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

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

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  1. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    9th April
    13:24 GMT


    "Lord-Lantern Manga Khan, this is-."

    His head jerks around.

    "Who?"

    "M'lord, 'Lord-Lantern Manga Khan' was the name which you chose to be identified with while dealing with the planet Earth."

    "It was?"

    "If you've changed your mind, m'lord, you have merely to inform me and I will ensure that everyone whom you informed of your initial choice of name is also informed that you've changed it."

    "Did I tell you why I chose 'Lord-Lantern Manga-. HAHAHAHA!"

    "What?"

    "HEHOOHAHA!"

    There's an electrical… Huffing noise.

    "I just worked it out. I'm a wit."

    "Y.. es." Thalia is giving me a decidedly sceptical look. "I need to talk to you about the reason why you're here."

    "Well, sometimes, two clouds of vapour impregnated with exotic particles are exposed to an electrical discharge, which results in the spontaneous-."

    "No. No. The reason why you're here on Earth, as opposed to wherever you were when Vril Dox contacted you."

    "Oh, the defence contract. I handed that off to our actualisation team, and they're eagerly awaiting contact from our client!"

    "Are the people on your actualisation team members of the Orange Lantern Corps?"

    "Spiritually?"

    "Legally. De jure. Do they have orange power rings?"

    "I don't know. They might. L-Ron, do-?"

    "Lantern Khan, I'm-"

    "Lord and Manga."

    "-afraid that while I don't have any right to instruct you in how to carry out your commercial business, I am empowered to check up on how you perform as an Orange Lantern. Dox gave you the orders, and you alone are responsible for ensuring that they are carried out."

    L-Ron floats a little closer. "Sensor scans revealed no combat taking place in the area indicated in Clarissi Dox's information packet."

    "Did that information packet also mention that Atlantean weapons are usually magic-based, and therefore don't show up reliably on regular sensors?"

    Manga Khan puts his right fist to his chin.

    "It.. may have..?"

    "Did you read it? Dox is usually very thorough. I'm sure that it would have been very helpful."

    "I.. skimmed it."

    "Lantern Khan, several-"

    "Lord and Manga."

    "-million people made a contract with NEMO. You were tasked as our primary delivery agent. And you're telling me that you've not.. made.. any attempt to deliver. You personally had one obligation here, and you have not undertaken to discharge it. I'm afraid that I'm going to have to insist that you prioritise it."

    "Sigh."

    "I hope that's a 'sigh, yes'."

    "None of our security units are specialised for aquatic combat. I thought it most likely that a species like humans would not dare assume that the ClusterShip was not capable of intervening in this conflict and that its presence would be nearly as much of a disincentive to hostile action as the confirmed presence of the capacity, while being less harmful to any civil negotiations than an open display of martial power."

    "I agree with your assessment. But that still means that you prioritised ClusterCorp trading operations over reassuring a NEMO stakeholder. At the very least, you should have personally visited King Cyprian to assure him that we were prepared to back our words. As things stand, the only NEMO assets in this system are you and me, which means that if open warfare did commence the two of us would be obliged to go down there in person."

    He throws his left arm out to the side, and presses his right hand into his face plate.

    "You're right! I neglected the most basic principles of customer service! I am shame!"

    "I'm glad that you recognise your oversight." I step aside as he collapses to his knees. "This is Archmage Thalia. She's here on behalf of the government of Venturia. She will be able to provide you with more specifics on the situation, and inform you what the Venturian government expects from us."

    I crouch down so that I'm on his level.

    "I expect you to prioritise this."

    "I WILL EXPUNGE MY SHAME WITH ULTRA-PLATINUM LEVELS OF CUSTOMER SERVICE!"

    I stand, and… Thalia looks even less certain.

    "He's actually very good at his job. He just gets a bit overenthusiastic about some aspects of it sometimes."

    "IF I HAD FLESH I WOULD REND IT!"

    L-Ron extrudes a manipulator arm to pat his master on the helmet.

    "There there, m'lord."

    "I'm going to leave you in his care while I relay King Cyprian's message to King Orin."

    Less certain still.

    "I'll be back in an hour at the latest."

    I raise my right hand to my forehead, and don't miss her sketching a sensory mandala in the air as I do it.

    9th April
    11:27 GMT -2


    I hold up King Cyprian's letter as the guards at the Poseidonis royal palace level their sonic impellers at me.

    "I'm serving as King Cyprian's herald at the moment. Is High King Orin at home, or should I try the Hall of Justice?"

    They lower their guns, without any obvious reluctance. I suppose there's a good chance that the exact state of relations with Venturia hasn't really percolated through wider Atlantean society quite yet.

    The detail's leader swims forwards slightly.

    "Please come with me, Orange Lantern. If King Orin isn't available, someone else will be able to receive you."

    "Thank you. Very kind."
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2020
  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    9th April
    14:41 GMT -2


    "...cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
    Little boy bl-"

    Queen Mera swims into the room.

    "-ue-."

    I dismiss my Cat's Cradle construct. I… Haven't really had much to do with Queen Mera for a while. Sephtian was my point of contact with the Conservatory. I don't even know whether the Atlanteans who swam in after her are government officials, aides, or additional security. I'm a little surprised to see her acting in what I assume is about to be a government capacity. My knowledge of Atlantean nobility isn't perfect, but my understanding had been that she left that stuff to her husband.

    "Your majesty."

    She smiles politely.

    "My lord Illustres."

    That's… Probably about right.

    "Just came from a meeting with the Venturian cabinet. Is that.. something I can talk to you about?"

    "Atlantean diplomatic custom would have us make small talk for a while first."

    I nod. "Alright. How's Artur getting along?"

    "He's in good health, thank you."

    "Are you planning on having any more?"

    "I.. think that we'll be waiting a year or two before deciding on that."

    "Because if you're concerned about the whole Atlantean brothers' curse thing-."

    "I'm more than capable of ensuring that Artur only has sisters. And that line of enquiry is outside of what would be considered polite noncommittal conversation in Atlantean society."

    "I'll keep that in mind. For an Orange Lantern, it's… If you don't care, why bother talking about it? I imagine you'd be more interested in the Deep Dream analysis I'm hiring the Venturians to do for me, I'm certainly more interested in it-."

    "Dream research?" I nod. "Are you interested in prophecy?"

    "No, I'm.. pretty sure that Apollo has it in for me, so there's basically no chance of me getting anything useful from an oracle. I believe that there's at least some chance that-."

    "That our arcane analytical equipment -which you shared with them- is now advanced enough that we might get something useful out of it? I hadn't even considered that aspect of it."

    "You don't really have the personnel to spare to work on the project here-."

    "Are you certain?"

    "Yes. I have a near-complete list of every Atlantean research mage above a certain level courtesy of Professor Sephtian, because I asked him for the names of everyone he wanted to involve. I went to Venturia in the first place because-."

    "None of them participate in our research programs."

    "Though the chance of us getting anything useful isn't that great. And-. Are you familiar with the novel Nineteen Eighty Four?"

    "No."

    "It's… Really depressing for anyone trying to influence the world in a positive way, actually, but there's one bit where one of the characters says that they have some of the world's greatest scientists working on projects that won't ever bear fruit in order to keep them occupied. So if Poseidonis is worried about what Venturia's researchers are going to be doing-."

    "They're going to be working on a project which -if successful- would result in them being able to command the fundamental forces of creation."

    "And Oceana was going to get an earthquake machine. Except they weren't, ever. At most, I expect to get a way to extend the distance from Earth magic can be actively used, and that will probably be decades away. And it might turn out to be impossible. Which is worth knowing, but…"

    "I thought that you wanted to employ Venturia's sorcerers for the Orange Lantern Corps."

    "King Cyprian's not going to release all that many for long term detached duty, and they're going to have to learn a new world's magic system almost from scratch before they can teach anyone. The point is that Venturia isn't going to present a security threat to Atlantis. "

    "Unless their research into the Dream bears fruit faster than you expect it to and they gain the ability to control magic universe-wide."

    "Being an empath, and having spent some time in King Cyprian's presence, I feel safe in saying that if they were that successful, everyone involved would be rounded up and told in no uncertain terms that they weren't that successful, and that they were being reassigned to metaphorical Alaska, and that they should never talk about the thing that never happened again. Of course, you've got more resources. You could almost certainly outpace them. But-"

    "As you pointed out, we have more demands upon those resources and there may be no payoff at all." She considers for a moment. "Will the Venturian Academy be willing to share their findings?"

    "I imagine that academic cooperation will be a subject for debate post-referendum. Though given that they didn't really share while they were part of Atlantis and that I rather got the impression that King Orin was planning on using that sort of thing as a lure to persuade them to stay…"

    "Something which Kaldur assured me that you believed would not work."

    "It wouldn't, but me falling out with King Orin isn't a constitutional crisis. But since we've come full circle…"

    She nods. "What does Lord Cyprian wish for you to discuss with me?"

    "King Cyprian wants to meet with High King Orin to discuss the terms of the referendum. How the vote will be conducted, the methods both sides will use to persuade people to their viewpoint, and what happens afterwards."

    "And Queen Ptra's involvement in these discussions?"

    "As far as Venturia is concerned, she's the ruler of an Atlantean city-state. She has as much right to be involved as, say, the Speaker of the Shayeris senate. They're not going to insist that she leave if she's there, but they're not there to negotiate with her."

    "Will they accept her as their Queen if the vote to leave fails?"

    "It's not a vote to leave. They've already left. It's a vote to rejoin. And almost certainly not, though King Orin is welcome to raise the issue." I frown. "I know that King Orin didn't grow up here, but you're a native. You are.. aware of the history here, aren't you?"

    "Some.. what. My studies were more focused on magic than on politics or history."

    "At least make sure that King Orin is properly briefed before the meeting? Because he clearly hasn't been to date."

    She looks at me for a few moments.

    "I believe, Orange Lantern, that you have my husband's full attention."
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2020
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    9th April
    20:11 GMT +2


    Ploutos suppresses a chuckle as he leans back in his chair.

    "And no one's talking to you about this?"

    "Yes, people are talking to me. Other professors, mostly. A few financial journalists, and I had a ten minute conversation with the Minister of Finance."

    "Not the President?"

    He shrugs slowly.

    "I don't think that an alien trading company is going to want to come to Greece. Philippos just wanted to check our economic shock-resistance with me. But… We're not a big country, or a rich country, and I doubt that the aliens will be interested in taking a holiday here. Unless you're going to tell me that I'm wrong?"

    "No, ClusterCorp doesn't run package holidays." I frown. "Though, actually, their form of FTL means that they could. Do you want to bring it up with Manga Khan?"

    "Hah!" Ploutos covers his mouth with his right fist, chuckling to himself for a few moments. "Ahem. Please tell me that you didn't do this for me?"

    "I didn't even want him here. I thought I was getting a LEGION fleet. A small one."

    "And would you have stopped it, if you had known in advance?"

    "I'd have asked Dox to send someone else, and if he wouldn't I'd have warned people."

    "That would certainly have spread the market panic out a little, but I don't think it would actually have helped in the round."

    "No, but they might have blamed me less."

    "Yes. How are you..? Managing." I raise my eyebrows. "I watched the broadcast of your meeting with the Security Council. Where you… Beat your head against your table."

    I shake my head. "That was just frustration, and the fact that I don't really care what they think of me."

    "I wouldn't be so quick to throw aside the usefulness of a good public image."

    "I think that was off the table after the Cake Incident." I sigh. "But really no one's talked to you about it? You're the world's leading financial expert."

    "Greece doesn't have a seat on the Security Council. Every government that does has their own favourite economists and fiscal policies. It will be a little while before I'm drawn into the web of contacts." He leans forwards. "Capitalist economies are only rational over the longer term. In the short term they are panicky and stupid. Particularly now. Do you know what High Frequency Trading is?"

    "Broadly."

    "You know, I… Used to be able to predict share movements… Gains, losses, rebalancings… Even in the short term, even irrational changes, I could predict them fairly well. And then some clever and probably quite rich person plugged a computer into my economy." He shakes his head. "Some men would kill for the blind faith machines which think for people receive. Now… Now I have no idea."

    "And in the longer term?"

    "Oh, just tell me every technology which Lord-Lantern Manga Khan plans on introducing, who he intends to sell it to, what raw materials he intends to deposit on our markets and what raw materials he intends to take away and I will be your oracle. Hmh." He smiles. "A poor choice of words in your case."

    I look away. "Yes. And I… Can't. There are all sorts of technologies he could introduce…"

    But what could he actually make a profit on? ClusterCorp employs economists, but understanding a system as complex as an industrialised planet in any detail takes decades. That's part of why I've been so hesitant. Usually, a merchant cartel in Manga Khan's position would supply products slightly ahead of what the planet could produce at a much lower cost. Which means that a place like Greece really isn't at risk, only the richest countries are. The cheap end of the manufacturing market won't be affected, agriculture won't really be affected… Directly, anyway. And neither will tourism, unless Manga Khan starts offering off-world tours. But he was pretty clear that he didn't mind providing 'security services', and I expect that he'd be looking for a free trade agreement in return. And Greece is pretty stable. I mean, there's Cyprus, but other than that…

    "Yes, it's been interesting watching the ripples from the new wave of power generation technologies, the patterns of investment and divestment. I'm writing a book on it, actually."

    "Okay, so investment in.. developing existing forms of power fell off a cliff. People haven't stopped building generators because it's going to be a while before coverage of the new generators is wide enough."

    Though the 'market disruptors' are putting a lot of effort into it. To expand as fast as they have they must have gotten a good deal of start up money from somewhere, or access to novel fabrication technology. Or maybe I'm underestimating human ingenuity? I'd ask Sephtian who got tapped for the magic-based stuff, but…

    "Yes, and?"

    "Companies which make or develop batteries are going up in value, oil products… The cost is probably going down. Electric cars still need lubricants and rubber. But demand isn't going to go up, their costs are just going to go down. Which means that prices will as well, and profitability might not change." I frown. "Actually, as production falls... Prices might not change at all. I… Don't know."

    "It's a complicated business. Made all the more complicated because I have to factor in the rate at which various market participants realise the things that I've realised."

    "Sounds like it will be a must-read for someone in my position. Let me know when it's published, I'll get a copy."

    "Of course. But going back to your original question, I don't think that Mister Blake's plan will work."

    "Why not?"

    "Lord-Lantern Manga Khan won't want to operate from a country with a vested interest in limiting his access. He'll want to work somewhere dependent on him. Somewhere small. An oil-producing nation would be a good bet, as they would have the ready cash to invest in the infrastructure he would want, but a growing awareness that their place in the global economy was about to take a hit. But of course, a good many of them are already closely aligned-."

    "Bialya."

    The civil war petered out, but the country is the model of a failed state. There's an 'official' government that controls almost no territory and is dependent on foreign aid for its income. Adom's moved away from helping the areas it controls due to a combination of the fact that they're getting help from UN agencies and his general contempt for the situation. But any of the claimants could accept a ClusterCorp presence and benefit from their security services and their own new role as a trading hub.

    "That's plausible." Ploutos nods. "Did Manga Khan say whether he intended to establish a permanent presence here, or is this more temporary?"

    "It sounded fairly permanent."

    "And will any other interstellar concerns follow him?"

    "Probably not. This isn't a rich region of space, and the last time it came to wider galactic attention it was because a lunatic built a giant fleet and was trying to kill everything that exists. We don't have the best reputation." I frown. "How would you handle this?"

    "I would appoint a Tyrant with full dictatorial authority to bypass normal United Nations decision-making, and have them set trade terms by force." He shrugs. "Unfortunately, certain historical events have made people wary of executive power. Even modern Greeks often don't understand how Greek democracy used to work."

    "I'm.. a little surprised-. You think modern democracy is mob rule?"

    He raises his eyebrows. "Isn't it?"
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2020
  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    3rd May 2018
    10:23 GMT -5


    I have to admit, after that business with the Get Out of Hell Free card I rather assumed that I wouldn't be working with Task Force X any longer. But…

    I don't think that Krona meant for my angelic abilities to interact with his tuning fork quite as they did, but I… Saw things. The structure of the cluster of parallel universes huddled together for warmth in the sea of raw chaos that is the Bleed. Patterns of action and identity which… Changed the way I think about things.

    "…any here present know of any reason why these two should not be joined in holy matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace."

    And… People.

    Scandal doesn't look around, but Knockout can't quite prevent herself from turning her head aside to glare at the witnesses.

    Mr Lawton shrugs, the gun strapped to his right forearm not moving even a centimetre from its position against the right side of the registrar's head.

    "Hey, no problem here. Hope you're happy together."

    He taps his barrel against the poor man's ear, who frantically nods. I did say this was completely unnecessary, but calling him out on his behaviour right this instant would be rude to the happy couple.

    "Then by the power vested in me by the State of Nebraska and by the Source I now pronounce you wife and wife. You may-"

    Oh, they've already started.

    "-now kiss one another."

    So even though I have the ring and personal lantern which Dr Waller promised me, I've stuck around. I've been out with Task Force X a couple of times since, and I'm confident that my presence has reduced the fatalities all around.

    Mr Lawton taps the registrar again.

    "Don't you have a book to sign?"

    "Yes-. I'll-. Just go and get it?"

    Mr Lawton smiles. "Sure." He stops smiling. "Slowly. No sudden movements."

    The two of them walk slowly towards the offices attached to the ceremonial chamber.

    And they're still going.

    "Ladies, while I'm glad that the two of you are happy, we do still have a mission to complete if you want that pardon."

    Crimson folds her arms across her chest and rolls her eyes at Knockout's behaviour.

    "Has living on Earth reduced you to the level of an animal in musth, mother? I should have stayed on Apokolips."

    I managed to acquire a Mother Box from Intergang last month. Strangely, the Apokoliptian forces that invaded Earth a few years ago were using them as simple explosives rather than using any of their more sophisticated functions. As far as I have been able to determine, they were taken in combat from New Genesis and making them explode was just about all they could do with them. Since I now possess a link to the Source, the one I recovered was far more agreeable. With DeSaad dead and Darkseid maimed, locating Knockout's daughter in Granny Goodness's orphanage while Apokolips was in anarchy was relatively easy.

    Knockout wasn't all that bothered about her daughter's whereabouts, but she appeared to appreciate that I was trying to do something nice for her.

    Knockout comes up for air, her gaze still fixed on her wife's face.

    "Someday, sour fruit of my womb, you will know what it is to love someone. Until then, please your squad leader by completing your objective. Without talking to her."

    Crimson rolls her eyes and stomps off, drawing her sword as she does so. She shoves the door open as she walks out so that it slams back once she's left.

    Knockout stares after her.

    "When I was her age, Granny had already beaten that attitude out of me."

    Scandal puts her right hand on her wife's left cheek and guides her face back to her.

    "That's not a good thing, Kay. You're not on Apokolips any more. You don't need to live like you're still there."

    Knockout smiles at her. "I would not dare permit myself this weakness if I were still on Apokolips."

    I politely bow my head. "If you will excuse me, I will keep an eye on the young lady."

    Knockout glances my way. "She can look after herself."

    Scandal nods at me while her wife's eyes are elsewhere.

    I smile and open a boom tube to the… Somewhat damaged street outside. The dismembered body of Equus is still where we left it, at the bottom of a furrow in the formerly well-tended garden outside. The severed ends of his cybernetics spark and crackle as his power plant continues to try and power the now-missing components, and even with-.

    Crimson shoves her sword through his forehead. That… Causes the sparking to stop and his eyes to dim.

    "You didn't need to do that."

    "He was my enemy."

    "Oh, come now; we both know that there are plenty of reasons for leaving an enemy alive."

    In the distance, the emergency services are finally being allowed past the cordon. I have already put out the fires and healed those amongst the wounded who survived, but the initial evacuation was necessarily haphazard.

    "In his case, we could have learned-."

    "What is love?"

    I regard her levelly as she extracts her sword and wipes it clean on his skin before striding back in the direction he came from. I spread my wings and fly after her.

    "Love is a type of intense emotional bond-."

    "Why does it let that small human control my mother?"

    "It… Doesn't, but it does encourage people to aid one another."

    "Control one another."

    I look ar-. Ah. I dart through the smashed in frontage of a nearby newsagent, pick up a chocolate bar, deposit payment next to the till and then fly back outside and hold it out to Crimson.

    "Do you want this?"

    She glances suspiciously at both me and it.

    "Yes?"

    "Why?"

    "Because it tastes good."

    "And why does it taste good?" She shrugs. "Because those amongst our ancestors who ate foods rich in sugar and fat generally survived periods of shortage, bestowing on their descendants a positive association with eating those foods. The fact that objectively there are far better things you could eat doesn't factor into it. In the same way, certain types of emotional response generally promote group survivability. As such, those people who are part of communities who feel them tend to survive, as do their members."

    I toss her the bar and she slashes it with her sword, neatly avoiding my 'mind control attempt'.

    "Their brains are lying to them."

    "If you're willing to expand the definition of 'lie' to encompass every type of sensation… Yes. Your mother and Scandal love one another, and as such have as strong a motivation as they possibly can to ensure one another's wellbeing in a way that mere self-interest could never hope to match. I hope that I will be able to teach this to you now that you are no longer living in Granny Goodness' orphanage."

    That earns me a slight frown, then she shakes her head.

    "Find the man we're looking for."

    I hum, the wondrous harmony of the universe playing around me, and a single off-key note…

    I point in its direction.

    "Mister Orr is in that direction. Let's not keep him waiting."
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2020
  5. Threadmarks: Plutonian
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Plutonian

    12th April
    08:43 GMT -1


    King Cyprian looks out across the foam-wreathed seascape surrounding Venturia's largest surface territory.

    "You know, I came up here once as a young man."

    His meeting with King Orin and company is scheduled to begin a little later today. It was agreed fairly early on that neither Venturia nor Poseidonis were appropriate venues. Aurania would have been even worse. Most other Atlantean cities were unacceptably close to Poseidonis, and Venturia didn't really have good relations with any of the ones who weren't. Thankfully, Queen Hippolyta was willing to host them both.

    "What did you think?"

    "I thought that the smell was unpleasant, and that at any moment I might fall into the horizon."

    "Can't do much about the first, but in my experience the second is very uncommon."

    "Obviously I knew that I wouldn't, but even in clear waters it isn't possible to see so far beneath the surface. And the sun…"

    He looks up for a moment.

    "It seemed so small. In the shallows the light diffuses through the water, so I assumed that as I kept going up it would become more diffuse. Instead, the sky was covered by silt and there was a tiny burning dot."

    He gestures towards it with his right hand.

    "It was a very strange experience. Though I'm proud to say that I toughed it out longer than all but one of my peers."

    "And then what?"

    "Then I was berated by my nursemaid, and then my father, and then my mother. And then my aunt, though for different reasons." He looks down for a moment. "My caregivers felt that I'd exposed myself to risk unnecessarily. My parents thought that I would harm my relationship with Queen Clea by reminding her of her defeat by Princess Diana, and thus reduce my chance of becoming her heir."

    "And did it?"

    "I don't think that it affected it one way or another. Most of my competition disqualified themselves in various ways. Sometimes, keeping your head down and your nose to the grindstone works." He lets out a quiet chuckle. "If attaining political power is your objective."

    "Wasn't it yours?"

    "No, not particularly. I was born to a high station, and I was aware of the responsibilities that gave me. I.. simply.. endeavoured to serve the state as best I could. As the more ambitious people around me crashed and burned."

    Another quiet chuckle, this one not particularly happy.

    "I didn't think that Queen Clea was ever actually going to die. Ah-." He shakes his head. "I know that's ridiculous; Atlantean Purebloods aren't immortal by any stretch of the imagination. But she defined our politics for so long, the idea of anyone -myself especially- taking over from her…"

    "I think I know how you feel. Of course, I'm not in the frame to take over from Queen Elizabeth."

    "I don't have any real objection to Lord-Lantern Manga Khan having it. The next class can just use one of the other islands. But what to do afterwards…"

    "Trade with the surface?"

    "I hesitate to say 'yes', but if Poseidonis can do it…" He takes a deep breath, then lets it out slowly. "We planned extensively for what we would do if Posiedonis ever became aggressive. But even after Arthur Curry became Crown Prince, we never really planned for peaceful interaction with the surface."

    "I'm told that you're not supposed to call him that."

    He turns his head my way. "Is it not the name he was born to? That he was raised under? I don't know what Queen Atlanna was thinking."

    "She was thinking that with a lot of the monarch's powers transferred to the senate, that her heir's focus should be international relations rather than internal affairs."

    "It's a little disheartening that she thought so little of us."

    "Did you ever try to reach out from your side?"

    "Yes. To Prince Orm."

    "Ah."

    "Quite. It seemed like we had a lot in common." He shrugs. "I tell myself that he fooled a great many people, but if his duplicity hadn't been uncovered by someone-"

    "Me."

    "-then-." He frowns. "Honestly?"

    "I disarmed and disabled him. Tracking him down was a team effort. You didn't know?"

    "A disadvantage of isolationism is that we're generally last with the news."

    "Well, word to the wise: if you're going to get into a fight, make sure that your invulnerable armour covers your entire body. Losing to a group of teenaged neophytes because it didn't can be rather embarrassing."

    "I'm under no illusions about my martial abilities. Though I'm… I'm not sure. 'Disappointed' doesn't seem quite right considering what he was trying to do, but knowing that he was defeated like that seems a little… Off."

    "Real life is frequently lacking in poetry. I suppose that ideally he should have been defeated in a climactic duel at the North Pole while undertaking a desperate attempt to pull off his master plan after having his identity revealed. But as it happened a group of youths only one of whom had ever met him before walked in on him and beat him into a coma. Heck, I can name a dozen American supervillains who died from gunshot wounds inflicted by random passers by, and a dozen more killed by police."

    And a few like Yellow Wasp who retire with a bag full of loot and their nemesis' infant son as a trophy and finally die in a car crash years later having not gone down for so much as speeding. That's pretty unsatisfying too.

    "I imagine-."

    My ring blinks, and King Cyprian looks down at it.

    "Is that our call?"

    "Probably." I raise it to eye level. "Answer."

    The head of Lantern Savenlovich appears over my ring.

    "What news?"

    "The Atlantean delegation has arrived and cleared the gate area. You are free to proceed."

    A pretty reasonable arrangement. While they are both the monarchs of their respective countries, Atlantis is larger, older, and more prosperous than the City-State of Venturia. Which naturally means that King Orin comes ahead of King Cyprian in the order of precedence.

    King Cyprian nods and raises his right hand towards his entourage, who begin moving towards us.

    "We'll be with you shortly. Illustres out."

    "I've been wondering about that. Is it wrong that I still consider myself Atlantean, even though I am no longer a resident of a part of the nation of Atlantis? It is our culture as much as theirs."

    I smile.

    "Try reading up on the Eastern Roman Empire some time."
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2020
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    13:02 GMT +3


    "Ho, Arachneros! Did they throw you out?"

    I turn at the sound of Zosime's voice, and raise my right hand in greeting as she marches down the street towards me.

    "No, but since the whole point of coming here is to get King Orin and King Cyprian to come to understand one another's state of mind, I felt that my ongoing presence was at best a distraction."

    She comes to a halt just before me, and I notice that her civilian clothing is cut to show off as much of her reflective skin as it can without passing beyond what Amazons consider 'polite' clothing.

    "And at worst?"

    "I'd appear to be a threat by one party to the other. And 'arachneros'? Really?"

    She makes an amused snorting noise, raises her right fist with her index and middle fingers extended and then curves them.

    "Okay, one, her genital slit isn't the right shape for that to do anything, two, she's got one on each side, so-"

    I raise both fists, both index and middle fingers extended.

    "-you'd want both hands or you'd leave half of her wanting-"

    Zosime doubles over, wracked by silent hysteria.

    "-and three, with the size difference it's really more-"

    I clench my fists and punch with my right fist while drawing my left back. Then I punch with my left while withdrawing my right. Right forwards left back, left back right forward.

    A small crowd is beginning to congregate, and those closest are giggling and whispering explanations to those further back.

    "-like that. And anyway, I wouldn't want to claim the title based on a single encounter."

    "Wha-? Whe-? When do you think you should g-g-get it?"

    "When she invites me back having sent her attendants out of the room and having arranged for eggsitters and grubsitters to look after her offspring, and I walk in to find her pre-lubricated with decorative lace negligee covering her thorax."

    Zosime is still silently guffawing, but now she moues and a faint moaning sound emerges as I lean closer.

    "And now perhaps you've learned better than to try and embarrass a discordian."

    "Yes. Learned."

    I straighten up.

    "Because let me tell you, our last meeting was purely professional. She's doing well, her branch of the Guild is doing well, and there are absolutely no drider babies."

    Zosime pulls herself upright and makes an effort to compose herself.

    "Drider?"

    "Like a centaur, but rather than having horse-parts-."

    Her eyes widen, her mouth wobbles and she raises her right hand. "N-no, no, I can picture it."

    "Of course, it's not like I'm the only one. When I visited, I found out that they-. I don't know if they were paying customers, or if it was a mutual interest thing, but there were several people more directly engaged than I was, and without my excuse."

    She looks at me in disbelief.

    "There..?"

    "I mean, okay, sailors, but given that most of them had mixed sex crews they clearly had alternatives."

    "Do the..? Male spiders look like..?

    I generate a life size construct of a regular Guilder.

    "Like that."

    One of the women on the crowd takes a step closer, peering at it in clear distaste.

    "With-? With that? Why would anyone knowingly do such a thing?"

    "Really?" I gaze at her levelly. She returns my gaze, giving her head a small shake. "You've been on this island for three thousand years, and you've never even considered looking for a companion who isn't a human woman?"

    A couple of women in the crowd look away, while I walk closer to the spider-sceptic and lay my right arm over her shoulder.

    "Because if so, as a disciple of Eris, I feel obliged to help you out. We could start with a member of another humanoid species, or someone totally non-corporeal? Or how do you feel about automata?"

    That gets a slightly larger portion of the crowd shuffling. Even I've heard the jokes about how popular 'demi-automata massage aids' have become, and I'm hardly ever here. I'm pretty sure that Philippus was blushing when she asked me about getting Themyscira's power grid set up.

    I donated a bleed torsion generator to the cause.

    The sceptic brushes my arm off.

    "I'm perfectly happy with my wives, thank you. And-"

    My ring blinks.

    "-I am not-."

    "I'm very sorry." I raise my ring so that it's more obvious. "I need to take this. Answer."

    The Guilder construct is replaced by a full-sized image of Koriand'r, in traditional Tamaranean dress. That gets more than a few appreciative looks from the Themysciran women.

    "Lantern Koriand'r, what can I do for you?"

    She smiles at me.

    "Illustres. I have… A situation which I think you would want me to bring to your attention."

    "Okay, thank you for your consideration. What is-"

    She looks at something slightly out of shot.

    "-it?"

    "I have been trying to improve relations between the Queen of the Spider Guild and the rest of Vega. It is.. difficult, but I will maintain the peace."

    "I'm glad to hear it."

    "But the Queen-."

    Something, a small Guilder, jumps onto her shoulders and peers in the direction of the 'camera'.

    "Daddy?!"
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2020
  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    13:07 GMT +3








    "HAHAHAHAHA!"















    "Pavlos?"











    "Are-? Are you alright?"













    12th April
    10:08 GMT


    I appear in the Spider Guild's base, physical Koriand'r replacing construct Koriand'r.

    "Lantern Koriand'r, could-."

    The young Guilder jumps at me, and I gently catch… Her? In a construct bubble.

    "Could you please explain this?"

    The young Guilder waves all four of her forelimbs at me.

    "Hello Daddy!"

    "Rather urgently."

    "The Spider Queen is an expert in biological engineering-."

    "No. No. There is no way that human and Guilder genetics are similar enough to make hybridisation possible even if she somehow got a genetic sample from me, and I don't think that she ever got the opportunity."

    "No, she-"

    The young Guilder tries running up the side of the bubble, fails, then tumbles backwards to the bottom.

    "Owie."

    "-was created by the Queen. She designed the child's mind based on the lessons you wrote in the book you gave her. Her intent was to create someone who would instinctively make a good Orange Lantern."

    "Okay, that's-"

    I take a moment to get a better look at the young Guilder as she picks herself up. Now that I look, there are several divergences between her morphology and a typical Guilder. No hair, though that could just be an age thing. The hard edges of her carapace are smoother and more rounded, and rather than a dull yellow-brown she's a more appealing peach.

    "-not too surprising." Considering what I did in the time that I was here, it makes perfect sense that she'd want someone to join us if that was at all possible. That wasn't why I gave her the book, but from her point of view creating a specialised strain makes more sense than teaching a non-specialised individual. "Why is she calling me 'Daddy'?"

    The Guilder in question gets her feet back under her and stands facing me.

    "Because I need to be the bestest Lantern ever and that means I need to learn from you!"

    "Okay! Okay. Okay. Congratulations, you made about a hundred Themyscirans laugh harder than they have in over a thousand years."

    She moves her pedipalps into a configuration which makes it look like she's smiling.

    "Yay!"

    "However, I will warn you now that if I decide to offer you a ring-" And if I don't and Dox hears about this then he will. "-it will not be until you are physiologically mature."

    "Not-yay!"

    Ring, updated internal map… Thank you.

    "Lantern Koriand'r, can I assume that you brought this matter to my attention the moment you found out about it?"

    She nods. "That is what I did."

    "Thank you, that was the correct thing to do." She smiles. "I'm going to talk to the Queen now. You're free to remain, or attend to your other duties."

    "I.. think that I would like to remain."

    "Very well."

    I rise off the floor of… Looks like a… Gymnasium? And head out into the main corridor, the young Guilder's bubble floating along-

    "Wee!"

    -besides me. The facility has grown since my last visit, but they appear to be expanding their facilities on the surface rather than digging down further. That makes sense; they don't feel the need for kilometres of rock between them and a potential orbital bombardment. And it makes it easier for them to offer additional services to their customers.

    I wonder if they've considered a space elevator? Or several? Moving large quantities of raw material into orbit costs a lot of energy if you're using teleporters. Though I.. suppose that they don't have a lot of the restrictions on energy generation techniques that I'm used to on Earth.

    "Young lady, what-"

    "Yes, Daddy?"

    "-is-? Why are you calling me that?"

    "Because you're the bestest-."

    "Plenty of Lanterns think that I'm the best and want to learn from me without calling me 'Daddy'."

    "You told Mummy what to put in me! There's no way Mummy would have made me if she hadn't met you."

    "She might have made a Guilder like you who had completely resolute will instead."

    "And then she could call Green Man 'Daddy' or Guy Gardner 'Daddy'. I think he'd be a good Daddy. But she wouldn't be me, and the first thing I want is to exist."

    "Existing is generally a good place to start. Did the Queen mention that I can see other people's emotions?"

    "It was in the book."

    We fly over a group of Guilders, whose mandibles click nervously when they see me.

    "So..?"

    Her body droops.

    "So you can see the real reasons why I want things."

    "And?"

    "And I call you 'Daddy' to try and make you feel responsible so that you'll agree to teach me."

    "Please remember that I don't like people lying to me."

    "And the real reason why I'm this colour and why my face looks like this is so you'll find me cute!"

    "That's an uphill struggle you've got there. Couldn't the Queen have altered your physiology more radically? There are plenty of humanoid species with pseudo-insectoid physiological traits."

    "But that wouldn't help the rest of the Nest! If I don't look like a Spider they'll just say 'oh, some random humanoid did something good' and keep on thinking that the Spider Guild is evil!"

    "The Spider Guild does eat people."

    "Then I need to show them a new way of doing things, too!"

    We reach the outer blast door leading to the Queen's chamber, and I land in front of the guard.

    "I think you know why I'm here."

    They cringe slightly.

    "The Queen will see you at once."
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2020
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    10:14 GMT


    The Queen's throne room looks a little different to how it was last time I was here. The computer equipment looks slightly more sophisticated, and the room is generally a bit more tidy… In a way which the Guilders I've spoken to said that they don't usually bother with. It definitely has a more sci-fi office tint. Amalak's influence, I wonder?

    "Mummy!"

    The young Guilder scrabbles at her bubble again as the Queen gives her her full attention. I place the bubble on the ground and dismiss it, prompting the girl to scuttle across the ground towards the Queen.

    "Daughter."

    The Queen shifts position slightly, causing her midwifery team to hurriedly move in order to field her next egg. I scan it, but it appears to be a regular Guilder. The Queen then picks our her daughter up and bends to deposit her upon her thorax. She takes a moment to make sure that her miniature self has a grip on her carapace, then returns her attention to me and Koriand'r.

    "Illustres. I assume that Lantern Koriand'r informed you of my daughter's existence."

    "Yes. Aren't.. almost all of the female Guilders around here your daughters?"

    "I am their surrogate. With most of them I have little to no genetic relationship. And similarly little social one, other than as their ruler. This one is based on my genetic template, and I am ensuring our long term social compatibility by spending time tutoring her, rather than dosing her with obedience hormones."

    The small Guilder-.

    "What's her name?"

    "She doesn't have one yet. Informally, we call her 'Princess'."

    "And not, I'm assuming, when representatives from other Nests are around."

    "We have fallen far enough that they do not condescend to speak with us."

    "That must be convenient."

    "Yes, immensely. I think that some of the closer ones are waiting for us to beg for their aid. So long as they believe that we are being compelled at gunpoint they will not attempt to intervene on their own initiative, either to aid us or oppose us. Once we have paid off our treaty obligations, things will change. I am presently designing a puppet Hive Father type so that we will be able to resume diplomatic relations with our fellows at some point in the future. I will raise him myself as well."

    "Good to know that you're thinking ahead, and investing in regional stability."

    "Potential aggressors are monitoring us so closely that -perversely- they feel absolutely no need to raise arms against us. Once our treaty obligations are concluded, I may well permit the monitoring to remain in place. By that time Amalak's military forces should be potent enough to ensure that we will simply not need a substantial military to ensure our safety."

    "That's surprisingly… Trusting."

    "Amalak strikes me as rational in most areas. If I continue to make it clear in word and deed that we are not threats to him, it is almost certain that he will not attack us just because."

    I nod. Good to hear. And… In the very long term, this is a potential avenue for reforming the entire Spider Guild.

    "Why did Princess address me as 'Daddy'?"

    The Queen reaches back with one arm, and Princess rubs herself against it.

    "A great deal of what I have relayed to her concerns you and your outlook. Since she does not have a biological father in the conventional sense, you are the closest to a male role model that she has. Spider Guilders do generally form monogamous pairs for the purpose of raising their young… Perhaps she felt the lack."

    I look inside her and let my ring's body language analysis systems dissect every part of her behaviour in search of deception. It's a little difficult. I can see desires and things people have strained to work towards regardless of their desires, but I can't see things they just did without any strong feeling at all. I suspect that the Queen knows why Princess did it, but as far as I can tell she wasn't specifically tutored-.

    I half-turn.

    "Lantern Koriand'r, exactly how much information on Earth culture have you shared with the-? With anyone?"

    Because while I obviously didn't specifically mention that either 'Superboy' or 'Superman' were kryptonian in my book, that information obviously exists on the ring-based records Koriand'r and Komand'r both hold. I don't want Amalak knowing about our kryptonian residents until I'm ready for it.

    Koriand'r doesn't appear to know what I'm getting at.

    "Some information on your cultural practices." She smiles. "I have made a study of Earth's computer games ever since you told us that you were making one about Vega. I am greatly enjoying Harvest Moon."

    Fortunately, Vega doesn't recognise Earth copyright law.

    "Koriand'r, while you're welcome to review the entire database yourself, I would rather that you hesitate before sharing its content with anyone else. I'm already dealing with.. one interstellar mercantile company which our political structures are struggling to cope with. I'd rather not add to that for a decade or so."

    The Queen leans forward slightly. "We don’t have spare ships to send to your home. And even if we did, it would take them a considerable time to get there. Such distances may be small to Lanterns, but to our ships they are more substantial."

    Koriand'r nods.

    "Adam Blake has not hesitated to tell us about human culture. Tamaran knew the location of Sol in the sky long before your arrival."

    "Oh, I trust Tamaran near absolutely. It's the people who could get that information from you that I'm less inclined to trust." I lock eyes with Princess. "Like the young Guilder who decides to use what she knows about our social structures to manipulate me into taking her on as my apprentice. I did not appreciate that."

    The Queen takes a firm grip on Princess, picks her up and lifts her out in front of her.

    "Princess. The Illustres is not your Daddy. You know full well that you are only related to me."

    "Yes, Mummy. Sorry, Illustres."

    "Remember this, Princess. You must consider how your desires interact with the desires of others. You wanted to spend time with me and you took what you thought was the route most likely to make it happen. You failed to consider my likely response to that, despite knowing about human family structures and my own interpersonal relationships."

    "But… You were angry that Kal-El didn't spend any time with Kon-El."



    Koriand'r shared that bit. Marvellous.

    "Kon-El didn't have a parent or caregiver. You do. I came here immediately to say this to your face where Kal-El simply avoided Kon-El."

    She nods jerkily, and I move my attention back to the Queen.

    "Alright, one awkward situation dealt with. Is there anything you need from me, or is everything working here?"

    "Between our own resources and those of our partners, we are meeting our needs."

    "Glad to hear it. Koriand'r, are you available for detached duty?"

    "Yes. Why, is Earth-" She smiles excitedly, her environmental shield brightening slightly. "-in need of my aid?"

    "It usually needs something, but I think that having at least one Tamaranean with direct experience might be helpful. If you can spare a few days, I'll escort you there myself."
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2020
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    04:14 GMT -6


    "…not sufficient?"

    Luna snorts, then realises that her forehooves are on the table between us. She blinks, then breathes in and out before sitting back down in her seat.

    "Your pardon."

    "No, no, you raise an interesting point that.. speaks right to my pseudo-cutie mark."

    She smiles in amusement. "We suppose that you are not aware that in Equestrian society, speaking of ones own special talent to one who does not share it marks one as a frightful bore. But… We suppose that you have been so courteous as to listen to Us pontificate 'pon Our minor vexations. Pray, bore Us."

    "If I can't make my own specialist subject sound interesting, then burn my mark off with acid and brand me with a bore-mark!"

    "That punishment was once practiced in Dream Valley. But wouldst your flesh not merely grow back?"

    I frown in mock indignation. "What, you think I'm stupid? Of course it would! You think I'd volunteer to get maimed?"

    "We suppose not. So then, oh potent pontificator of perfect pony presence and power politics, lecture Us the lessons that Our learn'ed tutors neglected."

    "I think it comes down to legitimacy, really. What is it in pony society that says 'this pony is someone I should listen to'?" I incline my head slightly. "Well?"

    "Our sister is this land's figure of authority and reverence, having ruled unchallenged this past millennia."

    "And what's unique about Celestia? She's physically large and powerful, magically immensely powerful, old and wise, and -perhaps most importantly- she's been doing the job for so long that no one can imagine anyone else doing it."

    "So either We are doomed, or We should wear platform hoofshoes."

    "Luna… Let me tell you the tale of Stanley the Tool. Stanley was a soldier, raised to the rank of Warlord for his good service to his king, and he lived in a land where the word of a nation's monarch was absolute. A noble might rule a city, but their position was not held in virtue of their lineage but on the whim of their overlord. At any moment they could be recalled to the capital, transferred to another city… Or simply killed with a single spoken sentence. The monarchs of that land held that the Titans who created their world had endowed monarchs with rights and powers over all of those they ruled, and that to question that system was the highest heresy."

    "And in this land, there were great tools left behind by the Titans from when they made the world. In a world with many magic artefacts of limited utility and power, these tools not only outstripped them all in power but had such a strange appearance that they were clearly not beholden to the same rules as the rest of the world. And one day, Stanley stumbled upon one of these tools. Moreover, he attuned himself to it, gaining the ability to draw upon its greatest power. Thus began his rise, from Warlord to Chief Warlord, eventually gaining such renown that his monarch anointed him his heir in spite of his lowly origin."

    "And then his monarch died, and Stanley became king. And then he committed heresy. Because it seemed to him that if authority -ultimately- came from the approval of the Titans… Then surely the greatest sign of their approval was not the happenstance of one's birth, but whether one was considered worthy by them to bear the very tools with which they created the world."

    "Naturally, none of his neighbours -all monarchs, none attuned to one of the Titan's tools- agreed with him, and the result was a rather large war."

    Luna nods. "And his arrogance at believing himself uniquely empowered was his undoing, thus proving him wrong?"

    "It was more of a bloody draw, but that's not really the point. Stanley the Tool undermined the mandate of all of the monarchs he went on to fight. Their pride could not let him stand, so all manner of old enemies rallied together and against him. So where does legitimacy come from in Equestria?"

    "Our Sister, who has ruled for a millennia."

    "Does she appoint every political figure in the country? Is university level education available to everyone with the intellectual capacity to benefit from it?"

    "No, and.. no. Those with hereditary peerages hold a majority of offices, those with wealth most of the rest. At least, outside of small villages."

    "Princess Celestia could drop into any of those places and be obeyed, but in practice, the ponies there are mostly following others."

    "We suppose that is true. We are not certain that we see the similarity to this 'Stanley the Tool'."

    "For most of the last thousand years there has been one alicorn. Now there are five, and Sunset is openly auditioning for the sixth. And then there are the non-alicorn former bearers of the Elements of Harmony, whose great deeds have kept this country… The world, safe from monstrous evils. Of the five of them, none come from armigerous families, but all were judged and found worthy by embodiments of the virtues which -in theory- all Equestrians revere."

    "And then we have the hereditary nobility. In feudal states, they might have the loyalty of their tenants. But as you pointed out, all ponies regard Celestia as the highest authority. They are educated and wealthy, but whatever deeds caused their forebears to be ennobled… Each time Equestria has been tested recently, their efforts have been conspicuous by their absence. So if tomorrow the bearerherd went through Sunset's process and Celestia created them duchesses and awarded them lands… Or did so anyway…"

    She nods slowly.

    "What little natural authority they still possess would be gone."

    "One alicorn cannot rule a country of any size. How many ponies would have to ascend before non-alicorns are no longer required in top-level government roles? Individuals of great ability and virtue… And they're ageless, so this isn't a case of a new noble family being created and their descendants just become part of the ruling class. They can keep doing the job until they don't want to any more and… Well, Celestia's still going after a thousand years."

    "You believe that they are reacting against me… Because they fear that their time as this nation's elite is coming to an end."

    "Mi Amore Cadenza was a peasant who was elevated by magic. She knew nothing about governance and yet Celestia effectively made her Crown Princess, then gave her a city to run. Was Blueblood in the frame for that?"

    "Neigh, he was not."

    "Me, I'd have sent someone with experience as a big city mayor. But Celestia sent a guard captain and the other alicorn, and no one questioned it." I shake my head. "Equestria's elite have no reason to ease your path. You're a threat they can't deal with."

    She sits back on her haunches, looking thoughtful.

    "Then what would you suggest?"

    "There are two basic paths. Firstly, ingratiate yourself. Probably marry someone from a notable family. Fit in. Be part of the herd and work through existing power structures. Alternatively-."

    "Simply plough through them. We are reasonably confident that We know which option you favour."

    "Naturally. You're mine."

    "We are uncertain how we feel about being described as property."

    "Luna…" I look away for a moment. "I genuinely can't tell if… You're not interested in me, if I'm coming on too strong… You can tell me. I won't be offended."

    "No, that-. We admit to being somewhat out of practice with such matters. You do not appreciate your mares playing 'hard to get'?"

    I lean across the table.

    "No, it's confusing and annoying. I'm huge and powerful and in personal matters I'm worried that I might simply be intimidating people into going along with what I want. You not telling me what you want and giving mixed signals -especially when I'm trying to be as direct and plain as possible- is a recipe of misunderstanding and frustration. I'm happy going fast and I'm happy going slow but I need to know that you actually want to go."

    "Ah. Then We will be plain too. You are courteous and passionate, and have about you a kindness at odds with your occasionally brusque manner. We are most certainly interested, but perhaps in such matters actions are of more import than words."

    She leans across the table and kisses me.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2020
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    10:23 GMT


    "…outside Vega much?"

    "No." Koriand'r looks around as we head for open space, carefully noting the position of the Spider Guild's tugs, Amalak's patrol ships and the less orderly vessels of the Jarko-affiliated pirates. "Since the risk from the psions and the gordanians was so great, I wanted to remain close enough to stop them immediately."

    I nod approvingly. "Very responsible."

    I take a moment to look around myself, not at the ships but at the desires of the crew. Not a full analysis, but detailed enough to pick up anything immediately dangerous. No… No, they all seem happy enough. A few of Jarko's people aren't entirely reassured by their hosts' good behaviour, and they're only here because Jarko got annoyed and threatened to trade their slots away. But they're hunkering down, rather than being actively problematic.

    "And of course there is a great deal of work to do on Tamaran and Emana."

    I slow to a stop.

    "You understand that my invitation to Earth is just an invitation. If you believe that you are needed here, you are at liberty to remain here."

    "I understand, but-" She smiles at me. "-I want to go with you. I want to see your homeworld. And there is a problem in my training that I hope time away will give me a new perspective on."

    "Is it something you want to talk about? Keeping Orange Lanterns on an even keel is my job."

    "I will, but not yet."

    Odd. Tamaranean culture usually encourages openness and honesty about personal strife. Oh, I suppose she spent a lot of her childhood on Okaara. Their attitudes are rather different.

    "As you wish, but I'm here whenever you want to talk. See you on Earth."

    Space around me warps, orange light shading the stars as they fly past-.

    I stop in the middle of interstellar space.

    Ring, where's Koriand'r?

    The ring pings a location some distance behind me. Ugh, of course.

    Space warps again as I fly back towards her, stop and turn around, this time ensuring that I'm only warping space to the same degree that she does.

    "Sorry. I don’t actually work with other Orange Lanterns all that much."

    "You are very fast."

    "It's why I want to help clear your mind. But perhaps if I..?"

    She stops her own space warping and I carry her along in mine.

    "My strength is a product of the clarity of my desires. I might not know how best to achieve my aims but I always know what I want and why."

    "Do you think that every Orange Lantern should try to become stronger?"

    "I believe that every Orange Lantern should engage in self-reflection. Larfleeze was strong -far stronger than me- because he could obsess about everything. He could want whatever was in front of him with insane voracity. But he achieved little, even on the world where he spent millennia. So I try to encourage that self-reflection rather than obsessive focus at the expense of rationality. Of course, that doesn’t-"

    We exit the warp a moderate distance away from Earth. The planet is clearly visible, as is the moon and the Clustership.

    "-mean that every Orange Lantern who manages that is exactly my type."

    "There is another Orange Lantern here?"

    "Lantern Khan. Whom Clarissi Dox deployed, allegedly to help me."

    My ring starts blinking, and I try to pretend that it isn't.

    .-.. --- .-. -.. .- -. -.. -- .- -. --. .-

    It's not like I don't know what it's saying.

    "Forgive me if I'm coming off as self-pitying. I'm fully aware that Tamaran would have loved to be able to call upon Lantern aid as easily as I did for.. so many years. The ClusterCorp's presence just represents a social challenge that my world isn't.. quite ready for."

    "Adam explained it to me, but I don't think that I understood."

    "It's what we native English-speakers call a 'first world problem'. But I'll explain on Themyscira. I probably need to give my countrywomen oxygen by now."

    I transition around and down-

    12th April
    13:26 GMT +3


    -into the same street in Themyscira-.

    "Oh, don't you people have-"

    "HAHAHAHA!"

    "-lives?!"

    "H-ow-? Is your daughter? And-. And her mothahahahaha!"

    "The Queen's fine, Princess is a manipulative little wretch who will not be referring to me as being her father in any sense again because I'm not her father."

    Zosime's keeping it together, but it's clearly a close-run thing.

    "Was she..? Seeing other men… Without your knowledge?"

    "She doesn't need men to reproduce."

    "Just for her pleasure?"

    That came from the crowd.

    "I haven't asked, I don't want to know."

    Though… All those scans I have of her physiology.. tend to indicate that she can't 'interface' with other Guilders, and there aren't males of her particular morphology because she was supposed to be a living incubator. I-.

    Koriand'r appears in a flash of orange, and immediately the women of Themsycira have something better to look at than the deadbeat male sexual deviant.

    Zosime elbows me as the two parties regard one another.

    "Did you pick up the wrong one?"

    Koriand'r smiles warmly as the crowd.

    "Hello everyone! I am Princess-Lantern Koriand'r of Tamaran, and I am delighted to be here! Please, show me your world!"

    "Okay, I'm-"

    The crowd flows past me to mob her.

    "-heading back to-."

    Zosime pats me on the shoulder.

    "No one's listening, Pavlos."

    "Yes, and that's an improvement. I'm going back to the talks. Please make sure that no one hassles her too much."
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2020
  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th January 2005
    19:12 GMT +5:45


    Komand'r stalks along the corridor of Shadow Spire, and I.. walk behind her. She's been on edge since we got back and she refuses to talk to me about it. My people skills aren't all that great, but I'd have thought…

    I love her, she loves me. Why is this-? Why can't she..?

    There aren't a lot of Shadow Cabinet operatives around. With only twenty or so of us on the planet… That I know about, anyway. I certainly wouldn't put it past Dharma to have a whole lot more people on retainer. But the point is, we have lives. We have jobs. We don't hang around the command centre that mostly exists to keep the brains of the operation safe and informed.

    "Where is he?!"

    "Just to the-."

    Krona.

    I appear next to her, and point to the door leading to Dharma's office.

    "That's his office, but-."

    Komand'r flies at it, shoving it inward against its hinges and snapping it off the wall!

    Dharma is standing just outside of door range without any breakable object between him and Komand'r. Ramon's with him, but-. Yes, looks like he got pulled in for bodyguard duty. I'm not too worried about him. He.. kind of approves of my direct action approach, and he does owe me for boosting his raw power by about a million times.

    His ability is to transform parts of himself into other animals. I still can't believe no one had asked him whether or not he could do kryptonians before.

    We make momentary eye contact as Komand'r faces down Dharma. I shrug, apologetically. He nods sympathetically.

    Komand'r's eyes are glowing as she floats at looking-down-on-you height. Dharma's eyes aren't focused, and his head isn't really orientated on her.

    "Shall I answer your questions, or would you like to ask them first?"

    "Why haven't you got any jobs for us? Is the world suddenly fine? Because it didn't look fine!"

    "The world isn't fine. It has never been fine and it will probably never be fine. I see that every day. But that isn't what you want to ask."

    "Well if you answer it then maybe I'll ask something else!"

    "I do not have any tasks for you because every time I look at the result of assigning a task to you I see the outcome becoming worse."

    "What? How can killing monsters make things get worse?"

    "That is something that I am trying to determine. I do not like having my operatives unavailable. I suggest going back to Jump City. There always seems to be something-."

    "We can't go there because my stupid sister made me promise not to kill anyone!"

    "It doesn't matter. I only suggested it because you seem to-."

    "So give me something or I'll just kill someone at random!"

    "The only person in Jump City who can cause a true catastrophe is Raven, and you have already refused to kill her." His right hand drifts to his belt, and I see that he's got a swatch of fabric I brought him torn from Ms Roth's cloak tucked into it. "Yes… Only a few years, now. Are you sure that you won't reconsider?"

    "No! Yes, I won't 'reconsider'! I like her!"

    I take a step closer.

    "Dharma, if you could.. just come up with something. It doesn't even have to be-."

    Dharma steps left, right hand darting out to touch Komand'r's left leg while his left taps my chest. He blinks as I step past him to catch Komand'r's fist as she ow swings at him-.

    Her eyes go out and she drops to the floor as I pick myself up and gently test-ow, yep, that's broken. I stand-.

    And I sit down again. Oh dear. That… Hurts. And I feel dizzy and the room's blurring.

    Komand'r is just in front of me, eyes wide with concern as she stares into my eyes and then looks at my shattered armour plates.

    Then she turns back to Dharma.

    "That was your fault!"

    You'd think that a superhero world… Heck, a superhero team, would have all sorts of advanced healing options. If that is the case, they're not selling them in places where I can buy them. The best I've been able to get hold of is some magic stones that increase the human body's natural healing speed by about one fifth and a 'may cause malignant tumours' stem cell injector. And of course aliens are no help.

    And -refusal to murder her notwithstanding- I don't think Rachel likes me enough to heal me directly.

    "…risk of sending you out in your current state."

    Ramon is actually standing between them now, ready to hold her back if she goes for Dharma again. Not sure how annoyed I should be about him not using some of that super speed to shield me, but I suppose that's not what he's here for.

    "You knew that was going to happen!"

    "For about half a second before it did, yes, but-."

    Komand'r's about to go critical and I'm being weak.

    I let out a wince-gasp as the red light flare through me, basic.. blood magic and a touch of the Red patching some of my injuries. Or at least patching them over. My arm is still going to need a splint, but at least I can see straight.

    Komand'r's attention immediately switches to me as she revises her assessment of my injuries then-.

    "Komand'r, stop taking it out on him. Tell me what's going on. You've gone longer than this between missions before. I want to help and I don't understand."

    She stares at me, her face falling.

    Then she half looks at Dharma and Ramon.

    "Get out."

    Dharma's already walking through the door-space. Ramon gives me a decidedly dubious look. I nod, and he follows our employer out.

    "Was it Kron-?"

    "Yes!" … "No."

    She starts pacing, fists balled and stutter-glowing.

    "I was trapped! Powerless! Those.. robots just..! Stuck me in a cell like I was so weak I wasn't even worth killing!"

    "Komand'r, there's always someone stronger and tougher. You told me-."

    She stops, facing away from me.

    "It made me think of the psions. Being strapped into their machine. Being… Being strapped to a table while they experimented on me to see how long it took me to die."

    She takes a few breaths.

    "I hate it. Why didn't-? All the-. Yous let me kill him?"

    "I don't know." I carefully come to my feet, and I spot Komand'r notice out of the corner of her eye and then start to move towards me to help before stopping herself. "But I know that I love you and I want to help. And if we can't hunt down Krona… Maybe we can hunt down the psion responsible for your transformation?"
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2020
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    14:08 GMT +3


    I ignore the laughter as I walk uphill towards the inner city plaza.

    I ignore the rigid expressions of the gate guards, though I-. Someone came up and told them while they were on duty. That was unprofessional. I'll see if I can track down Philippus and talk to her about some sort of shared training session with another country's military.

    I ignore the way that the guards around the plaza try to avoid looking at me. See if I tell them about the hot orange alien princess visiting.

    I don't ignore Lantern Savenlovich, because she's my best option for getting information on how things are going without sticking my head through the doorway. She's standing outside the Temple of Athena and appears to be considering going inside before she spots me.

    "Orange Lantern."

    I can't tell from her face whether anyone told her or not. Of course, people who can't focus on the relevant and ignore the irrelevant don’t get green power rings.

    "Lantern Savenlovich. You may as well use my name. There are three Orange Lanterns on Earth at the moment, not counting the loaner I gave Ghia'ta."

    "She did not use that in our training session."

    "She's trying to overcome an upbringing where she was repeatedly told that the other colours were inherently evil." I nod to the entrance. "Thinking of going inside? It's basically just Themyscira's national library. You don't need to pray or anything."

    I hesitate, and then look upwards.

    "'Just' in the sense that 'library' is its primary function, not that its function as a library is unimportant."

    "The way you looked upward does not reassure me."

    "I can't afford to alienate any more gods. Besides, I like libraries."

    "Perhaps I will do so later. Besides, I am concerned about the idea of coming to the attention of the Greek gods."

    "Oh, most of them aren't all that bad. I have positive working relationships with several."

    "I understand that strange things can happen to people who involve themselves with such beings."

    "Yes, but look around. This is the only country on the planet where the worship of the Olympians is common, and there isn't that much-."

    "Please explain to me how you impregnated a spider."



    "I didn't, the girl just said that because she wanted me to feel responsible. The Spider Queen is a geneticist of considerable skill, and did her best to create a Guilder who thinks like me-"

    Lantern Savenlovich closes her eyes for a moment.

    "-as a way to get into the Orange Lantern Corps. The Queen thinks that the only way for her to survive in the long term is to reform the entire Spider Guild, and we're the next step."

    "The small spider is not your daughter."

    "That is correct."

    "Good. Then perhaps I will risk the library."

    I nod. "I'm sure that they'll appreciate having a new patron. How are the talks going?"

    "Polite. Icy. Aquaman is angry, but controlled. King Cyprian is far more relaxed."

    "All of his worst possible outcomes have vanished. Nothing he could be asked for presents an existential problem for Venturia so this can't go wrong. For King Orin on the other hand he's having to tacitly admit that he's going to lose a city and the most he can do is make them take extra steps. And he's finding out how badly advised he was, which has got to be annoying."

    "If he blames this on his advisers then I will lose respect for him."

    I shrug.

    "Have you read up on his history?"

    "I have read the Justice League reports."

    I shake my head.

    "No, his personal history. The only Atlantean he met before his eighteenth birthday was his mother. He grew up in the United States. And even after getting intensely tutored in Atlantean customs, he's still an outsider in a lot of ways. That's why he became a superhero and left running the country to his brother."

    "Ocean Master." She frowns slightly. "If he was to be king, why was he raised outside of Atlantis?"

    "The official reason is that his mother Queen Atlanna wanted him to know surface world culture so that he could lead Atlantis in fully integrating with the rest of human civilisation. But I have to admit, I've… Wondered if Queen Atlanna dumped him on his father until she'd firmly established her control of Atlantis so she wouldn't have to deal with the social consequences of an unplanned out of wedlock royal pregnancy."

    "Then why bring him back?"

    "I'm not really sure. I mean, Orm wasn't actually a Purist and he was a competent administrator." I shrug. "I can't think of a rational reason for it. Maybe I was being unduly suspicious."

    "People do not always do things for rational reasons. Or at least reasons which seem rational to other people."

    "Speaking from personal experience?"

    "I devoted my professional life to keeping Roscosmos going. As Russia empowered the oligarchs and nationalists, I tried to keep us active in space."

    "Yes, and you said that you only kept your ring because the Director said he'd arrange things so that you weren't missed."

    "Yes, he said that. And he has kept his word. You have seen Starfire's ship?"

    "Yes? I… Didn't think they could replicate it."

    "That is quite true. But they learned enough when working on his ship to obsolete all of Roscosmos's rockets. So he did not so much as increase the budget of Roscosmos as appropriate its budget for his space fleet."



    "The Russian Federation has a military space fleet?"

    "A small one. And it is not as advanced as the ships which we are both familiar with. They are going to unveil it officially by flying to the ClusterShip…" She creates a watch construct. "In about half an hour."

    Why is it that the one person on this planet who is doing what I want without needing to be told to is the head of Russia's military superhuman development program?

    "Is it purely military?"

    "At the moment it is about waving the flag. I think that the President will want to see how the world reacts before he makes any final decisions. There would be no point making elaborate plans if it turns out that China and America are both doing the same."

    "China's trying to use Durlan technology, so they're not really getting anywhere. America… Doesn't as far as I know. But hey." I smile. "Maybe this will spur everyone else on?"
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2020
  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    08:08 GMT -5


    "And done."

    I open my eyes, sitting up as I carefully look over the hundreds of tiny tattoos which now cover my body. As I watch as they fade, the token shapes absorbed into my augmented metaphysique. But I make sure to note exactly what they look like. Even now, even knowing that the person who worked on me is literally incapable of wanting to act contrary to my interests, I'm not entirely comfortable putting myself in her hands.

    I know that evil overlords traditionally aren't good at trusting people, but in my defence, this is Circe.

    I put my rings back on my fingers, opening and closing my fists as my environmental shield re-engages. "Is it working?"

    She triggers her Nabu-ring to conjure an ankh and presses it against my chest. The golden light of Nabu's totemic image fades and fails almost immediately. And I can't help but feel a little sorry for my alter-ego. As remarkable as his achievements are, he had Constantine and Sackville create his tattoos before he fully investigated what micro-inscriptions could achieve. That's the problem with being an early adopter, I suppose.

    "Thank you. Good work."

    A blush of pleasure appears on her face, and the illusion covering the orange of her irises flickers slightly.

    "I'm happy to be of service."

    And as Alucard would say, she means it too.

    I float off the bier and then don my clothes and my armour. And inwardly I sigh. I thought I had everything covered, but a parallel universe version of me went and trumped me. Merging with the Ophidian? Achieving enlightenment? Okay, that was a desperation hail Mary, but still... I can't deny that I'm impressed. And letting Krona get the drop on me like that. I'll be rewriting a few Standard Operating Procedure documents, I don't mind telling you.

    "How long will it take you to incorporate this new information into the curriculum?"

    She shakes her head.

    "None of it really changes what we teach at the entry level. We could improve the tattoos the Atlantean battlemage students receive, but it might limit what they can do later in their lives."

    I frown. "Don’t the tattoos they already use do that?"

    "No, they're weak enough that they can be removed far more easily." Her eyes widen slightly as an idea occurs. "But we could switch them over to enchanted bracers entirely. The bindings the other Constantine developed would work perfectly to enable a switch over from body tattoos. Ah-." She looks nervously at me. "It wouldn't have worked for you, the warding tattoos wouldn't allow for it."

    "Don't worry. I understand that technical specialists need more precision that non-specialists like myself. Let Queen Mera know that you have my approval."

    Circe nods. "And I'll try and find our version of this 'Sephtian'. There's no reason why we can't recruit him just as easily as your doppelgänger did. A soft sell; special measures won't be necessary." I nod. "A shame about our Constantine."

    I nod again. I hadn't realised that he was so principled. Even after I got hold of his brain, he preferred to die rather than be controlled. I can respect that. And it was a useful lesson; if you really want to keep somebody, make sure that you take away all of their choices.

    I smile at Circe. "If there's nothing else, I've got an interrogation that requires my personal attention."

    "No, that's everything. I'll see you again at our next briefing."

    She fades away in a cloud of glitter.

    It's so nice when people take full advantage of the opportunities I force upon them.

    I head out of the door and down the corridor, towards the more heavily secure parts of the tower. Things become so much easier to make happen when ego is taken out of-.

    "Hey, Orange!"

    Ollie waves as I head past the training area where he's overseeing a class.

    "Green Arrow. How are things?"

    He looks around the tired but enthusiastic metahumans in his charge.

    "Ah, the kids are doing great. I'm organising a soccer tournament after class. Any chance you could put in an appearance?"

    I nod happily. "Wouldn't miss it. As long as you don't expect me to call it 'soccer'."

    He chuckles. "Great. Ah. Is Empress going to be back in class soon?"

    I nod. This is the advantage of changing a person's motives without altering their intellect or imposing 'Asimovs'; they can still question you. Especially if they think you're acting against your own interests. "Oh yes, I just need a quick word with her. Shouldn't take more than an hour, if that. In fact, if you'll excuse me..?"

    He waves me off, and I continue on my way. He's an excellent role model for the trainees, and this is a far better use of his abilities and character than trying to keep up with superpowered brawlers on the front line. I'm not sure whether I'll have extended periods of field experience continue to be a requirement for teaching here in the future. There are obvious advantages, but it's not as if schools require biology teachers to have worked as doctors.

    Diana's on guard duty, making sure that Anita remains where she is. Heh, I remember very well how resistant Diana is to mental intrusion. When I made my move she lasted longer than anyone else on the League; I had to tie her to the Orange Central Power Battery with her own lasso before I could muster enough power to dominate her, and didn't that cause trouble. Fortunately, she's just as resistant to further changes as she was to mine, which means that Anita's arcane coercion abilities won't do a thing.

    Oh I do so like having Diana.

    In fact…

    I know it's unprofessional, but rather than wait for her to complete the security scans I just walk up to her and kiss her. She responds happily, because who wants miserable slaves? Of course, she's in full armour so I can't fondle her arse or breasts… Ah well, it's not like either of us are getting any older.

    I pull back, smiling. "Is Anita causing any trouble?"

    She shakes her head. "No. Now stand still. You implemented this procedure."

    I nod and hold up my arms as she completes the identity check, then walk into the airlock as she buzzes me through.

    Anita's eyes dart to me, but her self-control is good enough that she doesn't immediately make a move. Not that the chair she's strapped to gives her a lot of room to move, but a lot of people I've had in this position have strained against it anyway.

    Though that.. could just be the drugs…

    "Anita-."

    "Are you going to rape me too?"

    I frown. "Now, why would you say a thing like that?"

    "I saw what you did to Wonder Woman. You're fucking evil."

    "No." I shake my head. "No. I'm.. bad. Perhaps very bad. But I'm not evil."

    "You mind control people and rape them."

    "If I were 'evil', I'd be doing it for the sake of causing suffering. As it is, I'm doing it for my own selfish benefit. To efficiently realise my goals. And often that means that other people benefit as well. Sometimes, that means convincing a group of isolationist primitives to share a groundbreaking technology, sometimes it means convincing vigilantes to adopt a utilitarian standard when it comes to dealing with unrepentant serial killers-."

    "And sometimes it means raping Wonder Woman."

    I frown. "I wouldn't call that 'rape'. It was really… More like murder. Her original personality and values don't exist any more; it's like her body is inhabited by a new person who's a bit like her former self. That's.. why your effort to free her didn't work, by the way. You were trying to remove a spell which.. wasn't there. It couldn't work any more than a fire extinguisher can turn ash into wood. There's no binding to remove."

    And now she's crying. Oh dear.

    "Now, obviously I need to know everything about how you found out, and the names and locations of anyone else who suspects or whom you spoke to about your suspicions… But I can see this is very stressful for you, and I don't like inflicting unnecessary suffering when I don't profit from it."

    I raise my left hand in benediction as my rings glow and I activate the Left Eye of Zoltec.

    "So why don't I take your suffering away?"
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2020
  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    11:46 GMT


    I watch as the nascent fleet reaches orbit.

    Fascinating.

    Koriand'r frowns in puzzlement.

    "They seem so primitive."

    The Russian Space Fleet launched entirely without rocket blasts. Instead, they built magnetic subterranean launch rails and anti-air resistance force fields to shoot them off the planet, the ships' own main drive providing the extra thrust needed to make orbit. No one part of the design is new to me, it's just that most species who go into space don't.. use those sorts of methods. Usually, they either build their ships in near-planetary space or they've got sufficiently advanced drive systems that they can take off without special arrangements. Launch rails like that are pretty much… Just used for… Bases on low-gravity planetoids, where it's more efficient than strapping boosters on.

    "I think the most technologically advanced part of that whole arrangement is the launch system."

    The ships have railguns as their primary armament, and I silently thank the Russian government for not putting nuclear torpedoes on the things. Their guns already have the power to shred anything in the system built on Earth. They… Might even be able to take a fight with a Martian ship of equivalent mass, assuming they could see it. They're slower and less agile, but then Martian gunnery isn't anything to get excited about. Particularly at long range.

    "I was expecting… More."

    "Why?"

    "Some of the devices you carry are so advanced. Compared to what exists in Vega. I assumed that your ships…"

    "You knew that we didn't have any."

    "I knew that you hadn't built any for many years. There are species who are advanced but have no interest in travelling in space. Those are less advanced than the first ships my people built after settling on Tamaran."

    "Yes, but it's more progress than we've made in the last fifty years so I'm calling it a success. I've learned.. to accept baby steps."

    And I'm bracing for Russia to decide that they're no longer going to contract for NASA, which is going to leave the North American Space Agency entirely bereft of ways to actually get into space. Would the United States of America be prepared to put in the money needed to resume the space race? For an openly nationalist not-dictatorship like the Russian Federation this sort of national vanity project makes sense. It increases national pride and distracts-.

    I narrow my eyes and look down, glaring at the Director's Siberian research centre. There's a flicker of resistance from the basic wards the local shaman probably put up, then…

    The Director's not there. I move my attention to Moscow and try to spot-.

    Ring, compare that to the usual death rate in Moscow at this time of year?

    Substantial increase on seasonal norms.

    I mentally pull up a copy of police reports and begin checking people off. Yes, they're cleaning house. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a substantial rise in criminal gangs all across its former territory. With the fire sale of national assets and various types of civil servant not getting paid, I suppose that it was inevitable. Back on Earth Prime the line appeared to be 'don't make waves and you'll be left alone'. But here, with the Director and the President both being pro-internal reform…

    The Russian mafia has drawn the attention of something infinitely its greater. Batman sent us a briefing document on the reform of the Russian Federal Police, but I didn't really pay it all that much attention. Looks like the mafia didn't either.

    Starting to think that I may have been working on the wrong continent.

    "Alright, nothing for us to do here. I'm sure that once everyone stops panicking we'll get an intelligent summary."

    Koriand'r blinks at me.

    "Are we not going to greet them?"

    "No." I consider who I'm talking to. "While I imagine that knowing that Tamaran exists will do wonders to spur on humanity's efforts at space exploration, those ships don't really have an easy way to take on space-going travellers. They've undoubtably calculated every mote of energy and thrust, and… This is a matter of national pride. If I start hanging around it's just going to annoy them."

    So, where next? Back to Themyscira, and lurk outside of the meeting hall like a ghost at the feast? Happy Harbour? There must be some people who don't know that the Mountain is operational again. Gotham?

    That's actually not a terrible idea.

    "Koriand'r, how about I show you the city where I live?"

    She smiles. "That would be most delightful."

    "That just shows that you've never been there. Follow me."

    12th April
    06:49 GMT -5


    It's early morning here in Gotham. Early morning joggers are out doing circuits of Robinson Park, though I've missed my usual meet up with the Nguyens. Some traffic noise but no screams, explosions or gunshots.

    Koriand'r appears next to me and looks around in fascination.

    "This is very different to Themyscira."

    "This is a bit more representative of modern Earth cities. At.. least, in the more prosperous parts of the world."



    "Some parts of the world. A plant elemental turned the whole place into a forest last year, and when we persuaded him to leave he replaced a lot of the foundations and pipes with plant growths as a peace offering. That's why… You see the bridge-"

    I point.

    "-over there, how the third support along doesn't look quite like the others?"

    "I see it."

    "It's actually made of a type of ultra-resilient wood. There was a huge argument between the city government, the state government and the national government about whether they should leave stuff like that in place, remove it due to safety concerns or remove it for study. They only left it there because no one wanted to pay for replacing it properly."

    "How..? Long did this take?"

    "What, the argument? About four weeks, I think."

    "How long did it take for the plant elemental to cover the city in a forest?"

    "The initial surge of growth was about… Four minutes? It kept growing until we negotiated an armistice."

    She turns her head to regard me curiously.

    "You are telling me that the plant elemental turned this city into a forest in four minutes?"

    "Roughly four minutes. Maybe a bit less. I wasn't monitoring it precisely."

    "And now the only sign that it happened is an oddly textured bridge support."

    "And some people scream if you sneak up on them while holding a plant." I snort with amusement. "And the sewer system is self-cleaning. Honestly, if Swamp Thing wasn't such an idiot he could make a fortune offering that sort of thing as a service."

    I turn to face the direction of Gotham Police Central.

    "Come on; let's see if Commissioner Gordon will let us ride along with anyone."
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2020
  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    14:21 GMT -5


    "Shouldn't you be in school?"

    Richard shakes his head.

    "Batman's busy with the 'ClusterCorp' thing and the 'Russia has spaceships' thing, and you're in Gotham."

    "I live in Gotham."

    Richard smirks.

    "So you get why he's concerned."

    "…extremely disrespectful to public property."

    "Ah… Yeah… Babe."

    Below us, Koriand'r attempts to berate two young men who were graffitiing an underpass while Detective Montoya looks on. I don't think they've stopped staring at her breasts since she landed.

    I'd criticise, but they are very nice breasts being displayed to their best advantage.

    "So is that Komand'r or Koriand'r?"

    "Koriand'r."

    "Why do you think her name sounds like 'coriander'?"

    "There are only so many syllables."

    "Does she know those guys are checking her out?"

    "I… Fifty-fifty. She knows that she's attractive, but she also knows that she's an alien on an isolated world. And Tamaraneans are a lot more open about that sort of thing than humans tend to be."

    "…paint over the marks you have made to restore this place to pristine condition."

    "Can we just paint over this bit? I mean, the city hasn't done any painting here for, like, years."

    "No, because you are being punished for your misdeed. Now go!"

    One takes a step away from her, probably-. Yep, intending to head home and forget this ever happened, which sounds like a good way to get an alien warrior princess knocking on your door to me. The other hesitates.

    "If I do, will you give me your number?"

    Koriand'r looks slightly puzzled.

    "I do not have a number. I am a person; I have a name."

    There's a somewhat complicated burst of emotion from the other chap, a combination of irritation that his friend is drawing this out combined with good natured envy at his friend for having the moxie to ask.

    "Could you get me her number?"

    I raise my eyebrows.

    "What? I'm fifteen. And she's… How old is she?"

    "She's from a different planet, a different species and a different culture. Her people consider her an adult. I've pegged her as seventeen-equivalent. And she doesn't have a number."

    "She doesn't have a number or she doesn't 'have' a number?"

    I actually don't know what Tamaraneans do for telephones. Adam said that their communications were working, but I didn't think to ask what that means for individual citizens. I'll have to ask Koriand'r.

    "Look, she's right there. You can just talk to her, or ask me to send her a message, or ask any other Lantern in the universe to send her a message."

    "Because Lanterns are so-. Huh." He nods. "Earth actually does have a lot of Lanterns. That's actually not so hard."

    "I know. We have more Lanterns assigned here than any other Sector in history. Though.. Sector Lanterns are a post-Qarrigat thing, so there were probably regions before that which had more Lanterns."

    "You said that Orange Lanterns can do whatever they want when they're not doing Orange Lantern work. Does that mean that Koriand'r is a free agent?"

    "She's assigned to Vega. She's here because she's interested in Earth and Vega is quiet at the moment. This is.. sort of a holiday, so… Yes."

    "I don't suppose she works for another trading company?"

    I shake my head.

    "I already thought of that. Tamaran-." No, she can use her ring for private commercial activity, as long as they don't conflict with her official assignments. "Tamaran doesn't really have anything to export at the moment. In.. five to ten years they'll have spare space in their space docks and a population with a space age education, but at the moment the place is too badly damaged."

    "Is there anything they want from us?"

    "You can ask, but I doubt it. They're rebuilding and don't want to be dependent on aliens, but they're rebuilding back up to a higher level of technology than we have. Ah, in widespread deployment at least. They used to have an interstellar fleet and interstellar merchants. The only thing we could really offer would be mass low-tech manufacturing, and then there's.. the problem of shipping."

    "I thought they were building an interstellar fleet?"

    "'Interstellar' doesn't mean instant, it just means that they can get from system to system without needing a generation ship. Flying around Vega is a day or two between systems, but the planets in Vega are weirdly close together. Depending on which FTL drive they go for, flying from Vega to Earth could be anything from six months to two years."

    "It doesn't take Lanterns that long."

    "True, but I don't-."

    My ring blinks.

    "Illustres here."

    The helmeted head of Comic King appears, and my heart sinks.

    "How can I help?"

    "Are the Russians natural pranksters?"

    "I'm afraid that I don't know enough about Russian culture to answer that. Why do you ask?"

    "Their fleet has vanished."

    Oh… Gods.. damn it.

    "And my ship disappeared as well."

    "And you can't track it?"

    "ClusterCorp has an excellent safety record for the lives of our senior executives! All standard tracking procedures will have been implemented the moment anything untoward happened! I have received no signal, and my ring shows nothing!"

    "Alright, that's a little-."

    "Nothing! Nothing at all."

    "I underst-."

    "Not the slightest buzz of the hypercom, not a fizz from the bleedcom."

    "Any deb-?"

    "Not a peep of a spatial dis-."

    "Mute. I will begin investigating. Feel free to either make yourself useful or keep out of my way. Illustres out."

    I lower my left hand as Richard breathes in sharply.

    "Well that isn't good."
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2020
  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    09:28 GMT


    Koriand'r lowers her left hand, ring dimming as she shakes her head.

    "I do not know where the ship went."

    I nod, then look at Khan just in case he's got something helpful to say. Since I'm not a member of the Justice League I don't know quite how critical things are going in the Kremlin at the moment. I don't think that someone prone to fits of genuine rage -as opposed to the staged kind- would survive in the current atmosphere, so I think that we're going to get a reasonably measured response… At least in the short term. In the longer term… This was a major investment of financial and political capital. The heads that roll might do so from any height.

    Khan hasn't noticed-.

    "Lantern Khan?"

    "Hm? Yes, one class three ClusterShip, seventeen executive level-. Yes, that's the one. The valuation is up to date?"

    Jam.

    "You see, it's rather clever: we make sure that anyone who could be due a payout is also on the ship. That way we minimise our exposure to piracy. Hah, 'bring your child to work year' was a masterstroke. And you have a backup of L-Ron's personality? I'm pretty sure I paid for it, but I want to make sure that it's ready to go."



    "Did you just hang up on me? How dare you hang up on me! I want to speak to your manager!"

    "Lantern Khan, if I could borrow you for a moment?"

    "See if I use you people again. Yes, Illustres, how may I help at this tragic time?"

    "Do you have any way of tracking the ship?"

    "Yes, of course. L-Ron!"



    He's… Looking around.



    I'm actually feeling a little sad.

    "I'm assuming that he was on the ship?"

    "Yes, I-. Yes."

    "Okay, does he have a locator beacon of some k-?"

    "L-RON!"

    Orange energy bursts out of him in a high-power scan wave, and I spot Lantern Savenlovich hurriedly throw up a shield as the orange light cascades through local space. Leonid's ship actually overcharges its shields in response to what the mostly reassembled tactical computer thinks is an attack.

    I'm actually a little impressed with that. Not only was it powerful, I'm pretty sure that would have bypassed most forms of stealth and phasing. I was pretty sure that wasn't what had happened here, but it's nice to be certain.

    Khan… His armour is just armour, so there's no body language to read. His gaseous form on the other hand is Brownianing with alarming ferocity and I.. don't know what that means. I don't know if he knows what that means. And then-.

    A construct L-Ron appears besides him. His helmet swivels a hundred degrees right and he stares at it for a moment. Then it bursts.

    "L-Ron doesn't get sick days or job-share. I'm going to find him so that I can dock his pay."

    And he actually wants him back. There are ways to mislead my empathic sense, but using power rings requires the real thing.

    "Alright then, both of you. How could the ships have vanished, given that we can't detect them?"

    Koriand'r looks thoughtful. "Some form of faster than light travel that is not on our database, which leaves no traceable sign?"

    "If it's not on a Maltusian database then we've got bigger problems than a missing ship. And unless there was something a lot more valuable on board than I think there was, they were wasting their time."

    "Your reports mention that some people on Earth with great technical ability do not apply their skills wisely."

    "Painfully true, but perfectly stealthy mass-teleportation is incredibly difficult, and the Justice League is perfectly capable of detecting the sort of massive power draw it would require. It could be that, but what's more-?"

    "Magic." Khan's eyeholes are glowing orange. "A rare resource I wanted to exploit. Hard to detect with power rings."

    "That's my first guess. There isn't much we can do about it until Doctor Mist arrives, but just in case they weren't as clever as they think they were…"

    I take out a couple of rune stones and use construct tethers to move them around where the ClusterShip used to be.

    "Now, it would be quite hard to actively cast this far from the Earth, but there have been some rather significant breakthroughs in bound spells recently, so with a little luck…"

    No, nothing. Ah well. I pull the stones back.

    "Lantern Khan, do you have a record of every trip your people made to and from the Earth?"

    "Yes, but our security-. Mmrughmrppffah, would not be easy to breach. We've had incidents in the past, infiltrators and the like. L-Ron can-."

    I float forward and pat him on his armoured shoulder. He really thinks about L-Ron in the same way as I think of my rings; not exactly separate from my own concept of me.

    "Then the obvious potential source is the Russian ships. I'm sure that everyone involved underwent extensive vetting, but Russian magic is rubbish. It wouldn't be too hard for a sufficiently skilled person to sneak something in."

    Would they have done this deliberately? Would they risk the security complement of the ship in an attempt to steal it? No. No. They might get away with salvaging ships that crashed in their territory, but they have to know that if they tried piracy then the Green Lantern Corps would not be on their side. They were already stealing a march on every other country on the planet; there wasn't any need for them to risk it.

    The Light is a possibility, but… I'm not seeing the payoff. Khan was here to trade. If they wanted technology then buying it was the easiest way to get it. And we get enough alien visitors that any competent international conspiracy could get hold of parts… And the ClusterShip wasn't all that advanced by interstellar standards.

    I've got a worrying feeling that this is going to be someone I've never heard of.

    "Orange Lantern Illustres to Watchtower."

    "Manhunter here. Go ahead."

    "I'm not getting anything. If the Russians will have us, I'd like to take a look around their launch site in case something got onto their ships that wasn't supposed to be there."

    "Doctor Mist, Hawkman and Batman are already on-site."

    "And none of them are empaths."

    "True. I will relay your request. Stand by."
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2020
  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    17:15 GMT +7


    He-llo…

    My eyes widen slightly as I look at a member of the ground crew. A thought and his employee files appears in my mind. Corporal Mikhail Kuznetsov, air force man from when he left high school until he moved to the Director's command. Certain… 'Unreconstructed' Russian military units don't keep useful records for… Various frustrating reasons, but all the ones I'd consider reliable paint a glowing picture. Which is why the Director moved him to this project; no one here isn't highly motivated and skilled.

    Batman noticed the slight change in my posture.

    "Orange Lantern?"

    "Corporal Kuznetsov. Some of his… Recent memories don't have the emotional depth that they should."

    "You believe they've been edited?"

    "Can't say for sure. Could even be stress, but… Since we're a bit desperate..."

    "Is he dangerous?"

    "I don't think so. His deeper memories appear unaffected, which should mean that they haven't tried rewriting his priorities… But I couldn't swear to it."

    Batman raises his right hand to his cowl, activating his communicator. "Director, please bring Corporal Kuznetsov in for questioning. We believe that he may have been under the influence of something. "

    There's a momentary delay, then I see a couple of military policemen move forward to apprehend him. Fortunately, he goes with them without complaint. Everyone at the launch site is going through a detailed interrogation, and Russia doesn't have any of those frustrating laws against telepathic or arcane compulsion when it comes to gathering evidence. They also don't have enough telepaths or magicians to make much use of it. Pravda's already here and Firebird's being flown in… Heh, it's taking her longer to get here from Moscow than it took me to get here.

    Interesting that the Director had a zeta tube set up here just in case. I can't see an American general doing that, no matter how much sense it would make. But if you really need the Justice League, you don't want to have to hang about.

    A project like this has thousands of people working on the site, and tens of thousands more in the supply chain. The President might have unusual levels of personal authority but someone has to have oversight on things like this, which means that a number of politicians are at least somewhat in the know…

    And they're all going to have to speak to the Director's people. They're got two security cleared telepaths. They'll probably accept Mr J'onzz and… Maybe M'gann, but the League's not exactly blessed with a plethora of security-vetted telepaths either.

    And I don't think that Ted's Thinker's Cap is… Quite ready for this. Even if the Director could probably secure volunteers prepared to put up with the implants, and the headaches and occasional auditory and visual hallucinations that the current version causes.

    "I'm going to check his barracks. I'll let you know if I find anything."

    Batman nods very faintly, his eyes fixed on the records of this site's working life as I

    step out

    and reappear in the enlisted barracks. They're… Well, I've seen worse. The benefit of working on a highly classified project out in the middle of nowhere is that they make an effort to keep the workforce happy. The downside being that if you don't like it then you're rather out of luck.

    I scan in detail, orange light strobing off his bunk, wardrobe and trunk. Not… A… Lot… I take out a rune stone and carefully-.

    A member of the military police -brought in from another facility entirely, though still thoroughly vetted- sticks his head around the door.

    "Orange Lantern? Is there anything you need?"

    "Nothing that isn't already being worked on, thank you."

    His emotions are… Well, he's a little anxious. Annoyed, too. The Director likes to employ people with strong patriotic inclinations, and this mess has turned what should have been a day of nationalistic triumph into a potential tragedy. I don't feel it quite so personally, but…

    Oh. That's… Odd.

    There's a slight… Change in the structure of the wall. It's not a lot; unusual patterns of ionisation and stress in the brickwork. But that's not something that should occur naturally unless they were using radioactive paint or something.

    Certain types of energy weapon could do it-.

    And certain types of phasing.

    Check the project history. No, no work was done here that might cause something like that. The patch is too small for a humanoid. A drone, perhaps? I'm only seeing the one patch, but that might just mean that whatever it was came through the same place each time.

    "Orange Lantern to Batman. I believe that something phased into Corporal Kuznetsov's quarters. Not sure if it was by magic or technology; I suggest sending Doctor Mist when he's next available."

    "Understood."

    Hmm.

    I look at the building from the outside and try to detect anything similar, but… No, nothing. In by air? They've got pretty good detection systems here, but nothing is infallible. Basic wards again… They really need to hire an Atlantean to do the job. Heh, or at least a Londoner. All they're doing is giving themselves a false sense of security.

    I need to raise the idea of a worldwide magic detection network again. Perhaps a little more forcefully.

    Would whoever did this rely on one person? Ordinarily, I'd say that was a bad idea. At least, if it was something that absolutely had to work. But… If one infiltrator was discovered, the result would be a shutdown while they examined the site with a fine toothed comb. Any others would have to flee or simply accept being discovered. So it would only be worth using more than one if it made the one attempt more likely to succeed-.

    "Batman to the Justice League. Hawkman has been attacked at the supply depot and-"

    I look south east, focus my empathic vision on the pattern I recognise as being Mr Hol and

    step out

    , appearing a short distance from him with construct armour appearing around me!

    He stares at me for a moment as I note the unconscious warehouse staff and Lantern Koriand'r floating in the air with her ring glowing.

    "-alert for other mentally influenced individuals."

    Right. Batman wouldn't make an announcement if the attack was ongoing.

    But since I'm here

    I look into the souls of the unconscious men, and… Again, it could be the concussion, but I'm definitely seeing odd emotional attachment in their recent memories. No, not just recent. This goes deeper, and… Guard dogs. Someone set them to attack under certain circumstances.

    "Orange Lantern, please attend the warehouse and investigate for possible mental alterations or the use of phasing technology."

    "Already here, sir. I confirm the mental alterations, stronger than what the Corporal has. I'll check for phasing now."
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2020
  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    17:52 GMT +7


    "Alright, that's-."

    I stare at Lantern Koriand'r.

    "Where did you get that coat?"

    She smiles brightly as she pulls the furs more tightly around her.

    "The Director gave it to me. He said that I looked cold."

    Yes, I imagine that surrounded by men stuck on a single sex military base in Siberia, the athletic, well endowed alien princess in short shorts and halter top probably did look cold.

    Speaking of which…

    "Speaking of clothing, how does this-"

    I take a bracer with an embedded sunstone out of subspace and hold it out to her.

    "-feel?"

    She gives it a small frown, then puts it over her left forearm and activates the auto-fit function. It tightens in place, the sunstone lighting up a moment later.

    Lantern Koriand'r gives a slight gasp of surprise.

    "It feels like warm sunlight! What is it?"

    "A Kryptonian sunstone. Kryptonians are also solar powered, though it works a little differently for them."

    "Do you have more? Can Tamaran buy them?"

    "You'll have to talk to one of our kryptonians." Jor-El isn't really set up for mass production, and we can't really ship anyway. I look down at the depot. "Find anything?"

    She shakes her head. "I did not. None of the patterns which you described were on any of the walls, or the ceiling, or the furniture, or the people."

    I nod. This is a 'secure' facility, but it isn't anything like as secure as the launch site. By design; it wouldn't be practical. Things are checked coming in and going out, but a lot of things come in and go out.

    "So… Something came from somewhere, passed through here and might have ended up on the ships. But since we don’t have any idea when or what it was, that doesn't really help."

    "Are there very many things on Earth that could do this?"

    "There are machines that can grant humans telepathy. A company I'm associated with is trying to update one, but the original machine was built decades ago and I doubt that I'm the only person who had this idea. Any human can learn magic, and… A sufficiently skilled street magician could do everything we've seen so far."

    Russia.. doesn't.. exactly have supervillains. There are superpowered criminals, but they generally don't wear costumes or use signature weapons. Not unless they're working overseas, anyway. Independent superheroes are also somewhat thin on the ground. As a result, there isn't a readily available data source that isn't coming out of the Ministry of Justice, and the League's never really been sure about how reliable those are.

    China grudgingly cooperates with the League because they don't think they're ready to go their own way yet, and hate being reminded of the fact. Russia grudgingly cooperates with the League because they used to be fine going their own way and now aren't, and hate being reminded of the fact.

    On the other hand, both of the Russians associated with the League are national heroes while the Chinese guy is someone they wanted rid of.

    Hm. There are a few people listed as 'at large' who might have been able to do the bits we've been able to detect… But other than grabbing and interrogating every one of them-.

    Ring, scan Moscow. Current location of 'The Goatsmasher'?

    I get an image of a group of heavily armed Federal Police and.. Red Rockets, attacking a white haired man. Bullets do nothing but empower his kinetic blasts, but they were prepared for that. He's hit by flares, some sort of ice gun and high-powered tasers until he collapses.

    Cleaning house. I wonder if the Director kept quiet after the collapse of the Soviet Union so that he'd have a target-rich environment to work in when he had someone in the Kremlin he could work with?

    No. No, deliberately letting things get worse seems contrary to his character. But he probably finds it really convenient.

    Something below catches my eye, and I look down to see that Dr Balewa has arrived. I take that as a sign and drop down to ground level, Koriand'r following me as I do so.

    The warehouse workers have been restrained, but haven't regained consciousness yet. Mr Hol isn't superstrong, but he is a fair bit stronger than a human of his proportions would be, and he wasn't exactly pulling his punches when those guys jumped him.

    Dr Balewa is staring at them… I'm assuming that he's trying to sense any residual magic or at least identify spells that could have been used to do this, but there's nothing visible going on. I'll just.. wait until he finishes.

    "Curious."

    "Sir?"

    "I have the spell, but I do not recognise the form or the tradition." He frowns. "That is strange."

    "It is? I thought random cults brute forced blood rituals often enough-."

    "That is a tradition in its own right." He shakes his head. "Magic schools have their forms. Even 'traditional' magic has a form, whether it works or not. I have had a very long time to acquaint myself with all of the forms of magic on the Earth. I do not recognise this."

    "Martians?"

    Because if so this is going to be a pain.

    "Perhaps. Perhaps. I have not seen martian magic. But I do not think that a martian could adapt to the magics of the Earth quickly or easily."

    Ah shit. Mental manipulation and magic?

    "Do you think it was the Star Conquerors?"

    He freezes, then slowly nods.

    "That is distinctly possible. None of the victims have the wounds on their faces that their bite leaves, but the improved version created at STAR Laboratories did not need to leave such wounds. Doctor Mist to Betman."

    "Go ahead."

    "Orange Lantern has observed that this could be the work of the Star Conquerors, and I believe that he could be correct. I can attempt to track whoever did this by using the people they have touched, but they have become adept at disguising themselves and it will take some time."

    "How long?"

    "I cannot be certain. I should have a better idea after half an hour."

    "The Lanterns are on call to perform an emergency interception if they try to de-orbit the ships. I'll contact Fate and ask him to check the remaining personnel at the launch site."

    "Very well. I will speak to you again in half an hour. Doctor Mist out."

    Koriand'r frowns, then her ring glows and her eyes widen.

    "Why did you not track down these 'Star Conqueror' creatures after you fought them?"

    "Because the planet is a big place and they're very good at hiding. And we had no idea what they were trying to do, and we still don't."

    As far as I remember from the comics, Star Conquerors mostly wanted to control things and keep expanding. These ones -if it was them- clearly had something in mind when they picked these targets. And now we're stuck waiting for the other shoe to drop.
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2020
  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    18:20 GMT +7


    "Okay, so you see how the memory of him clocking in today doesn't have anything like the same number of attachments as the other memories?"

    Koriand'r's eyes are glowing brilliant orange as she tries to see what I see.

    "I…" She shakes her head. "Do not think so."

    Okay, perhaps if we…

    I turn to the site manager who has been assigned to assist us.

    "Excuse me. Would you mind assisting me in a training exercise?"

    "Ah…"

    "You just have to clock in and out and then stand there for a bit."

    "Oh. Ah, sorry, but I need to stay here. Timofey!" One of the warehouse workers stops pushing his trolley and looks around. "Help Orange Lantern."

    He shifts his trolley to the side so that it won't get in the way, and as a former warehouse operative myself I find myself nodding in approval. It's considerate. I float towards him and Koriand'r follows me.

    "Lantern Koriand'r is-"

    And despite the coat, it's pretty clear which of us he'd rather be looking at.

    "-learning to identify altered memories. Please show us where you clock in."

    He nods. "This way."

    We follow him through the warehouse, and I note that there don’t appear to be any more soldiers around than there were when we arrived. I suppose that there are only so many highly vetted soldiers around in any one place. Perhaps the Director decided that bringing more people in was a bigger risk than having fewer people on guard? Then again, this warehouse does supply Russian military facilities across the region. If they tighten things up too much people might not get fed and… Heh, every society is three meals away from chaos.

    "Timofey, have you worked here for long?"

    "Four years."

    "Excellent." I turn my head to look at Koriand'r. "Timofey will have all sorts of memories associated with the action while I have next to none. You will observe carefully as we both form memories and note the difference."

    She nods uncertainly.

    "I understand, but I do not think that I have the accuracy to perceive the memory forms as you do."

    "That could be." I nod. "I mostly teach ways of thinking. Lantern Xor wasn't much for subtlety, and my own progression was… Rather atypical. I really don't know what it takes for another Lantern to see things as I do."

    "Were you able to see the desires of other people before you joined with the Ophidian?"

    "Yes… But it was much harder to work out exactly what was going on. I could see drives, but I never learned to see exactly how they related to individual experiences. So this is a learning experience for both of us! You're learning to do it, and I'm learning what it takes for you to learn it!"

    Timofey stops next to a somewhat dated computer system with a barcode scanner attached.

    "Um. You're looking at my desires?"

    "Just the ones associated with clocking in and out every day. And… Think of us as proctologists. You haven't got any shit we haven't seen before."

    "Ah-." Another glance at Koriand'r. "Okay?"

    Quick check, nothing too specific, just getting a general overview… Yes, nothing I haven't seen before. The orange light associations with the act relate to ingroup affirmation and financial reward. This won't have quite the same associations as this is just a demonstration, but he's been doing it every working day for the last four years so it should be bedded in.

    Koriand'r's eyes glow as she tries to see the parts of Timofey's psyche that I'm referring to.

    "Okay, if you could please clock out?"

    He smiles slightly nervously.

    "You'll tell my supervisor why I did this, right? We're so backed up now that they're going to be on our-. Cases about timekeeping."

    I nod. "Of course."

    He unclips his name tag from his overalls and waves it in front of the barcode reader, which beeps its acknowledgement. As expected, the associations trigger more weakly that they normally would, but they're still there. I'm a little worried that we're throwing things off just by being here, but we're just killing time until Dr Balewa finishes anyway…

    "And now I do it."

    "But I cannot see you."

    Oh. Right.

    "The eye thing is psychosomatic anyway. Just connect a filament to me."

    She raises her left hand and closes her eyes, a strand of orange light attaching her to my environmental shield. I fabricate a copy of Timofey's name tag and scan it.

    "Did you see-?"

    "Orange Lantern!" The three of us look around as Dr Balewa shouts. "I have them!"

    I transition back to him, taking… A somewhat confused Timofey with me.

    "And where are they?"

    "Take me to where the ships disappeared, and then I will tell you."

    "Rightoh. Koriand'r, we're-" She flies into view. "-going up."

    I attach a filament to Dr Balewa and the universe flickers as we reappear in space.

    12th April
    11:23 GMT


    "Yes, I see." He looks around as Koriand'r catches up with us. "Clever, and not an approach that most people would use. But… With a small application of power…"

    My rings chime, and a short distance away Lord Comic King flares with orange light!

    "Hold on, L-Ron! I'm coming!"

    And he's gone. Ring?

    I see the ships-. Well, the ClusterShip at least. It's keeping station near Pluto. No sign of damage, no active weapons…

    "Orange Lantern Illustres to interested parties. The ClusterShip is near Pluto. Manga Khan's already gone after it and I don't think he's amenable to reason. Batman, how would you like me to proceed?"
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2020
  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    11:23 GMT


    "Have you located the Russian ships?"

    Scans… Can't get through the ClusterShip's hull. I try looking, but I can't see-. See anything other than Lord-Lantern Comic King slamming the fists of a giant construct avatar of himself into his ship's shields.

    "No, but-" I look at Dr Balewa. "-I imagine that the spell revealed them as well?"

    "That is correct. If Orange Lantern cannot detect them, then they are still inside."

    "Can you detect it?"

    "So far from a living world? No. There is no power to draw upon, no arcane world to shape. Whoever is doing this, they will exhaust themselves before long."

    "Orange Lantern, investigate the situation. I will send Blue Lantern and Captain Atom after you. Doctor Mist, return to Earth and continue your investigation. We need to know if anyone else has been subverted or if any of whatever group this was remain on Earth."

    "Understood." Dr Mist and I flash back down to Earth, then I transition back to Koriand'r. "Lantern Koriand'r and I will take a look."

    "Very well. Report what you see as you see it."

    I don my armour and check that Koriand'r has done the same, then warp us both to the general vicinity of Pluto, far enough away that it's barely visible to the unaided eye, and turn up the power on my empathic vision. It just… Slides off. Whatever whoever is doing this is doing, they're either very clever or very powerful.

    I wince as Comic King finally batters his way through the shield covering the main docking bay and flies on board. That didn't cause the wards to fail so it's not a simple threshold effect.

    "Manga Khan has entered the ClusterShip. Pursuing."

    I fly at speed, mindful not to outrace Koriand'r. The ClusterShip's guns aren't even trying to track me, and the shield emitters are visible wrecked around the docking sphere. Its main reactors are non-volatile -if only to cut down on costs- so I'm not worried about the ship itself being a trap. Being an explosive trap anyway; we'll still need to detain everyone we encounter in case they've been subverted.

    "Ship not reacting to attack. Will attempt to ascertain status of crew."

    We fly towards the docking bay, and I see that Comic King battered his way through the docking hatch as well as the defence shield. The atmosphere shield engages according to emergency protocols and only a little air is vented, but I imagine that the sudden unobstructed view of space would have been pretty disturbing for human cosmonauts. I fly inside, the shield rippling as I pass through it and get a clear view of the Russian ships. They're still safely where they landed, though I can't see any of the crew. I can't see any damage either, at least not on the outside.

    I try a scan, but… Something's futzing with-

    "L-RON!"

    -it. Shouldn’t go anywhere alone, but I also don't want to leave Comic King in avarice-crazed rampage mode.

    "Lord-Lantern Manga Khan, desist. That is an order."

    "I HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE SELF-EVIDENT;-"

    Ah. He's lost all reason.

    "-THAT ALL BEINGS ARE CREATED-"

    Sad when that happens. I extend my left hand in his direction and feel for the bundle of neurotic obsession that is the tangle of his current mentations.

    End.

    "-with…" He stops and looks around. "AH! I have found the ClusterShip!"

    "Yes, well done. Lantern Koriand'r, we're going to check-."

    "ClusterShip! Acknowledge-"

    I create a soundproof bubble around us.

    "-the return of your lord and master! And tell L-Ron where I am!"

    "Lantern Khan, if-"

    "Lord and Manga."

    "-someone took this ship then they've almost certainly subverted the computer systems, and on the off-chance that they aren't using the internal monitoring and somehow missed you battering a hole in their shields I'd rather not draw their attention."

    "My shields."

    "I'm sorry?"

    "My shields. This ClusterShip is the property of ClusterCorp, and as the ranking ClusterCorp official that makes it mine. I'll expense the shields to myself."



    "We're going to check the Russian ships, and then we'll check on your crew. Do you understand?"

    "Of course."

    I fly towards the-

    "The Russians aren't covered by my insurance."

    -closest Russian ship. The design is completely standard and… It's a mixture of shuttle, submarine and 'actual' starship. Enough internal space that the crew could stay inside for months, but without the surfeit of internal space that a space station could afford. The main hatch is open, and they don't appear to have had a defence shield. I try scanning the interior, but I can't even scan the bit I can see.

    I know a magic that can achieve that. I wear it on my skin. And I'm sure that Sephtian documented it, so the knowledge is out there. Most individuals can't use it for long due to having pre-existing souls, but an active magic user could keep something like it going if it were bound to a device.

    "Koriand'r, cover me. Khan, don't do anything stupid."

    "How would I tell?"

    I step inside the ship. No blood, which is generally a good sign. Manual construct probes reveal… No phasing residue yet, though manually probing the entire ship will take a little while. Biological residue… A few skin cells and hairs from the crew that the air filters haven't caught yet.

    Other than Star Conquerors, who could this be?

    The demon genomorphs are perfectly capable of making new variants of themselves, with new forms of magic and… Greater intelligence. But what could they want that's on Pluto? Or am I making the unwarranted assumption that this is where they actually wanted to go? No, no, if they could suborn Russian military personnel then they could certainly do the same to the ClusterShip's bridge crew. Dr Balewa took a look at the g-oni corpses we had in storage, but I'm not sure that seeing their corpses gives him enough information to work from.

    No one here. Construct probes aren't showing anything not on the technical specifications.

    Since this is Pluto, I'm pretty sure that rules out martians. We're far too far away from other people out here. Unless they just wanted the ClusterShip's population to ease their telepathic discomfort and they're actually here for something else? I'm not sure if news of Dr Balewa's abilities has reached Mars yet; it's quite possible that they didn't think we had anyone who could get through their spell baffles.

    The ship's bridge looks orderly. There should have been a couple of cosmonauts left in here while the diplomatic party went to greet the ClusterCorp representatives, but there's no one here. No sign of struggle… I attach a filament to the ship's computer to get a copy of the logs, then leave to check the rest of the ship.
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2020
  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    11:32 GMT


    "Russian ships clear. No crew on board, some signs of phasing. Lantern Khan assures me that while they could build phasing equipment with what's on board the ClusterShip, they didn't have anything already constructed."

    My ears metaphorically twitch as I fail to hear Comic King correcting me about his name. I look around to see him accessing the docking bay's internal monitoring computer.

    "We're about to proceed further into the ClusterShip."

    Batman nods. "Has there been any reaction from the crew, or the automated systems?"

    "No. No one has tried to get in here, and no one has tried to repair the damage Khan did getting in. He said that repair robots should have gotten to work almost immediately."

    "Is there anyone onboard?"

    "I don't know. Our scans and my empathic sense are still being blocked. We can examine the ClusterShip more forcefully if you think it best. I was holding off in case we triggered a response."

    "Blue Lantern and Captain Atom will be with you in a few seconds. Your primary objective is to locate and recover any survivors. Your secondary objectives are to identify the thief or thieves and find out what they were planning."

    I nod. "Who has local command?"

    Because despite my rank-

    "Captain Atom."

    -in the Orange Lantern Corps and the fact that three out of five of the people who are going to be here are Orange Lanterns, and despite the fact that we can get a response from base instantly instead of in nine hours, as far as Earth is concerned I'm a glorified sidekick while Captain Atom is a veteran Justice League member.

    "Underst-"

    There's a flash as Alan and Major Adams appear just outside the docking bay and immediately head our way.

    "-ood."

    "Batman out."

    I lower my left hand.

    "Lantern Koriand'r, you remember what I said about some humans having a second name for professional purposes?"

    "Yes." She nods, smiling. "I find it adds an element of fantastical whimsy to the tales of their heroism."

    Alan and Adams land, Adams taking a careful look at the weapon hardpoints while Alan just gives us a smile and a wave.

    "Captain Atom." He gives me his full attention. "You're in charge." He gives a small nod. "Where are we going next?"

    "Lantern Khan?"

    "Lord and Manga." He flies away from the computer console and lands next to us. "The records are scrambled. L-Ron.. might be able to reassemble them."

    Adams frowns. "You couldn't reassemble them with a power ring?"

    "Mmmphgh. Upon occasion-."

    "You really designed your docking bay computer records to resist power ring scans because you were worried about a Sector Lantern catching you smuggling?"

    "Some customs laws are very broad. And for all we know it could be the same thing that's stopping us scanning the ship."

    That's a halfway reasonable point. And Sol has no extraplanetary customs laws anyway.

    I look at Adams with my eyebrows raised.

    "Then I guess we're going on. Orange L-."

    His face stills as he considers the obvious identification problem. I guess he's only ever worked with one Green Lantern at a time.

    "Try 'Illustres'."

    Another small nod. "Illustres, you're on point. Lantern Khan, you know where the closest crew shelter point is?"

    "General Crew or Executive? Because the General Crew point is more of a muster point."

    "Anyplace you think someone might have sought shelter. This is a rescue mission first."

    We four Lanterns nod.

    "Call out contacts as you find them." He floats back a little to give me space.

    I look at the interior cargo doors. This is mostly a cargo docking bay, so they're pretty large. But since we can all fly I float up above them, generate a large crumbler construct and smash it forwards. A chunk of bulkhead and armoured shutter is erased, and I fly through the newly formed gap-

    "We're insured for Act of Lantern. Colour isn't specified."

    -and into… The cargo depot.

    "In fact, if you want to smash some more things…"

    No one… No one…

    I send out construct eyes to look at everything and float forward to make myself as tempting a target as possible. Not like this ship's internal weapons are a threat to me.

    No, no one and nothing.

    "Lantern Khan, where to?"

    "The executive transport system is over on the right. That will take us to the Executive Section."

    I see it.

    "Captain?"

    "It's as good a place to start as any."

    Maintaining my constructs, I float in the direction indicated. There's a-. Hah! A lift in the docking bay which takes executives to an overpass with transparent sides so that they can look down on the proles toiling beneath them. It still goes to a part of the ClusterShip which is just as easily accessible from the cargo depot…

    I crumble my way through the wall and-.

    Some of the synthetic potted plants which decorate the place wave in a faint breeze. Another hull breach? Air's moving, but the air purification system they use doesn't make a breeze-.

    I attach construct tethers to the floor and walls-.

    The hull's vibrating.

    The ClusterShip doesn't have chemical thrusters. It would come apart if it used a system that primitive.

    "Captain, I believe that we need to get back outside. Now."

    He nods.

    "Everyone: pull out."
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2020
  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    11:36 GMT


    Pluto's not all that big.

    I mean, it's still 13 sextillion kilograms in mass and has five minimoons, but as planets go that's nothing. I've seen super-earths and gas giants close up… Heck, at least three of Krypton's chunks are bigger than Pluto.

    But that's still a very big laser.

    "Lantern Khan, what's that?"

    "Mining laser?"

    "That wasn't there when I scanned the ClusterShip when it arrived."

    "We didn't have one. No, no, we totally didn't-."

    "Lantern Khan."

    "-have one externally mounted. We had small and medium demonstration models in the heavy machinery department in case someone wanted to buy them. ClusterCorp has a very strong don't-kill-people-who-can-give-us-money policy. Besides. The beam attenuation anywhere with an atmosphere is terrible. Otherwise you can be sure that we'd-"

    "Charge a lot more?" / "-charge a lot more."

    I turn to look at Major Adams.

    "Sir, shall I forcibly shut it down?"

    "What would that do to the people on the ship?"

    "There's no such thing as a non-lethal weapon, but that's not exactly cutting edge technology-"

    "Miningonanaffordablebudget!"

    "-there and I can hit a pinhead from a billion miles away. I should be able to destroy it with minimal collateral damage. On the other hand-."

    "Nobody's actually in any danger because no one lives on Pluto."

    I nod. "Plus, since we know the layout of that ball section's power grid, we have the knowledge required to shut it down from inside."

    "What exactly are they shooting-"

    "Mining!"

    "-at?"

    "The feature doesn't have a name. Studying Pluto is rather hard for Earth-based astronomers."

    "Are you certain there's nothing down there?"

    I crank up my empathic vision so high that I start getting vague impressions from the next inhabited planet along my sight line.

    "If there's anyone down there, one, they're having a very bad time due to mining laser, and two, they're using the-. "

    There's a tiny orange twinkle, which… Vanishes almost immediately.

    "Huh."

    "See something?"

    "For a moment, I saw a desire. It wasn’t.. really.. focused on anything. Though that could just have been because there was a momentary gap in the disguise spells. I'm not picking up anything other than a large hole on the surface." I shake my head. "Sorry, not getting anything else."

    He nods.

    "We'll breach the hull near the laser and go from there. Lantern Khan, Lantern Koriand'r, we haven't worked together before, but I want to be clear that we're trying to keep as many people alive as possible."

    Koriand'r nods.

    "I have studied the tales of the Justice League's heroism. I know your rules of engagement."

    "Training new employees is expensive. Our insurers always increase our premiums when we claim for lost work-hours."

    I turn to-

    "Are there any corporations on Earth which offer starship insurance? I'm asking for a friend."

    -the ClusterShip and transition forward, crumbler construct disrupting the shields and smashing into the hull. I generate a airlock construct just in case the emergency atmospheric regulator isn't working. Shots from the interior -mostly plasma-based- strike my constructs at once, but with nothing like enough force to significantly damage them. The interior of this part of the 'ball' of the ClusterShip has clearly seen a lot of very rapid engineering work; the mining laser is exposed directly to vacuum and the ship-side of the arrangement looks like they've just cut through the decks until they had enough space. Dozens of crew members in space suits are attempting to advance, though it looks like ClusterCorp decided not to overspend on flight systems.

    A dozen species with different tolerances for electricity and atmospheres, fighting in a vacuum.

    "Blue Lantern. Catching duty."

    "Ready when you are."

    Filaments flicker out, punching through unshielded civilian spacesuits and apply species-specific knockout gasses while simultaneously disarming them. Guns get chucked away and our new prisoners are thrown towards open space, where Alan catches them in a Looney Tunes cage-construct.

    He needs to spend less time with Guy.

    Lantern Khan flies past me, a construct hemisphere protecting him from incoming fire as he flies for the mining laser's controls.

    "I'm garnishing your wages for this, all of you!"

    Well familiar with murderous pirates, Koriand'r scans the inner hull for scuttling charges or other booby traps, shooting out the handful of functioning internal defences as they deploy. Adams hangs back slightly; his energy blasts don't have a 'stun' setting and would be massive overkill for soft targets like this.

    I chuck the last 'guard' at Alan just as Khan shuts down the mining laser. Okay. That wasn't too bad. I look out through the ersatz firing port and down at the planet. There are some pretty violent dwarf planet quakes going on down there, lines of stress radiating away from the point of impact.

    I frown. That's a little odd… But it's not as if anyone's ever done a really detailed geological survey of Pluto.

    I punch probes through the sealed doors abutting this section-.

    "More people on the other side of those doors. They're ClusterCorp employees and they've got runic cuts on their faces in the shape of a star."

    Major Adams grimaces.

    "I don't know magic. Is that conclusive proof that this was the Star Conquerors?"

    "Sadly, no, but it's very suggestive. Lantern Khan, is there anything useful on their targeting computer?"

    "I'm the CEO! I don't know how things work!"

    Fair enough.

    "Captain Atom, where would you like us to breach?"
     
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2020
  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    11:40 GMT


    "You still can't see through the walls?"

    "No. But given what Doctor Mist was saying… Just waiting until the spell runs out of power is a perfectly viable option, if you want to take it slowly."

    "Unless they're sacrificing the hostages for power."

    "Ah-? No, that wouldn't work. Magic… Short explanation: while magic energy is universal, unless they're tapping directly into the Dream, magic users are generally manipulating pre-existing structures using pre-existing power flows. Out here there's no system and no ready power source. Ritual sacrifice won't work because there's nothing to respond to it; you can't ritually violate arcane taboos which don't exist."

    "You sure they know that?"

    "This wouldn't be possible without specific preparation."

    "You willing to bet their lives on it?"

    I shrug, though the armoured plates covering my shoulders don’t move.

    "There's nothing stopping them ordering their thralls to kill themselves anyway."

    "Illustres Paul?" Koriand'r is looking back through the open hull towards the still-enthusiastically erupting Pluto. "Should that planet be behaving like that?"

    "There was a theory that it had subterranean oceans. Depending on their chemical composition and location, that's certainly within the realms of possibility. If you want to see something really impressive, I'll take you to the Rao system when we're finished here."

    Major Adams shakes his head.

    "No one's going to fire a giant laser at a planet for no reason. The hostages take priority, but we need to find out what that reason is." He looks at Lantern Khan. "There a good place for a command post through there?"

    "Yes? Several. I command from wherever I am, and I need to be-"

    "That's fine. Just take us to the closest."

    "-seen and heard to my best advantage, that I may inspire-"

    Major Adams looks at me. I just shake my head.

    "-my serfs-. I mean slaves-. I mean thralls-. I mean scum-. I mean valuable employees-. No, wait, that's completely wrong. I don't even know why I said-."

    "How about you go inspire them right now?"

    "Yes!" He flies towards the closest doorway, a construct butler forcing it open for him and a potted plant being thrown out by the air pressure shift and hitting him in the face. "My people! I come for you!"

    Major Adams gives me a low-level glare as we fly after him, and I'm forced to catch the remains of the plant as it slides off Khan.

    "Why does that guy have a power ring?"

    I repot the plant and set it aside.

    "Not all Orange Lanterns are supposed to be combat-orientated. He's a surprisingly -very surprisingly- skilled economist."

    I accelerate after Lantern Khan. No other members of the crew are immediately in sight. I can see where they ripped out a dividing wall, presumably to make moving materials to the mining laser easier.

    "I feel a corporate motivational speech coming on!"

    The automated defences deploy as we cross what I.. think was a raw materials store room. Pulse laser batteries this time. I generate a shield construct for Major Adams while the beams reflect off Lantern Khan's shiny armour and burn slashes across the inside of the room.

    Khan makes an identical line of pulse lasers and destroys their metal cousins in a single volley.

    "There's a factory oversight centre just up-"

    He creates giant hand constructs and pulls the door -and a chunk of the wall- open.

    The Star Hunter in the middle of the room blinks, then red lightning leaps from the tips of its tentacles and reduces Khan's armour to smouldering slag! The thralls around it are armed with-

    Major Adams fires a scintillating beam of energy from his forearms at the Star Hunter, and I see the circuit runes embedded in its skin light up as it works to shield itself.

    -some sort of arcane gun, though they look somewhat bodged. The Star Hunter's red lightning continues crackling out, passing though my construct barrier and striking my armour before being soaked by my spell eater. I form railguns and fire mage slayers as the facially mutilated thralls rouse themselves and-.

    Alan's drawn his purple healing ray and he uses it to shoot the closest thrall in the face. The cuts steam and vanish and the thrall collapses.

    **Will not stop us. Can not stop us.**

    The wards around the room-. No, the entire ClusterShip fail, and I see the trapped desires of the people the Star Conquerors are puppetting twisting and writhing, unable to express themselves-.

    Alan shakes me, and I blink as I see that we've pulled back into the cargo area. He backs off slightly as I come to my senses.

    "You feeling yourself again?"

    I nod. Clever starfish.

    Lantern Khan's gaseous form is lurking near the ceiling, orange ring glowing in cover while he takes shots at the thralls with Alan's purple ray. Major Adams is going all out in his assault on the Star Conqueror, trusting Koriand'r to shield him from small arms fire.

    Why did that-? My spell eater is dripping down my cuirass, overwhelmed by whatever the Star Conquerors did to try and take me down. I replace it and generate a coilgun as Alan goes back to pulling injured crew out of the line of fire.

    **All will be one.**

    Message to Batman: Star Conqueror presence confirmed. Engaging.

    Message sent.

    Major Adams suddenly stops shooting, arms dropping as he lolls in the air. His spell eater has gone into meltdown, and-.

    Tiny pieces of debris hurl themselves at his face, only to be defeated by his dilustel epidermis. Trying to cut a star shape? So it doesn't require contact.

    I tag Major Adams with a replacement spell eater -need to emphasise how they aren't actually a replacement for a field magician- and then fire an ultraviolet laser at the Star Hunter. Kind of a shame I didn't melt down Nabu's helmet to make an Ace of Order, because that's clearly chaos magic it's using. The laser does nothing but make it realise that I'm mobile again, which means that its shield is general purpose rather than specific.

    Brute force and ignorance it is, then.

    I don't even bother with a construct. Thick orange beam from my ring to the ward, just enough kinetic force to make it activate and a whole lot of effort draining it. Because-.

    The Star Hunter collapses to the deck, the runes in its body flickering out. The few remaining thralls-

    "Aaaagh!"

    -drop their weapons, staggering as the bleeding wounds on their faces are suddenly a pressing concern. I scan the Star Conqueror, and… It's barely alive, but it is still functioning.

    Major Adams appears to have recovered, and Lantern Khan reconstitutes his armour and raises his arms high.

    "My people! I have returned!"

    Most of them don't throw anything.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2020
  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    11:56 GMT


    "…sections have reported in."

    The construct of Batman nods as Major Adams gestures to the containment device I built for the Star Hunters. Physical restraints, telepath suppression, some of Lantern Khan's robot men-at-arms and… My attempt at a ward. In theory a way for the Ophidian to feed on any spell they try to create, just in case they're not as tapped out as I think they are. I'll get Dr Balewa to replace it with something Earth-appropriate if that's where we take them.

    "Eight of the medium-sized Star Conquerors are on board and we've got some of Manga Khan's robots-"

    .-.. --- .-. -.. .-.. .- -. - . .-. -.

    "-keeping watch on them, but they're not doing anything. Whatever magic they were using, looks like they've run out. Orange-. Illustres, thinks these cages will hold them until Doctor Mist can make something more permanent."

    "Unless the Guardians want them. A Sciencell would be better than anything we could build. Though given their status as a galactic menace, I'm perfectly happy to just disintegrate them. And not just because that's almost certainly what the Russians are going to do if we give them the people who abducted their cosmonauts and stole their ships."

    "I'll take that under advisement. The status of the cosmonauts?"

    "Hooked up to some sort of magic device." I shrug. "It was dead when I got there, and they appeared to be fine. Everyone here knows that they're going to have to be quarantined, so Manhunter and Doctor Mist can give them a good going over before we send them home."

    I'm not sure what the device was supposed to do. I don't recognise a lot of the runes, and if they were using a truly alien system it will be one for the thaumaturgists.

    Major Adams nods again.

    "Lantern Khan is going over the ship's internal monitoring records now. I want to be sure we got all of these things before we leave."

    And that could take a while. The Star Conquerors tried doing something to L-Ron and the robotics maintenance people were badly affected by their thraldom. And Lantern Khan's blithe attitude now that the ClusterShip is back under his control means that he isn't motivated strongly enough to do it quickly.

    "Have you found any more of these things back on Earth?"

    "Doctor Mist was able to trace them. We'll be launching an attack shortly."

    "I'll be glad to know those things are finally dealt with. Good luck. Captain Atom out."

    I shut the communication channel down. Okay, next step. Khan's getting the ClusterCorpCrew back into order. Alan and Koriand'r are checking on the crew's health. I… Could go and patch the-.

    The ship.. vibrates.

    -hull-?

    "Illustres to Lantern Khan. Are we underway?"

    "I don't know. Are we?"

    "I felt a vibrat-." Why am I bothering asking him? "Ring, source of vibration?"

    "Ejection of matter from planet."

    Hm. Well, I know that sufficiently violent volcanic eruptions on Earth can throw material into space. And if things are getting that violent then I think we can safely assume that no Star Conquerors went down there. But just in case

    "Captain Atom, unless you desperately need me I'd like to head outside and make sure that we're not about to get a continent thrown at us. This ship has shields, but they're not military grade."

    He shakes his head, then nods at the Star Hunter.

    "I'd rather have you stay on guard."

    I nod.

    "Illustres to Lantern Koriand'r. Please exit the ship and prepare to block mass ejections from the planet."

    "I will go at once."

    I take a moment to scan the planet myself. I.. would have expected things to have died down by now, but it looks like the force of the internal explosions is being amplified by a solid structure under the planet's 'crust'. But the worst that could mean for us is that we'd need to make a jump with the ship before the crew are fully compos mentis. I'd-.

    Why is that… Getting closer?

    "Lantern Khan, are we underway?"

    "No, no, haven't touched the controls. Are we moving? Because I can go and shout at some people."

    "Stand by."

    Major Adams frowns.

    "What's the problem?"

    "We're getting closer to the planet. Not.. quickly, but… This ship isn't designed to land."

    "Was it the.. decompression? Were we pushed out of orbit?"

    I shake my head.

    "No, the atmosphere filter means that nothing like enough air escaped to do that. And the ClusterShip has automatic systems to anchor it in geosynchronous orbit and the Star Conquerors didn't remove them." I shrug. "With the crew recovering we can't fly away yet, but if it comes to it I can just tow the ship myself. The issue is that if I don't know why this is happening…"

    He nods.

    "We don't know what else is going to happen. What would cause this?"

    "Tractor beam. Strapped-on thrusters that are still stealthed, somehow. Some extreme-density materials escaping some sort of suppression field and causing a sudden change in local gravity. Some types of exotic portal. And… Probably other things. It might just be that someone was messing around with the ClusterShip's artificial gravity system, but-."

    "Lantern Koriand'r to Illustres."

    "Go ahead."

    "The eruptions are decreasing in intensity, but planet quakes are happening over a much wider area."

    Okay, worst-case scenario… Someone stuck a whole lot of neutronium down there in a zero-tau field that was breached by the mining laser. That's… Still not a threat to anything other than this ship and us. And… Our movement downwards appears to be accelerating. Not.. to a terrifying rate, but I'm a little concerned.

    "Captain, the worst-case scenarios here are much easier to deal with if I can see them coming. The Star Hunters aren't going anywhere, and between your lack of an organic brain in your enhanced state and your spell eater, you could incinerate them even if they did regain consciousness."

    "Okay, if you're that worried, get out there."

    "I'm not worried-worried. Just concerned about the bounds of my own ignorance."

    I raise my left hand to my forehead

    and a moment later

    I'm looking down at the fracturing planet.
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2020
  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    I'm.. seriously wondering if I should call Lantern Mother of Mercy in to deal with this, if only so I can stop worrying about it. I vaguely remember that Pluto actually was destroyed in the comics, and…

    Not like I have any real attachment to the place.

    "Should we..? Stop it?"

    "Do you want to?"

    "I am disquieted at the idea of a world being destroyed. Does this not matter to your people?"

    "We don’t even class this as a planet anymore." I frown thoughtfully. "Remind me to introduce you to a species that dismantles planets at some point."

    "Why would they do that?"

    "It makes it a lot easier to get at the useful materials. You remember you mentioned that some advanced species don't leave their homeworlds?" She nods. "For the really advanced ones, breaking up one of their home system's gas giants can provide them all the material they ever need. Even places like the Reach-"

    Again I see a flicker of light. Something so simple as an awareness of its own existence.

    "-use…"

    Koriand'r directs an interrogative look my way. Knowing that she can't see my face through my helmet, I exhale with confusion and frustration.

    "I got another glimmer of orange. I don’t know why. My scans aren't showing anything special; certainly nothing intelligent. Something could be concealed with magic, but the Star Hunters all collapsed at the same time. If one of them was down there then it should have collapsed as well…"

    "Could they be down there and unable to escape?"

    "If we're lucky."

    "I am… Surprised to hear you say that."

    "These creatures provoked the Green Lantern Corps into taking the gloves off, and Earth made them even more dangerous. As psychic parasites, they can't see other species as anything other than a host waiting for a Star Conqueror to be put on their face. And maybe I could fiddle around with their desires and change that… But then again, I could have done that with the Citadelians. Or the psions. And I've thought about that a fair bit, and I'm still happy with the choice I made."

    Okay. Still can't reliably see anything, but if that dense patch is an old spaceship or something… I generate a construct-.

    "I am.. not."

    "I suspected. Would you care to narrow it down?"

    The shape is… Somewhat like a stereotypical diamond; a large flat block which tapers to a point beneath it. The build up of other materials around it is uneven… But its centre of mass appears to be roughly in the centre of the planet. It could be a generation ship, I suppose…

    "The young Citadelian clones who had not completed the implantation process. You could have moved them from their world before you destroyed their cloning factories."

    "Yes, I could. To what end?"

    "They were children. That had not shared in the crimes of their elders."

    "They were modified clones of the First. Every part of their conditioning and training was designed to make them-"

    The mass is.. shifting slightly. Lighter material being pushed aside due to pressure or heat?

    "-better killers. You yourself were held at the facility where they created the 'better' version; you know what they were trying to do, and how well they were succeeding. They were as instinctively sociopathic as they could be made. There have never been any Citadelians who rebelled against their intended purpose. Not. One. I could have mind controlled them; made them my thralls. I don't want thralls. Or Citadelian children."

    "I… Want to be a person who tried."

    I nod.

    "When I was first training you and your sister, I thought to myself that if there were any justice in the universe I would be offering you a blue ring. Time permitting, I'd like you to try working with Alan's ring while you're here."

    "Any… You did not want me to have an orange ring?"

    "Most people can learn to use any power ring to at least some degree. Ideally, people would be matched to those they suit best. I'm a good match for orange, and so is your sister. You… Clearly you can use it… But I've never been entirely convinced that it's… You. And I want to give you the opportunity to be the most you you can be."

    "Do you have more blue rings?"

    "No. I had to talk Kalmin into making one, and Alan needed it to live, not merely to thrive. If it is a good fit, we can try talking him into making another one."

    "Kalmin, the monstrous weapon-maker who kills entire worlds."

    "If you know someone else, feel free to commission one from them instead. The only possibles I know of are the Guardians Ganthet and Sayd."

    Something's happening with the top of the 'diamond', a large crater opening as material is pushed back by mechanisms I… Don’t know. I'm increasingly thinking 'ship', because if that's some sort of launch…

    Bay.

    "Lantern Koriand'r, how resistant to telepathy are you?"

    "I have performed mental strengthening exercises taught to me by the Warlords of Okaara. The Star Hunters did not trouble me."

    I generate a construct of Pluto, with the denser mass as a more solid orange inside it.

    "This is what's down there. And while I'm not sure what that is… If it were a Mother Star…"

    I add definition and it fits… Horribly well.

    "Orange Lantern Illustres to everyone, I think that Pluto is a Mother Star containment unit. Strongly suggest advising the Green Lantern Corps."

    **I…**

    A new eruption of rock and ice clears an area the size of India, hurling the material which previously covered it past the ClusterShip.

    **Aaaaaaahhhh…**

    A planet blinks at me.

    **Awaken.**

    The opposite side of Pluto bursts as its tentacles flex, cracks along the dwarf planet's surface becoming canyons of unfathomable depth before-. Its telekinesis is working again. It's lifting the covering off itself and throwing the discarded wrapping away as it works itself free.

    **Hunger.**
     
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2020
  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Three basic options.

    Alpha strike. It's big, bigger than Ranx and possibly bigger than Mother of Mercy's actual body. But it isn't immortal. The Green Lantern Corps killed its brethren with constructs and none of them had the raw power that I do. I'm pretty sure I can kill it, half asleep as it is, but my chances are best if I go full power right from the start.

    Mind control. Same as the above, but with the orange light. Mother Stars are resistant to constructs but far from immune. Enough orange light on the primary neural clusters and it'll be mine. Probably. Its unusual neural structure combined with its telepathic abilities mean that it might be able to consciously resist, and I've got no idea what sort of personality it has. If it turns out to be profoundly selfless then that option might not work.

    Actually talk to it. It is an intelligent being who was probably hiding here because it knew that its species was being destroyed. It's got to know that trying to hide again isn't going to work. The Guardians are older than it is, and they aren't the sorts to leave a job unfinished. The Controllers could protect it, and might if they thought that it would behave itself. Even if it mind controlled the entire population of the Earth, there's no way it could take the fight that is coming.

    Or I could combine the last two. Tease out what it wants while it's too sleepy to resist effectively, nudge its desires a little…

    But highest priority is protecting the people on the ClusterShip.

    Okay… Gah. Koriand'r is right there. Alan's right there. I've got a rough idea of the parts of its body it uses for its anti-ship telekinesis surges. I… Should be able to do this.

    Mother Stars can detect radio waves, so…

    "Hunger for what?"

    I deploy probe constructs, trying to get more accurate scans of its interior. I'm… Going to need to know when it starts becoming more active.

    **Hunger.**

    I try to-. Ugh. Given its size, I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised that it has a decentralised neurology. Neuron clusters ranging in size from standard humanoid brains to the size of football stadiums are placed throughout its body, bound together by a telepathic field that is building back up in fits and starts. I'm probably not talking to.. all of it at the moment. Different bits wants different things, and it's like trying to look at a civilisation comprised of members of different species. I'm not sure what bits I'm talking to, but at least it's responding.

    Sort of.

    "You don't appear to have a digestive system. Are you hungry for attention?"

    **HungerCold. HungerCold.**

    The last large piece of Pluto is telekinetically hurled in the direction of the Oort cloud. There are still bits of Pluto clinging to its skin, and I see a swath of ice shards the size of Ireland flake off as it straightens its tentacles.

    Ring, message to Captain Atom. Message: am attempting to talk giant starfish down. Please let me know if you want me to do something else. Send.

    Message sent.

    "If you're cold, I'm happy to take you closer to a star. Would that help?"

    Its eye is.. moving. Given the size difference I'm not sure if it can actually see us. No, wait, those brains are spec'd for detailed telekinesis. It probably doesn't 'see' so much as 'feel'.

    How did they make these things?

    **Cold Stop Dead notDream Hunger.**

    If that was a sentence then my rings would have translated it. It's just throwing out words, probably as bits of its mental network flare up. Which means that I'm just speaking so that parts of it have something that isn't the ship behind me to focus on.

    Ring, play it relaxing music.

    Compliance.

    And while it's doing that, I'm going to try to make sense of its desire networks.

    "Lantern Koriand'r, I'm going to try and work out what it wants. Please begin towing the ClusterShip away."

    "I cannot move it fast enough to escape-."

    "I don’t expect you to be able to dodge an actual attack. I just want you to avoid its telekinetic flailings."

    "Then I will do so at once."

    She flies away, moving to the approximate centre of the ClusterShip's mass and extending constructs outward.

    Right, let's… Take a look.

    If regular scans weren't telling me which bits weren't back in contact with the rest, empathic vision makes it extremely obvious. Networks of desires and fears just.. cut off, or… Exist, but the drives and memories which created them are somewhere else. And with a mental network this size and this disconnected I.. genuinely can't.. identify them all.

    That part has… A fear response to certain shapes and sensations… Attackers? And a desire for certain other sensations. No green, as that bit never had to process competing inputs. It just does what it does. I.. think that bit is a part of its anti-attack craft system, which would explain why there's no violet or indigo at all. An anti-aircraft gun doesn't need to love or empathise.

    Okay, so that's what those do. What about… Oh, that's interesting. It doesn't have the horrifying mouth parts that the other types do. Rather, that's replaced by what could… Either be a hangar or a.. womb. I mean, normal starfish extrude their stomachs to eat. The.. neural clusters in that area.. miss.. having other Star Conquerors around. Maintaining that mental contact-. Oh, those can stand in for being stuck on people's faces. The Green Lantern Corps never really studied exactly how they worked… Or if they did, Salaak didn't think to include that information in the data he sent us when they first showed up.

    Those clusters… A slightly more complete emotional range.

    **DreamHunger.**

    But the structures don't make any sense. I'm seeing at least a recollection of the entire spectrum in there, but the thing itself…

    Ring, structural analysis. Any idea what those are for?

    Analysing.

    Okay, yes, that looks like it could be a data store. Mother of Mercy has similar structures, though not similar enough to be related. And those look vaguely like… Telepathic receivers? A communication network? Star Conquerors are telepathic, and they must have had some way of remaining in long range contact.

    But comparing to the telepathic systems on record, it looks like something's… Missing? I could be completely wrong, there isn't anything quite like this-.

    **NoDream. NoBeacon. HungerHungerHunger. AwakenMistake.**

    That was a bit more coherent. And… How did they feed these things? Star Conquerors didn't consume their hosts, even when they were starving. Does 'dream' mean their telepathic field? They're not a hive species, but there's usually a level of mental exchange amongst telepathic species, so-.

    Parts of its neural network are shutting down. Ring, why?

    Exhaustion. Stress. Starvation.

    It's dying? I mean, there are all sorts of things that can go wrong with cryogenic suspension, but I rather assumed that they'd have a work-around if…

    That's what the Star Hunters were doing. Something about… How they were acting was supposed to keep the Mother Star alive. And… It's going dark. Already the major clusters are dimming, and-.

    I

    dive into its earliest associations and see eternity.
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2020
  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12:07 GMT


    See frond. Grasp. Pull to mouth. Chew.

    An old memory. I recognise the species from Green Lantern Corps records; their favourite host from their original homeworld. It was burned to ash by a now-extinct empire who 'totally had this'.

    I see other similar desire-sets. Simple creatures eating, sleeping and mating. Defending the herd against predators. Not being mentally complex enough to recognise that the 'oddface' members of the herd were now hosts for the primordial Star Conquerors.

    Was one of them the host of the Star Conqueror who eventually became this?

    A partially submerged city with six-limbed sentients going about their business, apparently ignoring the starfish on their faces as they greet friends or work at their jobs.



    What?

    Yes, Star Conquerors kept some civilisations sort of functioning, but never 'as is'. They only maintained the things their hosts needed in order to live and procreate. They didn't… Carry on like before but with added starfish.

    In the sky, Mother Stars.. look.. down, obscuring the stars and at the same time… Not. There's a sense of… Rightness about this. Either the Mother Star regards this as exactly how things should be, or… Star Conquerors in general do? I can't tell whether this is a stored memory from this Mother Star or telepathically shared memory from another part of the species.

    I look.. around, and through the overwhelming orange I feel from the Mother Star observers I.. can feel the other emotion of the people. A… Um, I don't know what sexes this species had. A starfish-faced 'care giver' escorts a small group of starroed children and I can see the bonds of love. A flash of compassion as one being helps another out of the water after they struggled to pull themselves up.

    No, seriously, what is this?

    I press on, trying to find an actual memory and things snap. Mother Stars fade into nothing as I see lifeless streets, the inhabitants moving 'efficiently' from place to place. Children are kept in orphanariums until they're large enough for a Star Conqueror, the silent caretakers keeping constant watch on children…

    Their faces are blank.


    What am I seeing?

    My ring ever so helpfully flashes up a diagram… The emotion-association patterns are retained in different parts of its neural network, okay. One literal and the other… Imagined?

    There's no emotion from the hosts here. The small Star Conquerors don't have a huge emotional range, and the hosts… The Guardians were never completely certain as they had no interest in studying Star Conquerors in situ. But studies of the survivors and the remains of those who were killed suggested that their mental processes were severely distorted. They shouldn't be capable of what I just…

    I'm floating over the streets of a city of thralls as they suddenly look up. There's no obvious reason for them to do so. They don't really need to look at loud noises or flashes of light in the way that humans do. Wrong set of instincts. But they've stopped, and-.

    The false-reality trembles

    A street of happy starfish faces

    A street of mindless starfish faces

    A city of people

    A city of thralls

    Emotion

    Hollowness

    Something… Emerges, from the starfish, from the people, from the thralls, from the structure of the city they live in. I feel ideas and thoughts and memories flow past and up up up into

    An eye opens in the sky, the five tentacles of a Mother Star-. No this Mother Star becoming… Visible. They were always… I think they were always there, just…

    "You just appear? That was where you were born?"

    **QuietPeople DreamEchoes NoDream. So Hungry.**

    "I don’t understand! What do you eat?"

    A section of its neural network lights up

    and I'm drawn in to see a young amphibious alien spooking some sort of sea anemone which spits forth a school of bright red aquatic near-slugs and the alien is drawn to them swimming among them

    and music interwoven with emotion, fragments of images and scents I can barely grasp

    an endless meadow

    streets racing past

    a crystal refracting the light of a dozen tiny suns

    "Is that how you see us? Our imaginations?"

    more images than I can easily count or even perceive and something stirs from the part of me that touches the Ophidian as I try and soak them all in.

    **QuietAloneTired. HurtAloneTired. NoDream. NotDreamHurt.**

    "Dreams? You see dreams?"

    **AllDream. ManyDream**

    "You feed on dreams? You-?" No, hang on. "You are a dream?"

    **Remember. RememberDream.**

    "How can I help-?"

    **Rem… em...**

    It-. No, the shut down of the major neural clusters has… Reached what looks like terminal levels. A life form this big is going to take a long time to completely die, but I'm not going to get anything much else out of it. And in case it telekinetically flails around in its death throes I need to keep moving the ClusterShip.

    "Illustres to everyone. The Mother Star is dying, and unlikely to present a further danger after today. I… Didn't kill it. I will make a full report available shortly."

    Half-glimpsed images continue to flicker through my mind

    and I take a moment to check my spell eater and my armour's telepathic defence modules. No, they're all working just fine.

    I'm not sure… What to t-.

    "My Lord Illustres!"

    To think about the Mother Star. I'm pretty sure what to think about Lord Lantern Comic King.

    "Lantern Khan."

    I turn around in space. Lantern Koriand'r is still towing the ClusterShip, and Alan's gotten outside to cover it if necessary. Lantern Khan's only a short distance from me, with L-Ron held firmly under his right arm.

    "Might I suggest that your crew could benefit from your presence at this trying time?"

    "Yes. In fact, they're going to be benefiting a good deal more!"

    "… Right. What-?"

    "I quit." He pulls the ring off his finger and tosses it to me, his environmental shield fading out at once. "My insurance doesn't cover giant starfish gods. No insurance covers that. We'll be leaving the Sol system as soon as we've recalled our planetside assets."



    I catch his ring in a small ring case construct and stuff in into the most heavily armoured storage compartment in my armour. Then I weld it shut.

    "Oh. Nooo."
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2020
  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    "Mother Star, huh?"

    I glance around from my workbench in the Mountain as Guy leans against the wall near the door. Then I turn back to my equipment, slotting a new kuru pendant into the thinkers cap currently plugged into my brain and

    remembering.

    Guy frowns at the device, eyes flickering green as he tries to make sense of it.

    "Thought that thing wasn't ready fer the big time."

    "The neural hook ups are constructs. I can just reset the physical structures of my brain when I want to disconnect. I've been thinking of integrating one into my armour, but it never seemed worth all the time I'd need in order to learn to use it well."

    He nods.

    "You know somethin'? This is the most Star Hunters the Green Lantern Corps has seen since the big war. Guess that's Earth for yeh."

    He waits for a moment to see if I want to respond. When I don't, he looks away for a moment.

    "We're takin' 'em. They can all sit in a sciencell fer the rest of forever."

    "To what end?"

    "Keeps 'em outta the way." He looks at me out of the corner of his eyes. "Burning 'em up would save space, yeh, but the war finished a long time ago."

    I nod sadly

    as I focus on the network of separate but related desires that the Mother Star remembered from when the war was at its height.

    "It took me a while to work out how a creature that big could exist."

    "Telekinetic, right? Holdin' itself together?"

    "No. That sort of system could work, but I got pretty good scans of its neurology and I don't think it had the equipment."

    "Well don't keep a guy in suspense. Spill it, already."

    "I looked back over the records of Star Conqueror victims. The patterns of damage in long term hosts, the psychological effects of short term control, and the meaning of the runes they used on the ClusterShip."

    He nods.

    "Yeah? You find somethin' nobody else did?" He nods slowly as he works it out. "Magic, 'cause if it was anything else, the Guardians woulda found it." He frowns. "But you 're goin' on 'bowt how yeh can't use magic away from a planet-." He raises his eyebrows. "The starfish cracked it?"

    "To a very basic level, yes. You see, when they did brain scans on the long term victims, they decided they were.. vegetables. Random flares of disorganised activity. No person left. But there's no.. obvious reason for Star Conquerors to keep any higher functions in their victims. They don't need them. If anything, they get in the way."

    "Sooo?"

    "Sephtian took a look at the rig they had the Russian cosmonauts in. Apparently they were using it to make them dream."

    "And magic comes from dreaming, right?"

    "Sort of. And yes, that’s what I think they do. They use a whole lot of thralls all dreaming whatever they're told to dream, and use that to create… Really big Star Conquerors, with… Their own thaumic.. zones… Fields… Which… Is an interesting bypass."

    "So what does that mean fer us?"

    "There are people who specialise in dream magic. If we hire them, we can probably track down the last few Star Conquerors on Earth a lot more easily. Perhaps more to the point for me-."

    "You think you can get magic workin' in space with.. dreams? I don't think people are gunna sign up for starfish facials."

    "We could probably build something to replicate the effect. If we can study it in detail. Are the Green Lantern Corps planning to throw it into the sun?"

    "Nah. Though it could be a tourist attraction. 'Come to Earth: we have giant starfish'."

    "I… Don't think Earth needs any more alien visitors for a little while."

    Though at least it's lit a fire under certain people's bottoms. Despite rumblings to the contrary, the Democratic party nominated President Horne as their candidate. He's made some noise about encouraging private space exploration, which is apparently the quickest that he's ever responded to anything. Senator Knight doesn't quite have the Republican nomination yet, but he's loudly announced his intention to throw money at NASA in order to catch up.

    "Think you're right." He frowns. "What happened to that Khan moron?"

    "His insurance doesn't cover Star Conquerors. He quit." I pull his ring out of my equipment harness and put it on the work bench. "One orange ring, slightly used. There is an actual L.E.G.I.O.N. fleet heading this way, but if you know anyone who's in the market..?"

    "You'll prob'ly trip over someone too dumb to say 'no' before too long." He looks around my workshop. "So what's got you so bent outta shape?"

    "It kept the dreams of every species the Star Conquerors ever destroyed. It had specialised brains for holding on to every feeling and fantasy they ever had. The last-."

    I feel the feedback change as the pendant is filled. I pull it out, put it in the case with the others and slot in a new one.

    "The last living testament of all of those civilisations. As it was dying I.. looked… I doubt that I got more than a tiny fraction. And I'm not sure whether or not the Mother Star really… Understood that it was killing them."

    "They'd prob'bly all be dead by now anyway." Guy shrugs. "That thing went inta the ice over a million years ago. That kinda time, wouldn't even be ruins left."

    "The Maltusians survived that long, but that's not the point. I just saw every record erased. Not because of anything I did; once we freed the ClusterShip's crew it was going to die, and we couldn't let it go."

    "You're just bummed out."

    "Yeah." I exhale. "Though since we know that interstellar magic is possible now, I'm going to talk to King Cyprian and King Orin about making it a joint research project. If we crack this… All sorts of things are possible."
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2020
  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    9th November 2018
    19:12 GMT -5


    Hah.

    So this is the future?

    Looks… Pretty much the same.

    If I knew more about fashion then I could probably make a clever observation about clothes or something, but… I haven't seen anything particularly strange. More smart phones than I remember seeing, but mobile phones weren't something I've ever been interested in.



    DC.

    It's curious. In the comics the Justice Society came together… I'm not sure, actually. I remember from Starman that Jay Garrick and Alan Scott were active in the forties and I think I remember a Superman comic where he went back to that era and tried to ask them for help returning to the present only to be blocked by the Spectre…

    Here, they were a modern group. There were superheroes during the Second World War, and they were called the All-Star Squadron. But the Justice Society formed in the nineties from a group of heroes who'd worked together to varying degrees for years. It's like… If someone really wanted to do a Justice League film, had the ideas and the budget but couldn't get the licence for the property they really wanted to adapt.

    And eight years ago they were all killed.

    Quite how that happened I'm not sure about, but more than a few names I remember from the comics turned up dead after a major fight with a group called 'The Injustice Society', who promptly appear to have gone underground.

    Which leaves me with a choice to make.

    There are supervillains, but major battles appear to be a bi-annual thing, and if you're not in that city there's a good chance your life will be entirely unaffected. Worldwide crises… Even if you count something like the Second World War, there have been.. maybe.. three..? So life is pretty much the same as it was back home, not just in terms of society and technology but in terms of life-as-experienced.

    I don't… Need.. to get involved.

    Then again… I've done the obvious thing of getting a giant pile of precious metal by mining asteroids. I sold enough to get walking around money, and selling the rest at intervals won't really present much of a problem. Even with no qualifications that I can prove, I can easily get away with not working another day in my life. Which is… Nice, but it does leave me with a rather empty schedule.

    And the few hours I've spent with this ring have been the most intense of my life.

    I'm

    I'm trying to justify doing something stupid and dangerous. But I don't think I could stand not doing that stuff. I don't think I can give it up.

    So then. Here's to being stupid.

    I raise my right fist to knock on the-.

    And I'm airborne, a glowing green disc propelling me through the air! The acceleration is keeping me pressed against it but I can see quite a long way down at the moment. And-.

    The disc slows, rotating as it does so to keep me onboard. As it comes to a halt in a horizontal position I carefully pick myself up and straighten my clothes.

    And here she comes. White and black costume with a green atomic nucleus emblem between her breasts.

    Gosh. Um. This may not be a very superheroey world but her physique clearly took its cues from the generous proportions of-.

    "My face is up here."

    "Yes." My eyes move upwards to her decidedly unimpressed face. "Yes, it is."

    "Who are you and what do you want?"

    I could mess around and use ambiguous language, but she's already annoyed… Best to be direct.

    "I would like to purchase Green Lantern Alan Scott's personal lantern. I believe that you're the owner, and since you obviously don't have a secret identity, finding you-"

    "In a cabin in a national park with no roads for miles around."

    "-was simple."

    She looks down, and I see a green light strobe over the countryside.

    "Who else is here?"

    "I didn't.. see anyone."

    The band of green light vanishes into the distance, and she returns her attention to me.

    "Why the hell would I give-"

    "Sell."

    "-Alan Scott's ring to a creep like you?"

    "In my defence, you're an extremely attractive woman wearing a thin skin-tight costume in November. And while I certainly don't wish to diminish the significance of your achievements or character, I don’t think my being distracted is completely unreasonable."

    That gets a half eye roll. Not 'Dad's ring', I notice. I suppose that if they… Unlike her brother, Jennifer-Lynn had good parents growing up. Understandable that she thinks of the man who raised her as 'Dad' rather than her biological father.

    "And I don't need his ring. I've already-."

    I'm in America. I've heard this story enough times to know to warn armed people before reaching anywhere they can't see.

    "I'm going to reach into my pocket to get something to show you?"

    She looks mildly puzzled. Alright, fine. I slide my right hand into my jacket pocket and take out the ring I was wearing when I got here.

    "See? I've got my-" Her only reaction is mild curiosity. One point in favour of the Green Lantern Corps not existing in this parallel. "-own ring."

    She shakes her head. "So what do you need his lantern for?"

    "As a charge point. I'm… Hopeful that I can adapt it to charge this ring."

    She shakes her head. "I'm not letting you damage his equipment."

    "Is someone using it? I didn't.. see anything about a new Green Lantern."

    "No. No one's using it. But that lantern and the ring that goes with it are a part of his legacy, and I'm not going to let just anyone take it."

    "So there's no amount of money-?"

    "No."

    "I mean, you could endow a scholarship in his name, or set up a charitable foundation or something?"

    "I'm not going to sell you his lantern so you can mess around with it."

    I sigh.

    "O… Kay. How about if I don't? How about if you sell me both, and I only use his lantern to charge his ring?"

    "That's… Something I could agree to. But how could I trust you?"

    I grin.

    "Are you in the market for a sidekick?"
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2020 at 7:24 PM
  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    15th June 2020
    21:22 GMT -5


    "For.. goodness sake, Patrick. I know it's not easy for a step-parent to establish their authority, but burglary is a bit beyond-."

    "I.. know. Believe me, I know."

    On the other end of the phone I hear him exhale in frustration, while from the sofa of our living room Jennie flashes me an interrogative frown.

    "The worst part of it is, I phoned Ma to get a list of all the stuff that was missing, and not all of it's in her room."

    "You think she lost it?"

    "I think she might have got it into her head to try and restart the Justice Society."

    "I'm going to warn you right now that Jennie's about three metres away from me."

    "Yeah, I-. I didn't want Courtney getting involved. I didn't want to say anything to encourage her, so I didn't tell her about Infinity Inc. I don't think she knows you guys exist."

    "Can I assume that Courtney isn't.. some sort of combat savant, trained from infancy in martial arts?"

    "Yeah, that's a pretty safe assumption."

    "And the Cosmic Staff's brain wave scanner is just.. acting up after a decade without maintenance?"

    "I'm a mechanical engineer, not an electronics engineer. I wouldn't know where to start with something like that."

    "Okay." I lean back against the hall wall. "Okay. Let me talk to Jennie, and… We'll put our heads together and come up with something. You're in.. Blue Valley, right?"

    "That's the place."

    "Okay, I'll come in person. See you later."

    "Yeah. And.. thanks."

    I hang up, then bow my head slightly as Jennie gets up and slowly walks over.

    "What did Pat want?"

    I raise my head to look her in the eyes.

    "Short version… You know Pemberton left him the Cosmic Staff?" She nods. "His step-daughter found it and started using it and somehow bumped into a couple of Injustice Society members. He bailed her out, then took her to the Justice Society's old headquarters to try and make a point about how they all died despite being a lot better trained than she is. Unfortunately, she didn't listen, went back there after he took her home and stole all of their old equipment."

    Her eyes widen.

    "She what?!"

    "I know. So I.. guess we're.. staging an intervention?" I grab my mobile and scroll through my contacts. "I'll phone Jack-"

    Who last time I checked was still angry with Pemberton for giving away his dad's staff and with Patrick for keeping hold of it, so that's going to be a fun conversation.

    "-and Matt-."

    Jennie nods.

    "And I'll call Pieter and Tommy. Hopefully we can talk some sense into this girl before someone gets killed."

    "Someone else."

    15 June 2020
    22:42 GMT -5


    "Hey!"

    I don't know if it's the difference between the physique of a comic character and the physique of a real person, but even in this light what Courtney Whitmore is wearing looks ridiculous. And impractical. It looks like she's taken Pemberton's 'dress' costume and cut a display window for her abdomen. It's not armoured in any way and I wouldn't trust the flame resistant treatment after a decade in a cupboard. Particularly with that much skin not even covered.

    Jack catches the Cosmic Staff in his right hand and… For a moment, smiles. Then he goes back to glaring at the delinquent who stole it from the person who took it from the person who borrowed it and didn't return it.

    "Give that b-"

    "D-dad?"

    "-ack you jerk!"

    Rick Tyler looks at Matt in shock for a moment, then his face hardens. "What the fuck! I thought you were supposed to be dead!"

    "Ah, no. I'm Matthew Tyler. We're related, but… Distantly. I had been under the impression that you were living with your uncle?"

    "Yeah."

    And his expression says exactly how he feels about that.

    "Ah. Is now a good time to catch up? I'll buy you a coffee?"

    Rick sullens at Matt for a moment.

    "If you make it a beer, sure."

    "I think -given the circumstances- my morality subroutines will accept that proposition. Which way to the local liquor store?"

    As the two of them walk off I notice that Courtney's taken the opportunity to march up to Jack, who doesn't look even slightly impressed.

    "Give it back! That's my dad's!"

    "No, it's my dad's."

    She grabs it while he's still holding onto it, prompting him to shake his head and let go. She smiles slightly and tries to pull it towards herself, only for it not to move at all.

    "What? What's going on!?"

    "It's designed to recognise its owner's brainwaves, and I'm its owner."

    "No, it-. You're Sylvester Pemberton's son?"

    This tine, Jack outright scowls.

    "No, I'm Doctor Theodore Knight's son. The guy who was the first Starman and who lent Sly his spare staff."

    The Staff floats upwards two metres, with Courtney hanging off it for several moments until she finally gives up and drops back down to the road surface.

    "Ah." Tommy approaches the young woman who has somehow managed to fit herself into Ted Grant's old costume. "I don't really care about that costume. Dad always hated it. Said it threw off his instincts. But kids shouldn't be fighting serial killers, which is what you're signing up for if you put that on. So go home, change out of it, and give it back to Pat."

    Courtney jumps up to try and reach the staff as Pieter steps out of the shadows to take the goggles off the twelve year old who somehow got her hands on them. Fortunately, she's smart enough to see how this is going and surrenders them without a fight.

    From the glowing platform we're standing on, Barbara Whitmore shakes her head in astonishment.

    "I'm.. so sorry. I had no idea Pat even had the.. staff. I certainly didn't know that Courtney was using it. I'm going to be laying down the law with both of them."

    Jennie nods.

    "Just so long as you make it clear that it really isn't safe for children to be involved in this."

    "And just to make sure…" I smile as my construct microfiche reader finds a picture of Injustice Society front man Sportsmaster in the local paper. "We'll pick up all of the remaining Injustice Society members before we leave town."
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2020 at 6:34 AM
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