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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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    16th February
    23:35 GMT -5


    Detective Foley frowns slightly as he walks back from interviewing a small group of witnesses from the apartment block opposite. "Hm."

    "Something wrong, detective?"

    "It's this whole 'Gotham not being a nightmare' thing." He shakes his head. "Just a few years back everyone would have clammed up after something like this. Now, I'm gunna have to call in more uniforms just to get all the statements."

    "I take it that you grew up in Gotham, then?"

    "Uh-huh." He looks around, putting his notebook back in his jacket. "I joined up too late to have to go through the worst of it back in the nineties, but I saw plenty anyway. Heh." He smiles. "I guess this is what it's like being on the police in other cities, right?"

    "People helping the police, yes. Drive by shootings, not so much."

    "I don't know if this counts-."

    There's a flash as another member of the Congregation teleports in, carrying a flask of coffee.

    "I thought those guys were all auxiliaries these days. Why not get them to do it? You know they'd love to."

    "That's against the rules. Oh, they can type them up and whatever, but actually questioning witnesses? No way. They wanna do that, then they can go to the academy like everyone else."

    "Are some of them doing that?"

    "Yeah. Which is gunna be fun in a couple of years. Don't think we're ever had metahuman officers in Gotham."

    "Really?"

    "Yeah." He shrugs. "You'd think with all the crazies we'd get at least one or two." He shakes his head. "No. Guess they figure they can get better offers in Metropolis or something."

    "Well… Given the choice"

    He nods. "So… Hey, you don't need to.. stick around. We've got your statement, your recordings. The Dragons aren't going to try anything with all of us right here."

    I nod. "Thank you. I'll do that. Let me know if-."

    "Detective!" We look around as a uniformed officer dashes up. "Message on the radio! Some gang's attacking the mayor's house! Commish says we're closest!"

    "Yeah, probably." He turns to me. "But if we're working with vigilantes now anyway… You wanna chip in?"

    Ring?

    "Ah, excellent!"

    "That's kinda harsh. I mean, I didn't vote for him either-."

    "I'm not an American citizen. My ring just showed me that the attackers are wearing Alice in Wonderland-themed costumes! I've wanted to talk to Jervis Tetch for a while. I've got a sneaking suspicion that his hats are based on a stripped-down Thinker's Cap-."

    "Whow." Detective Foley looks concerned. "The mind control guy. Ah, look, I don't think Gotham would survive it if he got a hold of you. Maybe-."

    I don my power armour. "No, it's fine. Not only am I trained to resist mental intrusions, but this armour has every different sort of telepathic baffle I know about. Including a short term memory backup, just in case. It'll take more than a 'mad hat' to get through. Please organise prisoner transportation for twelve people."

    In this armour it isn't practical to raise my right forefinger to my forehead, so I skip that and just teleport straight to the room. Two guards, wearing… Extremely amateurish Tweedledum and Tweedledee costumes. They look like someone tried to design a 'dark and gritty' version, but was hamstrung by the need to make it recognisable as the Lewis Carroll character. They aren't Dumfree and Deever Tweed. Maybe they fell out with Tetch?

    Doesn't really matter. I take control of the cameras attached to their jackets and the cameras mounted on the roof and set them to show what they would show if all was well. Then I scan their phones, examine their records… Next call in is in three minutes. I don't need that long. Pick up the numbers and stun them. Subspace their guns and tie them up.

    Ten people remaining. Three watching the front, two at the back. Three shepherding the mayor and family into the dining hall. Two waiting there. None of them are Tetch, which is a little disappointing. Maybe that's an Alice? He's found one who's actually criminally inclined? From her dress I'd have thought that she was more of a Duchess figure, but I've… Never actually read Alice in Wonderland. Their clothes are a bit off and they've got themed masks. How important is it?

    Probably not very.

    I phase through the building, coming out behind the two rear guards. Cameras-. In fact, get into the internal security cameras and make them all send clear images. And stun, guns and telephones. Then I drop, phasing through the basement and coming up behind… Two, the third out of line of sight for a moment. Huh, if I couldn't see emotions this might actually be hard. They're stunned, third guy's stunned, and everyone else is in the dining room.

    Huh. No scry-blocking here either. I suppose that there's no margin in it for Luthor to help Gotham crazies, but it's still nice to see the bad guys not being first to adopt new techniques.

    Five remain, four armed men and the woman who appears to be in charge. She's carrying a small knife, with another small knife in a concealed sheath. No gun, no armour. The patterns of emotion inside her suggest that she's a good deal less than entirely rational. But: Gotham. At this point that was more or less what I was expecting. Extend filaments through the house and.. transition the hostages to the front door.

    I wave to them as the mayor hustles his family out of the house, then amble -in as much as power armour lets me amble- towards the dining room.

    "Boss, they just vanished."

    "Oh. So they did."

    "Yeah, that was me." I stroll in. "You're under arrest for… Attempted murder? I don't really know what your aim was-"

    Guns come up and bullets stop dead as they hit my kinetic barrier.

    "-here. I've been living in this city long enough that I'm getting junk mail with my name on it posted to me. And even if -for some insane reason- I didn't get called in… Twelve people? Batman's only in the Ukraine, he could be back in an hour if he felt he had to. Robin could take twelve people. Artemis could take twelve people. And Batwoman… Exists."

    Hm. Not feeling any telepathic intrusion or detecting any equipment.

    "And I didn't want to go there, but that knife? My penis is bigger than that knife. That is not a scary knife. Is Tetch getting here later?"

    "I don't work for Tetch."

    "You might end up working for him involuntarily if he finds out you've been using his theme. What are you called, anyway?"

    "I am Alice, and I will-."

    I put a construct muzzle on her.

    "Oh, not a good choice of name. I'll see about making sure you aren't housed near Tetch when they take you to Arkham. Now are you going to put your weapons down or am I going to have to nearly make an effort?"
     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2019
  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th February
    23:48 GMT -5


    "I'm glad I didn't have plans this evening."

    I note that the police who are loading the gang members into the van are highly experienced in applying straitjackets to uncooperative future-patients. I tried unmuzzling 'Alice' for a little while, but there are only so many insane rants a person can listen to.

    Detective Foley nods sympathetically. "You got work tomorrow?"

    "I make my own hours, and I don't have any meetings scheduled."

    That earns me a smile which is significantly less sympathetic. "Alright for some."

    "If you want an orange power ring, you're welcome to go through our training process. We've only driven seventeen people insane so far."

    Dox's prognosis -or rather, the prognosis Dox passed on- was that most of them will recover. Shorn of contact with the orange light their minds should be able to return to equilibrium, though obviously it will never be safe to let them wield an orange ring again. I.. don't know exactly the 'drop out' rate I was expecting, but… Honestly, I'm a little surprised it's gone this well.

    "They all singing 'New York New York' too?"

    "Little more serious than that."

    He looks away. "Yeah, I guessed. Think I'd handle it better?"

    I stare at him, my eyes flaring orange. Um. Gosh, how the heck did a well balanced individual end up on the Gotham police force? Strands of orange light within reasonable bounds, restrained by socialisation. There's no real core to his identity, no one thing I can point to as his defining characteristic. More green than average, but not exceptionally so. Probably a consequence of having a job that routinely involves confrontation. In the event of an orange light surge… Probably nothing worse than petty selfishness. But at the same time, he lacks the mechanisms to channel the orange light well.

    I blink the glow away.

    "Yes, probably. But not particularly well, without significant retraining."

    He shrugs. "Probably couldn't get the time off work anyways."

    "So, again, do you still need me..?"

    "The mayor's gunna want to thank you, but he can do that tomorrow. Far as I'm concerned you can go. We know how to get in touch if we've got any other questions."

    I nod, wave my right hand and then raise it to my forehead. Alright, where's Selina?

    "…quietly as you can."

    I'm in a.. small room, an unconscious albino laying on the floor next to an open reinforced door. A mildly dishevelled crowd is creeping out and down a corridor at Selina's urging. Recent abductees? Not a lot of Caucasian faces. Racial targeting or targets of opportunity amongst the unregistered immigrant community?

    "Catwoman?"

    She looks my way, for a second going into a combat pose before recognising me and returning to her previous level of alertness.

    "Can you get them out faster?"

    Hm. My vision is being blocked, radio.. also being blocked.

    "Where are we?"

    The liberated prisoners stop, making way as Selina walks over to me.

    "Underneath the Breed Building."

    "And why are we being quiet?"

    "Guards. One of them was a dog made of darkness. I think there's something magical going on."

    I nod. "Are you wearing the spell eater-?"

    She nods, smiling. "Never leave home without it."

    "Quickest way out is for me to cut a tunnel through the ground. Lots of noise and collateral damage. Or I can fly us out the way you came in, which any competent wizard will have warded."

    "How good are you at fighting ancient sorcerers?"

    "Really good. The older the better, really; they're less likely to have kept themselves up to date."

    I can see the patterns of activity as she thinks it over. While perfectly capable of acts of selflessness, Selina isn't a superhero. She doesn't have the burning need to shove her hands into fires that they… That we do. Given the opportunity to do what she set out to -rescue these people- she's perfectly happy to leave the rest to a professional.

    She turns to the crowd. "Anyone up for running away really quickly?"

    Several nods, a few of the braver ones even smile. I redon my armour, switching out a few of the anti-telepathy systems for the newer magic-baffles. With three rings' worth of power to draw on the cost of putting things like that in subspace is much less of a problem than it used to be, and something about Larfleeze's ring makes it easier still. Age, perhaps? Prolonged contact with the Ophidian? Don’t know.

    I generate a large and -due to the space requirements- somewhat flattened crumbler gauntlet construct. They don't usually make much noise, but I'll add a suppressor anyway. And up it goes, cutting a steep tunnel out through the Gotham… Soil, right, transmuting some supports to keep the tunnel intact. The braver prisoners are edging towards the construct-.

    Selina smiles as she takes the lead.

    "Let's not stick around while a Lantern fights an ancient sorcerer. I doubt digging a giant tunnel under a skyscraper made this place any safer."

    And with her in the lead and a worried glance at the ceiling, they're on their way. I cancel the construct as it punches its way through the street outside the lobby. I sliced through some power cables, but this whole building is going to need to be mystically decontaminated anyway

    "Huh. You took down White Rabbit. I wonder if his feet are luckier than the rest of him?"

    A woman with white hair and wearing a black mask, tight-fitting black t-shirt and black cycle shorts walks through the door.

    "I doubt it. He was taken down by Catwoman. Are you the hierophant of this little cult?"

    She blinks, confused. "Hierowhat?"

    That sounds like a 'no'.

    "Alright. Take me to your leader so I can beat him, her or it into a stupor and get on with my day."

    "Yeah, no." Her body begins to disintegrate, the blackness around her taking on a new shape as it does so. "I-."

    My world darkens as my photon cannon shoots her in the face-

    "AAAIIIIIEEEEEE!"

    -and she collapses to the ground, her shadow construct failing and her human body returning. Interesting. I knew there were other people who could draw power from the Shadowlands, but I hadn't specifically heard of this one before. I take a dimensional stabiliser out of subspace along with a set of manacles and start binding her.

    Now, while I could probably handle whoever's running the show myself, I suppose that it wouldn't hurt to have some expert advice.

    Ring, phone John Quinn.
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2019
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th February
    23:53 GMT -5


    Seriously?

    I hold the slime man up in a construct-ball. While somewhat protean he doesn't actually appear to be all that strong. I could.. probably freeze him solid without killing him…

    "While I'm not exactly impressed with… Whoever's in charge here's bodyguard, American law allows me to use mentally invasive techniques in order to get information on active supervillains. So you can either tell me who's doing this of your own free will, or without your own free will. You've got until the count of three."

    Snotman just sneers.

    "Fine. Brand."

    His eyes rotate upward as his forehead glows with an orange sigil, the light turning his translucent body an odd shade of purple. Yes, this one is very much in tune with his lower-order desires. He started absorbing and digesting animals but I can see at least… Seven? People he's done the same to.

    This part of the lower levels of the Breed Building has a 'modern fortification meets ancient tomb' aesthetic. Which means that it's probably a relatively young mage serving an ancient one, the worst combination as far as I'm concerned. Not that I'm exactly shivering in my armour given the power level of the help they're employing, but I think I might end up glad that John's on his way.

    Brand complete.

    "Snotman, you want to be helpful. Also, you no longer feel any particular drive to ingest living things."

    "Strega's in charge. She's a powerful sorceress. Though, I suppose that given how powerful you are, you might not care."

    "Never heard of her. Has she done anything I might know about?"

    "She's killed a lot of people, but not all at once. I don't think she's done anything that made the news."

    And isn't that a damning indictment of our society. I'm going to have to talk to someone about setting up a worldwide magic detection network again. I was convinced to put it on the back burner given Klarion's death and the civil liberties issues but if this sort of thing is going unnoticed...

    "Does she work for someone?"

    "Um. Maybe? She doesn't let us in her ritual room when she's killing them, and she's mentioned a 'lord' a few times. But I've never met them. She might just be religious."

    It would be interesting to meet an evil magic user who was religious without actively making pacts with the object of their reverence. But not so interesting that I'd actually want to do it.

    I take a giant crumbler gauntlet construct to the stone door ahead of me and erase it, a brief crackle of red light flickering out and then dying as the spell fails to find me.

    For a moment I consider shouting something. Maybe… 'Avon calling!' But it just feels inappropriate and… A bit sexist? Oh well.

    I walk forward, Snotman floating along behind me in his bubble. The flagstones down here have a clear pattern of wear between the exterior door and the interior, as if someone has been walking the exact same route for a very long time. The carvings on the walls appear to be decorative, though my knowledge of magic inscriptions is almost entirely modern rather than historical.

    I create two construct railguns and load mageslayers.

    "Strega, you're under arrest! I will warn you now that I am carrying lethal ordnance and am authorised to use it!"

    The big stone doors at the end of the room are probably concealing her ritual space. Not like there's anywhere else for her to be. And I don't just mean because of the lack of visible exits; there's only so much subbasement space you can purloin in a city like Gotham before someone notices.

    Ah, hang on.

    FEED ME!

    Stone abrades and fades, Snotman loses physical cohesion in his construct ball and a puff of red mist gets sucked away from an apparently empty part of the room, revealing a half-mask wearing woman with red hair wearing a red costume. Her hands are raised in a stereotypical casting-pose, so perhaps she's not as modern as I thought?

    I point my railguns at her. "Last chance."

    "How did.. you..?"

    The railgun round hits the air in front of her, another puff of red bursting as it strikes a rapidly erected barrier spell. The second one strikes her in the left thigh, blasting through meat and bone and only just failing to tear the leg off entirely. The force spins her around and she collapses bonelessly to the ground, moaning faintly as she does so.

    I take another suppression chain out of subspace and attach it to her… Well, there's not much point attaching it to her left leg, but her arms, right leg and neck are solid attachment points. Blood loss and shock have already caused her to lose consciousness and…

    I take a quick look at her desire-structures. Ugh. That's unusual. Far older than a normal human lifespan should allow but actually not all that powerful. But I've seen enough to destroy any desire I might have to actually heal her with my rings. Instead I take an x-ionised blade out of subspace, neatly amputate what's left of it at the hip and then carefully seal off the leaking blood vessels. That will keep her alive and I don't feel any further obligation to her.

    Now, what's behind the door?

    I generate another construct crumbler gauntlet and move to strike the door when a golden ankh flares into being in the air next to me. It flickers for a moment and then stabilises, allowing John Quinn to step through with the helmet on his head.

    He takes a quick look around and his gaze fixes on the severed leg.

    "Bit of a bloody mess."

    "Try reading her aura."

    "Not with that chain on-. Oh the leg, yeah." He kneels down next to it in the direction away from the blood pool and reaches out to it. "Ooh. Nasty. Lots of fatal blood sacrifice." He looks up at the door. "What's through there?"

    "Let's find out."

    I swing the crumbler construct and erase the door. There's a flicker of red light again, but once again the spell fails to find me. Inside the room… Pillars, carvings and a stone sarcophagus a different colour to the stone of the rest of the structure.

    "Recognise it?"

    "Not really, mate. All these ancient sarcophaguses start to look alike after a while."

    I turn up my empathic vision-.

    Green mist flares into life around the sarcophagus… Not sure what that's supposed to be doing.

    Spell eater temperature increasing.

    I add another from subspace and then send the original there to discharge.

    "John?"

    "Some sort of defence-piercing life drain spell. Don't get any closer than you have to."

    "Would you be willing to testify that whoever this is represents an existential threat to Gotham City?"

    "That's impossible to know for sure. Yes, they're powerful enough to threaten the city, but that's not the same as knowing that they would actually choose to threaten it."

    "Fine." I load another set of crumbler rounds and shoot through the spell, destroying the sarcophagus lid. "Let's ask them directly."
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2019
  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th February
    23:57 GMT -5


    "Uuuugh?"

    A lithely muscled old man with a receded head of long white hair weakly tries to pull himself out of the sarcophagus. His eyes are unfocused as he takes a bleary look around the room.

    Hm. There was probably some sort of ritual that was supposed to be used to wake him up. Ah well.

    "John?"

    "I don't know his face, but-" He raises his hands, a small ankh glowing between them. "-his aura's full of violent death, and… He's pledged himself to some sort of life-eater."

    "Good enough for me."

    I clamp magic suppression chains around him, an action which prompts a sudden increase in his wakefulness.

    "Who are.. you? Where's Strega?"

    "On the floor trying not to bleed to death. Please tell me who you are."

    "Oh." He just about manages to pull himself up into a sitting position and looks past myself and John, spotting Strega splayed out on the floor. "Ah. Well, in that case I'm going to have to kill you and use your life force to restore her. Nothing personal, but I've woken up early and I'm rather hungry."

    He gestures at me with his right hand, and nothing happens.

    "Thank you! For a moment I was worried about what I was going to arrest you for, but that was clearly attempted murder."

    He stares at his hand in bewilderment. "What-? You… How?"

    "That chain is capable of containing a Lord of Chaos. You're not quite at that level. Though it is mildly reassuring to know that in other circumstances you might have been a threat. Some of the people I've been wasting time with this evening…"

    I roll my eyes as he tries to get his hands working.

    "Now, I'm guessing that you've been life-leeching to sustain yourself? Your physical age is about seventy, and given how magic deageing effects tend to decay, I estimate that you'll drop dead before the ten years you'll probably serve for attempted murder elapse. As such I see no need for extraordinary measures."

    "WHERE DID YOU GET THIS INFERNAL CHAIN!?"

    "Why on Earth would I tell you anything? Now, I don't know how long you've been down here for, but I'll try and bring you up to speed." I frown for a moment. "John, what language is he speaking?"

    "He's switching between at least two languages at random, modern English and… A language I don't recognise. Sounds a little like Spanish."

    "Have you heard of a country called 'The United States of America'?"

    "What? Where?"

    "I wouldn't recommend that approach. The Gotham City police are very strict on insanity pleas."

    "No. Yes." He lifts his hands up to his head, but stops when the chains clack against each other. "I heard things as I slept and dreamt-."

    "Good! That will save your court-appointed lawyer a lot of time. Now: can you get out of there yourself, or do you require assistance and a wheelchair?"

    He points his hands to his left, and a hole appears in the air next to him. Through it I can see a white void filled with tiny-.

    The portal is surrounded by the upper loop of a golden ankh and floats over to John, much to the ancient sorcerer's obvious distress. John raises it up to his face so that he can get a good look at it.

    "From the feel of things, this is a pocket plane filled with magic artefacts."

    "How..?"

    "You learn a thing or two, living in a dimensionally exotic tower. And… That should cut off your access." He looks my way. "Do you need these as evidence?"

    "Probably. Put it somewhere safe without touching anything inside, and I'll try and get a forensic team and a court-appointed wizard sent to you before the end of the week."

    "They have those now?"

    "After Swamp Thing's attack, Gotham -and Connecticut generally, actually- made a point of getting the most up to date laws on magic they could. Some of the legislation is still passing through the state senate, but they expanded the court's ability to appoint experts to include wizards."

    "Is it a salaried position?"

    "I don't know. And.. I'm afraid that they'd probably ask for written qualifications, or membership of a known superhero team. Maybe if you upped your profile..?"

    "I could give it a try." He waves his right hand, and the ankh and all of the weapons associated with it vanish.

    The ancient sorcerer -who has just about managed to crawl his way out of the sarcophagus- collapses to the ground, his eyes fixed in despair on the point where his arsenal was moments before.

    "John, would you mind poking around and shutting off any other spells there are on this place? I'm going to have to call the police in, and they're not magic-proof."

    "Not a problem, mate." He looks around, the eyes of his helmet glowing gold. "Yeah, this is going to take a while. You couldn't get me a coffee, could you?"

    I take the mug of kopi luwak coffee I made for a joke out of subspace and-. And add a heat resistant straw to the mug, then pass it to him.

    "Cheers."

    He takes hold of the cup in his left hand -straw poking under his helmet- and generates an ankh over his right hand as I create a construct wheelchair and load the ancient-.

    "What's your name?"

    He looks at me like a man who has just had the pillars of his world kicked over. "I'm not-. Telling you my name."

    "Ah, no, see, we don't need your name to use magic on you. We’ve gotten far beyond that." I wheel him out of the sarcophagus chamber and generate another wheelchair for Strega, sticking her severed leg in the luggage compartment. "We just need something to put on the paperwork. You can make it up if you like, though I'll warn you that if you pick something like 'fuckingshitman'-" Sadly, an actual example. "-that everyone will call you that until you die, whereupon it will be written upon your grave."

    "Uh. The city above us. What is it called?"

    "Gotham."

    "Then… Gotham. Doctor Gotham."

    "Not without a doctorate from an appropriately notable educational establishment, Mister Gotham."

    I scoop Snotman up in another construct and add him to the villain train. They're never going to fit in the elevator. I'll have to take them up the tunnel I made for the prisoners.

    "Now, I should warn you that any casualties inflicted by gods, demons or spells you may have bound here will be considered as having been inflicted by you and taken into account when determining your sentence. Is there anything which you would like to tell me?"
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2019
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    17th February
    00:21 GMT -5


    "Orange Lantern." Dr Balewa looks at my prisoners. "What is this?"

    "An ancient sorcerer -allegedly-, his chief acolyte and a collection of minor magic-using criminals. Apparently, there are very few people that the Gotham police are allowed to hand criminal magic users over to… It's basically you, Giovanni Zatara and Angelica."

    He gives Mister Gotham and Strega a slightly closer look.

    "What became of that woman's leg?"

    "It was used in the commission of a crime, so I confiscated it."

    "I… See. Will it be returned to her?"

    "Well, it's evidence now. That's up to the Gotham police."

    I snort with laughter, though Dr Balewa does not appear to see the humour.

    "Orange Lantern, are you well?"

    I shake my head. "It's been a bit of a weird night. Can you take over here? I've got John Quinn dealing with any dangerous enchantments in the basement and I don't think I've really got anything to add."

    "Yes." He nods. "I think that it may be for the best if you call it an evening."

    "Probably." I raise my right hand to my forehead and

    step out

    and reappear on the top of a nearby building next to Selina, who's crouching at the edge of the roof and watching the activity below.

    "Everyone away safely?"

    I'm mildly impressed that she doesn't jump. On the other hand: Batman. "As safe as Gotham gets. Was one of those people the lunatic who organised this?"

    "Yes, the one missing a leg."

    She looks at me dubiously. "I know Batman's policy is no killing, but I don't think he's going to be happy about that either."

    "Then he can deal with the next evil wizard on his own. Besides, she's going to be executed anyway, it's not like she's going to be disabled for long."

    "So is that a policy..?"

    "Yes, but not for all opponents. Against a powerful magic user whose precise capacities are unknown but probably quite advanced I'm not going to use rubber-tipped anti-magic rounds. Particularly not in the middle of an inhabited city. Taking them down fast takes priority over taking them down politely."

    "Just so long as I don't have to worry."

    I frown. "Is that what you..? Thought?"

    "You don't have the best reputation for mental stability, and around here…"

    "Crimson Avenger shot dozens of people dead."

    She looks at me askance. "Am I supposed to know who that is?"

    "America's first costumed adventurer. Wore a red suit?"

    She shakes her head.

    "He worked in Gotham a few times, back before Green Lantern settled here."

    "What powers did he have?"

    "I'm not sure he had any innate powers. I remember reading that his guns were possessed by demons who helped him hunt down evildoers, but I haven't confirmed that for myself."

    "So the mystery man got shoved aside when the Lantern turned up?"

    "No, I said that Crimson Avenger worked in Gotham sometimes. Green Lantern certainly wouldn't have kicked him out."

    "I was just commenting on the obvious parallel-."

    "He's in the Ukraine and yes, I spotted that."

    She saunters over to a ventilation unit and hops up on it, then turns around and lounges on the metal in a mildly provocative pose. "It will be interesting to see how Batman reacts. I've never seen him disappointed in someone else before."

    "And this attitude has got nothing to do with the fact that when the two of you were 'togetherish', you'd have been looking for some 'bat-personal time' after a heroic action like that?"

    "I'm not confirming anything, but are you and that assassin girl-?"

    "Yes, though thank you for including me on your bat-substitute list. It really validates my existence as a man."

    She smiles and looks away, the claws of her right hand drumming on the metal.

    "What were you doing here, anyway? I mean, good work-"

    "Thank you, it's nice that you noticed."

    "-but it doesn't seem like your area of expertise."

    "People were disappearing. The albino, the one-eyed redhead and the white-haired girl stood out. I got a copy of the building's plans and rode the elevator down."

    "Really? That seems a bit…"

    "I make it sound easier than it actually was. And your charm helped me bypass their magic security." She thinks for a moment. "The Albino had a sword-."

    I take it out of subspace. "I've been looking for a new magic melee weapon. I'll have Hephaestus have a look at it, see if we can find out what it can do."

    "How much is it worth?"

    "I can't appraise it until I know what it does. Also, I'm authorised to complete the documents required to confiscate supervillain equipment legally and you're not." She pouts. "How much do you want?"

    "What, you're not going to haggle?"

    "I have infinite money, Selina. There's no market price for magic swords so I can't name that-plus-a-percentage. What do you wan-?"

    There's an explosion to the south. We both turn to look at it, and even as I see the extinguishing of emotional lights that indicates people are dying I just feel… Frustration.

    Disappointment.

    I sigh.

    "You know, I've worked something out this evening."

    "Oh? And what's that?"

    "It used to be that I got annoyed at other superheroes for using their abilities purely for crime-fighting and not using them to revolutionise human society. But I think I'm getting it now. It wasn't that they were.. too stupid to realise the opportunity, no. The problem was that a never-ending cavalcade of psychotic total morons were perfectly happy to throw themselves at them, and they never had the-. Gosh-darn time to do anything but fight them off."

    I take a.. deep breath.

    "I'm going to go and deal with whatever that is and then go and get this sword appraised. Think about what you want for it."
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2019
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    17th February
    00:28 GMT -5


    I play my cold guns over the still-burning low rise apartment building, the Kobra wannabes who set the explosives hanging off my construct tethers. Remote controlled explosives aren't that hard to make or… This is America after all, purchase completely legally. But these people decided to try re-enacting a ploy I've only seen in The Nightly News: commit a large crime and then hang about to target the people who respond to it. But whatever superweapons their masters might have access to, this street gang with delusions of mediocrity just have legally purchased rifles.

    Of course, in The Nightly News they were targeting journalists and not police or firemen or paramedics.

    Fire's mostly out so I switch to transferring out the wounded, causing them to appear around the ambulances. It's… A little slow going, honestly. I do want to help, but the… Not 'altruism fatigue', but… 'Desire identification fatigue'? That's closer to it. I'm being forced to fight metaphorical and literal fires threatening people in whom I have no personal investment. I don't mind helping out once or twice a week, but running to stand still just makes me-.

    "Hey, Oh El."

    And they're all out.

    "Robin. How's your night going?"

    "Kinda crazy, actually."

    "I know the feeling. Is there something… Some sort of evil stellar alignment which happens in Gotham at this time of year?"

    "In the middle of February? Not that I know about. But it's kind of an unknown unknown? I haven't checked." He briefly checks the area. "Do you think there's an evil calendar we could subscribe to?"

    "I'll ask Jade."

    "What's wrong?"

    "I've never had this. A bunch of bad things happening one after the-." I frown. "Don’t you have school tomorrow?"

    "Not after a night like this. School gets cancelled if things out here get too violent. And it won't be the first time I've had to skip." He looks up at the people I've tethered. "Who are they?"

    "They were trying to commit an atrocity in order to pad their resume for their Kobra application."

    "Are Kobra even still a thing?"

    "We might need to look into that. Or maybe they're just behind with the news." Police cars zoom into the road, only slowing when the officers inside see me floating overhead. I deposit my prisoners next to them, with the evidence and my report landing next to the senior detective. "Does this happen a lot?"

    "Remember when you said we should all spend some time in the worst cities on the planet?"

    "Yes?"

    "They were all worse than this."

    "Yes, but… They were places known to be total holes. In poor, corrupt countries with ineffectual states. This is America, and-. Gotham was supposed to be getting better."

    "I'm… Kinda surprised that you're this bothered, Oh El. This is just one night. Usually it's…"

    He looks momentarily thoughtful.

    "What?"

    "Unless it's a villain plot."

    Like what comic Bane did before he broke Batman's back. Or what comic Black Mask did to beat Batman in a fight. Or Mr Napier did once here just for the fun of it.

    "What if it is?"

    "Then.. we.. try and work out who it is and what they're planning. Come on, Oh El, I know you didn't sleep through the lesson."

    "Sure, and that's… Nice in theory. But there are so many potential culprits-. No, I can't believe that someone coordinated with the ancient sorcerer Selina and I found under the Breed Building."

    "Ah… What?"

    "Oh, there was a sorcerer in a sarcophagus. Looked like he'd been there a while. The chief acolyte was sacrificing people to him. Those aren't clubbable people, and the bottom-tier supervillain I branded didn't say anything about wider cooperation."

    "Would they have known? I mean, gang leaders are smart enough not to tell everyone what's going on, and…" He shakes his head. "Really an ancient wizard?"

    "John Quinn and Doctor Balewa are on-site now. I mean, if someone was making a distraction then I'd guess it was them to conceal their abductions. But if things-." No, that would-. The people making diversionary attacks wouldn't be employees or cultists. They'd be third party operators nudged into making their attacks at the same time, they wouldn't have any direct communication. "How confident are you that this is being orchestrated?"

    "I don't really have any evidence… But…"

    "Right."

    I transition down to where the police are checking over the gang members.

    "Would you excuse me for a moment? I need to check them over for lingering magic effects and fairies."

    "Ah…" The closest detective looks around to see if anyone knows whether I'm joking or not, but they all seem happy to leave it to the man on the spot. "Sure."

    "Thank you."

    I take a rune stone out and wave it at the closest Kob… Kobrite? That sounds about right. No reaction, and none of the cuts in the back of the neck or spine that might indicate the presence of a spine rider. I move on to the next, repeating the process.

    "No, I'm-." The detective shakes his head. "I'm sorry, I can't let that go. Fairies?"

    "About two inches high, with the ability to plug into the back of someone's neck and control them. They're from the future and they're evil. Have you ever heard of the late boxer, Mo Colley?"

    "Can't say I have?"

    "Huge bloke. Beat Ted Grant in his prime. Then he went crazy and murdered a couple of police officers before being shot dead. Spine rider. Forensic examiners don't look for the signs, but in somewhere as crazy as Gotham-" I keep checking, but I'm not seeing any sign that they are anything other than the violent thugs that they appear to be. "-it's worth checking, in case there's a nest of the bastard things."

    "Ah…"

    "Don't worry, there probably wouldn't be anything you can do at this stage anyway. But you might want to visit the range a little more for when their fleet arrives. Large calibre rifles can kill the soldier types, though you'd need an automatic cannon to hurt the war beasts."

    "I'll… Keep that in mind."

    "No fairies here, though." I turn up my empathic vision in case that shows anything, but all I'm getting is the standard mix of angry, violent disaffection. "Thank you for your forbearance."

    I transition back up to Richard.

    "So if this is orchestrated..?"

    "I'm not seeing a pattern so far. But someone must have seen that gang who attacked the mayor's house arrive."

    I nod. "CCTV room it is."
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2019
  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    17th February
    00:33 GMT -5


    Detective Bullock ambles ahead of us through the Gotham Police headquarters. "Jeez, don't you kids ever sleep?"

    Robin shrugs. "You're awake too."

    Despite the weight I've taken off him during our altercations, Bullock hasn't altered his gait or style of dress. Has he..? Not noticed? No. No.

    "I get paid overtime. An' anyway, I'll take time off later. Things are going crazy t'night."

    "Tell me about it."

    He stops just outside the CCTV room, looking back my way. "Some nut job nearly took out the Breed Building."

    "It looked structurally unsound to me. Also, I think that might cause your job to become a little easier."

    "I doubt it."

    He pushes the door open and nods at the people manning the screens. A WayneTech experimental pattern recognition system, it's supposed to be able to detect crimes and notify police faster than someone can phone 911. And it… Kind of works. Except that without a teleportation system all they can do is call the nearest car, so in the case of violent crimes… Well, the survival rate is higher, but at the moment this would have been better stationed in the local ambulance depot.

    Richard is already-. Hang on. This place has basic wards which prevent me remote-accessing it, but I don't believe for a moment that the Bat-family don't have a back door. Why are we here rather than the Cave? Can't ask him out loud, not with people around.

    "What're you kids looking for, anyway?"

    "We want to know where Alice's gang came from."

    Bullock frowns. "Alice. As in, Mad Hatter?"

    "According to her, no."

    He smirks. "If I was fuckin' Hatter I wouldn't 'fess to it neither."



    U-uh.

    "Say that again and I'll make a hologram of it so that you can't get the image out of your head either."

    "Okay, I've got the van." Thank you, Richard. "Tracking it back…"

    "How did they get in?"

    "Looks like they had the key."

    "Shit. Has someone checked their cleaner? Gardener? Whoever else-?"

    "Why?" Bullock shrugs. "If the gang killed 'em, they aren't gunna get deader, are they? You already got the gang, so we don't need t' rush on their account. Tetch is still in Arkham, you got their boss… These kinda people don't do backup traps for the side-targets."

    "You think they're dead."

    "I think we only got so many people, an' with other shit happening there ain't no point calling 'em off to go knockin' on doors tonight." He sees my expression and shrugs. "You wanna go look in on 'em while Robin plays with his computer, be my guest."



    No, I can't. Been a while since I've hit a wall like this, but right now Gotham doesn't feel like mine. It's being stupid, as daft an anthropomorphism as that is. Right now I'm in the mood to kick it, not pick it up. I could fly to their homes… Yes, Richard can contact me by phone when he has something a little more concrete.

    "True. Robin, do you need me here?"

    "Got it!"

    "Huh?"

    "Come on, Oh El. It's just tracking a truck. Well, three trucks. And it doesn’t look like they got the key from the mayor's staff. Not recently, anyway."

    He presses a button on his arm computer, and the image expands.

    "See, they switched vehicles twice, but they started out-."

    I close my eyes. "An abandoned warehouse on the waterfront?"

    "Hey, have you been to Gotham before?"

    "Yes."

    "Good guess, but no. This time it was an abandoned warehouse just off the waterfront."

    "Someone should really pull those down."

    "Fewer abandoned warehouses this year than last year. If the economy keeps getting stronger, supervillains might have to start renting."

    "Anyone-?" Why am I asking him? Ring?

    Unable to detect anyone in the designated building.

    "Computer doesn't think there's anyone else there, but that area doesn't have good coverage."

    Right. Anything that suggests a resolution. I

    step out

    and appear at the warehouse, orange filaments flicking out as I upgrade the local camera network so Richard can follow me. Hopefully they only warded the edge of the property, because if I have to manually deactivate a bunch of wards my mood is only going to get worse.

    "Orange Lantern to Robin."

    "Area looks clear, Oh El. Ah, I know I said they don't leave traps, but they sometimes leave one big one."

    I look around, searching for the glow of a sophont mind. "At this time of day the only thing to hit around here is me, and I'm pretty sure I can take a few gas canisters going up. Proceeding."

    The chain and padlock on the gate look old, but the lock mechanism is new and well-oiled. They were unchaining it each time. The chain looks about as weathered as the surrounding metal and I'm not seeing an obvious cut point-.

    Why am I doing this?

    I cut the chains, construct armour appearing around me as I stride forward. Nothing worrying so far. Infrared? No. X-rays? Eh, the metal's too thick to get much that way. Sonics? Nothing of any significance. I reach the warehouse itself and then don my armour and phase through the metal.

    Inside… Stripped warehouse. There's a bench with a couple of gas burners which appears to have been used as a makeshift kitchen. There's a plastic barrel part-filled with water and several discarded plates.

    "Looks like you were right. People have been spending time here."

    Drugs drugs drugs? Some amphetamines. No Smilex. And no Alice-clothing. And no traps. Ring, is there an office or-?

    Oh great.
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2019
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    17th February
    00:37 GMT -5


    I disarm a couple of thermite mines as I look around what I assume to be 'Alice's' room. Crazy face-collages, crazy drawing and nonsense writing… A small and surprisingly fancy-. No, unsurprisingly fancy wardrobe, come on, this is a Gotham crazy.

    "Robin, does any of this mean anything to you?"

    "Running facial recognition now."

    "I've already done that. And.. uploading. But I'm still not seeing any sort of pattern."

    "That.. sort of thing usually takes a while to work out. People like this go crazy in their own unique ways. Or it could just be a decoy. Can you see anything else that might help us work out what they were doing?"

    Ring?

    Anomaly detected.

    Strands of orange reach out and pull down… A Cernunnos statue, similar in style to the one I found in Hub City last year. Marvellous.

    "You recognise-?"

    "The 'Dark Faith', the crazy Intergang cult. Did anything about the gang look black to you?"

    "Not to an unusual extent, but I can't say that I was looking particularly closely."

    "Hey, what?"

    Bullock sounds surprised, which-. Of course.

    "Not 'black' as in 'humans with dark skin'. I see emotions as colours. Black is the death drive, self-annihilation. The last few people I've seen influenced by Intergang's new extremist group were marked by it."

    "So were they gettin' mind controlled?"

    "Maybe. I'll take a look. But this could just be a statue."

    Looking at the statue itself… Nothing. Perhaps I should talk to Vincent Edge, see if he can get in contact with some of his old colleagues. Crime is one thing, but if everyone in the organisation is getting mind controlled or unnaturally mentally influenced then it wouldn't be a betrayal to inform on them. Considering what Intergang appears to be up to I'd be happy to agree to turn a blind eye to some other types of crime so long as they go straight after getting fixed.

    "Nothing odd about the statue that I can see." I put it down. "I'll leave it for the scene of crime people. Moving to check the rest of the warehouse now."

    "Understood, Oh El. I'll get the computer working on possible links between the people in the pictures."

    I walk through a wall and head for a partitioned-off area of the warehouse. Hm. We can probably parse the potential Intergang connection as 'supervillain activity' and use it to justify an intrusive magic probe of the gang members. The Intergang investigation really.. hasn't gotten anywhere. Oh, low level criminals have been arrested but no lieutenants like The Key. Never even found out what his real name is.

    I poke through the partition. They've rigged up what looks like a shower system. Not exactly fancy, but there's a suspended barrel and a shower head-. No obvious source of heat. And-. Clamps. This was for torture or interrogation, strapping people down and pouring water on them. Water boarding? Or.. just for leaving them cold and miserable? I can't see any recording equipment-. But phones suffice for that sort of thing these days.

    Even if this is Intergang, I'm still not seeing a link between the different criminal groups. Kobra and Intergang might work together in places, but their ideologies are totally removed from one another. Regular-Kobra are heretical Hindus and Jeff-Kobra are messianic murderists, while regular-Intergang are organised criminals and 'Dark Faith' Intergang… Huh. I suppose there is a degree of ideological connection between the Kobra traditionalists and modern Intergang. It would make doctrinal sense for Kobra to encourage a pointlessly evil organisation in order to bring about the end of the age.

    So.. there's.. that, but these were Kobra-wannabes. 'Self-radicalised' gang toughs looking for a high-sounding justification for things they were inclined to do anyway, and.. for allies. Opportunities. I'd have put them down as Jeffites without even.. thinking about it. Mister Gotham? Again, Kobra traditionalists are up for anything evil, but the man himself has been down there for a while. Feeding everyone to a life-eater might end up preventing the arrival of the new age… Is Kobra doctrine flexible enough to allow for that possibility? Probably not…

    But that fact that they could conceivably be working together doesn't prove that they are. And none of this has anything to do with the Smilex.

    "One shower, possibly intended for water-based interrogations."

    "So they were planning on bringing the mayor there? Doesn't sound like they were planning on getting away."

    "Do city mayors know anything especially sensitive?"

    "Gotham's.. kind of a special case. The mayor knows a lot about all of our supervillains and their security arrangements. That.. could be the reason."

    Blasted Arkham.

    "Breaking someone out?"

    "Or looking for their old equipment."

    "You keep that? I mean, here? In Gotham?"

    "Some of it. Not all of it gets seized when they're arrested. Criminals get their stuff back once their sentences end, and Arkham isn't a prison."

    "Supervillain equipment is supposed to get confiscated more than normal property."

    "The city keeps some of it in a police warehouse. Some of it gets sold to STAR Labs or WayneTech…"

    "So we need to check there next."

    "It's.. worth doing just in case, but what are we even looking for?"

    "Smilex?"

    "We aren't dumb enough to keep that around. The labs only handle tiny amounts to check whether or not he's changing the formula."

    "Napier's records?"

    "The originals all get destroyed, along with most of his 'gags'. The Joker's not really an inventor."

    "The arsenal of dangerous supervillain weapons?"

    "All partially disassembled when not being tested. Somebody could put them back together, but it wouldn't be quick. And… This isn't Metropolis. A lot of them aren't exactly world-shattering."

    I nod.

    "Alright. Since there's a potential Intergang connection, I'll visit and make sure that nothing they've got stored there is magic. Then… Then I'm going home. I don't think I've got much else to add this morning."
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2019
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    17th February
    00:57 GMT -5


    Ah, man.

    It's like I've tripped and fallen into the sixties.

    Naturally, any piece of supervillain paraphernalia that's simply a weapon has to be decommissioned. But now that they're actually doing their jobs the police have to be able to train new recruits on the sorts of things that the mad men, mad women and mad others who inhabit Gotham might use, and since they don't actually want to kill the rookies...

    Novelty vehicles from brightly painted cars to parade floats and a couple of aircraft, example costumes and mundane devices with cunningly concealed secret compartments and enough ridiculous costumes to make Elton John have a heart attack.

    "So… Like…" The night custodian looks like someone who thought that this job wasn't going to actually involve much actual work. "What are you actually looking for?"

    "Honestly? An excuse to go home for the night." I take out a rune stone and walk towards the nearest pile of… Junk? No, the vehicles are still as roadworthy as they were when they were first built. Stuff. Yes, pile of stuff. The products of deranged but surprisingly functional minds. Unsurprisingly, the stone doesn't glow. "This is one of those things where you don't actually expect to find anything out, but you have to check anyway just in case."

    "You want me to do anything?"

    "Yes please." I use a construct filament to pass him a rune stone. "Hold that near each pile. If it glows, call me."

    He takes it and looks at it wearily for a moment. "I need t'..? Rub it or something?"

    "No, it comes pre-rubbed. It's not dangerous-" It turns out that the Elvis-Joker costume isn't actually magical. "-at all. Glowing is all that it can do."

    "You're the boss." He runs it over the body of Mr Cobblepot's… Aviarymobile. "You know, people always wondered if Scarface was possessed. You know, like Chucky in the Child's Play."

    "I don't think Chucky would tolerate someone's hand up his bottom."

    Not that I've actually watched Child's Play. For all I know Chucky was into that.

    "Batman has destroyed several iterations of the Scarface puppet. None have demonstrated any sort of otherworldly effect. And the magic systems which handle the transmigration of human souls are generally quite reliable."

    "Transmawhat?"

    "Transmigration. The process of what's left of you after your body shuts down going elsewhere."

    "Oh, your soul going to Heaven."

    "Or somewhere else. Honestly, at the moment I'd pick Purgatory over either."

    "Over Heaven?"

    "Dad is the gardener in my family. From what I saw of Heaven, you get either 'pastoral' or 'progress towards full unity with the Source'. I like the world, and Purgatory is the place most like the material world. Also, I know the guy who runs it."

    "Conversations like this-" He lumbers over to a rack of Mr Cobblepot's gadget umbrellas. "-make me wish I hadn't skipped catechism class. I just know what you're saying is important, but it's all over my head."

    "It's never too late to start worrying about your immortal soul." I frown at myself as I come to the end of a rack. "Until you die. Then it generally is."

    "I like to think I've lived an okay life."

    "Well"

    "What?"

    "Okay, look, I've had an unproductive and frustrating evening, but… So that you don't end up with the default afterlife services provider rather than the one you actually want… As I understand it, it takes a little more than living an 'okay' life."

    Another row of clothes, another disappointment. And not all of these people were insane!

    "So, what, I gotta start going to church again?"

    "Assuming that you want to go to Heaven..?"

    "Well… Yeah?"

    "You don't sound too sure, there."

    "I didn’t expect to hear a superhero talking up Purgatory."

    "The fact that supernatural things exist doesn't mean that what popular mythology says about them is true. For example, Purgatory isn't where you go while you reflect on your vices on the way to Heaven. Vampires don't stop and count seeds if you throw them at them."

    "How about garlic? And.. stakes?"

    "The one vampire I've spoken to says that she doesn't like the smell of either the bulbs or the flowers, but she can soldier through it. Stakes through the heart wreck the blood magics which keep vampires functioning, but stakes through the heart generally kill humans too. As well, it isn't any easier to stake a vampire than it is a human, so any film you've seen of a human hitting a vampire in the chest and killing it? Probably not accurate. You either hit a rib, or it gets embedded in the muscle and doesn't punch through."

    "Huh. Ah, nothing over here."

    "Next pile, then. Honestly, with most vampires, a handgun is a better bet."

    "I thought guns didn't work on vampires."

    "Why wouldn't they? I mean, they're not as effective as they are against humans, but that's because vampires are tougher and heal faster, not because they're immune to bullets. If you shoot a vampire through the brain or the heart that'll stop it, even if it won't necessarily kill it."

    "I guess… Yeah, it makes sense." He moves his rune stone around some sort of giant marble run. "I guess it's like you said: movies and whatever just don't show it how it is. So… Ah, going back to the whole 'Heaven' thing? How do you get in?"

    "I'm not an expert. I was extradited there. But… The basic Christian ethos is well known. You know what you have to do to get into Heaven. You're not expected to be perfect, but you are expected to be trying to become a more moral man and ask for God's help when you fall short."

    "That's it?"

    "Yeah. It's not a secret. Getting into Heaven is simple but that doesn't mean that it's easy. Assuming that you want to."

    "And you wanna go to Purgatory?"

    "No, I'm going to Erebos. Erebos is perfect for me because I'll be able to stay in contact with the world, have a productive post-life existence and if I for some reason get bored of it I can opt for reincarnation without any of that Hindu karma levels business. For someone like me with no interest in reconciling with the Source, it's perfect."

    He chuckles a little nervously.

    "You get commission on that?"

    "Not these days, though I imagine Lord Hades will shuffle me to the head of the queue when it finally happens."

    I look out across the warehouse at all of the exhibits still to go, and inwardly sag.
     
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2019
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    17th February
    01:26 GMT -5


    Charlie the night custodian hands me back the rune stone and I return both of them to my equipment harness.

    "Well, this has been fun."

    "Charlie, if you think this has been fun-." I frown for a moment. "Then I'm glad we were able to do it, but you may want to consider the fact that most people would have found it boring."

    "Yeah, I was just being polite." He shakes his head. "I've seen this stuff, like, every night for six years now. Waving a rock at it didn't make it more interesting."

    "How'd you get a job like this?"

    "Last place I worked at got burned down by Firefly, and the last guy who worked here got killed by Joker. They were having trouble hiring people, I needed the work…" He shrugs.

    "Do you like it?"

    "The stuff kinda freaked me out the first few nights, but after a while it just starts being background, you know?" I nod. "It's usually pretty quiet, too. I've only hit the panic alarm, like, twice? I mean, I know there's supposed to be less crime in Gotham these days, but I still assumed that it'd be more risk with it than this. At this rate, management are gunna dock my pay."

    "I don't know. Getting an honest and reliable employee in Gotham is a valuable enough thing, even if you aren't getting assaulted by supervillains every day." I shrug. "If you like, I can put in a good word?"

    "Nah, don't bother. Best for me if no one even remembers I exist. The less reason people have to come looking for me, the better."

    "Ah. Okay. Thanks for your help." He nods politely and turns away. I raise my right hand to my head. "Orange Lantern to Robin."

    "Hey Oh El. You done at the police impound?"

    "Yes. Nothing magical, no attempted break ins, just piles of stuff that matches the inventory. What's going on in the city?"

    "A lot of random acts of violence, but it's all pretty low level. Assaults, attempted break ins… The Commissioner thinks it's drug-related, but they won't finish the blood work until tomorrow."

    "Could you do it?"

    "I'm not a professional chemist, Oh El. And I don't have time to take blood samples from two hundred addicts at police stations all across the city."

    And I.. could, but…

    I try creating a construct syringe and… There's a faint glowy orange shape for a moment, but it dissipates almost at once.

    "Looks like I'm out of investment."

    "If you mean you need to recharge your rings-."

    "No."

    "If you need a rest you can take off. I can stay here until Batwoman-."

    "Robin, what emotion catalyses my constructs?"

    "Avarice. Oh. Has.. Gotham really ticked you off that much already?"

    "I don’t cope well with intractable problems. But yes, I am a little tired. I'll probably feel a bit more helpful tom-. This afternoon."

    "So in the interest of Batman's threat evaluation..?"

    "This doesn't weaken my defensive abilities at all. But I have to want someone hurt in order to hurt them. I have to want my world my way for me in order to make it that way. I'm not.. seeing this as the actions of a few bad eggs in a city which otherwise works. We joke about 'Gotham being Gotham', but on a night like this I struggle to see Gotham as anything other than a spent cost."

    "That's.. pretty harsh."

    "If I hadn't watched a planet burned from orbit a little while ago I'd probably feel differently." I shake my head. "Wake me if you need me-need me."

    "Okay. See you later, I guess."

    "Oh, ah… He didn't want me to say anything, but the custodian was pretty helpful. So if you hear about any similar jobs with better pay or conditions…"

    "I shouldn't think he'd be interested. He's starting a pre-college course next month."

    "What, like a 'back to school adult education' sort of thing?"

    "Oh El? Charles Adelsen is a nineteen year old art and design student."

    Scan.

    "This place is fitted with wards, isn't it?"

    "Everywhere is. It's a contract requirement. What's wrong?"

    I march towards the exit. "The man I encountered wasn't nineteen, and he gave me a story about working here after Mister Lynns destroyed his last place of work."

    "Got a picture?"

    "Yes. Ring, send."

    "Compliance."

    He's gone. Alright, another git disrupting my mission. Ring, scan as best you can. Wraith, go and find them but do not possess them.

    The pale orange shade wafts out of my ring and flies down the corridor ahead of me. Scan detects… Nothing out of the ordinary in my immediate environment, then… A small amount of dirt on the floor. Someone scraping their boots off? The dirt is slightly damp and the last few days have been dry… But sprinklers are a thing, so that doesn't mean anything. Soil chemistry… Could have come from nearly anywhere in this part of Gotham.

    "Not getting any return from the facial recognition system. Did you check their security tag?"

    "They were wearing one. It looked authentic."

    "Empathic vision?"

    "I didn't probe them too deeply. Looked normal enough."

    Okay, I do have this building's plans. Where would be a good place to stuff a body?

    "Did Mister Adelsen log in this evening?"

    "Yeah, but it's just a card reader. Visual recognition gets done by the other guys who work there."

    My spirits sink. "And they log out the same way, so if someone was quick they could kill them all and the system wouldn't register anything was wrong?"

    "No, there's… Cameras-. No, the rest of the detail definitely left. I've got their cars leaving the lot on the traffic cameras."

    "With them inside?"

    "Confirmed shots on most of them."

    "Alright then. So if it's not that, then whoever 'Charlie' was got in later. Heading towards the main entrance now, I'll be out of contact for twenty seconds or so."

    I phase and fly through the wall towards the nearest exit.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2019
  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    17th February
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    "Orange Lantern to Robin. In position."

    I look around. He's either not here yet or has already left. Off-duty police officers are already being called in to deal with the situation throughout the city, but I'm not a priority. Which is fair enough; the stuff in here isn't easily weaponisable and no one is in danger. It'll probably be morning before a proper search can take place.

    "So you're sure nothing was missing?"

    "Nothing in the main warehouse. There might have been smaller items that I didn't get around to looking at."

    Apophenia is seeing patterns where none exist. I don't remember the man's name, but I think it was the writer of Invincible who said… Something like… That while for a super powered criminal committing a crime their encounter with a superhero will be the most important thing that happens to them on that day, for the hero it's an annoying distraction from what it was that they wanted to be doing instead. If it's your city to protect and things start blowing up, you turn up and sort it out. But while it looks like a lot of similar things happening from your point of view, in reality-hello.

    Part of the wall now has an empathic glow. Not a.. big part, but it's growing-.

    Mud.

    Ring, current location of Matthew Hagen?

    Given Mr Hagen's nature, neither metahuman suppression collars or binding chains would work on him, so he's mostly kept separate from Belle Reve's other prisoners. His H-dial use is carefully monitored, but with a degree of humanity restored and Ted's research team in daily contact he hasn't demonstrated any sort of desire to act out.

    Matthew Hagen remains in Belle Reve.

    And I know that Ra's didn't like other people having access to Lazarus Pits. No League of Shadows member has reported anything like 'Clayface' being used by the organisation before, and Talia didn't know exactly what would happen. As far as I know, the only other person who knows how to make them is Nyssa, though I suppose there's no particular reason why Ra's couldn't have had other children before her who were also in on the secret.

    Or this could be some sort of elemental… No, that would have made the rune stone light up. A mud person from some other source, or someone might have discovered the Lazarus process independently… I'll have to ask.

    The area displaying an empathic resonance is creeping forward. Not as much of a resonance as a living person usually displays, though I don't have a great deal of experience in using this ability on a distributed intelligence. Or however clay people function. I deliberately turn away, looking around the area while directing the wraith to approach it from behind. I don't know how stretched it is, though I can probably grab it fast enough to stop it getting away.

    Or… I know roughly what Mr Hagen's maximum speed is. I could just grab it along with the building around it and then just rebuild it afterwards. Or leave that for the locals. They have a supervillain civil repairs budget-. No, no. The best way to handle this is a civil conversation, but since I strongly doubt that whoever this is will listen and respond sensibly I'll let them get more of their bulk out before making a grab. I don't know exactly how much of their body needs to be in a place before that becomes the 'main' part and I don't want any disassociation incidents.

    Master.

    The wraith is behind an object doing an impression of a cleaning cart, the presence of a mortal soul clearly visible to its arcane senses. The clay person's arcane feel is off enough that the wraith's usual desire to consume appears to have been suppressed. Course plotted…

    I turn to face the clay patch.

    "Charlie, can we talk about this?"

    It doesn't stop moving, but it does slow ever so slightly.

    "Once I found out that you weren't who you claimed to be, there was basically no way for you to escape. Good work mimicking the cleaning trolley; Matthew Hagen still struggles to maintain the form of other objects for any length of time."

    Now it stops.

    "Look, I don't.. really derive any satisfaction from violence. Certainly not for its own sake. You've been spotted. Unless you've got a lot of additional abilities compared with the other clay person I've met, there's no way for you to escape. Please, surrender. If you're having a problem of some sort, I can help. We can help. If someone has some sort of hold on-."

    And it's pulling back and go go go!

    I thrust down the corridor, construct grabber already in motion as the main mass leaps towards the vents in the ceiling! There's a brown smear as I cut the clay mass in… Half? Maybe? I seal the struggling mass in a construct sphere even as I run a construct up into the ventilation system after it, passing by the squirming mass and sealing it in. Good work, me.

    "Orange Lantern to Robin. It was another clay person. I have them contained. Please ask Batwoman if she's ever heard of such a thing during your next scheduled contact."

    "Will do. You think they came from the same place?"

    "I don't want to assume-" I'm not detecting any Lazarus chemicals, but I don't detect them in Mr Hagen either. "-but that's the first thing I'd check."

    "Are you going to stick around there?"

    "I kind of have to, now. Fortunately, they were a good deal more talkative than Mister Hagen when he first put in an appearance, so hopefully they won't mind having a conversation. Otherwise, now that Belle Reve knows how to contain a clay person I can drop them off there."

    "On what charge?"

    "Trespass. And it'll only be until we can calm things down enough to actually do an investigation and find out what happened to Mister Adelsen."

    "Okay, I'll talk to Waller. You try getting something out of whoever they are."

    "Will do. Orange Lantern out."

    I pull the mud out of the ventilation shaft with an airtight shield and add it to the main ball, then create speaker constructs on the inside.

    "I'm afraid that the police are a little busy at the moment. Could I persuade you to talk to me?"

    The pressure on the interior surface of my construct decreases slightly, and a pair of glowing red eye holes appear.

    "Can you actually talk like that?"

    The eyes just stare for a moment, then a vague face appears in the mud around them. Still somewhat dim, emotion-wise. In fact, looking a little closer…

    I don't.. think that's a person. Which means that this is either automated somehow, or… Or it voluntarily split itself and the intelligent part is somewhere else. Does it need the rest of its mass? Is it stuck at one size, or can it just absorb more mud? Mr Hagen wasn't terribly clear, Waller hasn't wanted to give him ideas by letting him practise and I haven't wanted to push it because he already suffers from mild alien body syndrome and I haven't wanted to make it worse.

    But… The orange light does show some images, weak and pale imitations of what the full mind would show. And while the wards on this building are blocking my vision, if the rest of the mud person wants to escape they're going to have to leave that effect area. Alternatively, I could turn up my vision power all the way and try and burn out the wards. They're probably quite weak. I can't see Gotham splashing out on a high-tier magician after all; it's probably the default warding sigil etched onto light switches or something.



    No. No.

    I fly up and out of the building, gaining enough height that I can see around it easily. Then I wait and watch.
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2019
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th February
    22:30 GMT -8


    I lean back in my chair slightly, giving every sign that I'm giving the question the consideration it deserves. Despite the fact that I've obviously prepared for something like that coming up, and the fact that the questioner is far less aggressive about it than Sunset was.

    "No, I'm not a member of the National Firearms Organization. I don't think that -as a foreigner- it's appropriate for me to involve myself directly in American politics. My discussions with President Horne have touched on the area of armaments, but only in relation to military and paramilitary policy. My.. understanding of the President's position is that his stated position -that he's in favour of restrictions for practical reasons but doesn't think that they're constitutional at the Federal level- is.. his.. actual position and I can't think of any obvious reason for him to change it if he were re-elected."

    The richly bearded man who asked the question looks mildly disgruntled.

    "I mean… I'm sure that Jon Horne has done a lot of things that people around here don't like, but he doesn't mislead people about his policy objectives. He'd have a far easier time of it professionally if he did."

    There's a small laugh, but gun control is an extremely partisan issue in this part of the country and they want a lot more than that. Horne really isn't winning here, and I'm honestly not sure that he's trying. And with anyone else I'd say that was strategy but with him..? The Source alone knows.

    Though what happened is classic Jon Horne: he effectively stated outright that he wouldn't sign any gun control Bills and yet he sounds so hostile to private gun ownership that hardly anyone in the pro-gun lobby heard him do it and he's gotten absolutely no credit for it. Honestly, hand the man a shoo-in election and he manages to turn it into an actual fight. Even with an opponent who knows that it would be electoral suicide to attack him directly. It's the acme of anti-skill.

    And objectively, Senator Knight is making a worse case. He hasn't promised not to sign new Bills and despite what the people answering opinion polls seem to think he certainly hasn't said anything about repealing existing Federal restrictions. But he's making nicer noises and shaking hands publically with arms manufacturers and advertising in the right places because he actually knows how to-.

    No, it isn't that. Horne knows how to run that sort of campaign; he just doesn't want to. And so he isn't. I like the man, but sometimes…

    "Now, personally, I've gotten access to a whole arsenal of alien weapons, as well as all of the weird supervillain stuff that a man in my profession runs into from time to time. But in terms of human weapons… Well…"

    I hold up my right hand and take my M134 out of subspace.

    "I'll admit that I've taken this out on the range a few times and shot a few targets to splinters. I'm heavy enough and strong enough that I can keep it on target without much difficulty and… I didn't have much contact with explosive-kinetic weapons until I came to Earth and they're.. kind of viscerally satisfying in a way that lasers and plasma weapons aren't."

    And that's true, but the flipping rifle rounds it fires aren't going to do a thing to anything I'm going to fight. And since Jon will complain if I tell a direct lie I'll tell the man asking the question that if he directly asks… But I'm hoping that he won't.

    I return the gun to subspace.

    "How about your kids?"

    "My eldest -Lynne- has access to my arsenal. She was taught how to use low calibre pistols before we first met, and I've made sure that she knows how to use some of the more accessible energy weapons. She's not a particularly large girl, and I don't think she's going to be using my guns for a few years yet. My younger children share a.. medical difficulty which means that I'm holding back on teaching them to fight."

    And honestly, I think they'll be focusing on magic combat rather than gun fighting.

    "But we all live in a fortified mountain surrounded by telepathic guards. We don’t exactly have to worry about home-invaders, and last time someone went after one of my children I decapitated their country's government."

    That gets an approving nod.

    "Did you own a gun back on… Er… Apocalypse?"

    The moderator frowns slightly at one man monopolising the microphone, but I'm pretty sure that it's the sort of thing that everyone wants to know and I'm not keen on using debate procedure to refuse to answer civil questions.

    Instead, I smile. "Oh yes, definitely."

    "Is that.. normal?"

    "Ah…" Why is he asking about Apokolips? "Everyone who can get their hands on a gun gets one. Except Father, who has eye beams which make Superman's look like pea shooters and so doesn't need one."

    I lean forwards slightly.

    "But the difference between America and Apokolips is that you're a constitutional democracy while Apokolips is a totalitarian visocracy. You're an American Citizen; most Apokoliptians are literally called Lowlies. Citizenship comes with rights and responsibilities as part and parcel of the arrangement. On Apokolips, nothing like that exists. There's order because my grandfather.. and after him my father, are so much stronger than everyone else that they can enforce it, not because there's any sort of agreement between the people who make up the society."

    "In America, you have constitutions and laws, and mechanisms for enforcing and changing them. On Apokolips, people issue orders and if they're strong enough to enforce obedience then they'll be obeyed. If someone gets a gun and is strong enough to hold onto it when someone above them tells them they shouldn't, then they'll probably get a promotion. If someone above them even bothers to notice. And then? They behave exactly as the person they replaced did, except maybe a little less complacently."

    The man nods. "So how d'you think a citizen in a democracy should learn to fire a gun?"

    "Guns… Well, any weapon, but we're.. talking about guns here. So it's not that I think a person should be prohibited by law from giving a five year old a magnum at a shooting range… I just think that a responsible citizen should realise that that's a dumb thing to do and not do it. Guns are implements for hurting and killing, and that's the context in which they should be presented. Whenever I see a picture in a gun magazine of a woman posing with an AK Forty Seven while wearing a bikini I think that's a person who doesn't take the weapon they're carrying as seriously as they should."

    "If you live in a rural environment, take your children out hunting with you a few times. Let them see what your rifle rounds do to the animals you shoot before you let them touch the thing. Make it very clear what the result of pulling the trigger with something or someone at the other end is. And if you know someone who spent some time in the military and has a story or two about someone who made an unfortunate mistake, make sure they share it. And when you're sure they're not going to do something stupid, then supervise them practising with it before you take them out hunting with it."

    "And if you live in an urban environment, try talking to the local police because I'm sure that they'd love to share some images of gunshot injuries to help you impress upon your children the seriousness of picking up a gun. If you're having one in the house, make sure that they see those before they get the stupid idea that guns are cool toys into their heads and decide to play with one."

    "Guns are tools for killing, and even when that killing is necessary or good should always be treated seriously."

    The man asking the questions sits back, nodding in approval. I'm just glad he didn't ask whether Jon's children were taught how to use guns.

    The moderator nods to one of the sound engineers. "Boy on the right there."

    I relax a little. While children are perfectly capable of wrong-footing even the most seasoned political professional, the chance of the question actually being-.

    The boy -who can't be more than ten- looks at me like I just ran over his puppy. And he decided that I'm going to spend the rest of my life paying for it.

    "I have a question about Mister Grayven's relationship with the Chinese government."



    Oh shit.
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2019
  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th February
    22:35 GMT -8


    That's where I recognise the face from.

    "Lonnie Machin. You're a long way from Gotham."

    "Er…"

    That actually wrong-foots him. He's… Nine at the moment, so he probably hasn't started using his brain reprogrammer yet. He's just the unusually cerebral and basically well-intentioned son of a man whose arms I crushed not so long ago. Not that he knows that at this point in his life. Actually, I should probably check-. Yes. And he's got a few of the neural abnormalities, too. Might explain the obsessiveness. Or that might just be a product of his unusual intelligence; he's used to the people around him not understanding what he's talking about and so he stops looking to those outside himself for guidance.

    I really should try introducing him to Richard…

    "How do you.. know who I am?"

    "You're on a watch list. Boys my children are never allowed to date."

    The moderator frowns at me in bemusement. "Ah, Grayven? Do you know… Ah, Lonnie, was it?"

    Lonnie nods, recovering himself slightly.

    Ring, biographical details.

    By your command.

    "Mister Machin up there is one of the most intelligent nine year olds in the country. Mister Machin got a scholarship to Gotham Academy -an excellent school- but decided to keep going to Gotham North… Why was that again?"

    "I don't think people should be sorted into winner and losers at six years old. If you tell kids they're going to a bad school, they'll identify with that. It's called the-."

    "Pygmalion Effect, yes, I am aware of it. It's why I tell my children that they're New Gods."

    Technically, only Lynne is a New God as she's the only one who started human. But I'm sure we can work on it if that bothers the younger children.

    "Right."

    He pauses.

    Yes, Mr Machin is highly intelligent but lacks experience. Which doesn't mean that I can afford to reject what he says out of hand or mock him, but it does mean that his intellectual reach may well exceed his mental grasp. Thing is, when you're trying to reimagine the world, having someone like him around could be rather useful.

    See how things go.

    "You were asking about China?"

    "Yes. Yes, you've been helping the Chinese government with their weapon development program."

    "A very small part of it, yes."

    "Why? I mean, you say that you like living in America because of the freedom it allows its citizens. Did you know that China executed all of its superheroes during the Great Purge?"

    "They executed a lot of people whose faces didn't fit. And as a nation they're hardly unique in that regard. Russia was never quite able to exert that level of control on their own metahuman population but it wasn't for lack of trying. And I can name at least three superheroes who were shot dead by the American government for violently resisting internment during the Second World War."

    "And what about more recently?"

    I shrug. "Mister Machin, you're a conscientious sort of chap, so I assume that you watched my interrogation of the British Parliament's Preternatural Scrutiny Select Committee?" He nods. "Then you know what I consider my job on Earth to be. I am not here to fix all of the problems of human civilisation. I am here to keep the majority of the population alive."

    "Why am I willing to work with a country with a less than stellar human rights record? Because by doing so I reduce the chance of planetary extinction. Because of me those few supervillains who manage to cling on inside China won't be clinging on for much longer. Because of me, some of the more dangerous technologies which the Chinese government had access to are being investigated in slightly less risky ways. I earn the Chinese government's favour and they're a little more willing to cooperate with me on matters of planetary security."

    "Exactly what areas of their military have you been helping them with?"

    "I'm not going to broadcast that information."

    "How do you know that it's just something they're going to use against supervillains rather than their own people?"

    "No, I expect that they'll use it in all areas of law enforcement. I know for a fact that several Great Ten members are routinely employed in capturing metahumans who refuse to work for the state." I shrug. "I personally consider the Chinese government's way of utilising metahumans to be inefficient; they value control above utility. But, China has the largest army in the world. If they didn't have slightly better superheroes, they would still have plenty of ways to beat down 'enemies of the state'. Probably with a higher body count."

    I'm being a little disingenuous. I'm fully aware that part of the Great Ten's 'hazing' involves sending new members to beat up lightly or entirely unarmed demonstrators. It's a useful way of forcing them to identify with their team and with the state, and to deny them the opportunity to establish a separate support base for themselves amongst said 'enemies of the state'. And the possibility of a resistance movement forming around a powerful metahuman has gone from 'slight' to 'nonexistent'. And… 'Inefficient' is underselling exactly how I feel. I mean, I get it for the ones with destructive powers, but some of the people they've given life imprisonment sentences to…

    But even if this version of Lonnie ends up going the 'profound honesty' route I certainly won't.

    "So…" He shakes his head. "You don't think you could make a difference? You're not going to use your leverage at all?"

    "China has about… Five top tier superfunctionaries." August General, Immortal Man, Thundermind, Ghost Fox Killer and Celestial Archer. "I've helped three of them slightly. That gives me minimal leverage, and none at all outside of the narrow area of metahuman security. And if I sound off in public about some of the things I'd prefer them to do differently I'd lose the ability to influence them within my area of expertise. And while I might prefer it if certain things were different, I must live in the world that exists."

    So let's not talk about the negotiations between Lex and the politburo concerning Security Council support for his planetary defence fleet, because I really don't want them to spot that in a move stolen from World War Z's Cuba I'm going to turn their own soldiers into social Trojan horses. Or that we intend to ensure that all of Earth's off-world colonies are liberal, capitalist and democraticish and not beholden to any Earth nation state.

    "Mister Machin, it's not that government oppression doesn't bother me, it's that a legion of murder-fairies from the future bent on harvesting your civilisation bothers me more. It's that space pirates bent on plunder and malign wizards bent on mass murder bother me more. Those are the things the Earth rather needs me to focus my energies on. Perhaps you'd rather that I do something else."

    I shrug.

    "And perhaps you could even make a convincing utilitarian argument for it; I'm far from being a perfect judge of such things. But by and large, I think I'm taking the right approach. Though if you want to try and change the Chinese government's minds on any subject, feel free. I doubt that you're involved in any other work with them that might be damaged by it so you've got a far freer hand than I do."

    "But-."

    "Tell you what. I'm sure that you could keep pushing me all evening. Why don't you let someone else have a turn now-" Because I'm supposed to be not-electioneering, not re-evaluating my entire strategy. "-and come and see me backstage once this is over? I'll try and give you the level of detail that might actually satisfy you."

    He hesitates again, then nods.

    "Thank you. I'll do that."
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2019
  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    17th February
    01:43 GMT -5


    Still not coming out.

    Okay, sitting inside a warded area is actually a pretty good plan. The area around the warehouse is empty enough that there's clearly no way it could escape without me noticing. And if I enter the warehouse facility then it might be able to exit through one of the doors, or the ventilation-

    Still not coming out.

    -or just through a gap in the walls or the roof. The wraith is looking, but I'm not confident of its ability to locate an intelligent object that is actively trying to hide from it inside an internally warded building. I can't leave a drone up here while I search myself because I don't have a drone that could reliably spot a shapeshifter that was making an effort.

    Still-.

    Right! That's it! Gotham doesn't have street magicians and the wards wouldn't stop a serious magician anyway.

    I open my eyes, needing to see even the tiniest flicker of emotion within the warehouse. The whole building wavers in my vision for a moment, then snaps back with a tiny orange glow… Tiny orange glows, but those are rats and other minor pests. Only one stands out as a sophont mind. It's hiding… In the main warehouse. Now I don't have to worry about the wards I can easily detect it by ring scan; it's pretending to be some sort of rag doll. The wraith begins flying in its direction with a renewed hunger, but I shake my head.

    I transition into the building. Though this facility is new, most of it predates its current usage. There is more than enough room for me to trace an unobstructed line between myself and my target. The doll doesn’t move as I and its greater whole appear, and doesn't have time to as I grab it and dump it into the mud ball with the rest of it.

    "This has been a long and annoying night. Reform. Now."

    The doll swiftly dissolves, the shape and then the colours of the 'fabric' merging with the rest of the mass, the doll's face merging with the formerly-vacant mudface. The more complex lights are still there, growing in complexity as whatever it was trying to do to shut itself down stops.

    The face shrinks, rising from the surface of the mud and becoming noticeably more feminine as it extrudes. Still too misshapen to easily identify as any person in my database, assuming that this being is foolish enough to use its original face.

    "Please let me go."

    "As I told your lesser half, you're under arrest. It is extremely unlikely that I will let you go."

    "Please."

    "Oh, well since you asked so nicely a second t-. No. What happened to Charles Adelsen?"

    "I don't know."

    "Uh-huh."

    "I was.. given pictures. I was told who he was. I was given recordings of his speech. I never met him myself."

    "And who gave you those pictures?"

    "Kobra."

    "Plausible. Which part?"

    "Lady Eve."

    Not a well known name, outside of intelligence circles. Still, hardly conclusive. She doesn't keep her name a secret. I imagine that if you move in the right circles it's not too hard to hear it.

    "And how did you end up like this?"

    "I hated my natural face. I wanted to change. Lady Eve promised me that she would make it happen."

    "Right… But how did you get from that… Actually, how did you get in contact with Lady Eve in the first place? She must have hundreds of willing cultists who'd do anything to get power like this."

    "I don't know. I just wanted it."

    "Oh, come on-."

    "I don't!"

    Her face expands, her eyes going from a dull red glow to a furious burn.

    "Kobra agents came to my ro-. My house! They offered and I said yes. I didn't want to be me anymore."

    Hm. Perhaps they picked someone who already hated their own body in the hope of them not having so much of a psychological problem adapting to being made of mud? It still seems… Kind of dumb. Someone fanatically loyal would be better. Or several fanatically loyal people. The usual Kobra loyalists wouldn't talk to law enforcers like this.

    "What exactly did they do to you?"

    "They blindfolded me and took me out into the middle of nowhere. There was this… Sarcophagus… Thing, filled with some sort of… Gunk. They said it was some sort of magic and told me to get in."

    "And you just… Did?"

    "Yes."

    Ah. Hated her life so much that she wanted to cease existing… Still puzzling how Kobra found her. Or a Lazarus Pit. I could understand Ra's having a few stashed away somewhere, but I'd have thought that a man like him would have had protocols to prevent them falling into the wrong hands.

    "Why did they send you here?"

    "I was supposed to hide here and wait for other orders. They set up ' Charles Adelsen'… I don't know if they killed him or if he was a Kobra member or if he ever really existed in the first place."

    We can check th-. Richard can check that.

    "And what do you plan to do now?"

    "I.. thought you were going to send me to prison."

    "Yes, but assuming that you're telling the truth about Charles Adelsen, I've only got you for your Kobra membership. Taking into account that from what you said you appear to have been more of a test subject than a member, then even adding in the other charges that the District Attorney's office might raise, you're not looking at all that much prison time. And given that you're made of mud, you may well be effectively immortal."

    "You tried to hide rather than fight, you've been reasonably cooperative and you haven't shouted 'snake snake' even once. That suggests to me that you're an essentially rational woman. So what I'm going to suggest is that you speak to a colleague of mine and tell him absolutely everything about your contact with Kobra. And you can have a think about what you want to do with the rest of your life. Does that sound like a good idea to you?"

    "I.. guess… I just assumed that they'd be watching me."

    "With a view to doing what, exactly? You're made of mud. I shot the only other person I know about who's like you with a truly terrifying amount of gamma radiation and he was up and about in a couple of months. If you're happy being made of mud and you don't have any external leverage, there's essentially nothing they can do to compel you."

    "There's… Someone else like me?"

    "Sort of. He's much worse at shapeshifting than you are. So how about it?"

    "And you can keep me safe from Kobra?"

    "You can keep you safe from Kobra. But the more information you give me, the more I can do."

    "Then… Okay."

    Hey. A rational would-be supervillain. Perhaps tonight wasn't a total waste of time after all.
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2019
  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Positively indolent.

    17th February
    09:57 GMT -5


    I shuffle across the bed, noting that I appear to have moved during the night so that my face was on Jade's part of the pillow. A quick glance at the flat's internal monitoring shows that there've been no attempted breaches since I got in this morning. There's a team meeting scheduled for this afternoon and I've got no plans to do anything of significance until then.

    But…

    Ring, status of Sondra Fuller.

    I walk in the direction of the kitchen.

    Sondra Fuller remains in containment at Gotham Central pending a decision on her possible transfer to Belle Reve.

    I take my bowl of milk-soaked oats out of the fridge and put in it the microwave.

    Since she clearly isn't insane, there isn't any case for putting Ms Fuller in Arkham Asylum. Despite what some elements of Earth Prime's Bat-media seemed to think, Arkham Asylum is a maximum security hospital and not a prison. Mr Cobblepot -for example- has never been there, as he's clearly sane. Mr Lynns didn't go there initially, as it wasn't originally clear that he had actual pyromania and wasn't just on a more normal power trip. Dr Fries didn't go there before his transfer to Belle Reve. Mr Blake...

    The point is, it isn't really a metahuman containment facility. And neither is Blackgate. By the time that Gotham was functional enough for it to be worth considering creating that sort of institution, Belle Reve was up and running and it was judged that it would be better to send them there, relying on Batman to arrange the actual transportation. In fact… Aside from Dr Isley, I don't think Gotham really has any local supervillains who'd need that sort of institution.

    I should probably visit her. While I think I convinced her to stay put, imprisonment is an extremely stressful thing and the situation will only get worse if she does something ill-advised. Plus, the Gotham police don't actually have all that much experience in handling metahumans. The Major Crimes unit isn't Metropolis's Special Crimes Unit and I remember… Reading something about the Spiderman villain Sandman. Because his body works nothing like the body of a normal person, if you didn't have the right equipment when you confronted him then you were going to lose.

    The microwave pings and I take out my bowl, a construct oven glove automatically appearing around my right hand. That's nice to see after last-. This morning's construct-failure. I'm not used to not wanting to do the thing I'm working on. The privilege of being an absurdly powerful superhero and your own boss. I had thought about trying to get myself more invested in Gotham, but I just… The place is getting better and there aren't any supervillains powerful enough to actually need me to deal with them. I wanted to make it clear that I was available if I was required, and then… Things just snowballed.

    Ugh.

    I'll need to check in with John Quinn and Dr Balewa-. Actually… Do I? Dr Balewa had clear seniority, John's allegedly grandfathered Justice League membership notwithstanding. And… Find out if Talia got anywhere.

    A construct filament opens a nearby cupboard and pulls out a box of granola. I shake a handful out onto the porridge for texture and sweetness, then return the box to the cupboard before generating a construct spoon and taking a mouthful.

    Or do I? Dealing with baleful supernatural foes is actually Dr Balewa's job, by virtue of his Justice League membership. I'm just a volunteer. Building rep with the Gotham establishment doesn't benefit me at all; it just might save them a little time in a crisis because they know they can call on me. No, the relics John sounded like he wanted to acquire. Those might actually be beneficial. The gang who attacked the Dragons and the gang who attacked the mayor… Don't care. Kobra gang… Don't care. We took down one crazy cult and another expanded to fill the void. The best way to stop their local spread is by improving social institutions and employment opportunities, both of which are already underway and neither of which I can really help with.

    I'm not feeling particularly heroic at the moment.

    I frown, spoon evaporating in my bowl. I had been assuming that enlightenment rendered me immune to external mental influences, and that has been borne out so far. But…

    I step

    fully into the Honden, fragments of all of the desires Jade felt here mapping out an approximate representation of the room. And previous residents too, I notice. My own don't stick out in the same way, fitting into the metaphysical flow of the place better than those of people who don't integrate them quite so well. In theory, only the Ophidian and I can access this place at the moment, though I imagine that wizards and mystics of various stripes have peeked into it at one time or another. Since I don't have a physical body there shouldn't be any way for most mundane influences to work.

    So… Gotham…

    Yeah, I don't care about the place. Saving that people I care about live in it. I can't even sell it to myself as a structure which was built by human hands and so has value as a manifestation of human ingenuity. Almost every place I've been was clearly built by the lowest bidder to the lowest standards, even the apparently nice property.

    There are reasons why I haven't tried visiting Blüdhaven. With Gotham I just can't be bothered to upgrade things with my rings anymore. With Blüdhaven I'm genuinely concerned that I might start tearing it down.

    I look around at my orange light body. No unnatural-looking strands anchoring me to things, no unnatural-looking cut ends where I should be connected to things. That still leaves the possibility that my other emotions are being influenced, but that's less of an immediate concern.

    I suppose that's as much assurance as I'm going to get. I step


    back into the material world, picking up my bowl again and recreating my spoon. So what, what is my next objective? The gnomes are working on Dolmen Gate production so planes and long distance road travel are going to be a thing of the past. Power generation is getting much cheaper. Inclement weather… Volcanism? There must be a few volcanologists who might be lured into animistic magic. I can't think of any volcanologists from DC at the moment but I'm sure they were there. But as concerning as Yellowstone is, volcanic activity isn't a widespread concern-.

    The doorbell rings.

    I turn to the door, frowning mildly. Who-? Oh. Talia.

    I put my bowl down, swap my pyjamas for a morning suit and then walk over to the door, my ring disarming the flat's defensive systems as I go. I open the door and then step back to allow her inside.

    Talia is similarly dressed for a business occasion. Though Batwoman visiting the house of Orange Lantern would make perfect sense, it isn't really a sensible getup to loiter around in during the bright of the day. People would ask her for selfies, and I'm sure that she'd find that demeaning.

    She walks inside and waits for me to shut the door and reactivate the security before speaking.

    "Winslow Heath."

    Ring? Ah. No, hang on.

    I frown. "Why would he spread Smilex?"

    "He wished to revenge himself upon Batman for failing to permanently end the Joker." I raise my right eyebrow. "I suspect that his own exposure to Smilex has affected his reasoning. He wished to sell the Smilex-based narcotic cheaply enough to addict people, and then use that addiction to encourage them to cause violent havoc across the city. Now, he will spend many years in Blackgate."

    "Not Arkham? If his mind has been compromised that much, wouldn't that be a better place for him?"

    "In the same facility as the Joker?"

    "Plenty of people in Arkham have wanted to kill each other before. A secure hospital is either secure or it's not, and if it's not then I'd rather find out using people who aren't going to get better than people who might."

    "Fortunately, you are not the one who makes such decisions."

    I nod. "Well done for tracking him down. I got a bit distracted."

    "Perhaps you will give me a little more deference in future."

    "I'd like to argue that I was perfectly happy to acknowledge your abilities, but honestly? What I learned yesterday and this morning was that I don't care about Gotham. You're welcome to it. Have as much fun as you like and call me when you need fire support."

    She regards me cautiously for a moment. "That's all you have to say?"

    "Yes. The Bat-signal's all yours."

    "Very well then." She turns away and walks towards the door. Then she stops and looks back at me with a frown. Then she returns her attention to the door and marches out of the flat.
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2019
    siflux, Obliviated fan, Ardy and 8 others like this.
  16. Threadmarks: Sprited Away
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Sprited Away

    17th February
    18:12 GMT -5


    "…missed all the excitement."

    Artemis pauses at the zeta tube entrance, checks around us and then looks at me for confirmation. My eyes glow for a moment…

    Talia's watching us from under some sort of active camouflage system. I generate a construct in the shape of the words 'HI BATWOMAN' and then nod to Artemis.

    "We're clear. And if I'm honest I just found the whole business rather trying."

    "Yeah, well…" She opens the booth and steps inside. "Your standards are kinda weird."

    "I'm not arguing."

    "Recognized, Artemis, B Zero Eight."

    I've got to talk to someone about making that silent. Frankly… I don't see why the zeta tube system announces people anyway, but it certainly shouldn't do so in public areas. Before, I dismissed it because I didn't think that secret identities could withstand serious scrutiny anyway, but now that I'm making more of an effort not to bottle things up… Yeah, that's going on the list.

    "Recognized, Orange Lantern, B Zero Six."

    I look around-.

    "HAHAHAHA!"

    Artemis breaks off from staring at the people I assume to be our new recruits and frowns at me. "What?"

    Arisia Rrab's eyes flick briefly to Lantern Jordan, whose arms are crossed and who is regarding me with mild frustration. Dame Carol Ferris -14's armour has undergone a little modification since last time I saw her, a lilac undersuit augmented with glowing crystal plates. She even has a helmet. I'm actually impressed. I don't recognise the similarly dressed grey skinned blue eyed young woman with her, but they've both got glowing violet rings so I'm going to assume that Carol's mission on Zamaron was a success.

    "And you brought them here? Oh you poor poor Lanterns."

    Jordan's gaze hardens. "Knock it off, Paul."

    "I have fully briefed Ghia'ta-" Dame Carol glances at her young charge, who meets her eyes and smiles. "-on the difficulties which she may encounter here. I have every confidence that -with your aid- she may learn to overcome them, and in doing so serve to inspire the other Zamarons of this universe to change their ways."

    "Change-?" 'Other'? I regard her with a frown. "You don't look like a Zamaron. Or.. can you change shape?"

    "My father was from Korugar."

    That really doesn't explain the ears, but… I suppose that the strange genetics of interspecies reproduction will do some weird things.

    "Right." I transition forward and offer her my right hand. "Pleased to meet you, Lantern Ghia'ta."

    She doesn't look entirely certain about touching me, so I think about when I watched Jade focus her entire attention on assembling a proton pistol and Ghia'ta blinks and then relaxes. She takes my hand in a slightly awkward grip, but manages the handshake in a way which makes me think that she's actually paying attention to her cultural database.

    "And Lantern Rrab."

    I head over to greet her as well, and she steps forward almost defiantly to meet me half way.

    "Lantern Paul."

    "Illustres, actually, but you can just use my name. Welcome to hard mode. We have demons, monsters, demon monsters, robots, robot magicians, monster magicians, demon magicians, telepathic starfish magicians, time travellers and people made of mud. I'm sure that you'll fit right in."

    There's a moment of confusion, then she nods. "I will."

    Artemis snorts with amusement. "Maybe you shouldn't sound so sure that's a good thing." She frowns. "Where's everyone else?"

    "The team members who've actually shown up are either getting ready or waiting in the living area. How often do Cornwall Boy or Squire manage to show?"

    "Weekdays, it's pretty much holidays only." I shrug. "It's a five hour time difference."

    Artemis comes a little closer. "What are we doing tonight, anyway?"

    The right edge of Jordan's lip curves upward slightly. "Low gravity op training on the moon."

    She twitches. "Really? You got a space suit I won't tear apart every time I move?"

    "Sure. How d'you think Superman manages?"

    "By having his force field improve his proprioception so he doesn't do exactly what I'm worried about doing?"

    "Artemis, there are going to be at least seven Lanterns on standby. If anyone gets into serious trouble it takes seconds to attach an environmental shield to someone."

    Jordan frowns. "Where are you getting seven Lanterns from?"

    "You, Lantern Rrab, Dame Carol, Lantern Ghia'ta, me, Guy and Alan, who has more experience than the rest of us put together."

    "I don't think we need all-."

    "Do you remember a year and a half ago, when J'onn J'onzz decided that he didn't need a second when he ran us through a telepathic training scenario? Do you remember the Ophidian manifesting on the Earth?"

    "Yes."

    "After that, we decided that if the Justice League member running a training session was suggesting a session without adequate safety planning, we'd call them on it right at the beginning. We have twenty people, of whom only one is fine with vacuum exposure and most of whom have no zero or low gravity experience. And if you're expecting me to take off my rings so I learn something, that's one less. Seven Lanterns."

    "Fine. You can call Alan and Guy." He rises off the ground. "I'm going to check in on Aqualad. Arisia-."

    "Ghia'ta, remain with Orange Lantern and Artemis. I will go with Sir Harold while you get to know your sisters in arms."

    Jordan takes a breath. "Arisia, did you bring a space suit?"

    "Ah, no?"

    "Not to worry. I can construct one for you."

    "Right. You do that." Jordan nods. "We're heading out in half an hour."

    He floats back slowly for a moment, then Dame Carol loops her left arm around his right and tugs, causing him to start moving in earnest rather than be dragged along by her.

    Artemis shakes her head. "I don't have a space suit either."

    "This won't take long. Ghia'ta?"

    She bows her head slightly, the crystals of her armour's outer layer growing and merging into a seamless whole.

    "Good show." I make eye contact with Arisia and Artemis. "What sort of auxiliary systems do you want included?"
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2019
  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    17th February
    19:03 GMT -5


    "Okay!" Jordan creates a large green sigil behind himself so that he can attract our attention. "You've all got the basics, so it's time for a challenge."

    While I could use my armour's sensors and the interior holo display to watch him, I make a point of pivoting on the spot instead. The Atlanteans have managed to adapt fairly quickly to life on the moon. It isn't the same as being under water -the lack of a medium to push against being the largest difference- but some aspects of the way you have to move are similar enough that they could apply the knowledge.

    M'gann is similarly a natural. Even without telekinesis, her experience with forces in motion and with moving under Mars's lower gravity stands her in good stead. Canis-

    I watch as he does a series of slow motion handsprings, using the exact amount of force that he needs to launch himself off the moon's surface.

    -has clearly done this before as well. Everyone else is.. taking it a little carefully.

    "I've set up thirty radio markers across this hemisphere. I'm splitting you into four teams and I want you to travel to each one. It only counts if the whole team is within a meter of the marker at the same time."

    "Hey, Arsenal." Richard uses a small jump to pivot in his direction. "That's about three feet."

    Roy doesn’t turn. "I know what a meter is, Robin."

    Roy may be used to manoeuvring in heavy power armour but he isn't used to not being able to precisely control his motion in it.

    "Aqualad, you're with Artemis, Rocket and Starfire. Robin, you're with Arsenal,-" Through his faceplate I see him wince slightly. "-Zatanna, Lantern Rrab and Canis. Orange Lantern, you're with Ghia'ta, Tempest, Kid Flash and Miss Martian. Superboy, you're with Aquagirl, Supergirl, and Osiris."

    Noriel's addition was a bit of a surprise, and she's been visibly fighting against her instinct to flare her fiery wings to control her movement.

    "Armour, open team chat."

    "Team chat open."

    While this would be easier with my rings, I am perfectly capable of completing the task with my power armour's systems alone.

    "How about we spread out to triangulate the beacons?"

    Wallace heads towards me in long strides, wearing a spacesuit which I suspect is a WayneTech product. Basically, it's an airtight version of his costume with a helmet and air tank; Richard's 'surprisingly' prescient Christmas present to him.

    Garth approaches in a similar fashion, though with a little more grace and a slightly more 'off the peg' suit. While we're still close enough to Earth for him to be able to use magic, the effects he can create are slower and weaker up here. And the objective here is to move without powers anyway.

    "Miss Martian, can you read the locations from Jordan's mind?"

    "Isn't that cheating?"

    M'gann's spacesuit is another morph of her martian manhunter uniform, navy blue with a red 'x' across her chest.

    "Not unless he bans it. Besides, I need to know how good his resting mental shields are. Last time he fought Hector Hammond he ended up thinking he was a chimpanzee for three hours. Ghia'ta, how are you with telepathy?"

    "Only very basic. Rather than true telepathy, Zamarons use a form of intense empathy for communicating our mental state."

    "No, I mean, how do you react when other people use it on you?"

    "Oh. Um, people who aren't Zamarons? I don't know."

    "Probably not the best place to test it out, then. Remember to do that when we get back. M'gann?"

    "The good news is, Green Lantern's shields are good enough to stop me from scanning him unless I really force it. The bad news is…"

    "Come on, Oh El. Radio triangulation is, like, the first thing Batman taught us."

    Richard's team head off, while Kaldur's team begin spreading out.

    "One moment."

    I crouch slightly and then leap, rising easily above the lunar surface. Now, assuming that Jordan just stuck the transmitters down and didn't bother concealing them… Yes, there they are.

    "Armour, mark locations."

    "Waypoints loaded."

    "Thrusters."

    'Super powers' might be banned, but it wasn't hard to add a simple gas thrusters array to this armour. With their aid I can not only return to the surface more easily, but I can also use continual downward thrust to effectively maintain my usual weight.

    Jordan flies over as I fall and regards me levelly. "Orange Lantern, the point of this exercise is to get you kids used to working in low gravity. We all know you can prepare ways around it; heck, you've probably got the tech to just turn the moon's gravity up. This is about learning to work without that stuff."

    Inconvenient as it is, he does have a point.

    "Fine." I touch down, my armour's legs absorbing the impact. "Armour, automatic thrusters off."

    "Automatic thrusters off."

    Almost immediately I actually start feeling the one sixth gravity of the moon, the thrusters which were maintaining enough of a downward push to add another five sixths to my weight cutting out. He's wrong, of course. In a situation in which I don't have access to my rings I should be either fleeing or getting access to my rings. And that goes double if I'm somewhere without an atmosphere. But this is essentially a free swim session for the benefit of those members of the team who can't go to the moon whenever they want. Making the point that I don't need it is just going to harm team unity further.

    "Sending waypoints now."

    "Y'know, while we're thinking outside of the box, he didn't say we couldn't move the markers."

    "True, but they're still transmitting."

    "Oh El? Maybe we haven't met. I'm Kid Flash, fastest boy alive? So I run over to each beacon and bring it back here and our team wins."

    Garth shakes his head. "This isn't about winning, it's about practice."

    "Yeah, because Rob's totally not going to say anything if his team finishes first."

    M'gann doesn't look enthused either. "I don't think that Lantern Jordan will allow it."

    "Probably not, but Kid Flash needs to learn how to move at superspeed in low gravity. And The Flash doesn't have any difficulty in running faster than human escape velocity. See if you can grab-" I ping the closest transmitter. "-that one, and bring it back here. Jordan will probably ban it after that."

    "Yeeah, probably. But at least we can get one before Rob's team does."

    He disappears in a yellow blur. I turn awkwardly to watch as he zooms easily across the lunar landscape until I lose sight of him. Okay, given his speed and the distance he's travelling, he should-.

    "See Oh El that's whoooooow!"

    Wallace precipitates out of the air and then shoots off the ground in an uncontrolled spin, his hands grasping for my armour's external handholds but failing to reach them in time!

    A moment later he's surrounded by a blue aura as Alan catches him and lowers him back to the ground.

    "Hey, what gives?!"

    "I didn't want to say anything, but Jay had the exact same problem." Alan smiles fondly. "When you stop using 'super' speed, your speed stops being 'super'. Which means that if you're still going at escape velocity, you keep going. Oh." A blue glove construct plucks the marker from Wallace's unresisting hands and carries it back across the moon. "And cheaters never prosper."

    "Because when they prosper, none dare call it cheating." He frowns slightly, and I smile. "Thank you, Alan. Everyone, head in that direction at best speed. Except Wallace, obviously."
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2019
  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    17th February
    22:26 GMT -5


    "…turn in early, since we've actually got a mission tomorrow."

    Artemis and I walk towards the hangar zeta tubes from the kitchen.

    I nod.

    "I'm going to stay here for a little while. I want to have a private word with the team's new Lanterns."

    She frowns. "Yeah, what's up with that? I thought that the Green Lantern Corps only recruited… Adults. You know."

    "Sort of. They don't recruit children, but they don't check local social maturity standards before they recruit people. She's got the mental maturity to use her ring sensibly, so as far as they're concerned that's fine."

    "Don't Green Lanterns do their training on Oa?"

    "They do their basic training on Oa. They then usually get mentored for a while by their Sector's other Lantern. I can only assume that her Sector's other Lantern is too inexperienced to do that." Artemis nods. "So Honour Guard Lantern Harold Jordan gets the job. Either that, or she's here to spy on me."

    Artemis frowns. "Why would she spy on you? You tell.. Guy everything anyway."

    "Because how can they trust that I do? And… This is weird. Guy… Studying green ring techniques… Fine, it would make more sense for him to do that on Oa, but they've had Honour Guard Lanterns on Oa for millennia who can't do what he can so sending him back to Earth makes sense. But a second Honour Guard Lantern on detached duty?"

    Artemis stops, her frown deepening. Then she shakes her head.

    "I don't think that's you, though. You've had the Ophidian for over a year. Maybe it's the.. Sheeda, or the Star Conquerors?"

    "But you wouldn't put a Lantern just out of basic in a place which you knew was going to get invaded. You'd put them far enough away to be safeish but close enough that the Honour Guard Lantern assigned to them could travel there quickly. And… There isn't anything… Close to here that I can think of that would warrant that."

    "Or maybe they just want to see if she can learn faster by learning your style right away?"

    "That… Yes, I suppose… But why not assign her to Guy or John?"

    "Because Guy's meant to be busy and John's not an Honour Guard?"

    "I sup-."

    Wallace appears in front of Artemis. "The Moon! How awesome was that?"

    "Yeah, except now I'm worried that tomorrow's mission is gunna actually involve fighting like that."

    Wallace frowns for a fraction of a second, then returns to full enthusiasm mode. "Nah. There's no way the League would send us out of the solar system, there aren't any space stations worth fighting in and M'gann hasn't said anything about us needing to go to Mars… So unless we're going under cover at Junior Astronaut Camp that can't be it."

    He switches his gaze from Artemis to me and back again, then shakes his head in incomprehension.

    "How are you not more stoked about it?"

    "I dunno. Maybe if we'd had the Earth above us it would have been different?" Wallace looks a little heartbroken. "It was… Interesting, I guess?"

    "You guess?"

    I raise my right hand to my forehead. "See you tomorrow, Artemis."

    "Wait, you're going h-?"

    I appear in the… I don't want to say 'barracks', but they basically are. 'Habitation area' is a bit highfaluting.

    "-a year and a half now."

    Tula walks out of one of the unused rooms, Ghia'ta just behind her.

    "Is that usual for human courtship?"

    "It-" Her eyes flick to me and then return to Ghia'ta. "-varies a great deal from place to place."

    Ghia'ta spots me and smiles. "Orange Lantern."

    "Picked a room?"

    "We've almost run out." Tula looks around the corridor, taking in all of the claimed rooms. "Unless someone wants to give their room up we're going to have to start sharing."

    "That explains the conversation about your relationship with Garth-" She smiles. "-but actually that's a fair point. I'm not planning on moving back in, so… I don’t really need mine." I fix my eyes on Ghia'ta. "You want it, or is it going to feel wrong?"

    "That would be perfect!" She beams. "Thank you!"

    "Alright, it's just down here." I walk past the two of them in the direction of my soon-to-be ex-room. I originally kept it after I moved out because no one else wanted it and I thought it might be useful, but I haven't been back there once.

    "Who was the woman I saw in your thoughts?"

    "That was Jade."

    "It's surprising. My Aunt told me that orange ring users would lose their other emotions, but I can feel your love for her."

    "Maybe you're just better at that sort of feeling than other Zamarons. I know that when I took her and Alan to Zamaron, your countrywomen shot at us." She stops, and I turn to face her. "Not that I bear a grudge, but it was rather rude."

    "I-. That was you?"

    I widen my eyes slightly, attempting to see her desires. "I don't know that the event-."

    "Ah!"

    Ghia'ta back-pedals, bumping into Tula as she does so.

    Uh, okay. Eyes off. Tula puts her right hand on Ghia'ta's left shoulder to steady her.

    "Are you alright?"

    "I-I didn't know you were… Like that."

    "Thank you for that precise and helpful statement. I'm sorry I scared you, but I don't understand why you're so scared."

    "It, um." Ghia'ta straightens up. "It was like having the Ophidian stare at me."

    "And you're afraid of snakes?"

    "The Ophidian wants to eat the universe and turn everyone I love into mindless…" She frowns faintly. "She doesn't, does she?"

    "Not that I've noticed, and we spent several days as the same person."

    Ghia'ta bows her head slightly. "That is why Star Sapphire Carol Ferris brought me here. I have a great deal to unlearn, as do all Zamarons."
     
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2019
  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    17th February
    22:32 GMT -5


    I dump the last of my furniture into subspace, then turn to face Ghia'ta and Tula. "How do you want to decorate?"

    "I think that I would like to use natural materials. Wood and linen."

    "Alright, but if you don't want fluorescent light bulbs then good luck on getting Batman to sign off on candles or a wood fire." I frown. "And what are you planning on sleeping on?"

    "Cloth? Is that not what humans sleep on?"

    "Not in this part of the world." Tula smiles. "In Atlantis, the water takes our weight so we don't need anything to make the bed soft. But on the surface, their beds have metal springs."

    "Oh."

    "But we could probably make you a bed with natural sponge if you wanted. Not.. sure what it would be like to sleep on, mind you. Or some sort of linen hammock?"

    "Sponge." Her eyes glow for a moment as her ring feeds her the information she wants. "I think that I will try that."

    "Ooh, if you want to go totally crazy, we could have Euanthe make it out of living wood. She could probably work out how to make wooden bedsprings."

    "Is Euanthe an arboriculturist?"

    "Both the subject and the object." I point my left hand at her, then hesitate. "Are you alright with me sending you data packets?"

    "I should be." She tentatively raises her right hand, her ring shimmering as she does so. "Could you think of the one you love while you do it?"

    I take a moment to picture Alan when he made a tour of the cancer ward of the John Hopkins Hospital, the joy he clearly felt at being able to help people, to restore their hope.

    "Sending."

    A small ball of orange flies from my original ring and impacts hers. There's a sort of.. violet fizz around it for a moment, which puts me in mind of how Guy's ring used to crackle when he suppressed his anger. Her eyes flicker a moment later as she takes some of the information in. Or given that she's half-Maltusian I suppose that she might have taken in the whole thing.

    "Why is your ring doing that?"

    "I was raised in an environment of intense sororal love. Focusing on that.. helps me."

    "What the heck have they been telling you about the other colours?"

    "That.. green leads to close-mindedness-."

    "Hah! I mean, they're not wrong, but you'd think they'd look in a mirror sometimes."

    "What do you mean by that?"

    "For all the disagreements I have with the Guardians, they've been using their light to fight.. what might tentatively be called 'evil', for millions of years. While your matrons have been sitting on their collective tod, aside from the occasional korugari booty call. Flipping Larfleeze managed to do more than that and he sat in a cave the whole time."

    Tula frowns. "Wasn't Larfleeze the alien whom you fought for the Orange Central Power Battery? How did he do any good?"

    "He drew the most avaricious beings in the galaxy to him and killed them. We've gone over the rings he made from them to get details of their personal histories and they were some nasty pieces of work." I look away. "And it wasn't really a fight."

    "As uncomfortable as hearing you say that makes me, I believe the same thing. That is why I am so grateful that Dame Carol is giving me this opportunity. I believe that the violet light of love should be spread across the galaxy, so that all people can feel the same joy and security that I have always known."

    I nod, smiling.

    "Do you.. feel the same?"

    "I don't know. I don't know what the galaxy would look like with an active Star Sapphire Corps. I can't say that I'm invested in the idea, but I am curious. So if you want to make it happen, go for it."

    "Why?"

    I shake my head. "I don't understand. And while I could take a look I'm sure you'd rather that I didn't."

    She nods, then stops, frowning. "Why don't you mind?"

    "Why should I?"

    "Because it wouldn't be yours. I could understand that you want there to be an Orange Corps because it is yours, but I don't understand why you would want there to be other Corps."

    "You accept that I can still feel love?"

    She nods.

    "I feel anger, fear, determination, hope, compassion and love. These feelings are mine. They are a part of how I see the universe, how the universe I exist in is. Why would I want to cut away one part of myself? Why would I want to make myself less than I am? Why would I make myself a part of the orange light rather than make it a part of me?"

    She nods uncertainly. "The woman who you love. Where is she?"

    "On a planet on the periphery of Reach space."

    "And that doesn't trouble you?"

    "I love Jade as she is, not as some best match to a fantasised ideal woman I have in my head. Jade needs to fight and to feel useful, purposive. She hates to be dependent; that's something we share. But I'm very powerful. I realised early on that she'd.. be better off establishing herself somewhere away from me so that we could approach each other as equals. I do miss her, but this is what's best for her, for our relationship in the long term. I want her to be herself to the fullest extent that that's possible."

    I lean forward.

    "I don't intend to seal her in a giant block of orange crystal."

    Tula frowns. "Of course not. Why would you even…" Ghia'ta is looking down. "Ghia'ta?"

    "… Yes. That is why Dame Carol wants me to learn about love from you, from the people of Earth. Some.. Zamarons… Think that things should be… Different."

    "Yes. Monochromatism can have some unfortunate effects. And that's why-" I pull Drakul Karfang's ring off my finger and toss it to her. She doesn't catch it, but she doesn't flinch too much. "-I want you to try using that as well as your own."

    "Because you do not want me to become fixated."

    "Because I hope that you don't want to end up like that either. You followed your desires to come here when you could have stayed in the loving embrace of your sisterhood. I think you might make a good Orange Lantern, too."

    "You have done all you can to allow the one you love to flourish. I think that you might make a good Star Sapphire as well."

    I hold out my right hand and smile expectantly.

    She looks slightly awkward.

    "But I don't have a spare ring for you to prove it."
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2019
  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    18th February
    12:17 GMT


    I watch as the lorry drives through the 'mass transit size' Dolmen Gate. None of the people working in the dispatch department of Cadbury's Bourneville factory bother looking around as it disappears, though a tour group have their faces pressed up against the viewing window built into the far wall and they're not watching me.

    "Working out well?"

    Darren Gyle, the man assigned to escort the company owner -and I still grin a little excitedly when I think about myself like that- nods.

    "We don't ship much in the way of perishable items, but just eliminating the distance between production sites and distribution centres has been a massive saving. The United Transport Union isn't all that happy about it, but… I don't think there's much we can do about that."

    "It isn't practical to use the Gates to send product directly to the shops, and won't be for the foreseeable future. We aren't rendering them obsolete." Yet. I turn away from the gate and face him. "One of my Great Uncles used to work in publishing, before the Wapping dispute. He said once that he drew a small diagram for a book he was writing, and the union representative told him that he wasn't allowed to because he was accredited as an author and not a draughtsman. They argued about it for the rest of the day, and when he came back the next day, he found that it had gotten approved." I grin. "When he went to check that the union wasn't going to take it back, the union representative said that they'd had an accredited draughtsman trace his original and that had been what got approved."

    "Uum."

    I roll my eyes. "No, I don't have a problem with unions in general, but when their job is to fight their members' corner under any circumstances they're not necessarily doing what's good for the industry. Less driving means less fuel being consumed and less CO2 being produced. And it lets us keep production here because we don't have to worry about delays in shipping."

    He nods, a little relieved. "It's.. just… You know that ASLEF-?"

    "Burned me in effigy last Halloween, yes, I am aware of that. If they do it again this year I'm planning to stand in the bonfire and patiently wait for it to go out. It'll be symbolic." Um. "I'm not-. My apparent hostility to certain unions isn't a problem for the people working in production or sales, is it?"

    "I think everyone's still too glad that Kraft's bid failed to worry about it. A cast-iron guarantee about continuing production here means that their jobs are secure, and that's the biggest potential issue."

    I shake my head, looking around again. "It would barely be Cadbury's if it wasn't here."

    As promised, I've been almost completely hands off in my ownership of the company. Aside from the Dolmen Gates -which have resulted in visits from various manufacturing and logistics companies as they study how Cadbury's has integrated them into their supply chain- everything has come from the existing management. I can't… I don’t remember his name, but there was.. someone I heard on Radio 4 a while ago who used to work in… It was either the British civil service or government. There was some.. event and they were trying to work out what the government's response would be, and he said: what if we just do nothing?

    And after they reassembled their blown minds they realised that they should probably at least consider that and henceforth include that in the list of options, naming it after him.

    So anyway, the management are happy because they can get on with their jobs without having to worry about their now-delisted company being taken over by some other idiots, the workers doing jobs that are actually still required are secure in their employment and getting a small pay increase due to a combination of company expansion and the lack of a requirement to pay dividends or drawings. Customers are happy because chocolate, and the company is adapting to regional tastes as it expands without any input from me.

    "Is Mister Queen getting along with people?"

    "Ah. I haven't had all that much to do with him personally. I know he's visited a few times, but he mostly just gets reports by e-mail."

    I suppose there's no particular reason why he can't do the job like that. One site tour once a place is up and running is enough to see that it's actually working, and as Oliver Queen he can't really explain how he's visiting Britain frequently without getting horribly jetlagged. And there isn't a zeta tube in this part of the county anyway.

    "Alright… I think that's everything. My next appointment is at one, so is there any chance I could get a quick tour of the place before I go?"

    Mr Gyle nods.

    "Yes, of course."

    18th February
    20:17 GMT +8


    I smile as I look away from my construct screen.

    "You are allowed to ask questions, you know. I'm not a commissar."

    The man on the bed looks at me for a moment, then returns his eyes to the front.

    "Oh, for goodness' sake, please say something."

    "When do I die?"

    My smile broadens. "Optimism, that's the thing!" Actually… "Not sure. I've given you a smart virus which should be able to perform telomere repairs, but… The virus itself is organic and doesn't have an error-checker…" I return my attention to the screen. "See, killing people is really easy. I'm trying to alter the human body in complex ways without killing the subject and that is not easy. Now, I understand that you gained access to a narcotic since our last session. How was it?"

    "It was a bad trip."

    "Good show! I was worried that the neural stabiliser systems I added to your central nervous system might… Well, it didn't and that's the main thing."

    "What-." He glances at the door, and the guards just visible through the reinforced glass window. "What is it that you are trying to do to me?"

    "Did you know that humans are fundamentally the same beings now as they were when they first left Africa? Oh, there are a few minor changes here and there; Europeans got the ability to digest milk better, Africans recover their hearing from loud noises more quickly and the Japanese starve more slowly. And a little Neanderthal got added in… But the drives modern humans have are the ones they needed in order to perform the tasks vital to a hunter-gatherer. Modern humans aren't hunter-gatherers. You're not a hunter-gatherer. You're a drug dealer. You don't need the same drives and abilities they did. So I'm changing you into a type of human adapted for modern life."

    "And I will live?"

    "Ah… Probably. I mean, your chances are better as a volunteer than not, but people have died as a result of my work."

    Alas, Mother Box isn't anything like as enthusiastic about this project as Father Box was. Which I suppose makes sense. Still, altering the reward mechanisms of the human brain is a complex business. Read a.. book a while ago where a transhuman made what she called a 'patch' for humanity. Spread it using the cold virus. Reduced violent conflict to nothing by creating intrapsychic rewards for cooperation rather than competition, but killed people's motivation. I don't want to repeat her mistakes.

    "Now, I understand that your critical reasoning test results have improved lately?"

    "Yes."

    "And how do you feel about that?"

    He gives his head a small shake. "I.. don't. Why are you making me more intelligent?"

    "I'm learning how to improve the human brain. For you, it might help you convince the authorities to keep you around once this study is over. How are you getting along with the other prisoners?"

    "Better. I think-. I thought that it was our shared captivity, but… It was you."

    "Little from column A, little from column B. I'm trying to change how human ingroup outgroup differentiation works. Making you silly monkeys a bit more rational and a bit less clannish. Seems to be working. Now, have a look at this and tell me what you see."
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2019
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  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    18th February
    13:00 GMT


    Beryl catches the newly relaunched Dairy Milk with Biscuit as she walks across the battlements of Sheldrake Castle, smiling as she realises what it is. "How was the moon?"

    "Grey, dusty, in orbit around the Earth. Usual moon stuff."

    "You know it's technically a dwarf planet."

    "The barycentre is under the Earth's surface. If it wants to be its own planet then it's free to leave. Ready?"

    "Yes, let's get this-"

    I attach a filament to her head and transition-

    18th February
    07:00 GMT -6


    -us to the St Roche zeta tube. While I could have gone right to Mount Justice -it's not like our principal enemies don't know exactly what we use it for- I feel that a minimal effort to keep random tourists from visiting all the time is worthwhile.

    "-show on the road."

    She steps lightly into the zeta tube-

    "Recognized, Squire, B One Five."

    -and I follow her through.

    18th February
    08:01 GMT -5


    "Recognized, Orange Lantern, B Zero Six."

    Batman's briefing isn't for another half an hour, and we'll be splitting up into sub-teams for planning after that. Actually carrying the mission out could be an all-weekend thing, which makes me very glad that I got out of returning to school. I really don't know how the others manage it.

    "Arisia, right? I'm Squire. Pleased to meet you."

    Beryl walks over to greet our team mate, who smiles politely back at her. Unlike Ghia'ta, Arisia is living off-base. I'm… Aware of the relationship between her and Jordan in the comics, but I.. don't think anything like that is happening here. Given that she's wearing an actual uniform rather the corset and miniskirt that she ended up wearing in the comics I'd guess that she's still in wide-eyed fangirl mode rather than actively trying to seduce him.

    I hope so, anyway.

    Living out of the mountain is probably a good choice for her. Unlike Ghia'ta, Arisia can actually pass as human; I've seen plenty of fake tans producing stranger shades of skin than that and her hair covers her ears pretty well. With us being on separate teams yesterday and her and Jordan leaving the moment we were all back we didn't get much of a chance to talk, which is something I need to fix.

    "Like-" Her eyes alight on me for a moment, then she gives Beryl her full attention. "-wise."

    "Aren't you one of the Green Lantern trainees who attacked Paul when he visited Oa?"

    She looks away awkwardly. "That.. was a mistake."

    "'Attacked' might be overstating it. I assume that Kilowog and Jordan have gotten your construct strength up a little since then?"

    "Do you want to find out?"

    Ring glow… Yes, that's a little bit brighter than when we met -I'm not going to think 'fought'- on Oa, and I'm sure that it'll be easier to focus in a scheduled training spar rather than a random encounter like our original meeting.

    "I will have to get an idea of what you can do, but this isn't really the time. Did Jordan tell you about our regular all-Lantern training sessions?" She nods. "Are you coming along, or does he want to make sure that you're up to it first?"

    "I'll be there."

    "Good show. Alan's wanted to teach someone for a while, but he couldn't teach me when I was first starting and-."

    "What-" Beryl is looking at my left hand. "-happened to your third ring? Did you recruit someone again?"

    "Not exactly. I gave it to Ghia'ta to experiment with. The Zamarons were rather down on the orange light and I want her to learn that it isn't as toxic as she's been led to believe. Now, Lantern Rrab, the reason why I wanted to talk to you before we get our marching orders today is that I want to go over your equipment."

    "Equipment? I only needed armour for low gravity training because I wasn't allowed to use my ring. Power rings are the most powerful and adaptable weapon in the universe."

    I raise my left hand and flare the two I'm still wearing. I had wondered why she only wanted a minimalist setup yesterday, but I assumed that was because she didn't have time to train with something more sophisticated before we were due to start.

    "Yes. Rings.. alone.. aren't enough on Earth. You remember the armour I was wearing on Oa?" She nods. "It shouldn't be too hard to fit you out with something like that. Solid protection against a wide variety of attacks, several useful integrated systems and as a Lantern you can store it in subspace when you're not using it. You'll also need a spell eater, or some other form of magic protection."

    Arisia glances at Beryl, who nods and pulls her own amulet out of her tabard to show her.

    "Does Graxos have a native magic tradition? I've never visited."

    "No it.. doesn't. But I've seen enough in Hal's fil-. Ah, Lantern Jordan's files to take it seriously. Can you make one fit a bracelet?"

    "Bracelet, no. Bracer, yes. But a necklace might be better; magic artefacts take a lot of charge to move into or out of subspace and if it starts to overheat you might need to get it off quickly."

    "Do you have a version which doesn't catch fire?"

    "Certainly. How do you feel about tattoos?"

    "W-? Why?"

    Beryl nods at me, grinning. "You should show her."

    "Beryl, I'm in a relationship."

    "You wear less on the beach. Come on, everyone should see your tattoos at least once."

    I sigh quietly, then look at Arisia. "Do you want to see my tattoos?"

    "Um. Yes?"

    I subspace my shirt and jacket. "I'm not sure if the people who did these-" She's staring intently. "-could make them work on an alien, but they're what I use to throw off basic ring scans and they work on normal magic tracking as well. So anyway: spell eater, and I want to start getting you used to heavier armour and training to use conventional weapons."

    Jacket back on and ignore Beryl's disappointment. I don’t think that she's in danger of becoming Zatanna Mark 2 so much as expressing a healthy interest in the other sex as is perfectly normal for a young woman of her age, but I'm still not.. entirely comfortable with the situation.

    "I don't know about armour. Lanterns usually-."

    "Arisia, how many members of your family have died in the service of the Green Lantern Corps?"

    Her face grows sombre. "All of them. My grandfather, mother, father and uncle have all died for the good of my Sector."

    "You're on my team now. Part of mine. Which means that keeping you alive is my responsibility. Orange Lanterns wear armour and you will too because your death is not acceptable to me. Four members of your family are dead and Earth is more dangerous than your Sector. You might be some sort of one-per-generation power ring genius who doesn't need it but most people do. Guy Gardner wears armour and carries a sidearm, as do Lantern Stewart and Lantern Savenlovich. Do you think you're better than the Host of Ion?"

    She takes a thoughtful breath. "No. Okay, I see your point. What do you have in mind?"
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2019
  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    18th February
    13:00 GMT +8


    Dr Chen can't help but look a little nervous as he reads the summary on the current conditions of the surviving induced-telepathy volunteers.

    Hm.



    Yeah.

    Even with all of the medical information that I've taken from the Institute, re-engineering the human brain to support telepathy is hard. Brains that don't start out as telepathic just… I'm not going to say can't handle the input, but they don't cope well.

    Which raises an interesting question about delayed-manifestation telepathy. There's a sort of assumption in the community that if someone 'gets' telepathy late in life, then it's just like any other random metahuman trait. Except we've tried forcing it and it hasn't worked. So… Does that mean that it was always there at a low level? Or that the metahuman 'activation' causes all of the other changes which need to occur in the brain to support the new sense to develop at the same time?

    Of course, the chance of me finding someone who went through that change with the before and after brain scans I'd need…

    I nod solemnly. "Alright, thank you. It's disappointing, but hardly unexpected." Despite what Lonnie was intimating to me, this isn't the Mao era. The people sitting around the meeting room table aren't worried that I'm about to have them sent to spend the rest of their natural lives… Growing rice or milking cows, or whatever it was the Party used to do to intellectuals with insufficient revolutionary zeal. "Send me a message directly if any of them start becoming coherent."

    He nods, and returns to his seat.

    This is exactly why I'm trying to add tetrachromacy to the next wave of volunteers. There are humans with it, and merely adding a colour should be far simpler than adding something exotic. Then I can monitor how their brains adapt and try and work out how to build from that. Sure, unlike naturally occurring instances I'm mostly inducing it in men, but I'm working with the materials I have.

    The other strand of research is some sort of forced regeneration of neural matter. While that should allow the brain to adapt to the new node more easily, the side effects to partially unmapping a human consciousness… Not great.

    Though the prison authorities did agree to an early release, so… Yay?

    "Alright, next-." Zhifu strides into the room, glancing briefly over the other researchers before gazing pointedly at me. "General. What can I do for you?"

    "I need to speak with you alone."

    I nod. "Understood." I smile at my team. The team, really; they're very definitely in the employ of the Standing Committee on Metahuman Affairs rather than me personally, but I'm the lead of the project. Heck, I'm the reason why there is a project. They do a lot of the legwork while frantically trying to work out how to replicate what I'm doing with human technology. "Ladies and gentlemen, please take a short break. I'll come and find you when I need you."

    Nods, muttered mentions of tea and other office chatter accompany some of China's greatest biology researchers as they file out, leaving myself and my silver-skinned friend alone in the meeting room. He doesn't have a lot of the tells normal humans have; I still haven't found a way to perfectly replicate human body language and facial expression with his durlan-altered body. But he doesn't look annoyed.

    "So… What can I do for you?"

    "We were able to capture a durlan infiltrator."

    I blink in surprise. "Alive?"

    "No, but in a human-seeming form."

    I nod. "I'm guessing that you want to see if my rings and Mother Box can get you any data that your own scanners can't?"

    "That was the eventual decision, yes, but there was some… Debate."

    Certainly surprised it took this long for someone in party HQ to notice me.

    "If I'm causing you trouble, I can clear out my desk..?"

    "No, that is not necessary. It is simply that the Minister Jiang had an… Encounter with members of the politburo who are sceptical of the benefits of our working relationship. Hearing the list of things which you have informed us you will not help us achieve was unedifying."

    "I'm happy to explain my reservations directly, if that would take some of the heat off the Minister?"

    "That would merely undermine him." He takes a seat a short distance down the table from me. "Would you like to hear the list?"

    "Hit me."

    "The oolitic kidneys which you are providing to the American military."

    "Those are made by Doctor von Schadel. My only input was the name." Which Games Workshop are now suing over. "He's very good at what he does."

    "You did not assist him in making contact with the American government?"

    "No, I did, but he was already in contact with the Department of Energy. And anyway, his contract was designed with wiggle-room. Once the things actually work-" And they appear to, if the subjects don't mind the side effects. "-then anyone working for Luthor's fleet can have them implanted."

    "But not the People's Army."

    "I asked, but it was a red line for General Lane. He wouldn't even agree to allow von Schadel to supply America's allies in NATO." I frown. "I thought that Jiang was on board with the whole space fleet thing?"

    "The Minister is. The politburo were distressed to learn that no sooner had China reached a position where we had sufficient metahuman strength to be independent of the Justice League of America, than America started to build a space fleet."

    "Hey, no." I shake my head. "Lex is explicitly not building ships for the US military, or any part of the American government. It's a strictly private endeavour, for the same reasons that I'm not turning everyone in the Red Army into supersoldiers."

    "And the American military is not benefiting in any way?"

    "Only the same way you are. Or.. you can be by letting LexPower compete in the Chinese energy market. Is that still happening?"

    "It… Should. It may be that something more is happening behind the scenes."

    Darn it.

    "Or it may be posturing. They may be reacting against what you said about your relationship with China during your most recent interview."

    I grunt. "Or what they thought it sounded like I said. I thought I was avoiding saying anything particularly controversial."

    "You described our human rights record as 'less than stellar'."

    "Seriously? Look, I haven't made any secret of the fact that I think your metahuman control policy is out of date. That sort of obsession with total control made sense coming out of the civil war, and while the Communist Party was establishing control. It doesn't make sense now."

    "That is one area where you and I disagree."

    "No, you just hold them in contempt for their lack of loyalty. I hold plenty of people in contempt without feeling that it's necessary to imprison them." I shake my head. "What I said was the bare minimum that wouldn't make me look ridiculous to American viewers. You don't have data control over the whole planet."

    "You may be interested in the planet as a whole, but the Chinese government is first responsible for China."

    "Which is fine. Except that if the durlans set up outside of China no one else is looking for them because the politburo decided that it was a purely internal matter. Or when the Sheeda invasion fleet arrives and the Red Army can't coordinate with your neighbours to effectively fight them off, or if you haven't shared anti-mind control techniques and the fairy bastards cause a human-on-human war at the same time. The things I'm helping with aren't purely national issues."

    I lean back.

    "What's it going to take?"

    "You have sponsored a school teaching American federal agents magic."

    "How to recognise magic. It's pretty basic at the moment."

    "You are aware that our attempts to develop an independent magic tradition have been met with only limited success." I nod. "We would be interested in affiliating with the school in San Francisco, in an attempt to improve our research."



    Life takes with one hand, then gives it all back with interest with the other.

    "I'll.. have to talk to the Head Mistress, but I suspect that we can come to terms."
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2019
  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    18th February
    08:29 GMT -5


    Roy glances my way as he falls in next to his newly armoured colleague.

    "If this keeps going we're going to need a bigger mountain."

    "Challenger Mountain's on the market. How do you feel about Denver?"

    I'd been ignoring the problem, but Roy brought it up nicely. While the newer team members do need formal instruction, those of us who've been here a while… We don't need it. We're not a training squad for low risk busywork any longer-. If we ever really were. We need field experience, sure, but I can't help but think that an overhaul of the system might be required.

    Like finding a city that is a bit of a mess and building a giant tower in the shape of a 'T' on a nearby island.

    Or something.

    And… Roy hasn't said anything to me, but… There isn't really much difference between him and the version of him on the League. Other than the fact that he's much better armed. Skillwise they're pretty much identical. And yet he's down here on the 'teaching' squad and William is on the 'graduated' League.

    So what's the plan? I don't think there's any sort of structure by which we get promoted. Richard and Wallace will want to go to college and.. maybe they can't commit to spending the time or lack the neurological stability due to being teenagers. But Kaldur or Canis? What's the bar there?

    Alright, with Canis-.

    "Recognized, Batman, Zero Two."

    I find myself not.. snapping to attention in the way that I used to as Batman strides into prime lecturing position. It's not that I don't respect him. No, it's that I don't fear his disapproval. I'm confident that (in my sphere) I know more about the job than he does. Or maybe actually getting to know the man has cured me of my lingering devotion to the Infallible Bat-God. Still, he has actually waded through reams of intelligence and crime reports to find something at our level -whatever that is- so there's no need to be rude.

    "I have four tasks for the team. It will be up to you to decide where to focus your efforts."

    Squads of five each, with a few left over. I'm a little surprised that the newest three are being included, but I suppose that they're not exactly 'new'. Arisia grew up around Lanterns in a spacefaring civilisation where knowledge of Lanterns was commonplace. Ghia'ta… Could be literally any age, and the Noriel part of Supergirl is thousands of years old.

    "Federal police in Pakistan have requested assistance in dealing with several settlements they believe have been infiltrated by Kobra sympathisers."

    A map flashes up on the holographic display, but I'm already frowning. Kobra are Hindu heretics. Pakistan is virtually entirely Muslim. Okay, there's some spill over in the border regions but Partition didn't happen because the two religions get on super well. So there isn't going to be significant native support for their ideology there… Or maybe that's the point? Marginalised communities being driven to adopt an extreme version of their religion due to external pressure?

    "The team's task will be to gather evidence of Kobra activity and -if appropriate- to take action against any Kobra operatives in the area."

    That team's going to need a magic user and.. probably M'gann? And those of us who've participated in anti-Kobra operations before should probably not take part. That area doesn't have the best communications infrastructure but if Kobra recruiters actually are active in the area I'm sure they'll have our pictures. Of course, none of us could really… Blend in with the locals, and it's not exactly a holiday hotspot. I wonder if Vasi's available?

    "Secondly." The screen showing that part of Pakistan floats off to the side and another showing a snow-covered wasteland appears. "STAR Labs have requested that we help locate a team they dispatched to Nepal. They were studying the monastery which was briefly used as a refuge by surviving members of the League of Shadows last year. The team leader -a man named Anderson Gaines- reported that they had located metal samples of non-terrestrial origin before losing contact. We have their itinerary and last known position, but neither the Watchtower's sensors nor local rescue teams are able to locate them."

    No Prometheus in this setting, as far as I have been able to tell. I suppose that he'd be quite young now, and I don't remember his real name. Would he kill a STAR Labs team? If someone was paying him, yes, but on his own recognisance he only targeted law enforcers. And I can't really see him being so attached to the place that he would attack them just for going there. So probably not him, and if it is then he's the Batman sort. Without preparation time he'd struggle to cope with a squad from the team and isn't that an awkward way to phrase it.

    "Thirdly." Ah, this is a little closer to home. "The town of Kennedy in Oregon has the highest rate of suicide among teenagers in the north western United States, without any of the usual external triggers for suicidal tendencies."

    Well, that's one way to get team numbers down to something manageable. I suppose that as team empath I should take that one, though that's a bit harsh considering how difficult my colleagues will find travelling to and from the other two.

    "The team will attempt to discover why, or at least find a way to reduce it temporarily."

    "Lastly, we've heard rumours of a metahuman fighting tournament being held in Madagascar. While prize fighting is not necessarily illegal, I'm concerned that wanted criminals may use it to generate revenue and advertise their services. The team will attempt to locate the event, observe it and plant monitoring devices."

    Ah, the trainee mission. Madagascar has a large enough tourist population that any of us could fit in and it concerns a crime where the individuals involved want to keep things at least a little bit quiet. Or try and brazen things out if discovered rather than go out in a blaze of villainy. No obvious reason for me to go there. In fact, my public profile means that I'm a bad fit for it.

    "I will expect to see your mission plans within the hour. Dismissed." Oh, the meeting room is going to get crowded. Maybe I should knock through a wall-. "Orange Lantern, stay behind."

    A few of my colleagues glance back as they head down the corridor. I just give them a small shrug before giving Batman my full attention. If he wants to talk about yesterday…

    "What can I do for you, sir?"

    "I have a particular assignment for you." He fully dismisses the holoscreens. "I agree with the assessment you made that one of the key roles for the Justice League is to be prepared to take on the worst that the universe can throw at the Earth. As part of the League's ongoing training process I want you to act as our opposing force in a war game we will be conducting next week."

    "You want me to take on the role of a supervillain?"

    "Yes."

    In.. teresting. "Do.. ing.. what?"

    "That will be up to you. You have performed analyses of supervillain activity second only to my own. You know the sort of things that the League's enemies may attempt, and your knowledge of galactic politics means you are also aware of what extraterrestrial threats may exist. Submit your plan to me no later than Thursday."

    "Sir." Oh… Man. So many things I could do with this. Of course, I'll have to make sure that my 'targets' and 'victims' are willing to play along… "I'm sure that I'll come up with something."

    Batman nods. "Concerning your activity in Gotham City yesterday. While you were correct to say that you do not work for Batwoman, and have no obligation to obey my orders outside of team missions, I ask that in the future you try to avoid deliberately antagonising her."

    "I'm sure that I can manage that."

    "That aside, you are to be congratulated on your success. Whoever 'Mister Gotham' is, he and his cult represented a significant threat to the city."

    "You should probably thank Selina about that, too. If she hadn't been there I doubt that I'd have found the place."

    He nods. "Which mission will you take part in?"

    "Ultimately, that's Kaldur's decision, but I was thinking Kennedy. Understanding people's motivations is what I'm best at."

    He regards me for a moment and nods, then turns away and heads for the zeta tube.
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2019
  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    18th February
    09:44 GMT -6


    "He's right." Garth nods as we walk through Kennedy's main shopping street. "In the Atlantean military, we send battle mages in first. They deal with any immediate threats, and only then would an archmage or a thaumaturgist enter the area."

    Leonid reaches up with his right hand for a moment and then pulls it back, not entirely comfortable with his earpiece. I realised that since few people speak Atlantean Greek and since I somehow ended up with a team where four out of five members do, we can talk pretty much openly about anything without worrying about being overheard.

    Beryl smirks. "Did anyone else spot that he was sending a group of teenagers to a place where-"

    I grin and nod at her.

    "-teenagers keep killing themselves?"

    "So if anyone feels like killing themselves, let me know. I can make it quick and painless. Or slow and painful, if you prefer."

    Richard got Madagascar where his sneakiness and knowledge of criminal networks will be most useful, Kaldur got Nepal where his cold resistance and ability to manipulate water will be an asset and M'gann got Pakistan, for pretty much the reason I assumed. One magic user per team, one top tier brawler and… Nearly one Lantern per team.

    Wonder where we can get another?

    Shades covering my eyes to disguise the glow, I take a look around. Not looking deeply, just… Trying to spot any black. I got a reminder of what suicidal intent looks like from Ms Fuller, but… Not seeing anything like that. I mean, there's some black in the mix, but nothing exceptional.

    "There is nothing to be gained by self-murder." People are looking at Linda, but that's mostly because she's a stunningly attractive blonde woman rather than them recognising her in her public identity or anything supernatural. "Your soul will endure, and everything you hoped to flee will accompany you to Hell."

    Leonid turns the corners of his lips down for a moment. "I am an atheist."

    I frown. "Really? You know we can prove objectively that souls and gods and whatnot exist, right? That's how magic works?"

    "Then I do not see why some… Spirit should own my soul."

    "I think of it more like insurance. Sure, you don't need it, but it can make life a lot easier."

    Beryl nods. "Or death, in this case."

    He frowns mildly at her. "What god have you chosen?"

    "Nike."

    "Really?"

    "Best trainers I've ever worn."

    Leonid frowns further. "There is a god of shoes?"

    "Goddess."

    "There is a goddess of shoes?"

    "Probably, but Nike is the Hellenistic Goddess of Victory."

    Beryl nods. "You sold the whole Hellenic pantheon pretty well. Oh, and the higher suicide rates go back for as far as they've got computerised records."

    "And what does this goddess do in exchange for your soul?"

    "Basically, nothing."

    "Then you are being cheated."

    Beryl beams at him. "Thank you."

    "What for?"

    Linda shakes her head. "Heathens. The disposition of your immortal soul is no matter for joviality."

    "I'm not being jovial. Erebos sounds great. And wasn't invaded by demons a few months ago." She glances my way. "Was it?"

    "No. As I understand it, demons would find Erebos even harder to exist in than they do the material universe. They're not especially vulnerable to Erebosian magic, but they don't fanatically hate the place either."

    "And you can just do whatever you want without being stuck in a pod?"

    "Hades hasn't said anything to me about putting people in pods. Though if you want to check, you can just go and visit."

    "See?" She makes eye contact with Linda. "They do tours. Openness and honesty. That’s the sort of thing I look for in a god." And back to me. "Have you met Nike?"

    "No. With the Amazons, she effectively subs in for Ares as God of Fighting, because… They won't worship Ares because he's an arsehole." She nods. That's hardly a surprise at this point. "But I've never encountered her directly. Do you want to?"

    "I dunno. I think I should actually win some more stuff first. Mm, no real seasonal variation, matches expected changes with the economic climate…"

    "So it's deaths added to the base rate, not a flat level of deaths."

    "It's more than that. If something was making people more miserable, normal self harm triggers wouldn't make deaths go up by a little, they'd go up by a lot because more people would reach that… Threshold. This looks more like a serial killer."

    "A serial killer as old as written records. Not.. impossible. Garth?"

    He shakes his head. "I haven't felt anyone using magic since we arrived." This close I can dimly see his tattoos glowing under his coat and concealing bandages. "My detection spells aren't infallible, but… So few people in the surface world use magic that the field has a certain untouched feel. This feels like that. I don't think that anyone's used magic around here for a very long time."

    "Kind of sad when the old customs get abandoned." He looks at me blankly. "The Native American magic tradition wasn't up to much, as far as I've been able to tell. But they could use magic. If any were around here then it wouldn't feel like that."

    He nods, but doesn't look particularly troubled by the idea. Atlanteans don't generally have a lot of respect for magic users whose knowledge of the subject is without a rigorously taught background in thaumaturgy. You don't get academic respect by throwing theorems at the wall and seeing what sticks.

    "Linda, are you getting anything?"

    "I have felt no demons or hellish magic since we arrived. Nor angels either."

    Beryl looks curious. "Do demons do that? I wouldn't have thought-. I know the Catholic Church used to say that committing suicide sent you to Hell, but being mind controlled into doing so by a demon isn't the same." And now a little more concerned. "Is it?"

    "Would it not be right to judge them on what they have become?"

    "No, no it wouldn't."

    "The Catholic Church took a hard line on suicide because it was the one form of violence it was impossible to do penance for. Since we now know that formal penance isn't necessary but rather just helpful, I doubt that it's a deciding factor. And Noriel? Your Linda's showing."

    She bites back whatever her next comment was going to be.

    "We need more information. Beryl, Leonid, head to wherever Kennedy keeps the written public records that haven't been computerised yet. See if you can find any other statistical anomalies." They nod. "Linda, Garth and I are going to do a tour of local teenage hangouts and popular suicide spots, see if we find anything odd. Contact us in an hour."
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2019
  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    18th February
    09:59 GMT -6


    Ah, High School.

    I remember Willingdon Community School… Well, I remember it. But it's just not the same as the American experience. For one thing, it stops two years earlier, which skews the demographics. Two years less of young adults, all going to Park or ECAT. No student parking, because it wasn't worth it for a handful of sixteen year olds with provisional licences. Or perhaps they just didn't want to dig up the playing fields. I haven't bothered to see if it exists here.

    From where I'm standing I can see three posters advertising the Samaritans.

    Hm.

    "Linda, I didn't ever check. Did you actually graduate?"

    "Yes, with good grades in science and history."

    "History?"

    "Buzz liked to talk about his life. It made the subject more interesting. L-. I am intelligent, but I did not apply myself to things which I found uninteresting."

    "As long as you end up doing what you want, hey?"

    "It is an issue on which I agree with my former self. I have no more interest in humans than she had in mathematics."

    "Fair enough. What does interest you?"

    "Burning. I like fire."

    "Prime superhero material there."

    "Zauriel believes that I need to become more empathic."

    "I have a surprising amount of respect for Zauriel. And if you're stuck here, learning to do that might help. Or have you considered studying pyrotechnics?"

    "You are the last person I want to talk to about the subject."

    "Sure, I don't know much about pyrotechnics-."

    Garth's tattoos stops glowing, and he shakes his head. "There's no obvious magic residue in the area around the school. That doesn't mean that someone couldn't walk up to a student and curse them, but it isn't a spell on the school."

    Ring, scan.

    Compliance.

    No wards, which is nice. Or at least none that are so unsubtle as to show up as blank areas. As far as I can tell… It's just a school.

    "Nothing on empathic vision, nothing much on scans."

    "Maybe we need to be here during the week."

    "Maybe."

    "We could check teachers for magic paraphernalia, but given the length of time this has been going on, I doubt that any of them is an undercover magician."

    "If they were extending their lives through murder then the deaths couldn't be made to look like suicide. Not this many for this long, anyway."

    "My teachers at the Conservatory of Sorcery didn't go into that side of magic in any detail."

    "Not a lot of need in Atlantis, where it would be virtually impossible to get away with without being spotted. Maybe they'll add a course when Atlantean police start getting sent on detached duty to police forces all over the world. You were… Purely studying battle magic, weren't you?"

    "My study curriculum has certainly become broader since coming to the surface. Where should we go next?"

    "Until Beryl's found something to narrow our search, I think studying the remains of the victims is our next step. If we don't find anything, we can formally request that the mayor allow a full thaumic study of the town."

    Garth looks dubious. "Unless the spell was very strong, I don't think I'll be able to detect it."

    "We could always ask the furies about it."

    "That's outside my-." / "No we could not."

    Garth is a little taken aback by Linda's vehemence. I'm not all that sure where it comes from, either. I'd have thought that she'd be fine with massive violence being meted out to the deserving. From what she said, I don't think that she's quite that empathic towards us humans.

    "Would you care to elaborate?"

    "Summoning the furies requires materials which I hope that you would be unwilling to assemble, and they are inclined to strike out against all of those they consider 'guilty'. Alecto punishes moral crimes."

    "'But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.'"

    "Jesus would have counselled the lustful party to reflect upon their actions and modify their conduct. He would not violently castrate them and parade their severed genitals around the town."

    "I said 'consult', but alright. If you're sure that they can't be persuaded to curb their enthusiasm, we'll leave that option until last." I begin striding northwards, in the direction of the closest cemetery. "Graveyard's this way."

    Garth and Linda follow me, Garth looking thoughtful.

    "Wouldn't a fresh body be better?"

    "Yes, but the suicide rate here is 'elevated'. It's not a daily occurrence. And if we want access to the mortuary then we'll have to reveal what we're doing and why, which will both scare people and cause them to assume that we're going to fix their problem when it's quite possible that we can't. Whereas at this time of day a graveyard should be relatively empty and allow us to access to the corpse without anyone being any the wiser."

    "When was the most recent suicide?"

    "Two weeks ago."

    "I don't know surface world funeral traditions or preservation techniques, but won't the body be somewhat decayed?"

    "Yes, but my rings know how human remains decay. And I'm mostly looking for exotic influences anyway. The pathology report is fairly informative."

    Linda's eyes narrow slightly. "We do not have permission to exhume the body."

    "We don't need to." Oh. I look at Garth. "You don't, do you?"

    "A specialist would, for a detailed analysis. But for what I can do, a few metres away is fine."

    "Good show. And if we don't find anything out, I've plotted a route through the town which will take us through the most popular suicide spots and the places where the suicides are buried."

    "Paul, I know that you've got a lot of contacts in the surface world magic community. Have you considered asking a necromancer?"

    I shake my head.

    "Majority monotheistic community. Summoning back people who went to hell… Doesn’t go well."
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2019 at 1:06 PM
  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    18th February
    10:09 GMT -6


    "How did they die?"

    Daniel Brown's grave is neatly kept, and the flowers in the stand next to the headstone are in good condition. At fifteen, he was one of the younger suicides.

    "Shotgun blast to the chest."

    "Shotgun?" Garth looks away from the grave and turns his attention to me, his hands about a metre apart. "Aren't shotguns about this long?"

    "About that, yes. The pathologist wasn't sure how he pulled it off. Technically, the cause of death was either shock, septic shock or blood loss, but… It's not a way many people would choose to die. It would have been painful and not particularly fast. That's why I mentioned the 'slow and painful' option earlier."

    "Are the.. others like that?"

    "There's no particular pattern. Drug overdoses, extreme risk-taking and self harm are all common, but over the total number unusual forms like this are more common than the statistical average."

    I'm not seeing any black, but then again… I'm not sure that I would. My vision is empathic after all; this corpse isn't feeling anything.

    Hm.

    "Linda, was this graveyard properly sanctified?"

    "That is not for me to determine." She shrugs. "People earnestly pray here with sufficient frequency that it is hallowed enough for most purposes."

    Running out of covert ideas.

    "Right, the interstate turnoff it is! It's a bit of a hike-" I turn away from the grave. "-but perhaps we-"

    There's a boy… Probably in his early teens, standing and watching us from just inside the graveyard. He's slightly overweight, and I feel a pang of sympathy at the sight of the acne covering his face. He's wearing thick-rimmed glasses and his hair is an untidy black mop.

    "-can take a bus or something."

    And then I feel it, a weak mental probe. It's out of character for a tourist to be able to block things like that, but I really can't take the risk of something like that worming its way into my mind.

    Ring, stop putting everything into Greek.

    Compliance.

    "Good morning!" I smile politely and raise my right hand in greeting.

    "I'm trying to look at your thoughts, but I can't see them."

    At least he's honest about it.

    "I know how to keep telepaths out. Have you heard of a man named Henry King Junior?"

    He just sort of stands there, arms held limply at his sides.

    Oh. Right.

    "Did you.. know Daniel?"

    "He was in some of my classes. I knew him, but he didn't know me."

    O.. kay…

    I open my empathic vision a little, but I'm not really seeing anything particularly unusual. The lack of fear is interesting, but I suppose that if he's known what everyone around him was thinking and could project into them then he wouldn't have much reason to fear other people. Of course, legally that's pretty questionable, but mind reading isn't illegal in most states and mental suggestion… Isn't inherently illegal in most places either. In Oregon it would bump up the severity of an offence but wouldn't be a crime itself unless he actually started puppetting people.

    "Do you know why he did this?"

    "He was ugly."

    Ah… The pictures I saw looked fairly normal to me. But I suppose that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    "Everyone's ugly on the inside. Sometimes they see it."

    And of course the problem with a telepath in a non-telepathic species is that, A, there's no one around who can recognise what they're doing and B, there probably aren't any people around who can stop them because you don't have to be a very powerful telepath to ruin most people's days.

    Ring?

    Nigel Patterson, 15. Good scholastic record. No criminal record.

    Of course, if he's telepathic, getting answers to test questions wouldn't be all that hard.

    "How do you mean, 'ugly'?"

    "They all have things that make them afraid or ashamed. They force them way down inside but they spend so much effort and time pretending that they're not there that things get all muddled. Muddied."

    Garth glances at me, his tattoos on low-glow. I give my head a small shake and make a 'stop' gesture with my right hand.

    "I see. I'm not like that."

    "I can't see your ugliness because you're keeping me out. But it's there, under the shield."

    "No, I have this shield because I've fought telepaths and telepathic weapons before. A little over a year ago I was forced to take a good long look at my own ugliness." I shrug. "It's not an issue any more."

    Nigel.. shudders, his jowls wobbling in a way I find quite disconcerting.

    "Show me."

    Okay. Turning off my shields around a telepath. I have practised regaining control in this sort of situation but it's not particularly easy. On the other hand, this boy isn't exactly M'gann, is he? Quick scan of the area for telepathic weapons…

    And I relax my mind and let my conscious be free.

    I feel the probe and deliberately don't stop it, letting the.. mildly uncomfortable presence touch my thoughts. With an experienced telepath there are ways to encourage them to look in particular places, but… Yes, he isn't examining in a structured way. I feel momentary flashes of feeling and memory as he prods at something he's probably the only person in the state to be able to perceive. I'll need to talk to his parents about getting him some tuition.

    And now he's shaking all over.

    "Ah, are you alright?"

    "It's beau-beau-beautiful."

    He gently removes his glasses from his face with his right hand and uses his left to wipe the tears from his eyes. Then his legs give out and he collapses onto his bottom.

    I can still feel him on the edge of my mind, just… Feeling me. It's just about the least invasive thing he could do, and I'm… Not sure if I should let him keep doing it or cut him off.

    "Nigel, we're a bit busy. Are you going to be alright? Do you want us to phone someone for you?"

    "No. I'm fine. Just leave."

    I'm unsure, but… I glance at Garth and Linda but get a pair of shrugs.

    I restore my resting shields and lead the way out of the graveyard.
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2019 at 1:19 PM
  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    18th February
    10:34 GMT -6


    I watch the cars as they shoot past on the way to somewhere with a lower suicide rate.

    "…founded in nineteen twenty two. Before that, it was basically just a train station and refuelling point."

    "And the deaths?"

    "As far as I can tell, it's always been like this. There were 'unexplained deaths' back to the founding. Before that, actually. In eighteen seventy, a train arrived in the next station along with its whole crew dead. According to the story I found, it looked like they'd been partially eaten."

    "Wolves?"

    "Getting on a moving train? Crewed by Americans with guns?"

    "Anything before that?"

    "Nothing that made the papers. But that was fifty years before there was officially a town here. They don't have all of the issues. You find anything?"

    "One telepath with antisocial tendencies. But he's not a hundred and forty years old, and as far as I could see didn't want people dead."

    "How 'antisocial' are we talking, here?"

    "I couldn't see any desires relating to other people at all."

    "I've been trying to read up on human telepaths, but there aren't really any good studies."

    "The best estimate I saw was that there are probably about a thousand people with some level of telepathic ability on Earth, of whom maybe a tenth are decent generalist telepaths. But that's extrapolated from a relatively small sample, and… Well, by definition, police can only study failed criminals. If a powerful, competent telepath didn't want to be noticed, they wouldn't be."

    "So what do we do about him?"

    "I'll tell Mister King when we're finished, ask him to do a home visit. He didn't exactly sound happy, but if he's managed this long then I doubt we need to prioritise him."

    "Unless he knows something. If he's been hearing people's thoughts since puberty -or longer- then there's a chance that he's been around some of the… Victims? Is that the word?"

    "If something external to them is causing it, yes. And.. that might explain his unusual behaviour. He did say that one of the victims was one of his classmates. But even Mister King ended up in an asylum. There's plenty of opportunity for telepathy to cause neurosis without external assistance."

    I look over to where Garth is finishing up. Since we're out of sight of the townsfolk he's taking the opportunity to draw out a runic working on the ground. He spots me looking at him and shakes his head as he rubs his foot on the ground to erase the physical traces of it. Darn. Given the number of people who had killed themselves around here I'd hoped that we'd get something beyond the road signs referencing the figure and pleading people to drive carefully.

    "Have you found any links between the victims?"

    "No statistically significant family links, geographic links, ethnicity, religion… The age thing looks like it should be significant, but I can't work out why."

    "Any survivors?"

    "A few. Most of them sort of shut down, except to have another go. The last one died of malnutrition, over a decade ago." There's a pause. "I think I need a new hobby."

    "Are you finished where you are?"

    "I think so, yes."

    "Do you think you could speak to the family of that last survivor? See if they said something that didn't mean anything to their caretakers but would mean something to us?"

    "Leonid and I don't exactly sound American."

    "Are you telling me you can't do accents?"

    "Eh… Kind of. I can do the voice but I don't know enough about actually being an American to really fake it. I could say I'm an exchange student or something..?"

    "Whatever you think best."

    Garth reaches convenient speaking distance.

    "I got an impression of the deaths, but that's it. I think I'm at a dead end as far as magic-based detection is concerned. Unless we trip over something… You will need to ask someone else if you want to investigate this further with magic."

    "Okay. I know this isn't your speciality and I appreciate your efforts so far. Any ideas on another avenue of investigation?"

    "I've been trying to work out who would benefit from something like this. I know that there are magic rituals which are powered by death, but as far as I can tell that isn't happening here. There are monsters who eat people who died in particular circumstances, but most of the bodies we have records for were intact."

    Beryl 'hms' down the phone. "It can't be Star Conquerors because they don't like drawing attention and killing people they could use as hosts isn't productive. It probably isn't G-Oni because Garth can't detect any magic. It's not the Light because… There's no point to it. It doesn't make heroes look bad because no one really knows that it's happening and it doesn't get them anything. Kobra wouldn't mind being able to cause mass suicides, but they didn't come to America until the thirties. Were there any supervillains around here in the nineteenth century?"

    "At least one werewolf pack, but I couldn't name any members. Other than that… No idea. None I've heard of."

    "Sheeda?"

    "Sheeda aren't this subtle. And how would they even get here? The ships haven't arrived. A Mind Killer could do something like this, but these are just random teenagers. They're not people would could meaningfully resist a Harrowing. There's no.. motive that I can see."

    Garth nods. "Maybe it's practice? How would we detect a Mind Killer?"

    "The Sivanas have a device that can reveal them, but as I understand it only the person they're trying to affect can see them otherwise."

    "What do they look like?"

    "A fat humanoid made out of cloud with too many eyes. You're not.. seeing one now, are you?"

    "No." He shakes his head, looking thoughtful. "I take it that they aren't magical?"

    "I haven't seen enough Sheeda technology to know. I don't think so."

    He glances up to where Linda is flying high above us, her magic sense straining to feel anything untoward in the town. "And they don't have souls?"

    "I'm not sure."

    "Do they have their own emotions?"

    "I didn't see any last time, but there are ways to block me and the Sheeda have had a long time to work at it."

    "Yeah." Beryl sounds thoughtful. "Probably worth eliminating them from our enquiries. How hard would it be to get a way to detect them?"

    "I didn't scan the device. I'll have to ask Magnificus if we can borrow it. If he's not too busy, maybe a few minutes." I nod. "I'll go and ask."
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2019 at 10:06 AM
  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    18th February
    22:12 GMT +5:30


    I knock on the door to Magnificus' office. Even with how the facility here has expanded, there aren't a great many forms of entertainment out here in the jungle. And given how driven Magnificus is, it's hardly surprising that he's spending his time in here.

    "A-arnold?"

    "Afraid not. Do you have a moment, Magnificus?"

    "Is it urgent?"

    "Hard to say, but maybe?"

    "Ah, come… Come in, then?"

    I nod and press the door release, then push the door open and walk inside. The room is relatively spartan. A few photographs on a shelf; the pictures are of him during particularly proud moments. And one of him with Nyssa and her family at Mr Wayne's wedding. The next shelf down houses a stuffed uberrat, probably reassembled after its encounter with my team. His desk has a curved surface, allowing different parts of it to be used for different purposes. There's a small soldering station, a holographic emitter/sensor interface and a physical book which looks Atlantean.

    Magnificus smiles at me from behind his desk, posture slightly tense.

    "What can I do for you?"

    "That sheeda thing that was trying to depress you. Do you still have the gun you used to kill it or did Thaddeus keep it?"

    "Ah, yes, no, I've still got it. It was such a kludge job that he didn't think it was worth keeping. And I… It's not my speciality field, and I wanted it on hand… Just in case… Another one of those things turned up. Thaddeus probably has a b-better one now."

    "Perhaps, but I need plausible deniability when dealing with that side of your family. Would you mind if I borrowed it?"

    "Why?" He frowns. "Are there more of those things?"

    "There's an unusually high suicide rate in a place called Kennedy, in Oregon. I wanted to eliminate them from our enquiries."

    "Is there any reason why the sheeda would be interested in the place?"

    "Not that I can think of. I doubt it will be one of them, but I want to be able to eliminate them from our enquiries."

    He shakes his head. "That won't work. The way the vaporised suspendium works-." He considers me for a moment. "To simplify things a great deal, I could kill it because it was attempting to influence me. You c-can't just fire blindly with it and achieve the same result."

    I frown. "Is there a way to bypass that?"

    "Probably. I haven't been looking into it myself. Thaddeus would be the best person to talk to; either him or Father. Thaddeus would probably have tried to improve the design and F-f-f-father is the world's leading expert in suspendium. If there's a way around it, he'll know it."

    "Would you mind if I claimed to have gotten it from you?"

    "It's not-. If there's an operational reason, I suppose. Just m-make sure that Thaddeus and Father know that I'm not claiming credit myself."

    "Of course." I raise my right hand to my forehead. "Nyssa."

    "Ah-."

    18th February
    17:43 GMT +1:00


    "I'm-."

    Space solidifies and fractures, cold and a strangely echoey noise fills my awareness. Oh, they got it working. I

    step out again and

    return to their laboratory three metres to the right and shield.

    Both of the younger Sivana children are staring into the fractured cuboid of solidified space, sensors in hand.

    Georgia looks a little puzzled. "Not quite what I thought it would look like."

    Thaddeus shakes his head. "Just because he's orange, that doesn't mean that it would be."

    "But the power drain function-."

    "What are you-"

    They swivel as one, ray gun and ultra-taser at the ready.

    "-working on?"

    And they put them away as soon as they see that it's me, Georgia drawing a microphone instead.

    "What did you experience while you were trapped in there?"

    "I couldn't move and it was like looking out through a cracked window. I'm.. sorry, but I'm in a bit of a rush. Th-."

    "Oh, I simply haven't had time to collect all of the data your little side-project requires. But I have collected quite a lot of statistical and behavioral data which supports your initial hypothesis, and devised a simple self-assessment form for people who wish to analyse their own epistemology."

    "Thank you, and I'll be back for that later, but right now I need to know whether or not Thaddeus kept working on the gun you used to kill that thing that was stalking Magnificus."

    Thaddeus looks away from his sensor's display. "The Mind Killer?" I nod. "Sure. I wanted to try it on other supervillains. You know, see if the sheeda were trying to take advantage of their unresolved personality conflicts to create local allies or sleeper agents."

    Her face turned in my direction and away from his, Georgia raises her eyebrows sceptically.

    "And to check yourself and your father?"

    He shakes his head. "We have resolved personality conflicts. It's not the same thing at all. But I didn't find any, so I guess they're not. Or maybe the sheeda just use them as assassination drones, I don't know."

    "If only you studied social science. Then you'd be able to-"

    "Soft subject."

    "-understand their motivations better."

    "It's economics. They're coming to asset strip us. I don't need to study their hair styles to understand that."

    "Um, excuse me?" I regain their attention. "I'm currently undertaking a mission in a town in Oregon with an unusually high suicide rate, and-."

    "Not it." / "Not it."

    "I'm.. sorry?"

    Thaddeus shakes his head. "We've never even been to Oregon. And Dad's got us so focused on the sheeda that-."

    "No, no, I wasn't accusing you. I want to eliminate another Mind Killer from my enquiries, so I was wondering if I could borrow your detection system."

    "The prototype?"

    "Magnificus said-."

    "The proper prototype." He nods. "Sure thing." He heads over to a wall covered in large lockers. "You basically just point it and press the button, and it shows them. You still can't destroy them unless you're the one they're attacking, but it'll-" He opens a locker and pulls a raygun-like device out. "-light them up. Let me know how it goes."

    18th February
    10:51 GMT -6


    I move the device in an arc, and we spot the fifth Mind Killer floating along behind a local girl.

    "Well, fiddlesticks."
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2019 at 10:53 AM
  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    18th February
    11:26 GMT -6


    Beryl shakes her head as the waitress leaves our table.

    "Seven."

    "Unless they can change their appearance and switch between hosts without killing them, yes. And that's just in Kennedy. No one's checked anywhere else."

    "So-." She nods. "We don't know how many people they're influencing worldwide. If there's only one in an area, there won't be a spike in suicides like there is here. We've no idea why they're targeting particular people, or why they've stayed here rather than gone somewhere else, or… How they'll react to us trying to get rid of them."

    Leonid's face tightens slightly. "I am not comfortable with imprecise language. We will destroy them, yes?"

    "Much as I'd like to, Justice League rules of engagement and American law are clear. Since they're intelligent, we should attempt to detain and contain them and question them."

    "Is that possible?"

    "It's our job to make it possible."

    "But if they kill-."

    "I'm keeping an eye out. If I see a hint of black then this becomes an overt operation." I take a sip of my apple juice and look at the other three members of the team. "Ideas on containment?"

    Linda's coffee bubbles. "They are synthetic. They doubtless have physical redundancies which living creatures lack. There are few things I cannot burn if I apply myself. I merely need to stop before they are entirely unmade."

    "Let's leave that-."

    Her right fist clenches. "Do you understand what the existence of these abominations means?"

    "Yes."

    Leonid nods. "We are unprepared, and must adapt to a new challenge."

    Beryl shakes her head. "She's not talking about that. She thinks it means that we lose."

    "Lost? We have not even started fighting them."

    "They're from the future, Leonid. A horribly broken future." She gestures to Linda with her tea. "No wonderful future of universal communion with the One True God, of people living in harmony according to divine law." Then to me. "No technocratic transhuman paradise, no…" She looks slightly blankly at Garth and Leonid. "Whatever it was that you hoped would happen."

    "The surface world using magic and Atlantis joining global society."

    "A prosperous and strong Russia."

    "Uh, actually those two things could happen. We don't know where on Earth the sheeda come from. It could be Russia or Atlantis."

    "And what is it you want?"

    "Don't you know?"

    "Of course I do. I just wonder if you do."

    She thinks for a moment. "Mm, I'd like a Star Trek future."

    Leonid nods. "Space communism through universal class consciousness. Yes, I would like that as well."

    I nearly raise an eyebrow at that. The Russian Federation has been ruled by Unified Russia since the Soviet Union fell apart, and while their leadership appears to have an unsettling degree of respect for Communist-era strongmen rulers their position on Communism itself appears to be 'what were we thinking?'. I think that's the first time I've heard Leonid voice a badthinkful opinion.

    "And a really bad record on AI rights and augmentation technology is completely illegal."

    Beryl shrugs. "Better than the sheeda. But… Yeah. I don't know how things got that bad. Do you think you could just give them your unlimited energy generation technology and they'd leave us alone?"

    "No. At this point their culture is dependent on the Harrowing. And more importantly, their leader's position is dependent on it."

    "But what if-?"

    "If we're in a position to ask, I'll offer it. But look. Nylor Truggs came back in time because -having studied the problem- he believed that the timeline was malleable. Just because the sheeda are returning from the future and we shouldn't be able to remember them if they get prevented from ever existing, that doesn't actually mean that we can't prevent them from existing."

    Leonid frowns as he tries to follow my statement.

    "But as for ideas on how to trap them?"

    Linda gazes moodily into her coffee. "In this form I lack the power to bind them with theurgy. Zauriel may not be so limited. If burning them is insufficient I am uncertain as to what I can offer."

    "This is a majority Christian area. Showing up in full angel mode might be enough of a reassurance to whoever they're attacking to let them fight it off."

    "That does not help with trapping the Mind Killer."

    "Doesn't it? We don’t know how their relationship with their targets works. For Magnificus, it attacked using psychological levers he already had."

    Beryl quirks. "You think if we gave everyone in Kennedy therapy then the Mind Killers would give up? I think you've been in America too long."

    "Garth?"

    "I know some binding spells, but they're designed for elementals and creatures which depend on magic. Since I couldn't even detect that the Mind Killers were here, I doubt that they will work. The other forms of magic binding I know are physical attacks, and we already know that those won't work."

    I nod. "Leonid?"

    "I have never tried shooting suspendium. I do not know what my energy blasts would do. Other than that… I am not suicidal. I could lure them to me, if that would help."

    "If it came to that, I'd do it myself. Beryl?"

    "I don't know enough about suspendium. Do you know anyone who's an expert on it?" She watches my reaction. "What?"

    "The world's only expert on suspendium is Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana."

    "Oh. Forget it, then. The cure's worse than the disease."

    "Well then. We can either keep monitoring them to try and learn more, or directly confront one. Does anyone have a strong feeling either way?"

    Beryl and Leonid shake their heads, and the other two don't contradict them.

    "Alright then. Beryl, you and I will talk to…" My ring shows me the Mind Killer sufferers. "Kimberly Ryan, once we're finished here. Garth, Linda, Leonid, you'll be monitoring our immediate environment and the other sufferers. Let us know if anything changes."
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2019 at 11:18 AM
  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    18th February
    11:52 GMT -6


    "OhmyGodyou'reOrangeLantern."

    YES! Someone who doesn't call me the Cake Man!

    Beryl… Isn't getting recognised, which… She has actually missed out on our higher profile missions, so outside of Britain I suppose she wouldn't expect to be immediately recognisable.

    I smile as I lower my hands, once again concealing my rings. "Yes indeed."

    "Uh-. What are you doing here?"

    "We're performing an investigation, and I hope that you can help us."

    "Us?" She looks around me and fails to notice the out of costume Beryl. "Us who?"

    "Squire, Supergirl, Starfire and Tempest." She frowns. Yes, not exactly the most recognisable names, either. I never thought that having your superheroic identity not get recognised was a problem I'd actually run into. I should probably take that into account more. "We didn't want to crowd you."

    "Okay. What.. do you want?"

    Her friends stand a short distance away, watching us a little cautiously. I think they think we're Jehovah's Witnesses or something.

    "We believe that you've recently come into contact with an.. unusual entity, and we want to check that you haven't been harmed in any way. We'd like to take you to a secure location while we perform a few tests."

    The good humour vanishes from her face. "Like a.. demon?"

    I shake my head. "No, demons are simple to deal with and easy to spot during a detailed investigation." Plus, if it was a demon I'm not sure that I'm be able to restrain Linda. "And it's entirely possible that there isn't anything wrong at all, or that we've misunderstood the situation. But as professional superheroes we like to be certain about these sorts of things."

    "Is it going to take long?"

    "It's impossible to say for certain, but hopefully no more than half an hour."

    "It's just-." She giggles. "'Stranger danger'-" I nod. "-you know?"

    "You are of course free to refuse, or to ask someone to accompany you, or to phone someone to let them know where you're going. While our presence here isn't a secret, we are trying to keep it at least somewhat quiet in case the area is under observation."

    "Sure… Ah…" She pulls her mobile phone out of her pocket. "Let me just phone Mom real quick?"

    "By all means."

    She smiles as she presses the touch screen and then holds the phone up to her face.

    "Hey Mom! You'll never guess what happened!"

    "Perhaps a.. little quieter?"

    She looks around her phone with a wince, then returns her full attention to it.

    "What is it, honey?"

    "I've met a superhero!"

    She turns the phone around, and I see the face of her mother peering out bemusedly. I raise my left hand again, allowing my rings to glow faintly.

    "Oh well I never."

    Kimberly turns the phone back to her own face.

    "He wants me to let him do some tests on me in case something weird's happened. He says it won't take long, but-." She looks around the phone again. "Where are we going?"

    Since I haven't had time to rent a warehouse or something… "Just a little way outside of town. I'll bring you back once we've finished."

    "So that locator app which you totally haven't got on the whole time can tell you where I am."

    "Ah. Okay, honey. Tell me all about it when you get back!"

    "Sure Mom." She lowers the phone and ends the call with another button-press. "Let's go! Wait, are we flying?"

    I hold out my left hand and she eagerly takes it.

    "No." I touch a filament to Beryl and transition the three of us across town, then release her hand and raise my left hand to my ear. "Garth, is it still with us?"

    "No, but it's heading your way quickly. You have a little over a minute."

    "Thank you."

    "You can teleport!"

    "Miss Ryan, have you seen a large humanoid made of cloud recently?"

    She blinks. "Ah, what?"

    I create a construct replica of the Mind Killer.

    "Something like this? One appears to be following you, and we're a little concerned. Last time I saw one it was trying to persuade a man to kill himself."

    "Ah…" She looks at it a little more carefully, though I can't imagine that she could confuse it with anything else. "No? I mean… I wouldn't forget seeing something like that."

    I turn up my empathic vision, but I can't see anything that suggests that she's not being honest. Darn. So the thing was… Just following her? Perhaps-.

    "They only see it when they start getting depressed."

    I nod at Beryl's suggestion. "Distinctly possible. Just to be completely clear, Miss Ryan, you haven't heard any strange voices or felt desires which you didn't think were your own?"

    "It's getting closer."

    "No. What is it?"

    "Some sort of artificial intelligence from the far future. We don't know what it's doing." I make a construct version of Thaddeus's device and point it towards the town.

    No… No… There.

    I point.

    "Please confirm that you don't recognise that?"

    She vigorously shakes her head as it gets closer.

    "Uh-uhh."

    "Right then." A flicker of orange and my armour appears around me as I rise into the air. Another and Beryl's own lightly armoured costume appears. "Sheeda Mind Killer."

    It slows, about half of its eyes focusing on me and my construct.

    "Explain yourself."
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2019 at 7:02 AM
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