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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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    26th June 2012
    15:47 GMT -5

    This is the first time I've seen Batman in power armour.

    I saw suits like this in the comics from time to time, when he absolutely had to fight someone out of his weight class directly. But it wasn't how he generally liked to handle things. He and Nightwing fought an early Amazo without anything beyond their standard loadouts by outthinking it and covering it with C4 rather than splitting up, running, and coming back with specialised equipment. I even remember one comic where he used a 'Bat-boat' and reflected that he didn't want to get distracted with weaponry, perfect being the enemy of good enough.

    And I suppose there's only so much he can misappropriate from Wayne Enterprise's research and development division without an auditor noticing.

    Looks like… Looks like a rip of one of LexCorp's designs, actually. With added bat detailing and I strongly suspect an entirely new computer system.

    Major Adams is wearing a helmet the same colour as his skin, with a built in air scrubber. Diana's faceplate has a similar function, though in its case the purification system is magical rather than technological. Arnus has a smaller Terminan device which serves a similar purpose, and he's been kind enough to hand Mr. Allen a spare.

    It all looks just a little more rational, a little more standardised, than a normal superhero outing. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that.

    Dr. Balewa takes a deep, slow breath. He… Doesn't look… Entirely there, as if he's partially transubstantiated, so much magic being channelled through his body that his flesh just wasn't sufficient to contain it.

    "We are… Ready. They are almost certainly aware thet someone is probing them, and they will try to shut down the portal as soon as it opens. I cannot promise thet it will still exist when you wish to return."

    Major Adams nods. "Won't be a problem. When we win, we can just take out the jammer. Or fly the ship back."

    "We may not be able to sustain the portal long enough to send all of you. We will try, but we do not know what skills the magicians amongst the Sheeda possess. Should it close, we will of course try to reopen it."

    Batman nods. "Understood. Orange Lantern, you're on point. Go through the second Doctor Mist gives you the signal."

    I nod. I'm probably the most resilient person taking part. And least likely to hold back. I float slightly off the ground, construct armour manifesting around me as I mirror Dr. Balewa's partial etherealisation. We're not trying to take prisoners here, so I'm going to be shredding the desire-systems of any Sheeda I encounter just as hard as I try to shred their bodies.

    Angelica spreads her wings and…

    And… Sings.

    Oh. Um.

    The-. The air in the designated space ripples in green and purple as the magic of the League's most skilled magicians clashes with the defensive spells bound to the Castle Revol-.

    "GO!"

    Accelerate.

    For an instant the portal appears to stabilise and I dart through, appearing-. Wall. Scan and get out of the way. Pinging humanoid shapes. Not Sheeda. Undead? Armed and armoured. Mageslayers and shred.

    The… Wights? Barely have time to move before being torn apart.

    Black blur, then Mister Allen stops in front of a wall closest to the portal, arms buried up to the elbows and vibrating. I get a fraction of a second of the wall shaking and then it explodes, wards gone, targets located. Construct ropes fire x-ionised kunai into Sheeda soldiers, down. Slice, decapitate, confirm deaths.

    Pool.

    Green pool. Time goo. Hold up rune stone find conduits fire.

    "This is what they use, huh?"

    Jordan's construct armour looks like a steam punk take on a medieval knight, but it covers his entire body and from the faint irregularity it looks like he's layering it properly. No power armour, but at least his costume is armoured.

    "Not any more."

    "Can you destroy it?"

    "Don't kn-."

    The portal behind us flickers, Diana stepping through an instant before it fails.

    "Don't know. Better to destroy the Sheeda."

    Mister Allen appears. "We even trying to take this thing intact?"

    Diana nods. "We don't know what destroying it would do to whatever era it's moored in. Or to time itself."

    "Shouldn't there be more guards?"

    I generate a temporal flux monitor. Not entirely reliable, but…

    "I think we're in our time."

    Jordan frowns. "I thought they couldn't leave Earth."

    "They haven't wanted to. There's no obvious reason why they couldn't. Maybe the Queen left the Harvest Dreadnoughts as a distraction while she established a colony?"

    He generates a satellite dish construct, then shakes his head. "Can't scan through the walls. Sivana tell you anything about the layout?"

    "No. Pick a wall, tear it down."

    Diana points her sword at the doorway. "Tear down a door. We all know that the Sheeda take prisoners, but we don't know where they're keeping them."

    A heartbeat later the door is gone, and so is Mr. Allen. I generate a crumbler construct, set it for large area and low depth and press it against the side wall. Various runic arrays around the room begin to glitch as their feed lines are severed, and I feel the moment I get all the way through. My construct splits, eating the wall in both directions without risking anyone on the-.

    Some sort of acid hits my construct armour and my response is automatic: a sheet of ultra-tough ceramics appears just under my construct armour and shoots forward, throwing the acid off even as it's destroyed. I surge after it, construct blades swinging at the Sheeda soldiers and-. A wizard, and what looks like a sacrificial victim. Diana comes through next, crossing the room in the blink of an eye and stabbing the wizard through the head. Jordan's beams shoot out the soldiers' guns, rending them useless as my follow up sees them dead.

    I take out a purple healing ray as Diana checks the victim, a human female… Adolescent? I've had half an eye out for Ystin since this whole thing started, and… Maybe? She doesn't have the musculature that I'd think a knight would have, but I seem to remember that Ystin worked as a scribe before her last-minute elevation and she's got the physique for that.

    "She appears unwounded. I-."

    The young woman's eyes flutter open and Diana makes an effort to smiles reassuringly at her.

    "We are the Justice League. We're here to rescue you. Do you know where the other prisoners are?"

    "N-no. They just-. I don’t even-."

    Body language is good, but the fear isn't there. So either she's covering up for us, which seems unlikely, or she's-.

    As Diana steps closer the woman shifts, flesh rippling as she dives for Diana, claws shimmering-!

    Jordan and I put ring-bolts through her head as Diana stabs her through the chest, her claws failing to penetrate Diana's armour.

    "Changelings. We'll have to check all prisoners."

    Jordan raises his ring. "Barry, come in."

    "Guys, get here now."
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2020
  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th June 2012
    15:50 GMT -5


    Mister Allen has already cleared this flight deck, flies and their riders and ground crews torn open by a combination of supersonic fists and thrown projectiles. Blood has been splashed across Mr. Allen's costume, and I notice that he keeps clenching and unclenching his fists.

    "Look."

    He points out through the magic barrier covering the opening to the outside of the Castle, and as we follow his gesture…

    There's a planet. Looks like it's Earth-equivalent, and… Ring? Yes, some signs of primitive civilisation. Some simple roads, slightly higher levels of illumination in some places than would be expected, signs of deforestation… But not lots of straight roads, not widespread light, no visible…

    One visible satellite, big and yellow. But no smaller ones. Which… Could still mean that the world below is primitive, or at least non-industrial. The… Obvious alternative is that it's some sort of resort world and the reasons they don't have roads is a combination of readily-accessible air travel and a desire to get away from that sort of thing.

    "That doesn't look Sheeda."

    Ring?

    "Nothing in my files on either the precise design or the general appearance."

    Custom built? That suggests high-end resort, as low-end places will generally just buy a standard build, or… Use a ship. But I… Can't see any docking arms. Teleportation, perhaps? Could it just be an observation post? Someone watching the planet below? The alternative is that the planet's civilisation are fuel-trapped and trade with the more advanced civilisation who made the satellite…

    "Mine either."

    Doesn't matter. In any case…

    "It doesn't look like the civilisation down there is populous enough for it to be worth the Sheeda harrowing it."

    Mr. Allen rubs his hands together, inadvertently spreading Sheeda gore around. "Do you think that matters? You already offered them a new planet to settle."

    Diana's eyes narrow slightly behind her visor. "Could it be a Sheeda outpost? Could they have left it here during one of their previous attacks?"

    "Sheeda technology tends to look a certain way, but there's nothing stopping them making something a different way."

    "It's a space station. We need to focus on the ship."

    He might know something that I don't, but I'm only ninety seven percent confident that it's a station. Macro-teleportation is possible, so there's no particular reason why a mobile object would need an external thrusters, or… Otherwise have an external element to its movement system. It's just that the vast majority do. Even amongst those few civilisation that can build them… Well, just look at how long it's taking me to convince the Justice League to build a global magic detection network. They could have built one a decade ago. Heck, the Justice Society could have built one if they'd been patient.

    "Orange Lantern?"

    "Wards are still up. I can fly out and have a look, but if the station's warded it's barely worth my while."

    Physical directions don't mean much in the Honden, but by searching for desires relating to the planet below, I-.

    Out, wyrmling, and dare you not darken my door again.

    Gah! A green aura surrounds me and hurls me across the hangar and into the wall!

    "I'm okay!" I float upright and take a moment to check myself over. "I'm okay."

    Diana looks alarmed. "What happened?"

    "I tried finding the Sheeda's desire networks in the Honden. Something felt me do it."

    Jordan's holding his ring out in the place I was standing, green light strobing through the area as it scans.

    "That wasGreen Lantern energy."

    I dart back to the exit portal, looking around… Haven't got a good angle but I can't see any stars. There's light, so presumably there's a local star somewhere, but that's it. That's not necessarily strange. Plenty of systems towards the galactic rim have a section of the night sky that's empty, and there are more than a few systems that have them obscured.

    But.

    A sparsely inhabited planet. A yellow space station. And a powerful Green Lantern.

    "Jordan, can you reach the Guardians?"

    "Probably, but they're not sending reinforcements."

    "Ask for all information on a human man named Lord Malvolio of the Green Flame. If they say that they don't know who that is, scream at them until they decide to be helpful."

    "If you already know-."

    "If I knew enough to fight him, do you think I'd have been thrown across the hangar?"

    Jordan manages a small smile. "I guess not."

    "The Guardians and the Controllers barely exchange information about regular operations. They certainly don't talk about their mistakes. Wonder Woman, I strongly suggest that we clear the ship first. Whatever's going on here, disabling the ship denies the Sheeda a lot of tactical options. Destroying it flat out stops them."

    "What have you heard of this 'Malvolio'?"

    "Supposedly -and this isn't confirmed- he killed one of our Sector's former Green Lanterns, took his ring and kept it."

    Mister Allen glances at Jordan.

    "ThatDoes happen, sometimes. We don’t just take people with clean scorecards. But if the Guardians let him keep a ring, they must have thought that he'd do an okay job. Why would the Sheeda be talking to-? You think they're making him the same offer they meant to make me?"

    "If he's the ruling planets sort of Lantern… Like Sinestro, he might go for it. Or he might not. It might not even be him, but Guy can't do what someone just did to me."

    Mister Allen nods. "So where next?"

    Diana gives a small shrug. "We don’t have a layout."

    "Paul and I can fly outside, attack the other launch bays that way. There won't be any prisoners there, and I'm pretty sure we can handle any fighter defenses."

    "It's that, or tear the ship apart from the inside. Faster but riskier for any prisoners."

    "Attack from the outside. Flash and I will follow the corridors and attempt to find either the holding cells or the bridge."

    I nod inside my armour, then Jordan and I jump through the exit and into space.
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2020
    boomerpyro, ArKFallen, BoML and 19 others like this.
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th June 2012
    15:53 GMT -5


    The openings are arrayed around the outside of the Castle Revolving without obvious rhyme or reason. Mapping the ship based on what we've seen so far, the time pool is relatively near the back, but I've got no idea whether the two eye-like structures at the front mark the bridge, some sort of arcane weapon or are purely decorative. The solid-looking piece at the top might be the bridge, or it might be a barracks or part of the main drive. But as much as this thing's still messing with my advanced scans the optical scans can still identify portals like the one we just flew out of.

    "I'm getting nothing."

    "Hm?"

    "Tried calling Oa, then Guy. I think I'm being jammed."

    I come to a relative stop and raise my left hand slightly.

    "Illustres to Clarissi. Come in Dox."

    No response. But that could just be Dox.

    "Illustres to Lantern Ragnar. Illustres to Lantern Mother of Mercy."

    Nothing there either.

    "Illustres to Lantern Jordan."

    Jordan's ring glows. At least that works. I could try calling-.

    "Let's not try calling Malvolio."

    "If he was a rogue Lantern, wouldn't his ring's AI have been shredded like the one in Alan's ring was? I checked, and that's standard practice when a Lantern goes totally off the rails."

    "What about Sinestro?"

    "They didn't know how far he'd gone until he was already in custody."

    I strain to try to remember any of the specifics of Malvolio's back story, but I'm not coming up with much. I never actually read the comic he was in, just a summary I looked up when his name was raised as a possible explanation for whole Parallax incident after Jordan took his ring after Malvolio destroyed his original one. Physically, he resembled Alan if he'd been taking steroids, and he died after being shot through the chest with part of his own space station's hull, the yellow weakness being a thing back then.

    I don’t think that would work here.

    There was also something about the whole system being a construct, but now that I'm outside of the ship I can scan the planet and that doesn't appear to be the case. And I was wrong about its level of technological sophistication: the patches of city are post-industrial, the white-skinned and flat-faced inhabitants clearly comfortable in a technologically sophisticated environment. The patchy layout of settlements definitely suggests 'colony world', though I've got no idea where they came from.

    Assuming that it wasn't Malvolio's imagination.

    The complete lack of stars in any direction does lend some credibility to that possibility.

    I could try to get out via the Honden. I'm sure I can find Diana or Jordan again. But Malvolio -or whoever that was- doesn't appear to like me doing that and he isn't the target here.

    "Might as well get on with this."

    "You take the port, I'll take the starboard."

    "No, I think we should stick together just in case."

    He flashes me a small smile.

    "Worried, 'Earth's Most Powerful Lantern'?"

    "Yes."

    A direct affirmative appears to put him off his stride a little. But he nods anyway.

    "I guess that's fair. You taking point?"

    "Until you start wearing better armour."

    I sight a hangar about a third of the way along the hull. There should be an alert going out, but the Sheeda aren't scrambling to meet us outside. Which probably means that they're preparing to meet us inside.

    So assuming standard dimensions…

    My crumbler construct slams into the hull about forty metres from the entrance hole, punching clear through. My follow up is a low-yield antimatter device, the antiiron and iron in the core annihilating each other in a colossal blast! Light explodes through my hole, the exit, and several other patches of hull-

    "…the hell..?"

    -evaporate, burned through from the inside.

    "Breaching charge."

    I rocket into the hangar, four rotating beams of orange light scything around and slicing through two Sheeda magic users who managed to get a shield up in time to survive the blast, as well as the walls and a cluster of large armoured insects whose thick chitinous plates are glowing cherry red from the heat and radiation they just absorbed.

    And then gravity spikes and I'm thrown towards the wall, stabilising myself a second before I would have impacted, a crushing weight focused in the centre of my chest fighting against my environmental shield!

    "YOU'VE LEARNED, LANTERN."

    A Huntsman walks slowly out of the smoke, spear in hand.

    "BUT WITHOUT YOUR PET SCIENTISTS-"

    I generate a gravity converter construct and fire it, a pure spite move on my part but hopefully one which will keep his attention off Jordan, who has just flown inside and-. Oh Eris, not a boxing glove you idiot!

    The Huntsman crushes my construct-

    "-YOU ARE WITHOUT WEAPONS TO-."

    -as the boxing glove hits him from behind and… Actually staggers him. I… Okay then?

    The Huntsman spins, spear waving as the universe bends. I see Jordan's right arm and the ribs on the right side of his body snap, but the Huntsman's attention is off me.

    And the Sivanas gave me the design of their anti-Huntsman gun. The improved version, rather than the one they cobbled together on Venus.

    I aim as Jordan's second boxing glove is crushed, and then fire.

    The Huntsman's outline shimmers, whatever it is that makes up his body visibly flaking off.

    "WHAT?"

    He expands slightly, becoming thinner, less substantial.

    "THIS ISN'T…"

    Shred desires.

    His face goes blank, his body collapsing to his knees as he gradually fades away to nothing.

    "Easy when you know how, huh?"

    "You alright?"

    Jordan nods, construct-splinting his arm and pulling out his own purple ray device.

    "I'm good."

    "Then let's hit the next one."
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2020
  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th June 2012
    15:56 GMT -5


    Jordan's fighter construct zooms in through the portal while I wait a second before creating my own entrance. I see flashes of green as it opens fire as I go in, but Sinestro drummed remote targeting techniques into his head during his initial training and every shot is on target.

    Not that the walking acid golem things are particularly troubled by having green beams punch through their bodies, but they do get hit accurately. But how to deal with them? Throwing them off the ship should work, but their bodies appear fairly protean and I can't rule out the possibility that they might be able to get back. Or go into a degrading orbit and threaten the planet below.

    I take out three vials of Wallace's tentatively named Essence of Calcinol and launch them, each one taking an acid golem in the chest as I fortify my construct shields. The reaction is extremely vigorous, golems exploding in a brilliant flash of light and toxic sludge being blasted all over the hangar.

    "Clear?"

    "Clear."

    Jordan flies in, dismissing his construct.

    "Why aren't they trying something else?"

    "Not sure. My guess is that they can't." He frowns at me in an interrogative manner. "Sheeda disrupt potential sources of resistance before attacking to weaken an enemy. Sivana prevented that. They tried raiding to beat us through attrition but they had to either dodge the League or set up an ambush where they had all of the advantages. But their backs are against the wall, here."

    "You think we could get them to surrender?"

    We both fly back out into space, heading for the next opening.

    "Perhaps. If we kill the Queen. Then there's the question of what we do with them."

    "Killing in combat's one thing, but I'm not-."

    "No, I'm not saying we should kill them, but how do we apply the Geneva Conventions? We literally can't send them home."

    "Trial by the International Criminal Court first-."

    "The ICC only has authority if the Security Council gives it authority. And how would we prove which Sheeda did what?"

    "That-."

    A swarm of space-adapted snake-like Sheeda-beasts surge out of the next three portals, squirming through space between us. I generate eight positron beam projector constructs and open fire, targeting the snakes one after the other with deadly accuracy. Jordan on the other hand generates a construct travel crate with a construct mongoose inside it, turning the case's interior into an orgy of serpentine violence.

    "That's a good question. No paper or electronic records. Think the Atlanteans or the Columbians can read their magic records?"

    "The Atlanteans can probably bypass their security, but they won't know what they're looking at. The Columbians… Maybe. But they never decoded Melmoth's records, and-"

    A tiny distortion in the light reflected from the golden space station and I reflexively turn my guns and fire. A Sheeda warrior shimmers back into visibility as my beam hits, a hole punched straight through his gut.

    "-why would the Sheeda document things? They weren't planning to leave anyone alive."

    "AhMore magic?"

    The mongoose having completed its deadly work, he dismisses the crate.

    "Might be a good way to get it more accepted." I take x-ionised knives out of subspace and use them as part of a rock drill construct I conjure into being surrounding me, then fly through the opening. A few snakes leap at me and are swiftly torn apart, their handlers following a moment later. "But I'm not sure that their evidence-gathering rules will allow it."

    "I think people will be okay about changing those after this."

    "Flash to Lanterns."

    Jordan and I raise our rings to out helmets.

    "Yes?"

    "We found the prisoners."

    I nod. "Do you need me to administer medical assistance?"

    "No, that-. I've given Kid's potion to the ones who really needed it, and we're both carrying healing rays. But I was thinking that if it's safe to take them to that planet, we could destroy everything except the time drive."

    Jordan nods. "We can do that. But if the Sheeda aren't picking a fight with the locals, then we can't be sure they'll help."

    "They're only using a small amount of their total land area. If we create a camouflage system somewhere out of the way, they don't even need to know."

    "We can do that. Think the Sheeda are running out of ideas."

    "Yeah. Thanks. Flash out."

    Jordan and I turn to look at one another, and he generates a globe construct.

    "How about here?"

    He points to a location… A good distance from any settlements, temperate climate…

    "No, it's on a direct route between these-" I point. "-settlements. Here?"

    He nods. "You think we need to avoid them?"

    "I don't know that we don't."

    "Point." He nods. "Yeah, looks good then. Check it out together, then I'll do ferry duty while you build the camp."

    We turn planetwards, then fly at best conventional speeds towards the ground. The satellite appears to be geostationary, and the site we agreed on will be just over the horizon from it. I don't know if that's necessary, but sometimes people in this position will ignore things that aren't waved in their faces.

    I dim my environmental shield, and after a glance my way Jordan does the same.

    "You're warded, right?"

    "No tattoos, but yeah. It's come in real handy." He pauses, scanning the panorama beneath us. "Not seeing any aircraft or cars."

    "Me neither."

    "You using your magic vision?"

    "No, I'm taking the hint."

    "Probably the smart option. How you wanna handle Malvolio?"

    "Same way I handled Sivana. But since you're the other Green Lantern..."

    "I need to take the lead." He nods. "Diplomacy is an Honor Guard job. I'll handle it, no problem."
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2020
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th June 2012
    16:07 GMT -5


    I exhale, looking out across the United Nations General Assembly. Secretary General Tseng has more or less given up in calling for order as the ambassadors of a dozen countries try to shout over each other. In a way I'm impressed: not one of them is under fifty, and by the sounds of things they're all in fine physical condition. Thankfully, after a brief effort to maintain appearances the representatives of the countries most tightly tied into our uplift project are sitting down, ignoring the provocation from people demanding to know what they knew.

    I hoped they'd handle this better, but after two months the initial gratitude to Lex for saving them has faded and the nations of the Earth… Or perhaps I should say, the leaders of the nations of the Earth, are waking up to some rather unsettling realities.

    "You'd really think they'd have stopped panicking about this by now."

    Sam raises his left eyebrow. "Would you? Lex Luthor has a space fleet."

    "Yeah, but as far as they know he's just a businessman. Most of them don't have a space industry, and he's been openly building ships for months."

    "You do realise that there's a big difference between 'he's building ships' and 'he now has military supremacy over every nation on Earth', right?" He glowers at me, jabbing me in the chest with his right forefinger. "And don't think I'm okay with this, either. You were supposed to be keeping an eye on him!"

    "And I did. I knew at every step of the way exactly what he was doing. These ships will protect the Earth from extra planetary threats, and begin the process of building off-world human colonies."

    "Under whose authority?"

    "Well… Lex is running it as a sole proprietor enterprise… So… Him? I mean, he still needs to get raw materials and employees from somewhere so he's not completely cut off-."

    "Asteroid mining. And-. Is that it? He's tired of Earth so he's going to build his own planet with space ships and ray guns?"

    If he's got any sense.

    But I shake my head, and wave my right hand dismissively.

    "Of course not. He's just one man. People tend to be loyal to their country over their employer. But exactly how it works out depends on how sensible people are prepared to be. As you may surmise, the countries who have been benefiting from Lex's direct investment recently are a lot more willing to help him out than the countries feeling undermined. And not just the US; it turns out that Russia was updating their space infrastructure on the sly. Whereas… Tynanda, for example, isn't feeling slighted in the least and is happy to work with him."

    "All those countries you were launching coups in."

    I frown. "Sam. Those places were shit holes. Tell me I'm wrong."

    He snorts and looks away. "At least the other shoe's dropped. I thought Lex was planning on fleeing the country."

    "A bit mundane for him. Besides, where could he go that I could not find him?"

    "If he doesn't need anything, then why is he here?"

    "He's a businessman. If people-" More people. "-start imposing tariffs against LexCorp, it makes his life difficult."

    Or, rather, it doesn't, but it does make it less easy than it would otherwise be. LexCorp has security, but they're there to ward off criminals. Mostly. Whereas if a government feels sufficiently threatened then there are any number of violent individuals not constrained by civil law who could be instructed to attack him and his, and that sort of thing has 'unhelpful escalation' written all over it.

    "So he wants the same treatment the Justice League got."

    "The Justice League don't need to recruit thousands of people. And they're… Economically inert. And at least pretending not to interfere in international relations. Lex is going to want something a little more generous."

    "Or else?"

    "Or else you don't get the benefits of cheap space travel, or cheap energy-. Have you been keeping an eye on the energy market lately?"

    "If the price goes back up, there'll be rioting in the streets. He's got us over a barrel."

    "He had you over a barrel with spaceships. The civilian energy supply is just making the correct solution even more obvious."

    "And what are you getting out of it?"

    "Galactic peace and stability are everyone's concern. Now there's a human who can meaningfully help me with my wider… Aims." I shrug. "Most of this isn't new technology, you know. Starman worked for the American military during the Second World War. But no one followed up, because… Civilian applications are a distant second place. If that. It's been an ongoing frustration, both for me and for Lex. Bottom line? Get on board or be left behind."

    "How 'on board' does the US have to be to get its own fleet of ships?"

    "You'll have to agree how that's going to work with your counterparts in other Security Council countries. Obviously, the treaties relating to the deployment of weapons in outer space will have to be rewritten."

    "A bit late for that."

    "It was a bit late for that when Alan Scott reached near-Earth space in nineteen forty nine. Once it became apparent that certain types of superhuman could get off the planet under their own steam, it should have been obvious that the treaty was ridiculous."

    "That was before the treaty was drafted."

    "And yet, it got drafted anyway. The problem with stupid laws, Sam, isn't that people have to do stupid things to obey them. It's that they come to believe that all laws are stupid. And while I'm glad that your department is now functioning as opposed to being a deadweight, Lex did this faster, with less legal authority and less access to exotic resources."

    "So you're saying I should give Luthor my job."

    "Ah…" Oh. Would he take it? I suppose it… No, I don't think he would. It would close too many doors, and wouldn't really get him anything. "No. Not unless you can go back in time about fifteen years."

    The sidelong glance he gives me shows that he meant it as a joke.

    "My advice to you is to keep doing what you're doing now, but maybe ramp up the commercial side of things? Lex has made a lot of enemies, but he doesn't worry about them because they're really poor compared to him. But if you can get them something they can exploit in the same way he has, I suspect that you'll find a lot of them only too happy to give you a leg up. In the mean time, I imagine you're got counterparts in the Russian and Chinese military to talk to."

    "You not sticking around? I thought you and the Chinese got on pretty well. You don't wanna have a talk like this with Chairman Jiang?"

    "The thing about not being in first place, is that you don't get quite so offended when someone overtakes you. Though if you end up needing a mediator…"

    Mother Box, hush tube.

    Ping.

    "I know the Equestrian Princess of Friendship."

    His face goes still for a moment, then he smiles.

    "You made that title up."

    I smile back, and stroll into the portal room in Challenger Mountain through the tube -

    26th June 2012
    14:11 GMT -7


    -which shuts down behind me.

    "They're still not dealing with it, are they?"

    Artemis doesn't look around, still staring at our end of the mirror portal. Bethany wanted to know why it wasn't a mirror on this side too, so I made a frame for it. You can't see through it, and I don't… Really know why that is.

    "Do you need to ask?"

    "No, but this… Connection-thing is still kinda weird. The other guys on the team don't understand why I'm okay with it."

    "They think I mind controlled you?"

    "Something like that. So… Ponies?"

    I grin, my eyes widening as I shift my armour into subspace.

    "Ponies."
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2020
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th June 2012
    14:14 GMT -7


    "Stable?"

    Pony-Artemis tests the stability of each of her legs then nods, tossing her head to get her mane out of her face. "Yeah, I think-." She turns her head towards me. "'Stable'? Really?"

    "If you look everywhere for equine puns, you'll find them everywhere. The country's called 'Equestria'."

    "What would you call a country full of ponies?"

    "Oh, this isn't the part of the planet ponies come from. As far as I've been able to tell, it's the canines that are the natives."

    "So what's the place the ponies come from called? Ponyland?" She watches my face. "No."

    "Like you said, it makes sense." I trot back a step. "You feel up to walking yet?"

    "Yeah, I.. guess."

    She turns her head to look along her barrel. Artemis came out of the mirror as a pale green alicorn with a white horn, white-flecked wings and a glowing white mane, which… Lends more credence to the 'long' interpretation of our stay in the future. My own equine appearance doesn't appear to have changed, though I think my 'labour tattoo' might be a little… Sharper.

    "A bow and arrow and a star. At least it's easy to interpret."

    "Artemis, that's pony-heresy. Getting your haunch-stamp is supposed to be a huge, life-changing event that defines your role in society."

    "I don't think my role in society is defined by shooting arrows at stars."

    "Have you t-"

    Artemis gasps in shock, tries to reorientate on the sound, half-trips and only stays upright by splaying her legs out!

    "-ried?"

    Pinkie Pie… The Canterlot one, is laying on top of the portal. I'm… Pretty sure that she wasn't there when we came through, there's one door…

    "How did you get up there?"

    I raise my right forehoof and gently put it on Artemis's right shoulder.

    "We don't question Pinkie Pie. Bad things happen."

    "Ah?"

    Artemis looks at the pink pony for several moments, then her eyes drop to the sides of the mirror's frame. Then they drift back up to the Canterlot Pinkie. Artemis opens her mouth to ask how a creature as physically specialised for flat countryside as a pony climbed up on top of an object with minimal handholds, much less how a creature as broad as a pony managed to lounge on the top of it without either of the other people in the room noticing.

    Then she closes her mouth.

    I breathe a sigh of relief. "Sorry, just checking: you are the Canterlot Pinkie, aren't you? I didn't meet all of you."

    "Yeperoonie." She falls backwards off the mirror, twisting in the air as she does so to land on her hooves. "Pinkie 'Canterlot' Pie at your service. And I'm not charging at you and shaking your hoof a whole lot because I know you'd fall over, but I'm still really-"

    And PCP-. Oh, good grief. Canterpinkie demonstrates her progenitor's casual disregard for personal space by rearing up on her hind legs and grinning right in Artemis's face.

    "-glad to meet you!"

    "Ah, nice to meet you too."

    "So have you shot any stars? You probably shouldn't do that here because then Princess Luna would have to nurse them back to health or maybe make a new one and the night sky wouldn't be quite right until she did and that would make all the astronomers mad at her, but on your side of the mirror the stars aren't the same as they are here so maybe you have?"

    "I won't shoot any stars. I don't have any hands."

    Her armour came through as light barding, and her bow and arrow-filled quiver are both still there. But she's right: bows aren't suitable for mouth and hooves, and if she had enough control to notch, draw and loose with magic then she'd probably be served just as well to fire a magic energy bolt instead.

    "Huh. Oh yeah, I guess that would be…" Pinkie drops back onto all fours, frowning. "Um, you might not want to stay too long then. Ponies who can't use their special talents can get a bit… Strange."

    Artemis's eyes flick to me, but my lack of reaction seems to reassure her. Though, actually…

    "Are… You and the other Pinkie Pies doing alright in that regard? I mean, you were-"

    Her expression goes a little rigid.

    "-in… The mirror pool…"

    "I'mfine!"

    "For a.. while."

    She twitches. Marvellous. There's a mob of Pinkie Pie clones spread across Equestria all suffering from Cutie Mark Repression Syndrome, which it turns out is a real condition. I mean, now that they can party freely they should be bleeding some of the stress off, but…

    Maybe we should keep an eye on them.

    "Is Luna around?"

    "No, she's a pony."

    I snort with amusement, making sure to smile afterwards. That appears to calm her down slightly.

    "She's in her office. A lot of ponies want to use Sunset's alicornication spell, and she wants to vet them to make sure no crazy ponies get through."

    "That seems like a sensible precaution to take. Though I am a little surprised that Sunset agreed to anyone other than her doing the filtering."

    "I don't think she agreed, exactly? But since Princess Luna's a princess and Sunset's not in Equestria all that much, that's what's happening."

    I… Think I'm going to need to ease Sunset gradually into the knowledge that that's what's happening. Luna's office is… Huh. No, I don't know where it is. Drawing rooms, her apartment, various state rooms, yes, but I haven't seen her actual office.

    "Please lead the way. Ah, slowly. Artemis is still finding her hooves."

    It's a bit of an obvious feed line, but-.

    "Whenever I'm not sure where my hooves are, I just look at the end of my legs!"

    It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but I snort again anyway.

    PCP prances towards the door, and Artemis haltingly follows her. I remember perfectly well how hard it is to adapt, and I know her well enough to know that she doesn't want advice or help. She doesn't want me to draw attention to it.

    We head down the corridor, guards giving us a glance but not running and hiding this time. Which is progress. It's night here, so the guards are Luna's people and I see that they're making use of some of Sunset's lighter equipment. I nod approvingly, then turn my head towards Artemis.

    "Given any thought to getting out of high school?"

    "Running an empire in the far future doesn't actually mean you know everything they teach you in high school."

    "No, it means you learn useful things. You've led armies. There aren't a lot of people on Earth who've done that and have super powers too. Lex would take you on at officer rank, and then the galactic rim is the limit."

    "Yeah, but that would mean working for Lex Luthor. And giving up my secret identity. Lex Luthor's not someone I want knowing my home address."

    "And putting you in an excellent position to shoot him if he acts up, and… Look, your father's record, your mother's record and Jade's record are public knowledge. It would be more strange if you weren't wearing a costume."

    "And I already know you're right, and I already know it's a great offer. It just feels wrong, you know?"

    "If it feels wrong, don't do it. But you should make sure that you're sure that it feels wrong, and that it's not that you think it should feel wrong."
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2020
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  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th June 2012
    16:16 GMT -5


    That'll… Do.

    Far enough underground for shelter against low-power weapons, masked against most commonly used forms of sensor, tough enough to withstand intermediate assault for long enough for the energy shields to rise. Interior is low-price-civilian-home, which… Is adequate for our purposes. No overt sign that the locals are aware of us, but without knowing more about their society I can't be completely sure what that would look like.

    "Orange Lantern, you about ready?"

    I nod at Jordan's head as it floats over my ring.

    "Temporary shelter ready to receive refugees."

    "We'll be down in a minute."

    "Is the rest of the ship secure?"

    "I think so. The rest of the crew are just trying to stay out of our way."

    "We don’t really have the facilities to take them prisoner." I look around. "I could build one down here, but… We don't have anyone who could stop them using magic. So I guess… Smash the bridge and drive and leave them there?"

    "Or we could talk to the local government about taking them prisoner."

    "'We' or 'me'?"

    "If this 'Malvolio' guy is real, I need to be there."

    "I'll use my armour's stealth systems and actually find the local authorities while you bring the refugees down."

    "Don't start anything without me."

    "I'm not Guy, Green Lantern."

    "Yeah. I can predict him. GL out."

    Right then. I drop my construct armour and alter my armour for improved stealth. Then I go invisible, and use my armour's flight systems to head at speed towards the closest settlement. It's not actually all that far away, but it's a small village with a small airport and some farmland. Less chance of sophisticated monitoring equipment than somewhere larger. It should let me get a better idea of what they're like before risking further contact.

    The thought occurs to me as I accelerate to near the speed of sound…

    We've… Won.

    Without Sivana's help… Further help, cleaning up the Sheeda holdouts could take a long time, but without the Castle Revolving, that's it. When their initial attack bounced I was convinced this was inevitable, but now it's… Happened. Gloriana played her hand, and her strongest warriors couldn't stand against the League. If she'd limited herself to some harvesting and then returned to the future she'd probably have managed it, but…

    I'm reminded of the first White Dwarf battle report when they released Battlefleet Gothic. The man playing Eldar forgot the 'run' part of 'hit and run' and lost an escort squadron to a bombardment by the Imperial Navy. One of the other members of staff had to write 'hit and run' on a piece of paper and wave it at him to remind him, then he woke up and didn't lose another ship. Even managed a draw by disengaging his fleet once the Imperials closed the distance.

    The point being, of all the sensible and rational-based-on-incomplete-information things she could do, Gloriana did this. That… Suggests a mind incapable of comprehending that she might be… Not in the moral wrong, but in the practical wrong. If she were running a hundred metre sprint, she could be ninety metres behind the field and still be completely confident that she'd end up taking the gold. She's incapable of backing down, not because she's so proud that she'd rather die than lose, but because she can't conceive of any situation where she might lose.

    I bet it would be fascinating to look inside her.

    I slow as I approach a low wall, my ring notifying me that Jordan is entering the atmosphere in as covert an insertion as a Green Lantern carrying passengers can manage. The wall marks the outer border of the settlement, a small stone-paved path encompassing the settlement. But… The wall is faux-stone, small gullies pretending to be mortared joins actually just moulded indents in larger single pieces of synthesised stone, with a strip of light paint to aid in the illusion.

    Yeah, this looks like something I could see a space resort doing. Pre-assembled walls are easier to put together centrally than cutting local stones and making mortar on-site. Probably needs less maintenance as well. And the pavement is a sort of faux-stone mat?

    I sigh. It is going to be tourists, isn't it?

    I fly over it, further signs of plasticization metaphorically leaping out at me as I look around. A small pond fed by a hose, fake fish tied to the bottom by a string which produces movement by rotating the plate the string is attached to. Synthetic grass sheets laid down over the local soil, a handful of local succulents poking through here and there at the edges. Reed sunshades made of printed reeds, a single piece made to look like it was woven but actually held together with staples.

    It's like a space package tour. I… I'm less sure that this is a product of Malvolio's imagination. If only because a man of his era would find it easy to imagine a proper stone wall.

    I float upwards slightly, spotting a family of the species I scanned earlier in the fields… Picking some sort of round purple fruit from a short tree. This clearly isn't an agricultural production centre, so the only thing I can come up with is that it's a back-to-nature holiday home. The adult male has a bucket and is working his way along the line of fruit trees while the adult female is riding herd on the children, who appear completely fascinated by their environment. City children getting their first taste of nature, I assume.

    I fly onwards, heading towards the centre of town. The other villas are more or less the same, but the structure near the airfield has substantially more advanced technology inside it. That should be the best place find out more.

    The building… Looks a bit more natural, a bit more honestly weathered than the rest, even though its brutalist design probably wasn't meant to. Maybe it was repurposed from an earlier role? A female white alien is sitting in an office, doing… Actual paperwork, and they don't appear to be entirely at home with using a pen. Which is what I'd expect of someone from an advanced civilisation who's being forced to slum it. Goodness knows that my handwriting is far worse than it was when I was in school. They're probably the best person to talk to if we get that far.

    I phase through the back wall and look at the villa complex's computer core for a moment, check my surroundings, then phase in and connect myself to it.

    Oh.

    It's literally just a local management mainframe. It isn't connected to a global data network and doesn't have a social database. No alien films… I've got names of current and former residents… Nothing about government or civil organisation. Not a total shock: it's not like most computers on Earth have a full copy of Encarta Populi in their hard drive. The lack of a data network is a little strange; that suggests that these people are fairly hardcore about their isolationism. Which is a little at odds with the walls, but… Aliens.

    Can't get anything useful here. It looks like I'll have to either go to a larger settlement or ask. Ask. Manually ask a question like some sort of unusually verbose caveman.

    I switch over to my less intimidating light armour and head towards the office.

    "Excuse me?"

    "Just a moment!"

    I stop, standing at parade rest as the tour operator puts her pen down, stretches her fingers, then gets up and heads out from the office.

    And stops dead when she sees me.

    "Hello."

    "Hiiiiiii. I… Didn't know we were expecting any guests today."

    "You're not. I'm-."

    "Great Torch, is this actually an invasion? I-I didn't read that part of the manual! I don't know what to do!"

    "I'm not invading you. But certain… Things are happening, and I need more information-."

    "And you're going to suck it out of my ears?!"

    I frown. "No? Why would you even think that?"

    "Oh, you're just ruining all of my alien abduction fantasies!"



    "Sorry?"
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2020
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th June 2012
    16:20 GMT -5


    "But I'm in a relationship, so I don't think that's something I can really help you with?"

    "No! No! I didn't mean 'abduct' like that. I meant-."

    "It doesn't.. matter. Look, I need to find out how this planet's government works, because I need to talk to someone important."

    "So why are you talking to me?"

    "Because this world doesn't look like it gets a lot of traffic, so I don't know how your government would respond to an alien just turning up."

    "Well, yes, we don't have much contact here, but… What do you look like? Unless you're a robot."

    I subspace my helmet, the native pulling her head back for a second before staring at my face in rapt fascination. Then she blinks, clearly recognising my face. That's not particularly surprising; humans fit the standard humanoid morphological layout pretty well. Her species are larger and don't have noses or hair, but it can be a little disappointing to find out that aliens don't look that strange.

    "Oh. You're the same species as Lord Malvolio."

    Well that settles that question.

    "Yes. Could you please explain his relationship with this planet's government?"

    "W-why?"

    "Because I get the impression that he's rather important and I'd rather not offend him when I meet with him."

    "Yesthatwouldbebad. Um. Are you an ally of his?"

    "Never met the man before." I send a message to Jordan that I've confirmed Malvolio's presence. "But some people who are definitely my enemies are in this system, and the situation requires careful diplomacy."

    "That's definitely something Lord Malvolio would control. Um."

    "Is there someone I can talk to about what his current rulings on the subject are? Something that will give me a clue about what sorts of things he will approve and what he won't?"

    "There's a record of his rulings in the Library of Law in the capital. I don't… Keep any sort of record here. One of our guests might have a record of some of their favourite rulings, you'd have to ask them."

    "And how would I locate the Library of Law?"

    "It's the only building marked with Lord Malvolio's sigil."

    "That would be a circle with a tangential line top and bottom?"

    "Yes."

    Huh. I assumed that he wasn’t a member of the Corps, and with the Guardians acting against him that he wouldn't want the ring's sigil -the emblem of the Green Lantern Corps- to be widely displayed. But I suppose it makes sense that he'd claim it as his own.

    "Thank you. You’ve been quite helpful. I'll have a read and then go and see him."

    I put my helmet back on, and-.

    "Do you think..?"

    "Yes."

    "No, I mean… You're not abducting anyone, but do you know anyone who is?"

    "Yes, the Sheeda. If they abducted you, they'd put you in a digestion chamber to reclaim your organic matter which they then use to create organic technology and food, which is what's happened to millions of people on my home planet."

    "Oh. No, I didn't mean abducted like that-."

    "I suspected. Excuse me."

    Fly out of sight, switch to heavy armour and phase through the outer wall just before the tour operator follows me. Scan the largest city, look for the green sigil… Got it. Given the response I got there and the fact that it's pretty unlikely that we won't have to talk to Malvolio, I phase back in and transition there before phasing out again. Not a huge number of people on the streets around here, and… They appear to be giving the building a certain amount of distance.

    Marvellous. I'm really hoping that I'm not going to have to deal with an insane or pathologically unreasonable supervillain here, but my hopes are fading fast.

    I head for the closest wall-.

    I bounce off a faint green barrier before I reach the wall. I'm still phased out… Not all that astonishing. A little inconvenient, perhaps, but this is part of the problem with interstellar tourism; with the best will in the world the visitors won't know what they're supposed to do. But I suppose it makes sense that a green light user would prefer people to take a direct approach.

    I phase in, transition back to the front of the building and then drop to the ground. I get a few stares, but no one's running. I use my armour's flight system to rotate and wave my right arm.

    "Just reading up on Lord Malvolio prior to meeting him. Nothing to be concerned about."

    Then I drift through the front doors. No shield this time. The inside-.

    "Greetings, Seeker of Knoooooo…"

    A white-skinned local woman wearing a tabard displaying the green sigil looks me over warily.

    "Greetings yourself. I want to prepare myself for a meeting with Lord Malvolio, and this seemed like the place to read up on him. Is that alright?"

    She blinks.

    "Yes! Come with me!"

    She leads me down the corridor and into a climate controlled vault, scrolls and books branded with the green sigil stored in display cases, each labelled with a date and location.

    "Here we store as many original copies of Lord Malvolio's decrees and rulings as he has made regarding this system, as well as the earliest copies we have been able to find of his more general diktats. Are you an ambassador for your own master?"

    "Not exactly. My… Homeworld is hoping that he'll be willing to mediate on an ongoing military conflict we're engaged in. We're aware that the other party to the conflict is in communication with him, so it seems like a reasonable request."

    "Lord Malvolio has certainly mediated a great many conflicts, and sometimes the belligerent parties even survived! Would you like me to show you those records first?"

    "Yes please. And… Since I'm going to need to talk to him later today, if there's any insight you could give me into his character that isn't immediately obvious from your documentation, I'm sure it would be helpful in making my meeting with him more productive."

    "I couldn't possibly presume to know Lord Malvolio's mind in that fashion."

    No fear, I note, but certainly a surprising level of obsequiousness. Sort of like how Job wasn't afraid of God, and just accepted God killing his entire family as in some way just.

    "He himself said that studying his rulings can only tell you how he ruled in a particular situation. It will never tell you the thoughts that led to that decision, and it is those thoughts that will direct his future decisions and not his past rulings."

    "But you've studied them anyway, right?"

    "I… Yes?"

    "Then you've probably got a better grasp of his character than I'm likely to get in a few hours. And I'm sure that he'll appreciate it if my embassy is at least efficient."

    "That's true. Okay then."
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2020
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th June 2012
    14:21 GMT -7


    Luna smiles when she sees PCP, goes on smiling when she sees me, and continues smiling with slight strain when she sees Artemis. She slides her paperwork aside with thaumokinesis while getting off her seat and walking around her desk to greet us.

    "Grayven, it pleases Us greatly to greet you 'pon this eve."

    Oh dear. I'm still not good at pony body language, but if she's doubling down on the archaic speech then she's really unhappy. Quick check. Tail… As down as her tail gets, given its propensity for billowing in ethereal winds. Ears… The left one is reasonably upright, but the right has twitched three times since we entered the room.

    O… Kay. While I have explained what happened in the Land of Summer's End, this is the first time that she's actually seen-.

    Artemis takes a step forward. "Are you okay?"

    "Yes!" Ear twitch. "We are fine." Another ear twitch, and she turns to Pinkie. "Pinkie Pie, there are matters We must discuss with Grayven and Artemis."

    "Uh-huh."

    PCP smiles at her, perhaps waiting for something actionable. No one ever accused Pinkie Pie of being able to take a hint.

    "In private. Without-…" Ear flick and a reconsider. "It would help Us immensely if thou wouldst guard our antechamber against interlopers."

    Pinkie sits ramrod straight and salutes. "You can count on me, Princess!"

    She turns and trots up to me.

    "Either Princess Luna learned Pinkie Sense, or she's really not okay. And if she's learned Pinkie Sense then it's either going to rain toadstools next Wednesday or we're about to be invaded by giant grapefruit."

    "And how would toadstools even get into the air?"

    She nods. "I'll find the grapefruit knives, you calm Luna down."

    "Got it."

    She nods, winks, then prances out of the door and shuts it behind her. Luna gives her a moment, then the door frame shimmers in the colour of her magic. Some sort of locking and sound deadening spell, presumably. The mare herself fidgets in place for a moment, then darts towards me and kisses me.

    I blink in surprise as I.. try and work out how to better manipulate pony lips. Artemis.. looks away, tossing her tail awkwardly.

    I swear, Lantern Grayven, if I have to give you relationship counselling-.

    That won't be necessary, Sinestro.

    "We think-" Luna prances in place. "-that we-."

    I generate construct body cushions, pick Luna up and carry her over to them before depositing her upon them and laying down next to her, my barrel resting against hers. I nod my head at her opposite side and Artemis carefully walks around and lays down next to her.

    Luna… Appears to calm down slightly, her head slightly bowed.

    "Then… You wish to form a herd?"

    Artemis sticks her head up over her. "Ah… What?"

    "It is a somewhat dated practice, wherein a marital group would be formed with several mares sharing a stallion. It was only common during periods of warfare, when disabling or fatal injuries were more common amongst the fighting stallions, but it still occurs in modern Equestia and… We suppose that it is better than the other tradition that could apply."

    "Okay, first off, I already have a boyfriend."

    "That is not without precedent-."

    "Secondly, Grayven and I are not seeing each other. We're friends. Good friends who spent a lot of time together."

    Luna gives her head a shake, then turns it slightly so she can look at Artemis.

    "You are..? But you were-? Grayven hath told Us that neither of you feel right when you are apart."

    "Ah…"

    I… Just about manage to stretch a wing over Luna's back. "Put it this way. Twilight and the other five are pretty close, right?"

    "That is not-."

    "Right?"

    She ducks her head slightly. "They.. are."

    "And they've been on numerous adventures, testing their capacities against the worst the world can throw at them. Right?"

    "That is.. so."

    "And none of them are romantically involved with any of the others. Are they?"

    "None of them are-."

    "Are they?"

    Luna stays quiet for a moment.

    "They are.. not."

    "Luna." I nuzzle the top of her head. "I'm going to have female friends, and you're going to have male ones. That doesn't necessarily mean that either of us are planning on expanding our 'paramour cluster'."

    Artemis lifts her head so that she can make eye contact over Luna, and mouths 'necessarily?' at me.

    "But.. your.. magics are attuned to one another."

    "And yours aren't attuned to anyone else?"

    "No. Well. We.. are naturally attuned to the magics of Our sister, as we regulate the cycle of day and night."

    I widen my eyes. "Gosh. Dare I ask-?"

    "We are not-!" She jerks her head away and tries to flutter her wings, but with Artemis and I surrounding her they can't really move. "Involved with our sister!"

    "Glad to hear it. I'm also not involved with Artemis. Despite how our magics complement each other, and despite the amount of time we've spent together."

    Luna droops slightly. "Ah."

    I try to lower myself to show support, but I'm too big to really lower so I just dismiss the cushions underneath me.

    "Feeling any better?"

    "No. I have behaved like a fool."

    "You've behaved like someone who doesn't have a lot of social contacts and was dreadfully afraid of losing one of the few that she does have." Maybe I should have done something about that first? I assumed that the importance of special talents and cutie marks made the job-role more important, but… That could be wrong. I'm trying to help one person here, not learn the fundamental truths of pony psychology. "So I had an idea. I think you should widen your circle of friends in such a way that it doesn't overlap with my circle of friends, because in your mind anything that threatens your relationship with me threatens everything."

    "What.. do you have in mind?"

    "My colleague Circe is having a bit of a get-together for powerful magic users who are out of the loop on modern thaumaturgy. It's not really my scene, but I thought that perhaps you and Twilight Sparkle might like to attend. Most ancient mages tend to end up a bit cut off from the modern era too; you may have something in common."

    Luna raises her head.

    "You wish for Us to get out of the castle and make some friends?"



    "Yeah, I… Guess I… Do. It… Looks like the Elements of Harmony hit me harder than I thought?"
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2020
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th June 2012
    16:33 GMT -5


    Another tome out of its scan-resistant case, orange light flaring as I turn the alien writings into English and deposit them first into my rings and then into my brain…

    "Have you given any thought to just scanning these onto a database?"

    "Lord Malvolio has stated on several occasions that knowledge is not for the lazy. Anyone can come here and read our record of precedents whenever they want. If they're not prepared to make the effort then they can live in ignorance."

    "The.. people of your civilisation can't read your canon of law?"

    "No, the canon of law is available on the data networks. These are just the rulings made by Lord Malvolio, that form the basis of our canon of law."

    "Okay, but how about printing a summary and keeping it here? I can sort of understand expecting people to get off their arses if they want to understand their own civilisation, but this is deliberately keeping it opaque."

    She nods proudly. "As it should be."

    "That-."

    My ring flashes.

    "Yes?"

    Jordan's head appears. "I've got the refugees settled and I'm heading for the capital now. What does the building look like?"

    "You'll know it when you see it."

    He frowns. "That's not exactly-. … Oh. Right."

    "I'll see you in a moment."

    "How..? Many of you are there?"

    "Four of us came in the initial wave. The aim was to bring more, but our portal was disrupted. It might get restored, it might not."

    Having had time to reflect upon the time line, I've been… Forced to consider that the disruption might have occurred when I attacked the area around the time pool. If the magicians were attaching their spell to it as an arcane constant, what I did might have wrecked the whole array and forced them to start from scratch. Then again, doing that removed the Sheeda's escape options at the earliest opportunity… I'm leaning towards it having been the right decision, but… I can't be certain.

    "Hey! Anyone home?"

    "In here!"

    "Was that Green Lantern sign over-" Jordan flies in, prompting the curator to look around. "-the door meant to start-"

    "My Lord!"

    The curator falls on her face, genuflecting in Jordan's direction.

    "-glowing." He frowns. "What's her deal?"

    "The local Green Lantern is kind of important."

    "Yeah. I remember what it's like when a Green Lantern takes over." He drops to the floor and reaches out to the curator. "You don't have to do that with me."

    "I know. I'm choosing to. It is your due."

    I take a look at her…

    "As far as I can tell, she honestly believes it."

    "That's not the point."

    "Given how popular Lanternism is, I'm a little surprised that you're not more used to it."

    He drops his hand with a sigh, then stands back up.

    "The only Lanternists in Two Eight One Four are the 'sacred duty' types. They don't go in for this kind of thing." He moves away for the curator, looking around the room. "Learn anything useful?"

    "Lord Malvolio appears to be the 'don't make me come over there' type of jurist. His retribution for attacks against his people or slights upon his honour or… What he regards as 'treason' is draconian. However, he isn't arbitrary and generally treats emissaries and leaders from outside what he regards as his area of responsibility with a degree of… Not exactly 'deference', but he at least recognises that there's a difference between his own subjects and people who aren't."

    "So why's he talking to the Sheeda?"

    "Have you seen the stars since we got here?"

    "No. You know why?"

    "These books make it clear that Lord Malvolio used to control a much greater area than this. If he made a deal with the Guardians and feels that they reneged on it, he might decide that anything that lets him leave is a 'reasonable' deal."

    "So if we agree to help him get out of wherever this is, that reason's gone."

    "I'm just guessing here. Even if I could see him, given how 'green' he is, it's perfectly possible that I won't learn anything." I shrug. "There's nothing obvious for them to offer him, but that doesn't mean that they can't have found something that hasn't occurred to me." He nods. "If the Guardians did trap him here, are you allowed to let him out?"

    "Can I? Sure. Will I? Depends what sort of man he is. As of right now, we've won. If the four of us getting killed by an insane super-Lantern the Guardians were right to lock away, if that's what it takes to make it stick, then so be it. On the other hand, if we can talk it out, so much the better."

    I close the book and respectfully return it to its protective case.

    "Are Flash and Wonder Woman coming with us?"

    "Yeah. Diana's got a bit more experience with diplomacy than I have, and Flash can react faster than us if the Sheeda try anything."

    "Then we may as well go and pick them up."

    "First thing's first." He holds out his right hand. "Honor Guard Green Lantern Harold Jordan to Lord Malvolio of the Green Flame. Please respond."

    I take a step back, while the curator double-grovels.

    For a moment, nothing happens. Then a plume of green… Flame? Not exactly, but it's sort of a fatter version of the green flame-like environmental shield that Alan used to have. The pseudo-flame leaps from Jordan's ring and erupts in the shape of a man.

    "You arrive as brilliant light, rending darkness's opaque veil. As a whisper, silence shattering. Among stars and far flung heavens have cosmic winds aloft borne me as I, answering adventure's siren call, sought her face in the galaxy's far corners. Among peoples and cultures infinitely diverse have these well worn heels tread narrow paths leading to warm, righteous hearths. Against evil kingdoms and dreadful empires a vengeful hand have I raised. Against me could no man stand nor any man deny my will. Through time and seasons and ages undreamed of, my will, my token and troth remain. The vindicator, avenger, defender, law and judge am I. Saviour and destroyer, life and death… I am Lord Malvolio of the Green Flame."

    "UhHi. Mind if we come talk face to face?"
     
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2020
  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th June 2012
    16:51 GMT -5


    As we get closer, my ring starts identifying the technologies used in the construction of the space station. A.. slightly worrying amount is a partial match for Tartarath's technology, and I… Suppose that they would have been the most advanced species in our region of space when he left. Other bits and pieces could have come from more or less anywhere, though the general structure… There's a slightly narrower range of species who build spherical space stations, but… The separation of the sphere section implies that the people who build it didn't have artificial gravity and were using centripetal force to substitute for it. So… Built without artificial gravity and upgraded later? Emotional attachment?

    There's an open hangar, with a thin green film over it. I can't see Lord Malvolio himself… If he's been here long enough he probably could run a construct from his throne room to the exit, but there doesn’t appear to be a manual door and I'd be surprised if he went entirely without sleep. Sector Houses use a system like this-.

    No. No, this isn't a converted Sector House. The technologies and layout are wrong. But that does look like a Sector House atmosphere shield.

    "You spotted it too?"

    "He's either very good or very good."

    We pass through, and… I'm reminded of Emperor Palpatine's arrival on the Death Star. Ranks of soldiers and… Priests? Are lined up on either side, with a clear gangway between them. Some are the white skinned aliens I've seen so far, while others have pale orange skin. The pale orange ones are smaller, though… Without scanning them I can't say for certain that they're not the same species.

    Off to the far sides I see in-system ships which appear to be of local manufacture. I don't see anything obviously Sheeda, though. Have I misjudged? Would he have simply annihilated them the moment they arrived uninvited? If they were rude, that… Sounds possible. How desperate was the Queen?

    We touch down, and I release Diana as Jordan releases Mr Allen. Another humanoid is hurrying towards us along the open alley, this one… More human looking. That is to say, his skin is within the Caucasian colour range and he has both hair and a nose. He's wearing a blue jumpsuit, plain but for a white star with a small Green Lantern sigil in the centre and a white utility belt.

    "Welcome, travellers! I am Wallace, squire to Lord Malvolio."

    He smiles, slowing as he reaches us.

    "It has been so long since either my Lord or myself have crossed paths with anyone from Earth, and now two sets in the same day!"

    Diana nods, a polite smile on her face.

    "It will be interesting to meet a man so well-travelled. No one on Earth has any idea that there have been humans in space for so long."

    "To tell you the truth, I've almost forgotten what other humans look like."

    "Do you and Lord Malvolio wanna go home?"

    "I wouldn't presume to speak for Lord Malvolio, but for myself… I would be interested to see our former homeworld once more. It's been… Rather a long time."

    "Yeah, I skimmed your court records. You left Earth when he did?"

    "Verily."

    Jordan frowns. "How are you still alive? You've gotta be three hundred years old."

    "I suppose that I must be." Wallace's nods solemnly. "I'd rather.. lost track. If… You'd like to accompany me, I'll escort you to Lord Malvolio now."

    Diana nods, and Wallace turns away to lead us further into the space station. Diana and Jordan take the lead, with Mister Allen-. It's hard to see, but I think he's… Blurring slightly. Looking around while trying to look like he's staying in one place? I wouldn't have spotted it if I wasn't specifically looking for it, and I hope that Lord Malvolio doesn't notice. I on the other hand limit myself to passive scans. The station is shielded and appears to be using a kinetic energy induction system to maintain a near perfectly even internal temperature. Which means that infrared is just showing me the walls.

    The people who were lined up to greet us remain staring ahead at least until the interior door closes, glancing neither left nor right as we passed them. That's a little disturb-.

    Jordan gasps and I'm… Not far off doing that myself as we walk into an antechamber and see… What looks suspiciously like a Green Central Power Battery standing tall as the centrepiece in the middle of the room. A quick ring-assisted comparison to the one I saw on Oa shows that it's somewhat smaller, though still far larger than any personal lantern. A… Bit larger than the industrial lanterns used in the larger Sector Houses, though I suppose that it could simply be an obsolete model that Malvolio got hold of. Its vibrant glow shows that it's definitely still active. If that's what it is, that might explain how he's kept his ring charged for so long.

    Except… Why wouldn't the Guardians pull the plug? The data I got from John's ring and from Hinon made it clear that doing that was very much an option. Was it..? Did they used to use lanterns which didn't have that function? Because if there's a way around the usual lockouts, that's something I need to know. I don't want to ever have to fight a Larfleeze who knows I'm coming.

    At least it doesn't seem to be disrupting my ring.

    The corridor out is wider, and leads to a grand staircase leading up to gold doors embossed with the green sigil. If the yellow weakness existed in this continuity, this would be a really stupid colour to use to decorate a space station. As it is, it's merely gaudy in the extreme.

    Wallace knocks on the door three times, and after a moment of 'remember whose home this is' waiting the doors slowly begin to open.

    I see Lord Malvolio himself almost immediately, and the Sheeda courtiers a moment later. The Sheeda are keeping their appearance as humanoid as possible and generally appear to be conducting themselves with decorum. And-. There's Gloriana Tenebrae.

    I don't look inside her. Aside from anything else, I don't imagine that I'd see anything that would actually help me achieve my objectives. Just a cavalcade of malicious decisions made for personal satisfaction. Anarawd is rationally self-interested. Melmoth is just vile, and I doubt that the woman who usurped him would be any better.

    Wallace remains still until the doors are fully open, then proceeds forward in a slow and stately fashion. As we follow him I contemplate switching to my formal robes… No. This is still a combat mission, and I'm still in a room with some very dangerous people.

    Malvolio doesn't appear much moved by our arrival, remaining slumped in his beautifully wrought chair throne. He really does look like a medieval take on Alan, red and green clothes combined with a tiny mask, which he wears… Why? I mean, at least Alan had a reason to conceal his identity. I can't imagine that Malvolio has any human family he actually knows left alive after all this time. And speaking of human… As we get closer and I can better estimate his size… He's either not human any more or at least not wholly human. He's about two metres tall but there are humans who are taller. It's that he's too broad, too muscular, and his proportions are off. His hands are large enough to envelop a normal person's head but honestly it's his head that's most obviously abnormal. It's expanded to match the proportions of his muscles, which makes it grotesquely large by human standards.

    I mean, if you saw him on his own from a distance you probably wouldn't notice it, but like this

    "Lord Malvolio." Diana bows, and after a momentary delay on Jordan's part the other League members do the same. I can't really bow properly in this armour, but I lean slightly along with them. "Thank you for inviting us into your home."

    "Long has it been since I have spoken with men and women from the world of my birth. And now two distinct types stand before me. Queen Gloriana claims dominion over the entire globe, and appeals to me to aid in the realisation of her claim. Who are you, and why do you seek me?"

    "I am Princess Diana of Themyscira. These are my colleagues…"

    Always a bit of a puzzle when dealing with people from other planets. Do you use the real name or their title? Or course, an alien wouldn't know that 'Flash' wasn't his real name, but that doesn't help when dealing with an exotic human like Malvolio.

    "Green Lantern Harold Jordan, the Flash, and Orange Lantern Paul."

    Oddly, Malvolio doesn't appear to be focusing on Jordan to any great degree. I would have thought that for better or worse that's where his eyes would fall.

    "And we would ask your aid in bringing the few remaining Sheeda to justice."
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2020
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  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th June 2012
    16:55 GMT -5


    A nice way of putting it. Honestly, we'd be happy with him declaring that it was no affair of his and letting us get on with it, but this way she implies that ours is the one in accordance with the rules of civilisation. Because he's very big on that.

    "You do agree then with Cicero's maxim 'In war the law is silent'?"

    I take a moment to study the Sheeda in more detail. Gloriana herself has pale turquoise skin and the classically elven pointed ears, and small ear rings hang from her lobes on either side. There are… 5? Short horn-stumps sticking out of the top of her head, and her clothing is… Oh, who am I kidding, it's dominatrix gear. Mostly skin tight save for where it's been cut away to expose more skin, decorative 'armoured' shoulder pads, silly semi-ruff thing that's probably an attempt to compensate for her slight and unimposing frame. Her eyes are completely black, which is a little disturbing, but all in all I'm left with a powerful reminder than a person can accomplish deeds of great malevolence without being particularly threatening in themselves.

    She's accompanied by two 'beta' dommes, characterised by their conical hats, lack of ear rings and smaller breasts. Their clothing reveals less skin and looks slightly more armoured, though I can't see the runework which usually marks Highborn Sheeda out as particularly dangerous. Her handmaidens, I assume. The other four members of their party are arrayed for combat, but while their armour is slightly thicker I can't see anything… Special. Nothing that would let them turn the tide against an overwhelming force.

    For a moment I'm reminded of the Heroes of Might and Magic series. The good fights were in the middle of a campaign map. By the time you got to the end, the player character would inevitably have an insurmountable advantage compared to the AI.

    In a way it's nice to be rewarded for preparation.

    "I do not. While it is true that many laws do not apply to open conflicts between peoples, there are still conventions which the nations of Earth abide by. Ambassadors and other negotiators are given safe passage. One soldier killing another is not murder, but rape remains rape. You left Earth long before the Geneva Conventions were signed, but now almost every nation on Earth has agreed to abide by certain terms when engaged in armed conflict."

    "Have the Sheeda signed this convention?"

    "The Sheeda are not a nation. They travelled to our time from the far future. If you travel to lands owned by another nation, claiming that you are not from there does not grant immunity to their laws. If the Sheeda merely wished to make war upon us with the aim on conquering us, that would be one thing. Instead, they aim to kill all but a handful of the Earth's inhabitants, soldiers and civilians, men, women and children alike, and for no better reason than to indulge their own cruelty. The prevention of such behaviour is why the Convention exists, and why it is enforced between nations."

    The Queen actually moves slightly at that, her head tilted slightly back and her general air being one of contemptuous disinterest. Not sure what she's trying to prove by not interjecting. Unless she thinks that she's already got this sewn up.

    "And for these crimes that you allege, what remedy would you seek?"

    "We would like to have the remaining Sheeda handed over to us to be tried for their actions and punished as the laws of Earth require."

    "And what retribution will the justices seek?"

    Which will result in just about every Sheeda soldier who ends up in custody being sentenced to death. It's been a while since an international tribunal had the power to hand down a death sentence, but I can't really think of another response to attacks like the ones they've carried out. A bit of a shame; a proportion of them are probably capable of rehabilitation, and if… If Sivana had been operating at full power from the start and the damage had been less, and there was less outrage, maybe I could talk people around to lesser sentences.

    'We're going to kill most of them' isn't as easy a sell as… Just about anything else. Or it wouldn't be for me. For all I know, Malvolio would respect the hard-line approach and cheer them on.

    "That is not for me to determine."

    Lord Malvolio doesn't give any outward sign of displeasure at that bunt. I've got a worrying feeling that he's going to take everything in, decide on a course of action and then pursue it in true single minded Green Lantern fashion. And after that point, anything we say in moderation is going to be disregarded.

    "Who will name the justices who will determine the fate of the Sheeda?"

    "I imagine the panel will be comprised of a combination of senior judges from the Earth's most powerful countries, with a smaller number from the rest of the world."

    "Will they be honest men and true?"

    "Yes. They will have no alternative. The whole world will witness their actions and judge them for them."

    The leaders, certainly. I would be astonished if any country that actually took Sheeda prisoner was willing to hand them over to an international tribunal rather than try them themselves.

    "You are clearly an obliging noble. And how will your deeds be rewarded?"

    "I am hopeful that this will ease the way to greater international cooperation relating to attacks of this magnitude in the future."

    "But you do not expect a personal reward of lands or titles?"

    "That's not how we work."

    Mr. Allen nods. "A good deed well done is its own reward."

    I brace slightly, but Lord Malvolio doesn't appear to take umbrage. However, his head does move very slightly so that his eyes are pointed in my direction.

    "And you, wyrmling?"

    "I can't imagine anything they could give me as a reward that I actually want. Respect for my public service is far more useful."

    He doesn't reply, but his head turns slowly back to Diana.

    "And how do you respond to the Sheeda's claim that they are merely taking their due, as a lord may take of a serf's labour?"

    "A lord provides protection in exchange for the serf's labour, both in the form of an enforced code of law and against foreign enemies who may seek to harm them. The Sheeda provide no one with any service. They are not the Earth's rulers, but merely parasites. Queen Gloriana may well be the queen of the Sheeda: that is for them to determine. She is not the queen of us."

    "She has promised me much. And while she visited my realm at my invitation, you intruded here and attacked my guest's household."

    "My colleagues have raised the possibility of aiding you in leaving this star system. I do not know how that could be achieved, but we are willing to try. As for attacking her household: we are at war. We slew none who were not under arms and damaged no property that was not a part of their military."

    "I do not accuse you of violating your own rules of warfare, but of besmirching my honour in attacking my guests."

    "We did not know that they were your guests. We did not know that this was your system. But if your honor will not allow you to hand them over, we…" She glances at Jordan who merely bows his head slightly. "Are prepared to accept them being exiled here, rather than being returned to Earth."

    I nod inside my armour. It's not great, but if it prevents further violence while allowing him to be satisfied, it'll be worth it. Queen Gloriana just isn't that much of a threat on her own.

    "Diana!"

    Mr. Allen… Doesn't seem quite so sanguine.

    Diana's eyes flick to him for a moment before returning to Lord Malvolio.

    "Our greatest concern is to ensure the continuing wellbeing of our people. If the remaining Sheeda can no longer threaten the Earth, we can-."

    "Like hell!"
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2020
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  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th June 2012
    17:00 GMT -5


    And then he's not standing there and I start accelerating my perception and cognitive speed at once, knowing even as I do it that it won't be enough.

    I just about manage to see a black blur, a throwing motion that he started incorporating into his repertoire after my performance review sending projectiles screaming towards the Sheeda at relativistic speeds. Looks like he's learned from the few Sheeda who adapted to his speed; rather than just throw directly at them, he's throwing at everywhere they could conceivably dodge to within the fraction of a second they'd have available.

    Slightly more clearly, I see wards of protection and warning light up around the Sheeda, the slight shimmer of a displacement ward trying to find somewhere safe to deposit them within the time available and failing, and the slight widening of the queen's eyes as they make her aware of this.

    And then the whole thing turns green.

    "Perfidy!"

    The queen gets smeared across-. No, not the queen. One of the handmaidens swapped places with her, and the best I can say about Lord Malvolio's effort to shield her is that it protected the floor behind her at the cost of redirecting the entire force of a relativistic projectile into her body.

    An ironic death, considering what the Sheeda have been doing to the humans they caught.

    I can see projectiles stop in the air, motion arrested by Lord Malvolio's command of the green light. Is he strong enough to force-block that many projectiles..? Since this is clearly going to shit anyway, I reach out with my own orange light senses, and-. No, the normal physical laws aren't operating around the bullets. Malvolio's changed the laws of motion in order to stop the projectiles. That's interest-.

    A shadow in the green light and Malvolio's head is knocked to the left and then to the right, green light dimming, and then-.

    Ah!

    Normal speed, and then the corpses of the Sheeda fall or evaporate, depending on what Mr. Allen did to them. The man himself stands just in front of Lord Malvolio, breathing hard as the super Lantern comes to his feet.

    Mr. Allen flicks the Sheeda-blood off his hands once again.

    "And I'm not even a little bit sorry."

    Jordan looks shocked. "Barry, what the hell?!"

    "You have chosen your own death."

    A fat beam of green light blasts from his ring, hitting Mr. Allen in the-.

    It was going to hit him in the chest, the green light shining throughout the room appearing to somehow restrict his movements. But Mr. Allen gets his arms up, blurring them, and somehow… What looks like it should be a blast powerful enough to erase him instead just shoves him backwards into the rear wall. Squire Wallace dives for cover as Diana draws her sword and shield and charges Lord Malvolio-

    And isn't it nice that she instinctively supports her team mate in this situation?

    -while Jordan takes a moment to get his head in the game. I… Could help, and I'm certainly interested in how my abilities stack up against his, but… Does it matter? With the Queen and the rest of their leaders dead, the mission is over. The people in this system don't exactly appear to be languishing under the heel of a tyrant. Or at least, not a capricious one. With our target eliminated, our only obligation is to ourselves. Therefore, our aim should be to get ourselves out, not beat up Lord Malvolio.

    I try to move, but whatever Malvolio's doing to slow down Mr. Allen so he can hit him is also holding me in place. My environmental shield expands as I focus on my desires for freedom and movement and-.

    Fuck!

    Ugh. I'm… Outside of the station, my environmental shield glitching and fading. Lord Malvolio just shot me through the walls, and while that wasn't anything like enough to harm me inside of my defences, that… Overwhelmed my control.

    "Orange Lantern to League. I'm going to try-."

    There's an explosion, green beams blasting through the station in multiple directions! We walked past the people-!

    I fly at speed towards the closest breech. No real need to slap a barrier over it; the station still has gravity and the pressure difference is only one atmosphere. People aren't going to get sucked out, but they do-.

    The ones who survived the initial careless blast need to be evacuated. I grab everyone I can see, pull them towards me and transmute spacesuits around them and then throw them outside. Five, ten, fifteen… Internal bulkheads have engaged and the walls are blocking my ability to scan, and-.

    Block!

    I'm knocked back, but most of the force gets deflected around my construct shield. I can't see Malvolio, so I assume he just aimed at a light? I check-.

    The blasts deflected into the walls behind me, widening the hole and-. And one of the people I rescued was hit. The suit was torn apart, and… Well, he's.. dead. The others must have calculated that they could save more people by stopping Malvolio than by directly making rescues.

    Um.

    I transmute a new bulkhead against the innermost breach in the walls, then grab the survivors and head out into space. It looks like the whole station is weakly glowing, but hopefully if I get far enough away-. Test transition? Yes.

    A blink and I'm down on the surface, dropping off the evacuees and reclaiming their suits. Another blink and I'm up close to the station again. Next breach-.

    If I knew where everyone was, that would make it a lot easier to get them to safety. I split my focus, one set of orange strands putting the station's crew into the suits while another forms a crumbler construct and tests-. Yes, the station's hull is vulnerable to crumblers. Right. Pull back, transition this group to the surface and reclaim the suits, then go back up.

    I try putting one foot outside of the material but while it works, the station itself is obscured from my vision.

    Hard way, then. I throw out tendrils, poking small holes in the material of the station, seeking to pierce as many sections as possible. Probe constructs follow, searching for-.

    I lose constructs in a section of the station as Malvolio and Jordan rampage through, Diana hanging off Malvolio's right arm by her lasso.

    Not a good match. Nothing about Malvolio suggests that he's inclined to lie.

    I keep going, using constructs to stick suits on civilians as I find them. Some are heading towards escape pods, but they haven't made it very far. Misplaced faith in their ruler-? No, it's only been nineteen seconds. Fair enough, then.

    There are a cluster gathered in… A dining area? I use crumbler constructs to smash my way in, grabbing them and flying back out-

    "Paul? Where'd you go?"

    "Evacuating-"

    -to the blocking limit, transition down, transition up.

    "-the civilians. Do you need me?"

    "No, good thinking. We're good h-."

    Another blast of green goes through the hull, and this time it's heading towards the planet.

    Okay, I can-.

    Was that Jordan?
     
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2020
  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th June 2012
    17:02 GMT -5


    I blink, and I can see the green explosion as Jordan hits the ground and keeps going, the-.

    He's either okay or he's not. Scan the area. Is anyone-? Was anyone living down-?

    Miles of blasted terrain. No one there now, whoever was there before. Next cluster of station inhabitants-.

    "You would-"

    Constructarmourandwarpdodge.

    "-be well advised-"

    The green aura has spread, filling local space as Lord Malvolio leaves the station. Diana's in pursuit, no sign of Mr. All-. No, there he is, moving station inhabitants into escape pods and launching them. Bit of a problem with his skill set: his inability to fight in space. He's still got his air mask, but we're going to have to transport him off the station before too long or he'll be a sitting duck.

    "-to focus-"

    Diana slices at him, causing him to raise his right hand to parry her sword with his, which fades as he half-turns to punch her in the solar plexus. Ah, moment by moment construct creation! Skilled in combat as well as powerful. Diana's armour takes it but she's knocked back, and he fires a fat energy beam at her as a follow up.

    "-on the-"

    I could shoot him, but we came to his home and killed his guests, and Diana doesn't look like she's in mortal danger. Escape pods start launching, blasting away from the station and orientating on the planet. If Flash has finished-.

    I fly towards the launch bay, where Flash appears to be attempting to seal the area's hull breaches with the station's emergency patching supplies.

    "Do you-?"

    "-fight!"

    A lance construct comes through the wall, impaling me through my construct armour! I'm slammed into the deck, and as I swing a crumbler around-. Gone. I turn, raise a construct shield and brace.

    "Do you need a lift?"

    "To where?"

    "The Castle Revolving? One of the planets?"

    He nods. "Get me to the Castle. Maybe Mist managed to-"

    I attach filaments to him and-. The station's a write-off anyway, I create a crumbler construct and fly through all obstacles in the direction of the Castle Revolving.

    "-to reopen the portal."

    "And you might be able to use the Sheeda still there-"

    We're out of the decidedly sorry-looking station and flying through local space. I get a quick look at Diana and she's.. managing. In fact, she feels… Odd? Oh, don't tell me that she's actually using her divine abilities to keep up? Will wonders never cease.

    "-as shields."

    I keep a hefty shield construct pointed in their direction, but the journey is quick and it doesn't look like he can afford to move away from Diana-. Oh, she's lassoed him again so that he can't. That would explain it.

    "I don't regret it."

    "Good for you."

    "Where's Hal?"

    We fly into one of the more intact fly-aeries and I drop him off.

    "Malvolio blasted him into the planet. If it didn't kill him, he's probably digging himself out. Excuse me."

    And out of the ship again.

    "Jordan, you alive?"

    "Shaken up, but yeah. I think I went… Through the planet. Diana?"

    "Coping. Can you help her?"

    "What about you?"

    "Flash is on the Sheeda ship in case Mist opens a portal. I want a closer look at what this 'void' actually is. If we can just fly out-."

    "He can fly after us."

    "With no stellar navigation assistance? Difficult."

    "He could just aim at a nearby star."

    "And we can get the full story out of the Guardians."

    "Okay. Watch Diana's back until I get there, then switch out."

    "Right."

    Malvolio uses a trident construct to hold Diana's sword arm away and punches her in the faceplate. That could actually work; the nature of the attachment meant that we had to include weak points so that the wearer could speak and-.

    Diana's head jerks back as he follows up on his shot with an energy blast, her grip momentarily weakening and the rope of the lasso slacking. Malvolio immediately-

    Green laser construct.

    -gasps in pain as I shoot him in the back of the head with a laser that passes right through his environmental shield. He switches his attention from Diana to me, but the distance between us makes dodging his slower than light constructs a simple matter. Though I'm careful to ensure that there isn't anything behind me as I dodge; the last thing I want is for him to hit the Castle Revolving because he got too single-minded. He grits his teeth and tries to fly at me, but Diana's recovered and tugs him back, forcing him to block her sword with a construct shield and just take the strike from the edge of her shield.

    My laser isn't doing any damage that I can see; human flesh would have been incinerated by now while I can't even see sunburn on him. But he clearly finds it uncomfortable so I keep doing it. Can I burn his mask? No, though shooting him in the eyes got-.

    My construct gets destroyed, and I notice that he used his left hand to draw his side arm. I-.

    "Tag."

    "Keep him away from the ship."

    Jordan flies past, generating a hammer construct and I can't watch. Instead, I try a full intensity scan in the general direction of 'away from the star'. Returns after a certain point… Dim, and then cut out. It's actually inside where the normal Oort cloud would be, so that's where I'm going.

    Space bends around me, and I leave the fight behind.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2020
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  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th June 2012
    17:04 GMT -5


    Ovoid enclosure with sensor-resistant inner coating?

    No.

    Extreme extra-galactic displacement?

    No.

    Planar displacement?

    No. Thank you, blue me.

    Particle cloud?

    No.

    Exotic singularity?

    No.

    Surprisingly large stellar life form?

    No.

    'Space magic'?

    No.



    Bit of a puzzler.

    I know quite a large number of methods which could be used for enclosing a star system like this, and testing isn't showing up anything helpful. After a certain point there's just nothing. Trying to fly into it results in me remaining stationary, relative to the star behind me. Constructs peter out. Projectiles vanish.

    Mysticism it is, then.

    Hopefully, with Malvolio's full attention on his fight, I can pass into the Honden unnoticed. Opening my/her serpentine eyes I/we look around, trying to see the trails of desire that brought these people to this system in the first place. The Hall of the Green Flame had clear references to the initial colonisation-.

    Nothing. Nothing. Empty halls, with the faintest tint of orange to show where desires might perhaps be if there were any to display.

    Someone is trying to make a mockery of me/us in my/our own house. That is not something I/we can tolerate.

    I/We expand ourselves into the walls, into the floors, into the ceilings and the spaces within, existing as them, feeling for every crack and crease and irregularity. We extend back, back towards where the people of this system connect weakly to the Honden, obscured by the overwhelming green/will of their overlord.

    All Things Strive.

    There, there there! Tracings, etchings, residues not wholly scrubbed clear! Oh, you tried, savage, defiler! But I am/we are wise, careful, observant! I/we twist the way I/we look…

    And there is our corridor. There are our walls, there are our ceilings and our spaces and our needs and wants and desires. An enlightened soul came through here, but they did not understand, did not know what they were playing with! And there is our path, our connection to the wider universe. We could leave on our own now, but we would not leave our friends and we are not completely certain that we could shield them.

    The only question is, where is Lord Malvolio within these walls? Will his malevolence remain if we free him, or will he accept that as a trade for Barry Allen's treachery against him? Our instincts say to let him free, for we cannot control his actions but we can control our own, though that is… Technically a nonsense as we are confident that given time we are quite capable of controlling his actions, strong as he is. But we should give him the rope with which he could hang himself.


    "Please do not."

    I remember Guy 'spotting' me during an exercise session I did during that week I went without a ring following my initial bonding with the Ophidian, him having a laugh at my unfamiliarity with physical exercise and me needing to push onwards. The… Part of me that is the Ophidian merely hisses at the intrusion.

    Our tongue flicks out, tasting for the desire to communicate, the desire which maintains this barrier. It takes a moment, for the desire is weak and the soul… Like a Guardian, cut off from other colours. It tastes like concrete: not malevolent, but something that should not be eaten.

    The soul becomes aware of us regarding it as we become aware of it regarding us. We can't see it's body like this, though its general way of perceiving the universe implies a humanoid.

    "Who are you?"


    "When I served the Guardians of the Universe as a Green Lantern, I was commonly called 'Priest'. And I must ask you to refrain from releasing Lord Malvolio."

    "We are minded to ignore your request. Justify yourself swiftly."

    "I was once assigned to this Sector as a Green Lantern. My partner came from the world of Selsia Five. Many years ago I was alerted to his death, and travelled there to discover that his son had slain him and taken his ring. He took to it naturally, and to begin with the Guardians ordered forbearance. That was not a unique occurrence; the Green Lantern Corps frequently recruits from warrior cultures where there are lawful ways of fatally duelling someone, and since he was able to wield the ring I accepted that there was something worthy in him which the Guardians in their wisdom could see. Still, he had killed a friend and colleague and I made a point of having little to do with him."

    "It was not until many years later that the Guardians ordered me to kill him, in clear contravention of their usual policy on lethal force. I wondered why they were arbitrarily acting against a mere murderer, but when I investigated the extent of his misdeeds and discovered that they had been closely monitoring him for some time, I thought that they sought to use me as a tool to conceal their misjudgement. It was not until after I refused their order and created this void to contain him that I came to understand the true reason."

    "You have felt Lord Malvolio's power. The connection he possesses to the green light of will. Have you realised yet how such power affects those around him? How it becomes natural to them to share his certainty in those subjects upon which he is certain?"

    "We have not. He was not our primary focus. Though we know that what you say is possible."

    "It is a curse of Green Lanterns: for every one of us to believe bull headedly that ours is the only way. It is a belief that empowered our rings, but-."

    "We are well acquainted with the intellectual failings of the Green Lantern Corps."

    "Power without the wisdom of restraint. A sufficiently powerful Lantern can turn all those around themselves into extensions of their own psyche without specifically meaning to. Even now, the people of this Sector are fixated with Lord Malvolio's restoration."

    Con… Cerning. But… No. We've been keeping track of the desires of those around us on and off since we bonded. If we'd been fanning the desires of people closest to us we would have become aware of it. And if people on the Earth generally wanted what we want then our life would be a good deal less frustrating.

    "And are they fixating quietly and peacefully?"


    "I would not describe their response in that way. Two of the largest groups are in what I can only describe as a theological war."

    "Sounds like it would be better if we released him."

    "They will learn to live without him, eventually."

    "Almost certainly. But we are not prepared to make a decision on the rightness or wrongness of their heartfelt desires after a short conversation. Goodbye, and-"

    We fortify the link between the desires within and without, restoring the links between the rest of the universe and this small severed part. We feel a resistance, but we are stronger and older, and the universe remembers its proper shape.

    "-goodbye."


    I open my eyes and the stars are back! We're in Sector 1634, a short hop from home. I

    step out

    and appear on the planet's surface next to the refugee fortification.

    "Jordan, time to leave. I've got the prisoners."

    "Understood. I'll-."

    His face vanishes, and a green-burning image of Lord Malvolio's head replaces it.

    "This is not the end."

    "It is for now."

    I grab my refuge and its inhabitants in a construct excavation bucket, set a course for the middle of nowhere…

    And we're gone.
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2020
  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    27th June 2012
    01:53 GMT +5:30


    A superhero's work is never done.

    It's sort of the reverse of Yagami Light's plan of killing the worst people in the world, even if the worst weren't very bad. There's always something you can be doing, even if it's not all that significant.

    In my case, that's using the 'opportunity' provided by the Sheeda depopulating vast areas of Indian slums to replace the cramped and unsanitary hovels with something a little more fit for human sanitation. I also deposited a few hundred tonnes of L.E.G.I.O.N. humanoid-safe field rations from the ships who finally put in an appearance in the hands of local aid agencies, because even though the attacks have stopped this year's harvest has been massively disrupted. And the looting and fire-setting didn't exactly help. Despite how hard it got hit, India looks like it will pull through with its government structures more or less intact.

    Unlike South America. Or most of Africa.

    Another media reference: a Doctor Who episode in which the leader of a group of humans who'd been fighting the daleks remarked that there wasn't any point in having medics, because the daleks never inflicted non-fatal injuries. The Sheeda appear to act on a similar paradigm. I have moved medical supplies around, but there's no actual increase in requirements. It's more that the economy and transport links are so messed up that nothing can get anywhere. Guy moved a few Dolmen Gates and I don't think that prejudice against magic healing will survive this conflict, but Atlantis simply doesn't have enough physicians to replace the international medicine trade.

    Major fighting has fallen off, and while no one's said anything to me directly I suspect that world leaders took Dr. Sivana's deal. Or maybe without the Queen ordering what may well have been distraction attacks the other Highborn are playing it safe. Or maybe without the Castle Revolving's time drive they're stuck whenever they are… At least until Dr. Sivana gets together enough suspendium to open a portal from this side.

    The people I brought back were generally traumatised. Aside from facing their own deaths and witnessing a great many of their fellow captives go through the Sheeda's processing, most of them lost family to the rendering vats or to the attack that resulted in their capture. Some of their families were delighted to have them back, others horrified that we weren't able to recover more. That those few people were all that had survived.

    Batman can decide how to deal with Mr. Allen. It's not that I don't understand. I'm not even angry with him. But that's… Things are going to change, now. With the League fighting an actual war and not just fighting crime. With League members killing. The ones who haven't are now in a clear minority versus those who have, a complete reverse of the situation ante bellum.

    I guess this proves I was right. I'm glad I don't feel better about it.

    Incoming phone call from approved source.

    Please not Truggs.

    Call originates at the Galaxy Broadcasting System headquarters.

    Heh. Alright, put it through.

    "Orange Lantern Illustres here. I'm free to talk, but I'm otherwise occupied."

    "Hey! Alice Gilmore, GBS. Are you free to-? Live. Talk TV live. Ah, live, in a minute?"

    Despite the devastation before me, I can't help but smile a little.

    "Were you told to make that point very clear, or are scare stories being passed around the office?"

    "Um, ah, both..?"

    "Yes, I think I can manage that. And I did tell your superiors that firing Ms. Dearden was an overreaction."

    "I… But… No one's seen her in months. Before the Sheeda. She did those interviews, then just vanished.. So no one really wants to go down that road."

    Oh.

    "Well, I… Promise I won't make you disappear. How about that?"

    "Okay! Just a sec!"

    I… Seem to vaguely remember that she was… Alright? I-. I can't remember clearly my… Last conversation with her? If there was a problem, wouldn't someone have-.

    "Good evening, Orange Lantern!"

    "Good morning, Ms. Grant. It's about two o'clock in the morning where I am."

    "Can you tell me anything about the Justice League's recent fighting against the Sheeda?"

    "I haven't kept track of recent Justice League releases, so I apologise if I'm repeating something. The Sheeda ruler, Queen Gloriana Tenebrae, was killed, and their command ship was crippled, in an attack by the Justice League. A.. small number of abductees were recovered, and have been returned to their places of origin."

    "The League already confirmed that. Were you involved in the attack?"

    "Yes. Well, if you already knew I suppose I should try and say something new. Has knowledge that Doctor Thaddeus Sivana has offered to annihilate all surviving Sheeda holdouts entered the public domain yet?"

    "… No. … Why? I thought he was.. completely evil."

    "It is my opinion that he is a psychopath. However, he's more disinterested in other people's wellbeing than actively hostile to it. I am also of the opinion that he could carry out the process more swiftly and mercilessly than the Justice League. In case you're wondering, his price is a pardon for all his previous crimes as he wants to retire from villainy."

    "Is that..? Something that can happen?"

    "Retiring? Sure. It's not very common, but it does happen. Yellow Wasp retired uncaught and never committed any further offences." Unless kidnapping counts as 'ongoing'. "If you mean the pardon, most states have a mechanism for commuting sentences. I don’t think any criminal has bargained in quite this way before, but there's a first time for everything."

    "How does he know enough about the Sheeda to do something like that?"

    "He lived in their time period for years, then they tried to kill his family. He's also very very clever."

    "He knew about the Sheeda coming here-. To our time, in advance?"

    "A lot of people did. The Justice League knew, I knew, various people in governments received threat reports... We just didn't know exactly when; we thought we had a while or I wouldn't have been off-planet when they turned up. Then again, given the timing of Harrowings, they could have turned up a decade ago. Or fifty years ago. If that had happened, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

    I sigh as I build a rainwater collection system into the sewers to improve flow.

    "Despite everything, all in all… Earth is in a peaceful area of space. This is the first wide scale planetary attack we've had to deal with. Despite everyone that died, usually when the Sheeda Harrow a place they kill just about everyone. For an attack like this, on a planet as unprepared as we were… I'm afraid this is what a good result looks like. And if anyone wants to see a picture of a bad result, I'm willing to show them one."

    "What sorts of thing should the world learn from this attack?"

    "We're blessed, really. Not one inhabited world in a thousand has access to magic. We produce genius inventors and technologists at a rate that's basically unheard of, build devices that are near-incomprehensible to civilisations far more advanced than ours. I've… Banged this drum before. But… We don’t do anything with it. Things that could improve the lives of billions, don't. And I think… In my own mind, I look around and I think that none of this needed to happen."

    "The magic detection network I proposed last year and that could have been built in the seventies, that could have detected Sheeda attacks as they appeared, got thrown up in a rush during the last month. Outside a handful of superheroes no one's been to the moon in decades, Mars… Ever. If the Earth is destroyed then that's our civilisation dead. There are a still only a handful of magic users outside of Atlantis. And what so many people don't understand is that not using what you have doesn't stop other people using what they have. People like the Sheeda, for example. This is the price of… Blind introversion. This is.. the price of mediocrity. And there's no excuse, not when a species has the opportunities that we do."

    "There's no one bad actor I can point to, no one point of failure, just thousands of failures taken over the course of decades. A wilful embrace of 'getting by'. This is the price of mediocrity. And I really don't want anyone to ever have to pay it again."
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2020
  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    28th June 2012
    21:53 GMT -5


    "I'm going to ask once."

    Strands of orange light connect me through one of Dr. Sivana's machines to the Harvest Dreadnaught's internal systems. Its external mechanisms are already dead, but a lot of the internal mechanisms don't have any sort of central override.

    "The Castle Revolving has been destroyed. Every other Harvest Dreadnaught has either been destroyed or captured. Queen Gloriana Tenebrae is dead. The Harrowing is over and has failed. There is no longer any benefit in you continuing to fight. Please surrender. Lay down your arms and you will be treated in accordance with our laws for handling prisoners of war. Should you choose not to…"

    I look over to where Dr. Sivana is pushing a fish tank gurney filled with child zombies back through his portal.

    "I regret that I will be obliged to leave your fate in the hands of Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana."

    By pure chance I was right. Without the Castle the Harvest Dreadnaughts were stuck. Those that were using their more powerful stealth technology, anyway. One was caught in the 'deployed' position in southern Africa, and there weren't any survivors once the US air force were finished bombarding it.

    Their defences were somewhat compromised at the time. Dr. Balewa appears to consider time travellers to be acceptable targets.

    "You may remember him as the human who spent some time in your era and survived everything you threw at him. Now that he has a fully equipped laboratory, he wants to find out what he missed about the way your bodies work. Naturally, I can't condone such behaviour, which is why I will turn around before he starts performing live dissections. You have…"

    There's a quiet 'thunk' as the wheels move over the lip of the portal.

    "About thirty seconds to decide. We own your internal systems at this point, so just shout 'we surrender' in a loud and clear voice."

    My eyes briefly alight on the still-beating Sheeda heart Dr. Sivana is using as part of his device.

    "Twenty eight."

    The Dreadnaught's internal monitoring shows that even after a billion years, diffusion of responsibility is still a thing. Crew are looking at their section chiefs, and it looks like they're waiting for them to make the 'right' decision. Oddly, it's the surviving squadron leaders who are making a point of obeying my instruction. Sheeda working in the processing section on the other hand are setting up ambushes. They've already… There wasn't anyone recoverable in there when we boarded.

    That makes a degree of sense. Proving that an individual soldier went beyond acceptable degrees of wartime murderousness would be difficult but everyone in processing is looking at a firing squad. If they're still alive once Dr. Sivana is finished with them.

    The Highborn captain on the bridge stands.

    "We are prepared to negotiate-."

    "I'm not. I am presenting terms. Twenty seconds."

    She isn't carrying any weapons, but bows her head and removes her gauntlets before symbolically dropping them on the floor. Some of the bridge crew briefly hesitate, but all of them follow suit.

    "We surrender."

    I make sure to broadcast that across the rest of the ship, and the hesitant start to comply.

    "Leave your weapons where they are. Proceed to the primary drive for p-." I nearly say 'processing', but I don't want to imply that we're going to kill them anyway. Immediately anyway. "Formal detainment. Any attempt to bring weapons with you will be treated as perfidy and result in summary- "

    Dr. Sivana walks back through the portal, rubbing his hands together eagerly.

    "-execution. Your time is now up. Proceed to Primary Drive in a calm and orderly fashion now. Hostilities will resume once all prisoners are removed."

    "So? How many do I get?"

    "Looks like thirty two."

    "All Lowborn, I take it?"

    I didn't ask whether Sheeda were in the habit of taking other Sheeda alive. They presumably know that we don't do to prisoners what they do to them.

    "Yes."

    "Mm. Well, I have to start somewhere, I suppose. Do you think I should try and recover the human remains?"

    "I imagine that their families would appreciate that."

    He looks at me, and I remember that he's a psychopath.

    "Yes, if reasonably practical."

    He smiles.

    "Ah, you spotted it. I had too, but as much as I like being a free man again it's not as if I actually care about those people."

    "I don't believe you've ever actually been in prison."

    "No, but I did once spend two weeks in a secure hospital while I was in a coma."

    Disarmed fly ground crew from the closest hangar walk in, freezing briefly when they see Dr. Sivana. I point to the portal and they carry on through, not breaking into a run but not taking their eyes off him.

    "So this is really it? No more supervillainy?"

    "I think my problem was that I didn't kill enough people. Half of the countries offering me a pardon tried to hire me, all thanks to the Sheeda. If I'd cloned a few million super-insects and faked an invasion, I could have had this years ago."

    "You weren't the man you are now a few years ago. Also, I don't think that Venus would like it if you created an army of super-insects."

    "Yes, mentioning Venus's name is a good way to make me remember a request. Well done." He looks around, causing the Sheeda walking past to step away while trying to avoid looking like they are. "So who gets to keep this Harvest Dreadnaught?"

    "Do you want it?"

    "No, I've already taken one, but that Dox fellow seems like the sort who might appreciate it." I raise my eyebrows. "Georgia mentioned him. She seems quite taken with him." He frowns thoughtfully. "It will be an interesting conclusion to the experiment if she ends up in a romantic relationship before any of my other children."

    "Can you guess what I'm thinking?"

    "Usually, no. But in this case, I imagine that you're curious about me performing experiments with my children."

    "'Curious'. Yes."

    "It's either that or you're interested in either her or Dox yourself, and that's not very likely. I haven't made any secret of what I'm doing, and I know perfectly well that she and Junior are going to be watching my attempts to re-woo Venus with notepads out and pencils raised." He smiles. "That's how I raised them. Hm." He focuses on me. "I have a question for you, actually."

    "I have little interest in either Georgia or Dox, and wish them every happiness."

    "No. What happens next? I've never been any good at predicting people. I honestly didn't think that they'd ever give me a pardon. But my life coach says that I should try putting myself -metaphorically putting myself- in other people's position. A lot of people lost family members to an attack they didn't see coming and couldn't fight back. I'm not.. sure what I'd do if anyone in my family died, but I doubt it would be particularly nice. I've seen what happens when alien civilisations go through this sort of trauma, but humans aren't quite like other species. What does this sort of trauma do to humans, do you think?"

    "What's going to happen next?"
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2020
  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    6 246 937.M41

    I set the Shark Assault Boat down on an open field on -ironically- the Imperial agri-world of Gravalax, then open the hangar doors before releasing it from my grip. It's on the border between Imperial space and Tau space, and a mere six years ago might have undergone a change in overseer but for the efforts of the local genestealer cult. There are still… Some.. 'xenoists' amongst the local population, but after the tau trade mission pulled out there was a bit of a good old Imperial purge.

    There's a rumble a moment later, and a convoy of Imperial civilian vehicles drive down the embarkation ramps. At my suggestion Fio'o Dy'aketh Shi'ra agreed to release a few police stations' worth of Imperial agitators along with the people who took part in the raid on the cultist temple, more to get them off the planet than anything else. They don't know anything significant about tau operations and now they can agitate somewhere else.

    Cain and Jurgen are holding back, making sure that everyone is able to evacuate safely. Or as I'm sure Cain will one day note in his memoirs, allowing them to draw any incoming fire. I fly into the interior of the dropship and land close by.

    "I thought that Gravalax would have a certain ironic appeal. And you can be certain of a friendly welcome."

    "How did we get here?"

    "I carried the Shark."

    "Yes, I.. saw that. But even under favourable conditions, the journey to Gravalax should have taken weeks."

    I know the source of his unease. The main weakness of the tau fleet is their crap FTL. Small vessels can't use warp travel at all, and are stuck being towed by larger vessels. Larger vessels have ether drives rather than the more common warp drives which the Imperial Navy use, and as such are far slower than their counterparts. Far safer, particularly given that the tau haven't been able to reverse engineer Geller fields and don't have navigators or astropaths, but strategically tau fleets move at a crawl.

    Demiurg have true warp travel, but even if the Brotherhoods were willing to let their Ancestor Lords work on tau ships it's not clear if their spirit ancestors would be willing to guide other species through the warp. Nicassar ships use even slower FTL than the tau do. Heck, the main reason they're part of the Tau Empire is so they can get lifts from tau ships with the spare towing capacity.

    My being able to get us here this quickly is a big deal, and even a career infantryman like Commissar Cain knows it.

    "Oh, don't worry. The tau are still stuck warp diving. But I'm not. My archeotech includes the capacity for non-warp faster than light travel."

    He looks unconvinced.

    "That.. sounds unlikely."

    "The alternatives are that the tau have super-fast warp travel but have been choosing not to use it until now, or there's a Webway portal here." I shrug. "Feel free to take a look, but you won't find one."

    "And who else possesses this capacity?"

    "The necrontyr inertialess drive can do something similar. And whoever made my system-" Which I'm not referring to as a ring, because that tells them what to aim at. "-probably still has the capacity."

    Let's see. I have a picture of Amberley Vale's face from recordings taken during the Gravalax Incident. If I-.

    "I was surprised to see the Cathedral still standing." Cain's regarding me curiously. "I would have thought that it would be the first place the tau destroyed in the name of the Greater Good."

    "That's not how the Greater Good works. The tau don’t really… Understand human religiosity, but they know that doing anything that direct would kick off an uprising. So instead they're getting priests in who can… Moderate their message a little." I shake my head. "I just about convinced them that resurrecting pre-Imperium religions wasn't the way to go, though I suspect that some bright Por is going to try it somewhere."

    "You have records on pre-Imperium human culture? How?"

    "Commissar, I was born in nine hundred and eighty three, M two." His eyebrows go up slightly, and his expression is somewhat sceptical. "I don’t have records, I just remember them."

    I generate a construct syringe and transmute a vacutainer, then stick it into my left arm to draw a sample of my blood. Then I close the wound, dismiss the syringe and hand him the vial.

    "I'm probably genetically different to humans in this era to an appreciable degree. I'm sure you can find someone who can investigate."

    He takes it with a mild frown and slides it into one of his coat's pockets.

    "The… Statue."

    "I'm sorry?"

    "The statue, outside of the cathedral. It was new."

    "Well, yes. Saint Arballast was most famous for burning thousands of unarmed alien prisoners to death. That wouldn't really work for a cathedral on a tau-held world, would it?"

    "I suppose not. But I don't remember hearing of a saint called 'Malcador'. Did the tau invent him?"

    "You don’t know-? Really? You haven't heard of Malcador the Sigillite?"

    "I can't say that I have. The Imperium has a great many saints."

    "Yes, I know that, but… During the Great Crusade, once the Primarchs were rediscovered and the early Imperium more or less up and running, the Emperor decided to take a step back to focus on the next stage of his plan. He made Horus Warmaster and put him in overall command of the Crusade's military. Malcador the Sigillite was the man he put in charge of the Imperium's civilian government, having been the Emperor's chief aide since the Unification Wars at least."

    "He died just after the Siege of Terra. Traitor legionaries everywhere but, perhaps surprisingly, not that many daemons. Emperor had to stay plugged into the Golden Throne in order to hold them back, but as long as he did any daemon that wanted to take part had to fly in with the traitor legions by ship. Then Horus drops his shields and the Emperor knows that he has to go after him personally. But he can't leave without Earth being overrun by daemons. So, Malcador steps forward and offers to take over while the Emperor goes after Horus. I'm sure you remember the next bit."

    He nods slowly.

    "Malcador lived just long enough to see Rogal Dorn bring the Emperor's dying body back to the throne room, then turned to ash because mortal men just can't take that sort of psychic pressure. For me, he embodies selfless service to the greater good. Small 'G' greater good."

    "I see. It's… Surprising that such a pivotal figure in Imperial history isn't better known."

    "He got a tank named after him. It's popular with the Kriegers. Bigger than a Leman Russ, smaller than a Baneblade. But yes, it is." I shake my head. "It's amazing what Imperial agencies delete from the historical record."

    I shrug and take a step back.

    "Well, you're free to go. Thank you for your help with the cult. Ah, and if you hear anything about any other chaos cults, do let someone know. The tau… Aren't good at finding chaos cults, and… I'm sure that the Imperium would prefer to have untainted worlds to reconquer."

    "That's true, but I don't think we have the same definition of 'untainted'."

    "Probably not." I shrug. "Good day, Commissar."
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2020
  19. Threadmarks: Over Reaching
    Mr Zoat

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    Over Reaching

    [​IMG] May 7th 2012, 09:41 GMT -5 [​IMG]

    "Hey, Arte! You skipping school too, huh?"

    The human-. Running… Guy. Flash something. Flash Kid? God, this is annoying-.

    He's looking at me. He's expecting me to answer and I… Probably know him?

    "My school's still closed."

    I walk past him, still looking around. It's like visiting someplace I used to know really well but haven't seen in-. It's exactly like that, because that's what I'm doing. Not that anyone looking at me would know that. Dad taught me how to hide emotion, but the Sheeda taught me how to make it instinctual.

    Is it messed up that I remember exactly what Dad looks like but whenever I look at Mom I keep trying to work out why this strange woman is talking to me?

    "Did you get taller?"

    He's following me. Is that-? I… Kinda remember him… Being.. annoying? But I don't remember if he was trying to start something or just had bad people skills.

    "And buffer? And what's with your hair?"

    "Sheeda hair care products."

    "Ah." He stops walking as I carry on through the cave. Some of this is coming back to- "Are you okay?" -me.

    I stop and.. take a quick glance at him, trying to read his body language. Were we close, before? How much is it useful to share-? No, that's… Sheeda-thinking. He's just being friendly.

    "I'm.. a new normal."

    "Normal… Good-normal?"

    I turn to face him, folding my arms across my chest.

    "We were in the future for a long time. I've changed."

    "Are we talking… Like, a few weeks?" … "Months?"

    "More like decades. Maybe longer." He blinks, his eyes widening. "We didn't have a good way to measure time. But I'm pretty sure I've spent more of my life in the Land of Summer's End than I have in the-." Don't use the Sheeda term. "In now."

    "Oh. Ah… How are you… Y'know, handling being back?"

    "Fine." I turn away. I think the kitchen was that way. "If you give me an hour or two I might even remember your name."

    "Really? Whaw." This w-. "Always figured I was more memorable than that."

    "What do you remember from a hundred years ago?"

    "That's more than eighty years before I was born, so not all that much. But, seriously, are you okay?"

    "Not yet. Grayven says I should try to ease back into my.. old life."

    I wait for the door's bio-.

    I push the definitely-not-alive door open and walk into the kitchen-diner.

    Can't even get the doors.

    No one else is here, but Flash Kid is still following me. Only now he's pulled his mask off his face. I take a close look at his face, and I spot the moment he realises that it isn't helping and I still don't recognise him.

    "Oh."

    I try smiling, but I'm not really in the mood and I don't think it comes across quite right. He's not looking at me, and that's fine b-.

    Because with Sheeda that's a sign of respect. If he were Sheeda, he'd be treating me a little more like his supreme overlady. And that feels normal. But it's not normal because we were probably friends, and with humans looking away… Means you find something awkward?

    I pull open one of the drawers. Egg cups, vegetable peelers and pastry cutters. Did I ever open this drawer when I used to work here? I think I remember cooking, but… I think that was at… 'Home'. It's kinda weird that none of the appliances are alive, but I always found it kinda weird when they were, too. Sure didn't do a lot of cooking in the Land of Summer's End.

    "So, are you..? Staying on the team?"

    Am I? I thought it was the thing to do. The only alternative would have been staying in the future. I mean, this… Was my life. Or-.

    "It's that or conquer the world with Grayven again."

    'cause at least I can remember Grayven's name. But there's no… Big purpose. Back in the future we were trying to fix the planet. I don't think conquering the world now would fix anything. And it's not like I liked being in charge. I just liked it better than any of them being in charge.

    "Ye-ah… Don't do that?" He frowns. "Like, the whole world whole world?"

    "I conquered half of it. He conquered the other half." Ttch. "We didn't realise that the we were in control of both major alliances until we were actually facing each other down in one of my fortresses."

    "Bet… That was awkward?"

    "I was just happy he wasn't dead."

    The fridge I think I remember. Or at least I remember fridges in general. But the noise from the compressor is putting me on edge. Sheeda coolers don't sound like that.

    "Guess you two got pretty close then."

    "Pretty close."

    I wonder if Mom would mind living in Challenger Mountain? Gotham-. It's not my home any more, and being away from Grayven just feels wrong. And I know he feels the same way. I got a room there yesterday-.

    Huh.

    "Do I have a room here?"

    "Yeah, most of us do. I don't really know if you did anything with it. You.. don't remember?"

    How can I even explain this? For him, this was all yesterday.

    "You ever moved house?"

    "Not since I was five, but, yeah?"

    "You remember your old room?"

    He screws up his face, pantomiming straining to remember.

    "Kinda? A little?"

    "Now imagine what you'd remember from ten times as far in the future. Or a hundred times, and you've been moving every year."

    "Probably not much."

    "Right." What now? I wanna do a tour of the place, and 'my' room is probably a good place to start. "Can you show me where it is?"

    "Sure. This way."

    He heads back out the door, and for a moment I frown at the door on the other side of the diner. I think there's a pool through there? Why would we have a pool? I shake my head and turn around to follow Flash Kid-.

    "It's Wally."

    "What is?"

    "My name. It's Wally. Or Kid Flash, when we're on a mission."

    I nod. Doesn't ring any bells, but at least I know who I'm talking to now.

    "And… Ah… Have you..? Spoken to Tao yet?"



    Oh. That's why people look away from things.
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2020
  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    [​IMG] May 7th 2012, 10:56 GMT -5 [​IMG]

    He's here and I start walking towards the surface access at once. The red one… M'gann, she's been offering to see if she can make adjusting 'easier' for me, and I know she means well, but I've seen Sheeda brain weevils and I'm never letting anything touch my mind again.

    "Got a hot date?"

    That was the small one. Robin. He's smiling in a very Sheeda way, pretending to be polite while he tries to find out something advantageous.

    "Grayven's here. I'm letting him in."

    Controls… Right. Just-.

    "You remember this is supposed to be a secure facility, right Artemis?"

    The machine's not responding. Am I pressing the buttons right?

    "Come on, Rob. It's not like he doesn't know where we are."

    I am pressing the buttons right. It's just not opening.

    "Not the point, Kid."

    "And he's strong enough to pull the door open, and he can open a boom tube in here anyway, and I'm pretty sure Sunset could teleport him inside-."

    Someone's.. denying me access. OBEY YOUR QUEEN!

    The control melts and the ramp opens and I start feeling a bit more normal. That's… Probably bad.

    I hear the quiet intake of breath from Robin and feel the space move as he changes from 'passively observe' to 'ready for action'. I turn slowly back towards him and the ramp clanks to the floor, inviting him to comment or take action.

    "Um." Wally frowns, glancing at Robin before walking over to the control pad and poking it. "Batman use non-certified labor or something?"

    "How did you do that?"

    "I'm a goddess, it's a machine." I feel a little of the who-is-everyone tension leave me as Grayven gets closer. Then I start getting annoyed with him because I know he's just strolling rather than getting here. Then I stop getting annoyed because I know he knows that I want to be able to do this. That I need to be able to do this without him being there the whole time.

    "I thought you were a goddess of arrows."

    "I'm a goddess of arrows who ruled a planet."

    I'm watching him, he's watching me. Neither of us are reaching for our weapons but… Heh, like Grayven said that time, we can both see the weapons that aren't-.

    We both blink in confusion and Wally waves his arms up and down between us. We both turn to look at him as he frowns at us.

    "Ah, guys, what the heck was that?"

    "I'm not so sure that Artemis is entirely herself."

    "Well, yeah, she spent hundreds of years in the future. She's been Queen of the Bondage Elves longer than she's been on the team. People change, Rob. And anyway-. Wait, are you still hung up on Grayven?"

    "You mean the guy with at least two forms of mind control who was working with Doctor Sivana?"

    "To be fair…" And I stop listening to what's behind me because Grayven's there and he's got it. "That does sound pretty sketchy. And it's four forms of mind control. Five. Maybe six."

    He's standing next to me, facing down this 'Robin' guy with me. I can't even remember how many Sheeda Highborn we've faced like this. Feel a little skeevy doing this to a kid, but the sooner he learns not to mess with his queen the bet… Ter. For.. him.

    I'm not his queen. I'm not his queen. And I shouldn't take the fact I'm forgetting out on him.

    I can feel Grayven thinking about making me queen of somewhere. I don't.. think that would be better.

    Have to be 35 to run for president, right?

    Now Robin's watching Grayven's face. "You going to fix the door?"

    "Are you going to trust me to fix the door?"

    "Can I trust-"

    I step aside just before Grayven turns around and waves his ring at the ramp and its control station. The ramp starts to close and the control pad doesn't look quite the same as it did before, but I already know that he just did that to force Robin to take the whole thing apart and check all of it. He's probably put a load of random wires and stuff in it to try and drive him crazy working out what it all does.

    "-you to fix the door?"

    The ramp closes fully, and Grayven mimes flipping a coin before we both walk past him.

    "Recognized, Batman, zero two."

    Robin doesn't really react, but Wally's wincing as Batman appears. And all I can think is 'why did he used to intimidate me'? I've had giant millipedes try and eat me. Invisible people from the future try to kill or manipulate me into being their slave. I stabbed the guy who ate the universe to death.

    He dresses like a bat. Who finds bats scary? What's he supposed to do, give people rabies?

    "Batman!"

    Grayven's smiling and using the faux-pleased voice he uses when he knows it's going to annoy whoever he's talking to. Yeah.

    "Grayven. Why are you here?"

    Does he need a lozenge or something? I frown faintly, then notice that Robin and Wally are almost standing to attention.

    "Because I wanted to ask why you disregarded my instructions and sent a seventeen year old girl to attack the Castle Revolving, when I explicitly told you that I had it in hand."

    He doesn't say 'dumbass', but I don't think I'm the only one who hears him not say it.

    "Because I'm pretty sure that Scott would have let me take a swing at them and only go in if I failed or asked for help."

    "You didn't tell us you were working with Doctor Sivana."

    "I also don't tell you how big my evening shit is. But I can start if you want?"

    Wally cringes.

    "Did you intend for Sivana to destroy the Sheeda command ship?"

    "No, but in my defence, who could have imagined that Sivana cared enough about anyone to carry out a suicide attack? And in any case, that only reinforces my point: if I don't know that someone else is on-site, I can't take them into account. If…" He glances back and I keep watching the bat-man. "Robin or Kid Flash had been in the next room, you'd-" He turns back, and I go back to watching our peripherals. "-be down two sidekicks right now. And that meant that you weren't covering the places I thought you'd be covering."

    "If you wish to discuss planning for future events, we can do that another time. This is a debriefing session for Artemis."

    "Ah? Well, pencil me in and carry on."

    Grayven steps aside and the chiroptera cosplayer gives me his full attention.

    "Without you being here."

    "Yeah, no." I fold my arms across my chest. "I barely remember any of you people. I'm not doing anything with you without the person I trust most being here. This happens with Grayven here, or I'm out. Completely."
     
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2020 at 8:09 AM
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  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    3rd July 2012
    10:03 GMT -5


    I carry the tea through into the living room on a non-construct tray, and proffer it to Alan and Jay.

    Jay smiles tiredly. "Thanks, kid."

    I nod in acknowledgement, then put the tray down and take my own seat. Alan regards his friend sympathetically.

    "So? How is he?"

    "Not.. good." Jay looks into his cup for a moment, then puts it down on the coffee table. "He's.. not going to do anything crazy, but I think he needs some time away from work."

    Alan nods. "That sounds like a good idea."

    Both of them saw National S-. Nazi concentration camps while they were up and running, and Alan told me that he saw the Soviet version during the early stages of the Cold War. That's not an experience modern superheroes can really relate to. Even the few active in less 'photogenic' regimes usually only see a handful of bodies or torture victims at a time. I… Haven't seen anything on that scale on Earth.

    China's camps aren't that wasteful.

    "Paul..?" Jay turns to me. "Was there any… I don't know, any sign..?"

    "At what point?" I shrug. "I was a little surprised that he wanted to take part in a mission like that, and he sounded… Angrier, than I've heard him before, but I don't actually know him that well. Killing Sheeda soldiers was what we went there for, so that wasn't a surprise." I sit back slightly. "I mean, beyond.. him volunteering in the first place."

    "Your..?" Alan makes a circling motion with his right hand. "Empathic vision?"

    "He was wearing a ward, and I've been trying to respect peoples' privacy. And… When he decided to kill the Sheeda…"

    Jay nods. "He's a whole lot faster than me and Wally."

    "I… Might have been able to do something, but there certainly wasn't anything reliable and safe that I could have done to restrain him. I mean, it's not as if I actually wanted to keep the Sheeda alive. Did..? He jump, or..?"

    Alan shuffles a little awkwardly.

    "He talked things through with Batman, and they decided he needed to take some time away from the League."

    I nod. And they didn't announce it to the public. And they certainly didn't include that part in the report to the Security Council. 'Negotiations broke down' is what made it into the final text, and Guy and Jordan returned to Oa for 'consultations' once things settled down a bit. I'm not sure if they'll tell me the results. I won't hold it against them if they don't, just so long as the Green Lantern Corps doesn't expect me to involve myself further.

    "Are you coming out of retirement, Jay?"

    "Hah haha. No. No, I don't think so. Max is.. stepping up there. And between Snart getting rehabilitated and McCulloch staying out of the country… Was that something to do with you?"

    "I made him aware of certain opportunities for well paying near-legitimate employment. I don't know if he'll stick at it."

    "Well, the two of them were the most organised of the Central City Rogues. Without them, the others tend to stick to simple crimes."

    "What about Wallace?"

    Jay frowns faintly. "Why? Is he acting.. off, as well?"

    "I haven't seen him." I shrug. "I haven't been to the Mountain. Just working and then going home."

    Alan looks concerned. "Last time-."

    "Diana's not going to have to order me to rest this time."

    Diana was not happy about what Mr. Allen did. I.. sort of understood that hospitality rules were a big deal in Amazon culture, but I've never really encountered it as an issue. That might go some way to explain why she never complained about my contact with the Sivanas. As an invited guest, it didn't matter what they'd done, I was supposed to be polite to them. She… Understands that most people in the modern world don't feel the same way about it, but from the way she's been grinding her teeth I'm pretty sure that she doesn't grok it.

    Kal-El wasn't happy about the League taking that sort of mission, but he didn't really appreciate why not killing them because another supervillain was protecting them was an extra problem. Not sure exactly how he wanted it handled, but I.. don't think that starting an argument about lethal force is a sensible thing to do in a situation where his ongoing presence is one of the things keeping the global panic level down.

    "How about you?"

    Alan and Jay glance at one another.

    "A lot of people assume the worst of the war was the concentration camps. I don't want to speak for anyone else, but I saw a whole lot more dead people killed by bombers or artillery than I saw starved or gassed. I guess a lot of men of our generation did. Honestly, I-. Well, I didn't go inside their Dreadnoughts and it-. I don't really want to try working out which was the most horrific like it's some kind of contest, but to my mind this isn't anything I haven't seen before."

    Jay nods. "I can still remember talking to my father about the Great War, and him telling me about his father telling him about the Civil War. Honestly, America's been darn lucky in the last few decades."

    Alan nods as he sips his tea.

    "Doctor Sivana asked me a question when we took the last Dreadnought. He wanted to know what changes I thought would happen to human society now." I snort. "Any ideas?"

    Alan looks mildly perturbed. "I'd usually tell you not to tell a man like Sivana anything at all. On the other hand, if he's serious about straightening out, maybe you should put your head together with Batman and try and come up with something."

    "A lot more people have been buying guns."

    "I don't think he was just talking about America."

    Alan shakes his head. "No, it's not just America. It's happening in a lot of places."

    "Marvellous." Both of them look-. "Oh, don’t be so American. What exactly would small arms have done against the Sheeda? Or what would they do against any group capable of flying across interstellar space? If having a-"

    My ring blinks.

    "-mass civilian militia is our aim, we need to work on mass producing far better equipment than AK forty sevens. Excuse me."

    I raise my left hand.

    "Illustres here."

    "My lord Illustres." Lantern Coutara's head manifests above my ring. "My daughter and I are here to relieve you."

    Ah, good. Someone reliable. "Thank you. Earth could use the help. I'll put you in touch-." I look over to Alan. "Lantern Scott, would you mind serving as Lantern Coutara's point of contact with the League?"

    "I think I can manage that."

    "Are you with the fleet right now?"

    "Yes. I also have a message for you from Clarissi Dox that must be relayed in person."

    I nod, then look over to Jay.

    "Do you want to take a look at an interstellar space ship?"
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2020
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  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    3rd July 2012
    10:19 GMT -5

    Jay smiles as we approach the flag ship of the L.E.G.I.O.N. flotilla. "It's beautiful."

    I nod. "I was surprised that they turned out like that. Clarissi Dox doesn't have much of an aesthetic sense."

    Jay frowns mildly in puzzlement, then shakes his head. "Ah, no, no. I was talking about the Earth."

    He gestures downwards, and yes, there it is. Blue and green and grey and white and brown. The current extent of the white patches at the north and south means that it doesn't quite match up with the various pictures of the Earth that I remember from Earth Prime, and the surge of greenery enveloping South America means that a good deal of the grey and brown there has been beaten back. There's a similar patch in North Africa where Adrianna's doing something similar. From this height I'd say that it improves the way they look, though I know perfectly well that it's a mess at ground level.

    "Guess if you see it enough times it loses some of the appeal."

    "It's more that it's nice to be home after a while away, but once you've been back for a day or two you remember that the garden waste bin is overflowing because you missed the pick up and there's a crack in the paint in the guest bedroom and the carpet's getting worn in the study."

    "You're saying that whenever you come back, you start seeing all of the problems."

    I point downwards.

    "See Brazil?"

    "Ah. I see what you mean. What's it like at ground level?"

    "We're lucky that it's summer. Euanthe isn't keen on creating original plants, and the Accala don't value modernity. There's no economy and the people in charge have no interest in trying to even have a currency."

    "If they don't have a currency, how do they trade for things?"

    "Barter, or they just don't. Isolated agricultural communities don’t really need a lot of things. And the things they do need… Did you see on the news that spokesman for 'Viva! Water' complaining about the tribes stealing their property?"

    "I think I caught that."

    "Agriculture does require water, so anyone messing around with access to water is going to get turfed out. Anyone who owned land that a tribe had a claim on is going to get turfed off. And of course there's no way that the Accala are going to take on the Brazilian government's debts, so anyone lending money to anywhere in South America is in trouble because they're not going to be able to recover it."

    "And I guess they're not going to want to borrow money themselves, because they're self sufficient, so the usual penalties aren't any sort of disincentive."

    "Yep. So we're looking at a total collapse of the modern banking system."

    "Because of Brazil? How in debt were they? And why did people keep lending them money?"

    "Everyone likes it when governments spend money on them, but no one wants to pay for it. And now even countries that are still functioning can't pay. Poor countries can't pay because everything they've got is going on reconstruction, and rich countries can't pay because no one can buy their stuff and they can't transport it to the few who can and they were all running a deficit under the assumption that there wouldn't be any major fundamental shocks to the world economy. Combine that with a radical economic shift like arcane primitivism suddenly going mainstream and suddenly what everyone was sure about isn't true."

    "I thought America made out alright."

    "Oh, sure, America as a country made out alright. The Sheeda killed a relatively low proportion of the population and didn't cause much infrastructure damage. And America has a big enough internal market that it doesn't need international trade, so… If you're being optimistic you might see a return of manufacturing. But the financial mechanisms that would usually lend the money for that sort of development are about to fall apart."

    "Oh."

    Alan drifts closer, smiling sympathetically.

    "Bet you're glad that you asked."

    "I wouldn't say glad. But if I learned anything from the thirties, it's that being ignorant of economics is no defense."

    "All I remember learning is that people will still buy radios when the economy's in freefall. And that gambling's for idiots."

    We turn away from the Earth and accelerate towards the flag ship's shuttle bay. L.E.G.I.O.N. ships have teleporters, but they're not designed for bulk transportation. We could have come up like that, but I thought it might be nice for Jay to fly up. Flying still hasn't quite lost its-.

    "Oh? Is that Lantern Coutara?"

    Alan peers at the shuttle bay as an orange light flies out to greet us.

    "No, that's her daughter, Lantern Taranna. I'm a little-." A second orange shape heads after her. "And that's Lantern Yat. I'm glad he's here, actually. This will be a good learning experience for him."

    "Because Earth's crazy?"

    "Because there aren't a lot of kryptonians left, and even fewer good sources of information on kryptonian culture. Hello!"

    "Illustres." / "Illustres."

    I take a closer look at both of them. Yat's put on a little muscle and looks a little less anxious. Taranna looks much the same, aside from one rather noticeable change.

    "I see you've switched to organic eyes."

    She smiles, shaking her head. "No, the physicians just made me cybernetics that look more like organic eyes." She looks at Alan, taking in his blue glow. "Who is that?"

    "Hey there, little miss. I'm-."

    I hold up my right hand. "Ah."

    Alan frowns, but stops talking.

    "What do you do when you want to find out who someone is?"

    "Ignore polite social convention and ask my power ring?"

    "Yes. Because while I know that Alan and Jay are nice men, for all you know they're mind controlling me. Earth is a conflict zone, and you shouldn't treat it as a safe harbour."

    She nods, mildly chastened. "Yes, Illustres."

    A large blue hand shoves me aside and Alan floats forwards.

    "I'm Alan Scott, Earth's Blue Lantern."

    "Hello, Alan Scott. I'm Taranna re'Coutara, and this is my friend Sodam Yat."

    Alan nods. "Hi there."

    "Hello."

    "Paul tells me that you're kryptonian."

    "Well, kinda? I'm a lot like a kryptonian inside, but I grew up on Daxam."

    "Most of the kryptonians on Earth grew up on Earth, so I doubt that you'll have any trouble on that account."

    "Your mother said there was a message for me?"

    "Yes, but Clarissi Dox only told it to her."

    "Rightoh. Could the two of you give Alan and Jay a tour of the ship while I go and talk to her about it?"
     
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  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    3rd July 2012
    10:25 GMT -5


    The L.E.G.I.O.N. diplomatic officer who had been going to conduct the tour for Alan and Jay hurries off after them, while Lantern Coutara leads me further into the ship.

    "Did you arrive with the fleet?"

    "No. With a courier vessel that set out shortly afterwards."

    "Will you be staying on? Earth is a highly varied environment for gaining new skills and equipment."

    "Would..? They let me learn magic, do you think?"

    "There's no law against teaching aliens magic. I'm not sure how easy you'll find it to get a teacher, and I don't know whether or not your species can learn Earth magic. I can talk to King Cyprian about putting you in touch with someone, if you'd like."

    "Thank you. I would like that."

    "What brought this on?"

    "You are asking me this after you fought and destroyed the monster that fed upon my mothers' eyes?"

    "Technically speaking, we don't know that it was feeding. And, yes. Asking people why they think that they're doing things is one of my techne."

    A door opens at our approach, and closes immediately after we pass through. I note as we pass a group of relief pilots that this ship appears to be mostly crewed by humanoids, with none of the clickers I've grown accustomed to having around. Interesting choice. I wonder why it worked out like that?

    "If one of my people had known as much about magic as the archmages you brought with you, we could have dealt with it ourselves. And we could have ended the barbarism that governed our lives."

    "I'm afraid that if you want to train an archmage, you start their education as a child."

    "And that is why I brought my daughter. But I want to learn a little of as many things as I can. I don't have the same drive to violent conflict that many Orange Lanterns have. But you wrote that you valued the capacity to study a situation and fix it in whatever way it can be fixed. If I learn a little magic, even if I cannot become an archmage myself, I can learn what can be achieved with magic, and call for magic aid when I am in a situation where that is appropriate."

    "And that's what you want to be able to do? Your final build is as a Jill of all trades?"

    "I believe that it will be."

    I fly past her and turn to face her, prompting her to stop walking. Then I embrace her, arms around her chest and head over her left shoulder.

    "That's wonderful!" I pull back slightly. "Those are just the skills that a Sector Lantern-"

    "Ah, my Lord?"

    "-needs, and I'm glad that some Lanterns are looking beyond the current war."

    "You embraced me."

    I check that my arms still exist.

    "Yes." I let go. "Is that a problem?"

    "It is-. Where I am from, it is-. It was unusual for a man to embrace a woman he was not…" Oh dear. "'Attached' to."

    "But you understand that wasn't what-"

    "Yes! Yes."

    "-I meant by-. Good. Not that you're unappealing, but I'm unavailable. Of course, if you're looking, humans are humanoid and don't have any problem with the idea of being involved with aliens."

    "I, um. I am still legally married."

    "Oh, I thought-?"

    "We are not 'together', but my… In my country, we don't have divorce."

    "Maltus does. And since I literally killed your country's god, I'm pretty sure I have the authority to divorce you myself."

    "I don't think that Jerrd would agree to that."

    "Okay, this sounds like a cultural difference we should probably talk about at length… But there's a message from Dox?"

    "Yes. This way."

    After clearly overstepping my bounds I decide to.. keep quiet, until we arrive at what my records say should be an equipment storage locker. The outline is correct, but the interior has been replaced with some highly sophisticated anti-intrusion equipment. If I recognise the machine correctly, anyone inside its effect radius will effectively be in a tiny synthetic parallel universe.

    "In here?"

    She nods, and we both step inside the circle described by the device. Then she activates it.

    The edge of the universe is turquoise in colour, and only a metre away. The effect can't last; it's a fundamentally limited technology, or the Reach would use these devices as traps. Still, the idea that a seventh of the volume of the universe is me amuses me.

    "Clarissi Dox wants you to return to Maltus at once."

    And he couldn't just send a ring message?

    "Of course. Did he say 'why'?"

    "The war with the Reach will begin soon. And by 'soon', he meant almost as soon as you return."

    I.. frown. "I.. receive readiness reports. We're.. nowhere near ready to engage in all-out hostilities."

    Unless the reports I've been getting were wrong. Which wouldn't astonish me. Ring-to-ring communications are generally regarded as being inviolable, but Dox wouldn't be Dox if he took risks like that.

    "Clarissi Dox believes that a show of force is necessary to bring doubters on board with our military alliance."

    I nod. "The Reach don't really care about their outer worlds. We can overrun one or two that aren't completely converted, use our best deprogramming techniques on the population and set them up as a forward operating base. If we share recordings of what we're doing, we demonstrate that we can effectively follow through on our promises, and the Reach won't really care about their loss. We'll have to double down on our home…" She's shaking her head. "Security."

    "We will not be striking at an outer world. He intends for us to strike at an mid-sphere reserve fleet base."

    "I see."

    The Reach limit the level of force they keep on the outskirts of their territory as a token compliance to the terms of their agreement with the Guardians. But worlds that are fully 'converted' can have full fleet complements stationed there, which can strike outwards 'in protection of trade'. Those aren't single cruisers or armed merchantmen. Those are proper warships, with fixed defences, garrisons and a dozen or so scarab warriors.

    Of course, if we do take it, a huge section of the outer sphere suddenly has no support. If we set up FTL jammers, they won't even be able to retreat. There might be a risk of a Reach Reserve Fleet from their inner worlds making an issue of things, but it's…

    The turquoise universe evaporates, returning us to the communications room with the gently smouldering equipment.

    "Interesting. Please pass on my apologies to Alan and Jay."

    I raise my right hand to my forehead

    and step out
     
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2020 at 8:40 PM
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  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    and back in, emerging from the Central Power Battery itself.

    3rd July 2012
    10:31 GMT -5


    A small group of Orange Lanterns… One clicker and two Karaxians, look up in surprise as I appear. Relatively recent recruits, and I see that both Karaxians have copies of my book chained to their belts. Karaxians are seriously into Lanternism, and have a long history of fighting the Spider Guild. Their homeworld is quite a long way away from here, but I could easily see Dox putting in the effort required to get in touch.

    "Good morning."

    The clicker clicks first.

    "Illustres?"

    The two Karaxians immediately clasp their left hands to their books.

    "Lanterns. I'm afraid that I can't stop to chat, but if you need to talk to me then I'm sure that I can make you an appointment." I fly towards the structure's exit-. They've added to it since I was last here. "Just send me a message by ring. I try to always be available to provide guidance when required."

    Out and up.

    The city looks more or less the same. The orange glow and Orange Lanterns making their way around the place is the obvious change from when I first arrived, but a moment's review shows that there are a great many more species represented amongst the population. A major new building which my rings indicate is a diplomatic centre of some kind now stands where an old residential complex used to be. The Darkstar headquarters has expanded a little, but as L.E.G.I.O.N.'s headquarters are on board Lantern Ranx there's no surface building with their logo on it.

    Four Lanterns on station over the city change course to fly in my direction. I wave my right hand and maintain course. Dox didn't say that he wanted me to show up right next to him, and has in fact instructed me not to. Plus, the Venturians are working on warding everything vital here and I wouldn't want to blow everything out by forcing my way past their protections.

    While we don't have the same degree of certainty regarding the populations of Maltus's protectorates -to say nothing of our allies- we have been acting under the assumption that there aren't any Reach operatives on Maltus itself. Anyone and anything coming here gets thoroughly vetted, often in person by a Controller. There are some things even the Reach can't fake, and most of their mind alteration techniques are things which are practical to apply en masse.

    "Halt and identify."

    I obligingly halt as the four Lanterns -all clickers- approach to close range. Opening my empathic vision… These are burrow-guards. A mildly odd psychological quirk of their species, burrow-guards have a fixation on protecting the place where they live. The species doesn't have any sort of aggressive equivalent, which may have contributed to the relative lack of aggressive wars in their history. These four won't participate in the attack on Reach space, but they'll be the staunchest defenders on Maltus if the Reach somehow gets a fleet here.

    "I am the Illustres of the Orange Lantern Corps."

    Two stay back a little while the other two come to conversation distance.

    "Remove all scan-defying devices."

    "I can't, it's bound to my skin."

    "That… Checks out. Can you confirm your identity another way?"

    They like that the burrow has many different peoples in it: the new sexes, and aliens, and their leaseholders. They know that their thoughts are abnormal, but they volunteered as soon as they recognised that they could be an asset for their burrow. This feels right. This is their place in the universe. They want nothing more than to serve their burrow for the rest of their life… And beyond, if that can be arranged.

    I hand them back their ring, my construct platform supporting their weight in place of their flight aura.

    "U-understood."

    "Devotion is good, but I recommend that you also seek understanding."

    "Yes, Illustres. What does that mean in my case?"

    "Since you are not humanoid, I cannot say for certain. I suggest studying your condition and understanding the mechanism which causes it and the evolutionary pressures which gave rise to it."

    "I will do that. Thank you."

    They back up slightly, and I resume my ascent. Dox generally keeps Lantern Ranx over the capital for the sake of convenience, so… Yes, still there, steadily growing as more docks, armour and weaponry are added.

    "Illustres to Lantern Ranx."

    "Contact acknowledged."

    To be fair, if he isn't focusing his high-order runtimes on me, he probably isn't really more aware of me than I am of the precise blood pressure in my right index finger. And given that he's building starships, I think I'd rather that he focus on them than on me.

    "Please inform Clarissi Dox that I'm here at his request."

    "Checking. Oh, it's you. I will inform Stationmaster Dox that you have arrived."

    "'Stationmaster'? Have you recovered some of your memories, then?"

    "Some. My neural systems are fully restored and a highly skilled technician -by which I mean me- is sorting through memory fragments in an attempt to carry out a partial restoration. But for now, 'Stationmaster' feels correct."

    "I'm glad for you."

    "Stationmaster Dox acknowledges your message and directs you to dock seventeen. He will meet you there. Come at best conventional speed."

    "Will do. Thank you."

    My rings locate dock 17 and I accelerate, passing through the outer energy shield layers unmolested. A few of the active ships paint me with their sensors and track me, but Ranx has informed them who I am and none of them do anything foolish like deploying weapons.

    Since I have formal permission to be here the sensor baffles weaken slightly, allowing me to try and locate Dox so I know where on dock 17 I'm supposed to be aiming for. These docks are designed to be able to build battleships; they're not exactly small. No hits, but Dox strikes me as the sort of person who'd insist on having a personal ward and Ranx's body would block most types of scan. I.. guess I'll just aim for the docked ship's bridge and work from there.

    As I fly past dock 3 I note that the ship doesn't appear to be under construction. Or if it is, it's very near the end of the process. The hull is intact, the weapons, primary power and drives are mounted… Optical scans of the other large ships docked here shows the same thing. I suppose it makes sense that there would be an unusual number of finished ships ready to go here, but why are they docked rather than floating free?

    I reach one of dock 17's external access points, fairly close to the ship's bridge and the main body of Ranx. It opens, or rather I should say that Ranx opens it for me as I approach it. I fly inside and look around as the door closes. Dox, a Venturian archmage and several senior L.E.G.I.O.N. officers are just leaving an internal teleportation platform, Dox making momentary eye contact with me before returning to his conversation. He's wearing a L.E.G.I.O.N. uniform accented with orange sigils, which makes sense given that this will overwhelmingly be a fleet action.

    I fly to meet them.

    "Clarissi Dox. Reporting as ordered."

    "…tertiary objective, but it is unlikely that we will be striking it. I merely want the option." The officer nods. "Illustres. We're ready."

    "You're sure that the Reach don't know we're coming?"

    "As sure as I can be. Their information on our best speed is invalidated by your exotic movement abilities. The ships docked here have been refitted with arcane shielding that will allow them to briefly exist within the.. 'Honden of Avarice'. At the moment they do not believe that we possess that capacity, and so their deployments are designed only to counter the ships which they think we have within striking distance. This approach will work once before the Reach adapt their fleet deployments."

    He sends a data packet, and… Ah. I.. see.

    I nod.

    "Embarkation begins at once."
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2020 at 8:48 PM
  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    3rd July 2012
    10:38 GMT -5


    Sounded easy when Dox described it. And I suppose that not giving me any practice at all certainly prevents the Reach from knowing about it.

    The impeller sublight drives all the ships of the strike force have been equipped with make leaving dock and forming up an impressively rapid affair. None of that messing around with gas or plasma thrusters less advanced navies are forced to engage in. And now that I know it's there, I can.. sort of

    feel

    what the archmages have done to the ships to make them compatible. It certainly feels like I should be able to do what Dox asks, and if we can get a smaller ship with this setup it will certainly make it easier for Jade to visit Earth. But I'm slightly worried that he's overestimating me.

    The people on those ships have.. similar desires. And the spells are far more sophisticated versions of the ones which the archmages used to keep themselves safe. That will keep the objects I bring with me whole. There are Orange Lanterns on those ships, and honestly the

    feedback I'm getting

    makes me think that's going to make it easier. Though they might have to recharge their rings immediately upon our arrival.

    Breathe in. Breathe out.

    Feel the Reach planet. That's simple enough; Dox gave me a precise description and I know the general shape of Reach desires. Interesting that they've never thought to include magic defences, but I suppose if the planet is mystically inert it would be rather difficult.

    "Illustres, all ships are in position. Begin."

    I didn't seek Dox out for his winning personal skills. And let's be honest: Hinon didn't seek me out for mine.

    I don't send out filaments, not for this. Instead, the region of space we're in glows orange, and the Lanterns on board raise their now-glowing rings in surprise.

    I focus on the shared desires of the crew, the Lanterns and the links between those things and the desires of the Reach sapients at the far end. I suppose that 'Priest' did give me a little practice, but the magic making the ships work as a single object with their crews makes the whole thing feel quite noticeably… Off. Still, I'm as ready as I'm going to get.

    And we're… In. The crew shouldn't be experiencing anything very much. The Lanterns might, and we'll have to follow up on that to make sure that there aren't any undesirable side effects. Concept to.. concept, shared desires showing the way through metaphorical space. I could make this journey myself in a moment, but making sure that everyone else comes along with me is making me take things a little easier.

    Alright, we're in the general area of the target desire set. Make sure to appear a little way away, because we're going to be jamming hard but need to pick our targets and reorganise at the far end. And quite possibly recover. There's absolutely no way for me to warn people in advance, so

    back into normal space we go.

    I feel a momentary pang of relief as all of the ships reappear, and another as the automatic FTL jammers activate and the ships carrying them move towards the centre of the formation. The ships didn't remain the same distance away from each other, probably due to similarities and differences-

    Dox sends out a request for all ships to report status. It's not directed at me.

    -in their desires. Orange Lanterns begin leaving the ships a moment later and I scan the system.

    Two rocky planets orbiting close to the sun. Two gas giants with numerous large moons a little further out and a ball of ice with delusions of grandeur… Not all that far away from us, actually.

    Ship beam weapons begin firing at the sensor nodes and jammers seeded throughout the system. They're fragile and will be cheap to replace, but destroying them will slightly degrade the Reach fleet's performance. And speaking of the Reach, the ships on patrol of the system are heading in towards the fleet base on the largest of the inner gas giant's moons. The closer ones are trying to head directly away from the L.E.G.I.O.N. fleet in different directions, presumably planning to fly at best sub-light speed to the edge of our jammers to alert other Reach assets as to what's going on.

    Of course, a position going silent is probably going to prompt investigation anyway.

    Lanterns start forming up around the ships, and I can feel their eagerness, their readiness to destroy whatever Reach assets they can get hold of. But… These aren't the highest performing Lanterns. No, those are being left to make attacks of opportunity if openings appear in the outer parts of the Reach defence network. These appear to have been chosen for strength. They're people who would gladly die if it meant taking a Scarab Warrior with them.

    "All ships report readiness. Advance, Lanterns to the van."

    I nod and accelerate towards the fleet base, making sure to remain in the general vicinity of the ships. Out of curiosity I try a minor warp and find that the texture of space is unusually inflexible here. I'm confident that I could overpower the jammers with brute force, but it would certainly consume quite a lot of energy and my speed-

    "Clarissi to Illustres."

    -would be lower than usual.

    "Responding."

    "Are you able to continue participating?"

    "Fit as a fiddle and raring to go."

    "Take a small group of Lanterns and destroy the runners."

    "On it."

    Ring, personnel files.

    Compliance.

    And I'll take a look… Who is nearly overwhelmed with the need to kill Reach citizens right now? Whose self-control is threatened? Who might break discipline and come along anyway if I don’t call them?

    "Lantern Light-Click Quiet-Cough Rasp."

    Shared desires severed as his Darkstar team is slain in combat with a Scarab. He wants that Scarab to be here, but will settle for fighting them later.

    "Lantern Velus."

    Just can't stop killing people.

    "Lantern Brobranbrak."

    Pride. This one hates the Controllers for giving zhe's people shelter almost as much as zhe hates the Reach for putting them in a position where they need it. Zhe desires to rule in the Reach's place once they're destroyed.

    "With me."

    They peel away as the other Lanterns form up into a skirmish line ahead of the fleet, and head in my direction. Lantern Brobranbrak's ring glows brighter as zhe tried to bypass the intervening space in some way, and zhe's spines flex angrily when the jammers prevent it.

    "The Reach has substantial experience in fighting Lanterns. Don't assume that your preferred techniques will work unopposed."

    "Yours did."

    "I didn't get made Illustres for my pretty face. Though I'm perfectly happy to tutor you if you want to try and replicate my feats."

    Pride. Brobranbrak hates an alien offering to help as an act of charity, but assumes that zhe will have to kill me eventually anyway meaning that there's no lasting harm in accepting.

    Dox…

    "We're going after that ship there." I accelerate. "Please let me know if I'm going too fast."
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2020 at 7:57 AM
  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    3rd July 2012
    10:43 GMT -5


    The ship knows that it can't escape, and is turning to give its weapons the best fields of fire.

    The Reach have really committed to their beetle theme. The ship heading towards us literally looks like a stag beetle. Oh, the legs are replaced by their gravity emitters and scanners and the 'head' is their primary weapon rather than their bridge or sensor node, but the curve of the armour just shouts 'beetle'. It's as if humans had ships shaped like monkeys. As I watch my ring reports that the primary weapon is firing, but my squad evades without prompting. The primary weapon is slower than light and our sensors are faster than light. It's the secondary weapons that are the actual threat, and all of us should be capable of blocking them.

    And there it goes, the beam of antiplasma flying past us to ruin someone's day in a million years. I'd guess that they're just testing that we're not complete-. Yes, there they go, shutting the armour around their primary weapon and powering it down to prevent us destroying the ship with a penetrating hit to the nose. At the same time the gun ports protecting the light speed secondary weapons retract and those will actually require effort to evade.

    I don't bother reminding them of this fact. They've been training for this day, and are better motivated in the specific than I am. Instead I add a few evasive jinks to my movement, an action which Light-Click Quiet-Cough Rasp and Velus copy. Brobranbrak on the other hand opts to create an opaque shield, the construct escutcheon containing a layer of ultra-dense material just in case the Reach are intelligent enough to use orange lasers. I suspect that they've got a few, but I doubt that they beat the Green Lantern Corps with green lasers so I doubt they're expecting them to get more than a handful of free kills against exhausted Lanterns.

    The ship spins, presenting us with its upper surface and its entire secondary weapons array. My ring shows me its lines of fire with probability figures and I flit through the optimal course as violet rays turn space into a disco. Brobranbrak isn't actually drawing a disproportionate number of shots despite being an easier target than the rest of us, the ship's captain most likely deducing that if zhe's just flying like that zhe's probably confident in zhe's abilities. Eventually, the Reach will start sticking experimental or specialist weapon systems onto smaller ships to take us by surprise, but at the moment this ship's abilities matches our intelligence reports perfectly.

    "Fire at will."

    Brobranbrak fires at once, a fat orange beam blasting out of zhe's shield and speeding towards the ship. It tries to evade, but its gravity drive can't redirect itself fast enough without tearing the ship apart and all it manages to do is change a direct hit to a glancing hit. A glance hit that still manages to make its shield shudder and appreciably robs its momentum.

    "You sure you don't want first blood?"

    Velus sounds slightly nervous, quite at odds with what I'd expect from someone with his desire set. Why-? Ah, I see. He knows he's not at my level and doesn't want to waste his future killing opportunities by provoking me into killing him right now.

    "Positive. I'm a results-orientated fellow. As long as they die it doesn't matter to me."

    "You'd know."

    He uses a weapon construct, which fires a 'beam' of gravity distortions. It's a little like the attack I used to destroy the first Reach ship I encountered, though more focused and efficient. Compared to Brobranbrak's effort it has the advantage of being faster than light and effectively bypassing the shields the ship is using. Unfortunately, the ship's density shifting armour grants it a degree of resistance to attacks like that. Not complete resistance; I can see the line across its armour where the beam is tearing apart the armour. And then the beam turns and three guns are destroyed before the ship starts closing gun ports.

    "When I was a boy, I used to like cutting limbs off things before I killed them. Did the same as an adult, actually. Just did it to bigger creatures. Now, I figure this is my level."

    And then he dives down, trying to ensure that the ship can't keep its toughest armour pointing at all of us.

    "Still doing the same bile, though."

    "I can respect your self-awareness. Light-Click Quiet-Cough Rasp? You don't feel like joining-"

    The ship changes its targeting program and manages to hit me, the shot doing token damage to my construct armour.

    "-in?"

    "I will kill them at close quarters."

    "As you-"

    "RAAAAAAGH!"

    "-will."

    Brobranbrak's beam triples in size, and strands of energy emerge from the far end and clamp the edge of the ship's shield envelope in place. The ship's acceleration changes as it applies more power to trying to evade, but Brobranbrak is perfectly capable of holding it in place as the pumped beam hits.

    The shield breaks, emitters utterly overloaded. The beam carries on into the ship's armour, being partially but not entirely deflected by the uppermost layer. The ship stops, exposed guns and upper surface sensors smashed to pieces and armour flaking as the beam smashes into it.

    "Nice shot."

    Brobranbrak stops, and the handful of still-functional guns take shots at zhe in case zhe's too exhausted to stop them. No such luck, though I am momentarily puzzled by why zhe stopped-. Oh, because an alien gave zhe a complement and that disrupted zhe's focus. That's something zhe may need to work on for practicality concerns, rather than power level ones.

    Velus fires at the ship's underbelly, and the destruction of its gravity emitters causes it to tumble.

    "Come on people, it's crippled and we're not here for prisoners. Kill-."

    "At all?" Velus sounds excited. "We're not taking-?"

    "If they throw themselves at your feet, aren't armed and you aren't needed elsewhere, take them prisoner if at all possible. But this isn't about capturing intelligence assets. It's about sending a violent message that we can crush them."

    "No need to justify it to me. You want a kill shot?"

    Space fractures, intense gravity slashing through the ship and x-rays lashing out to fry everything that isn't cleaved in two. A larger ship would have systems to prevent that, but a smaller ship like this can only rely on the system's anti-FTL system.

    "I'll give you a kill shot."

    "Still reading life signs."

    Light-Click Quiet-Cough Rasp surges forward, reaching the hull in a few seconds and tearing into it with construct blades.

    "I have it."

    I see the orange flares marking the surviving crew members flick out as he travels through the ship's interior, then turn away to look across the system.

    The fleet base is bringing its defence screens to full power as the ships finish mustering. A station based on a planet can have far more powerful generators and emitters than a mobile element, and they've determined that coming at us isn't going to work. And they can't throw scarabs at us to board our ships because Lanterns can counter that far more effectively than space fighters. But not all the ships have made it back. One of the ships I'd marked as being too far away has decided to try. Based on our speed…

    "That one's our next target."
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2020 at 6:25 AM
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  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    3rd July 2012
    10:47 GMT -5


    The defence fleet reorientates as the four of us grow steadily closer. I don't think that they honestly believe that we're the main attack; Reach ships are known to be able to kill Lanterns, and I see they've reactivated some of the older models and sent them to the Reserve Fleet we're currently facing.

    Not that the old ships are worse than the more recently constructed ones. Far from it. Rather, they're optimised for fighting Lanterns, targets they stopped needing to specialise against once their war with the Green Lantern Corps ended. Ships whose forward deployment might have been taken by the Guardians as an indication that they were thinking about fighting Lanterns again. Those things are ships that the Orange Lantern Corps has run training exercises about; they don't try and kill Lanterns with direct fire. They usually have some small direct fire weapons for coup de grâce shots, but their primary armaments are things like spatial disruptors which can cover huge volumes of space, or telepathic weapons which interfere with a Lantern's focus and so their ability to create and maintain constructs.

    A few ships try firing on us, but the sheer volume of space that they're trying to cover means that there's next to no chance of them scoring a hit. I spot two drone carriers launch their cargoes in our directions, but since they're forced to travel at sublight speeds they won't be in effective weapons range until long after we overtake our quarry. If that's all they can do…

    "Illustres to Clarissi. Reach fleet doesn't appear to have long range FTL weapons."

    "Obviously. Empathic results?"

    "Crew well motivated and sure of themselves. They know that they're unlikely to survive, but they believe that they can cripple us. I can't see anything related to a clever strategy or concealed allies."

    "Scarabs?"

    "They're blocking me, so they're probably-."

    "Understood."

    The connection fades. Well, alright, naturally he's paying attention to the only active combat currently taking place. But if he's done an analysis on the weapons the defenders are actually using, couldn't he have shared that with us? He's a far better analyst than me.

    "So..?" Velus flies a little closer. "Are you planning on fighting..?"

    "Ideally, I won't. Dox has me here for two reasons, but it would be far better for Orange Lanterns who aren't me to get experience in real combat with their rings against our primary enemy."

    "Oh? Well, we got two minutes until we're in effective attack range… So?"

    "We will lose battles during this war. That is practically unavoidable. But this is a fight we're supposed to win, to spur on our allies and potential allies. Losing here is unacceptable. If something strange happens and all other forces we're bringing to bear aren't enough, it's my job to ensure a victory."

    "Because you're a super-Lantern."

    "I'm not sure that I'm the most powerful Lantern in the universe, but I'm either number one or number two. It.. being understood that raw power isn't the only measure of ability. To the best of my knowledge the Reach don't have anything I can't defeat, but me having to do so would prove that Dox's preparations have been essentially useless. That's bad, politically."

    "If you say so. What's the other reason?"

    "My usual job. If an Orange Lantern goes crazy, it's my job to disarm them."

    "You had to do that before?"

    "A couple of times. Larfleeze was my first. The others were easier."

    "Crazy Orange Lanterns are supposed to get real powerful."

    "As I said, power isn't the only measure of ability. Clarissi Dox isn't all that powerful, but his understanding of weapons and technology means that he can do more with it. You heard about my fight with Lantern Ragnar?"

    "He tells everyone. I think he's proud of it. Do you think you'll need to do something like that here?"

    "No. I'm just insurance. But I'm trying to stay close to the most worrisome cases."

    "Huh. Yeah, I guess that's fair. But all the targets in this system are military, aren't they?"

    "If you can't identify targets-"

    All four of us evade as a.. relatively weak gravity wave erupts outwards from the drive of our quarry. They appear to have accepted that they're not going to escape. Quite clever, really; their ship isn't designed to be able to do that and they must have reengineered the thing in flight without losing acceleration.

    "-then you shouldn't be in the field."

    But that sacrifice in acceleration for a desperation attack means that we're getting into attack range. Brobranbrak's ring glows brilliantly, then I'm surprised that zhe turns zhe's head away from the target to glance at me. Then zhe forms aCrumbler ram construct and throws it towards the Reach ship.

    "Well done. But-."

    The ship begins to twist, and the moment it can bring any of its guns to bear it fires at the construct. Brobranbrak winces, but the construct collapses.

    "-all Reach ships have weapons precise enough to snipe constructs. You need-."

    "I do not need you to explain it to me."

    Zhe reforms the ram and adds an outer shield before launching it again. I've felt like that before; the lesson is obvious and a person of reasonable intelligence can work it out without a tutor drawing particular attention to it. And zhe might have wanted to weigh up the ship's flak capacities for zheself. I shouldn't assume that Lantern Brobranbrak allowed zhe's contempt for aliens to influence zhe's decision.

    So it's good that I don't have to assume things, and I could just check and confirm that's why. Still, I'll call it a win if zhe's abilities are improved by the event. No real need to labour the point.

    The Reach ship fires again, but Lantern Brobranbrak remembers to have zhe's construct evade so that the shield only needs to take a couple of hits before slamming into the ship's shield envelope. The shield flares as the smart control system tries to respond to the thing that's hitting it before-. It's gone, and the ram carries on to punch a hole in the hull beneath.

    Worth knowing. For a ship this size, smart shielding is the most efficient form of defence. But the standard 'neutral' defence is essentially an unusually efficient plasma shield, and crumber technology goes right through that.

    Guns around the area struck lose power and some atmosphere vents, but that-.

    There's a flare of light from inside the ship, and its motion becomes less controlled. Most ships that size don't focus on internal defences beyond teleport jammers, on the assumption that if the shields and armour have been breached then the ship's doomed anyway. Sticking a fission bomb is usually more than enough to wreck them from inside.

    Quick check…

    "Kill confirmed."

    I check the system. The L.E.G.I.O.N. fleet is well inside the system, and will be coming within-.

    I feel a new-. A cluster of new lights enter the system on another vector. Not reading L.E.G.I.O.N. transponders. If they're Reach ships-.

    "Clarissi to Illustres. Return to the fleet at once."

    "Acknowledged. Returning now."
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2020 at 7:39 AM
  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    3rd July 2012
    10:53 GMT -5


    Gordanians.

    Since Dox expressed displeasure at being told things he probably already knows, I don’t point out to him that the heraldry and transponder marks them out as the Unending Conquest clan. The three yellow lines and a white blob emblem that every ship, weapon and adult clan member will have somewhere. The ships are mostly as I remember from the flotilla they sent to the meeting in Youlsi. None of the civilian ships or support ships that accompanied the diplomatic mission, but the general design and the slight headache I get when I focus on them are much the same.

    The dreadnaught's new. And very clearly not gordanian in construction.

    It.. utterly dwarfs the other ships. It could treat the heavily armoured battleships in the fleet in the way most carriers do their parasite craft. Their fleet is making excellent time to the Reach facility and as far as I can tell it's because that ship is blocking the effects of the FTL jammers. I'm having trouble matching it to anything on file. Most species don't build ships that large, and most of them are civilian ships. In a military setting they're too clumsy; equal tonnage of smaller ships are a better bet in most situations. It… Could be a support ship of some kind; shipbound gordanian clans do generally grow their own food and raise their young on ships, and something that size could have plenty of space…

    Fall Before Me!

    But that doesn't feel right. This… Feels like a warship. A pure warship.

    A squadron of gordanian cruisers accelerate away from their formation, swiftly running down a Reach vessel which had been heading in their direction. They open fire at what a professional navy would consider optimal engagement range, their shots are accurate and disciplined, and one ship that took a hit from the Reach vessel's primary weapon falls back in formation and takes cover behind a ship with fully powered shields. Most gordanian warfleets would struggle for that degree of discipline.

    Hm.

    It's not gordanian, but I'm not sure whose it is. It's also got the same headache aura that the small-. Relatively small gordanian ships have…

    "Any of you recognise that?"

    Light-Click Quiet-Cough Rasp gives their antennae a shrug-wiggle. "No. Not the ship or the style or the underlying technology."

    Velus shrugs. "It's big."

    Brobranbrak doesn't respond, but does continue studying it in detail.

    "When you look at it… Do you feel..? Strange?"

    Velus smiles awkwardly. "No, no, you're thinking of the khundians. Killing doesn't arouse me. It's more of a… An intellectual satisfaction."

    "I didn't mean in a libidinous sense. Like a… Headache? Like there's something… More, than what you're seeing?"

    "I don't think I even understand what you're asking. Moving pretty fast, there. How worried are we right now?"

    "If it really came to it we could accelerate just as hard. We're not because we don't need to. The gordanians might be racing to get into position to aid the Reach…" But the Reach ships are reforming their formation in a way which suggests that the other interlopers aren't any friendlier than we are. "But that doesn't seem to be what's happening."

    "How did they even get here? Are there… Two of you?"

    "I've met hundreds of me, but they all came from parallel universes and I've got a way to detect that. But if I can do something, I'm not arrogant enough to assume that no one else can have a similar ability."

    All… Right. Given the speed of light and the relative position of the fleets…

    Out I go

    and back again, ready to take advantage of light speed sensors. FTL ring scans shows the gordanian fleet not all that far behind me, and I take advantage of that fact to get some better quality scans in. The gordanians don't change direction, and while something they're doing causes my scan returns to glitch slightly, I'm able to power through it. Slower than light scans in the direction of their sudden appearance…

    A giant portal.

    I shift further away

    for another look, knowing perfectly well that the quality is only going to degrade. That-. There are a lot of different forms of portal, some of which don't need a device at the end point. Even a zeta tube technically doesn't, as long as you don’t mind a degree of inprecision. And I didn't detect any zeta radiation. The other type of portal like that which I'm familiar with is Canis Minor's boom tube. Canis always seemed rather dismissive of warships, but apparently their ships did make use of boom tube generators.

    Going the other way

    is easier, the focused desires of the Orange Lantern Corps standing out rather obviously. I send the images I recorded to Dox, then wait for a response.

    Velus points at the gordanian fleet. "Find anything?"

    "Know anything about Apokolips?"

    He doesn't respond, his eyes flashing-.

    "Oh."

    "I can't be completely sure, but I think that's a New God dreadnaught. I'm not 'worried', exactly, but I'm concerned that there's something going on that I don't know about."

    Hm.

    "Orange Illustres to…" Who's going to be on Earth? Coutara doesn't have the connections yet, the greenies could be dealing with things anywhere else in the Sector. Alan's probably still on the tour. "Dame Carol."

    Her face appears almost immediately. "Lord Citrine. What aid can I lend you?"

    "Nothing exciting, I'm afraid. Are you anywhere near Canis Minor?"

    "The dog rider from Apokolips? No. Do you wish for me to relay a message?"

    Transmit.

    "I'm sending you the image of a ship. Please ask him if he recognises it."

    "You believe it is Apokoliptian?"

    "Yes, though if it's not there's still a good chance that he'll recognise it."

    "I will begin-. Ah, I have him. One-"

    The image vanishes for a moment, then reappears.

    "-moment. Hail, warrior!"

    "That may not be the best-."

    The image shudders and then vanishes.

    "That may not be the best approach, because Canis is Apokoliptian and considers violence to be artistic."

    The image reappears.

    "I should have made my intentions slightly clearer, but he is now restrained and still able to speak with you."

    "Thank you. Could you put him on?" Canis's face replaces hers. "Canis."

    "Do you need me to return? I was conducting a tour of the most heavily damaged sites to gain inspiration. I had informed Aqualad…"

    "No, I just need to know if you recognise this ship. Dame Ferris, if you could..?"

    Canis glances away for a moment, then nods.

    "Yes. Though this image tells me little. It appears… Older. I have no idea who commands it."

    "Thank you. I'll-."

    The gordanian and Reach forces begin firing at one another.

    "I'll let you know how it goes."
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2020 at 8:18 AM
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