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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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    5th July 2012
    02:22 GMT


    Euphorix looks like a pretty nice place to live. I'm looking at Aesad -the capital city- and even the most densely populated part could pass for a park on most worlds. I guess this is what splendid isolation gets you. Though I'm… Curious. This is the capital, but I'm not seeing any structures which strike me as being particularly old. Some places do build new capitals to signal the start of a new age, but it's far more common to build the new atop the old. Total disregard for history is extremely unusual.

    I've picked up a few open uses of magic, but it appears to be restricted to a small portion of the population. Euphorix is governed like a scaled down version of the Crown Imperium so I wouldn't be astonished to learn that magic education was restricted to the ruling class, but… I suppose it could be a heritable trait, or require a particular ritual to connect people to the local thaumosphere. I can't assume that the magic system here works in exactly the same way as the one on Earth.

    Psychic abilities are similarly limited. As far as I can tell, almost the entire population has a really low level of psychic ability, with a tiny proportion having higher levels. As much as I can tell from the way people are dressed, that doesn't appear to be an aristocratic thing.

    I glance up.

    The colour of the sky is a little off-putting. It's still blue, but the planetary shield is changing the visible wavelengths just enough that it's a weirdly deep blue. All the time. I suppose that.. could be something to do with the weather control system as well; there aren't any clouds at the moment and I suspect that there won't be any until just before a downpour.

    Okay, time to get to work. Armour in subspace, fabricate some local clothing… I look enough like the local men that I shouldn't draw enough attention to need a holographic disguise. Queen Kalista was kind enough to provide me with a document seal which should get me past the palace guards. There's no one obvious entry point to the palace grounds, but… If I drop down behind this titanic tree that should conceal me from observers…

    And I'm on the ground. The local grass wannabe feels like a sort of spongy cactus underfoot. Scan a local single person vehicle… One of the hover bikes should do. Fairly standard. Fabricate that… And get on, activating the impeller system and heading for the closest road. Not a lot of traffic here, though I'm not sure if that's because of the time of day or… The locals just aren't that interested in moving around. I turn onto the road without difficulty and accelerate towards the palace entrance.

    No one challenges me as I approach. There's no fortification; it looks like the road carries on to an underground parking area while the pedestrian entrance leads to something that looks more like a hotel foyer than the more militarised entrances I'm used to on Earth. I suppose that if they're unified internally and locked off externally there isn't anything like as much need for that-

    Alert! Spell Eater temperature increasing!

    -though that doesn't mean that there aren't passive measures in place.

    Since I don't immediately get jumped by Euphorian marines I reduce my speed and turn down into the car park. Nodding approvingly at the clearly marked parking spaces I park my bike and then jog back up the entry ramp to the main entrance. I push on the door… Yes, it's really just a matter of pushing it and walking inside.

    A standard pattern humanoid woman manning the desk smiles at me.

    "Business at the palace?"

    "Courier, ma'am." I take the message packet with the royal seal on it. "Message for the Regent, to be delivered into his hand."

    She raises a sceptical eyebrow.

    "On paper? Is someone playing a prank?"

    "They just give me these things. Look, just check the seal and if the joke's on me then I'll go home and thump the dispatcher."

    She snorts, takes the packet and waves the seal over a scanner built into the desk. Then her face falls in shock and she drops it.

    "Ma'am?"

    "Wouldyoupleasejustwaitrighthere?"

    "Sure?"

    She rises from her seat and dashes to an adjacent room, the door closing behind her. I give her a moment, then lean over the desk and recover my package. I'm not exactly deeply under cover here; Primus just told me to 'present the seal and request an audience', otherwise I'd have bothered to find out what the official protocol was. My idea is to see if Regent Alonzo tries the tried and tested 'panic, fingers in ears, lash out' stages of megalomaniac grief management or if he accepts the situation and does what Queen Kalista is clearly expecting him to and lower the shield.

    The receptionist bustles back in, an unconvincing smile on her face.

    "Hiiii."

    I do my best to look like a confused courier.

    "Ma'am?"

    "They'll-. Someone will be down in a moment to show you up. Obviously the Regent works in a secure sector, so they'll need to take you through security."

    I nod.

    "Okay? Honestly, I was expecting a little more security to get this far."

    I try to look harmless as my rings show me guards in the upper levels dashing for the lifts, the ones who aren't flat out diving out of the building and relying on their armour's g-diffuser to allow them to descend in safety.

    Oh my. That lift moves fast. Faster than terminal velocity. It's actually quite hard to make them-.

    The marines exit the lift in good but quick order, forming what probably isn't supposed to look like a cage around me. At least their weapons are stowed. After taking a moment to assure themselves that nothing is about to explode -and I note that the drop-troopers outside are establishing a perimeter, oh joy- the head of the detail steps closer.

    "Courier?"

    "Ah, yes? Yes sir?"

    "Not yet, but we've got the Graalsun honours list coming up, so nose twitching, huh?" He smiles. "Just gotta do a quick scan, then we can take you up."

    "Sure. Go right ahead."

    Two troopers with mobile multiphasic scanners approach on either side, and as they work I have my rings falsify the results so that I look like a local. One who isn't wearing power rings. They're done in a few seconds, then step back.

    "Okay, no contraband of any kind. I'm… Not seeing you in the system."

    I stop smiling quite so much.

    "No. You wouldn't, would you?"

    Slight intake of breath as he understands what I'm implying, then he half-turns to address the room.

    "First squad, back in the lift. Everyone else, you know what to do." He turns back to me. "Please come with me, Mister..?"

    "Illustres. Sure. Just…" I take a half-step towards the lift. "Up there?"

    "Just up there."

    "Wow. I've never met the Regent before." I walk into the lift, the squad falling in around me as the doors hiss closed. "Will he want me to wait for a reply?"
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2021 at 10:26 AM
  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th July 2012
    02:27 GMT


    Regent Alonzo Dulak steeples his hands on the other side of the desk, which combined with his red clothing/albino physiology colour scheme makes him look so totally evil that I scan for vampirism. No. Do Euphorians see on different wavelengths to humans? Not significantly.

    Guess it's cultural, then.

    He glances at the opened letter on the desk next to him

    "The only thing I don't understand is why -having broken through our shield- you're pretending to be an ignorant courier."

    I straighten my stance slightly, prompting my escort to tighten their grips on the weapons slightly. His office is pretty plain, considering he's spent a decade or so as the ruler of all he surveys. There's an oil painting of a group… A young Kalista and a few other people I assume are her immediate family. No Pren, but it could well have been before they met. No pictures of his family, and the stone statue in the corner has been in place long enough to have faded where the ceiling light shines on it.

    "Because while I'm obviously not what I appear, no one knows what I am."

    "You're biological. More creative than the vat-creatures the psions usually make… No, I can't see them allowing someone this amount of independence. The Crown Imperium, perhaps? I'd be surprised if they had teleportation technology advanced enough to bypass the shield, but it's not impossible."

    "May I ask if you've read the letter?"

    "Yes. And I have." He moves his hands apart, laying his left flat on the table and drumming the fingers of his right on the letter itself. "Did you?"

    "Not the letter, no."

    "The Gordanian Empire and the Wombworld have been destroyed, and we are to lower the shield and resume contact with the wider universe. The seal is accurate, the writing matching both Queen Kalista's penmanship and lexicon and the letter is composed as a royal dictum." He moves his left hand, picking up a small scanner and waving it over the letter. "Finger prints and genetic traces from both Queen Kalista and Lord Pren-. Is he still calling himself Primus?"

    "Yes."

    He shakes his head dismissively. "Nonsense like that is why the late Queen never approved Queen Kalista's marriage. What sort of person starts out on a quest for justice by changing their name? The man's a complete chuuni."



    Today is a good day.

    "I couldn't possibly comment."

    I take a data stick containing the rest of their messages -as well as a summary of the situation in the Vega Systems- out of my pocket and-.

    And roll my eyes at a guard who was a little ahead of the game and pointed her gun at me the moment I moved, then offer it to her.

    "The rest of the messages. To be released or not as you see fit."

    Alonzo looks puzzled.

    "I doubt that your instructions included 'as you see fit'."

    "I offered to convey the letter. I'm not here to make sure that someone with no obvious incentive to remove themselves from office obeys the content."

    "I don't appreciate your tone."

    "But you do appreciate the content?" He moues and I shrug. "I'd like to employ Euphorians from specialist professions, but it's hardly the end of the universe if I can't."

    "What professions are those?"

    "At the moment, telepathic specialists. I've got a job to do that requires a great deal of telepathic involvement, and even if my other negotiations go very well I'm going to need more. And I can't get them unless the shield comes down."

    "If you want to access the contents of a person's mind, there are far easier ways to do so. I can build…"

    I shake my head.

    "I need to move sixty billion consciousnesses from a radio telepathic network. Do you have a device that can-?"

    "No."

    "I'd also like to employ a necromancer."

    "We.. have those, but why? They can't operate on a thaumically dead world."

    "I know. My homeworld and our immediate neighbour are both thaumically active. We've just never really developed a tradition of sophisticated necromancy."

    "It's a minority interest amongst a small segment of our population, but I assure you that those who master the subject are perfectly sophisticated." He looks away, sighing. "No, there's no getting around this. If the fighting is over, I'll have to lower the shield. I'll need a few days to go over the data and come up with a form of words to use to convey what's.. happened to the general population."

    I nod politely.

    "That's probably sensible."

    I can see perfectly well that he didn't want them to return. As far as I can tell he'd rather assumed that they were gone permanently the moment the shield went up, something he regarded as a good thing. As far as I can see he hasn't done a terrible job of running the planet in Kalista's absence, and… How disconnected from the goings on in the rest of Vega are the Euphorians? Will they care about a Queen who left them for a decade, when set against the man who kept them safe and ruled them wisely?

    Isn't it great that it's not my problem?

    "Would you like to send a message back?"

    "Yes, I probably should."

    He pulls a sheet of paper out of his desk drawer and picks up a.. fountain pen analogue, then writes a hurried reply. I wait while he finishes, then lowers the pen and waves a device over the paper to dry the ink. Then he folds it and then applies his seal to the join. Lastly, he picks it up and holds it out to me.

    "Fine. Deliver this into Queen Kalista's hand."

    "Certainly." I lean forwards and take it from him.

    "And-." Something occurs to him. "Since the shield will most likely come down in a few days, would you like to speak to one of our necromancers before you leave?"

    "No need. Back in a second."

    I raise my right hand to my forehead,

    head towards Kalista and Pren's shared desire to return home and then

    return to the material universe.

    "Here." I jab at her with the letter, and she instinctively takes it. "He wants a few days to prepare."

    "W-?"

    And then it's

    back to Euphorix.

    "But I would appreciate it if I could speak to one now."
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2021
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    4th July 2012
    21:28 EST


    This, this is not something I'm ever gettin' used to.

    On Oa. Not 'cause I'm gettin' trained, or gettin' some sorta bullshit health assessment, or gettin' yelled at in person. On Oa, wearin' the cape an' sash that comes with bein' on the Honor Guard… An' the couple a' other Green Lanterns I fly past 're actually lookin' impressed.

    It feels good, but it feels weird, too. Don't wanna get all 'self-sabotagy' or nothin', but I'm not sure… I'm not sure how t' deal with it. Random people tellin' me I'm great is nice but it's no big deal. These 're… Other Lanterns. Vets, some of 'em.

    I don't think I've earned this yet. Paul said somethin' about not having earned his ring when he got it, and… Yeah. I dunno about Hal, but I don't think I've earned my sash yet. Earned the ring, yeah. But the jury's out on the sash. But I'm here and Hal isn't, so maybe I'm closer than he is.

    I wave my right hand through the door sensor, then wait. Not at attention or nothin', but I doubt-. The door opens, and I walk inside. It's… Not as big as I thought it'd be. Yeah, there's a touch a' mad science lab, but there's a whole bunch a' museum pieces… Statues, stuff like that, all around the place like he put 'em down and forgot about 'em.

    "Honor Guard Lantern Gardner."

    Guardian Appa Ali Apsa smiles. Not a little polite smile, but like he's genuinely pleased to see me. He floats up from his platform desk thing and the mini-lantern in the middle of it and flies over to his little… Highchair thing. He points at the humanoid-size chair opposite.

    "Won't you sit down?"

    Talkin' to Guardians is… Kinda awkward. Most Lanterns call 'em 'Master', which… I mean, yeah, they're the masters of the Corps, but it always felt kinda weird.

    Wish I'd been there when John first heard it.

    "Thanks fer takin' the time t'meet me, boss."

    I walk-. Ah, pick my way across the room and take the chair. I guess for someone his size who's used t' flyin' around it's pretty easy, but fer a guy my size it's kinda awkward. An' I know Guardians are real busy and he's probably got about a thousand things he needs t' be doin' right now…

    "Not at all."

    Most Guardians are… Not cold. Not alla them. Ganthet and Sayd are okay. But… Impersonal. Like a doctor or somethin'. Not Appa. He learned some actual people skills sometime in the last million years.

    "What was it you wanted to ask me?"

    "It's about Mars."

    "There's not much I can add to the record you already have. I didn't personally take part. There were more of us-"

    He looks away for a moment, which is the kinda humanity the others don't do.

    -back then."

    "Right. See… I talked with Paul one time… He told me that he knew things about our friends that they didn't know themselves. One of them had a kid he didn't know about, another one accidentally killed someone… When I asked him what I didn't know about me… Turned out someone I really admired was actually about five different people, an' they used t' swap 'em out after the last one died."

    He nods.

    "Like a child's hamsters."

    And then there's stuff like that, where a guy older than mammals remembers stuff about your culture. I barely remember stuff about Californian culture.

    "Yeah, kinda like that. I guess after that, and the Ophidian and Vega, I should have thought about it more, but he kinda implied that he knew stuff about the Green Lantern Corps that isn't in the ring database."

    "Yes, he's a curious individual, isn't he? Did he mention this before he made contact with our Controller cousins?"

    Did he? I don't really remember the details, just that there was some sorta insinuation. Early on, that wasn't what I was payin' attention to. Nah, can't remember.

    "Ah..? Think so?"

    "Hm. So?"

    "So? Is there more? I mean, we let loose that Malvolio guy, an' I'm pretty sure you're gunna send the Honor Guard after him." I shrug. "An… How come I didn't know about him? I'm on the Honor Guard. We're the guys you have t' deal with stuff like that."

    "Guy, the Green Lantern Corps has existed for just over three billion Earth years. During that time it has done a huge amount of good. However, on some occasions, mistakes have been made. Or, simply hard decisions taken where there was no good answer to be had. In the case of Larfleeze, we enacted a policy of containment which saw him restricted to an area of space which at the time contained no life."

    "My Sector's got some life in it."

    "And did Paul do it any harm?"

    "Not ex-. No."

    "Forcing the issue would have risked making him the enemy of the Corps. If he fought us, I believe that the Corps would have won, eventually, but the damage would have been considerable. And with the Corps unable to fulfil our other commitments and with new recruits trying to protect their Sectors, the damage spreads. As it was, we felt that giving him some room was for the best."

    That-. Huh.

    "And Malvolio?"

    "We allowed him to keep his ring as part of an experiment to see how your species interacted with a power ring. And given how his adopted Sector fell apart without him, I doubt that we'll be rushing to contain him."

    "Did I..? Miss some part of the handbook?"

    "Hm." Appa folds his hands across his lap. "When I was on Earth, Oliver Queen tried explaining the rules of Ice Hockey to me. I even bought the complete rulebook while I was there."

    Still kinda pissed I missed out on showin' a Guardian around.

    "Yeah?"

    "And yet, nowhere in the rulebook does it mention what a 'smart penalty' is. I doubt that young humans being introduced to the game for the first time are told 'if it looks like the other team are going to score, hit the person with the puck with your stick'. Are they?"

    Uh… Canada

    "Doubt it. But-."

    "Three billion years, Lantern Gardner. We have made many mistakes in that time. Some of them… Devastating. Krona's was the worst, but there were others not far off. The most common are relatively trivial, when a Lantern misassigns blame for a violent conflict and intervenes on the side of the belligerent party. Thaal Sinestro earned his repudiation but in the grand scheme of things the actions which led to it weren't that great. But taken as a whole, such things represent perhaps a billionth of a percent of the sum total of the Corps' deeds. Did Paul tell you why the Controllers separated from the Guardians in the first place?"

    I shake my head.

    "Before the Green Lantern Corps, before the Halla, we at first attempted to spread universal law and order through the use of specialised androids. They were called the Manhunters. We Guardians pride ourselves on both our rationality and our selfless service to the wider universe, and we foolishly assumed that one led to the other. That a purely rational species would relate to the universe in the same way that we do, without the need for introducing convoluted value systems. We chose a Space Sector in which to test them before a galaxy-wide implementation and a few hours later they killed nearly every living thing in it. Burned the whole place down to the bedrock."

    Shit.

    "That was the second worst thing we've ever done, surpassed only by Krona's misdeeds. And afterwards… A little under a third of us left, forming the Controllers. And.. that is why I'm the Guardian I am today. That oversight made it painfully apparent to me that embracing pure cold rationality left holes in our ability to understand the universe. In the way beings other than us think. So-"

    He looks around.

    "-this. I embrace other cultures, other points of view, because I do not want to ever have anything like that ever happen again because we didn't consider something we should have done. And while we don't advertise that one billionth of one percent, we can't forget it."

    He nods at his mini-lantern.

    "As a member of the Honor Guard you have access to our unabridged records. A full accounting for everything that has ever gone wrong would take a few years to go through, but I've loaded in a summary. And if you've got any questions, I'll do my best to answer them."

    He sighs.

    "Though I can't promise that either of us will like all of the answers."
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2021 at 10:27 AM
  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th July 2012
    07:43 GMT


    "Tricky."

    "But could you do it?"

    I glance through the cockpit window and see Adam Blake frown, his eyes a little distant.

    "I honestly don't know. I know for sure I could contact that many minds, but I don't know whether or not I could move them."

    "No, I.. just meant, 'could you add to the group effort'?"

    He nods, his eyes refocusing. "Oh, certainly. It's not often I meet an intelligence I can't outsmart."

    "You've met Vran Gozzi, haven't you?"

    "She's…" He sighs. "She lacks the.. spark. The passion. She's let herself become a living calculator. I hope that the rest of her species aren't like that."

    "I'm.. not sure I understand."

    "I'm a man of my time in a lot of ways. Much as I wanted to see the galaxy, I-. Well, I'd like to have someone to share it with."

    "I'd have thought that there'd be at least someone on Tamaran-."

    He shakes his head. "Oh, I don’t mean-. Tamaranian social mores are a good deal more… Permissive, than those I grew up with. But the idea of… Having 'intimate relations' for their own sake doesn't appeal to me." He sighs quietly. "Komand'r did propose to me, but I'm even less interested in marrying a teenager now than I was back when I was a teenager."

    "So you're looking for a mature woman with a varied life experience, intelligence in your league and an adventurous spirit?"

    He chuckles quietly. "I know, I don't ask for much, do I?"

    "Humanoid?"

    He raises his left eyebrow. "Preferably? Did you have someone in mind?"

    "Mother of Mercy can ramp up her intellect to any level you want, and she's certainly unique."

    "I'm sure she's a very nice plant-planet, but when I say I'm not just looking for a 'good time', I don't mean that I'm completely disinterested in a.. physical relationship."

    "What a man and his 'plant-planet' get up to in the privacy of their own geosphere is their business."

    "I'd prefer humanoid."

    "I think.. Hera's still single?"

    That gets another eyebrow.

    "If I remember my Greek mythology correctly, Hera is married to Zeus."

    "Not.. any more. They got divorced last year." I shrug. "He brought it on himself, really. She's thousands of years old, physically humanoid, I don't even know if you can read her mind… Last I heard she was looking for new experiences… You want me to set something up?"

    "Ah. How likely is Zeus to take offence at me dating his ex-wife?"

    "I'm the one who convinced her to divorce him and he only shot me with lightning once."

    "Alright. In that case, yes. Let's give it a-"

    We drop out of warp, Colu just ahead of us.

    "-try. Huh."

    "You can feel them?"

    "I can feel… I guess that must be the Computer Tyrants themselves. I've never had.. contact this direct with an AI before. Their thoughts are… Strangely angular. It's like looking at a.. complex.. piece of.. clockwork…"

    "Adam, gaze in wonder when you're on the ground and not in charge of a spacecraft."

    "I'm perfectly capable of splitting my attention. Exactly how much lightning did Zeus hit you with?"

    "I'm not sure. A lot. Enough to fry a human of my dimensions."

    "The reason I'm asking is that I'm only tougher than a normal man because of my telekinesis. When I'm asleep, I'm just as vulnerable as anyone else."

    "I've never seen Zeus hit a target underground or in space."

    "I think I remember Kent Nelson saying something about an ideal wife being one who keeps you on your toes."

    "If you like electrocution I have it on good authority that Zeus is bisexual."

    "How's about you go and check on the Martians?"

    "I'll leave you to it, then."

    I come to a relative stop in space as his ship carries on towards the Green Lantern Corps' temporary base of operation, and raise my right hand to my forehead,

    appearing

    back in the Martian capital next to S'yrra.

    "What-"

    **Agh!**

    "-news?"

    S'yrra stares at me-. No, glares at me for a few moments, then shifts into a human form. With clothes, I'm relieved to note; some Martians flying around here haven't quite managed to grasp their significance in human society.

    "The Council are deliberating. They will likely be able to give an indication of the direction of travel within a day. Then it will be the longer task of hashing out details. Can you not provide warning before doing that?"

    "I could try appearing further away, but that's inefficient. Given that you're from the small portion of your civilisation that is allowed to learn magic, have you considered asking to be taught a basic spell to grant you a prescient warning? Or acquiring an artefact to grant it to you?"

    "We're a species of networked telepaths. Martians do not creep up on one another."

    "So how have the Hyperclan escaped detection?"

    "They have also assassinated Sorcerer Priests, so I assume that they can bypass warning spells. In any case, learning even simple magic would take me away from my other duties for too long to justify it."

    "Will the Council require any further testimony from me? Is there anything else I can do to encourage them to decide in our favour?"

    She shakes her head. "None of these are precisely original arguments, and you have already shared your thoughts on your meeting with the… 'The 'Burner'. Unless you can persuade a Guardian to give personal testimony, there is little else you can do."

    "I suppose I can ask. Ring, contact Lantern Gardner."

    "Compliance."

    My ring blinks, then Guy's head appears. He looks a little out of sorts.

    "Hey Paul. What's up?"

    "Still on Mars. I realise that the answer's probably 'no', but is there any chance that a Guardian would be prepared to give testimony? They don't need to come in person, just communicating via ring would be fine."

    He looks away for a moment, then turns back.

    "Yeah. I think we can set that up."
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2021 at 10:28 AM
    Wetbananas, Ardy, JeckJack and 25 others like this.
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th July 2012
    09:58 GMT +2


    "Yes, as it happens I am currently single."

    Hera seems to have calmed down a good deal since our last meeting. That might be to do with her current job as a Greek television personality affording her respect and social contact while also incentivising a slightly more… Restrained manner.

    "Why the sudden interest? Diana told me that you're dating that assassin girl."

    "A male heroic mortal of my acquaintance has expressed an interest in seeking a wife. Since he appeared to meet-."

    She beams, her joy and incredulity written plainly on her face.

    "You're trying to make a match for me?! You cheeky man!"

    Several members of the film crew look around at her exclamation, but once they reassure themselves that she's just amused they go back to whatever they were doing.

    "It seemed unlikely that Cronus had anyone lined up. For all I know you're temperamentally unsuited to one another."

    "Alright." She leans back in her chair, clearly still amused by my impudence. "Who is this hero, and how do.. I meet his requirements?"

    "Adam Blake, sixty one years old." I take a hologram projector out of subspace, load it with an image of him and put it on the table in front of her.

    She looks him over. "'Sixty one'? Not entirely human then, or does he dye his hair?"

    "We're not actually sure if he ages. He left Earth in the seventies, and he only started looking older after being captured and tortured for years. He looks younger now than he did after I freed him, and he might continue to move towards his prime."

    "Oh, that's fine. I'd hardly be interested in a youth." I raise my eyebrows. "I wasn't going to marry you. You were going to get a weekend if you were lucky. Marriage is a far more serious matter."

    "I am at once insulted and reassured."

    She looks at me expectantly. "Well? Go on."

    "He told me that he was looking for a mature woman with a varied life experience, intelligence in his league -he is very intelligent- and an adventurous spirit."

    "I'll happily match wits with him if he promises to be less boarish than my last husband. However, I'm concerned about what he means by 'adventurous spirit'."

    "He gets bored easily and so seeks out new experiences. And I don't mean sexual ones, I mean something new to do. At the moment he's organising the reindustrialisation of a planet ruined by war and occupation, and from what I saw last time I was on Tamaran he's more or less finished the top down part."

    "Did they make him their king?"

    "No, but he's on excellent terms with their current king."

    She frowns. "And does the king have no daughters?"

    "He has two, but Adam told me that they're too young and inexperienced for him."

    "I certainly have experience. But I rather like where I'm living now."

    "Adventure is relative. This is still new for you, isn't it?"

    "I suppose. What's your interest in this? He's not related to you."

    "Once he's finished on Tamaran, I'd like to tempt him back to Earth-"

    "Hah!"

    "-to take over our uplift project, since the challenge is a little more complex than what he's experiencing on Tamaran."

    Her eyes and grin both widen. "And you want to use me as a lure?!"

    "It wouldn't.. hurt. If things worked out. I don't think he's exactly going to rush into anything."

    She looks at me a little more seriously. "And you think I am?"

    "No. You have no political need for a particular or rapid pairing and a personal one for a life-partner. If I've caught your attention, you'll give it due consideration, and give a direct answer."

    "I will. And I'll admit, he does appear to meet my minimum requirements. Very well; I'll meet him. Ask him to set a date at his earliest convenience. I'll pick the restaurant, since he won't know anywhere on Earth."

    "Thank you. I will pass that on."

    "Does he speak Greek? Ancient or modern."

    "Both. He's also a telepath, so it wouldn't matter if he couldn't."

    "By magic, or some sort of… Brain-thing."

    "Brain thing."

    "It won't work on me. Which is probably for the best in a relationship. And speaking of relationships, how are you and the assassin getting on?"

    "Well, thank you. I'll-" I push my chair back and rise to my feet. "-pass on the-."

    "You are sworn to the Olympians and acting within my domain. Speak with me."

    I sit down in something of a hurry.

    "Yes… Ah, Jade's progressing in her chosen career, establishing herself separate from my influence. That's something I've encouraged because the moment she thinks that she's dependent on me is the moment she starts being unhappy."

    "Ideally, you'd depend on each other."

    "I remember reading a while ago that if-" A man. "-a person earned more than a certain amount per year it was far cheaper to hire cleaners and surrogates and nannies and prostitutes than date or marry." I shrug. "I'm a Lantern. A very good one. I'll never depend on anyone. But there are skills I don’t have, so I'm trying to help her achieve things in that direction."

    "A pleasant change of pace. I've known kings in your position who were singularly incapable of staying in their marital beds."

    "You married one." / "I married one."

    She smiles, nodding. "And if you respect her skills in the way my former husband never respected mine, that may well work. But I'm concerned about your distance. You do at least communicate with her regularly?"

    "Several times a week, at least when we're both in a position to communicate. I know most of the friends she's made while there, but they're her friends and not our friends. I've planned this, oh Hera."

    "You're the most orderly discordian I've ever met. Is that a subversion of expectations… Thing?"

    "No. I just recognise the importance of undoing dysfunctional order. Your family works best when regarded as a unified whole. The fact that I'm currently closer to one of you doesn't mean that I've forgotten that."

    "Ah. If only we remembered that."
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2021
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th July 2012
    11:08 GMT +3


    Natasa nods uncertainly.

    "I'm… I.. can raise the shades of any who exist in Lord Hades' halls, which includes the shades of those who are not human. The shade of those housed elsewhere would require negotiations with their God of the Dead."

    "What if they don't have one?"

    "Then… With the head of their pantheon. Unless they have reincarnated."

    "Is there..? If someone-. If a soul is reincarnated, is there a record of where they went? The fact that they were reborn?"

    "Lord Hades keeps such records, as do the gods of the Hindus. For other pantheons, I do not know."

    "How about if they don’t have a religious belief?"

    "The.. a-li-ens whom you brought to Lord Hades did not worship him in life. Is that what you meant?"

    Unsurprisingly, Ancient Greek doesn't have a word for 'space aliens'. Even in English, 'alien' literally just means 'not from around here'. Alan generally says 'space aliens' when I'd just say 'aliens', but for the Amazons just calling them xénos wouldn't make sense. They call Greeks from the mainland xénos. In fact, that's what they usually use the word for; other nationalities are referred to by their name. The sudden need for a word to refer to people and things from a little further afield than Crete led to the Amazons mugging a leaf out of English's book and stealing a loan word.

    "No. When their souls were left on Ater Clementia, just drifting around."

    "Yes, that would be easy. Even if they did not want to speak with me, I could certainly identify them."

    "Could you tell if they'd died and been reincarnated?"

    "If I could find their body. I am… I know the rites, but-" She shakes her head. "-there is little call for them on Themyscira. I do not know that I have the skills you want."

    "Would you be willing to try?"

    "Yes-. Wait. Where do you wish me to try?"

    "Mars."

    She frowns. "Ares?" Then she smiles. "Is he dead? Did you and the Princess kill him?"

    "No. And not the Roman deity either. The planet."

    "Another world?"

    "You are.. familiar with the idea that-."

    "Yes, I-. Know. I…" She looks around the temple, probably as an excuse to not look at me. "Haven't.. left Themyscira."

    "In over three thousand years?"

    "In the entire two thousand eight hundred and seventy three years of my life. I was born here."

    "The door to New York has been there for-."

    "A few more of my sisters have requested initiation into the mysteries of the Cult of Hades, thanks to your efforts at changing the way we are perceived. But with Thana away, I am the senior priestess."

    "Given how infrequently Amazons die, and how cheerful Lord Hades is at the moment, I'm pretty sure you could get away for a few hours."

    "If I refuse, will you drag me out of the temple to… Fondle in the way you did Thana?"

    "Will I need to? DO you want me to? Shoving people out of their ruts is a devotional act for me."

    She looks away, clearing her throat.

    "That will not be necessary. I will accompany you to.. Mars. Will there..? Be other people around?"

    "Um. We can go somewhere without other people if you prefer? Most of the Martians I've met have been fairly nice."

    "Perhaps if I could just… View them from a distance?"

    I hold out my left hand. "I can manage that."

    She regards my hand for a moment, then takes it. Some Amazons like seeing their home from far above. Io adjusted to being away fairly quickly, but while Thana adjusted to her own company as part of the job it looks like Natasa picked a job that didn't involve being around people because that's how she prefers it.

    Each to their own. Not like Themyscira is short on… Whatever the medieval version of a shut-in is.

    "Ready? " She nods. "Three, t-"

    Transition.

    "-wo, and we're here."

    Natasa looks around at the desolate panorama surrounding us, then tilts her head back to take in the giant telekinetic pillars that are just about the only decoration on this part of the Martian surface.

    "So we're looking for the shade of a wizard called 'Karmang'. He's from a very long time ag-"

    "I'm on.. another world."

    "-o. Yes, I did say."

    "Yes." She looks down at the ground. "This land… It even feels dead."

    "It is. The locals live underground, aside from a few areas they're replanting. You specified 'isolated', so-."

    "I appreciate your consideration. If the spirit of Karmang is willing to speak with me, this will be quick. Otherwise I must simply call… How long ago did he die?"

    "He's the founder of modern Martian society. He might even be amongst the first generation of modern Martians."

    "And how are modern Martians distinguished from ancient Martians?"

    "Ancient Martians spend their entire lives on fire."

    "I will.. bear that in mind."

    "I could build a small shrine here if that would help?"

    "No, Pavlos, alienating the local gods would not make calling one of their own back into the material world easier. Please, simply remain quiet for a time."

    Which I.. do. Perhaps it's unfair of me, perhaps a product of the fact that I didn't grow up on Themyscira, but if given the choice between a scholar and a cleric, I'll go with the scholar every time. The Professor of Post-Mortem Communications the Regent introduced me to would probably still be more reliable, but he said that he'd want to study the entire thaumosphere in detail before trying anything. Whereas a Themysciran priestess could try right away with a fair chance of success. The Professor is still my backup option if this doesn't work, but if the Council reaches a decision before the shield goes down then I can't-.

    "Pavlos?"

    "Got something?"

    Natasa frowns thoughtfully at me.

    "This may be a strange question, but are you certain that 'Karmang' is amongst the dead?"
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2021 at 10:30 AM
  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th July 2012
    08:17 GMT


    'I'm pretty sure that of the two of us, I'm not the necromancer'.

    That would have been a good comeback. It would have been a dickish thing to say given that she's volunteered to help me, but it's interesting to see that even after everything I can still be too late with a snappy response.

    The Martian capital Oll'Sal'us has some surface redevelopment, but the only real external difference between it and the other cities I've visited is that the surface entrances are slightly larger, probably to enable the larger Manhunter ships to enter and exit. One of them passes overhead as we approach, prompting a wave from me and a ducked-head-stare from Natasa.

    "You must have seen aircraft before, surely?"

    "Not like that. Is she.. here?"

    I'm not sure who runs the capital city, but the manual agricultural reclamation appears to be being done almost exclusively by Whites with a few Green… I don't want to say 'overseers'. Line managers? I mean, some of the Greens are doing the same work as the Whites but they're clearly in the minority.

    Unless they've all shapeshifted. I suppose. It's not like I could tell.

    S'yrra hasn't. The other Red with her has given… This isn't working, themself two extra arms, and the runic charms… Grown? On their clothing indicate that they're the Sorcerer I asked for. The uniformed and armed Manhunters are practically background. I haven't learned Martian body language and their desires aren't focused on anything in particular. They're more job-focused at the moment.

    I accelerate us, dropping to the ground just in front of the two Reds. S'yrra is focusing most of her attention on Natasa, who is maintaining a stiff and formal bearing.

    "This is.. your necromancer."

    Natasa gives her a shallow bow. "I am a priestess of Hades, the God of the Dead of the Hellenes."

    "What are Hellenes?"

    "The subset of humans from her part of the world. Different religions on Earth have different Gods of the Dead."

    The Sorcerer makes.. what I think is a minor warding gesture. Their clothing is partially interfering with my empathic vision and Martian magic appears to only very roughly match up to the particular spells I've learned about on Earth.

    "Have you.. tried to speak with Karmang the Good?"

    "I have tried, but… I do not believe that he is dead."

    The Sorcerer Priest remains completely still.

    "Explain."

    "Without a link to the living world, shades… Fall into torpor. Which… Makes finding the oldest a simple matter; simply look for the most slumberous. Those who were in life active magic users are easier, those whose great deeds reshaped the world easier still. I have cast around the spirit realms of Mars and I have not found sign of Karmang."

    "That is hardly proof. Karmang's knowledge of magic was vast; no doubt there are ways to shield against such spells."

    "Yes."

    A spectral Red Martian shimmers into existence beside Natasa.

    "But my master had no knowledge of them. For all his insight he knew little more than he taught us."

    The sorcerer's fingers twitch and flick, arms moving rapidly-. Ah! Creating a runic network through complex ritual gestures! Clever. Humans don't really have the morphology for it, but I've seen Ted's ideas for thaumically active drones that could do something similar. Sand dances in response to the gestures, grey light twinkling around the shade.

    "Who were you?"

    "I awoke with no name. The one who called himself Karmang named me for the expression on the surface of my mind when he found the cave in which I awoke. Nervous but hopeful."

    "Hkronmar." / "H’ronmeer."

    The shade makes an affirmative gesture.

    "Enunciation changes, even for us. But since it is what you want to know, I have never felt the spirit of my former master lose its material tether. I do not know how he has managed it. He never claimed to have taught us everything that he knew, but death-magic was never my focus either."

    The sorcerer's eyes light up.

    "I am sharing this meeting with the rest of my order. Master…" They kneel. "The knowledge you could share with us-."

    "Is very little. We existed at a strange time with unique challenges, but your research has taken you far further than we could have imagined."

    "I apologise for intruding in what I'm sure is a theologically significant moment for you, but-" I gesture to the panting Natasa. "-keeping old shades active isn't easy. Could we move this on to the issue at hand?"

    An affirmative gesture from S'yrra. "Yes. Great H’ronmeer, do you know what Karmang the Good's opinion on the different colours of Martians was?"

    "Yes, it was a subject that interested him greatly. He strove mightily to understand how a species as protean as ours could have a resting form with particular properties, and what if anything separated the colours."

    "I meant, regarding their roles in society."

    "Civilisation was still struggling to emerge. There were only eleven of us at Z'onn Z'orr, and it was not until I returned to the caverns that I encountered Green Martians for the first time. Karmang himself gave no commands regarding how we should lead or who should be allowed to occupy what positions. Given that he admitted to ignorance on the subject of colour identity, he would have considered it premature to make a judgement."

    "But there were no Green Martians at Z'onn Z'orr."

    "Not while I studied there."

    "Nor White Martians."

    "Not as students, no. But it would hardly have been Z'onn Z'orr without Karmang."

    "What..?" The sorcerer ripples. "What do you mean by that?"

    "Obviously, that Karmang was White."

    Oh.

    I… Look around, and see that while not all of the agronomists around us are staring at us, they've all stopped working.

    "What?"

    "Karmang was White. I was slightly surprised that other Whites existed; I had at first thought that it was only him." The shade turns to Natasa. "I thank you for allowing me to see what Mars has become, but you should not strain yourself so much on my account. Return me to sleep, and wake me again after you have recovered if you have need of me."

    Natasa nods gratefully, and the shade evaporates.

    "So how's that going to affect discussions?"

    S'yrra stares at me, while the sorcerer does the vacant eye glow which indicates heavy telepathic traffic.

    "You will get what you want. I'm just not sure what else will happen."
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2021 at 10:30 AM
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th July 2012
    13:32 GMT


    The White Martians of Xan'Xie waste no time in taking advantage of the Council's decision. Overloaded civilian bio-transports are already flying out of the city's surface exits, heading towards more liberal cities. Given the size of the population shift they're not going to permanent homes, just temporary residences until such time as the other cities can divvy them up. Over to my right J'emm appears to be regarding the scene impassively, though for all I know he's shouting telepathic greetings at everyone. S'yrra's still in near-human shape and she mostly just looks sad.

    The Council wasn't quite willing to flat out override a Prelate on internal law at this stage, but the travel restriction was struck down almost immediately. Where things will be tomorrow, once they've had time to accept that their entire civilisation is built on a bedrock of lies, I don't know. J'emm's stock -and that of the rest of the liberal wing- has shot up, but with his argument 'won' they've still got to decide between federalist and unitarian government structures. I have no idea what his view on that is, and as long as no one's suffering who doesn't want to I don't particularly care.

    The Martians on foot are visible now, and the fact that the surface is technically liveable means that they could make the trek on foot if they had to. Fortunately they don't; the cities that have agreed to receive them are sending Manhunter ships and White advocacy groups are sending civilian transports. And I'm here with a L.E.G.I.O.N. transport in the hope that-

    "Heehahaha!"

    -Mr. B'lanx found some volunteers.

    Ring? Yes, that is him, in a humanish shape and having to gasp for breath. He lands unsteadily in front of me and claps his right hand on my pauldron.

    "You exceeded my wildest expectations! Karmang was White!"

    "So it appears."

    "Their entire civil order is in ruins! Is this how you handle everything?!"

    "N-."



    "Not everything. And it's not usually this fast."

    "The Hyperclan couldn't destroy them this fast." He backs up slightly, nodding confidently. "I and many of my brethren will join you in the service of L.E.G.I.O.N.."

    "You sure? You don't want to oversee things here? The White revolution isn't over yet."

    "Yes, I am sure. The shift in the world-mind is undeniable. Even the Reds don't believe their lies any longer, and we all know it." He straightens slightly, then turns back to watch as a small number of Green Martians emerge from the city and float towards the oncoming Manhunter transports. "And the Greens have their eyes opened as well."

    "Not all cities are as bad as-."

    "I know. But this is the purest form of what happens all across Mars, and even the Greens don't like it. Not when they're confronted with it. I wish to join L.E.G.I.O.N. for the reasons you said: to secure our future by force of arms if necessary, and to build a future by our own efforts. I still want a power ring, but I can earn that by my own efforts if no one is stopping me in the name of a fake idol."

    I nod. "Alright, well, if you could lead everyone who feels the same way-."

    "In that ship?"

    He gestures to the crowd behind him who aren't moving towards the Manhunter ships. It's continuing to grow as more Whites leave the city behind him.

    "You'll need something bigger."

    "We can do shuttle runs. We'll be sending you to Earth for a little while to get used to alien thoughts before transporting you to Maltus, but our first stop is Colu."

    He freezes, his eyes lighting up for a moment. Then he and about two hundred other Martians fly up towards the transport ship.

    J'emm walks over to me as they leave.

    "I had hoped to talk to him. I wanted him to see in my mind that I truly believe in equality."

    "I.. don't.. think he's going to want to talk to Red Martians for a little while. Can I assume that you don't need me in order to keep things going here?"

    "You have what you want. And I do too, if not… Not in the manner I wanted."

    "Is this a problem for you?"

    "Karmang was revered by-. Not all, clearly. But I held him as an example on… How I should live my life."

    "What, and you can't do that because he's White? That stuff about colour not determining your life doesn't just apply to Whites, you know. You can take White, Greens… Heck, if you find a Yellow Martian you admire you can try emulating them."

    "Perhaps I have a great deal to… Unthink."

    "I've got a friend who's going through something similar. If you want to talk to her-."

    **Why are you here?**

    "Let me deal with that first and then come back to you."

    I fly past the White Martians making their way into the ship via the embarkation ramps, searching for-.

    Oh. Right.

    Even with everything going on, J'emm was kind enough to put the word out and a small group of telepathic specialists agreed to join me in order to help the Coluans. Naturally, being allowed to rise to the top of their fields, they're Red. Well, five out of six are Red, the sixth being Green. Mr. B'lanx's posture suggests that he's less than impressed with their presence.

    I land a short distance away. The posture of the specialists is studiously neutral. I doubt that they'll be joining up after this, but… Maybe they'll ask for a trip to Earth.

    "Problem?"

    "You were hiring Whites."

    "And I want you to perform a delicate telepathic transfer. Do you have the training or experience to do that?"

    "You told us that we would be taught."

    "Yes? And where did you expect me to find someone intimately familiar with the capacities of Martian telepaths?"

    "Anywhere else."

    "Mr B'lanx, let me be clear. You have accepted my offer of employment. This means that you work for me. Since you're still in the cooling off period and since we're still on Mars, you are free to leave. But if you don't, that means that you will be working with who I tell you to work with, on the tasks to which I assign you."

    He glowers with glowing eyes.

    "Well?"

    "I will… Stay."

    **I am no happier about this than you are.** The senior specialist steps forward. **It is difficult enough to teach complete neophytes, worse when lives are at risk. But I will direct you far better than-.**

    "I'm sorry, my question wasn't rhetorical. My colleague Henry King has substantial experience with Martian telepathy, and I'm making Adam Blake the project lead. I will be expecting you to defer to them. Again, if you can't agree to those terms you are of course free to leave."

    No response, though Mr. B'lanx's posture is less aggressive.

    "If there are no takers? Captain, please take us up."
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2021 at 10:32 AM
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    6th July 2012
    19:12 GMT


    "You..? Managing alright there?"

    The Martian specialists are trying not to look at Adam as his telekinetic aura flares in a way which.. even I have to admit is uncomfortably reminiscent of a Burning Martian's skin. It's not exactly the same; he's not a shapeshifter and so his skin isn't joining in. I'm not sure why his telekinesis is acting up; this is supposed to be an exercise in mass telepathy. I don't think that 'psychic energy' is a thing -at least not with 'brain thing' telepathy- so there shouldn't be a 'power surge' from this…

    Adam's head turns towards me in a slow and.. frankly disturbing way, his aura wavering and sparking. If he starts to monologue about how 'all will be one with me' then I'm pressing the button on my psyshock bomb.

    **It's… Incredible. So many minds working in concert. So many viewpoints. Perspectives… Ways of thinking I've never considered before.**

    "And the Coluans? Have you been able to free any?"

    **Hm? Oh, no.**

    "Do you..? Need more time? More… Telepaths, networked?"

    The shield around Euphorix will be up for a few more days, but if he needs different styles of telepathy to attack the Computer Tyrants most effectively then keeping everyone here is perfectly manageable from a logistics viewpoint. The Computer Tyrants appear to have preferred living Coluans as region managers rather than robots, and as a result planned their calorie requirements around a somewhat active lifestyle. Keeping their vertical farms going and de-networking their robot workers has been simple enough.

    **No, that won't be necessary. Removing the Coluans in the way you suggested wasn't remotely feasible.** Oh. **Fortunately I had more than enough telepathic processing power under my control to just erase the thought engrams of the Computer Tyrants directly.**

    "Oh, they're… Gone?"

    **I'd be surprised if someone like Vril Dox didn't put a backup of their program somewhere, but they're no longer running on the Coluan organic network.**

    "And the Coluans?"

    **Still networked. I've sent groups of the Martians to free the first few groups. The Coluans are aware of their situation and we've agreed to a phased release.**

    "I'm sure that you've planned things properly. Is there a reason why you're glowing?"

    **Huh?**

    He looks himself over, suddenly a little more animated.

    **Oh. That. I think it's to do with how the parts of my brain responsible for my telepathy and my telekinesis are connected to each other. When I put a lot of effort into something, it triggers a response in the surrounding areas. Give me a moment.**

    He closes his eyes, breathes in deeply and then slowly breathes out, his aura fading as he does so. Eyes still closed he lowers himself to the ground, then opens them.

    "That was an interesting experience."

    "Worth leaving Tamaran for?"

    "Of course. A new planet, a new challenge, a new opportunity to help people." He looks over to where the Martian experts are… Rubbing their heads and generally acting like they've just come out of a daze. "Good work, fellas."

    **It was…** The Green member of the team appears to recover quickest. I suppose that when you mesh minds with thousands of people, not being a representative of a political class they hate makes it a little easier. **A unique experience.**

    "Oh, I… Spoke to Hera."

    Adam looks mildly curious. "That was quick."

    "She's working as a television presenter in Greece. She's not that hard to get hold of."

    "A television… And people don't notice that she's… Not human?"

    "If you met a man named Michael, would your first response be to check him for wings?"

    "No, I wouldn't, not unless there was something strange about him. She doesn't look..? Unusual? Godly?"

    "She looks like a middle aged divorcee who's still got her looks. Gods can't bring their full power with them into the material world. If you want to see her full majesty you'll have to transcend the physical with magic."

    "That didn't go too well for Semele."

    "Death isn't guaranteed. You'd just need to work on your metaphysical strength first. Learning magic could be a new experience for you."

    "It would be an interesting change of pace. So what did she say?"

    "She's… More 'curious' than 'interested', but she takes relationships seriously. She said that if you pick a date then she'll pick a location-. Ah, do you actually have any Earth money?"

    He chuckles to himself.

    "I had a small bank account when I left, so between inflation and being declared legally dead, probably not. But I've got rare metals and alien technology, so I doubt covering the check will be a problem."

    "Because I'm perfectly happy to pay you for this job."

    "Kinda undermines the heroism, wouldn't you say?"

    "Does it for the police and firefighters? Or soldiers?"

    "No, but they operate within a system of socially determined rules. I did this because it interests-."

    He takes a moment to look at the orange construct hearts rising from the top of my head, evaporating once they get a metre or so away. Being me, these constructs are anatomically-accurate hearts rather than cartoon ones, but Adam is an intelligent man.

    "Me. What… Is that?"

    "It's unusual, as a non-telepath, to hear my own thoughts coming from someone else's mouth." I dismiss them. "Have you considered trying out for an orange power ring?"

    "Non-telepathic mind altering artefacts and telepathy don't mix well."

    "Alright; I know someone who could help you monetise any raw materials or technology you bring back really easily, as well as giving you an overview on the state of technology on Earth. I'm sure he'd be able to find you projects that could hold your attention."

    "Ah, look. I don't have any problem with homosexuals and I'm sure you're a great guy, but I'm not one."

    Ah.

    "Ah. Sorry, I was… Clearly being a bit too enthusiastic, there. I have a girlfriend, she's not Canadian." He frowns. "Right, you… Weren't on Earth for-. There's a long-running joke about single men claiming that they have girlfriends in Canada."

    "Ah, okay. Why?"

    "I don't know. But uplifting the Earth has been a major project of mine, and I'm very enthusiastic about getting you on board."

    "I… Suppose that if I'm going to Earth anyway then there's no harm in meeting him."

    "Excellent! Now let's go and thank everyone for their help."
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2021 at 10:21 AM
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    14th September 2010
    21:23 GMT -5


    "How come you're not more pissed off about this?"

    Artemis has been fuming since Max's brilliant virtual reality training simulator nearly killed us all. Which is a pretty reasonable thing to be angry about. But really.

    "Because I saw it coming."

    "What?! You knew-?!"

    I shrug. "I've watched Star Trek. And X-Men. I knew perfectly well that a machine like that was going to try and kill anyone who used it."

    We're perched on a loading crane on the Gotham docks, patiently waiting for a shipment of cocaine coming in from Columbia. Normally Batman would just pass this sort of information on to the police, but a new syndicate has been getting its hands on high-end plasma weapons and he told us that he's concerned that they wouldn't be able to handle it without massive collateral damage.

    "That…" Her head tilts to the right, her eyes narrowing. "What?"

    "Star Trek? You know, the science fiction series? With the holograms that keep going wrong and trying to kill the crew?"

    She huffs, a little of the tension leaving her frame.

    "Seriously? You saw it in some TV show and that's how you knew?"

    "It's a reasonable frame of reference."

    "And you didn't say anything? To the rest of us, to Batman, to that Lord guy?"

    "What do you think I should have said, 'this machine will try and kill us, I saw it on TV'?" She appears to grudgingly accept that. "Besides, that was a good lesson, too."

    Her mouth twitches, trying hard not to form a sneer. "How exactly was the Justice League nearly getting us all killed a good lesson?"

    "It teaches us to rely on our own skills. That even the best intentioned have bad days and make idiotic decisions sometimes."

    "I… Guess…"

    "And -objectively speaking- losing us hurts the Earth less than losing League members."

    "E-h."

    "What? Do you think I'm wrong?"

    "I just-. I knew League training would be hard. I just thought they'd be different to-. Ah, better planned." She glances at me to see if I caught that slip. As if anyone wouldn't have. "You know? Not try and kill us."

    "If people trying to kill you bothers you, you're in the wrong line of work." No, this isn't a helpful line of discussion. Having her moderate her enthusiasm for the League is only useful up to a point, and I think I've got as far as I can without bringing down her mood too much and creating a negative association. "And speaking of work, I'm thinking of changing my costume. I'd like to know what you think."

    She looks mildly unimpressed. "Is that supposed to be an excuse to take your clothes off?"

    "No." I frown. "You've seen me switch into costume by ring before."

    "Okay." She shrugs, leaning back against the control cabin. "Sure."

    I smile. "Thank you."

    I raise my left hand, orange light flares and-.

    "What's-?" She spots it, and huffs. "Really?"

    I grin. "What?"

    She thrusts her right hand at my newly exposed midriff. "I thought you said it wasn't an excuse to get naked!?"

    "Are you naked?"

    She jerks her head away, folding her arms across her breasts. I take a moment to flex and undulate my abdominal muscles.

    "And I'm mostly protected by the ring anyway. I've never liked the idea that female superheroes have to go around in skimpy costumes while the men are fully covered, so B'wana Beast and I are going to work towards true sexual equality, where men are not afraid of their own-."

    "Okay! Great costume!" She throws up both hands in an exasperated gesture. "Now shut up and change back!"

    Her eyes keep dipping uncontrollably to where my pale skin is outlined by the grey stab resistant material of my trousers and Flash Gordon-inspired halter top, pupils and facial capillaries... Yes, good.

    "I don't know, I mean I wouldn't want you to feel-."

    "If I agree to switch costume tomorrow, will you switch back right now?"

    I make a show of considering it for a few moments, flexing my abdominals once more now that she's actually looking. "Oh, alright. If you insist."

    Ah, full armour. Too hot for summer without the help of a power ring, but just the thing for the autumn.

    "Great. Thanks."

    She activates her night vision visor and checks the docks once more. I have a scan, but fail to detect anything of note. Of course, dealing with America's drug problem can't be done by just stopping the occasional shipment; where there is demand supply will follow. If Batman actually wanted us to achieve anything significant he'd send us to Columbia with some sort of bio-engineered super crop. Kill all the paramilitaries and give the farmers something profitable and low-risk to grow.

    But I don't actually care about solving the problem, and… I don't have the resources that it would actually take. Turning a few people into constructs isn't going to give me the political control I'd need, I'm not a good enough covert killer to cover my tracks and-.

    "What… Is this?"

    I try following her line of sight.

    "A.. discarded coil of chains..?"

    "No. You." She turns back to me. "What you're doing. The flowers-"

    Which she liked at first, much as she denied it. And then started finding creepy. Still working on reliably identifying the cut off.

    "-and the… Stripping, and-."

    "I thought you agreed it wasn't stripping if you were wearing the same-?"

    "Fine, not… Stripping. Just-."

    "I find you admirable and physically attractive and want to date you. I.. don't.. see what's so hard to understand."

    "'Admirable'."

    "Sure. I didn't do anything of note with my life until someone dropped a power ring in my lap. And even then, I stuck with other superheroes and mostly did what I was told. You decided to go out there with a bow and arrow on your own recognisance. I admire that 'go get'em' attitude."

    She takes a deep breath.

    "If I agree to go on a date with you, will you knock if off for a week?"

    "Will this date happen within that week?"

    "No. The date's what you get if you make it to the end of the week."

    "Agreed." I extend my right hand. "Honoured team mate in whom I have no carnal interest at all."

    She takes it, shakes it and then goes back to watching the coast. Hm. She's agreed in principle and now she's just arguing over the price. But that's perfectly fine. Now that I don't have to worry about… Anything, getting what I want is just a matter of patience and planning.
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2021 at 10:34 AM
  11. Threadmarks: Back Door
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Back Door

    6th July 2012
    22:12 GMT +2


    Mr. B'lanx looks out across the Bir Tawil desert.

    "It does look a little the surface of Mars. Though it feels a lot hotter."

    "Is it a problem for you?"

    His outline shifts as he assumes a humanoid shape and… Darkens his skin.

    "No. Becoming a Black Martian makes-" I wince inwardly. "-this a good deal more comfortable."

    "I thought the reason you didn't just go Green or Red was that other Martians could always tell."

    "Ways of thinking… Parts of our core psychological identity, are transferred in the womb. But if we're changed enough by our experiences that we think in ways unlike the Whites back home… Why not become something else?"

    "White pride?"

    "You proved that there's no real difference between the colours. If that's true, why should I take pride in result of a coin toss?"



    I need to get this guy off Earth, don't I?

    "What did you think about Colu?"

    "So much refined metal. I'd never seen so much in any one place before. And the animals were so… Tame. Constricted. On Mars the minds of the animals inside the rock are a constant presence wherever you go. In the one city I've ever lived in, anyway."

    Yes, a bit of a shame about Colu's entire biosphere. Nothing was ever allowed to go entirely extinct, but the planet has absolutely no 'unregulated' wildlife. No forests or jungles outside of parks where everything is monitored and controlled. The Computer Tyrants were in the process of shutting a lot of them down, but the biological Coluans appear to like them.

    "Do you miss them?"

    "When you're working long shifts and banned from most public places of entertainment, you learn to make your own fun. Taming animals, training them… It was a fairly common pastime."

    He gazes off towards the horizon for a few moments.

    "Why are there no humans here?"

    "The two neighbouring countries can't agree on who owns it. This is the part they both say that the other owns. Then Orange Lantern Manga Khan decided to build this trade post. We locked it down after he left and L.E.G.I.O.N. have been using it as an outpost. In the event of things working out differently on Mars I was planning on offering it to you."

    "That doesn't explain why this area is so empty."

    "Too hot, too dry, not enough natural resources. And no one wanted to pick a fight with me to break in during the gap between Khan leaving and L.E.G.I.O.N. arriving."

    "Ah."

    "So… As I said, you and your people are free to wander in the countries immediately abutting this territory, though you'll be expected to comply with local law. The L.E.G.I.O.N. fleet will be pulling out in a few weeks and your people will be able to travel with them then."

    The Earth is… Recovering, from the Sheeda. We've regained satellite coverage and have a full accounting of the dead. More or less. I… Remember an age-of-sail style science fiction story where after a major civil war ravaged human space the most powerful worlds left were places that had been minor colonies when the war happened. That was because everywhere larger was smashed flat by mass drivers and then chain nuked just to make sure. The only places that weren't were the places no one could be bothered to attack.

    Something not entirely unlike that is happening here, only it's the middle that was eliminated. Up and coming powers like Brazil-. Accalacan now, obviously, and India, were smashed. Large chunks of the population vanished, large pieces of infrastructure destroyed and government officials killed. India's.. actually undergoing an effective breakdown in central government, with minority Muslim and Sikh groups… Not pressing for independence so much as assuming it.

    The top tier nations that could defend their populations somewhat effectively were least affected physically but were so dependent financially on global systems that aren't working now that they're having to engage in major… 'Restructuring'. Confidence in money is at an eighty year low, barter has re-emerged in a lot of places and unemployment has spiked.

    The only real beneficiaries -other than the native tribes of South America, because even places outside of Accalacan are having to change their policies on that issue- are European farmers, who have found demand increasing both due to the difficulty in continuing imports and a new wave of government self-sufficiency initiatives. And even there, a lot of places have switched from tractors to horses due to the higher fuel costs, because the Sheeda were happy to target both oil wells and oil tankers.

    Thank goodness for Atlantis. Otherwise I'd find myself using the phrase 'oceanic apocalypse' to describe what happened to our fish stocks.

    "How do most humans feel about Martians?"

    "About the same as how you feel about the Ungarans."

    "The who?" … "Oh. But J'onn J'onnz has been on Earth for years?"

    "Yes, but humans aren't usually telepathic. Only a very small percentage of our population has met him, and he usually adopts a human shape so they wouldn't necessarily know that they had."

    "You don't have recording devices?"

    "Yes, but picture and sound recordings are less immediate than telepathic records of sensory inputs. It's not as… Real. We have a lot of strange people flying around; one saying that he comes from Mars doesn't mean anything special."

    "What about J'onn J'aarkn? Or M'gann M'orzz?"

    "Mister J'aarkn was known to be an actor, and most people assume the rest is a special effect. M'gann hasn't been here all that long. And they both came here individually with great difficulty. A few thousand people all at once are a rather different prospect."

    "Are they afraid of us?"

    "No, it's not that. Imagine… You lived in an all White neighbourhood?"

    "Yes."

    "Now imagine if Prince J'emm walked down your street. He doesn't believe in Neapolitanism, but he looks a lot like the people who do and he could get you in a lot of trouble if he wanted to."

    "Ah. I see."

    "If you go for a walk, you'll be the first Martian virtually anyone you meet will have met. So make an effort to make a good impression."

    "I will. And I think I will go for a flight now." He rises off the platform. "I'm not used to such freedom, and I doubt that I will have it as part of L.E.G.I.O.N."

    "Probably not." I wave as he pulls away. "Have fun!"

    "Is this how your days are usually spent?"

    I look around as Lantern Gozzi approaches from the base's interior.

    "Roughly. It's a very varied job. Are you staying on, or…" I hold out my right hand in a catching gesture. "Are you heading back to Amalak?"

    "Do you have any plans to fight Vril Dox?"

    "I don't. I would be astonished if Vril Dox the Second didn't. Why?"

    "Part of why I stayed in Vega was to avoid him and his minions. If he were killed, I would have considerably more latitude in my movements."

    "True. So do you want to head out with the fleet and find out what our Dox is planning before making a final decision?"

    "Yes." She holds up her ring and stares at it for a moment. "I do."
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2021 at 11:17 AM
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Earth 534834

    15th October 1992
    08:59 GMT +8


    "Yeah."

    I flex my newly-reconstructed left shoulder as I take a moment to look around the blasted remains of the Mandarin's fortress.

    "That… Yeah."

    I don't really pay attention as I remove my ersatz personal lantern from subspace and tap the rings against it for the charge all of the charge mine minemine-!

    I drop the lantern, the steel knocking a chip out of the stone as it clatters to the floor.

    Too much. Much too much.

    I drop to the floor, my environmental shield fritzing as fear overwhelms desire.

    This isn't working.

    I've been umming and ahing about whether getting training was a good idea. I know… That in the comics, Hal Jordan got training from Sinestro and Kilowog ended up as the go-to training instructor… But when I used the ring, it all seemed so instinctive that I thought… Okay, don't rush into anything stupid, but I wasn't sure that I needed actual training. Creating constructs wasn't a problem, flying wasn't a problem, and once I tracked down a lump of rock the ring told me it could use to recharge I thought it would be best to work on my own.

    Then it was just a matter of picking a target.

    Not something political. Not Genosha, which is keeping up appearances on the international stage at the moment. Magneto is apparently keeping his head down as well, which didn't leave that many international fugitives. Then I read an article on a painfully slow loading nineties internet page about Tony Stark's kidnapping, and the various internationally wanted criminals clustering around the man who captured him.

    Perfect. How hard could it be to find a green-skinned man with a goatee?

    Not hard, not hard at all. But the basic idea of sniping him in the head… It turns out that fighting veteran supervillains is a good deal harder than I'd assumed. And my own lack of.. control…

    I walk over to where the Mandarin disappeared in mid air, along with several of his henchmen. A small amount of blood…

    Huh. I didn't think I got through his defences, but…

    I crouch down and-. I generate a construct hand and use it to pick up a neatly-severed green finger, ring still attached.

    I should probably scan that and see if I can find out how to operate it, but I think I'm a little too overwrought at the moment to want to do something that difficult. I'll just stick it in a pouch for now.

    Right. Training. I've got no idea what S.H.I.E.L.D. is like in this continuity and… I don't feel like going through an actual boot camp and then… Taking orders, killing people I don't have anything against or any of the other things that comes with being in the military. And that only leaves one obvious choice.

    14th October 1992
    19:12 GMT -5


    "Heeello?"

    I frown as I hold the construct phone to my right ear. I don't recognise the voice, but there were a lot of X-Men in the comics and I only know a tiny fraction.

    "Is this the Xavier Institute?"

    "I sure hope it is, because if it isn't, then I've broken into some rich guy's house."

    "If the door was open then it's probably just 'trespass'. Um. I'd like to talk to someone about taking classes?"

    "Oh? Ah, okay, sure. Let me just go find the Professor."

    "Thank y-" There's a quiet thud as he puts the phone down on something. "-ou."

    Right. Nineties. Phone handsets with wires. Hover wheelchairs… But phones with wires. I mean, we could probably have built… Some sort of ionic wind wheelchair in my home parallel's nineties, if you didn't mind powering it with overhead rails like a bumper car. Or a mini-hovercraft if you didn't mind the noise. But I've got no idea how Professor Xavier managed it.

    "Good evening. I'm Professor Charles Xavier. Morph tells me that you're interested in receiving instruction."

    "Yes. Ah, I… Thought that my control was pretty good, but…"

    "You shouldn't worry. Many mutants whose powers have recently activated have difficulty in exercising precise control, particularly under stressful circumstances. May I ask how old you are?"

    "Twenty nine."

    "I see. And how long have you had your powers?"

    "About a month. I've got the basic.. use.. down, but as you said, under stressful conditions I get a bit erratic. And since I fully intend to get into stressful situations, I think it's probably a good idea if I get training from someone who knows what they're doing rather than risk things getting out of hand."

    "That's very wise. But a month ago? Most mutant powers activate in adolescence. Are you certain that you didn't manifest your abilities earlier, perhaps at a weaker level?"

    Right. Ah, yes. I should probably.. be clear now. I'm not sure how he would respond to the idea of teaching someone who isn't a mutant. I remember that in the comics he was happy to take in Machine Man but I.. think I remember something about him rejecting Power Pack due to not being mutants.

    "I don't actually have an x-gene."

    "I'm.. sorry, I'm not sure that I follow."

    "While there are a lot of people who get unusual abilities from an x-gene, there are plenty of people who have unusual abilities who get them from somewhere else. The obvious historical example being Steven Rogers, whose enhanced strength and endurance came from an injection."

    "Well… Yes, I understand that unusual abilities can come from a variety of sources. But I'm afraid that my specialty is genetics and, specifically, the x-gene."

    "I understand that. But really, what's the difference? How would you help a mutant with control issues?"

    "I would.. study how their ability functioned…" I hear a quiet but amused exhalation. "Yes, I understand your point. I would have to at least start in the same place with anyone who manifested unusual abilities, and identifying for certain whether a person with special abilities had the x-gene or not would take months. But I do want you to understand that some issues experienced by mutants aren't comparable to people whose abilities come from other sources."

    "Of course, you're the expert. When can I start?"

    "Since you're an adult, there's no need to restrict you to the normal school calendar. And if you're having control issues it's probably best to start you sooner rather than later." I find myself nodding. "Are you still in England?"

    "No, no. And I can afford to remain on-site full time. I'm available whenever you have an opening."

    "How soon can you get here?"

    "About eight seconds?"

    "Ah. I should have asked-. No, perhaps it's better that you show me your abilities without having your preconceptions cloud my observations."

    "That.. sounds sensible."

    "We have a room available now. If you arrive this evening we can begin work tomorrow."

    "Thank you, Professor. I'll see you-"

    Move.

    I appear in front of the mansion in a flash of orange, right arm raised to wave to Professor Xavier through his office window.

    "-now."
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2021 at 6:21 AM
  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Earth 534834

    14th October 1992
    20:27 GMT -5


    Professor Xavier regards my cube construct curiously.

    "Hmm."

    He reaches out with his right hand and presses against it. The surface remains solid and the cube doesn't move. He exerts a little more force, testing its stability.

    "How resilient are they?"

    "As resilient as I want them to be. Which is the problem."

    He withdraws his hand. "How so?"

    "How strongly could you want an abstract three dimensional object of no particular value to exist?"

    "I see. So you have to focus on that desire. And if you don't..?"

    "It becomes very weak. Or fades away entirely. Fading away is also what happens if I feel anything other than avarice."

    I nod at the increasingly translucent cube.

    "See? Try again."

    He gives it a shove, and after a moment's resistance the side he's pushing on gives way and his forearm pushes through to the middle of the cube, which then continues to decay around him. A moment later the orange light of the construct has faded away completely.

    "Hm. And what else can you do with it?"

    "I can fly. Just a.. matter of putting a barrier around my body and moving it. Armour-" I hold up my right hand as a construct gauntlet forms around it. "-is simple, because I don't want to get hurt. And when I want to hurt someone, a simple orange ray is easy enough to create. But control is still an issue."

    He nods. "Yes, that's a problem with which I'm intimately familiar. If you want to do something it happens, without waiting for an actual decision about whether or not it's the right course of action."

    "The inverse is true as well. For example-" I raise my left hand and fire a beam at him. He jerks in surprise, then relaxes as the barely visible beam patters lightly across his jacket. "-if I don't want to hurt someone, not a lot happens."

    "Compared to some forms of energy projection, that's a useful safety measure."

    "But it doesn't just apply to offensive constructs. If I'd like to.. rescue someone who I don't want to rescue, nothing happens."

    "Are you speaking from experience?"

    "Blacklash survived the fall, but when I tried to grab him I honestly believed that he wouldn't. An intellectual 'I'd rather he didn't die' isn't enough."

    "How strong are your constructs when you are committed to something?"

    "Nothing I've tested them against -including the Mandarin's ring blasts- has penetrated my defensive constructs. He was able to bypass them, but not directly breach them. Same with M.O.D.O.K.'s plasma guns and missiles."

    He raises his eyebrows slightly.

    "You've been keeping interesting company."

    "I thought that testing my attacks in an isolated location on people listed as 'Wanted: Dead' was more sensible than trying them in a built up area with a civilian population. Since I.. had the option."

    "It would have been more sensible to come here at the start."

    I nod. "Yes. But given how intuitive the ring's functions are, I wasn't sure it was necessary. But it-. But it is. Clearly."

    "Well, we have training facilities which you can use to improve your combat abilities. I'm sure that some of my other students will be happy to volunteer as sparring partners. Jean Grey is probably the best person to offer you help with the psychological aspects."

    I nod.

    "Thank you. Ah, obvious… I'd.. have thought it would go without saying, since I.. came here, but obviously I.. support mutant civil rights-"

    He nods with a wry smile.

    "-and I'm happy to assist your team in the field whenever you think that's appropriate. If you think it doesn't dilute the message to have someone who isn't a mutant along."

    "My aim has always been to enable mutants and humans to live together in peace-."

    "And, ah, you don't think phrasing it like that is a problem in itself? I mean, it sounds like you're defining mutants as something non-human, when… Actually, you're more similar to baseline modern humans than Neanderthals. Just… One signature gene that the rest of us don't have. That's less than.. blonde hair."

    He frowns thoughtfully. "That's an interesting observation, though I think that given the range of physical-."

    "Professor? Weren't sure-" Someone pushes his office door open. "-if you were gunna-" A woman-. That's Rogue, wearing a blue summer dress with matching opera gloves, walks in carrying a tray with a covered bowl and some cutlery on it. "-come on back down, so Jean…"

    She stops as she registers me, and I stand because… That seems like the thing to do. It's funny; I've long thought that superhero code names were a bit.. silly, in a lot of cases. Supervillain ones even worse, when their identities were known. But since I got here I've kept running into people where I've got no idea what their actual name is. Case in point: I've got no idea what Rogue's actual name is, and she wasn't exactly a minor character.

    "Good evening. And… Sorry, Professor. I.. didn't realise I was interrupting."

    "That's quite alright. Thank you, Rogue, please put it on my desk. Orange Lantern will be joining us at the Institute."

    "Well howdy. See you've already got the hang of the dress code." She smiles warmly at me. "Dinner's usually dress down."

    Change.

    A flash of orange and my armour is replaced by jeans and a jumper.

    "I will bear that in mind." I extend my right hand. "Pleased to meet you."

    She sets the tray down on the Professor's desk and then approaches me, carefully taking my hand and shaking it. This version must have acquired Ms Marvel's strength, then. That will be interesting to test my construct shields against.

    "So what's your story, sugah?"

    "My.. control needs work. Under stress I don't necessarily get the results I want."

    "And what's your thang?"

    "I can do anything I want, as long as it's orange and doesn't take more than about fifteen minutes." I hold out my right hand, manifesting a sword and then switching it to a gun and then… Something that isn't a weapon… A bouquet of flowers. And dismiss. "You?"

    Her good humour rather vanishes. "When ah… Touch people, I kinda drain them. Their life, their strength."

    "Ah." I nod sympathetically. "Well. Good news, then."

    My right hand darts out and taps her on the left cheek.

    Her eyes widen and she pulls back in the air!

    "You crazy goose-brained-!"

    I shrug, holding my right hand up so that I'm looking at her over the back of it.

    "I don’t touch things. See the orange glow?"

    She hovers in the air, her panting breaths slowing as she takes a very careful look at my barely-visible environmental shield.

    "It relays tactile sensation from me to you and you to me, but we didn't actually touch." I shrug. "You didn't drain me and.. probably won't from casual contact."

    She lands, then nervously takes a step closer.

    "Are you fer real?"

    "I'm as real as everything else."

    Her eyes flick from me to the Professor. Then she slowly pulls off her right glove and extends her hand to me. I gently take it in both of mine and hold it for a few moments.

    "See? No problem."

    "Ah, yeah. Ah'm seein', alright."
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2021 at 3:11 PM
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  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th July 2012
    12:14 GMT -5


    Kon looks at the quietly hyperventilating M'gann with concern.

    "Are..? You okay?"

    "Yes! Why wouldn't I be? I'm just about to be the first White Martian to ever join the Manhunters."

    Wallace frowns. "I thought you were.. kind of a Manhunter anyway."

    M'gann just about gets her breathing under control now that she has something to distract her. "No, I was-. I am an auxiliary trainee. That's not the same thing."

    Kon nods. "So if we went back to Mars, those guys wouldn't hassle you when you land the ship?"

    "They-." M'gann looks at me for a moment, then returns her attention to him. "Probably not. What Paul.. did… Is going to change everything about the way Martian society works." … "Again."

    "If it was fixed, I wouldn't have needed to break it."

    Kon glance my way. "You know, Mom says more Amazons are starting to worship Eris because of you?"

    "I didn't know that she says that, but it doesn't surprise me that it's happening. Anything I can do to help with the preparation for your investiture?"

    M'gann shakes her head. "No, no, it's not complicated. I just stand there, talk to Commander K'arr and Prince J'emm for a few moments and then I'm a Manhunter."

    Kaldur nods. "So the significance is in the symbolism."

    "Mostly. I don’t-. Talk to Red Martians a lot."

    "Hey." Kon walks up to her and lays his hand on her shoulders. "Last year you fought a Martian who was made of fire. You can handle talking to one who's red."

    "If it would help, you could turn yourself Red and we could throw things at you."

    Her eyes widen in shock. "I can't turn myself Red! That would-!"

    "From what Hkronmar said, it sounded like Karmang wouldn't have had a problem with it."

    "Well-. He's-. Not-. Modern."

    Kaldur nods. "The closest equivalent in Atlantean society to Karmang the Good is Ahri'ahn, the great sorcerer who designed the spells which allows Atlantean to live in the ocean. He is generally referred to as the founder of our magic traditions."

    M'gann frowns. "Do Purists say he's the reason why Atlanteans with fish body parts should be discriminated against?"

    "No. Ahri'ahn's legacy is one of rationalism. Purism in the modern context is more a product of the concentration of 'pure' Atlanteans around centres of power than any ancient teaching."

    "Venturia doesn't have a Purist movement. Their eelfolk have never suffered any level of discrimination."

    "But citizens of other cities could only visit Venturia with an escort."

    M'gann looks from Kaldur to me.

    "Please don't start."

    "Sorry." / "I apologise."

    Wallace looks puzzled. "I thought J'emm was the guy who was trying to end racism in his city anyway. Why is meeting him scary?"

    "Well… He wasn't so much ending discrimination as he was ending legal acceptance of some demonstrations of it. Like I said, I couldn't be a Manhunter until now. And… Well, how would you feel if the head of the FDA wanted to talk to you about your healing potions?"

    "Ah… Relieved that someone was finally listening to us about them?" M'gann flatly stares at him. "Okay, yeah, I'd be kinda nervous, but not this nervous."

    "The head of the FDA isn't also a church elder who never meets people from your neighbourhood."

    "My church doesn't have elders, but.. okay." Wallace shrugs. "I don't think I have an equivalent. But it's only gunna be a couple of minutes and even if it goes badly, you're still on the team. Not that it will."

    "Thanks, Wally." She checks the kitchen clock. "I'm sure that Prelate J'emm is a perfectly nice person, and that I'm worrying for nothing. But I'm worrying anyway."

    Wallace frowns. "What exactly does Manhunter do for the Martian government?"

    "Well, he mostly keeps an eye on Earth."

    "Sensible."

    "He sends reports back to Mars on Earth government, space exploration, anything that could affect Mars really. And he tries to get people on Mars interested in coming here. And that… Hasn't really worked."

    Kon smirks. "J'aarkn seemed to like it."

    "That wasn't really what he was going for."

    "Are the thousands of Martians here now a success?"

    "They all come from a city that didn't allow them access to Uncle J'onn's reports, so, no."

    "They'd seen Mister J'aarkn's reports."

    She rolls her eyes. "Martians and humans are quite a lot like each other in some ways. Did you..? Talk to him?"

    "No, I haven't seen him since he left Earth. Though given how many Martians have viewed his memories I suspect that he's doing fine."

    "W-wait." Wallace looks a little concerned. "That.. Martian adult film guy? That's how Martians-? I mean, that's their point of reference for Earth?"

    I chuckle. "Yes, the planet of shapeshifting telepaths think that we're the kinky ones."

    "Yeah, but… That's all they know about Earth culture. And Manhunter's more of a military attaché than a cultural one."

    "I'll ask Mister B'lanx to put something together."

    M'gann checks the clock again.

    "Okay. I'm going to go." She stretches up to kiss Kon, then steps away and heads towards the hangar. "Wish me luck."

    "Good luck!"

    We watch her go, then Wallace turns to me.

    "Hey Oh El, are you sticking around-?" My ring blinks. "I guess not."

    "We are in a rather large war. Answer."

    Dox's head appears.

    "They're counter attacking. Return at once."

    "Alright, I'll-." He vanishes. "I'll be with you shortly."
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2021 at 7:30 AM
  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th July 2012
    17:19 GMT


    "You rang, sir?"

    Even really big space ships don't actually look all that impressive. In space, scales are wonky. The near-infinite blackness is so incredibly vast than any finite space within it cowers into insignificance. Dox's command ship isn't huge as spacecraft go. It's certainly far smaller than the Absolute Dominion; a battleship rather than a dreadnought. But unless you've got some pressing reason to have a power generation system that big, dreadnoughts generally aren't good value for money. Grayven does, Dox doesn't.

    On the other hand, it's not exactly small. Far bigger than any Earth-built ocean vessel, and quite a bit more comfortable to live in. Among more primitive species it's generally considered a good thing to keep the mass down for easier acceleration, but once a species has artificial gravity they've generally got the ability to futz around with mass in such a way that it's a non-issue.

    I suppose if we had a pressing reason to go really big we could just get Lantern Ranx to detach his recent additions and use him.

    "Yes. Come aboard at once. I'll brief you myself."

    "Do you have the shields working yet, or can I teleport?"

    "Teleportation is acceptable."

    It's a bit of a two-edged sword in our situation. Me popping up when he doesn't expect it undermines him, but me demonstrating the ability to do something that our enemies can't stop buoys up our side's confidence. The subtle implication that all of our Lanterns can learn to do what I can. And that's technically true. But… I don't know, maybe I need to select an acolyte for dedicated one to one tuition, because as far as I can tell none of our Lanterns has made any real progress in my direction.

    I step out

    and reappear inside Dox's ready room. Dox himself doesn't look up, continuing to scroll through reports so quickly that the writing is a blur to me even with my ring's translation feature. Brand might have been able to persuade him not to overload himself, but Dox can still safely take in information far more rapidly than just about anyone else. A moment later my view of the text stabilises, but is reduced to a baby-talk summary as my ring tries to compress the information while still keeping the outline.

    I mentally tell it not to bother as I wait for Dox to acknowledge me.

    "Colu."

    "Liberated. Computer Tyrants erased, and control of the planet temporarily in the hands of the Green Lantern Corps pending transition back to Coluan control."

    "The same people who allowed my father to take power in the first place."

    "There's a rather short list of people who could stop your father, and the former Coluan government didn't contain any of them."

    "If they can't do the job then they should just clone me again and put the clone in charge."

    "Alas, people in positions of authority are seldom comfortable with confronting their limitations. Would you like to address them yourself?"

    "No. They wouldn't respond well to my involvement. If we need their help in researching something you can just transport samples to them."

    "Do you..? Have a problem with my recruitment of Lantern Gozzi?"

    "No, why would I-?" His eyes flick up and the data flow stops. "You weren't planning on trying to.. set us.. up in a social-?"

    "No. I wasn't. Though now you mention it, the research I've seen suggests that it's easier to learn certain types of social interaction from members of one's own species. If you're interested in achieving some sort of rapprochement with Colu, she's not a terrible place to start."

    "Fortunately I'm not. The Martians?"

    "At Manga Khan's base until the fleet returns. I can bring them here faster if we can spare the wizards to ward the ships..?"

    "No. It would be useful, but it's more important to keep them working on the fleet here."

    "What exactly have the Reach been up to?"

    "Everything we expected." Without looking he presses a button and calls up some holographic images. "We've screened all of the major industrial worlds in our alliance for their brute force mind control efforts: chemical, telepathic and mechanical. Countering their more subtle social engineering efforts is more difficult. We've had anti-war demonstrations in a number of places, the slogans calling for everything from isolationism to peaceful engagement with the Reach. And other things besides."

    "There will always be some idiots. Are we sure they're not largely home-grown? A war this big is something a government really needs to prepare people for."

    "We have to deal with the allies we have as we have them."

    "Are you working up to asking me to alter their desires?"

    "Not at.. this stage. Local dissent can be dealt with by local authorities. I want you to check that they aren't being encouraged directly by the Reach."

    I nod. "If they are?"

    "We are at war with the Reach, and any Reach-associated individual in the territory controlled by a L.E.G.I.O.N. affiliate or other ally can be legally detained with no other justification. Or killed out of hand."

    "Do you want them removed quietly or loudly?"

    "Use your judgement. Whatever makes the largest impact." I nod. "We've also started seeing the expected increase in attacks by deniable assets, coupled with offers of Reach 'aid'."

    I frown. "Everyone should have upgraded their defensive capacities past the point where that was an issue."

    "Our partners have. The people on the outer edge of the periphery zone have not."

    That's the problem with space. It's so gosh darn porous. We can put in place interdiction systems covering every system allied to us, but that still leaves over 99% of the zone that the Reach can fly things through without any difficulty. Even in their own territory the Reach can't stop much more than we can, that's how Darkstar teams insert themselves. In theory we could track outgoing ships and follow them to their destination, but we don't have unlimited ships and the Reach are very good at being sneaky.

    Still, it's a lot of space for the Reach, too. And the governments of civilisations advanced enough to actually help the Reach aren't stupid; if a lot of the people exposed to the Reach suddenly change their behaviours most of them will notice that something is off.

    "You've assigned other Lanterns to this?"

    "Yes, but most Lanterns don’t have your particular skills related to psychological analysis. We aren't responsible for everything our allies do. If their neighbours are picking fights on their own initiative due to local disputes, that's far less of a concern for us. If that happens, negotiate a treaty and make it clear that you will involve yourself if it is breached."

    I nod. Coming in too strongly to protect member worlds will give them the idea that they can do what they like, which certainly isn't the case. It will also alienate other worlds and encourage them to look favourably on any Reach petitions they receive. On the other hand, we do need to be able to demonstrate that we'll have our allies' backs while the majority of their forces are fighting the Reach. And while their economies are dedicated to war-fighting.

    Dox flicks an orange pulse to my ring.

    "There's a list of known problem areas. Go where you need to and do what you need to. Dismissed."
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2021 at 8:28 AM
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