You depend on your ring for such things. You do not have the training that my beloved has, that I have, or even that Robin has."

    "Ah, thanks."

    "So? Richard's here. He and I have worked together plenty of times. And it'll be far easier for us to look at the stuff the police are holding than it would be for you to examine it in detail."

    Talia considers that for a moment.

    "Robin, is your school work complete?"

    "I'm good for the next few days."

    "Then you will guide the Illustres as he examines the materials taken from the laboratory while I pursue leads in the field. Contact me with updates every ten minutes."

    "O-kay?"

    Apparently dismissing us, Talia stalks back towards the car.

    Richard and I look at each other for a moment.

    "Alright then. Ring, list local companies who could have provided the non-stolen components."
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2019
  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th February
    21:32 GMT -5


    "Huh."

    It's kind of impressive, really. The days when only a few companies could produce this sort of equipment are in the dim and distant past. Still, I'm a little surprised that so many of these fairly specialist medical device manufacturers exist in Gotham.

    "Yeah, it's not just WayneTech anymore." Richard sets the computer to look for patterns of ordering, and I smile at the idea that Batman clearly has access to data sources that I don't, casually breaking laws I'm semi-obliged to pay attention to these days. "With Gotham's crime rate being a bit less crazy these days, plenty of other companies are setting up here."

    "I imagine that rent and labour costs are still below-average."

    "Gotham's got a bit of a niche workforce."

    "Ex-gang members?"

    "Sometimes. But there's a surprising number of specialists around. Chemists, logistics experts, middle managers…"

    "Chemists? Drug manufacturers?"

    "Sometimes. But Joker and Scarecrow don't make all of their own product."

    "Crane didn't? I thought it was a point of pride with him?"

    "He made the doses he uses when he fights, but he couldn't make enough for his big attacks all by himself. And anyone who's ever worked with him takes lab safety really seriously."

    "He's still-" I turn, looking in the general direction of the twisted strands of light which mark out Arkham Asylum and looking for the pattern of beating, interwoven threads which define Doctor Crane. "-in Arkham, right?"

    "Last time I checked. Which was about six hours ago. After the last big breakout Batman had an independent surveillance system added in."

    "Yeah, he's still there."

    He glances back and sees where I'm looking. "I didn't realise you could see that far. I thought it only worked with your normal vision."

    "Arkham's only… Seven miles from here? If it wasn't for all of the stuff in the way, you could see it from here."

    "All the people in the way aren't a problem?"

    "It blurs the detail, but Doctor Crane has a distinct shape." I turn back to him. "Did Batman tell you to pump me for information, or are you taking the initiative?"

    He smiles. "What, I can't be a little curious?"

    "I don't know. Is what I just said going on the bat computer?"

    "Not until I can test it objectively."

    I snort. "If you want to test me objectively, you can just ask."

    "Yeah, but it's more of an accomplishment if I set things up without you noticing."

    I snort again, but it's more of an amused snort this time. "We're not going to have to talk to Napier about this, are we?"

    "Why would the Joker worry you?"

    "I've been struggling to come up with reasons for not killing him. So long as I'm not in close physical proximity, it's easy to just push him from my mind."

    "He's insane and in a secure hospital?"

    "But he's never going to get better, is he?"

    "He might. Weren't you going to talk to Melinoë about that?"

    "Melinoë doesn't so much heal the insane as.. stop doing it. And she didn't have anything to do with him."

    "So who's the Greek god who cures madness?"

    "Apollo, probably."

    "Isn't he the one you..?"

    "Yes." I look up at the screen. "Any leads?"

    "Too many. None of the equipment they had is all that special. And whoever is backing Kaligari was smart enough not to buy everything from the same place."

    "I don't suppose that there's anyone else who uses Smilex? I mean, how rare is the stuff?"

    "Most people think of it as something the Joker uses as a weapon, but-" He pulls up some statistics on narcotic usage. "-low concentration versions have been sold on the streets since… Well, before the Joker got a hold of it."

    "So whoever commissioned this batch doesn't need to have had anything to do with the Joker?"

    "Joker kind of eliminated the other suppliers. There might be some of them still around, but they'll be hiding pretty well."

    I look at the search summary. Hm. Hundreds of buyers who could have assembled all of the equipment. Ring, start checking those addresses.

    Compliance.

    "So how would you follow up on this?"

    The ring creates a grey ring in my head, the colour gradually turns to orange as it checks that real companies exist at the stated locations. It's not taking all that long.

    "If you'd been a bit quieter, we could pick up the guys that Kaligari was using to carry out the robberies. Honestly, that's still probably the best option. It's that or interview someone at every one of these companies."

    "Done."

    "I know you can teleport, Oh El, but I don't think you talked to them all that quickly."

    "No, I was just checking if every company listed as a buyer genuinely existed. Three are no longer at their delivery addresses and have been listed as 'closed', two with suspiciously short lifespans."

    I connect an orange wire to the batputer and pipe over the analysis.

    "And the identities of the owners…"

    "Lawyer. I know the firm; they've set up front companies for the Penguin a few times."

    "Are the companies dodgy like 'tax planning' or are they actually illegal front companies?"

    He smiles at my use of the word. "Dodgy."

    "How is Mister Cobblepot these days?"

    "We haven't caught him doing anything major. Hm." He thinks for a moment. "It might be worth paying him a visit. He won't want Smilex on the streets any more than we do."

    "Because he isn't in that market?"

    "Him and the Joker never really got along. Think you can visit him without killing him?"

    "Think you can get into a place that sells alcohol without getting carded?"

    "Pretty sure I can pull it off."

    "Are you going to get into trouble with Talia about this?"

    "Only if you don't finish all of the analysis work she was running first."

    "Okay. Give me… About a minute?"
     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2019
  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th February
    21:38 GMT -5


    I stroll through the Iceberg Lounge's entrance without being stopped by the bouncers, though the thinner one started muttering into his microphone rather urgently once he thought that I was out of listening range. Still too early in the evening for this place to be at anything like capacity, and this is a school night. A cross section of Gotham's rich young things are scattered around the bar area and dance floor, presumably the minor thrill of osmotic criminality making up for the classical tone of the music. I recognise a few of the faces-. And there's Jacopo Inzerillo. He looks up at me like he's completely confused by my presence; not offended, just like it's a thing that doesn't make any sense to him. I politely raise my right hand in a small wave and he nods back before returning his attention to his conversation.

    Nice that no one's fleeing, though I suppose it's only been a few moments.

    O.. kay. Mr Cobblepot himself makes regular tours of the main hall, making sure that his guests feel valued. However, his position as owner and proprietor means that he spends most of his time in one of the offices. Richard will be working on sneaking in… I need to draw a degree of attention without wrecking the place.

    Hm.

    I increase power to my environmental shield, float over the railings and drift slowly towards the bar. Getting a few stares and a little pointing, but no one's doing-. Well, after Commissioner Gordon brought up the religious crazies, I've been keeping half an eye out everywhere I go and it doesn't look like any of this crowd are going for their crozius arcanum just yet.

    I land just in front of the bar, and smile politely at the young lady working there.

    "Sarsaparilla, please."

    "Certainly, sir." She turns away, heading for a mini fridge. "Would you like ice with that?"

    "No, thank you."

    She removes a bottle, removing the cap using the bar's built-in bottle opener with her right hand while picking up a glass from a rack with her left.

    "We also do a range of non-alcoholic cocktails, if you're interested?"

    "I somehow doubt that I'll be here long enough for a second drink, but I'll try and be a little more adventurous next time I'm here."

    She puts the glass down on the bar and I pick it up and take a sip. I'd never had sarsaparilla before I came to Earth 16, and its taste… It's growing on me, slight tint of dentist-water not withstanding.

    I take another sip and turn around, looking around the room-.

    There's a quiet 'bang' and a rapid series of thumps from the direction of the offices, the momentary stab of alarm swiftly quashed and focused as Oswald 'The Penguin' Cobblepot is informed that I've arrived and heads out to deal with me. Either that, or Richard really bungled the infiltration-. No, there he is. Hm. Thinking about it, it won't be all that long before he'll be able to come here as Richard Grayson. I wonder if he's given any thought to the sort of shell persona he wants to develop to throw people off the Robin-scent?

    Another 'bang', and Mr Cobblepot slows from quick-march to stately procession as he enters the room. And he's not going to head to me immediately. No, he moves slowly, greeting four guests by name and holding a short conversation with the fourth. The fact that I'm an empath isn't a secret. And I don't just mean that I haven't been shy about telling people; it's actually online.

    Which means that this isn't for my benefit. He knows full well that I know that I'm the reason why he got up and came out here. But while he might think that his short term survival depends on keeping me happy, these are the people his long term survival depends upon. Customers, business partners, not-entirely-clean political leaders willing to make deals with a mostly-legitimate businessman.

    He moves away, stopping briefly to speak to one of his waiters before apparently by chance ambling towards the bar. His eyes pass over me, but his gaze is disinterested. Mildly curious at best. It's a lie, but if I couldn't look inside him I doubt that I'd spot it. He arrives at the far end of the bar and speaks briefly to the head barmaid, then turns and ambles in my direction, grinning.

    "Orange Lantern! So good to see you!"

    "Mister Cobblepot. I do hope that I'm not dragging you away from anything important?"

    "Oh, I've always got time for my guests. Particularly guests as well known as yourself. Do you think you'll have time to have your picture taken? We're got quite a collection."

    "I'd be happy to." I assume that's his excuse to get me off the floor so that we can have a work-related discussion somewhere private. I half-turn. "Do you have a studio-?"

    There's a flash as a woman carrying an old-fashioned flashbulb camera takes our picture, and I realise that Mr Cobblepot is close enough and smiley enough that it looks both naturalistic and semi-posed. I broaden my smile a little and raise my glass in a salute, but the picture-taker is already heading away.

    "So, what brings you here this evening?"

    "A difference in epistemology. I'm direct; the Bats are indirect. If I want something from someone then I'll either ask for it or trade for it... Or just take it, because there's almost no one who can threaten me."

    "Only 'almost'?"

    "No one's invulnerable. There was this alien warlord last month…" I shake my head. "Batman is indirect because he can't survive being repeatedly shot. I'm direct because I can. I don't criticise him for that; it's a rational use of his abilities. But it's not me."

    I put my glass down.

    "I'm sure that we're both very glad that Mister Napier is in Arkham Asylum. Unfortunately, someone has decided that in his absence there's a gap in the market for a Smilex supplier. I hit a laboratory earlier this evening, but I only caught one chemist."

    "Smilex is a dreadful product."

    "Why kill your own customers?"

    He coughs quietly. "I sell alcohol, Orange Lantern. I merely remark on the dreadful personal and social consequences of the abuse of illegal drugs."

    "Mister Cobblepot…" I shake my head. "If an individual wishes, in private, to consume a narcotic which harms no one but themselves, I struggle to come up with a reason to stop them. I don't indulge myself-" I raise my glass slightly. "-but all the evidence I've seen is that marijuana is less dangerous than beer."

    "Even before I reformed, I avoided Smilex. Even ignoring the risk from the Clown, it's cheap, unreliable and prone to all sorts of side effects that draw police attention. My segment of the market wouldn't have anything to do with it."

    "Oh, Mister Cobblepot, I don't think for a moment that you're directly involved. But… You have old friends, who I'm sure that you're trying to shoo back onto the strait and narrow. And perhaps one of these friends might have been involved in an.. apparently legitimate transaction involving second hand laboratory equipment, or heard something about a theft and… Perhaps they want to pass information on in confidence, before friends of theirs get themselves into more trouble than they've bargained for."

    "You see, I was there when Mister Napier was arrested for that whole 'Injustice League' business. I had to talk Teth Adom out of killing him, and… I'll be honest with you, I'm not sure I made the right decision by doing that. I agree with you, Smilex is one of those things that just.. doesn't need to exist."

    I make eye contact with him and smile politely.

    "I really don't want it to exist."

    "No sane person does."

    I pass him my card.

    "So if you should hear something about.. anything associated with this, I would very much appreciate it if you could pass it on? I'm sure it would save you quite a bit of bother in the long term."
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2019 at 6:44 AM
  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th February
    22:09 GMT -5


    "What?"

    Richard… Probably raises his eyebrows at me as I fly up to his rooftop eyrie.

    "You didn't try and sneak up on me."

    "Come on, Oh El. How am I supposed to manage that?"

    "I happen to know that Batman still routinely sneaks-."

    "Sneaks away from Commissioner Gordon when he's looking in the other direction, I know." He turns away, accelerates to a loping run and leaps easily from one side of the street to the other. I transition after him. "Barbara asked me if it was Batman's idea of pranking him."

    "And since you've given me such an open and honest answer, I'll return the favour. Basic magic concealment will shield you from my empathic vision unless I make a real effort, scry warding will stop regular ring scans-"

    "I knew that."

    "-and other forms of radiation can be blocked in various ways. It wouldn't be easy to set something up without fully enclosed armour, but you probably could. You might be better off going 'full-magic' if that's the way you want to go."

    He accelerates to a sprint. His next jump takes him up five floors and across another road.

    "What, you weren't satisfied with getting Kid Flash into magic and now you want me to as well?"

    "Yes. Using magic equipment, anyway. You can buy directly from Atlantis so I don't have to know what you're getting-. Though you might be better off going through me to buy from Hephaestus."

    "Did you ever think about why Batman doesn't buy magic equipment?"

    "I've been assuming that it's because he can't maintain it himself. Which… Isn't much of an argument to a Lantern."

    "I think it's more because the people he knew who used it didn't exactly understand how it works. Even a guy like Jason Blood usually only explains what he can do in mystical terms. And Zatara doesn't know why things happen when he talks backwards."

    "But Atlantis-."

    "Batman didn't meet Aquaman until the Appellaxian attack. And they didn't really talk much about Atlantean magic."

    "King Orin probably didn't know all that much himself. Not like he grew up with it. But you can get in contact with the Atlantean embassy in Washington and arrange a consultation with a commercial wizard whenever you want. So, is it a prank?"

    "I don't think so?" He slows to a halt atop the tallest building in this part of Gotham. "I think in the beginning he wanted to make the police afraid of him too, seeing as how most of them were working for the mob anyway. Now it's just part of what he does."

    "Alan didn't do things like that when he worked with the Gotham police."

    "Gotham wasn't a corrupt mess in the thirties."

    "Alright, but what makes a bigger impression: disappearing in the middle of a conversation or hanging in the air while glowing brilliant green?"

    "Batman didn't know who Green Lantern was."

    "What, and he couldn't have found out?"

    "Huh." He turns away and looks out across the city. "That's actually a good point. He could have found him."

    "I mean, I understand why he didn't track down Crimson Avenger-"

    "Because he was dead."

    "-even though they operate in similar ways."

    While Hugo Danner was America's first superhero, Crimson Avenger was America's first masked hero. He also had a rather large body count. I haven't checked to see whether the local version had the demonically possessed handguns of the version I remember, but he certainly shot people dead. I mean, he didn't do it on principle; he wasn't the DC version of the Punisher or anything. But people in America are allowed to own firearms and use them for self defence or the defence of another. Back then -especially coming off the back of prohibition- the 'custom' of heroes not using lethal force basically didn't exist.

    Still. Since I'm here, it might be worth putting a little extra effort into hunting down those guns.

    "Not that similar." He turns back to me. "So how'd it go with the Penguin?"

    "He's going to keep an ear out. How'd it go with the Penguin's computers?"

    "I didn't find anything major. I mean, I didn't think he'd get involved with dealing Smilex, but he might have supplied the muscle or the intel." He shrugs. "Nothing."

    "Is that unusual?"

    "Gotham's economy might have picked up, but it's not so good that people with long criminal records can get jobs easily. A lot of them go to the Penguin…" He shrugs. "But it's not like he runs a labor exchange. Plenty of people don't go to him."

    "Alright. What next?"

    "Next?" He brings up his arm computer. "I send a message to Batwoman, so she doesn't do anything crazy. Then I go looking for people who look like they're up to no good and ask them if they know anything."

    "Might it be worth talking to Catwoman? She lives in the sort of place where the buyers might live."

    "It's not just poor people who buy Smilex, Oh El." He exhales. "Not any more. For a little while the Joker was giving it away. He started at low doses, then escalated. People are a lot more cautious these days."

    Hm. The only person I remember selling a Smilex-derivative in the comics was Maximilian Zeus. The local version of him is a mostly-recovered businessman who attends court-mandated therapy sessions and who these days studiously avoids anything that would cause a relapse. Or maybe I'm over thinking it: sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

    "I suppose." Hm. "Speaking of exotic equipment upgrades: do you think Batman would want a power ring?"

    "Ah… Probably not from you."

    "I ask because Sinestro's dispute with the Guardians isn't strictly my problem." Richard looks decidedly dubious. "Part of Batman's method involves invoking fear, which would match the techniques needed to use a yellow ring."

    "You.. haven't been.. talking to him, have you?"

    "No, but Dox did. And I'm wondering if maybe I should. If Sinestro gained access to more rings, I'd much rather he use Batman as a template for his training methods than anyone else."

    "I'm.. gunna say 'no'."

    "How about if Sinestro had an accident? He is under sentence of death in several places."

    "Aren't you the one who said that Batman isn't the DPS guy?"

    "I suppose. Alright. I'll go and look for more Smilex, you shake down some suspicious characters. Meet you back in an hour?"
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2019 at 1:04 PM
  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th February
    22:23 GMT -5


    "Excuse me, I'm looking for a Smilex dealer. Do you know where I might find one?"

    The large black man with the dreadlock ponytail I'm talking to clearly doesn't quite know how to take that.

    "Ain't no Smilex dealers 'round here, man."

    "No? You're certain?"

    "Yeah, that shit just kills you." His friend, a slender white man with a camo-pattern jacket, looks extremely sombre. "Hey Chuck, you remember what happened to Ernesto?"

    "Ah yeah." 'Chuck' nods. "'bout, ah..? Three years ago? Dude picked up some stuff, thought it was acid…" He shudders theatrically. "Poor bastard laughed so much he suffocated. I mean, I only really saw him when they stuck him in the ambulance, but his face was all…"

    He makes a broad and obviously false grin, drawing false curves on his cheeks with his index fingers. What does it say about Gotham that he had to be reminded of that?

    "Glad to hear it. But do you know of anyone who might lack your good sense?"

    "You should try China Town. Ghost Dragons be into all kinds of crazy shit."

    "Yeah." The white man nods. "Or… I dunno… The Burnley Town Massive run drugs, right?"

    Chuck frowns. "They wouldn't do Smilex. No one would touch their stuff again if they did that."

    "I'll try China Town, then. Thank you for your assistance." I rise slowly into the-. "Oh." I stop. "One more thing. You haven't seen any fairies, have you?"

    They look at each other.

    "'Fairies'?" Not-Chuck shakes his head. "Nah, man. Clean livin' all the way."

    "No, not in the sense of drug-induced hallucinations. We're due for an invasion of time-travelling fairies from the far future and I'm trying to keep an eye out."

    "Ah… Ooooh… Kay?" Chuck shakes his head. "I ain't seen no fairies?"

    "Alright. Keep an eye out, would you?"

    "Sure. Yeah, we can do that."

    I nod. "Oh. And I realise that lock picks, crowbars and pistols aren't illegal, but I'm going to be flying back this way tomorrow, and I'm not going to hear anything about anywhere being broken into, am I?"

    Not-Chuck doesn't conceal his wince quite as well as his partner in pre-crime.

    "There's a good fellow."

    The universe flickers in the way I've become somewhat jaded to, and then I'm in China Town. A product of the largess of one Mr Lee Walter Travis, this place became the home for a large influx of Chinese refugees during the conflicts which preceded the Second World War. And afterwards, when the Nationalists and the Communists had it out. The Ghost Dragons make their home in a low-rent industrial estate which officially houses purely their legitimate businesses. I think I'll walk there to make the point-.

    "Orange Lantern?"

    An elderly oriental man.. with three missing fingers, is looking up at me.

    "Yes? Something I can do for you?"

    "I am wondering… Do you know the original Green Lantern?"

    "The original Green Lanterns died millions of years ago, but if you mean the fellow from the thirties then yes. He was my first point of contact with superheroes and I still use his personal lantern."

    "He is still alive?"

    "Last time I checked."

    "That is wonderful news!"

    I smile. I really need to talk to Alan about coming back here. See what effect a superhero who isn't dour and menacing has on the place.

    "I'll tell him that you said that. I'm sure that he'll be pleased-."

    "Nineteen forty one! He rescued me from an apartment fire! And then he caught the criminals who set it!"

    "He was very good at his job. Listen, you haven’t heard anything about someone distributing Smilex, have you?"

    "The Joker has escaped again?"

    "No. But any sufficiently skilled chemist can replicate the general formula, and some very naughty person was making some on their own recognisance. I don't suppose that you've heard anything about that sort of thing?"

    "At my age, those are not the sort of drugs I take." I smile and nod. "But we have many gangs here. Not all are criminals, but… Desperate people do not make good decisions."

    I shrug. "I just want to find whoever ordered it made. If some people went looking for a payday and ended up over their heads… The economy is a heartless beast. I can look the other way as long as they tell me what I need to stop it."

    He nods. "Perhaps someone I know will have heard something. I will see if someone will confide in an old uncle something they would not wish to tell a superhero."

    "I would appreciate that, thank you. But don't put yourself in any danger on my account; this is my job. You're an elderly civilian."

    "I doubt that I will forget that." He raises his left hand to wave. "Good evening, Orange Lantern."

    "Good evening." Ugh, maybe I won't walk, then. Fingers to my forehead…

    I appear amidst revving motorcycles, ridden by five tattooed gang members carrying pipes, swords and semiautomatics. One points and fires it at a nearby building-.

    An orange shield blocks the shots, then I reach out and pluck every gang member off their bikes. Said bikes then carry on without them for a short distance before falling on their sides and skidding along the road to a stop. Interestingly, none of the gang members try struggling. I'm not sure if it's shock or if they realise that they're ridiculously outclassed, but they're all content to just hang there.

    Ring, contact the police.

    Compliance.

    "Now, I can't technically arrest you-." I generate another shield as a volley of automatic rifle fire from inside the building hones in on one of my prisoners. "Arrest you, but I'm afraid that I'm going to be holding you until the police arrive." I turn my attention to the building. "While I understand that you're irritated about being shot at, I assure you that the situation is under control."

    A few heads… Ah, those are Ghost Dragon tattoos, stick themselves up. They don't look especially happy to see me, but at least they're not shooting.

    "By any chance, have any of you heard anything about someone selling Smilex?"
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2019 at 6:50 AM
  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd January 2005
    09:01 GMT -6


    The United States Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth is a formidable-looking structure. The brick and stone frontage, the bars on the windows and the armed guards all give the impression of an actual fort. What it is is the place where America puts the worst criminals in its armed services, one of whom has recently had his conviction quashed. Or the charges withdrawn; the American judicial system is largely opaque to me. But whatever, Guy Gardner 50 is getting out today and I thought that someone should be here.

    While I'd rather be here openly, given that the offence which he is no longer considered guilty of is working for me I decided that that wasn't a good idea. So illusion charm it is.

    Guy Gardner 16 shivers slightly in his all-enveloping long coat, hat tilted to obscure his face. We couldn’t risk him wearing his ring in case the locals spotted it, and as a result he's enduring the Kansas winter chill with only conventional warm clothing. He shuffles in place, looking around for something to distract him from how cold he feels. Then his eyes fix on something in the sky-.

    SHADE agent and Stormwatch member Kara In-Ze drops out of the sky, hovering just in front of me.

    "And why are you here?"

    She's dressed for the weather, though I'm pretty sure that she wouldn't feel it either. Thickly woven jeans, a knitted jumper and a thick coat accessorised with a bobble hat. There's something about the whole getup that makes her look young and sweet. Younger and sweeter.

    I smile. "Even though I wasn't the one who put him in here, he did end up here as a result of my actions. I feel obliged to give him the opportunity to have it out with me in person."

    She lands, eyes downcast, shakes her head and then looks up at me. "I'm here for the same reason. I actually do know what it's like to have the whole country hate you and stuff you in prison for something you didn't do."

    "Really? I only ever got locked up for something I did do. What did they get you for?"

    "They put you in prison?"

    "I put me in prison to make a point. I lured a mass-murdering wizard into an ambush and murdered him. You?"

    She hesitates to respond. Fair enough, I'm certain that I'm not her favourite person in the world, but since she met my children and knows that I mostly kayfabed our original encounter… "When… When Kal-El was mind controlled by Darkseid, I caught up with him at a military base he was attacking. I tried to stop him… It didn't go too well. Then the army hit us both with a kryptonite missile Luthor gave them, and I woke up in a cell."

    I frown. "Um. Why?"

    "General Hardcastle."

    "Look, few people have a lower opinion of the US legal system than me, but…" No, no. I can see the US panicking and putting someone in prison without anything approaching due process. And she wasn't that well known at the time. "Yeah, okay. How long were they planning on keeping you there?"

    "Oh, not long. They were going to inject me with liquid kryptonite and kill me."

    "What? That's a bit-." I frown. "Wait. Were they… Keeping you there with kryptonite, or red sunlight?"

    "Red sunlight." She exhales faintly. "Okay, not.. 'sunlight'. Eight feet of concrete to keep out natural light and some red lamps to light my cell."

    "Wasn't.. that the same setup that SHADE had in..?" She gives me a look that's.. surprisingly fragile. "Um. Would..? Would you punch me if I hugged you right now?"

    Lantern Grayven, I've changed my mind. Just hand me over to Corporal Gardner when he emerges.

    She frowns. "No, but only because heat vision is faster. Why are you.. doing this?"

    I shrug. "I respect you. I think I'd come to like you if I got to know you properly. And I think-."

    My Guy turns his head as the front gate of the prison opens and his doppelgänger exits, right hand holding the kit bag over his shoulder and left hand making rude gestures at the prison guards. My Guy becomes decidedly still as he looks at the living embodiment of how things might have gone. The other fellow takes a look around, his eyes stopping for a moment on the direction of the nearest bus terminal. Then he turns around, drops his pack and sticks both middle fingers up at the gate as it slams shut behind him.

    Once he's sure that it's shut and that no one is watching him from the prison side he sags slightly, then bends down to pick up his pack. He takes a moment to make sure that it's properly secured and then starts walking.

    "Excuse me, Mister Gardner?"

    Kara steps forward, prompting Guy 50 to stop and warily try to work out who she is. The time of his release wasn't passed to the press so there isn't a crowd here waiting to barrage him with questions. I imagine that if there were he'd swiftly find himself saying something regrettable. And then I see the exact moment he works it out.

    "What.. the.. fuck 're you doin' here?"

    He sounds more bewildered than angry, but given his position I imagine that's a mood which could change very quickly.

    "I wanted to apologise. Part of the evidence they used to put you in there was from my report, and… Now that I know why you opened the vault, I can see that I jumped to conclusions."

    "Yeah." He nods. "Y' did. You an' everyone else. Fuck alla yah. Anything else?"

    It's a sad day when a Guy-variant is so out of sorts that he doesn't bother hitting on a pretty blonde woman.

    Kara folds her arms across her chest. "I'm also the reason why your release got expedited."

    "Great, thanks, 'cause I've got so much t' be outside for." He turns his head to take in myself and his alter ego. "An' who're you supposed to be?"

    "I'm the reason why you went into the vault in the first place." His fists clench instinctively. "I wanted to commend you for your initiative, apologise for my part in inspiring the Justice Department's latest bout of incompetence and offer compensation."

    "You can't give me anything!"

    "Oh, don't worry. I've made compensation payments to everyone else I injured during my attack as well. It won't look like I'm paying you for services rendered. But, if you really want, you can donate it all to charity or convert it to cash and burn it or… Whatever. Up to you."

    "Wait… Were…" He looks from me to Kara and back again. "You two..?"

    I shake my head. "No." / "God no."

    I smile at Kara's response. "We just saved the world from a parallel universe version of me. Well, I did; Kara had a brief holiday on Thanagar." That earns me a short-lived scowl. She was actually rather busy with the gordanian military until the boom tube opened to bring her back. "So that earned me a reprieve, though unlike you I actually did all the stuff I've been accused of."

    "Oh yeah?" He looks at Guy 16. "And who are you? My asshole CO here to apologise too?"

    "No." Guy takes off his hat and turns down his collar. "I'm a guy who knows exactly what it's like t' be you."

    "The fuck..?"

    "I'm a parallel universe you. Only difference is, I had slightly better luck. Got my own power ring. Might even join the Justice League one a' these days. So unlike these two I get alla the crap you went through getting' here. An' maybe I'm the only one you might actually talk to about it. 'Cause I've been where you are. I've been that angry an' I did a whole bunch a' stupid shit." He turns away. "C'm on. Bar's this way, you ain't got nowhere better to be an' Grayven's buying."

    Guy 50 looks around in a slight daze, then throws his arms up.

    "Fuck it. Why not?"
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2019 at 7:26 PM
  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd January 2005
    09:56 GMT -6


    I glance over to the partially-concealed table where the Guys are having a muttered heart to heart. I actually know what the point of divergence was in their lives, more or less. Guy 16 once told me that he got straightened out by his brother… Before he knew about Mace's criminal sideline. From what I could tell, Guy 50 never had that conversation. Mace Gardner died a year or so early. The nearest Guy 50 had to something like that was joining up with an anti-Lords group while in prison.

    Which explains why he's as aggrieved about the whole thing as he is. The military is what he latched onto after the Lords were taken down, and it gave his life structure and meaning. Now, they've kicked him out. Or… Maybe not, I suppose.

    I frown at Kara. "So, if he's been released with charges rescinded, does he just show up back at his regiment, or is there some sort of process..?"

    At this time of the morning we've got the hotel bar more or less to ourselves. The Guys got a couple of bottles of what appears to be the cheapest beer in the place. No idea why. Kara's got an orange juice while I was mildly pleased to find that they stock Shloer. I suppose the fact that Kansas was a dry state until 1948 might go some way to explaining that, but I've never encountered it outside of England.

    "I.. imagine that they'll write him when someone up the chain of command has decided how they want to play it."

    I nod and take a sip. There are actually a lot more grape-flavoured things in the United States than I remember there being in Britain. In artificially coloured food, purple means 'grape' here rather than 'black currant' like it did back home.

    "How's Scott adapting to the ship?"

    "Actually, they decided it would be better if Barda captained it." I nod. Makes sense. I'm not totally sure what Barda's domain is, but it's certainly more associated with violence than Scott's. "Did you know it was called the Absolute Dominion?"

    "No, though that does sound like a name I'd give a ship." A big ship, anyway. It would be a bit farcical for a destroyer. "Does it have better crew quarters than the thanagarian ship you were using?"

    She shakes her head. "The extra boom tubes are.. convenient, but I'm not going to live there."

    "Why not?"

    "Because I have a job. I'm a senior SHADE agent, and the agency is still trying to justify its existence. I need to stay visible on Earth."

    "What's so great about SHADE?"

    "They offer training in how to use super powers and how the law works. And if you're planning on bringing up the children-"

    "It did cross my mind."

    "-that was the army, and then Father Time personally. Most of SHADE had nothing to do with that. It's.. just a federal law enforcement agency that's responsible for overseeing people with super powers."

    "Oh? We're setting something like that up in my parallel." I smile, leaning slightly closer. "We should compare notes."

    She peers uncertainly at me. "Are you..? Look, are you actually interested in me, or are you just trying to wind me up again?"

    "My admiration for you is entirely unfeigned. You possess all of the characteristics I find most attractive." Ah… "Well, the size difference could be a slight problem, but that aside I very much like what I see and hear."

    "A-?" She looks away, blinking heavily and shaking her head. "I can't believe I'm having this conversation."

    "Why is it such a surprise? The first time we met I asked you to marry me."

    She shakes her head more vehemently, then frowns, looking at me. "Wait, I thought you said that was role-play?"

    "A bit yes, a bit no. I enjoy being bombastic and assertive. I like being direct about what I want. Yes, I set myself up as a foe dishonestly, but I really enjoyed the chance to ham it up like that. I was having great fun right up until the nuke went off."

    "It took Marvel two weeks before he could taste anything other than that.. spray!"

    "And I'm sure that he's now learned to take precautions against scent weapons. He fought much better this time."

    "Did Flash even really-." She cuts herself off, eyes widening. "Oh God. That was you."

    "Well,-."

    "I saw you speeding up when we fought. I thought that maybe you were using Sinestro's ring or you were just that fast. You have some way of giving people super speed, and you pretended it was from Flash."

    "And what do you think my motive was?"

    "Because you thought it would be fun to abuse her trust? To mock-" I shake my head. "-Flash's memory?"

    "Neither John nor Shayera would have tolerated that. We thought that you needed a Flash."

    "But why Eliza?"

    "She seemed to fit the character profile required. Of course, we couldn't vet everyone… But I think we made a good choice. Does she know?"

    "No."

    "Are you going to tell her?"

    Kara fidgets awkwardly. "I.. don't think so. I couldn't do that to her."

    "I think that's the right choice, but I hope that having made it you'll be a little more understanding of Richard and myself."

    "Oh no. This is not the same as what you did."

    She's staring at me, the determination written clear on her face-.

    "Are you getting turned on by this?"

    "No, not.. turned on. It isn't sexual. But I do like the fact that you're confronting me like this. I respect the fact that you have clear moral beliefs. You know…" I lean a little closer. "I'm pretty sure that given enough time you could moderate my worse behavioural tendencies. If you were willing to put in the effort."

    "What makes you think I'm single?"

    "The fact that you haven't brought that up before. But if you tell me otherwise I'm happy to back off."

    "And what about you? Too busy conquering the world?"

    "I had an.. unfortunate misunderstanding which ended my last serious relationship. We're.. on reasonable terms now, but the relationship is very much over. The last woman I dated rather lost interest when… Well, she'd internalised her enemy's epistemology and might-makes-right ideals, When she realised that I wasn't interested in brute force conquest or unquestioningly supporting her political ambitions her ardour dimmed somewhat. I have female friends, employees, students… But I'm not dating any of them. And… Frankly, if I have to personally oversee every part of a campaign of conquest then I'm doing it wrong."

    "What about your kids?"

    "I.. wouldn't expect you to take on a maternal role you weren't prepared for. But I hope that if things go well, you'll come to consider them part of your family just as I do."

    She looks away. "I can't believe that I'm even considering this."

    "You'd be surprised how often I hear that."

    "No I wouldn't."

    "Oh, I think you would. Where would you like to go for our second date?"
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2019 at 9:13 PM
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