1. For prospective new members, a word of warning: don't use common names like Dennis, Simon, or Kenny if you decide to create an account. Spammers have used them all before you and gotten those names flagged in the anti-spam databases. Your account registration will be rejected because of it.
    Dismiss Notice
  2. Since it has happened MULTIPLE times now, I want to be very clear about this. You do not get to abandon an account and create a new one. You do not get to pass an account to someone else and create a new one. If you do so anyway, you will be banned for creating sockpuppets.
    Dismiss Notice
  3. If you wish to change your username, please ask via conversation to tehelgee instead of asking via my profile. I'd like to not clutter it up with such requests.
    Dismiss Notice
  4. Due to the actions of particularly persistent spammers and trolls, we will be banning disposable email addresses from today onward.
    Dismiss Notice

[Archive] With This Ring (Young Justice SI) (Story Only)

Discussion in 'Story Archive' started by Mr Zoat, Jan 30, 2019.

Loading...
  1. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    It's not my ring
    But it'll do for now


    The ring -which was embedded in my neck for some reason- floats out of the wound and lands on my right ring finger.

    The Manhunters around me open up their power ring draining devices.

    "By the command of Krona-"

    Wisps of orange light flow from my borrowed ring into their chassis.

    "-no man escapes the Manhunters."

    I can see my own desires and.. the desires of this ring's previous owner, flowing into them. And… Orange strands leading to many of the versions of me imprisoned on this tuning fork. They're manipulating their desires to use the light better. Clever.

    "No man escapes me."

    I take the orange light and twist it, forcing it into their central processors, or… Whatever it is that Manhunters think with. Their eyes glow brilliant orange as I take control, orange sigils forming on their foreheads a moment later.

    "Hey Peter."

    I set the Manhunters to tearing the other versions of me out of the tuning fork and a… Micro-asteroid starts talking to me.

    "Assuming that you're a Clayface-"

    Ring, state charge.

    Sixty seven percent remaining.

    "-without power ring training-"

    Rings to me.

    "-then I suggest that you take cover."

    Construct armour forms around me, though unfortunately there isn't any material armour in the ring's subspace pocket. A palisade shield comes next, Krona's one-handed energy blast pattering off it as a series of golden dots fly through the hole in space in front of him and land on his fingers.

    Krona isn't looking at me as he does it.

    I put a singularity projector on top of the palisade and fire it at him.

    His beam stops and space between us twists, strands of exotic radiation erupting from the point of impact.

    "Powerful." He turns towards me, opening and then clenching his yellow-. No, gold ring covered fingers. "But your knowledge of physics is clearly basic."

    Gold light trails behind his right hand as he waves it at Vanishing Point and I.. can't feel the rings I was calling.

    "Have you risen sufficiently above your mortality to interface with pseudo-time? I'm genuinely curious."

    But I can feel other rings.

    Come to me. Know my desires and receive purpose.

    And Krona has desires too, of course. Oh, he can prevent me seeing them, but I know they're there.

    Kindle avarice.

    "Uph." Krona tilts his head to the left, looking at me curiously. "It's been a while since anyone tried that. I may not have my accustomed innate powers at the moment-"

    Good to know.

    "-but I have lived for millions of years. You'll find that my self control is rather good."

    His eyes gleam gold as the… Is that a sling? Evaporates, and his robe-. No, that's a mini-dress, is replaced with armour.

    "I invented power rings. I was the first being to use an orange power ring."

    "That's not what Hinon says."

    His eyes narrow slightly for a moment. "I don't think that spending millions of years in an emotion-deprived coma aided her recall."

    "So you're the Krona from my parallel, are you?"

    "Something like that. Though I think what I'm doing here demonstrates that the term barely means anything."

    "What are you trying to do?"

    "To study the bleed membrane, and the structures it imposes on this reality. And to gain some measure of revenge upon the Guardians." He glances at the hole in space with something that might charitably be called a smile on his lips. "What a fascinating history that place must-."

    The storm of orange rings fly through the portal and hit him in the face!

    He grimaces, intensifying his protective shield as a dozen orange rings bite into it, the rest zooming towards me and falling in to orbit me like electron shells. Versions of me freed by the Manhunters reach out for them and I allow the rings to fly into their hands. And in.. one case, to punch through his chest and bed into his rib cage.

    His grin extends well beyond the normal limits of a human mouth as he gives me a thumbs up.

    The more-on-the-ball me's take shots at Krona, though after seeing how little progress they're making one unusually sensible me grabs Clayface and heads for the Vanishing Point station instead. He doesn’t feel particularly powerful, but he should be able to handle whatever's there and.. perhaps there's some technology there that could be helpful?

    I generate a containment sphere around Krona, studding the surface with infusion points so that the other me's can add their strength to it. They cotton on almost immediately, though through its translucent sides I can see that Krona is more curious than concerned.

    One unringed version of me raises his right hand towards the slowly shrinking portal, and a moment later three rings fly around the containment sphere and settle on his right hand.

    "Better." He looks at me as his own construct armour flares into being. "How good are you at magic?"

    "I sometimes use it by accident."

    He looks around. "Anyone else!?"

    A few blank looks, and big grin makes a 'so-so' gesture with his left hand. Yellow gives it a moment but no one has a more affirmative answer. "Right then. Ancient spirits of evil-"

    Krona raises his hands and begins brute forcing my construct with beams of golden light. I try subverting his power at the point of contact but he's somehow managing to guard against that.

    "-reveal to me Krona's deepest fears."

    His eyes shine with the yellow sigil while Krona-.

    Krona jerks as if slapped, grimaces, and blasts my containment sphere apart!
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2020
  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    Not by strength
    By guile


    Looking back as I head for Vanishing Point at best material-universe speed, I feel… Under levelled.

    "Can we go faster?" Clayface is looking back as well. "Because I don't think-"

    Krona has a shield attached to each of his fingers, each one automatically shifting to block attacks and then to move back behind the others before they get battered down. His own attacks take the form of overwhelming beams projected from his eyes which are blasting through any defence anyone other than Main Orange and Yellow can throw up. Wounded Lanterns are grabbed and healed by others and I don't think any of me have died yet but I can't see how that state of affairs can continue.

    "-there's much we can do-."

    "Where's the entrance?"

    "Right, this way."

    How-? Oh, some sort of transpatial impeller. I follow Clayface as he leads to… What looks like a blank wall, where he resumes a fully humanoidish form and lands before staring at the wall and banging on it with his right hand.

    "Shit, it doesn't open from-."

    The wall section vanishes, revealing a squad of blocky robots-. Manhunters? Just about to charge out. I form crumbler gauntlet constructs and slap them into their unshielded chassis! They barely have time to raise their weapons before they collapse into piles of scrap, hemispheres of metal vanishing from their chests before they can attack.

    I then fly through the opening before it can close again. Did Krona summon them? Is that their default response to an attack? Or does Krona not actually keep anything important here?

    "Hey, this way."

    Clayface is already halfway down a corridor, so I

    [​IMG]

    pause to dig the central memory stores out of as many of the Manhunters as I can before going after him.

    "Are you taking me to the control room?"

    Analyse.

    Affirmative.

    "No, Time Trapper. This was his place before Krona took it over. If we break him out, maybe he can fix things."

    Not a terrible plan, but if Krona took it over while he was still here I doubt that it's that simple. I begin scouring the database for information on how this place works and what Krona's been doing. Hopefully, there's a solution which doesn't just involve slamming coloured beams at one another until one side breaks.

    17th May 2011
    03:06 GMT


    I get my shield in place even as Red starts to recover, the yellow beam cutting out as a man wearing an American flag draws Yellow Titan's attention.

    "Keep the yellow one off me while I get the-"

    The Yellow Titan's lights flicker for an instant, then the armoured plates protecting its head jerk and three rings punch through from inside and head towards the hole in the sky. The Titan is still functioning, but I can't see any construct-related-.

    "Out the-"

    I remove my barrier as Red storms past, red light-

    "-way!"

    -billowing around his hands as he charges the Red Titan. Captain DC-America gets battered away by the Yellow Titan only for it to be struck by a beam of golden energy from John Stewart which.. seeps into every part of the titan before-.

    The titan comes apart enthusiastically, chunks of metal and machinery being sprayed across the arctic wilderness.

    Red is already assailing the Red Titan but… It appears to have dimmed as well. All of them do. They're still using constructs -though in Red's case that doesn't matter as he drains it faster than it can drain him- but they're nothing like as aggressive or powerful as they were mere moments ago.

    "Commander, should I get the Indigo Manhunter Titan or remain here?"

    "Stay here. Trust the rest of our force to manage it."

    I bow my head slightly as Red tears into his colour's Titan, metal reduced to slag as he homes in on the rings inside its armoured body, ripping them free before blowing it apart in a surge of fury. Gold Lanterns and the quicker Justice League members assail the others, and their.. response is anaemic. Fortitudinous fighters are knocked back, but they swiftly return to the fray. Lanterns have their defensive constructs beaten but not broken.

    My eyes narrow as I look at the hole in the sky. Something happened just now, and while I don't know what it was I'm grateful to whoever it was that did it.

    "Commander? What's next?"

    Ten little power rings on the wall
    Ten little power rings
    Take one down and…


    I've spent a lot of time around Vanishing Point, and while I'm still not completely sure I understand the mechanics of how it works I have developed a feeling for it. A feeling for time that I can't fully explain. Goodness knows I've tried explaining it to Brainiac 5… In timelines that he no longer remembers, in the hope that he might be able to help. That we might find common cause. He doesn't want anyone 'playing' with 'history', I don't want anyone other than me altering time. But it was not-

    "…gh here."

    -to be. I stand, looking in the direction that Mr Hagen's voice came from. I thought he had a good chance of pulling off his task, but I wasn't expecting him to actually come back afterwards. Surprising.

    This whole situation…

    I sigh.

    I'd much rather have worked with Brainiac than with Krona. And not just because Krona backstabbed me after agreeing to a limited partnership. If I'd been able to talk Brainiac into helping me, then we'd have completed my project as safely as possible. With Krona on the rampage… It'll be riskier. At least he'll have gathered good data.

    Mr Hagen and.. one of the weaker Orange Lanterns fly in, rising up to my prison. Weaker but not weak. He's probably about as strong as I was…

    How long ago..?

    The Orange Lantern lands on the gantry and looks the assemblage over.

    "Time Trapper. Do you know how to open this?"

    "Can I borrow your ring?"

    He hesitates. Which is fair; he doesn't know me or my goals, and… He probably wouldn't agree with them if he did. I know I wouldn't if I wasn't me. Predictably, his eyes start glowing orange a moment later but that won't show anything very much.

    He shrugs.

    "You could, but I grabbed a spare." He pulls it out of his pocket and holds it out to the bubble. "You never know when they're going to come in handy."

    "Very sensible."

    I hold out my left sleeve and call the ring with the concentrated need of a total obsessive who'll do anything to achieve his aim and the ring flies through the barrier onto my left hand. Then I extend filaments throughout the bubble and break down the solidified temporal distortions that Krona was using to hold me here.

    Then I float myself onto the gantry.

    "Thank you. Follow me, please."
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2020
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    I really just want
    To go home


    Grinner shrugs as the construct runic prison we tried to build fails, fracturing into fragments as Krona exerts himself. The only positive I'm taking from this brawl so far is that Krona isn't anything like as overpowered as I thought he'd be. Oh, he's tanking shots like a champ, but he's either sandbagging or something has weakened him, because aside from his multiprocessing I'd actually say that he's doing worse than Guy would have in this situation. Of course, the multiprocessing is-.

    I catch a glimpse of a flicker of green light and send out a wave of orange, disrupting the filament he was using to flank us.

    Multiprocessing is enough of a problem. It's like fighting a team of Lanterns who can work in perfect concert.

    More rings fly out of the hole near Krona, green ones this time. Krona spots them and lashes out, strands of green light illuminating the sky as they're all-. All but one is destroyed. That one takes evasive action, weaving around Krona's swings before heading towards one of the unarmed versions of me who had been keeping his head down.

    He clenches his fists.

    "Fuck off."

    "The Lantern will don the ring."

    "The Lantern is alone in his own head for the first time in years and the Lantern is happy not to have to deal with the psychotic Qwardian knockoff."

    "Sounds like there's a story there, but we need the firepower."

    He stiffens slightly, then sags. "Right." He takes a deep breath, and then holds out his right hand.

    Towards Krona.

    "I'll take his, then."

    Krona's right hand vibrates, and the Guardian stares at it in disbelief for a moment before firing a hurricane of constructs and energy rays at the-. That's an Anti-Green Lantern ring!

    Yellow's eyes light up as he tries to play with Krona's fears, while the rest of us frantically shift our efforts into countering Krona's offensive. Those like me who learned to make crumbler constructs destroy the larger attack constructs as fast as possible, while the Grinner and the handful of others who look like they've had some cranial work done work to deal with the rest.

    And as I throw a potent enough emotional attack at Krona to try and throw him off his game, it occurs to me:

    We all used to be one person, or something very close to the same person.

    That's why using us like this worked in the first place; why Krona brought us all together.

    And while we're different people, our core desires are much the same as a result of our shared twenty nine years of life and… Two separate.

    "YES!"

    A ring slips free from Krona's finger-.

    And flies over to the Jade part of the tuning fork.

    "No! Damn it! Come on!"

    Krona isn't in a direct line between us and the opposite tine, but still, it's a minor miracle that none of the women have died so-.

    A hand punches through the case and grabs onto the ring, the owner's clothing-. A Jade who got trained by Alan? Ironic and.. plausible, if the situation in Gotham were a little different.

    "Illustres to Lantern Nguyen." And I can't deny the hope and love that surge in my own heart as I say it. "Please evacuate the other yous from the tuning fork."

    She pulls herself free, takes a second to try and understand what's going on, then starts working.

    I need to try and talk to her about that later.

    I fire a volley of newly-fabricated Crumbler rounds at Krona, more to try and keep him off balance than with any hope that they'll actually hit. Another aspect of his parallel processing ability: I can't keep track of everything we're throwing at him. The whole region around Vanishing Point is a kaleidoscope of constructs, and he's meeting every assault… Not perfectly, or we'd be dead. But well enough that I don't think that we're pulling ahead.

    "FINALLY!"

    Anti-Green snatches the golden ring out of the air and puts it on his right middle finger. His costume changes immediately, the harsh curves of the Anti-Green sigil replaced by the smoother lines of the Gold Lantern Corps.

    "This is not permit-."

    Green's eyes glow as he surrounds the anti-green ring in a vice construct and crushes it before conjuring a huge battering ram construct and sending it smashing through everything between him and Krona! Krona's eyes widen very slightly as he sets himself to receive the impact, his rings glowing brilliantly as he's forced to focus his will on a single object!

    I take the opportunity to close my eyes and feel the desires of all of those around me. As I suspected-. A couple don't fit quite.. right-. That's another Clayface, what-? No, never mind. Our desires and drives-.

    "I see. Yes, that could work."

    The yellow lights from Yellow begin.. feeling the rest of us out, just as I'm doing. My still extant nihilophobia, my long since cured fear of heights… Traits we all share. And by that same token he doesn't try to shield his desires, his drive to build a civilisation and shelter his people.

    And those desires and fears are a harmony, a part of the song of who we are. Not enough of me have the same level of spiritual awareness to do anything so beautiful as a white light blast but nonetheless as we open our eyes our constructs become more focused. Our methods more harmonious and our attacks catalysed by the avarice and fears of all of us.

    Krona is forced to lift his left hand away from blocking the battering ram to intercept-.

    "-kill the midget bastard!"

    A Red Lantern-. No, that's Red! Flies through the hole, followed a moment later by Indigo and Black! Red doesn't bother communicating, he just flies to a position behind Krona and unleashes a torrent of blood red flame. Indigo's ring glows as well, but I'm assuming that he's doing something a little less direct. A-. Koriand'r variant flies through after them and she's picked up.. Ghia'ta's ring from somewhere, and she's taking shots of opportunity at Krona whenever she sees an opening.

    Krona's cringing, but I'm really not sure-.

    "Allow me."

    Time Trapper rises from Vanishing Point station, pushing back his hood to-.

    Oh.

    The Time Trapper me raises his right hand and a blue ring flies through the portal and lands on his right index finger.

    "Let us finally draw this to a conclusion. Krona? Begone."

    For a fraction of a second I feel his desires, somehow… They feel different, but that fraction of a second of communion is enough for our constructs to merge-. Not quite in perfect harmony as Koriand'r is stuck providing the violet, but with a flash of white

    Krona's gone.
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2020
  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    Winding
    Down


    "Cheshire." Big Grin stares in mystification at the legion of largely green-clad Asian women presently largely under guard by Gold Lanterns and mes. "I don't see the appeal." He hesitates. "No, that's a lie. I see the appeal of a lot of people, but compared to the billions of alternatives across the universe… Why..? Her..?"

    "I.. can't speak for anyone else, but… We started spending time together after I arrested her and started visiting her in prison in an attempt to reform her. You know what supervillain rehabilitation rates are like, and I-."

    "No."

    "-wanted to-." I frown. "You don't?"

    "No? Why would I?" He shakes his head. "I don't rehabilitate supervillains. That sounds like a long term project, and she's hot but she's not that hot."

    I just.. look at him for a moment.

    "Okay, remember how when you first started working out how to fuel your ring?" I nod cautiously. "Did you think about feeding it demons?"

    "Yes, but-." I blink. "Ah." That's… I take a closer look at his desire networks, and… Yes, I see it now. Desires… Patched onto his psyche that aren't a complete match for the structures that arose naturally from his own thought processes. He's still a me, but a good chunk of his metaphysique is made of bits and pieces of other people's desires. Most likely torn from demons. "I was a demon for a while myself. How..? Are you alright with that?"

    "At first it was strange, then liberating. I was constantly getting thrown out of my comfort zone, but I was managing, you know? I'm still me, but the illogical hesitancy is just gone." I nod. "And I still managed to do good work-. I enable Veronica to do good work."

    "Veronica?"

    "Roulette?" O.. h. I frown. "Low level supervillain and an excellent businesswoman? I handed her a load of schizotech and a few of my own ideas and she ran with it. We've revolutionised Africa's economy, and we'll do the rest of the world once they give up on the trade embargos. You… Not doing anything like that?"

    "I started a revolution in magical technology-."

    "I wanted to do that." He shrugs. "Couldn't get the staff."

    "Right, I've pretty much tapped out Atlantis. And I've been encouraging technological development."

    "What continent?"

    "Mostly North America."

    He shakes his head. "Too conservative. We bet that African countries would go along with whatever we wanted as long as we produced results, since we could outspend the competition and replace foreign companies. And we were right. No having to persuade paid-for legislators and vested interests."

    I nod slowly. "That… Might have been a better idea. How did your fight with Larfleeze go?"

    He frowns. "Why would I go anywhere near the insane Mega-Lantern?"

    Ah. Now I'm feeling slightly b-

    "Sybarite!"

    -etter.

    "That's me."

    He waves as he flies up to where John Stewart, Time Trapper and the newly remerged Red Queen are switching the portal between our home parallels. His Jade is there already -in manacles- and he says something which causes her to glare at him with disgust.

    Right, where did Alan's Jade get to?

    Doesn't take me long to spot her, as she's one of the few Jades not under guard. She's floating just off the ground, talking to the former Anti-Green and now Gold Lantern version of me. I-.

    Angelika flies over to me. "Have they told you when we are going home?"

    "We're last, I'm afraid." She nods. Krona apparently just threw her, Komand'r and mini-Jade into a time-locked prison. Which was a relief, because while I remember something about kryptonians spontaneously reanimating in the comics I haven't ever wanted to depend on it and I don't know of any other way to reliably resurrect her. "Are you..? Coming back with me, or going home?"

    "I…" She takes a deep breath. "I think that I should like to come with you. I will send a message to Karl, but… I do not wish to be a… 'Nazi', but I do not yet.. know how to not be a Nazi. If I go home, I am… I am worried that I might… Fall back into my familiar behaviours."

    I nod, then open my arms. "Here."

    She looks slightly surprised for a moment, then bows her head with a quiet chuckle before flying down and hugging me.

    "That talk with middle-aged you really shook you up, huh?"

    "She's younger than me, but… Yes." She sighs, pulling away slightly. "But in a good way." Another sigh. "In the long term."

    "I assume there's no me or Jade here from your parallel?"

    "No. And your Jade was not abducted?"

    I look around again. "No one in a Darkstars uniform, so unless she's keeping really quiet, no." I slip on Ghia'ta's ring. "I need to go and talk to Green Lantern Jade."

    "And I need to avoid walking in on Red Lantern and Komand'r 'celebrating' again."

    I smile, then fly towards them.

    "…letting me keep it." He holds up his right hand, showing off his golden ring. "It's such an improvement."

    "I thought that Qwardian rings were fatal after twenty four hours."

    "Yep! If you last that long!" He smiles as she frowns. "Lazarus Pits. I die every day and wake up a few hours later."

    Jade frowns. "I thought that Lazarus Pits could only be used once."

    "There are different chemical mixes you can use. Nyssa.. was going to tell me how to make them myself once I killed Ra's…" He grins broadly as he looks at his new ring. "I suppose I don't need it now."

    "You're not immortal."

    "No, but I won't be dying every day now. I mean, I'll still kill Ra's when I find him, but no more huffing down carbon monoxide for me!"

    "Is Commander Gordon letting you keep it?"

    "Ah, Big Orange!" He nods. "It's not like she's short on them, and-. One advantage of being tortured to death every day for years is that you get pretty strong willed."

    "The Lantern formerly known as Anti-Green!"

    "That's me!" He flies backwards towards the portal, waving as he goes. His Jade is keeping her face carefully blank, but I can clearly see that she thinks she's going to be executed upon her return. "See you when I see you!"

    I wave as he grabs her and flies through the aperture.

    "Lantern Nguyen. I.. have some questions, if you don't mind?" She shrugs. "You were.. trained by Alan Scott, right?"

    She nods. "Yes. He's the most experienced Lantern in the Sector."

    I nod back. "My version of Alan Scott had been retired for decades when I met him." She frowns. "But he's a good friend of mine, and he's back in the saddle now. Ah, point is, what I wanted to ask you… I lent my Jade my power ring last year, and… Orange-."

    "Your Jade?" She raises her eyebrows.

    "We've been dating for eight months. I'm pretty sure I can call her 'mine' at this point. Point is, orange rings have mind-altering effects, and she temporarily lost control. I'm… Worried that I might have put her off power rings permanently."

    "I don't think I can help you. I trained with Alan's ring for three years before getting my own. And if you-."

    "Thirteen. Since you got away from your father."

    She doesn't nod, but her eyes dip slightly for a moment. "I sometimes wondered what I'd be like if I hadn't met him. Taking a look around here…"

    "The love of a good man can have powerful redemptive qualities. But she fights with a Darkstar exomantle."

    "I wanted a power ring to prove to myself that I was free of my father. If she's gotten free in another way, she probably won't want it. If her childhood was like mine, we weren't brought up to be trusting."

    I nod sadly. She rehabilitated herself to gain agency. Now that she associates power rings with losing it-.

    "What happened to Krona? It didn’t look like your construct attack killed him when you overwhelmed his defenses."

    "We sent him to a parallel where the laws of physics are different enough that his advantages will be nullified. Far safer than keeping him immaterial or killing him when one of his known allies is a death god."

    She frowns. "He's still a Guardian. How can you be sure he won't find a way back?"
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2020
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    Early spring, 2279
    Evening


    I smile awkwardly as a huge hand grabs me around the neck.

    "Mesmeralda, is this any way to greet an old friend?"

    The woman glaring imperiously… Up at me is a fascinating contrast in sartorial styles. Metal armour is combined with.. pre-war dark glasses, a crown made of teeth, wood and coral with an elegant purple dress. A mesmetron on her right hip and a wooden staff with deathclaw claws and feathers tied to it in her right hand. And if the general styling wasn't a big enough giveaway, I can feel the bizarre **flash** as her thoughts go from 'surprised' to 'threatened raider' and onto 'Total conviction that everything is fine for the Gorgon Queen!' without passing through the usual intervening stages.

    She smiles cruelly as she 'recognises' me.

    "Krono. In my power at last." She reaches down towards her mesmetron, resting her left hand on the grip. "Explain to me why I shouldn't simply have the First tear your head from your shoulders."

    "All that blood would make an awful mess of your boudoir."

    She tilts her head slightly to the left.

    "I suppose that it would. Set him down, minion, but keep your hands on his shoulders."

    The First obeys, though given how big his hands are that effectively means that they're wrapped around my entire torso. What happened to him was a bit of a surprise, and tangentially resulted in my presence here.

    The First was the head of the Troll Warrens, the only big super mutant settlement in north west America. The NCR had been aware of their existence for a while, but they weren't considered to be much of a concern because they were surrounded by other violent tribes and mostly appeared to want to keep themselves to themselves. Then… Something happened. They assaulted a raider tribe to the north of them and tossed the survivors into FEV barrels. Flush with success, they then went after their neighbours further north and to the east.

    And they ran into this woman.

    "This really isn't necessary, Mesmeralda. I came here of my own free will. I wanted to talk to you."

    "I seem-"

    A brief moment of uncertainty. I probably wouldn't have noticed if I wasn't watching for it. Or looking at her surface thoughts.

    "-to remember that talking to you has seldom worked out well for me."

    I'm here because… Not only should I not have asked a child to pick a new name for me, but I shouldn't have neglected to ask where they got such an unusual name from. It turns out that 'Krono' is the name of a villain from the Grognak the Barbarian comic book series, a cunning wheeler-dealer with a taste for magic. 'Mesmeralda' comes from the same series, the difference being that while Krono was all about subtlety and misdirection, she was the campiest ham ever written. A female Ming the Merciless, with a touch of Dr Doom thrown in for good measure. And unlike me where the choice of nom de guerre was entirely accidental… Whoever this woman was genuinely believes herself to be her namesake.

    "But that was only when betraying you directly profited me! And I have a proposal that will profit us both!"

    She hasn't met me. But the Grognak the Barbarian comic series is the Marrow Drinker tribe's holy text. And I'm dressed… More or less as Krono did. I've read as many of the comics as NCR intelligence have been able to find, but I'm more relying on her being too crazy to realise that I'm not comic-Krono once she's got the idea that I am him into her head than on my own acting ability in order to pull this off.

    One reasonably well-received performance as Nana during a primary school production of Peter Pan does not a thespian make.

    "Explain."

    "I've made some… 'Friends', in the New California Republic, and-."

    She rolls not merely her eyes but her entire head. "You mean that you have encountered gullible fools who were not sufficiently forewarned."

    I smile. "They have a certain appeal. You have.. heard of the New California Republic, I take it?"

    "A nation of 'civilised' people to the south."

    "That's them. They want to make a deal with you."

    She smiles with a cold arrogance. "And they could not find a better ambassador than you?"

    "They were short on people willing to risk your magic powers."

    "Have you grown a spine since our last encounter?"

    I wish I knew which issue that was. As with any character written by different writers over the years, Krono's characterisation changed a lot over time. Unlike Mesmeralda whose powers and resources remain more or less stable, his vary greatly depending on how successful his recent exploits had been. Sometimes he was more or less a regular conman, feigning magic with psychology. At other times he managed to get hold of an object of power and become the title's premier magician, something which Mesmeralda canonically hated.

    Obviously, my psychic abilities are far stronger than the held-together-with-wonderglue technology whatever-this-woman's-real-name-is is using.

    "I've gained magic of my own since then. It's amazing what it does for your confidence…" I raise my eyebrows. "Isn't it?"

    "I am more than my wand and alchemy. Were they stripped from me I would simply fight my way to supremacy without them while you would be left scrabbling in the dirt."

    "There are things to be learned from the dirt."

    That seems to bring her up short.

    "I suppose that there are." She gestures to me with her chin. "Go on then. Repeat your master's proposal."

    "Firstly, that you and they agree to a non-aggression pact. They will focus their armies on their enemies to the south, and you can go anywhere but south."

    "What of the tribes between my land and that of the NCR?"

    "You may complete your conquest of the Apostles, but the NCR would prefer you to leave Klamath and the Antelope Reservation as a buffer. Whatever else you do, you must leave Arroyo be."

    "The Gorgon Queen 'must' do nothing!"

    "Their leader is so well-respected that it would arouse the hatred of all the of people of the region against you. Also, the NCR plans to annex it after she dies."

    "The Bone Dancers?"

    "All yours."

    "Heaven's Gate? The Washington Brotherhood?"

    "If you're feeling brave."

    "They aren't asking me to do anything that I wasn't inclined to do anyway. What else?"

    "You will return any NCR citizens you are holding as slaves."

    Shouldn't be any, given the distances between their respective territories, but New Reno has a way of getting its mouldy fingers into all sorts of pies.

    "And what do I get in return?"

    "Guns. Munitions. Raider scum they don't want, but whom you can probably find a use for. And.. I'll.. throw in a couple of my own acolytes."

    "You have acolytes? Doesn't the wasteland have enough shysters already?"

    I raise my fists slightly, then **open them**, the First's grip on my torso vanishing as I hijack his nerves.

    Her mesmetron is pointing at my face immediately.

    "Magic acolytes. I've come up in the world since last we spoke. Would you like a demonstration?"

    A shallow nod, and I grip myself telekinetically and rise a short way into the air.

    "I would be more interested in acquiring this magic for myself than I would in any number of guns."

    "I'm happy to share, but would you really trust anything I would give you?"

    "Perhaps not." She lowers her mesmetron. "But perhaps if I study your acolytes, I might learn it for myself."

    She probably thinks it's a pre-war 'magic' artefact. But it's not as if I'm sending zetan technology up here.

    "You can watch them all you like. Do we have a deal?"

    This is tricky. The NCR essentially want her to act as a deniable proxy, someone who can unify the north under her reign while still being friendly-ish to NCR concerns. She's intelligent enough to realise that. She might say no. But Krono's thing in the comics was that he could persuade people who should have known better to trust him. And if she's playing her role-

    "Yes. For now."

    -to the hilt… Then she'll say 'yes' anyway.

    "I'm so glad to hear it."
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2020
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    Early spring, 2280
    Late morning


    **PeoplePlaceConversationsThoughtsActionsEvents.**

    I lay the zetan thought storage unit back down on my desk. My agents on the East Coast have done a heroic job, especially under the circumstances. But… Things have come to a point I was hoping to avoid, at least for a little while.

    Thirty seven years since the destruction of the Poseidon oil rig. Thirty five or so since the NCR/Brotherhood alliance overran the main Enclave base at Navarro, killing everyone they could, military or civilian. Three years since the 'death' of President Eden, leaving President Franklin Anderson in charge of the only significant cohesive group of Enclave-loyalists on the continent.

    I do so hate pointless killing.

    I **erase** the storage device and slide it back into its compartment in my desk. I'm going to have to accelerate things. Which is going to be awkward, but if I want to continue not being that sort of telepath, nudging people into doing the right thing is the most I can do. And it does have certain limits as a method.

    I get up and walk out of the former base commander's office, heading towards where I can feel the mind of one of Groom Lake's refugees-turned-citizens. 'Chuck Holtz' and his small band of companions arrived out of the desert from the direction of Desert Ranger territory three years ago, though for perfectly understandable reasons they avoided the base itself until after I removed the Whisperers from power. Though none of them have been willing to take advantage of the neurotropic initiator, they're all far more technically competent than most of the region's other inhabitants and they're all perfectly willing to pitch in. Good people, all of them.

    I knock on the open door to his office for a moment before I stick my head inside, causing him to look up from his work orders with a smile.

    "Krono. Intercom busted again?"

    I bow my head with a smile. If I'm honest, I don't understand micro vacuum tube based technology much better than the tribals do. The system which the zetans use operates rather differently, but I've hesitated to completely rework Groom Lane so most of the systems -though upgraded- are essentially still made of pre-war technology.

    "No. Alright, I didn't check. Have you got a moment? I need a quick word."

    He makes a shrugging movement with his hands. "Sure thing, chief. What do you need?"

    I step inside, firmly shut the door behind me and telekinetically grip the air around the walls of the office, causing what little external sound reaches us here to drop away. His smile fades a little and he straightens up.

    "Serious talk, then."

    "Yes, Captain Douglas Granite, I'm rather afraid that it is."

    His expression grows a little distant as I use his real name, then he nods slowly.

    "Yeah, I guess it was a bit much to think we could keep a secret from a bunch of mind readers."

    "I try not to read too deeply, but I needed to make sure that the squad of unusually well educated men and women weren't Brotherhood Knights here to sabotage us. Most of what I know about you actually comes from my personal interactions with you. And.. reports from the people I've had keeping tabs on Doctor Anderson."

    He looks.. torn for a moment, then-.

    I raise my right hand.

    "Conquering Vault City was a severe misstep. There aren't enough caps in the wasteland to make the New California Republic miss two major trading partners being overrun by people with stars-on-blue emblems on their power armour."

    He nods sadly. "I scrubbed it off mine before I ditched it."

    "We can pick it up, if you like."

    He shakes his head. "It won't be good for anything now. Sand will have wrecked it." He looks at me for a moment. "I guess your… Friends in the NCR clued you in?"

    "No, but it.. hardly matters. Given.. Doctor Anderson, I'm not exactly going to be sad to see him defeated."

    He sighs, and nods. "He said on the campaign trail that the only thing Richardson did wrong was lose."

    "Quite. But I'm.. disquieted at the idea of the NCR carrying out another extermination campaign, which is almost certainly what will happen when they finally win. And… Then there's the East Coast. Tell me, does the name 'Augustus Autumn' mean anything to you?"

    He hesitates, then appears to concede to himself that there's very little point in trying to hide anything from me.

    "Yeah. He was a.. senior researcher at one of the Enclave's science facilities. I don't know exactly what he did there. I just.. remember him because after the fall of Navarro he rallied a whole lot of Enclave personnel and headed for the east coast. Don't think I ever heard why. I guess he wanted to try and set up camp somewhere away from anyone who already had a grudge. Do you know what happened to him?"

    "Oh, he died of a stroke over a decade ago. His son Colonel Augustus Autumn Junior leads the Enclave survivors in the area now. He's.. more your sort. Unfortunately, he got into a fight with the local Brotherhood chapter over a novel water purification technology, and… They had Liberty Prime."

    "They-." His eyes light up. "Hot damn! I didn't think that thing every really got built! I had a toy-." He cuts himself off and takes a moment to calm himself. "Sorry."

    "Apparently, the Brotherhood weren't feeling particularly vengeful. Autumn and his surviving soldiers were allowed to evacuate the region, but with the destruction of their headquarters they're…" How to put this? "Feeling lost. And while the east coast doesn't have quite the same level of hatred for the Enclave that the west coast does, they didn't exactly make themselves popular."

    "You got a plan to help them?"

    I nod. "And it depends on you. I can get the materials required for them to set up a settlement well away from any of the many people out for their-. Your blood. But I need someone dependable to ride herd on them. The FEV Plague wouldn't have hurt me, but I'm rather attached to a lot of people it would have killed."

    "And the NCR's okay with you doing that."

    "The NCR… Are aware that upon occasion people come to me… Who have fought them in the past and no longer wish to do so, but who will not surrender to them. They accept that, as long as no one does anything too blatant."

    He thinks for a moment. "So, what? We just settle down and fade out of history? I mean, that's what I was planning on doing, but I wasn't going to do that until all the other choices got snatched away."

    "Captain-."

    He shakes his head. "Douglas is fine."

    "Douglas. Do you believe in the ideal of America, or the reality of America?"

    "What do you mean by that?"

    "Is it enough to establish a thing you can call 'America', regardless of its characteristics, or do you actually want to restore America as it should be?"

    "You wouldn't be talking to me if it was the first one."

    "Oh, I might." I look away for a moment. "It would be a rather different conversation… The point is, I think that between the west coast and the east coast we've established that the quick and violent method isn't going to work for the Enclave. But, there's nothing to stop you re-establishing the United States of America in the way it was originally established. Build up and spread out. Teach your people idealism and have them share it. Greet your neighbours with an open hand and not a gun barrel. It will take generations, but the difference is that it might actually work."

    "The NCR?"

    "The legitimate successor to the State of California, a state in the United States. Anderson might call himself 'President', but he wasn't elected by the pre-war electoral college."

    "That would have been a little difficult to run."

    "Then to become the legitimate president, one would need to fix that first."

    He nods slowly. "What sort of supplies have you got for us?"

    "Enough to see you through the first year. I also managed to acquire a Gardens of Eden Creation Kit-."

    "Where the hell did you get that from?"

    "From Tlaloc, as part payment for maintenance that was two hundred years overdue. Do you-?"

    The ring on my necklace lights up in brilliant orange.

    Oh, heck. Broadcast!

    **This is Krono. Highest defensive condition. Bring the Dream Twister online at once.**

    Douglas winces at the force of my mental intrusion. "What-? That some kinda alien-?"

    "It was foolish to think that humans were alone in the universe. It was even more foolish to assume that the zetans were the only others. I think that the people who abducted me are coming back."
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2020
  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    Early spring, 2280
    Mid-day


    The Sky Walkers are not expansionist.

    And not just because the Desert Rangers were seriously considering making us 'extinct raider group number three' prior to my takeover. Not just because we share a border with the largest civilised successor state in North America. And not just because Mr House had a plan to overrun us with telepath-immune Military Protectrons and give our territory to the Great Khans in exchange for their help against the Legion. And not just because of the White Legs on our other border, and their growing alliance with the Legion.

    The Rangers were manageable. While it was generous of them to absorb the Vipers and Jackals rather than exterminating them, the survivors weren't strongly committed to the cause. The Whisperers actually had what might generously be described as a mutual defence pact with both groups in order to prevent the Rangers doing exactly what they ended up doing and eliminating them one by one. A few lorry loads of guns in the right hands and their supply lines would have been unmanageable. A few barrels of incendiaries and their food supplies would have gone up in smoke.

    The NCR weren't manageable, but they weren't focusing on us and there was no obvious reason for them to start. They were happy to use us as a threat to the tribal nations they were hoping to voluntarily annex, or as a road bump for the White Legs or Eighties once they finished fighting the nations to the west. And frankly, when you're telepathic, the fact that you only have to mind control one man to stop a robot army makes it far easier to deal with than a great mass of people with their own motives and desires.

    The Whisperers weren't expansionist because they had everything they wanted right here, and believed that once they uncovered enough of the zetans' technology they would be unstoppable. Why waste time and blood capturing territory the hard way now when you could get it easily later? They raided some of the smaller nearby settlements more to make sure that potential attackers remained on the defensive than to acquire resources.

    My reasons aren't all that dissimilar. Why expand when we have the resources we need to sustain ourselves? Why expand when I have no desire to rule anything outside of this research institute? Lend the Desert Rangers telepathic interrogators, offer the NCR the aid of our air force and intelligence network, sell technology to Mr House at a discount… Security by diplomacy.

    And if we don't keep our allies fully informed on the exact level of our military strength…

    Well, look, Left, I said I knew him. I didn't say I fucked him.

    I can't teleport, but I don't bother with the stairs as I reach the balcony. Instead I jump-

    Shit, the sky's turning red and I don't think it's a dust storm this time.

    -and slow my fall with telekinesis. Soldiers and Acolytes are moving to their stations, civilians are moving to the shelters and **with my mind's ear I can hear the subtle hum of the Dream Twisting revving up** as I run towards the command post.

    Our neighbours know that we have a small and professional military. They know that we have advanced aircraft, even if they don’t know their precise capabilities. But they also know that we don't have tanks or APCs, that the vast majority of our vehicles are civilian and that most of our recent building efforts have been focused on schools, research laboratories and civilian workshops, most likely with a view to us eventually joining the NCR. They know that we don’t have pre-war missile silos and aren't building nuclear weapons or missile launchers. They know that we can defend ourselves and could create a nuisance, but they don't feel actively threatened.

    As far as the NCR are concerned, the Dream Twister is a telepathic amplifier. Which it… Technically is. They don't know that it functions as a strategic telepathic weapon that can turn the inhabitants of entire towns insane. Turn them into feral savages, cause aneurisms, wipe memories completely… We took a part of the designs from the alien mothership, and the rest from our studies of our own abilities. We've never used it at full power and frankly I've never wanted to-.

    "Mister Krono!" I look around as Ambassador Granger and his bodyguard run in my direction. "You know what the hell that is?!"

    I fish out the power ring on my necklace, showing him the glow.

    "Aliens?"

    I half-stumble as **the observers share their perceptions, a four dimensional model of the sky appearing in my mind.**

    "It's a distinct possibility, Ambassador. You really should get to a shelter."

    He **knows that he should**, but he's been on the fence on the authenticity of this whole 'alien' thing and he'd quite like to clear it up so that he can stop qualifying his reports. **And he also wants to be present personally to see how we respond to attacks**.

    "I'll get to cover when the shooting starts, don't you worry."

    "I don't want to have to explain to President-."

    I jerk my head upwards as the sky buckles, a rainbow of lights shining from a point towards-.

    And then the sky bends back, a single small figure plummeting to the Earth.

    I run.

    President Anderson may have been evil, but I can't deny the brilliance of the man who actually managed to make FEV work properly. My enhanced muscles combined with my telekinesis allow me to dash across the compound in seconds, to leap over the guards gathered at the forwards muster point, vault over the front gate and head out across the recently planted farmland. A second later I realise that Goris is with me **as I reach up with my telekinetic force in an attempt to catch the falling figure**. At this distance-.

    **My Acolytes realise what I'm doing and join me, our combined efforts slowing the figure's fall and pulling them towards us**. A medical team is already leaping in a van and they'll be with.. us…

    The figure is a dwarf with blue skin. They're not close enough for me to pick out any details yet, but-.

    **Our telekinetic grip** breaks as they suddenly shine with golden light, orientating themselves relative to the ground and looking-.

    That's a Guardian. But the hair-. Krona! And he's using a Sinestro Corps ring!

    His eyes widen slightly as he sees and.. somehow recognises me. Was he the one who-?

    "You. Of course it's another you."

    His right hand glows with golden light.

    "And your power ring is as dead as you'll soon be."

    **One target, full intensity, activate.**

    The thing about being on the edge of a Dream Twister activation is that you don't experience the full effect. Obviously. Because if you did then you'd probably die along with the target. But you can.. tell that you're on the edge of something very nasty. As it is I'm close enough to see the exact point where Krona's eyes burst and his brain cooks off, his skull burning and contents fizzing as the liquid within superheats. His rings dim at once, and his body spins as it falls through the air into the western tato patch.

    **Deactivate.**

    I lean forwards to begin sprinting again, only for Goris to lay a claw on my shoulder and press me back. He then sprints towards the body, and-. Yes, okay, community leader, I shouldn't handle every dangerous situation personally.

    "Goris?!"

    "It is dead. It doesn't smell human."

    "The rings?"

    "All but one are damaged. Are they dangerous?"

    "If they haven't exploded then they're not going to."

    "Do you know what that was?"

    "Specifically? No. But I think that's one of the species who made the ring that brought me here." I smile thoughtfully. "Pick up the remains. We'll hand him over to the biomancers."

    "And the ring?"

    "That… I'm going to have to think about."
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2020
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    Homeward
    Bound


    "Thundercats?"

    "Sort of. Most of the characters look different-. I can recognise most of them-"

    I nod.

    "-but the specifics have changed. And what little I remember of the setting appears to have been radically altered as well. What I'm living in actually makes a good deal more sense."

    "How are you charging your ring?"

    He raises his right hand, the two additional rings he acquired mid-fight having been returned to their owners.

    "Something about the magic of Mumm-Ra's sword allows me to connect to the yellow light directly, if I meditate on my fears for long enough." He looks at me hopelessly. "I don't suppose you've got a spare yellow personal lantern lying around, have you?"

    I shake my head.

    "I hired the Qwardian who made Sinestro's lantern, but I haven't asked him to make me spares."

    "Damn it."

    He looks down, shaking his head.

    "I don't know where Krona put the sword. Without it, my ring will die. I haven't spent any time learning their languages." He looks over to where Guardian Stewart and Commander Gordon are studying the tuning fork on this side, a version of me who thought that stapling wings onto his back was clever flying through the portal back to his Earth. "I'll have to ask if they've got a spare gold ring they can give me."

    "I'd offer you an orange one, but I left both of mine back on my Earth." I shrug, holding up my ringless hands slightly. "Sorry." He nods. "Stupid thing is, I can make personal lanterns, too."

    He looks up, frowning. "What? That's something we can do?"

    "Yes. Ah, I haven't made a good one so far, but it would work."

    "Damn. I didn't even try that. I just assumed that it was impossible. How exactly-?"

    "Yellow!"

    Time Trapper me walks towards us.

    "Your turn!"

    He nods. "You haven't found a sword, have you?"

    "No, but fortunately I'm a massively skilled expert in temporal manipulation, which means-" He sticks out his right hand, and-. Suddenly there's a huge sword in it. "-it was in my hand in the future all along. Here."

    Time Trapper hands it to Yellow, who takes it and scans it with his ring before nodding.

    "Do I thank you for finding it or curse you for hiding it?"

    "Most societies don't have good vocabulary for dealing with paradoxes. Though technically this stopped being a paradox as soon as I handed it to you." He looks up. "John!"

    "Ah…" Yellow looks at me, clearly not quite sure what to say. "No offence meant, but let's not do this again."

    "Probably for the best."

    Guardian Stewart gestures and the hole above the tuning fork shifts, from Earth to another world entirely.

    "Well… Goodbye."

    He turns and flies, accelerating until he passes through the portal entirely.

    "Thundercats. I wondered if we were limited to comics, but it sounds like we could end up anywhere."

    He nods. "Do you have a moment?"

    "Do I have a moment… For an expert in temporal manipulation?"

    He looks away, smiling. "Yes, I-. Did you know that I'm you?"

    I stare.

    "No, that… Genuinely never occurred to me, given how we look completely different."

    "No, not-. Most of those others were… Versions of us that ended up in different places after the event. I'm not. We're not."

    "Okay, then… What are we?"

    "We're separated by an alteration in the timeline. Vandal Savage went back, and… Long story short, you got erased, I got created, then I restored your timeline."

    "Ah, thank.. you..? That seems out of character for us."

    He shakes his head. "My temporality was unstable. It would have collapsed eventually. This way I got a chance to recreate it, to change things-."

    "If you're planning on changing time back-."

    "No. If it would work, I'd do it. We both know that. It wouldn't work. Time won't allow it. Even…" He looks around. "Here, pseudo time can't support that much space. No, Krona-."

    "Took your plan to an extreme when you tried to get his help."

    He frowns. "Something like that. How did you guess?"

    "The one of us who freed you?" I pull an orange power ring out of my pocket and slide it onto my left ring finger. "He picked up a third ring. And downloaded images of you cooperating with Krona from a Manhunter. Sensible fellow."

    He looks away, shaking his head. "You'd think a Guardian would practise basic data security."

    "So. What now?"

    "So I use the tuning fork and the similarities and.. differences between us to create… Do you remember 'hypertime'?"

    "I remember the name."

    "Essentially, I change the-. The parallel universe cluster we all exist in so that time changes beyond a certain level create a new timeline, rather than erasing the old one. Both our timelines will exist, and we can both go home."

    "What's the risk?"

    "I could horribly fuck up all of everything. Particularly if you try and stop me." He exhales. "I was hoping that you wouldn't have a ring."

    So he could present me with a fait accompli.

    "And what happens if I help you?"

    "I-. That… Might make things easier. Certainly… Safer. Would-? Would you?"

    "Of course." I shrug. "You're only doing what I'd do in your place."
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2020
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    Plan 'Don't Fuck Up The Universe'
    Is In Effect


    "So this will make changing time… Impossible."

    "Well… Sort of."

    Red Queen is patiently waiting a short distance away while Time Trapper makes the final alterations to the tuning fork. Angelika's staying back a little, clearly not entirely sure that this is something we should be doing but willing to let my judgement stand.

    "You could go back and change time, but all that would do is create a new future separate to the one you knew. You could just go and live in that new future and from your point of view it would be exactly as if you'd changed your own history. And no one else would know anything had happened apart from you disappearing."

    "But there'd be two of you."

    "You say that after being strapped to a giant tuning fork with two hundred of us." He floats back, lowering the tool he was using. "Most of the time it wouldn't be a problem. It doesn't take much to prevent a person being born. It's only-."

    "People from parallel universes. Like us."

    "I was on our Earth for over a year before I found out about the temporal change. I just thought I was on an Elseworld or something."

    "So… What is different?"

    "Most things. Somehow…" He glances at Red Queen. "Jade got born, but our history was changed over two thousand years ago. America was mostly colonised from Asia, we're firmly in the space age… Well, were and will be again."

    I nod.

    John Stewart's eyes glow as he looks over Time Trapper's work.

    "And you're sure this will just change your parallel?"

    "As sure as I can be. Having that many alternate versions of myself let me eliminate them as variables. There isn't anything else I can think to do that will increase my chances." He floats back a little more. "So if you're planning on forcing me to stop, let's have this out now."

    John ignores the challenge. "I can't tell exactly what this thing will do, but it isn't going to affect any other parallel universes. I'll give you as much help as I can."

    "Thank you." He nods. "Thank you."

    "What do we do?"

    "Not a lot, really. If everything works as it should, the worst you'll see is me evaporating."

    "What?"

    "Hm? Oh, no, it won't kill me. 'Time Trapper' is a chronal aberration, and what we're doing should reintegrate me within my own timeline with my memories intact at the point where Vandal Savage originally left in yours. I'm not planning on recreating something I can't enjoy myself."

    "If you're gone, how do I get home?"

    "You might just snap back when I do, but…" He waves his right hand at the tuning fork. "Just in case, it's set to open a portal to the point where you left."

    "What do you want me to do?"

    "Oh, nothing. Just being here to give the tuning fork your temporal variance is enough." He claps his hands together. "Right. Starting it now. If you feel anything off, then… Either you're wrong or it's too late."

    I… Do try to feel anything, but aside from a slight glow coming from the tuning fork I'm not getting… No, there's… Something, but-. A weak-. No, not weak, just… Small.

    My favourite book is Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, and there's a scene where Lu-Tze asks Brutha to hold his bonsai mountain. Brutha describes it as weighing thousands of very small tonnes. That's the best comparison I can think of to the desires I'm feeling. I suppose… I mean, I don't have any special abilities related to time or the Bleed. It-.

    Time Trapper holds out his hands, and…

    My word.

    A… Shape, filled with lights, and… Desires, appears in front of him. The outer edge of it looks… Frayed, as if something was wearing it away. I look at him with an interrogative frown.

    "My timeline. Or.. rather, a moment of it. All I was able to preserve. But now…"

    He holds out his hands, the… Time… Moment.. thing, floating upwards until it sits between the tuning fork's tines. Then it expands, spreading out, rippling and finally vanishing.

    Oh.

    Oh.

    "We met before. Brainiac Five brought me to the future after that mess with the Eliminations Inc people. And then it…"

    "Never happened." He nods. "A moment erased by the functioning of time, now returned by the function's alteration. It always existed, it was just…" He looks at his hands as they begin to fade. "Wasn't… Connected. And now… I can't thank you enough for making-."



    For a moment I frown, trying to remember who I was talking t-. Time Trapper. Who was me, who now… Presumably is when he was supposed to be. Good for him, I suppose.

    The tuning fork dims, and a new portal swirls into being between the tines.

    "Angelika, I think this is us."

    She nods, coming closer. "This has been a strange… But productive day."

    "Red Queen? What are your plans?"

    "I'm keeping Vanishing Point. And the tuning fork. Since I'm the only one who understands how it works."

    John nods. "This is a capacity we don't want anyone to use, but that we want to keep our hands on just in case."

    I nod. "Sensible." I take a last look around. It's fascinating that these places exist, but… There isn't really anything here for me. I focus on returning to Jade and accelerate towards the portal, Angelika close behind me.

    2nd April 2012
    09:12 GMT -5, yet again


    And… Back in the mountain. In front of the giant hole Angelika made in the wall between the corridor and the emergency exit staircase.

    "Ah." … "Oops."

    I hold out my left hand and call my rings. They arrive a few seconds later, a visibly confused Ghia'ta hurrying along behind them. I toss her her ring as I don my own, then raise my hand and repair the wall.

    Ghia'ta stares at us both. "What just happened?"

    I complete the wall, blocking us from her sight.

    "I do so like being able to wave my problems away."

    Angelika smiles. "I think that I will spend the rest of the day with Raquel. I'm sure that she has many things she could tell me about the achievements of the negro people."

    "If she asks-" Wall… Good as new. Now I'm going to write up a report for Hinon and another for Batman, then… I'm going back to bed. "-that wasn't my idea."
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2020
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    I feel a moment of disorientation-.

    "…intervention of the Chinese army under General Wu in the Autumn of sixteen fifty seven, the war shifted decisively in favour of crown prince Shukoh Dara, so preventing…"

    I open my eyes, reaching out across the bed. It's still instinctual, a triumph of hope over experience. No, a warm patch-.

    I've seen myself doing this thousands of times, but this is only the second time I've actually done it.

    22nd October
    06:14 GMT +8


    I come to full alertness immediately, jerking up into a sitting pos-.

    "I don't know how you sleep through that."

    Jade. Jade, my Jade. She's-.

    She's-.

    She's looking at me with an air of concern. "Bad dream?"

    I haven't… Spoken to her-. I haven't been Orange Lantern, for-.

    Do I lie and try to preserve the day, or-.

    No. No.

    "Sorry. Time travel." I wipe my eyes with my right hand. "This is my.. second time through.. today, and the first time… Didn't go very well."

    Half a second, then she's already walking towards our bedroom's phone. "Do we need to notify anyone?"

    "It's-. It should be dealt with. I'll-. I'll write up a report, submit it to Nabu-."

    "Lord Nabu."

    "No, it's-. I get elevated later today. Since it's part of my personal timeline, it's still valid. So I don't need to use his title every time."

    She stops, taking a moment to absorb that. I.. gingerly get out of bed, standing on the floor. The carpet feels…

    I wipe my eyes again.

    Jade frowns. "How bad was-?"

    I transition across the room and wrap my arms around her, pulling her into my chest and pressing my face into the side of her head.

    After a slight hesitation she hugs me back. I.. take a few moment, breathing in the… Damp towel that's wrapped around her hair. She's just gotten out of the shower, yes, I.. remember.

    "Sorry." I relax my grip enough that we can look one another face to face. "I'll be.. fine once the shock has worn off. At the moment I'm.. still…"

    "Controllers in the Imperial Security Agency are taught how to handle operatives experiencing battle fatigue." She takes a careful breath. "If you have received the Mandate, you can simply inform Lord Fang that you are unable to attend."

    "No, that-. It's too big a deal for Souma. I want the part where I receive the Mandate to happen in the same way. Nabu will probably have a few questions for me, but I should be able to defer them until afterwards."

    I have observed many timelines where Nabu behaved in various ways. I'm confident I know enough to communicate to him that he should let me speak in my own time-.

    I need to check whether Nylor Truggs ended up here. He shouldn't have, but ironically the changes I made to the rules concerning time travel weren't retrospective.

    Jade gives me a serious look.

    "Do not offend Lord Fate."

    "I can promise that I won't leave him offended. Though I technically have seniority on him now."

    A small frown. "Lord Fate is-. Oh."

    "Yes. Incidentally, I completely agree with you about Jade, and the pie restaurant was-" She blinks. "-an interesting choice."

    "Pie..?"

    "Jade decides we should celebrate my elevation by going to an 'English' restaurant. Oh, and she prefers it if you call her 'Jade' when we're on a date."

    "How.. do you remember that?"

    "I broke and remade the universe to get you back. There is nothing about our time together that I haven't played through my mind a thousand times in order to remind myself why I was doing it."

    "Oh."

    "Sorry, I realise that this is quite a lot to drop on you." An orange wave passes over me as I neaten myself up, then filaments tag the clothes Jade selected for me… Last time. I smile as they appear on my body. "A red tunic with the blue trousers, indicating my relative inexperience and desire to grow. Technically a lie now, but it matches what I wore last time and no one complained." I pull away and give her a shallow bow. "Thank you for your good advice, oh patron of my heart."

    "What other good advice did I give you that I don't remember?"

    "That Intelligence would be perfectly happy to provide me with an early morning news summary. You were quite right about that, thank you."

    She nods.

    "And-. Ah, when I said that Jade would prefer you to use her first name when we're together-."

    "I'm.. probably not going to be-."

    "Yes, yes, I'd forgotten that you thought that. Jade." I take her hands in mine. "I'm not trading up. I'm not moving to a relationship with a higher status partner. I don't care about that. I love you, and while I know you find my lack of ambition strange and a little frustrating, please accept that I'm telling the truth about it."

    Her head turns a little to the right.

    "Yes, I-."

    "Jade."

    She looks me straight in the eyes. "I know that."

    "And how do you feel about you dating Jade?"

    "That's not usually how it-. You've had this conversation before. You know how I feel about whatever it is you're actually asking."

    "I know how you responded to the idea. I know how it unfolded over the next two very busy days. I said that I'd only consider it if all parties were equally involved, and you asked if it-."

    "Was some sort of European homosexuality fetish."

    My eyes widen.

    "Do you remember saying that?"

    "No, it just occurred to me. If I remember my temporal mechanics lectures correctly I'm still almost the same woman as the one who mentioned it in the timeline you experienced. And… Jade… Liked the idea?"

    "She was more than a little nervous about trying to have a relationship at all. She's found the awkwardness that comes with being mandated when her potential partner isn't makes it too awkward. So-."

    She nods. "So it will be easier for her if I don't mention it at all. I.. think I can manage that. What else do you already know?"
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2020
  11. Threadmarks: Low Politics
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    Low Politics

    4th April
    09:12 GMT -1


    I appear in the air over the mid-Atlantic, empathic vision scanning the seas below for the man who-. There he is. I

    step out

    and appear a short distance from him within his field of view. Lord-. No, King Cyprian is moving his hands, water rippling around them to unleash a destructive pressure blast before he's even consciously aware of who it is that just appeared. I raise my hands as his not-much-slower-off-the-mark bodyguards begin preparing their attacks as well.

    "I'm sorry, but-"

    He moves to conceal his hands as he dismisses the spell, consciously relaxing his posture to indicate that his guard should stand at ease. He's hoping that I didn't notice his preparedness, or the situation with the rest of Atlantis that caused it.

    "-I urgently need-"

    Spell dismissed, he raises his right hand to stand down the guard and straightens his posture.

    "-to talk to you."

    "Illustres Paul. You can simply make an appointment. Since we're working together I've put you on the 'priority approval' list."

    "Too slow. I urgently need to hire as many archmages as you can spare."

    He conceals his concern well, but whatever protections he routinely uses aren't blocking my empathy. I'll warn him about that after this meeting.

    "What for?"

    "Magic users are uncommon in the galaxy at large. A world under NEMO's protection is being threatened by a magic-based intelligence and it doesn't have a native magic tradition. NEMO doesn't have good access to magic users inside its territories and.. those it could get generally aren't as well educated as Atlanteans."

    "What sort of intelligence?"

    "Thousands of eyeballs floated into the sky, came together in blobs and started accusing the locals of 'breaking the covenant'."

    "Ah. Yes, that does sound like magic."

    I see a little spark of interest, swiftly doused.

    "Do you know the nature of the covenant? If it's just a matter of making a votive offering-."

    "No."

    "I realise that it’s concerning, but as king I make a number of ritual offerings and sacrifices each year to gods whom Venturia no longer worships. These-."

    "I can't find out because my colleagues and I killed all of the priests."

    "Oh. Yes, that.. would make things rather difficult."

    "I don't want to negotiate. I want to kill it. I'm confident that the local Orange Lanterns and I can kill it, but I want to check that there won't be any blowback and that it isn't doing anything actively against the civilian population other than being really disturbing."

    King Cyprian nods slowly. "We can help with that. Do you have any other requirements?"

    "Everyone you select must be able to survive exposure to magic-based planes of reality, because that's how we'll be travelling."

    "That cuts it down considerably. But I'm certain that we can-" He looks over to a courtier. "-draw up a list."

    The courtier nods and activates a scrying pool.

    "Given.. the.. international situation, I'm afraid that I can't simply release our archmages without getting something in return. I assume you're offering something in exchange?"

    "Yes. A LEGION defence contract."

    While I doubt that he'd usually offer one over something like this, Dox is rather interested in recruiting magic users on an ongoing basis. We didn't even know that Tillettit was mystically active, and if there's one thing Dox hates it's intelligence oversights.

    "Is.. that..?"

    "Licensed Extra-Governmental Interstellar Operations Network. NEMO's space fleet and marine corps. If you accept the pact, your security becomes our concern. Please note that this will only cover defensive operations. If you start a fight you can't finish, we don't care."

    "I don't intend to. You're.. aware then that relations with Atlantis…"

    "I know that you were crowned king and declared independence. I don't know enough about Atlantean law to know how problematic that is."

    "Generally speaking, when part of your country decides that it doesn't want to be part of your country any longer, that means war."

    "Is King Orin going to take that option?"

    "I'm not sure that I've given him much choice. What do you know about the political situation?"

    "Not much. And to be honest, it's not my problem."

    "This agreement will make it your problem."

    "No, it won't. I don't care who was right or wrong… Does this go back to Princess Diana's fight with Queen Clea?"

    "No, before that."

    I think for a moment, then shrug. "I still don't care. Your city has been disconnected for long enough that hardly anyone in Atlantis is going to be meaningfully affected. If the royal family had decades to fix the problem and didn't, then they don't have any cause for complaint. I would however respectfully suggest that it might be politically advantageous to hold a ballot on the subject, but otherwise it isn't my concern."

    He regards me curiously. "A ballot?"

    "King Orin grew up in America, a democracy. He's used to the idea that the will of the majority of the citizens should set the direction of policy. I assume that you have an up to date census?"

    A mild frown. "Of course we do."

    "Then invite a few observers from other city-states in and get your citizens to record their preference: independence or reunification. If you get a decent majority in favour of your position then he'll feel that he's in the wrong, and you could probably get him to agree to postpone things indefinitely."

    "I hadn't.. considered… I assume that the observers are to demonstrate that we aren't strong-arming our citizens." I nod. "A curious way of doing things, but I take your point. Have you told him what you're offering us?"

    "No. I'd rather that he didn't need to find out. But feel free to inform him if he threatens to invade."

    "Can your LEGION fight in the ocean?"

    "The guns we use? We don't really need to."
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2020
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    Day 341
    It's always dawn somewhere


    Ideally, in an organisation, no one should be irreplaceable. At any moment, an individual may be struck ill, fall dead, or get a better offer. As such, it is necessary to arrange things that the functionality of the organisation may be maintained despite the absence of anyone, even if that means that an individual of superlative skill may not be able to exercise it to the greatest extent.

    "… cover this up, Khoah! The whole patrol saw a giant hand reach down out of a hole in the sky and grab him!"

    I knew that, of course. But I've been so busy keeping everyone alive that I hadn't fully considered what it meant for me. I rather assumed that I would either be here or I would be dead, in which case the ring would go to Pumyra. The idea that I might be taken alive with the ring never occurred to me. Talking to some of my more politically experienced alter egos…

    "I know. But if it becomes known that he might not be coming back, people will panic."

    "So-?!"

    "Take the patrol on a mission to the City. Make sure to take a full inventory of any materials we could take from it. That will buy us a few weeks with no more than quiet rumours."

    With the danger of immediate starvation or invasion beaten off, I think that now is the time to address matters of governance.

    "And then?"

    "And then if he has not returned we will have to learn to live without him."

    I transition downwards, appearing in the small meeting room with them.

    "Fortunately, that-"

    Pumyra's hand is on her knife immediately, while Khoah is sliding her chair back to stand.

    "-won't be necessary. Though this does raise an interesting point about continuity planning." I cause my eyes to flare with yellow light. "The owner of the hand will no longer be an issue. Khoah, your plan was sound."

    "Ah, thank you, my-."

    I step closer, pulling her into my embrace and firmly pressing my lips to hers. She moulds herself into me, her fears evaporated by the physical confirmation of my existence.

    "Lord Protector, you need to go outside so that people can see you."

    I pull back from Khoah, her eyes brimming with… Not.. love, that's… Faith.

    I'm...

    "Quite right. Walk with me, both of you."

    I turn away and stride towards the door, pushing it open and being mildly pleased as the two guards stationed there take a half-step away as they see me.

    "As you were."

    My residence isn't a large building. It's not a fort or guard post and building materials are still at a premium. As a result it's only a short march to the exterior doors, which I throw open in a display of vigour. Worried people look around, hoping for some direction from their leaders and instead see me.

    "I'm fairly certain that you all have assigned duties which you should be performing. Be about them."

    And they're going, and while there's an air guilt and fear from most, there's also… Relief.

    "Hm."

    I fold my arms across my chest. Here's as good a place for this discussion as anywhere, and it won't be a problem if the people with a good reason to be here overhear it.

    I turn back as Khoah and Pumyra come through the door.

    "The Thunderan tradition is that the king reigns until infirmity or death claim him, then he is succeeded by his eldest legitimate son. Without a woman of my own species I can't have children, and I'm not convinced of the value of hereditary rulership anyway."

    Pumyra nods approvingly.

    "Khoah, you will begin forming a governing council. Select a representative from each farm and project and gather them together each week to discuss any issues they're having. You are empowered to deal with them as you see fit. I will be taking a step back from governance to allow our people to become accustomed to following your direction."

    She nods. "My lord."

    "Once the system has the confidence of the people, I will award you the title of 'mayor' and codify our precise legal relationship. As of now, you are my heir designate."

    She nods again.

    "Pumyra, select your most competent lieutenant and train them how to perform your current duties. Once they are up to your standard, I will begin training you in the use of this ring. This is not intended to cast aspersions upon Khoah, but her skills do not lie in the direction of inspiring fear. Tell me, what was your solution to your soldiers spreading rumours?"

    "Long range.. 'scouting'."

    She inclines her head very slightly, and we both know that they wouldn't have come back.

    "Precisely."

    I turn away from them, looking not at the remaining lollygaggers but at the homes and warehouses, and further away the fields.

    "During my time away I gained access to a large quantity of useful data. Our next large community project will be our own iron mine, but first I have a more esoteric project of my own to complete."

    I take the Sword of Plun-Darr out of its sheath and look at the soul stone on its crosspiece.

    "It should be possible for me to use this to create a more efficient method for recharging the ring. I will be spending as much time working on that as possible. When I am successful, I will be able to become far more active. I intend to explore this region of the universe to attempt to locate people who have more information on Mumm-Ra."

    "Like who?"

    "If the story Lion-O told us about his visions of this world's past was accurate, Mumm-Ra attacked numerous worlds prior to your ancestors' revolt. I hope that there were survivors, or at the very least records we could use."

    Possibly other creatures like him. Because I'm very curious about how he works. And what the heck he is.

    "I am pleased with the way you handled my absence, and I will endeavour not to be grabbed by giant hands in future."

    "Please."

    I turn back and smile at Khoah.

    "One last thing before you both go." I take a pair of thundrillium rings out of subspace and go down on my left knee. "Khoah, will you marry me?"
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2020
  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    5th April
    16:52 GMT -5


    "…the eye-goo out of my hair for the next month, but we managed to deal with it."

    Kon frowns as we head towards the training room.

    "What happened to your environmental shield? Did the magic bypass it?"

    "No-. I mean, metaphorically. Yes, my environmental shield kept it from actually touching me but it was still pretty disturbing."

    "What did it want, anyway?"

    "Eyeballs. We confirmed links between the elemental and the reliquaries the cult used to use."

    "Why?"

    "Don't know and don’t care. When you demand that people give you eyeballs, you lose the right to complain when they take yours."

    Richard and Wallace look around as we enter the training room, Richard smiling…

    "What?"

    "The UN Security Council wanted to talk to the Justice League about Brazil."

    Wallace nods. "Sounds like they aren't too happy about a tribe with superpowers trying to take over a country. Or about the League not stopping them."

    I frown. "But they didn't-." Understanding dawns. "Which Security Council member called the meeting?"

    Richard's smile widens. "China."

    "And they want to hash out the League's policy on civil wars."

    He keeps smiling.

    "Because they don't really care about Brazil, but they aren't all that keen on the idea of the League deciding that Taiwan or Hong Kong aren't part of the People's Republic and doing something about it."

    "And guess who just handed a city full of Atlantean separatists a space fleet?"

    I turn to face Kon. "You didn't."

    He blinks in surprise. "No? Why did you give a separatist city a space fleet? I didn't even know you had a fleet."

    "I personally don't have a fleet. LEGION on the other hand has several fleets. Dox has wanted to put some ships in this region of space for a while. I think he thinks we're a 'threat to the universe' or something."

    I shrug. Wallace grins.

    "Ah, was he just talking about you there, Oh El, or do the rest of us count as well?"

    "Wallace, you can run at the speed of sound in an atmosphere without catching fire. I suspect that he actually finds you more offensive than me. And I didn't give them a fleet. Venturia is now a LEGION supplier, and is entitled to its protection. The rest of Atlantis has had next to nothing to do with it for more than fifty years and I'm fairly confident that the referendum they're holding will show landslide support for partition." I shrug. "That's good enough for me and it's more than good enough for Dox. What do you think a place should have to do for us to recognise its independence?"

    Kon shrugs. "Why do we have to do it at all?"

    "Because we're the most powerful military force on the planet."

    Wallace shakes his head.

    "We're not a military."

    "What was Mister Garrick doing during the Second World War?"

    "Okay, yeah, and Russia didn't give more people super speed because they didn't want him to help America give more people super speed. But Jay coulda given more people super speed anytime since the thirties."

    Richard bows his head slightly. "Yeah, that's the point. If you've got power, everyone else who wants to do anything has to take into account the fact that you might use it. The whole reason why we have anti-vigilante laws is because not everyone who wants to beat up bad guys has the same definition of 'bad' as everyone else."

    "But we're not.. going to invade Taiwan." Wallace looks a little nervous. "Right?"

    "You tell me. What would have to happen for you to decide that invading Taiwan was the correct thing to do?"

    "I dunno. World War Three?"

    Kon doesn’t look sure. "Most wars aren't as morally simple as World War Two. I don't think I'd want to fight in World War One."

    "I totally would."

    "Themyscira didn't fight in World War One."

    "Sure, but if I win a tournament I can call myself Wonder Man and go out and beat everyone into submission in the name of peace. I would be a just and fair hegemon-"

    Richard looks up at the ceiling for a moment. "Everyone else seeing Paul in Wonder Woman's-?"

    Wallace and Kon nod.

    I shrug. "It's unisex."

    Kon shakes his head. "I don't think men are allowed to participate in that tournament-. You already checked."

    "You just have to be a citizen of a Themysciran city. In the old days men weren't, but I legally am."

    "But the point-." Wallace stops and looks me over. "The point is, okay, just because there's a big war happening doesn't mean I'd need to get involved. I get it. And since I paid attention in history class I know that since the Second World War there's a whole lot of stuff the US government has done that I'd probably try and stop if I was there. But if Venturia can break away and you're fine with it, what's the difference between that and the American South breaking away before the Civil War? That was pretty popular in the South."

    "Slavery, obviously. If the South didn't have slaves and still wanted independence, what would be wrong with that?" I shrug. "Nothing. I mean, that's what democracy is all about: legitimacy comes from the consent of the governed. The people are sovereign. If the majority want to go, what right do the rest have to stop them?"

    Richard folds his arms across his chest. "Can't see the US federal government seeing it that way. Or Poseidonis."

    "Before I left Earth Prime, my country had a ballot scheduled on Scottish independence. If the nationalists won, a chunk of the United Kingdom would have separated with the consent of the national government, completely peacefully. But going back to the original point-."

    Wallace nods. "China… What, they freaked out because if Taiwan made an army of super soldiers the Justice League might decide not to do anything about it?"

    Richard shrugs. "Or they woke up to the fact that Justice League members do have political opinions. Or that like Paul says, the Justice League is the most powerful military force on Earth and might just decide that it doesn't want UN oversight anymore."

    Kon looks at him. "But Batman's got a plan for that, right?"

    "Recognized, Aquaman, zero six, Aqualad, B zero two."

    Kon pats me on the back, then the three of them make a speedy exit.
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2020
  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    5th April
    16:56 GMT -5


    I smile, because why wouldn't I?

    "King Orin. Kaldur'ahm." Kaldur's face is neutral, while Orin looks mildly annoyed. "Do you want to do this here? I don't really have an office in my official capacity."

    Orin gives me a curt nod. "We may as well."

    We watch each other for a moment.

    After I feel that it's dragging on, I raise my eyebrows and shrug.

    "As King of Atlantis, I formally request that you rescind your offer of a defensive pact with the City of Venturia."

    "As Illustres of the Orange Lantern Corps, I refuse. The Orange Lantern Corps and its allies will stand by its commitment to the City-State of Venturia."

    "You have the authority to do that?"

    "My powers aren't precisely defined yet. But naturally, I talked the issue through with Clarissi Vril Dox, who can deploy both Orange Lanterns and LEGION fleet resources on his own authority, and he agreed to it. The only higher authority would be the full NEMO council, and between us Dox and I have three out of seven votes. If you want to try and get us overruled then you'll need to convince three Controllers and the head of the Darkstars that this offer is contrary to NEMO's broader interests, and frankly I don't think they'll care enough."

    He nods. He didn't think that was a workable avenue, but he had to ask.

    "Why are you doing this?"

    "The Orange Lantern Corps needs magicians, and a single city-state that depends on us for its protection is a lot easier to deal with than anywhere else on Earth we could get them from."

    He doesn't start exactly, but that clearly surprised him.

    "That's it?"

    "No, no, there are a lot of other factors that made them a good choice and now a good time. But if we didn't need their expertise Dox wouldn't have agreed to use LEGION resources, and if the Atlantean political side was different then they wouldn't have wanted what we're offering."

    "You're intervening in an internal Atlantean political dispute. If you actually send troops into the ocean it's an act of war."

    "Is Atlantis renewing its claim to the entirety of Earth's oceans?"

    Which was actually a thing. Not for a few generations now, though some slogans referencing it occasionally make the rounds even today.

    "Our part of the ocean."

    "Venturia considers itself to be an independent political entity, something which it has de facto been for several decades. Have you been informed of the referendum they intend to hold on the subject?"

    "The Queen hasn't authorised it, and wouldn't have the authority to even if she wanted to."

    "I.. haven't actually met King Cyprian's wife, but since he has full regnant authority I'm not clear why her feelings matter?"

    "Queen Ptra, the rightful ruler of Venturia."

    "Venturian rulership isn't strictly hereditary, and there might be a slight problem with expecting a city to accept the rule of a woman who hasn't ever visited, let alone lived there."

    I look him pointedly in the eyes when I say that. We both know perfectly well what Queen Cora was trying to do when she left him to be raised by his father, but he moved to Poseidonis when he was eighteen and not sixty. And he still struggled to be accepted. Still does in some places. Ptra is not only older but a total outsider trying to get the top job. Orin was tutored by his mother for years before her death.

    "If Cyprian wanted to dispute the approved succession arrangements, then he should have brought it to me for adjudication."

    "The approved succession arrangement, in accordance with Venturian law and tradition and in keeping with their treaties with Poseidonis, is that the monarch nominates their successor. The fact that the Poseidonis government for some reason decided to ignore the notification or treat it like something that required its approval is irrelevant. If you were unaware of this, then I can only suggest that you fire your legal counsel. There is no dispute in law; the law is very clear. Also -not entirely relevant to me, but worth mentioning- last time they went to the ruler of Atlantis for adjudication your grandmother stole Queen Clea's daughter. They have no confidence in you or your position."

    "Even if I accept that, Cyprian still doesn't have the authority to secede from Atlantis."

    "Does it matter?"

    "Of course it matters."

    "Why?"

    "Why does the law matter?"

    "Yes. From where does the law derive its authority? If it's royal authority, Cyprian wants to secede. If it's the consent of the governed, they're having a referendum. If it's military force…"

    "If it's military force then I've got until your fleet arrives to pacify Venturia."

    "Our treaty went live the moment he signed it. If the fleet arrives and finds Venturia occupied, they'll still attack. In the interim, I and any other Orange Lanterns who can get here will undertake the defence of Venturia, should it become necessary. My recommendation is that you send official observers to the referendum and then focus your efforts on building a working relationship with the newly independent Venturia."

    "Sending observers would demonstrate that I considered that referendum valid."

    "A free and fair referendum is an expression of the will of the people, whether it has the force of law or not."

    "People who've only heard Queen Clea's propaganda for the last fifty years."

    "So you'd accept it if you were able to run a 'remain' campaign?"

    "I wouldn't-."

    "Hawkman to Mount Justice." A holographic screen appears with Mr Hol's face on it. "And.. Orange Lantern. I commend you for your efficiency. We weren't expecting your fleet for some time."

    King Orin stares. "They're here-?"

    I frown. "I wasn't expecting them for.. months."

    Mr Hol presses a button, and a second smaller screen appears. A representation of the solar system and a marker approaching the inner planets.

    "It seems that your Corps has prioritised you."

    "Ring?"

    "Fleet is broadcasting LEGION codes. An Orange Lantern is also present."

    "Oh. Okay." I frown. Can't think who-. Did Lantern Xor finish.. really quickly? I don't think that Dox would have given him new orders… "Show me the ships?"

    A construct appears, an.. odd conglomeration of spheres linked by tubes. The size suggests a generation ship or space borne habitat. It clearly doesn't look like a conventional ship. I don't recognise-.

    **Greetings, Earthlings and future customers!**

    Mr Hol's grimace suggests that he heard that. I glance at Orin and Kaldur and from their responses they heard that too.

    **I am Lord-Lantern Manga Khan, and I am proud to announce that your system has been chosen as the new site of ClusterCorp's ongoing megasale! You will shop! You will consume! We will be enriched! Or else! ClusterCorp: for all your needs, forever!**

    Slowly, the attention of the others turns towards me.

    "Don't look at me. I didn't give him a power ring."
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2020
  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    5th April
    19:33 GMT -5


    Why?

    My forehead bangs against the table in front of me.

    Why?

    And again.

    Why?

    And again.

    Did Dox decide to give a power ring to Lord Manga Khan? Did he just find one? But Dox hates things going out of his control-

    "Orange Lantern? Is this a.. bad time?"

    -and becoming a problem for him. If he'd picked up a ring like that then Dox wouldn’t have given him a significant job.

    I look up at the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United Nations, Mister Naif al-Sheikh, and shrug.

    "I doubt that I'd be here if it wasn't."

    Mister al-Sheikh looks for a moment at the rotating Chair of the Justice League, who as luck would have it is King Orin at the moment.

    King Orin doesn't look at me.

    "Very well. If you could tear your attention away from your desk for a moment, perhaps you could tell the Security Council why the Orange Lantern Corps is blockading Earth."

    "We're not." I shuffle into a more comfortable position on my chair. "The Orange Lantern Corps does not restrict its members from engaging in private commercial activity. Lord Manga Khan's announcement was made on behalf of ClusterCorp and in his role as Chief Operating Officer of ClusterCorp. The fact that a person owns a Mercedes-Benz is not proof that the German government is supporting them. In addition, the Earth has neither interplanetary imports or exports. He can't prevent Earth from doing something it hasn't ever done and isn't trying to do."

    "He has a power ring."

    "He does."

    "Is he here under your authority?"

    "He's here in response to a request-. I was expecting a LEGION flotilla to arrive in a few months."

    He regards me sternly.

    "You don't seem entirely pleased."

    "A LEGION flotilla would be crewed by disciplined soldiers. ClusterCorp has a habit of skirting the technical definition of interstellar piracy a little too closely for my liking."

    There's a.. stirring amongst his colleagues.

    "Piracy?"

    "Different empires have different laws on what levels of contact are allowed between civilisations of different levels of technological sophistication. And they have them… Because they recognise that a small group with space age technology can easily dominate a primitive planet. That introducing certain technologies can massively disrupt a species' social and technological development. But there's no galactic UN where a set of legal standards could be agreed upon and Earth isn't under the aegis of a larger empire. The closest to a standard set of rules is 'how far can I go before the Green Lantern Corps stops me', but the Corps' rules of engagement are defined by precedent and are well known to spacefaring civilisations. ClusterCorp won't cross that line, because it would create too much trouble for this exercise to be profitable. But they'll do anything else, because they're here to make money."

    "Are we to understand that you have no command authority over him?"

    "I have seniority, but Dox hasn't put him under my command. Unless we encounter a situation outside of his original orders, then yes, I have no direct authority over him."

    "What level of military force does the ClusterCorp possess?"

    "By the standards of their home region, the Cluster Ship is a lightly armed trading vessel with a corporate security battalion. But the precise armament isn't important because they have the run of the system. They could be completely unarmed and all they'd need to do in order to wipe out life on Earth is throw a sufficiently big rock at us."

    "Even so, I would like to know how lightly armed."

    "Assuming that they haven't upgraded a lot since my last update, no primary weapons. About thirty anti-attack craft coilgun turrets and maybe a couple of light laser batteries. It's not a warship. If they pointed all of their guns at the Earth -which they can't, the shape of their ship doesn't allow it- and fired, nothing would reach the ground. They have maybe twenty actual marines, a few hundred armed robots -mostly fairly cheap ones- and all of their personnel have some weapon training."

    "And a power ring."

    "And a power ring. Earth has plenty of power rings already. He hasn't had it for long, and… I'd describe him as being moderately powerful with no desire for actual combat. Any of Earth's native Lanterns could beat him in a fight."

    "You appear to be trying to reassure us."

    I shake my head. "Oh, no, that ship is a potential civilisation-ender. I just don't want you to mischaracterise it. It's not a military threat; it's an economic threat."

    "Explain."

    "It almost certainly has holds filled with refined metals. If Manga Khan used his ring, he could have harvested asteroids on their way into the system. The quantities of metal they hold could crash Earth's metal markets. In addition, they have records of the technologies used by hundreds of spacefaring civilisations. And they'll sell them, crashing any technology market. They might not want to attack anyone on Earth themselves, but they'll happily sell weapons to anyone who wants to buy them, thus destroying Earth's balance of power."

    A few Security Council delegates are looking more concerned now, but… Nothing like what they were when they thought it was an armed warship.

    "If he already has all of that, what exactly is he hoping to trade for?"

    "I don't know exactly. If you're asking me to speculate, I guess any of the unique technology Earth possesses, and… Magic objects and expertise."

    "What about cultural objects; art, literature..?"

    "Anything that has a copy publically available, they'll already have taken. Otherwise they might try and buy a few pieces for display, but there isn't much of an interstellar art market. They're here to make money for the ClusterCorp; they have no other objective."

    "Al… Right." He consults his notes. "Now, Manga Khan himself. What is a 'Lord-Lantern'?"

    I roll my eyes. "There's no such thing as a 'Lord-Lantern'. He's a Lantern who already-. No, he's not even a Lord. He just picks out words and syllables in his trading partner's language and starts calling himself that. 'Lord' is short and implies authority, so he chose it as his English language prefix. He picked 'Manga' and 'Khan' for the same reason. 'Lord Comic King', that should give you some idea of the psychology you're dealing with."

    "Why doesn't he use his actual name?"

    "Because it's-"

    I generate a construct of a cloud of dust, then have it twinkle in patterns.

    "-this. The suit of armour you saw in his transmission is just an environmental suit he wears so that humanoids have something to interact with. His natural form is a sentient gas cloud."

    He nods slowly.

    "So you are confident that the presence of the Cluster Ship is not a military threat to Earth, or to human civilisation as a self-governing society?"

    "Not as long as Atlantis doesn't invade-" I give King Orin a sidelong smile. "-Venturia, no."

    "Thank you, Orange Lantern. The Chair yields the floor."
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2020
  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    11th September 2004
    21:33 GMT +2


    It still hasn't gotten… Any. Less. Great!

    "Everything is awesome!
    Everything is cool when you've got a gold ring!"


    Richard sighs faintly as we walk towards the cell holding Jade Musenda. Kaznia isn't messing around with the security here. Constant remote monitoring and highly professional guards, multiple mechanical locks and the woman herself is wearing an impressive-looking array of chains.

    "Everything is awesoooooooome!"

    "Please stop. It's been three days."

    "Three days of unimaginable luxury."

    "The palace is nice-."

    "Three days of not dying. Three days of being able to use my ring without pain. Three days of a polite-" We stop while the last line of guards confirm our identities. "-AI and not a Qwardian lunatic. I could be sleeping on a bed of nails and eating out of a dustbin and I'd still be overjoooooyed!"

    "Just try and be professional when we talk to Cheshire."

    I bow my head, close my eyes and raise my right hand in a gesture of benediction.

    "Right."

    The guards step aside and the senior member of the detail makes a quick visual inspection of the cell's interior through the pane of reinforced glass in the final door. Seeing nothing amiss she unlocks the final door and pushes it inwards.

    Mrs Musenda is chained to the walls, but has enough slack to move between her bed and toilet. Not quickly though, as her ankles and wrists are chained together. She's also dressed in standard prison attire rather than her more flamboyant supervillainess outfit. Her face betrays only mild wariness as Richard and I step inside and the door is locked behind us.

    "Cheshire."

    "Robin. Lantern."

    I smile brightly. "Gooood evening."

    "Do you want something?"

    "We want to know who hired you to go after Queen Audrey."

    "There's a surprise. What's in it for me?"

    "A reduced sentence."

    She nods.

    "And if I don't go along with this, Lantern kills me."

    I grin.

    "Actually, no. Kaznia is applying to join the European Union, and the European Union has a prohibition on the death penalty. They can't even extradite you to somewhere that might kill you."

    Richard eyeballs me for a moment.

    "So what am I being offered?"

    "Kaznia has an automatic life sentence for murder." Richard makes a dismissive gesture with his right hand. "Just for the people you and your accomplice killed during your assassination attempt, they're going to leave you in this room for eight hundred years. You won't ever be let outside, you won't speak to anyone other than a priest and a court-appointed lawyer. No books, no phone calls, you'll have no contact with the outside world at all."

    "And if I help you?"

    I take out the official document.

    "The sentence is the same, but it gets commuted to fifty years and the conditions are considerably more humane. You'll be an old woman by the time you get out, but you won't be a vegetable."

    She rolls her eyes. "Please. I wouldn't help you for anything less than a full pardon."

    Richard and I look at each other. I shrug theatrically, while he just turns away to knock on the door.

    "As you wish. There's no time limit on the offer, but it isn't going to improve. Queen Audrey's experience with her late husband left her with a rather dim view of supervillains."

    "Would my employers get an eight hundred year sentence too?"

    "Only if they were arrested." My smile becomes less warm. "And I don't have arrest authority."

    "When you handed me over, I wasn't sure if-" The door opens. "-the stories about you were true. Why did you take me alive?"

    "A whim, more or less. Killing someone in cold blood still doesn't sit comfortably with me." Richard walks out and I turn to follow him. "Let your guards know if you change you mind."

    11th September 2004
    22:12 GMT +2


    "You know, some-" I look Richard over. "-costumes don't work in well-lit environments, but you can pull it off."

    "Ah…" He gives me an awkward glance as we head towards one of the palace's drawing rooms. "Thanks..?"

    "Definitely prefer it to that 'Robin-the-boy-target' thing you used to wear. Oh, I've been meaning to ask: would you mind helping me with my exercise regime? Between a Qwardian power ring and the Lazarus Pits it didn't take much effort to keep myself in shape, but now…"

    "Sure, we can.. come up with something. How much do you actually know about me?"

    "Summary only. My research was focused on the Society of Shadows rather than Batman's allies."

    One of the palace under butlers pulls open the door ahead of us to allow us inside, and we stroll past him into Queen Audrey's presence. No one else here..? No, guards on the balcony and in an adjoining room, but no one in here. Queen Audrey looks up with a polite smile from where she's sitting on a settee, a folder of paperwork open on the low table in front of her. She looks… Tired, but she's covering it well. She shuffles her papers into a stack and returns them to the folder before giving us her full attention.

    "I assume that she did not take it."

    I shake my head. "No, but.. that was expected."

    She nods to the settee opposite her, and Richard and I take our seats.

    "Our police have not yet been able to uncover the identity of her employer. I am sad to say that I still do not have any shortage of enemies. Do either of you have any suspicions?"

    Richard nods. "HIVE have been expanding their assassination operations, now that they don't have to compete with the Society of Shadows. Cheshire is the kind of woman they'd hire."

    I shrug. "My first thought was your late husband's family, but that's not based on any actual evidence. No reason why we can't investigate both."

    "Family-?" She looks away with a disgruntled huff. "Of course a man of his age had family."

    "To be fair, most of them don’t like him. Locating them won't be hard."

    Richard nods. "I'll work on the HIVE angle. If you can get me access to your intelligence reports-."

    Queen Audrey nods. "Of course." She takes a deep breath in and then a slow breath out, visibly becoming more relaxed. "Will you need somewhere to stay while you work? Putting you up is the least I can do."

    "Thanks, but I'll be moving around to follow up leads-."

    "Not tonight, surely? It will take some time to gather together the information you require."

    "That-. I.. suppose. Thank you."

    "I'll have my servants prepare something suitable." Then she smiles, and more than a little of her old playgirl personality peeks through. "Inviting two men into my home unchaperoned when I am newly widowed. What will people think?"
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2020
  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    6th April
    04:18 GMT


    Batman's eyes narrow at the holographic representation of the Cluster ship as it opens its primary docking bay, releasing three craft.

    "Where are they going?"

    I know that I don't need sleep and that Manga Khan and I are part of the same organisation, but that doesn't actually mean that I have any insight that I couldn't share in five minutes. And yet since he arrived I've been more in demand than ever. Are people seriously only just waking up to the idea that the rest of the universe exists? I'd say 'no', but…

    I look over to John Stewart, who raises his eyebrows.

    "He's talking to you."

    "I'd have thought that the Green Lantern Corps' records on ClusterCorp would make you the expert."

    "You're really not taking any responsibility for this, are you?"

    "If he were a Green Lantern Sector Lantern and I was the Illustres of the Green Lantern Corps, I wouldn't have any responsibility for him outside of a war zone unless the Guardians gave it to me."

    But anyway, I turn and look through the Watchtower's hull towards the Cluster ship.

    "Looks like… Someone on the surface radioed them and they're going to make a trade. Not something profitable; they're just doing it to build market confidence."

    Kal-El frowns at me. "But the UN hasn't finished negotiating trade terms yet."

    "Manga Khan will start caring about that the moment it impacts his bottom line. He has no intention of giving even lip service to any agreement that he isn't a party to and doesn't serve his interests. The fact that Earth doesn't have any space-based weapons means that the UN has no way of preventing him from landing where he wants and doing business with whomever he wants, with the possible exception that governments that want to do business with him might try and hide the fact."

    King Orin's arms are firmly folded across his chest.

    "Do you have any helpful suggestions?"

    "Those landers are pretty cheap and.. probably only crewed by dumb robots. Destroying them would send a clear message about territorial sovereignty, though that would imply to anyone watching that the Justice League are the rulers of Earth with total executive authority on the subject of foreign trade."

    Lines appear on the holographic display as Batman tries to work out where the landers are going.

    "Central Australia, East Africa and the South Pole."

    Kal-El raises his eyebrows slightly.

    "Not exactly bustling trade centers."

    King Orin looks at me. I look at John.

    "Why are you trying to be so hands off with this?"

    "Because this is Earth's first contact with an extra-terrestrial political entity and I -may I remind you- have no legal authority to act. I have the capacity to act-."

    Kal-El nods. "But you don't want us to get off on the wrong foot."

    "It's not that I'd mind being made King of Earth…" I frown. "No, I would. I'm not even comfortable making a joke about it. But… You've been openly kryptonian for… What, fourteen years? If no one's got a plan for dealing with this sort of thing by now then it's trial-by-fire time because they've had plenty of notice."

    "The ship heading towards East Africa is most likely going to land on the disputed border between Zambesia and Kahndaq."

    "Is Zambesia still disputing it? Brave of them."

    King Orin continues to be unimpressed. "Do you have any idea why?"

    "No one owns the South Pole, no one owns Bir Tawil and Central Australia is basically empty. I imagine that Manga Khan is going to claim that they're unowned, and as such that no government has the authority to restrict what happens there."

    John looks at the holographic projection. "I think the Australian government might take issue with that."

    Batman enlarges the image of the lander. "Are they armed?"

    "I'd be armed if I had to deal with Koalas all day."

    "Are the landers armed?"

    "They're usually not, though the crew will be lightly armed."

    He looks at King Orin. "Did the Security Council give you any indication of how they wanted us to handle this?"

    "Nothing actionable. Not unless they attack somewhere. Until things change, the most we can do is monitor the Cluster ships and keep them informed. Orange Lantern."

    "Aquaman."

    "Go and talk to Manga Khan. Try and get a better idea of what he wants."



    "Um."

    His face hardens. "I don't care that he's not under your authority. You just need to have a conversation with him."

    "Aquaman… Aside from the obvious conflict of interest, you don't… Actually have the authority to give me orders. I'm not-" He grimaces. "-a member of the Justice League, and I'm not one of your subjects. If you want me to do you a fav-?"

    "Orange Lantern." Batman turns to face me. "Go to the Cluster ship and talk to Manga Khan. Try and find out for certain exactly what he wants here."

    "Certainly, sir." I raise my right index and middle fingers to my forehead. "I'll let you know when I have something."

    I vanish,

    reappearing just behind the landers and facing the Cluster ship. It's big, but I've seen much bigger. And the design… The original design was for something like the Star Wars Trade Federation Lucrehulks, a ball-shaped central unit with additional units stuck on the outside as needed. This abomination is the result of them deciding that it was cheaper and easier to just stick the balls together, especially given that their form of FTL doesn't require much in the way of structural stability.

    But still

    "Orange Lantern Illustres-"

    "Paul."

    "-to Lord-Lantern Comic King. Please respond."

    My ring.. glows, as if he was responding. But my ring doesn't show his face. Then the roomba-like head of an L-series personal assistant robot appears.

    "Lord-Lantern Comic King is currently engaged-"

    "Manga Khan!"

    "-in legitimate commercial activity, pursuant to-."

    "I know you are. I've been told to do the laziest sort of corporate intelligence gathering and just ask you what you're planning."

    "They want me to tell them what I'm planning?"

    And suddenly I remember one of Lord-Lantern Comic King's most well-known personal attributes.

    "Yes. I'm obliged to listen to him talk about it for as long as he likes."

    "Let him on board! I will astound him with the brilliance of my business strategy!"

    The robot's eye lights noticeably dim.

    "You're shouting again, sir."
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2020
  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    6th April
    04:23 GMT


    I'm standing in what appears to be a communal area on the command sphere of the Cluster ship, people-watching. I've identified several species so far, some wearing the symbol of the ClusterCorp and others not. Not everyone here is employed by the ClusterCorp directly; some are contractors while others actually pay for a berth and make money taking advantages of the opportunities Comic King creates. Some of them are AIs with robotic bodies and others are wearing the same sort of power armour as Comic King himself. Less garishly decorated, though.

    A gold-coloured L-series robot floats towards me. The model is highly customisable, but even though the head matches what I saw over my ring that doesn't mean that it's the same individual. If it even has human-equivalent intelligence.

    "Greeting, Illustres."

    "Hello. I'm sorry, you didn't say your name?"

    "I am L-Ron, majordomo to-."



    "I said majordomo to-."

    I frown. "I'm not sure-?"

    "Majordomo to-."

    There's a thud on the far side of a nearby door.

    L-Ron sinks slightly in the air.

    "Excuse me."

    L-Ron turns away, floating over to the door control panel and extruding a small tool which it proceeds to insert into the door's control system. It chimes, the door opening momentarily to reveal Lord-Lantern Comic King on the far side.

    "I, Lord-L-!"

    The door closes again.

    "Ah."

    Why did we give this guy a power ring?

    "Should I go out and come in again?"

    "No, we can pretend that this didn't happen without you physically leaving." It disconnects from the door control. "This time for sure, m'lord!"

    "Understood, my loyal servant, secretary and lackey!"

    L-Ron floats in place for a moment.

    "I've asked him not to call me that."

    "Maybe you should consider unionising."

    BLAAARP BLAAARP BLAAARP-

    The passers-by dive for cover behind pillars, seating, suddenly appearing rows of chest-high walls or their more solid looking co-workers.

    -BLAAARP-!

    "Oh dear. You-"

    -BLAAAAAAAAAAAARP!

    "-shouldn't have said that."

    I don my armour and generate construct armour. But… Nothing appears to happen.

    "Um."

    "Perhaps they need oil-"

    Gatling laser turrets on ball mounts deploy from the ceiling, the walls, the floor and a flower bed.

    "-or perhaps not."

    They fire, and… They're lasers. If I was an unarmoured civilian, this would be quite deadly. As it is, my construct armour is entirely untroubled.

    "Not an organised labour friendly environment?"

    "To say the-" A stray laser shot hits him and deflects off his highly reflective outer casing. "-least, sir."

    I raise my left hand and destroy each turret with precision bolts of orange light.

    "Just so we're clear, Lord-Lantern Manga Khan is the one with the ring and not you, right?"

    He doesn't breathe, but I hear him sigh.

    "That is so, sir." He pauses. "Ahem!"

    "Ready!"

    "I am L-Ron, majordomo to..."

    The door slams open, and a figure in gold armour accessorised with a purple-with-orange-trim cape strides through.

    "Lord-Lantern Manga Khan! Which is me!"

    And there's an orange power ring on his left middle finger.

    "Here to gather resources from this world for the fungible glory of ClusterCorp! Earth's economic and fiscal distinctiveness shall be added to our own! Its financial systems will adapt to service us!"

    Why, Dox? Why did you do this?

    "Our thirst for profit knows no bounds! The resource requirements of ClusterCorp is my sole consideration! My first upon waking!"

    His species doesn't sleep.

    "My last upon retiring! And already as the Earth's planetary government reacts to our arrival with confusion, other free economic actors heed the call of profit! As the sole supplier of off-world services, ClusterCorp and licensed affiliates is perfectly placed to take advantage of a favourable trading environment!"

    There's a brief pause, and one of the ClusterCorp employees hiding behind a raised bed risks sticking his head up and clapping-.

    "Not yet!"

    He ducks back down again, arms over his head.

    "And light-touch regulatory regime!"

    "M'lord, they don’t yet have a regulatory regime."

    "Then its touch cannot be anything but light! Furthermore, opportunities abound for establishing permanent trade posts and inflating demand further! What we exchange during the initial contact period is but the smallest fraction of what long-term transactioneering might profit us!"

    Well… Nice to know that he's thinking long term.

    "Even outside of our core competencies, opportunities abound for tech-divergent leverage! Already, multiple requests for freelance peacekeeping support services have been forwarded to our outsourcing-handlers!"

    Ooooh… Dear.

    Alright, the League can sort of blame me for that one.

    "But now I will consult with my valued external operating partner, the Illustres of the Orange Lantern Corps, providing a full briefing on corporate strategy so that on the morrow we may begin synergising with local assets and begin value-extraction in the most expedient manner!"

    "I'd be happy to, but-"

    "Excellent!"

    "-I'm afraid that a full consultation will have to wait. I have plans tomorrow."

    "Plans?! What plans could possibly be of more significance than the day upon which I, Lord-Lantern Manga Khan, first arrived at your planet?!"
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2020
  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    7th April
    10:48 GMT -5


    "Are you..?" Zatanna looks me over, blushing under her makeup, then averts her eyes. "Are you sure about this?"

    "It was this, or go and work at Taco Whiz for a week with Diana and Kon."

    I straighten my bustier.

    "I've made my choice."

    "Y-es, but I thought-" She fiddles with her helmet. "-you were going to wear your armour again."

    I shake my head. "No, it's too big and bulky." Plus, I don't have the Praexis Demons any more. "Is my hair alright?"

    "Ah… Yes, it's got really nice… Volume?"

    "You know, I used to have long hair. Before I came to this Earth."

    "You did?"

    "Saved a fortune in hair dressing." I shrug, an action which makes my breast sway in a way that I find slightly unsettling. "I assume. I don't really know what they charge on account of never using one."

    A Games Workshop staffer comes into the room, eyes half fixed on his mobile phone. "We're about ready, if yo-" His eyes widen. "-uuuuuuuuuu…"

    I roll my eyes. "It was this or Azazel, and I'm no good at tails and I couldn't move the miniatures with a claw."

    "O-kaaay. Right. You got your-?"

    I take the tray supporting The Blissful Scream out of subspace. I'm not a great modeller and I can't paint for toffee but power ring awesomeness stretched to a fully custom Emperor's Children warband. Plume-helmeted Noise Marines with guitar-shaped sonic blasters, double-guitars for the blastmasters, drop pods which unfold into stages, metalhead cultist mobs for objective camping with a Chaos Lieutenant and Cult Icon Bearer to make sure that they don’t run away and a Sorcerer Lord leading a squad of Terminators all with sonic weapons as roving heavy-hitters.

    And I made this army legal and sort-of competitive when I wrote this edition. Unlike whatever fun-killing git wrote the previous one.

    "Yes, I've got it."

    "Alright. Ah, follow me?"

    I strut after him as we leave the staff area and walk out onto the stage they set up for the demo game. I spent several hours trying to learn to walk in these high-heeled boots, and after getting no help at all from my sensibly-shoed female colleagues turned instead to a drag star of Diana's acquaintance. Zatanna doesn't strut but instead marches, helmet in place and bolter at the ready.

    "…Lantern and Zatanna Zatara!"

    There's clapping, but I don't look much like myself at the moment. I based this appearance on the hermaphroditic 4th edition Daemonettes, combined with Mad Donna. I even bit the metaphorical bullet and added in a dozen or so piercings.

    Raquel was a little too cheerful about helping with that. My right nipple does not like me at the moment.

    I hold my arms out to the side with a saucy grin, and bikini-clad construct 3rd generation daemonettes (the ones which are actually attractive) materialise, taking hold of them to escort me to the gaming table. That gets a bit more of a response, and I note there are a good deal more journalists here than would normally be the case at a gaming convention.

    Zatanna's armour got a little reworking as well. There's a gold sash to mirror her yellow original costume's waistcoat, white paint to create a visual link to her dress blouse and quite a lot of black. She stops in front of the crowd, removes her helmet and mag-locks it to her right pauldron before reaching up with her right hand and pulling her non-regulation hair free.

    Then her face hardens and she spins, her boltgun coming up and pointing right at me. I dive out of the way as a bolt round literally and figuratively rockets into one of my daemonette escorts, lifting hir off hirs feet and then exploding, shattering the construct. A moment later she switches target and destroys the other as I pull myself to my feet and hold out a miniature case as a shield.

    A little laughter, a few woo's, a smattering of applause… And more than half the crowd watching through their camera phones. Such a modern audience. I shrug and toss the case to Zatanna, who is just about able to stow her bolter fast enough to catch it. Then I saunter over to the gaming table.

    The baseball player who… Okay, be fair to him, he is actually a fan, is about a quarter of the way through setting up his green tide Ork army. So we've got about half an hour to wait there unless we all pitch in. The fourth player is an actual tournament winner, and he's brought an Imperial Guard tank company. Which probably means that someone told him to go easy on us, because while tank companies can utterly destroy slow moving armies due to no one taking enough anti-tank in a balanced list for that sort of thing, they die easily enough to deep striking anti-tank or fast assault units. And the lack of anti-tank in balanced lists isn't even an issue here, due to the fact that his team mate has an all-infantry force.

    My guys aren't great against armour. Sure, I've got melta bombs in a few places and enough krak grenades that I should be able to kill them eventually, but most of my force is specialised for anti-infantry work.

    Zatanna's force, on the other hand…

    "Edasurc ecrof, etaidemmi tnemyolped!"

    Frateris Militia artillery is an often overlooked option, and not just because there's no official model for it. Representing a mob of irregulars grabbing any old field gun they can and sticking it on the firing line, it isn't going to threaten most things. Unless you deploy twenty of them to back up the Exorcists you've taken because you know your team needs something that can do more to tanks than stun-lock them with psychic powers.

    See how things go, because it might be more efficient to use their explosive shells rather than their anti-armour shots, given that Frateris Militia have BS2… The original plan was to deploy them at either corner of our deployment zone to ensure that we could enfilade them and hit their side armour from somewhere, but looking at the terrain I don't think that's possible.

    And Zatanna's spell agreed. Clusters of guns with their ablative Frateris Plagas are sited at each point that has a good enough line of sight, while her counter-attack force are in their concealed Rhinos and Immolators well behind them. The Exorcists -being more mobile- are deployed in position to maximise their ability to fire at the Imperial Guard tanks opposite.

    "Nice costume, mate."

    "Costume? Oh honey." I grin with a mouth that no longer complies with human physical limits, and extend a tentacle tongue to lick the air. "I'm going to role-play this entire battle."

    He blinks, then holds up his hands and shakes his head. "Ah, 'kay?"

    "Just ignore the heretic if he annoys you." Zatanna rolls her eyes. "I'll purge him later."

    "Purge me long and hard, sugar plum."

    I lick my lips, the tip of my tongue flicking from left ear to right ear.

    Zatanna gulps.

    "Now. Where to position Slaanesh's most expendable?" All the good vantage points are taken, but really I just need somewhere that won't block the field guns' lines of sight. "Here we are. And…"

    I use my ring to send the radio signal, and the scale replica of a Slaanesh-corrupted Battle Barge drops down from the ceiling and flies over to hover above our table, prompting another round of chatter from the watchers.

    "Drop pods incoming."
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2020
  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    7th April
    17:48 GMT +2


    I look around at the surprisingly green scenery of South Kahndaq.

    "Not that I want to come across as a total doomsayer, but is this self-sustaining?"

    Adrianna nods confidently. "It will survive. The plants are evolved for the desert. The roots of larger plants stabilise the soil and store water, while the smaller plants can survive under their protection."

    "I heard about the goat ban."

    Slightly before Adom put it into practice.

    "Goats ravage marginal land. If they were allowed to graze here then they would undo my work in a generation."

    "I don't recognise all of the plants. Have you been talking to Swamp Thing or Doctor Isley?"

    "I spoke briefly with Swamp Thing. But these plants are merely… Old. They are not my creations." She pointedly looks out across the verdant scrubland and towards the gleaming metal structure that wasn't there yesterday. "Why is that here?"

    "It's a trade post-."

    "Yes, I know. I -and everyone else in Kahndaq- heard the mental broadcast. Why is it here?"

    "Because -as I understand it, technically- this territory isn't part of anyone's country. Unless you're saying that you've de facto annexed it with your plants."

    "No. I am not limiting the blessings of Isis to helping only the people of my nation. But isn't this part of Zambesia?"

    "It's-. Whatever the opposite of 'disputed' is. Before Adom took over, Kahndaq and Zambesia couldn't agree on exactly where the border was and they both said that this was part of the other country. Adom's been clear that he isn't planning on expanding Kahndaq's territory -and I'm grateful about that- but… Because of that and because he's had better things to do, who owns the southern border area hasn't been settled."

    "Oh." She frowns. "So I could have done whatever I wanted without creating a diplomatic incident."

    "Maybe, but doing that might have been seen as the Kahndaqi government accepting the Zambesian government's preferred interpretation of the border, and you should probably talk to a few people before doing that."

    "And you should talk to the one who built that."

    "I don't think I should. I don't think I should. Just because the leader has an orange power ring, that doesn't mean that it's my job to find some sort of magical solution that makes everyone happy."

    She doesn't look impressed. "Would it be my job if he didn't have an orange power ring? Because I haven't seen him use it yet."

    She considers for a moment.

    "You know more about interstellar economics than anyone else on Earth."

    "No, I… Don't think-" I frown. Who… Would..? "-I do."

    Wait. Arnus would. I mean, I.. think he was more a corporate lawyer than a criminal lawyer anyway. Sure, he'd be a little out of date, but the broad principles should be the same. And Ploutos should be able to fill in the gaps. Yes, I can dump it on the pair of them.

    "Ring, contact Icon."

    "'Icon' not on Earth."




    Oh.

    "Ring, contact Rocket."

    "In progress."


    I raise my left hand to the side of my head as it rings.

    "Yeah?"

    "Rocket, Orange Lantern h-."

    "Are you why Nazigirl's been followin' me around?"

    "Only indirectly. You're-. Um."

    "Yeah? You wanna finish that sentence?"

    "The most admirable black person she's met, and she thinks that you alone can break decades of racist cultural programming?"

    I hear her huff.

    "Okay, yeah, great, but the economy in Dakota City ain't so great and most a' the criminals I arrest are black too. It's not.. like, the best image she could get."

    "Okay, but every criminal she's ever arrested before was white, so I doubt that she'll draw a conclusion based on that."

    "Fine. What were you callin' for?"

    "It occurred to me that Arnus' experience with interstellar relations would make him the man to take a lead on this whole business with ClusterCorp. Do you have any way to contact him?"

    "Ah… No."

    "Raquel, I don't like to call a team mate a-."

    "I'm not supposed to contact him. Ah. Especially if you're asking."

    "Why?"

    "I ain't suppose to tell you unless the world's ending. Is it?"

    "No, this isn't even-. Do you know if he's coming back soon?"

    "Paul…"

    "Okay, I-. Clearly don't know what's going on here. If you get in contact with him please mention the ClusterCorp situation?"

    "Sure. But-."

    "Yeah. Talk to you later."

    End.

    Well… Darn. Don't know what's going on there, but I don't-.

    A jet plane with.. the LexAir logo on the side flies over the Red Sea and.. uses its directional jets to perform a near-vertical landing on the trade post's landing platform. A group of armoured figures move out to greet…

    Lex is here. Of course he is. The only surprise is that he's come in person and without a camera crew.

    "Alright, fine, I'll meet with him. But I'm doing this under protest, and if anyone complains afterwards I'm going to take great pleasure in reminding them that I wanted nearly anyone else to handle this."
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2020
  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    7th April
    17:51 GMT +2


    I transition forwards, appearing on the landing platform just as the jet's door opens. A group of the attendant robots-. They start to pile up and make a staircase with their chassis, but fortunately the LexAir jet has an airstair which unfolds from its doorway. The cheapest-bidderbots spot this as they're shoving one another aside for the honour of being the third step and collapse into a pile of thwarted disappointment.

    Mister Luthor appears in the doorway and sees the robots as they regain a semblance of organisation and line up into something that might generously be called a line-up. There are at least five different makes of near-humanoid robot, and those that share an origin look like they've had multiple generations of non-standard repairs and upgrades. No two of them are precisely the same. Mister Luthor doesn't have a puzzled expression on his face, but from the way his eyes linger and the way his face doesn't move I strongly suspect that he can't quite make sense of what he's seeing.

    Then he sees me, smiles faintly, and completes his journey down to the landing pad.

    "Paul. I had gotten the impression that you were attempting to distance yourself from this endeavour."

    "I am, Mister Luthor, but no one wants to listen." I nod as Ms Graves follows him down the stairs. "Ms Graves."

    "'Mister Luthor'?" He affects an expression of mild affront. "What happened to 'Lex'?"

    "I made my best offer and you turned me down." I look around. Big as it is, this thing is essentially a space-aged prefab and it's still under construction. I doubt that much of the inside is furnished. "And lied about it."

    "I'm afraid-."

    "Can we skip the obviously feigned denial, please? I understand why you feel obliged to make it, but I'm.. not-. I'm never going to be in the mood."

    Lex fans his palms in a gesture of mock surrender.

    "As you wish. Did the Security Council give you any idea of how they intend to handle the situation?"

    "Remember when you complained about the money the US government is wasting housing the artistic collection of the late Adolf Schicklgruber?"

    "Yes?"

    "I believe we are about to be amazed by their efficient decision-making. And I'm getting a painfully pointed lesson in how bad the cult of the superhero has become for Earth's command and control processes, so if you want to make me an offer, you're unlikely to get a better opportunity."

    I get a very thin smile. "Are you unhappy with your relationship with Ted Kord?"

    "There's only so much one man can focus on. And you were always my first choice." I look towards the entrance to the building-proper. "Are you just dropping in, or are they expecting you?"

    "I notified them that I was coming. I was told that I was welcome, but perhaps I misunderstood how welcome." He looks at the robots. "Does one of you have seniority?"

    One with mostly-red armour rotates its head to focus on him.

    "I am the longest functioning robot here."

    "Does that mean that you're in charge here?"

    "No, it means that I'm the first piece of equipment in the recyclers if something goes wrong."

    "I.. see. Should I take it that the ClusterCorp does not recognize AI rights?"

    "It's really more that it doesn't recognise employee rights. But they tell me that if I work really hard then in a century or two I might graduate to loading crane."

    "Of course, that efficiency thing isn't just limited to the Earth side. When you've got an absolute monopoly-."

    "Yes, I.. see. Meetings with aliens never seem to go as I expect them to. Perhaps if we-."

    "BEHOLD!"

    There's an explosion of orange light as Manga Khan appears before us in an interesting application of ring-based teleportation. The resulting light flare slides over my environmental shield while Mister Luthor, Ms Graves, the robots and the LexCorp jet are sent flying!

    I reach out with construct tethers, grabbing each of them and returning them to their prior positions.

    "Hm, good catch, Illustres! What do you think of making it a sporting event? I'm told that Earth's pay-per-view market is exceptionally lively!"

    Mister Luthor takes a moment to check that he's on solid ground, then adjusts his tie and straightens his suit. Ms Graves returns her cybernetic to its arm configuration.

    "Well, it's… Not illegal in Bir Tawil. But there aren't enough Lanterns to make it a team event."

    "So you think that we would need to have different divisions? Yes! Yes. That way we could have a widespread grass roots game."

    Mister Luthor's face.. freezes, his mouth slightly open and his left eye slightly narrowed, as if he can't quite believe what's happening. His eyes flick to me for an instant, then he regains his composure.

    "It's a fairly saturated market. Perhaps a limited test program first, to test the viability?"

    "Yes." He bows his head solemnly. "Boldness without intelligence is how we got fart apples. A worthy reminder."

    He somehow makes his armour shudder.

    "L-Ron! Take a memo!"



    I look around, but the little gold robot doesn't.. appear to have accompanied him.

    "Product testing comes before wide-scale implementation!"

    "Um."

    "L-Ron?"

    The robots nervously rotate their heads to make sure that their owner's chief minion hasn't snuck in somehow. Receiving no response, Manga Khan stomps up to the closest.

    "L-Ron? Didn't you used to be gold?"

    "I'm not L-Ron, Lord-Lantern Manga Khan."

    "And shorter. I'm almost certain that I remember you being shorter."

    "I'm not L-Ron, Lord-Lantern Manga Khan."

    "And your voice was a different pitch."

    "I'm not L-Ron, Lord-Lantern Manga Khan."

    "And you had a gravity-repulsor rather than legs."

    "I'm not L-Ron, Lord-Lantern Manga Khan."

    "And a unified sensor array rather than those little faux-eyes."

    "I'm not L-Ron, Lord-Lantern Manga Khan."

    "And three fingers-."

    Due to the love of a merciful god, the communicator on Manga Khan's armour lights up, a hologram of L-Ron appearing next to him.

    "He's not me, Lord-Lantern Manga Khan."

    "L-Ron! You're in two places at once! I didn't know you could do that!"

    "You teleported without me, m'lord. I'll be down in a few minutes by shuttle. Please try to keep the monologuing to a minimum until I arrive."

    "Very well."

    The hologram shuts down.

    Then Manga Khan stomps right up to the robot so that it's forced to bend back slightly.

    "Why were you pretending to be L-Ron?"
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2020
  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    7th April
    17:57 GMT +2


    "I know you like to pretend-"

    "… second stage, undercutting and displacing local suppliers, aided by the socio-political instability…"

    Mister Luthor has recovered somewhat, but now… He's getting a better idea of what he's hearing.

    "-that you're not a supervillain-"

    "…leveraging our privileged position to fully monetise the opportunities provided…"

    And praise be to Ploutos, I don't think he likes it. I think he's actually disgusted by it. That someone like this can succeed as a trade-prince.

    "-but if you wanted to-"

    "…seventh stage, welcomed with open arms by local stakeholders due to the collapse…"

    Or I could just be projecting, there.

    "-take over the ClusterCorp-"

    "… a new chapter in the history of both Earth and the ClusterCorp-. Though at that point those two will be the same."

    "-I'd totally help."

    "Your confidence is appreciated."

    Lord-Lantern Comic King turns to face us, throwing his arms up in exultation!

    "Any questions?!"

    "Just.. one. I was going over the briefing material which L-Ron gave me, and I couldn't help but notice that some of your.. business tactics are.. awfully similar to those employed by the Reach. Now, as I'm sure you're aware-."

    He points at me with his right hand!

    "Copyright strike!"



    "I'm-? I'm sorry?"

    "Huh." He looks at his right hand. "I thought that was how people on Earth stopped each other talking about subjects they didn't want them to. Perhaps it only works for natives."

    "Um. That's not-."

    "Though there may be some superficial similarities between the Holy Writ of the Rrrrrrr and the business plans of ClusterCorp, but if so then it is merely an example of convergent evolution as plans are darwinistically trialled and either continued or discarded. Naturally, this has resulted in a degree of similarity, considering that our objectives are often similar, at least in the initial phases, but the Rrrrrrr-."

    "I'm sorry, what was that?"

    "A degree of similarity between, considering that our objectives and theirs are-."

    "Whose?"

    "Our… Competitors, and-."

    "And who are they? What are they called? The… Reach?"

    "The R-. The R-. The Rrrrrrr-."

    Mister Luthor shakes his head.

    "I don't really think-"

    "-rrrrrr-."

    "-we need to hear him pronounce-"

    "-rrrrrrrrrr-"

    "-the word 'Reach'. Though I can recommend a good voice coach-"

    "-rrrrrrrrrr-"

    "-if you think that it would help."

    The meeting room door opens and L-Ron flies in at speed, a small cylinder deploying from his chassis!

    "M'lord! Your inhaler!"

    "-rrrrrrrrrr-" Manga Khan grabs the cylinder and plugs it into a port in the side of his helmet. There's a gasping noise as the cylinder crumples. "-reach. Reach. Reach. Thank you, L-Ron."

    "You're welcome, sir."

    Mister Luthor and I share a glance. I hadn't realised that Manga Khan's species could have speech impediments.

    "So." Manga Khan slams his hands down on the table. "What say you?"

    "I think that some of the local governments may take issue with some of those steps."

    "Of course! Competition is a vital part of the capitalist experience!"

    "Yes, good. Um. Well, I agree that competition is vital to spur progress. I'm not sure that you're correctly modelling legislative impacts and -frankly- social panic and human ingroup-outgroup psychology. But I do have contacts amongst your target marketisation groups and can arrange meetings with potential suppliers."

    Mister Luthor nods.

    "I… Was planning to offer my services as a go-between for your negotiations with the United Nations, but your business plan-" And this time I do see him swallow his distaste. "-appears to involve you bypassing them entirely. Is that your opening position, or are you truly committed to it?"

    "What works is what works. I, Lord-Lantern Manga Khan, and through me ClusterCorp, have no interest in appeasing market-oppressors! Any group who wishes to persuade me to do business with them would be wise to make me a convincing offer!"

    "M'lord, you're shouting again."

    Manga Khan stiffens slightly, then raises his arms to shoulder height and makes an.. odd crackling noise as he slowly lowers them back down again.

    "And done. Perfectly calm. Perfectly rational."

    "Am I to understand that you will only comply with local laws if those laws provide you with a greater advantage than you could get by operating outside of them?"

    Manga Khan waves his right hand, and… Dozens-. Hundreds of messages begin playing, accompanied by holographic representations of the sound wave. They appear to be… People seeking to buy or sell various objects or services. Some are.. purely speculative, and some are offering things which are quite illegal.

    "I have the high ground. The racket is in my court, and I am ideally placed to kick it out of the parking lot. Seventeen minor governments have already purchased non-interference contracts. Two more have entered negotiations to rent our surface-to-space lift capacity. And that is ignoring the thousands offering to pay to see us ungarbed."

    Mister Luthor's eyes dip for a second. Big countries probably haven't started making overt moves yet, but ClusterCorp has no investment in the Earth's current power balance. Building a satellite is relatively cheap. If countries other than the US could make observation satellite networks… That's an… Interesting leveller.

    "As a member of a species that doesn't reproduce sexually, that latter request puzzles me, but a merchant like myself is obliged only to satisfy the demands of the client-base. Lex Luthor, you said that you had an offer for me?"
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2020
  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    Earth 12

    8th March 2002
    00:42 GMT -7


    Um…

    Huh.

    Roy stands next to me, looking up at where the hole in the sky used to be.

    "That's not something you see every day."

    He's… Not wrong. I've seen a few strange things since I arrived on this Earth, but 'portals in the sky with giant hands coming out of them' are a new one.

    He shrugs, then turns to look at me.

    "How'd you wanna handle this?"

    "Um. I… Think I'm going to need to call Green Lantern, because that's-."

    Another portal opens, this time at ground level. Roy draws his bow and I trigger my Gravity Rod's force shield mode as… Mr Hagen stomps back through.

    And then another Mr Hagen stomps through. This one seems more.. sullen? The first glances back at it in apparent irritation as the portal closes behind them.

    "Anywhere. We could have gone anywhere. Any time!"

    "We're turning over a new leaf and going straight, not pretending it never happened."

    The first jabs its mud right hand at the second.

    "What the hell happened to you?! No." He pulls his arm back. "No. On second thoughts, don't tell me. If you want to go to prison so much, you go right ahead."

    I switch the Gravity Rod to flight mode and rise through the air towards them.

    "Excuse me? Mister Hagens?"

    Two muddy heads twist in my direction.

    "What.. happened?"

    The second one straightens up slightly.

    "Some ex… Guardian?" I nod. "Named 'Krona' kidnapped a whole lot of different parallel universe versions of you and strapped them to a giant tuning fork. He thought I-." A brief glance at his.. twin? "We were you. Krona lost and everyone got freed."

    "Okay. And why are there two of you? Did.. another version of you have the same idea?"

    The first Mr Hagen glowers. "He's a copy. I split off a bit of myself to try and escape, and now it's giving me attitude."

    "We killed a little girl!"

    "We killed a toenail! A little bit of mud!"

    "Oh, fuck us! I know you! The only reason you're angry is that you know I'm right!"

    "I…" I shake my head. "I don't remember anything about you murdering anyone?"

    The second Mr Hagen shakes his head. "We couldn't be charged. There was no record she ever existed. We didn't-. I didn't know she even could be intelligent. She was just supposed to be a… Detachable eye or something. But she wasn't. When I got intelligent I realised there was no reason why she couldn't have gotten intelligent in the same way."

    "Okay. Maybe. But, one, we don't know that she was, and two, she chose to merge with us."

    "Yeah, because we were beating on Robin and she wanted us to stop! I know how we justified it ourselves because I'm us! And I also know that it's bullshit!"

    "Clearly-" I raise my hands to get their attention. "-the two of you disagree on this, but I'm not hearing anything actionable. What do the two of you want to get out of this situation? Where do you want to go from here?"

    "Prison."

    Mr Hagen Two is very definite. One hesitates for a few moments.

    "If that deal's still on the table, I'll take it. But not for murder."

    "From the sound of it, it wasn't murder. You didn't plan to kill someone you knew to be a living person. But the decision on what to charge you with will be up to the district attorney."

    If the two of them can be charged. I'm not sure that American law was designed to deal with mitosis.

    "I don't care what it technically was." Two returns his attention to One. "She was clay from our body you bastard!"

    "The two of you are going to have years to talk out your differences. Is there anything you need to discuss, or can you just separate so I can call in the submarine?"

    "Yeah." Hagen One shrinks down slightly, making an effort to humanise his exterior as he does so. "Yeah, I'm ready to get out of here."

    "You don't get it." Two shakes his head, clearly disgusted. "You just don't get it."

    "Yeah, well, what you gunna do?"

    "This."

    Hagen Two dives-

    "No no NO!"

    A freeze-arrow hits him mid-dive, covering about two-thirds of him in ice and.. probably freezing a lot of his mud solid. But not enough. His tendrils lash out as One tries to back away, latching on and merging with him!

    "I don't wanna be you! Get outta meaaaaaaagggghhh!"

    He loses his human shape, the two masses of clay being sucked together, merging and intertwining until there's no distinction but the occasional… Silently screaming face bubbling to the surface.

    "What… The…"

    Jade taps Roy on his right shoulder as he slowly lowers his bow.

    "We should leave."

    I float away from the clay mass, making sure that I can throw up a force field if it moves in this direction.

    "We should back up, certainly."

    Barbara's already shimmying up a wall and Jade swiftly sprints to a position of concealment. Roy backs up more slowly as two, four, eight hands emerge from the clay and grasp the screaming heads, pushing and pulling and ripping at them. He loads three more freeze arrows, but he doesn't exactly look confident.

    I.. know how he feels.

    "Got anyone else you can call?"

    I level the Gravity Rod and keep my thumb over the force blast button.

    "No one who can get here quickly."

    "NNRRRAAAAAGHHH!"

    The mud mass bursts, throwing damp clay in all directions! Shieldshieldshield!

    Okay, blocked it, then… Shake off and deactivate.

    "Um. Excuse me?"

    Mr Hagen… One Mr Hagen, is face down and unmoving, the clay of his body surrounded by mounds of discarded clay. And standing next to him is a small girl who's looking around with no idea what's happening.

    "What's going on? Where.. am I?"
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2020
  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    7th April
    23:19 GMT +2


    Lex walks slowly back towards his jet, with Ms Graves and I on either side.

    "So, that just happened."

    "Yes." Mr Luthor nods. "Yes, it did."

    "First impressions?"

    "Between the waffle, pontificating and wandering tangents, I could barely decipher what it is that he's actually planning. I think it might be wise for me to speak with the ClusterCorp board of directors and offer them my services."

    "He's not as stupid as he sounds. It's not wise to project onto non-humanoid species."

    "Does he know enough about our culture to encourage us to underestimate him with such… Precision?"

    "I would be surprised, but I wouldn't rule it out."

    "How.. badly would your colleagues in the Justice League react if I did have commercial dealings with him?"

    "A mild increase in hostility towards ClusterCorp. They're already as hostile towards you as they can get without bringing it into the open."

    "Ah. I find it rather a shame that-."

    I don't even let him finish his platitude before rolling my eyes. "Please."

    "As you wish. Still, it would be beneficial to present a united front."

    "There are too many people on Earth to present a united front. And while I don't think that the League will oppose your lawful dealings out of spite, that's the exact limit of what they'll do to cooperate with you."

    "That might make a successful resolution of this crisis harder to achieve."

    "You should have thought of that before you signed up with Savage. Or said 'no' to me."

    "You tried to implicate me in some rather serious crimes."

    "I wasn't trying to implicate you. I was trying to exculpate you, to give you better options for achieving your legitimate goals. You and Truggs…" I shake my head. "I'd be a lot happier about this if I wasn't expected to somehow 'fix' it."

    Mr Luthor stops at the bottom of the stairs up into his jet.

    "You don't have to."

    "It's like watching a child play in the front garden. I don't feel obliged to put reins on them, but I really think I should keep an eye out in case they start running towards the road."

    "At.. which.. point, you… Guide them back inside the house?"

    "At which point I gently guide them away from the road and then go back on overwatch."

    "I.. fear we may be pushing the metaphor further than it can withstand. But I take your point. Out of curiosity, what would the rest of the ClusterCorp do if their ship was destroyed or seized?"

    "I'm not sure. They do have better armed ships. If it was seized then I imagine that they'd take it back. If it was destroyed… In the past they've seized property from the aggressor or sued them. Neither really apply here. I suppose they might try taking orbital infrastructure-"

    Like the Watchtower or the Xenon base. But I'm not sure who officially or unofficially knows about either of them and I'm confident that the League wouldn't be pleased if I confirmed the existence of anything in conversation with Mr Luthor.

    "-or retaliating, but they're a private enterprise and there's little profit in revenge." I smile. "If you take it where no one can see, and the reason that it's taken this long for this to happen is that no one's watching Earth. And of course that sort of thing would make it a League problem."

    "Mm. I wonder why they chose now?"

    "Ah. That was me. There's a political dispute in Atlantis and I decided to back the weaker party. I thought Dox would send me a regular LEGION fleet. Instead, we get this."

    "You were..? Planning on bringing a fleet into near-Earth space?"

    "Oh, come on, Mister Luthor. I brought a planet into near-Earth space. The fact that I'd bring a fleet here is hardly a strange idea, and no surface world country cares about Venturia."

    Hm. An.. idea is occurring.

    I haven't wanted to introduce advanced alien technology myself because I was concerned that it would have a stupefying influence on human civilisation. But if Earth is going to get access to alien technology anyway, then I'm perfectly capable of making anything ClusterCorp does unprofitable by undercutting them. 'Lord-Lantern Comic King' doesn't strike me as someone who would be prepared to work on matter transmutation 24-7.

    Or I could find a competitor or two and invite them here. Or a mercenary fleet with orders to enforce a particular set of customs arrangements. Amalak would be happy to take on that role, I'm sure, and we're too far away from his centre of power to have to worry about him annexing the planet. There isn't really any group in this Sector that I'd want to-.

    Thanagar. Is Thanagar going to be 'officially concerned' about this? If I decide to take any action I'll have to check with the Hawks.

    "Venturia?"

    "An Atlantean city-state. I'm afraid that the incident has already soured relations between myself and King Orin, so if you want more information I direct you in the direction of Ambassador Vallambrosa."

    "I quite understand. I can grasp the implication of you calling in a fleet."

    "Right. So -just so we don't step on each other's toes- what are you planning on doing about this?"

    "I'm.. still in the planning stages. As I said earlier, this has.. really been nothing like what I thought the Earth's first contact with an alien corporation would be like."

    "Okay, of course you're not obliged to tell me anything. But if you don't tell.. me..."

    Competent authority.

    "Paul?"

    "Sorry, I-. I can't tell Manga Khan-"

    "Lord-Lantern!"

    "-what to do while he's not on the clock, but I can still discipline him for breaking our code of conduct."

    "Which.. includes trading with worlds like Earth?"

    "No, that's fine. Like I said, he's not on the clock. But because the Orange Lantern Corps is trying to build a defensive alliance, there are rules about how Lanterns are obliged to relate to governments we might want to open direct negotiations with. They're.. pretty relaxed, and…"

    I look out across the night time desert.

    "I now realise exactly why he's here rather than a few miles north or south. I'm also revising upwards my estimate of his intelligence."

    Hm.

    "I'm going to do some reading. Get in touch when you've formulated a corporate strategy and I'll let you know what I've got."
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2020
  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    8th April
    21:23 GMT


    "…summary, but I need to know which of my ideas you want me to put into operation because none of them can be implemented quickly."

    Kal-El looks dubious. "Didn't you tell me that Amalak wanted to kill every surviving kryptonian in the universe?"

    "Naturally, I'd try and talk him down from that position first. I'm hoping that Jor-El or Har-Zod have genetic records of life on his homeworld I can offer him in trade. And I've got scans of the Citadel's cloning technology which he almost certainly doesn't have. But while I'll know almost immediately whether he's genuinely prepared to call off his vendetta the only way I'd be able to prevent him acting on it once I tell him that you're here is by altering his mind or killing him."

    "Katar?" King Orin looks over to the Honourable Member for Thanagar. "What will Thanagar do when they hear about this?"

    "Nothing. Whatever future plans my government might have regarding its relationship to Earth, the ClusterCorp isn't an entity our government considers a threat. Until they start selling things produced on Earth to our enemies I can't think of a reason for the Thanagarian government to intervene."

    In a way, I'm pleased that all of the Justice League members here are wearing their wards. But as always, it does make my life just a little harder. His answer is reasonable and it would be difficult for Thanagar to take any action quickly even if they wanted to. But I don't know for sure.

    "And if Earth hired the Blades of Alstair to run our security?"

    His eyes dart to me for a second before fixing on King Orin.

    "I would strongly suggest not recommending them to the UN."

    Batman doesn't look up from his copy of the Orange Lantern Corps Code of Conduct.

    "How does the Orange Lantern Corps define 'Competent Authority'?"

    "It doesn't. The rule exists to encourage cooperation wherever practical without compelling it, because for the most part we trust our Lanterns with their rings and there are all sorts of situations where it's convenient to ignore people."

    I carefully avoid making eye contact with anyone in particular when I say that line.

    "There isn't any body on Earth with the authority to determine interstellar trade policy, and Manga Khan has set up shop in territory that he could 'reasonably' claim isn't owned by anyone. That implies but doesn't prove that he's actually paying attention to our Code of Conduct. If the Security Council votes itself the authority to regulate interstellar trade and all members ratify the decision, he might pay attention to it."

    Batman freezes the relevant sections on three holographic screens.

    "And if he doesn't?"

    "He has to refrain from using his power ring, or he gets ejected from the Corps. And that's a decision I can make without referring it to Dox."

    Though I probably shouldn't make it without referring it to Dox.

    King Orin nods. "But that wouldn't make him leave."

    "Correct. And it would probably result in Dox appointing someone else."

    "Such as?"

    "Anyone with strong avarice and a sense of mission. Amalak would be an appropriate choice, as he wants to create stability and to recreate his species. Lex Luthor is similarly well motivated."

    Kal-El's eyes narrow.

    "Luthor?"

    "I considered him myself prior to him deciding to double down on the Light. He has many worthwhile character traits; the undesirable ones just outweigh them. Dox told me that he is experimenting to see what sort of person makes the best Orange Lantern. I don't know who he'll pick next, and chances are he doesn't yet know either. And of course doing nothing is an option because now that we're reasonably confident that Manga Khan isn't a military threat dealing with this isn't our j-."

    I blink.

    "Sorry, isn't your job. I'm happy to enact any of my proposed solutions, though I reiterate that doing nothing is very much an option. Is there anything else you would like to know?"

    King Orin shakes his head.

    "No. I think you've done enough."

    And in a remarkable display of self control I don't stick my tongue out at him.

    "Thank you. On the subject we were discussing before we were so rudely interrupted, do you actually want to run a 'remain' campaign?"

    "Does it matter?"

    "It’s the difference between them running the referendum in two months or next week."

    "… Yes, I will."

    I nod politely.

    "I will inform King Cyprian. I imagine that you can liaise with him via Venturia's ex-senators, who.. are still in Poseidonis, to sort out the particulars."

    Apparently, they're under house arrest. With Poseidonis backing Ptra and Venturia backing Cyprian something like that was inevitable. But there's no need for me to underline it.

    I raise my right hand to my forehead.

    "I will bid you all a good evening."

    I step out

    8th April
    20:27 GMT -1


    and reappear just outside of King Cyprian's private quarters, next to the charmed circle set aside for magic teleportation.

    The duty magician recognises me immediately.

    "Orange Lantern. What news?"

    "King Orin opted to run the campaign, though I suspect that it's just a delaying tactic."

    She nods.

    "Do you wish to be escorted to the king?"

    "No, there's.. no need. Please just pass the message on. No need for an immediate reply."

    "As you require."

    "Thank you."

    I raise-.

    "Would you..? Object to me recording your teleportation? My mentor was one of those who aided you against the eye creature, and his description made it sound fascinating."

    "Not a problem at all. Actually, if you want to study it in detail I'm happy to make room in my schedule."

    "I-. Yes! That would be splendid."

    I smile at her.

    "I will be fascinated to hear what you discover."
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2020
  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    8th April
    22:36 GMT


    "Aaaah…"

    Jediah Rikane stops the moment he sees me, his protection detail immediately spreading out to make sure that they have a clear shot.

    "Chief Minister. A pleasure to see you again."

    "Yes. I.. expect-."

    "To save us both some time: I'm annoyed about your government trying to keep me out of the loop and out of the way during the burning of Womb World, but it's not as if I'm actually going to miss the psions. I'm annoyed because I could have saved more of their test subjects than Princess Koriand'r managed and because you giving me the run around was insulting."

    "I… Understand." He nods slowly. "And what do you consider to be reasonable recompense for the insult?"

    "You have a perfectly legitimate foreign policy aim in straightening out Vega. And I don't have any objection to you helping a friendly government come to power. But that's it. You don't annex territory inside Vega and you ensure that I have access to the data I need to confirm that."

    "That is.. what we were planning on doing anyway, so it doesn't present any difficulty. Duke Oswin is perfectly happy with the territory the Crown has awarded to him without intruding upon the Vega Moat."

    "Good. The last thing this region needs is any further violent conflict." I open my mouth-. And close it again. "Oh, and in case it wasn't obvious: my concern is the probity of local powers and their ability to act in the greater good. This is the worst possible time for obfuscation or using 'clever' language to deceive me. I will find out, and I will be angry."

    "There... The idea of Duke Oswin having a political marriage with a notable woman from Vega has been mooted, as has the idea of Prince Gavyn accepting a court position of some kind. Nothing is decided yet, and if gaining a claim on Vegan territory is one of your red lines then it probably won't happen."

    "No talk of Prince Ryand'r marrying your Queen?"

    "No."

    "If you've been communicating with King Myand'r, then you should know how I feel about political marriages."

    "He.. did.. mention it. I imagine that the.. cultural context is rather different. Had you done for a noble of the Crown Imperium what you did for Koriand'r and Lord Karras… It's just not done."

    "I can't imagine letting something that no one wants to happen happen."

    "No, I imagine that you can't. Tell me, are you married yourself?"

    "No."

    "Betrothed? Or.. however your civilisation arranges their affairs prior to marriage?"

    I nod. "Yes. But.. while it's desirable for people to get on well with their partners' families, it's the couple who are going to have to live together, support one another and raise their children together. There are many women who might be 'better' matches in some sense. There are none whom I love as I do her. None whom I desire-"

    My environmental shield flares, triggering desire-associations in all of those present, and giving me a fairly generic slideshow.

    "-as I do her."

    "I assume that your civilisation isn't governed by a hereditary aristocracy, then."

    "You assume correctly."

    "Thus, you don't consider lineage to have.. wider significance. Perfectly reasonable with an alternate social order, but for us it's… I'm afraid that you'd be cast as the villain in our social dramas."

    "I think I'll live. The intelligence reports?"

    "I will have them compiled for you."

    "Thank you."

    "Do you intend to stay in the region for long?"

    "No, this is just a check up. There's a.. situation on my homeworld that I'm.. monitoring, in case I need to take action, but for now I want to stay out of the way of the people who are supposed to be managing it."

    "What sort of situation? Is there anything we can do?"

    "I appreciate the thought, but probably not. My world is isolated, but has.. weirdly advanced technology in some areas. We're being visited by an interstellar trading corporation which… Could be really useful, if we were actually organised enough to respond with any sort of unity. As it is, people are running around like headless chickens and buck-passing for all they're worth and I suspect that we're going to get the worst possible outcome."

    He frowns. "I'm… Not sure that translated properly. 'Headless chickens'?"

    "A simpleminded food animal. Usually they're killed by decapitation as the first stage in the preparation process, but if you cut too high then enough of their central nervous system survives that they can... Sort of keep going, though without eyes or ears or reasoning. The expression serves as a metaphor for failures of leadership."

    He chuckles quietly. "My word. How… Completely appropriate. You wouldn't have a recording of such a beast, would you?"

    Ring… Do I?

    Yes.

    When did I..? Why did I-?

    "I'll upload a copy to the palace server. How long will it take your people to collate those intelligence reports?"

    "I presume that you're mostly interested in the period since your last visit?"

    "Mostly. Though I'm also curious about the decision making process which led up to the alliance I encountered during my last visit. I mean, it's nice to see the forces of civilisation coming out ahead, but I think I'd benefit greatly learning from a worked example."

    "A day or so should do it."

    I nod.

    "Any problems I should attend to immediately? Amalak behaving himself?"

    "As well as one can expect from a rogue such as him. There was some talk of granting him a title in exchange for bringing his holdings into the Imperium, but… Since he's expanding into Vega I imagine that you would disapprove. And there are clear advantages in maintaining a buffer state."

    "I agree." Hm. "I think that's everything. I'll return tomorrow. Thank you for your time."

    "You're welcome."

    I raise my right hand to my forehead

    step out and

    back, appearing on Tamaran.

    **Adam, you're an omnidisciplinary genius. Earth needs your advice.**

    **Then I'll be happy to offer it.**
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2020
  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    8th April
    23:03 GMT


    Orange light from my ring strobes over an area infected with what I can only imagine was some sort of psion biological weapon, recording its character and then destroying it utterly. I.. can't even work out why the gordanians bothered using this here. Maybe the psions paid them for the test results? It made the Tamaraneans in the nearest town catch fire then went into hibernation until the relief mission from the regional capital arrived. Komand'r and Koriand'r visited here of course, but neither of them were confident enough in their abilities to guarantee to their people that the area was clear.

    And they were right. This thing is… Clever. Only a mercy that it wasn't designed to travel.

    **I must admit, I'm a little disappointed that the United Nations isn't better prepared.**

    **You and me both.**

    **And I understand why you don't want to bring about your own solution, though I don't agree with your aim.**

    **Why's that?**

    **If the system isn't fit for purpose, why not replace it?**

    **Probably the same reason why you didn't become President of the United States.**

    **No, I'm too elitist to tolerate standing for election by my mental inferiors.**

    The mental impression accompanying that is that the statement isn't just a self-depreciating joke.

    **And I'd find the separation of powers and term limits too restricting. While I appreciate that it adds to the challenge, I don't like being hobbled.**

    **Alright, then it's probably the same reason why you didn't become Overlord of Earth.**

    **I wouldn't have minded becoming Dictator of Earth, if I had to deal with a crisis that actually required me to take that power. Half the challenge would have been getting it. But I understand; you don’t want to manipulate people's emotions on a large scale any more than I want to manipulate their minds.**

    **How is Tamaran handling predatory corporations?**

    **The branx are still repairing the damage their corporate war inflicted. Other than that, all we've had are relatively small traders. And we have a self defence fleet and a true planetary government.**

    **That would make things easier.**

    **The best idea I can come up with that could be implemented quickly would be for America, Russia and China to invite the ClusterCorp to establish a trading post in their territory and put in place whatever rules they want without reference to each other. That maintains national self-determination and allows the ClusterCorp regulated access to Earth's markets.**

    Think I.. got it all. I send a pulse of orange through the ground to check… Yes, clear. Next step is to reintroduce soil microbes and fauna.

    **And other nations?**

    **They can ask ClusterCorp for a trade post, or work through an ally. The United Nations just isn't designed for handling interstellar relations. The Security Council isn't going to be able to agree on a change in function within a relevant time frame. Treating it as a body which can serve the purpose you want it to will only waste your time.**

    **You could be right.** I look around the somewhat overgrown vista and… Smile contentedly. This was certainly worth my time. Something that needed my particular abilities to fix and will directly benefit people. Not like that nonsense that's happening on Earth at the moment. **But I don't think that Manga Khan will want to give up his current freedom. Any other ideas?**

    **It would be a trivial matter for the Justice League to enforce isolationism. If the Security Council voted to give them that authority, they could overrun the Cluster Ship's security teams fairly quickly.**

    **I'd… Rather not go to war against the entire Earth.**

    **You could just choose not to. Or you could train a group of people from Earth as Orange Lanterns and uphold your agreement with Venturia using them.**

    **The problem there is that the characteristics which might make someone likely to obey my instructions don't lend themselves to making good Orange Lanterns.**

    **In that case, you could ask Queen Hippolyta to grant Orange Lanterns from elsewhere Themysciran citizenship. With major fleet operations in Vega finished the princesses are available, should you need them. They've both spoken to me at length about human society, and I know that Koriand'r believes that she failed you concerning the way we handled Wombworld.**

    **Of course, they might try specifically banning Lanterns. Or at least Lanterns who don't have an operating agreement. Until now we've been lumped in with vigilantes, but if Earth's governments are forced to confront the fact that we're members of an alien police force then that could change.**

    **If dealing with it was a simple matter, I doubt that you'd have crossed the galaxy to speak to me.**

    I nod. **No, I wouldn't. Is there anywhere else that needs me?**

    **Almost every part of Tamaran could benefit from your work, but nowhere that needs you.**

    Just like Earth.

    **How are things going here in general?**

    **The basic education system has been more or less restored now. Though because there hasn't been much provision for such a long time, classes on the same subjects are being delivered to different age groups. Following your example, the princesses spent a good deal of time recreating the mass transit network, which -combined with the defence ships we use as relays- means that transportation and communication are restored globally. The centralisation of global projects is reinforcing the authority of the crown, which combined with the fact that the princesses are Vega's Sector Lanterns means that there aren't any problems from internal political disagreements.**

    **I don't suppose that Tamaranean unification is something that we can replicate on Earth?**

    I sense his amusement.

    **No. The different noble families on Tamaran arose due to the distance between settlements and the lack of transportation infrastructure when Tamaran was first settled. They were far closer to cultural homogeneity than humans are. Of course… You could make the people of Earth want to work more closely together.**

    **We're nowhere near the point where I'd do that.**

    **Have you decided in your own mind where the point is?**

    **No, but I've decided where it isn't. I might nudge a single individual if I thought that one person was holding up the whole process, but in this case it's the whole system.**

    I take a closer look at the overgrown town, then send out a swarm of secateurs to prune the shrubbery back. I also remove the mortal remains of the plague's victims as respectfully as I can and arrange them a short distance away.

    I can't think of a better approach than what Adam came up with. Earth's flirtations with unified governance have been victor's justice at best and a political football at w-. At medium. At worst it's been a money sink and tax haven.

    I remember the Night's Dawn series, where it was noted that Earth's early colonies replicated Earth's chaotic governance structure by having colonists from a wide variety of different cultural backgrounds on the same world. They inevitably established political groupings with people from the same backgrounds in opposition to other groups. Later colonies gave up on that approach and allowed monocultural colonisation and that resulted in stable unified planetary governments.

    It's a depressing thought, but based on what I've seen…

    Ah well. Half the reason why I didn't take the Clarissi job is that I know perfectly well the limits of my abilities. Hopefully someone else has come up with something better while I've been gone.
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2020
  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    8th April
    18:23 GMT -5


    Kon knocks on the transparent laboratory airlock safety door as I stare at the vial of blue gunge in my right hand. I set it down in the rack and nod to him, prompting him to enter his access code and come inside.

    "Hey. What's that?"

    "I think it's Compound V. One of my alter egos ended up on a world where it's the only source of super powers."

    And that's the problem. My indigo alter ego said that he was only willing to give me the data because he was confident that I'd never use it. And.. having experimented with it a little I can see why he was that confident.

    "Unfortunately, it turns out that it's not exactly reliable."

    In front of me, the rat which got fire powers finally asphyxiates, its body joining those of the rats who gained frog-like attributes, supernumerary eyes, what I'm tentatively calling 'laser feet' and rock skin respectively.

    "Are you familiar with the concept of 'required secondary powers'?"

    "You mean like how someone who's got super strength but doesn't have flight can't punch all that hard without flying backwards?" He nods, a wry smile on his lips. "Think I've heard about that somewhere."

    "This is more like what would happen if Flash wasn't immune to friction. Their bodies change, but nothing about the change guarantees that they'll be able to survive it, actually… Use their new powers, or… Well." I point at the burst skull of 'eye-rat'. "That one's visuospatial cortex expanded to deal with the input, but its skull didn't. And this is controlled doses; this stuff is a known environmental contaminant on Indigo's Earth. People even use it as a narcotic."

    "Not exactly the Danner Formula."

    "To say the least. And apparently subsequent generations have the same problem, even if they don't get dosed with the stuff themselves."

    Which… Lines up with my memories of The Boys to an extent. But Homelander was a sure thing. They had a foetus, they.. somehow dosed it with a great deal of some formulation of this stuff… They were sure that they'd get a top tier superhuman out of it. They must have been, or they wouldn't have put the money into it.

    Maybe foetal exposure is the key..?

    Kon looks around at some of my other half-completed projects.

    "Is this all stuff you've copied from the other versions of you?"

    "Yes, and it's all… Basically useless."

    Yellow had scans of some advanced technology, but none of it was radically different -or better- than designs I already had access to. From the sounds of it Mumm-Ra is an invocational magic user, and without knowing more about what the 'ancient spirits of evil' actually are none of what Yellow was able to tell me was much use. And that wasn't much in the first place. The files on Third Earth physiology were interesting, but they're of no practical use to me other than for earning some Brownie points from Cranius.

    Indigo shared what he knew about Compound V, but that looks like it would take a great deal of research in order to see any return on my investment in time. Red didn't think that it was his place to share what Atrocitus taught him about blood magic, and apparently his ring doesn't interact well with IT systems. What Black learned about Buffyverse magic is directly contradicted in several areas by what I've learned about magic here, though I'll pass-. I'll indirectly pass it on to Sephtian so that he can study an alternate magic system if he has the time.

    Commander Gordon didn't want to give a gold power ring to someone with a positive working relationship to Maltusians. Time Trapper didn't have ring-based records of his timeline's more advanced human-created technology. Angel-me was willing to give me a small amount of his blood so that's my angel-tissue ammunition slightly replenished, which was… Nice. But as for the rest…

    It looks like I'm ahead. Which is… Good. Mostly good for them as the files I was able to give them will prove more useful to them than theirs will be for me. But aside from a brief moment of self satisfaction at my achievements… I didn't really learn much.

    "I'll give this…"

    No, can't give it to Dr Munro née Danner, because he's busy in Brazil. His research station… They can probably handle it, but that means that it will inevitably get back to Mr Luthor. And while there isn't really a way to use human technology to cheese the Danner formula, this…

    You can give it to adults. Adults who are already loyal to you, who are desperate and will consent to anything if they think it will give them a way out of whatever pit they've fallen into. It's far easier to misuse, far easier to do stupid… Supervillain stuff with.

    Dr Sivana Senior would probably limit himself to animal applications, at least. And he already has the capacity to create enhanced animal-based sophonts.

    Heck, how did I get to the point where sharing data with Thaddeus Bodog Sivana was a reasonable option?

    "Are you staying for dinner?"

    "Is it tacos?"

    "Yeah, but not from Taco Whiz."

    Because it turns out that reheating low-quality frozen food doesn't result in anything particularly good. I mean, I don't think anyone is under any illusion about the quality of the meals in fast food restaurants, but there's nothing quite like working there to really take any residual shine off.

    "Mom showed me how to make them from raw ingredients."

    "You're cooking?" Filaments flick out, tidying and making safe and… Completely destroying the remaining Compound V. I'll hand the rats over to Dr Sivana. I'm sure that he can learn all sorts of interesting things from them. "Yeah, I'm in."

    He nods, smiling, then leads the way to the door.

    "How are you finding working there?"

    "It's… Ah… Kinda interesting."

    "It's-."

    "A 'totally inefficient waste of time'. You said that when Batman gave us all the assignment. I actually kinda like doing a regular job."

    "Yes, and people in rural India like having irrigation and an electricity supply. Having Justice League members do a week of charity work as a public relations exercise is ridiculous, and it doesn't become more sensible by making us do it as well."

    "Mom says it helps her connect with people."

    "I'm not sure that a stage managed stint as a fast food restaurant cook really helps with that, but fine. It's her time."

    "You don't think people seeing us as people is a good idea?"

    "Of course it's a good idea. But most people know that most League members maintain secret identities; that is to say, already have actual paying jobs they do in addition to being unpaid auxiliary police."

    "You didn't enjoy that charity board game you did with Zatanna?"

    "Oh, it was fun; I just don't think it was at all productive. Hm."

    "What?"

    "How would you feel about releasing kryptonian technology for human use?"

    He thinks for a moment, then shrugs. "I don't have a problem with it. Why?"

    "A potential solution to the ClusterCorp problem." No, I'm… Not going to think about that at the moment. "So what goes into making a good taco?"
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2020
  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    8th April
    18:56 GMT -5


    "…why you're not more excited about this?" M'gann uses her fork to scoop up some escaped shredded beef. "Isn't this what you wanted?"

    "Once things were a bit more organised, yes." I'm not usually a fan of wraps. Or salads. But this is actually quite nice. "But as it stands, even someone of Manga Khan's intellect can easily play Earth's governments off against each other. To say nothing of the potential damage to Earth's socioeconomic systems. I held off on introducing alien technology because I wanted to force Earth to actually use its advantages, and only.. engage once it started doing that. As it stands, there's no… Unity." I point at her with my right index finger. "Mars is far better placed to take advantage of this than Earth is."

    "Are they.. coming to Mars?"

    I shrug. "Can't think of any reason why they wouldn't. Martian biotechnology probably doesn't have quite as big a market as some of the things Earth produces, but in the hands of a species without monophobia it might be viable as an alternate tech base for spacefaring telepaths."

    "Like who?"

    "Bolovaxians, like Lantern Kilowog." I create a small construct image of him standing on the table. "If they could adapt Martian animals to join their group mind they'd probably prefer it to mechanical technology."

    Kon nods. "And maybe meeting new species might make more martians want to leave Mars?"

    "It… Might…"

    "Ted phoned me earlier to tell me that he's been getting a lot more-."

    Canis stabs his taco with his fork, causing guacamole to spray in two directions across the table.

    "This is insufferable."

    Kon takes the insult to his culinary abilities in his stride. "If you don't like-."

    "No, Orange Lantern and Aqualad."

    I.. look at the mountainmate whose eyes I've been avoiding. He does the same.

    And then we both look away.

    "That." He points at the air halfway between us. "Did you see that!?"

    Ghia'ta nods. "I most certainly did. This is not good for team unity."

    M'gann leans back a little. "Humans sometimes like to be a little less direct about things."

    "Yeah, but I'm only human out of habit. Okay, Kaldur?" He meets my eyes. "Given that Venturia has played next to no part in Atlantean political life for the last sixty years, what exactly is going to change now that they're going to formalise it?"

    "Most likely, nothing. But that does not change the fact that you once again concealed information from my king."

    I frown. "What do you mean? Cyprian had been sending messages to the government in Poseidonis since Queen Clea's death. It was hardly a secret."

    "And you had no dealings with them before that."

    "I first met Cyprian on the twenty fourth of December last year when I expressed a desire to hire Venturian magicians for a project. That was when I learned that Queen Clea was dead. And that's how I know that King Orin was informed; I took him a personal message from King Cyprian and delivered it into his hand. The impression I got was that it wasn't the first contact they'd had on the subject, but it's the first I can personally confirm happened."

    "Why did you wish to hire Venturian magicians?"

    "Because I was overworking Sephtian already. His expanded team couldn't handle any more projects, but because the Venturians were so cut off from the Atlantean mainstream their specialists were still available."

    "You wished to hire them for the Orange Lantern Corps."

    "No. I wanted to find out-." I look around. "Did you all read my report on my first meeting with Lantern Mother of Mercy?"

    Three nods.

    "In my fantasy we'd found a way to spread the Earth's magic system out from the planet. I wanted to find out whether that was actually possible or not, so I hired some Venturians to research the links between Earth's magic systems and the Dream. Fairly blue skies stuff, and things were so tense with Poseidonis that Cyprian didn't want to release his researchers from military service. Hiring them directly for the Orange Lantern Corps was something I negotiated for four days ago due to the urgent necessity."

    "That was not what you told King Orin."

    "No, convenience was why I wanted to expand the agreement beyond that one incident, and getting Venturia's magicians returned to their civilian occupations was why I offered a defence contract I don't think will ever be activated."

    "What else did you offer them?"

    "The designs for the arcane forge, which I have a perfect legal right to."

    "Queen Mera had offered to include Venturian scholars in the Conservatory's research program."

    "And they'd turned it down because it would have meant surrendering more sovereignty to Poseidonis. With modern communication magic there's no reason for all research to be carried out at a single location, other than to emphasise the centralisation of authority. Now they can work from their own city and still share their results with the-. With Atlantis. Look, do you actually know about how King Orin's grandmother ballsed up relations with Venturia?"

    "She raised Princess Ptra in the royal court after her mother clashed with Aurania's senate. It is not uncommon in the Atlantean tradition for noble children to be raised apart from their parents in times of civil strife."

    "I'm going to respectfully suggest that you do more research -preferably including Venturian sources- before making any decisions which require you to assume that is true. One, Venturia was completely secure, two, Clea didn't request it and wasn't allowed to refuse it, three, Ptra might have been a ward of the throne but she spent more of her time in Aurania than in Poseidonis which proves that the 'place of safety' justification is irrelevant if not flat out nonsense. Venturia seceded not because of anything I did but because three successive Poseidonian monarchs dropped the ball. The most I did was preventing a military conflict."

    "Why?"

    Both our heads jerk in the direction of Canis. His eyes move from Kaldur to me. Then he nods.

    "You don't understand-. Why did you prevent the war?"

    "Because it might have resulted in the deaths of people useful to me. And it wouldn't have solved the underlying issues. Queen Clea will never get to raise her daughter. She'll never know who murdered her husband. Nothing that we could do at this point could fix that and I don't particularly want to duel another Justice League member."

    "Very well." Canis nods. "Aqualad, why did you want the war to happen?"

    "I do not. I do not agree that war was inevitable without Orange Lantern's intervention."

    "Well, no, King Cyprian might have surrendered. I'm not sure how long Ptra would survive ruling a city that didn't want her and considered her a Poseidonian puppet, but that was a possibility. But okay, how was King Orin planning on handling it?"

    "His plan was to continue to refuse to recognise Cyprian's claim to the throne of Venturia while offering political and financial incentives for Venturia to become more involved with the rest of Atlantis. He realised that Ptra would not be able to rule without her cousin's willing assistance and wanted his agreement regarding any settlement. Military force was not something he had seriously considered. Your actions prevented him resolving the dispute in the interests of all Atlantis."

    "Then he should have communicated that more clearly to King Cyprian. Not that it would have mattered, because opposing the expansion of the authority of the High King is the core of Venturia's policy towards the rest of Atlantis and King Cyprian would have interpreted everything you just said Orin was planning as a power grab. Which is something he would have explained if he'd been asked about it and which anyone who knows anything about Venturia should have told Orin."

    "You did not explain that to King Orin."

    "It's not my job to tell him how to do his job." I sniff. "And that's one thing this whole situation has cemented in my mind: I am not responsible for other people making bad decisions."
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2020
  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2016
    Messages:
    6,327
    Likes Received:
    211,445
    9th April
    06:11 GMT -5


    "…deadlock in the UN, Senator Knight has called for the US to pursue its own policy separate from other world governments."

    Oh, that's a point.

    I pause with my spoon part way from my porridge bowl to my mouth.

    I didn't even consider talking to the probable next president of the United States of America. But America has a pretty strong iconoclastic bent at the best of times, and if they stop bothering with the Security Council there's no way that the others will keep at it.

    No… No.

    I take another spoonful of porridge as I ruminate.

    I need to let human civilisation make these decisions for themselves. Even if they make a bad one, the consequences are unlikely to be catastrophic and it will be good experience for when they have to deal with more dangerous alien parties.

    I…

    I should talk to Cyprian about what King Orin was actually planning. I doubt that Orin will actually tell him, and him knowing that will hopefully take a good deal of bile out of the relationship. It did sound like something a well intentioned but surprisingly ignorant person might try, and I… Don't think it would make the population more likely to vote 'rejoin'. But it might make coming to sensible terms afterwards easier, and I think that trading with their neighbours would reduce tension-.

    Except they don't need to trade with their neighbours. Given the distances and their history of self-sufficiency, there isn't really anything Venturia can get from anywhere else in Atlantis. Certainly nothing in terms of raw material or manufactured goods. King Orin would.. probably have been offering them access to the goods Poseidonis gets from the surface which Venturia can't-.

    Venturia has islands. Venturia's defence is nominally being undertaken by an alien merchant prince. Those islands are easily big enough for one of his prefabricated trading posts to be landed there. Venturia is-. I suppose will be a micronation rather than a world power, and even if they do become a bit more interested in the rest of the universe after this they're not going to be interested in dominating surface nations. But it would remove King Orin's carrot.

    Breakfast over, I clean my bowl, glass and spoon and float them back to their homes in the cupboards and drawer. Venturia is four hours ahead, so there shouldn't be any problem with me appearing. Fingers to

    forehead

    9th April
    10:13 GMT -1


    and nod politely to the usher.

    "Is the king available?"

    "Certainly, sir. If you'll come this way?"

    It's only a short walk to the room that serves as Venturia's cabinet office. Naturally, the room is shielded against as many forms of detection as they can defend against. I can't even see that there are people inside. Slightly unusually, it's underwater, because-.

    "I hadn't thought about it before, but… The Venturian buildings with air pockets inside them. Is it just a matter of tradition or pride, or is it an overt reference to pre-sinking Atlantis?"

    The usher waves his hand through the 'request attention' sensor.

    "I hadn't really thought about it, sir."

    "Because Teth Adom used to consider Queen Gamemnae a-"

    There's a slight twitch, which makes me wish I could remember that comic in more detail. Naturally, I've read up on the woman's history as much as possible, but that doesn't tell me anything about the cultural significance she has in modern Atlantean society.

    "-friend, and the other potential reference in having air-filled rooms is her effort to return Atlantis to the surface."

    "I.. don't think it's that, sir."

    There's a faint chime, and the usher regains his confidence. He pulls open the door and gestures towards the opening.

    "In here, sir."

    "Thank you."

    Unlike the British cabinet where the Prime Minister sits in the middle of one of the long edges, Cyprian very definitely sits at the head of the table. I.. half-recognise some of the other members, though we haven't been formally introduced. Archmage Thalia was part of the team that came with me to Tillettit, and General Megarios was more than a little interested in the potential military uses of orange power rings. He probably wouldn't make a bad Lantern, but he's more… Dox's sort than mine. There's no philosophical conundrum to resolve, aside from maybe his background desire to conquer Aurania to prove a point.

    I stop just before I reach the table and bow.

    "Your majesty, honoured councillors."

    "Illustres." Cyprian nods in acknowledgement. "I understand that King Orin will be sending a deputation to campaign here."

    "He has expressed that desire. How familiar are you with how surface world elections are conducted?"

    "We are descended from surface-dwelling Greeks. The idea of public consultation isn't wholly lost on us."

    "Yes, but the Greeks usually had a fairly limited suffrage. I would encourage you to-." I frown. "Actually, the precise terms of the ballot are something you should probably discuss directly with King Orin."

    Cyprian nods. "If you don't mind acting as a go-between, I'm happy to meet him whenever it's convenient to him. And while I'd rather my cousin wasn't in attendance, I won't insist upon it."

    "Right. I should probably warn you that not only am I not his favourite person in the world right now, his… Actual plan for preserving Atlantean unity wasn't as confrontational as you were assuming it was."

    "What makes you think that?"

    "I live with Kaldur'ahm. We had a… Fairly robust exchange of views at dinner last night, and according to him, King Orin's plan was to apply diplomatic pressure on you until you peacefully accepted Ptra."

    Cyprian looks mildly puzzled. "I would never have done that. Quite apart from anything else it would be completely against Queen Clea's wishes."

    "I know that and you know that but apparently King Orin didn't know that. And with the military option firmly off the table I think it might be wise for the two of you to have a slightly more expansive discussion, because whatever the outcome of the vote you're going to have to live with one another afterwards."

    Cyprian meets the eyes of a few of his ministers before nodding to me.

    "It sounds as if that would be wise."

    "In other news, the individual whom my Corps dispatched to guarantee your independence has arrived and is… In a way which is actually completely in keeping with my Corps' operating philosophy, expanding his mercantile interests to include Earth. Would you at all be interested in leasing one of your islands to him?"

    I hold up my hands.

    "To be completely clear, it's not at all conditional, you're not obliged to agree, but Poseidonis has become a lot richer as a result of trading with the surface and I thought that you might like the opportunity brought to your attention."

    "It's worth investigating, I suppose. And it would be politic for me to meet with the Lantern in command anyway. How long will it take to arrange to speak with him?"

    "Speaking with could be difficult. Being spoken to by him on the other hand is extremely easy."
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2020
Loading...