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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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    8th August 2012
    09:31 GMT


    "We… Had.. reports.. that you had died."

    The gyuanite diplomatic attaché looks at me nervously. I suppose that from his point of view I'm a combination president/pope/anti-matter bomb, but I'm not really used to being treated in that way. Other Orange Lanterns being deferential, sure. I'm their superior, and the master of a skill they are learning. My fellow superheroes on Earth are people I've worked with or actual friends. This is strange and I'm not sure that I like it.

    "Oh? How?"

    "We.. are not a party to your war with the Reach, but we do try to maintain a degree of awareness of its course. We have no desire to send merchant convoys into systems in dispute."

    "No, I meant, how am I supposed to have died?"

    "I… I doubt that it matters; you're clearly alive."

    "Alive now. I've died twice before."

    "Oh? Oh." The attaché calms down noticeably. "Mind recordings dubbed onto a cloned body? We're aware of some societies using that technique. I always thought that it would promote stagnation, but I suppose that the loss of a vital individual during a war would be damaging enough that it would be worth doing it anyway."

    I shake my head.

    "I'm familiar with the technique. There's a Terminan lawyer on my homeworld, and his people clone anyone who dies of unnatural causes. But no. I can encode my consciousness on my soul. All I need is either a supporting medium or a host body and I'm fine. Organic death just isn't that big a deal for me."

    His face goes slightly purple. Worried confusion.

    "I don't.. think I understand..?"

    "A humanoid's consciousness lies in the electrical potentials of their neural network, right?"

    "That's-. That sounds like an oversimplification, but… Yes, I understand what you mean."

    "But there's nothing inherently special about electrical potentials, is there? There are few species with purely chemical neural networks, a few with exotic energy networks…"

    I pull back, reducing the importance of my physical form and increasing my presence in the orange light. It's a little like when the Ophidian and I switched from my human body to her snake body when we were joined, though I'm still myself. I look down at my translucent form, and then up at the attaché.

    "See? I can transubstantiate at will."

    I shift back into the material as the attaché-.

    "Are you alright?"

    "Ah-. Ah-. A-."

    "Do you require medical attention? If you can't speak, just want it and I'll-."

    "Nono, that's fine! Um. Please remain mundane while you are visiting our world."

    "Alright. I mean, subject to normal self-defence exemptions, sure. Is there some sort of cultural sensitivity I should know about? Because I've been reading your tourist information brochure and I didn't see anything..?"

    "People think of Lantern constructs as something they attack with. If people saw you like that it might inadvertently cause.. confusion."

    "Oh." I nod. "I suppose that makes sense. Now, about me meeting with officials in your government?"

    "Yes, several officials are clearing their schedules and we should be able to have a preliminary meeting with you a little while after you arrive. You.. are.. aware that there is a Reach trade mission on Yuna?"

    "I was planning on boiling the water anyway."

    "I'm sorry, I don't think that translated."

    "When you're in the wilderness and you're not sure whether the local stream is safe to drink from or not, you can boil it to remove impurities and collect the steam to drink. I'm implying that the Reach would contaminate the drinking water."

    "We have very thorough safety procedures for publically-consumable water sources."

    "You wouldn't be the first people to have said that."

    "We are aware of the Reach's habits. Be assured that they and their thralls are monitored closely."

    "Or that. But on your heads be it."

    "To be clear: while we certainly do not expect you to like each other, violent hostility will not be permitted."

    "Don't worry: Clarissi Dox has given me clear orders in that regard. Nothing more cutting than a quip, unless they start it."

    "We would prefer it if you kept away from them entirely. We find that two belligerent groups meeting generally results in hostilities and we are eager to avoid that."

    "If you insist. I think it would be a wasted opportunity, though. I rarely get to meet Reach citizens, and I've never done so somewhere I could have a conversation with one."

    "I really think it would be best."

    "Alright then. Who will I be meeting?"

    "Initially… It.. really depends on the purpose of your visit?"

    "I.. thought that was obvious, but if you want a summary: Reach bad. N.E.M.O. good."

    I grin idiotically for a moment-

    "Friends?"

    -and then regain my normal facial expression.

    "So, obviously, military and trade policy, and interstellar relations. It's not at all surprising that your government has concerns about a major military alliance appearing on your metaphorical doorstep, and I'll do what I can to allay them."

    "We can get people from the Diplomatic Affairs Office, the Defence Force Office and the Trade Commission to meet with you. They can convey the concerns of their superiors and then feed back to them with your responses."

    "That's… Fine for a first meeting, but I'm going to have to meet with someone senior once we've got the general shape of an agreement thrashed out."

    "That will rather depend on how the earlier meetings go."

    "Ah. Alright." I shrug. "I'd have thought that your government would at least want some kind of positive-sounding joint statement to steady the markets, but I'm sure that you know your people better than I do."

    At the moment, at least.

    "Thank you." He bows. "I will convey this to my superiors. I hope that you have a peaceful and productive visit."
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2021
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  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    9th August 2012
    10:12 GMT


    I look around the Tamaranean countryside, taking in the recently planted fields and the genomorphs working them.

    "Things going well?"

    Telosmere nods. He's slightly more heavily built than the other g-goblins I've met, though I don't know whether that's to do with the heavy manual labour involved in running a commercial farm or something he was engineered with. While the genomorphs have access to more advanced farming equipment they have an obvious preference for manual labour. G-trolls pull the ploughs and harvesters, and act as ladders to allow the more agile g-elves to pick fruit from their backs.

    "We are already more than self-sufficient. These farms serve as the main supply hub for the Genomorph Entire. In accordance with our agreement with the tamaraneans we have supplied g-gnomes to their schools. We will open our first mines shortly, though we will have to trade for more advanced equipment for the foreseeable future."

    I nod. "Any problems?"

    "A small outbreak of blight. It was easy to deal with. Other than that, the only problem I have is with tamaraneans who wish to mate with me when I visit the capital."

    I frown. "They aren't usually pushy once you give them a flat 'no'."

    "I decided not to do that. Sexual intimacy is a significant part of tamaranean culture, and we are trying to maintain a friendly social relationship."

    I frown deeper.

    "But you don't have genitals or.. erogenous zones. Or a sex drive."

    "No, but I have telepathy. I am not quite as skilled at telepathic illusion as the g-gnomes, but at close range it can be quite convincing. Matching the display to the desires of my paramour is an interesting intellectual challenge, and if I am successful engenders a positive association which is helpful to our ongoing habitation of their planet."

    "Well… Ah… As long as you're happy."

    "I am as happy as I am capable of being. I have productive work that challenges me while also having observable achievement milestones. I want for little that my cluster cannot provide."

    Hm. As far as I've been able to tell, g-goblins are perfectly happy to go almost indefinitely without anyone to talk to. But it… Seems…

    "You're alright with no other individual sophonts to talk to? Really?"

    He looks out across the field.

    "Individuality is a burden I bear because someone must. I have no great love for my own thoughts. I prefer to spend my time dissolved in the cluster, using my greater creative capacity to assist others."

    "Ah. Um, sorry about forcing you out of it."

    "This is my burden to bear. Do you require anything else?"

    "Do you?"

    He thinks for a moment. "Reclamation has gone well. We have room to expand further. Dubbilex or Ecksey could create another cluster and send it here."

    I nod. "I'll pass that on. Have a nice day. Mother Box?"

    "Ping."

    BOOM!

    I step through the boom tube aperture and stroll out onto the command deck of the tamaranean self-defence fleet's main command station. A few members of the command staff look around, but there are enough boom tubes around here that I get more attention than the manner of my ingress does.

    Most of the crew are tamaranean, though a few Euphorians are still around the place. While this is in theory a temporary assignment… Well. I'm pretty sure that Regent Dulak used this opportunity to get rid of the noisiest dissenters, because while a few have made noise about going back 'in a few years', I haven't really noticed any great rush. And I have noticed a smattering of interspecies marriages, and if we assume that tamaraneans are being as formal about their interpersonal relations as they usually are, a far greater number of actual relationships.

    These aren't people in any great hurry to get back under the Regent's aegis.

    I amble over to the officer of the watch, who draws herself up slightly but doesn't leave her station. Good. The.. cybernetic eyes and left arm and the greying hair mark her out as a survivor of the tamaraneans' previous fleet. Our… Experience is that those don't make good fleet officers. They tend to struggle with active combat, which given the conditions they endured isn't all that hard to understand. On the other hand, their greater experience makes them good rear echelon officers, though we'll probably replace them all once we've got people who can replace them.

    "Prince Grayven."

    "Commander Delor. Anything to report?"

    "The system is secure. Princess Komand'r's strike fleet is near Raggashoon, while the home fleet is exercising. Ship production remains on schedule."

    Raggashoon will be an interesting test case for how dominant Tamaran can be. With the pirates exterminated, the Spider Guild slaughtered, the Citadel Complex crushed to slag, the Branx undergoing planetary isolation and societal meltdown and Wombworld burned, there aren't any 'evil' factions left in the area. But that doesn't mean that there aren't any empire-builders trying to fill the vacuum. The Karnans have aligned to the Crown Imperium, but they're in no condition to extend their reach without aid that the Imperium isn't all that eager to give them.

    And so Tamaran has started colonising its neighbours.

    It makes sense, really. With all the gordanians did, large areas of Tamaran are actually less hospitable than its most primitive neighbours. Having not sustained a civilisation's rise into space, they have untapped mineral resources which in many places are readily accessible. And in the long term, more room means more tamaraneans. A core population of their new empire that share a species and a culture.

    With the more developed places, it's a little trickier. Certainly, they're used to being under someone's thumb. But there's still the question of how to integrate them. They don't have a significant tamaranean population, and their social structures are too different to integrate them into the semi-feudal structure that the tamaraneans use. I suggested a free port model, offering protection under better terms than the Citadel offered in exchange for nominal fealty, most importantly not building up their fleet or claiming other worlds. Komand'r -bless her avaricious little heart- wants something a little more domineering, but I suppose allowing herself to be argued down to my idea wouldn't be a terrible thing.

    The work of this generation will be settlement and military expansion. Building up core territory and the strength to protect it. Then with the friendly Crown Imperium ensuring the safety of one border we will be free to begin a program of annexation and conquest in all other directions.

    "Good show. Has a crew for the-?"

    "Grayven."

    I turn to face the diminutive Controller, managing a polite smile even as I see her psion acolytes following behind her. I mean, it's nice to see a Maltusian actually take some responsibility for that whole mess but I'd really rather not be in a position where there were any psions on Tamaran.

    "Hinon. Something I can do for you?"

    "On the contrary; I believe I can do something for you."

    I raise my eyebrows. "I appreciate the offer, but I'm in a relationship at the moment. Not that you're.. unattractive or anything, but I'm inclined to monogamy and you're so short that you rather-."

    "Don't be tiresome, Grayven."

    "Okay. What is it?"

    "Your… Doppelgänger." She holds out her right hand and creates a construct image of him. "It seems that he was planning on making war on the Reach."

    "A fair target."

    "Was planning. He's stopped advancing, and as far as we can tell he's recalling his forces. With boom tube technology he can travel the distance instantly but he needs time to dismantle his infrastructure."

    Ah.

    "And coming here."

    "I don't know his mind, but that seems most likely."

    I sigh. "Thank you for the warning. I will… Begin making preparations."
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2021
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    11th August 2012
    16:21 GMT


    Balls balls balls balls balls.

    "His Grace Duke Oswin will see you now, Lord Grayven, Lord Tawny."

    Alonzo's butler ushers us from the lounge where we'd been deposited on our arrival and leads us through Oswin's manor. It used to belong to the pirate Amalak, but since Komand'r's Lanterns and Oswin's fleet annihilated his organisation Oswin's made it his base of operations in his new duchy. I-.

    I frown at the display case in the centre of a large corridor intersection. It's a cube about five metres on each axis, and the… Thing inside it-.

    "Excuse me."

    The butler turns back, eyebrows raise. "Sir?"

    "What is that?"

    "Some sort of monster the Spider Guild were keeping in their burrows, sir. The marines who killed it presented it to His Grace as a trophy, and he had it preserved for display."

    I give it a quick scan. Huh, based on their own genetic structure. Weird. The Spider Guild are pretty big on robotics, but it's unusual for them to get into biotechnology.

    I nod. "Impressive."

    "Just so, sir. If you'll follow me?"

    We follow him to the artfully designed doors of Oswin's receiving lounge, the butler pulling open the doors and stepping inside just ahead of us.

    "Lords Grayven and Tawny, Your Grace."

    "Thank you, Rychen. That will be all."

    I steps aside and… Okay, Oswin's a friendly face, a worthy ally and we've got a good working relationship. I don't know what Kalista and Pren are doing here. I don't want them to be here and I don't want to have to pretend that they matter in the grand scheme of things. If for no other reason than that they probably aren't happy about Komand'r's realpolitik campaign or Regent Alonzo's continued isolation. I mean, I haven't been boasting about it or anything but I'm sure they know that I'm employing Euphorians by now.

    "Admiral!" I stride over to his sitting area as he rises to greet me. A polite grip around his forearm while he grips the heel of my hand. "Good to see you."

    "Oh no, Grayven. It's quite wrong to continue calling me Admiral. The Crown Imperium's law is very clear on the subject. The only fleet I command is that of my duchy's patrol fleet."

    Which just happens to be comprised of virtually the entire royal fleet that was assigned to attack Vega under his command. Only those ships loaned from other duchies have actually left the region, which given how volatile it was makes a good deal of sense.

    "I stand corrected." I release his arm. "I believe that you met Michael?"

    Michael's slightly larger than me in his humanoid form these days. Being a renowned warrior has agreed with him, as has fatherhood. He and Oswin clasp arms for a moment before Oswin stands aside to formally introduce his other guests.

    "Queen Kalista and Lord Pren."

    I nod and lie. "Good to see you both."

    "Likewise."

    Kalista is probably about as glad to see me as I am her, but she manages a polite smile. Regular meals and sleep clearly agree with her far more than life as a terrorist. I have no idea how she feels about the Crown Imperium's annexation of so much extra space. Not like Euphorix had any claim to it, but it could be awkward if she's trying to work out how to set Owsin and me against each other.

    Pren is there.

    Oswin points to a pair of chairs clearly reinforced for the benefit of plus-sized guests like myself and Michael.

    "Please, sit, and tell us what brings you here."

    I sit at once, whereas Michael takes a moment to get comfortable. At home he usually shifts back into his quadruped form when he wants to get really comfortable, but clearly this rates a greater degree of formality.

    "Short version: there's two of me, and the other one's heading this way with a fleet of gordanians."

    Oswin blinks. "Two of you? Do you mean to say that you have a twin brother?"

    "It's possible that Father cloned me. Or.. cloned him and created me. Or that another New God did; really, it's… A bit of an imponderable. He exists, and he's coming here."

    "And when you say here..?"

    "He's mostly coming to kill me, but he's got an army of gordanians. Which is why I brought Michael."

    "Ah. Yes. Do you have any idea on numbers?"

    "Not much of one. At least one Apokoliptian dreadnaught, so I suggest that your sensor officers should wear their brown trousers when he gets here. If he's anything like me -and for obvious reasons he should be- then the ships the Gordanians will be using will be significantly upgraded compared to what their local brethren use. Plus whatever odds and sods he's picked up in his travels."

    "These… Gordanians. Where exactly did he acquire them?"

    "Pass. Until yesterday I honestly thought he was doing the intelligent thing and avoiding me. But there are plenty of Gordanian clans around the region who were losing out in Vega and could have been co-opted."

    Michael nods. "The Karnans have good intelligence on the clans with an actual presence on Karna. But for all of the others..."

    Oswin nods. "We only kept approximate tabs on them as well. Below a certain level they weren't really a threat to us, so we didn't prioritise it. How did you come by this information?"

    "The Controller who's on Tamaran to oversee the Central Power Battery. Her name's Hinon, and she's got access to all of their intelligence infrastructure. It seems that my alter ego had been planning on targeting the Reach… You may not have heard of them, but they have a fair sized empire on the other side of the galactic core."

    "No, no, I've heard of them. Never met one, but I know who you mean. You mean to say that a force a man of your strategic acumen believed could threaten the largest empire in the galaxy is heading here."

    "It's possible that he meant to spend some time gathering allies in-situ, but essentially, yes."

    "This fleet will be armed with weapons built by the most technologically advanced species in the galaxy."

    "On that score I've got a little good news. Unless he's got other New Gods with him, no. Our weapons require New Gods to operate them, and unlike humans and other Earth-native life forms the gordanians aren't compatible with the Awakening. The other Grayven can buff his fleet and followers, but that's all flowing from him."

    "So: assassination."

    "That's… Prohibitively difficult. With Apokoliptians, it's more a duel between the two faction-leaders, and unless you're much better with a sword than I am, I suggest leaving that job to me."

    "Single combat? He'll settle this with a duel?"

    "No, it's more complicated than that. Either of us killing the other will allow us to step into the other's divine… Shoes, so to speak." Though I will be talking to Kanto just in case I've misunderstood how it works. "Last time I killed a version of me I was effectively able to give commands to his followers in the immediate aftermath and have them obeyed. Not sure what happens if he kills me, but it would probably be rather bad for you."

    "So we're involved whether we want to be or not."

    I shrug. "Sorry. I'll compensate you, of course, and share whatever benefits we get seizing his holdings. But if it's all New God technology, you're just not going to be compatible."

    He nods. "Regarding our Orange Lantern Corps candidates."

    "Stop sending callow young nobles bucking for promotion. They don't have the mindset or life experience to handle it."

    "Oh, I know. I just wanted their families to stop bothering me. On the other hand, the three of us-" He indicates oh why! "-are a little more stable and focused."

    "Make a will and designate an heir, and I'll oversee your induction myself."

    "Then we have an agreement in principle." He smiles broadly. "Let's kill you."
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2021
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  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th August 2012
    12:56 GMT


    Reach ships.

    My breath hisses through my teeth.

    There are Reach ships over there.

    And Drusa goes still in the background as she picks up on my feelings on the issue.

    Our pilots have had the good sense to park us in high orbit on the opposite side of the planet. I noticed orbital patterns getting rearranged on our way in as they moved 'docked' ships around and rearranged their orbital defences in such a way as to imply that us moving would be unwise. I mean, it's nothing that we couldn't deal with… Which means that they're probably doing it to reassure other people.

    Seriously, I could understand if they didn't know anything about the Reach, but they do. What exactly are they telling themselves about the likely results of having them here?

    "And out." I turn to look at the-. "Cap-." The captain, who has apparently found something to occupy their attention on the far side of the bridge.

    He looks up.

    "My lord Illustres?"

    "So are we allowed to use our own shuttles, or do we have to wait for a local pilot for that as well?"

    "We can.. use our own, so long as the flight path is confirmed in advance. But your meeting with their delegation isn't until tomorrow."

    "It doesn't take four days to arrange a meeting with a junior civil servant. I'm going to scare them into pulling their fingers out." I turn away. "Lantern Drusa, you are free to accompany me or continue researching local conditions as you choose."

    I march out of the bridge, and after a moment's hesitation she follows me. Though from the way her eyes are glowing I suspect that she's chosen 'why can't I do both?'.

    "What will you do?"

    "At this point, there's no good reason not to meet with me. Even if it's just offering up the office gopher as a sacrifice. Either they should have that ready, or they should directly tell me that they don't want to meet me. The only reason for prevarication is panic. I will bet my right arm that they're running around like headless chickens down there."

    She nods slowly. "So you intend to do something that will make them want to talk to you."

    "Any guesses?"

    "The Reach. You're going to… Walk into their embassy and make polite conversation until someone comes to get you."

    "You're good at that." We step into the elevator and I press the button for 'personnel shuttle bay'. "There are people who've known me for years who can't predict me like that."

    "It was a survival skill."

    "Oh, ow."

    "I'm not comparing you to them, I'm saying that I needed to learn how to predict what people with power over me would do."

    "Do you find being right satisfying?"

    She hesitates.

    "Yes."

    "Okay, so exactly what am I going to talk to the Reach 'negotiator' about?"

    "At first, you will make polite conversation about local politics. You will say something self-depreciating. On the surface you will mean it as humour, as self-depreciation is a sign of admirable modesty in your culture. But they will see it as you playing with them, and you are intelligent enough to know that. Then… I'm not sure. Either you will directly ask them about what they're actually planning, or ask them a searching question about their personal desires. You will ask the other once you're happy that you've got a complete answer with whichever one you asked first."

    I puff out my lips, nodding. "That's a pretty-"

    The lift doors open and we head towards a shuttle.

    "-good guess. You don't think I'll start a fight?"

    "No."

    "Why not?"

    "Because it doesn't help you complete your mission."

    "And if I encountered a scarab?"

    "Apparently polite conversation filled with snide comments, while you implied that you could kill them all without any difficulty. Unless they were a slave dominated by their scarab, in which case you would escalate as much as you could under local law."

    "Yeah, basically."

    We board a waiting shuttle and I wave at the pilot.

    "Surface, please. Don't really care where."

    "Yes, lord."

    We take seats on opposite sides of the small passenger compartment.

    "You know, I could probably get you moved to working with Ratchet and Dox if you want." Then I jerk forward. "Initial thought."

    "You want something in return."

    I lean back.

    "Reflected thought?"

    She makes a point of relaxing herself. "You're honestly just trying to put me somewhere where my desires will do the most good."

    "And that's why I'm not going to do those things with the Reach that you said I would." She makes a small frown. "You're going to." She keeps frowning. "Your theory of mind is clearly good enough that you can accurately predict my actions. Nothing about going there actually needs me to go there."

    "Other than the fact that you're far more intimidating than I am."

    "They know that I'm on the planet."

    "They won't trust the Yunan report or sensor readings. Not for something this important."

    I take a couple of glamour pendants out of subspace and float one over to her. When I put mine on my entire body appears to change.

    "It can't disguise the presence of a ring, and a sufficiently skilled magic user would spot it. But the Reach don’t have any of those."

    She puts hers on, and then I'm sitting opposite myself. She takes a moment to check it over, then has her own ring scan her to make certain.

    "And if they do discover that I'm not you?"

    I grin.

    "Then won't it be extra funny when they find out that I am me?"
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2021
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th August 2012
    14:38 GMT


    I sigh as Pren remains silent.

    "Yes, yes, I get it. You don't like me and I don't like you. But you need to be able to do this if you want to be able to use an orange ring without going insane."

    I throw up my right hand.

    "Heck, for me, you going insane is perfectly fine. I'm pretty sure that you sticking around is only going to make my life difficult, and if I can justify sticking you in a lunatic asylum my life gets measurably easier."

    He looks at me suspiciously.

    "Why?"

    "Why what?"

    "Why do you think that me remaining active in Vega will make your life difficult?"

    "Because I plan to conquer Vega. Because I'm working with Alonzo and have no interest-" He blinks in surprise. "-in helping you or Kalista getting home and taking control. I don't want Euphorix contesting our suzerainty and I don't want our access to their skilled personnel disrupted."

    "Why are you.. just telling me that?"

    "Because you're going to find out eventually anyway and I'd rather it didn't come as a surprise." I shrug. "You can't really do anything about it until after the other Grayven is dealt with, and I don't want you distracted."

    He snorts, shaking his head.

    "Why wouldn't I just let you kill each other?"

    "Because I'm using tamaraneans. Have you… Spent a lot of time with tamaraneans?"

    "Zirral of the Omega Men was tamaranean. I'm familiar with the culture."

    "Right. Can you imagine them embracing slavery? Using intelligent beings as test subjects?"

    "I suppose it seems unlikely."

    "Someone's got to be in charge. I pick us. We have the strength to establish an order beneficial to all, and the social dynamics of tamaranean society will cause them to integrate weaker cultures rather than simply repressing them." I shrug. "So shall we try again?"

    "Alright. For the longest time my greatest desire was to destroy the Citadel/Psion alliance and liberate Vega. And when that was achieved, I… Thought that I would play my part in keeping together whatever alliance of Vega's people achieved it. Instead, you pulled it down without reference to me or the other Omega Men at all."

    "Yes, I know you ended up being almost entirely irrelevant; it's why I resent being in this position with you. But, hey: if I didn't turn up something like that might have ended up happening. Maybe."

    "You should give me that yellow ring: I'm living my greatest fear."

    I raise my left eyebrow.

    "Greatest? Really?" I glance over to where Kalista is struggling to rise from the ground with her ring. "Because…"

    He shakes his head. "Kalista and I both knew that we could die. We were both willing to die if that's what it took. And if we died without achieving that aim, we could at least pave the way for the success of our successors, striking a blow…"

    He bows his head slightly.

    "Instead, we helped.. some people, and we provided the Crown Imperium with intelligence, and we were brushed aside. We could have stayed on Euphorix and events would have taken place in almost the exact same way."

    "Much as I.. hate to buck you up here… There's no way you could have known that was going to happen. And you're… What, in your twenties? Younger than me, certainly. Plenty of time to find a noble cause to die for. Heck, once we've sorted out things with Other Grayven, I'm sure that the Controllers will snap you up." I smile encouragingly. "Probably give you a better ring than the undead version I'm going to be giving you."

    "I'm sure that the Reach are perfectly vile, but Maltus isn't my home."

    "Oh, come on! Euphorix never gave a damn about the Citadel! Once Tamaran fell they just stuck the shield up and forgot the rest of the universe! You think anyone really wanted you to leave? I've been to Euphorix. The people don't cringe whenever they look at the sky. They don't pay it the slightest bit of attention. There's no serious debate about the rightness of leaving it up."

    "Then it's up to me to inspire them."

    That sounded pretty definite, but the ring lying on the table between us doesn't even glimmer.

    I make a shrugging gesture with both arms.

    "That wasn't it. It's a ring of avarice, Pren. Noble intentions don’t mean a thing."

    "That explains you, at least."

    "No, Apokolips explains me and coincidence explains the rings. You can tell me that you acted for the glory of Euphorix, you can tell Oswin, Kalista, everyone on your homeworld… Even Alonzo. But if you try telling yourself that, you'll never be able to use that ring."

    He considers that for a moment.

    "What do you want?"

    "I want to build. I want to guide and control. I want to kill my father and end the threat he poses to all life. I want to grow in power and help my subjects, servants and allies do the same. I want to look upon what I create and know that it is good."

    I raise my left hand and show him my now-blazing ring.

    "See? Like that. It's not complicated, but it requires… Honesty."

    I frown. We can't get access to the Element of Honesty, and I doubt that Applejack would have anything useful to contribute here, but perhaps Pren could… I don't know, pray to the Tree of Harmony or some-

    Pren snatches the ring from the table, rises and walks away. And not towards Kalista.

    -thing?

    I guess he's got some thinking to do.

    "Does that mean it's my turn?"

    Duke Oswin descends through the sky and lands in front of me. He's a natural. Honestly, he's taken to it faster than most of our tamaranean recruits do. I'm not completely sure why, but at least we're getting one decent Lantern out of this.

    "I'm not sure that you need it."

    "Nonsense!" He takes the chair that Pren abandoned, leaning back in it completely at ease. "If we're going to be fighting together against a foe that can actually threaten us, we should get to know one another better!"

    "Alright." I shrug. "Tell me about your desires."

    "I was born the third son of a minor baron, and I wasn't happy with my station in life. So I worked hard and paid attention to my tutors, took a position in the duchy fleet under my father's overlord and worked hard until I got a recommendation to the royal fleet. Once there, I volunteered for every job the time-serving officers who thought themselves my contemporaries didn't want and worked my way upwards that way. Becoming an admiral and then a duke was the next logical step, and now I rule the largest duchy in the Crown Imperium."

    "And the queen is single."

    "Mmmm. No. I thought about it, but then I realised that I have far more power as the duke of a new duchy than I would as king-consort. And I'm going to enjoy building the place up. I created myself through my own efforts. Why would I stoop to sponging off someone else now?"

    "Good for you." I slump slightly "Any ideas on how to help Pren make that sort of realisation?"

    "I'm a naval officer, not a miracle worker."
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2021
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th August 2012
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    Local formal wear involves blinkers, a mouth mask and what looks a lot like a tracksuit. I mean, it's not exactly a tracksuit, but it would probably go in the tracksuit section of a catalogue.

    "Excuse me sir?"

    I actually used to own a tracksuit like this, back when I was in my teens. I suspect that I inherited it from my cousin, Peter. Blue with a white zip. I liked it.

    "Excuse me, madam?"

    I mean, that probably was the first piece of evidence that I shouldn't be allowed to buy my own clothes or dress myself, but what's fashionable on one world isn't going to be what's fashionable on another. Maybe I was just… Fashionably displaced?

    "Excuse me, madam?"

    The local woman whose attention I was trying to get actually stops and looks at me.

    "Yes?"

    "Hello! I work for the canvassing firm Wolwald and [click-click], and I was wondering if you had time to answer a few questions about current affairs?"

    "Canvassing?"

    "Yes, ma'am. People like me are sent out to various locations across the planet to ask people things, then those answers get tabulated and used to assist in policy-forming."

    She straightens up. "Government policy?"

    "Ah, well, honestly…" I give a self-depreciating chuckle. "Anyone who pays us for our insight. Governments who are trying to actually do what people want, corporations who are interested in finding out if there's a market for certain products and services. And the feedback from any one person isn't really that significant, so I don't want to.. try and convince you that this.. will directly result in change to any particular…"

    "No, no, I understand." She looks around. "I can.. spare a few minutes."

    "Thank you. Our take-up rate is very low, and we're grateful to everyone who agrees to answer."

    I make a show of activating my datapad.

    "Now, this is all fairly basic stuff, and I'm only interested in your opinion, but if there's anything here that you don't feel comfortable answering, just let me know and we'll move right along."

    I start with basic things: personal background stuff so that we can place her but nothing so intrusive that it's off-putting. Just to get us talking and get her comfortable sharing information. Then economics, or rather perception-economics. Do you feel better off than a year ago? Than five years ago? Is a greater proportion of your income going on necessities? I don't imagine that Professor Prokopios would be particularly impressed, but that's not the point.

    The point is that I'm constantly scanning her with empathic vision.

    Not super-deep, though I'm now pretty sure that no one would detect it if I did. Just enough to know how strongly she feels about a particular topic, and how those feelings work together to form a particular worldview. Which combined with the people I've already spoken to gives me a pretty good picture of… One small area of one city. And I know perfectly well that capital cities aren't representative of other cities, to say nothing of countryside areas.

    But this is the environment their government works in. I may know humans the best, but other humanoids tend to fall into similar patterns a lot of the time. If you build an echo chamber, you're going to hear an echo.

    "How do you feel about Yuna's trading relationships with other stellar nations?"

    "What, on the whole? Well it's obvious; being a trading point for just about everyone has made us rich."

    I nod. Not exactly what I meant, but I don't want to directly contradict her.

    "Are you happy with the terms of trade offered to each of Yuna's trading partners?"

    "I don’t think I understand. Why wouldn't I be?"

    "No, no, if you're not then you're not. But many governments charge different levels of tariffs to foreign governments they have good relations with, or with whom they have reciprocal agreements."

    "Um, no, no, I don't think our government should get involved in that sort of power bloc building." She shakes her head. "We're better off neutral. I mean, the places closest to us or with the most advanced technology are going to benefit most anyway, aren't they?"

    I make a show of writing that down.

    "That's a perfectly fine answer. I'm interested in what you think, and if that's what you think then that's what you think. Ah, do you mean that as a starting point, or under any circumstances?"

    "What do you mean by 'any circumstances'?"

    "Well, are there any things that another stellar nation could do that you think would mean that the government of Yuna should change their terms relative to other nations that Yuna trades with. For example, there is currently no prohibition against one nation targeting the trading ships of another that were coming here."

    "I… I'd prefer it if they didn't, obviously, but other than going to war ourselves I don't see how we'd stop them. I don't think two planets or empires who were at war with each other would care about what we said."

    "Okay, that's fine."

    And she means it. In common with the other members of her species that I've spoken to, she has almost no interest in actively engaging with the universe around her. That might mean that Dox was worrying over nothing regarding privateers, or that government policy only lines up approximately with the desires of the people. Or with what the people think government policy is.

    "Are you personally aware of any major interstellar wars happening at the moment?"

    "I think the Jarixians and the Phemenites had some sort of skirmish a little while ago."

    "Okay." I make a note. "Anything else?"

    "Ah… No? But it's not really something I pay much attention to."

    Which does actually make sense. She's not a futures trader or anything like that. Most of Yuna's revenue comes from trade, but they're not dependent on any one trading partner. If a couple of them decide to go to war, it doesn't impact the overall economy of the planet all that much.

    "That's fine; the fact that you aren't aware of any is useful information in itself."

    And she's fairly representative of all the people I've spoken to. Amongst the people who I'd expect to be most politically aware -at least as far as interstellar politics goes- about two thirds are aware of the war between N.E.M.O. and the Reach. Some were worried about its effect on their economy due to the sheer number of trading partners affected but none were worried about it spreading here. None felt it warranted a response stronger than a public restatement of existing trade rules or an offer to mediate.

    "Are..? Are there any? I mean, from the way you said it, it sounds like I'm missing one."

    "Ah, well, all across the galaxy as a whole there are a lot of wars, but the galaxy is a very big place and many of the people involved don’t do any trade here."

    "What about the people we do trade with?"

    "I'm afraid that me answering that would colour your responses to the rest of my questions, but if you're curious then I suggest enquiring with the Yunan Public Information Forum."

    "Now, how do you feel about pets?"
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2021
  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th August 2012
    17:45 GMT


    It's nice to know that the people of Yuna are socially similar enough to humans that they'll cluster around a source of entertaining novelty. As a canvasser however it creates a problem of self-selection as the most opinionated seek you out and volunteer themselves. Finally found a couple of militarists, but the furthest they went was expressing a desire to police convoy routes.

    This planet is actually a pretty good neighbour. I checked their history while I was hiding from the crowd, and they've basically never waged an aggressive war. When they were attacked, they kept the door open for negotiations almost constantly. On the two occasions they were forced to fight a war to its conclusion, they were reasonably generous with the defeated party and have good relations with both worlds now.

    So with the Reach properly intimidated, this is going to be pretty easy. I mean, I doubt that Yuna will intervene on our side unless I use mind control, but-.

    My ring blinks.

    "Lantern Drusa to Illustres."

    I smile at her construct image.

    "What news?"

    "I think that it worked."

    "Good show. Did they say anything interesting?"

    "They put some sort of nanite in the fruit juice they gave me to drink. I scanned it and destroyed it."

    "Naughty of them. Anything else?"

    "I could have given the mercantilist speech their negotiator gave me myself."

    "I suppose that after all this time, it would be a bit much to expect them to change radically for our benefit."

    "I took off the illusion charm somewhere where they might notice that I wasn't you."

    Hm. That's… It would be a little awkward if I somehow managed to fail to achieve Dox's mission by tricking the Reach too hard. But it should produce amusing results at some point, and even if it doesn't I can clear that up before I leave.

    "Good initiative. Did you find the experience satisfying?"

    She nods.

    "I did."

    "Do you want to sit in for me in this next meeting as well?"

    "No. There are too many potential variables for me to predict how you would respond."

    "But do you want to?"

    "Yes. If I thought that I could do it successfully."

    "Well, we'll-"

    Incoming transmission.

    "-see. One moment, I have another call". I generate a phone construct. "Illustres here."

    "My lord, representatives of the Yuna government are seeking a meeting with you. Somewhat urgently."

    I smile. "Thank you, captain. Please tell them I'll be with them momentarily."

    "My-? Ah, yes, my lord."

    I cut the connection. "Lantern Drusa, please come to the location I'll be in a few minutes from now at your earliest convenience. No massive rush."

    "And if the Reach are following me?"

    "Do whatever amuses you."

    I wave my left hand, cutting the connection. And then I unfocus as I look at the entirety of this planet's civilisation. Who urgently wants a meeting with me? There and there, but that's just the people who want the meeting to happen, and therefore are senior to the people who are supposed to be taking the meeting. Who are probably less panicked because they don't get full intelligence briefings quite as fast…

    I step out


    and reappear in the room with them.

    "…shortly. Ah, there he is now."

    The captain nods through the monitor and one of the more on the ball civil servants turns around, a mild greening of her skin marking the point where she sees me.

    "Ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, captain."

    The screen shuts down as the rest of the government team adjust themselves, straightening eye protectors and tracksuits.

    "Did you just.. teleport..?"

    "As a diplomatic official, I was able to apply for an expedited licence." I spot the tracksuit decoration indicating the Department of Diplomatic Affairs, and make eye contact with the wearer. "Thank you, your people were most helpful."

    A group of five. Four of them are gyuanite, with the fifth being torcite. Narrowly humanoid silicoids, this one is four feet tall, four feet wide and made of what looks like rock. It's actually a lot more sophisticated than that, being able to move on certain planes without cracking or bending.

    Let's see: Diplomatic Affairs, Defence Force, Trade, Public Order and High Council's Office. About what I'd expect. HCO has seniority by default-.

    She smiles and gestures to the table. "Shall we sit?"

    "Thank you."

    The table is round, with a holopit in the central space. The chair's proportions are a little off for me, but they're designed to be able to cope with a variety of morphologies and it's certainly not uncomfortable. They sit down as well; the gyuanites' chairs shifting slightly so that their heads are at the same height as mine despite them being taller, while the torcite's chair does the opposite. HCO pulls a couple of datapads over to her and glances at them for a moment before returning her attention to me.

    "You're not bringing a staff with you?"

    "Lantern Drusa may be popping along later, but it isn't as if this is particularly complicated. Particularly at the level of introductory talks."

    "Ah. Well, alright then. You.. told our representative that your.. objective was… To be 'friends'?"

    "We'd like to maintain our existing trading relationship with Yuna, and all secondary trading partners thereafter. And by 'we' I mean all present and future members of the N.E.M.O. military alliance. While I'm sure that our side would be happy if you began acting against the Reach…" I shrug. "That's not really a big deal for us. I've familiarised myself with enough of your history to know that you're happiest not taking sides in that sort of conflict and I'm happy for that to be true in this case as well."

    The DF's torcite representative straightens slightly.

    "You do not intend to ask us to join N.E.M.O.?"

    I shrug again. "If you want to, you can, but anyone with a passing familiarity with your history should realise how unlikely that is. Though, ah…" I chuckle. "If you were expecting me to try that as an opening position…" I shake my head. "That 'plots for the sake of plotting' nonsense confuses and frustrates me. I'd rather just give it to you straight. So is there..? Something you want to ask me?"
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2021
    Generic_DPS, jvfg9, Fellow and 29 others like this.
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th August 2012
    17:50 GMT


    HCO nods.

    "What are your alliance's long term plans?"

    "I imagine that an honest answer would depend on which member-government you asked. At the core, N.E.M.O. is an alliance of civilisations who were actively under attack by Reach infiltrators or felt that they would be next when their current targets fell. Plus one or two civilisations who just like fighting." I shrug. "There are always going to be some like that."

    Trade presses a button to call up a hologram, showing… Commodity transfers and prices.

    "We've noticed that we're doing appreciably less trade with several member worlds than we were prior to them becoming members."

    I nod. "Yes. We've arranged things so that vital materials can be traded more easily amongst member worlds, and most of them have reduced tariff barriers in response. We can secure our internal space far more easily than we can our external space. Outside that, we'd risk having our supply lines attacked by our enemies. And to be fair, attacking a ship carrying military supplies during a war isn't exactly unreasonable."

    "Have you experienced any such attacks?"

    "It's difficult to say. The Reach are experts in the use of third party agents and concealed attacks. Ships have gone missing, but it's… Not easy to tell the exact reasons. They go missing a lot less in areas we control, and we suspect that this is due to the greater concentration of armed patrols and the constant monitoring."

    DA makes a frown-equivalent gesture. "Has N.E.M.O. imposed additional tariffs on external trade?"

    "One moment." Ring? "N.E.M.O. as a whole has no external tariff policy. Member civilisations are free to determine their external tariff policy themselves. Out of… Several hundred members, three have changed their external tariff policy after becoming N.E.M.O. members and only one of them regularly sent ships here. If you're fishing for an invitation to our next internal trade talks, I can pass that on to the relevant people but those are.. generally members only affairs."

    "But you don't intend to extend your protection outside of your own-. Your current borders."

    "We don't intend to send warships into neutral space during a war, no. I mean, if there was an actual mayday transmission and someone was in range we'd probably send them, but we have a.. war to fight. Generally speaking, if somewhere wants to trade without having pirates and privateers take a cut one way or the other, they use their own security fleets. Or at least hire private security companies to do it for them. The Brotherhood of Zvort have quite a good reputation, if you're thinking of moving in that direction."

    "No. We are concerned that the Brotherhood's Code of Conduct violates our neutrality."

    "That's… Rather the drawback of neutrality. It doesn't guarantee protection from your enemies and it doesn't make you any friends. Have you considered offering shipping insurance?"

    Public Order makes a gesture of mild frustration with his right hand. "A number of companies based here already offer insurance policies to shipping firms."

    "But there's no enforcement. So a shipping company is going to look at a high risk journey here and compare it to a low risk journey within N.E.M.O., which… Might not offer them quite the same level of gross profit, but will have a lot less in deductions. And less chance of them dying. I mean, a big shipping company would probably be happy taking the money, but a lot of these are small traders. If they get pirated then it's their next of kin who get the payout, and they're not going to replace the ship that got destroyed."

    PO nods. "You want us to… Offer bounties?"

    "I don't-. I can't clap my hands and reverse a trade deficit. I'm pointing out why -even without direct action by N.E.M.O.- the amount of traffic you're receiving is going down. And pointing out that you could remedy this." I shrug. "Or you can wait it out. The war won't last forever."

    Defence Force switches the hologram to an approximate rendition of N.E.M.O. and Reach territory. "And how long do you see the war lasting?"

    "Based on currently available technologies, and barring any revolutionary breakthroughs, something in the region of sixty years. Though.. after ten things will probably start normalising, because we'll be pushing into Reach space proper and their assets should be too hemmed in to carry out external attacks."

    "Ten years to normalise?"

    "I hope so. My girlfriend and I have pencilled in our wedding for then. If we're not at that stage by then, I might have to do something really crazy."

    "Like.. pursue a more aggressive policy?"

    "Like eat their planets whole." I shrug. "Our secondary aim is to create a community that outlasts this war. There's not much point in destroying the Reach if everyone on our side immediately turns on each other. And I.. really don't like killing that many people personally. I've been involved in a couple of extermination campaigns and I-. Well, I'd rather not be in that position again."

    "You're planning on exterminating the people of the Reach?"

    I shake my head.

    "Both of the previous instances were clone-races with little individuality. The cost of occupying their worlds and altering their civilisations was simply prohibitive. With regards to the Reach, we intend to permanently remove their ability to make war. Whether that involves them surrendering and disarming or being bombarded back to the stone age is up to them. Though… If it helps, we don't plan on restricting their civilian trade."

    "Ah. And if you lose?"

    "Then I'll be dead or mind controlled, so if the Reach continue to act as they have with their previous conquests I.. imagine that the resources of formerly N.E.M.O. worlds will be extracted purely at the pleasure of our new Reach owners, who may choose to trade with external parties when profitable."

    "We…" HCO deactivates the hologram so that she can look me directly in the eyes. "We would be willing to act as dispute mediators. We have already made an offer to the Reach ambassador, and-"

    "Negotiator."

    "-they-. I beg your pardon?"

    "Negotiator. That's their title. The Reach doesn't have ambassadors."

    "Negotiator, then, and they have accepted. We were-."

    "Hah!"

    "We.. were hopeful that we could bring things to a close, and restore peace and free trade to this part of the galaxy."

    My eyes glow orange as I take a closer look. She's-. No, she's serious. She's been involved in mediation efforts in belligerent stellar nations before and she…

    Huh.

    "Okay."

    "O-kay?"

    "Yes, I'm willing to attend mediation. I don't really think it will get anywhere, but I'm willing to sit in a room with a Negotiator and explain why in detail. When do you want to do-"

    My ring blinks.

    "-this? Sorry, excuse me."

    I lift my left hand to my ear.

    "Yes?"

    "Lantern Drusa here. We have a problem."
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2021
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th August 2012
    18:08 GMT


    "Yes?" I frown at Lantern Drusa as we lurk in small café in a less-frequented corner of the city. "We know the Reach use this place as a high value import hub, that's not news."

    "This ship is."

    I don't recognise the design, but that doesn't mean much. While some major shipyards have standard designs on file, the galaxy is vast. Plenty of shipyards build custom ships without any record of their work getting into wider circulation. This one… Looks like a base hull with an extra module stuck on top. Extra sublight engines, maybe?

    I shrug. "It's very red."

    "Local records show that they frequently sell unusual items to the Reach, amongst others."

    "It hasn't made much difference yet." I shrug again. "Why are you so worried about this visit?"

    "They were last seen on D'xe, a world that was briefly ruled by its Green Lantern."

    I nod. Jordan submitted a brief report on it. Green Lanterns going rogue is… Well, honestly, since they usually recruit from martial societies, it's not uncommon for Lanterns to push the boundaries a bit. Flat out taking over their homeworld is unusual, but Lantern Kaylark apparently went completely supervillain at one point. Started calling herself 'Empress Surrenda'.

    Sounds like one of the people Diana used to fight back in the forties.

    "And?"

    "A Lantern with an excellent record, who attempted to enslave her world."

    I frown. "You think they've got some sort of anti-Lantern weapon? Something that affects our mental state? Because in my case, that seems unlikely to work."

    "We're not all you. And we're far more unstable than Green Lanterns." She considers the image. "I don't know that they have a weapon, but when they arrived they were immediately put in contact with the Negotiator."

    "It seems more likely that they were gathering data rather than picking up a weapon. Goodness knows that Jordan isn't the most thorough operative at times, but if he found something that drove Lanterns crazy then he'd have destroyed it."

    "And all records of it?"

    I snort quietly. "Sorry, 'Surrenda' looked like a supervillain so I assumed that she didn't bother with backups. I suppose it's… Possible, but it seems a bit flimsy."

    "Then why is she here?"

    The ring brings up an image of Lantern K'ryssma, showing her drop out of warp at the same point from which the… 'Free Lancers' entered the system, and then head towards Yuna. No pilot for her, I note. I frown and look up… There she is.

    "It's not specifically our concern, but I suppose that it wouldn't hurt to ask"

    Lantern Drusa frowns. "Ask her?"

    "The Green Lantern Corps had a major war against the Reach a while back. Lantern K'ryssma doesn't want the Reach to expand, and if these people really have picked up an anti-Lantern weapon then it's in both our interests to stop them. Counterpoint?"

    "If there is a weapon, getting sole access to it gives us an advantage."

    I shrug. "Against who? I don't remember any reports of the world around D'xe having any noticeable outbreaks of megalomaniacs, so if it works on Lanterns then it just works on Lanterns. We don't want to fight Green Lanterns and they don't want to fight us. Larfleeze is in a holding cell, Sinestro is one guy and the Zamarons are undergoing a culture shift in our favour. Having an improved anti-Lantern weapon is just going to create entirely unnecessary trouble."

    She doesn't look convinced.

    "Look, if you're really worried about fighting a Green Lantern then you can spend some time with one on Earth. We've got, like, five of them now. They're not that hard to beat." I hold out my left hand. "Illustres to Honour Guard Lantern K'ryssma."

    My ring shimmers, then her head appears over the sigil.

    "Oh. You again."

    "What brings you back to this region?"

    "Your war. The Green Lantern Corps wishes to ensure that it is contained within Reach space. There are a vast number of inhabited worlds in this region of space who could be affected if the fighting spills beyond their borders."

    "No concern for their Controller cousins?"

    "The Guardians are concerned for all life, not just their own distant relatives."

    "Anything I can help with? I doubt that there are enough Green Lanterns around here to properly protect a region this large, and they are our neighbours. We've got no interest in alienating them."

    "If a situation where you can help occurs, I will let you know."

    "Rightoh. And of course… If you'd like to get involved, we'd be happy to have you."

    "The Green Lantern Corps has a ceasefire agreement with the Reach. We will not invalidate our word by being the ones who break it."

    "Well… There's two obvious ways around that. You could just act as a neutral observer. We'd be happy to offer you a base to work from while monitoring the conduct of the war. Or protecting people liberated from Reach control. Or if you want to get more involved, you… Could request a leave of absence from the Green Lantern Corps and take up an orange ring. The change in mindset is rather substantial, but you could probably handle it. And if not then it would still be fascinating to see how it goes."

    "I will pass on your offer to allow observers to the Guardians. I will certainly not leave the Green Lantern Corps for you."

    "Lantern K'ryssma… I don't matter. I could drop dead right now and the war would continue in pretty much the same way. And even if I did matter, I wouldn't expect you to do something as a favour to a man you met once. However, if you're even somewhat interested in the wellbeing of the people of this region of space, making sure that the campaign to liberate them goes well does seem like the sort of thing a socially responsible Lantern might do."

    "I am not so confident that you will win."

    "Hey, if you know someone with a better chance, go join up with them instead. But the Guardians have demonstrated that they're not interested in taking this fight, so… They're definitely not it. We aren't targeting serving Green Lanterns for recruitment, but they're going to hear about us eventually."

    "They already have."

    Hm. The nice thing about being recruited into the Green Lantern Corps is that you can live on your homeworld. Only the relatively small number of Green Lanterns whose Space Sectors are around here would be interested in siding with us simply due to the commute. K'ryssma isn't local…

    "Oh? Are you here to steady wavering local Greenies?"

    "No. If they wish to join in your crusade then they are free to leave the Corps and apply to join you. Have any?"

    I nod. "So it is the D'xe thing!"

    And I open my empathic vision wide.
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2021
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  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th August 2012
    18:12 GMT


    And I get the tiniest trace of...

    No, it's gone. I suppose it was unreasonable to assume that an Honour Guard Lantern wouldn't be able to keep me out.

    "Because Jordan-."

    "D'xe is a peaceful planet in a peaceful Sector. Lantern Cyan-"

    I suppress a snort. A Green Lantern called Cyan. Good job there aren't any actual Cyan Lanterns or that could get really confusing.

    "-has undone the damage caused during her predecessor's reign, and Kaylark is being rehabilitated."

    "And you arriving in this system right behind a ship of known Reach acquisition agents is entirely coincidental?"

    "The 'Free Lancers' are wanted for multiple crimes in several Sectors-."

    "But you're an Honour Guard Lantern and they're one undergunned blockade runner. I'm not seeing anything a local Lantern couldn't deal with. Ex-cept I know perfectly well that Honour Guard Lanterns get to deal with classified tasks as well as high-difficulty tasks, so a little honesty might go a long way here."

    "For multiple crimes in several Sectors, but I am here because it is possible that they have acquired the broken remains of a power ring."

    I frown. Kalmin told me what usually happens when a Green Lantern dies and their ring can't get away: it completely disintegrates itself. But-.

    Alan's ring. If a Lantern goes rogue and they cut them off, would that function still work? Possibly not. Could the Reach do anything with the broken remains of a power ring? I… Wouldn't have thought so. The Qwardians weren't able to create general-purpose power ring disruptors, and they could build actual power rings. But, hey, acting against the Reach is why I'm here.

    "Naturally, we don't really want the Reach to get that. What can I do to help?"

    "Why are you on Yuna?"

    "Negotiations with their government. We want to maintain a normal trading relationship, they want us to hold their hand and tell them that we still think they're pretty."

    "Yuna has a Reach trade mission."

    "Yes, it does." I frown. "Are you allowed to be here?"

    "The Reach haven't formally claimed this world. Are you allowed to be here?"

    "As long as I don't start anything. Though… On Earth we have an expression. 'What do you do when you find a eight hundred pound gorilla asleep in your bed?'."

    She waits for a moment.

    "What is the answer?"

    "Sleep somewhere else. I'm being polite for political reasons, not because I have to be. The problems that would be caused to N.E.M.O. by making a big deal of the Reach being here would outweigh the gains there'd be in destroying it. But if you really need our help, I rate maintaining a good relationship with the Green Lantern Corps as more important."

    "Thank you for your offer. I will take it under advisement."

    Her face vanishes, and I frown thoughtfully.

    Lantern Drusa arches her left eyebrow.

    "Is the Reach having access to a broken power ring a threat to us?"

    "No idea. Honestly, I'm mildly astonished that they didn't pick up at least one during their war with the Green Lantern Corps. But it's not as if Jordan wrote his report under truth compulsion."

    She nods. "His Corps has first claim to his loyalty. It would make sense that he would lie in a report to his local allies."

    "I.. don't think he'd tell a direct lie. An incomplete truth, perhaps." I frown. "I don't think Jordan would leave a functioning power ring laying there; he's not that incompetent."

    "Could it be Kaylark?"

    "I doubt-."

    Could it be? I actually don't know what the Green Lantern Corps does with insane Lanterns. Criminal Lanterns either get fired, get sent on a penance quest or get stuck in a sciencell, but if there's actually something wrong with how their brain works..? I mean, they didn't do anything to help Guy...

    "I doubt it. Maybe. Keep as much of an eye on all three parties as you can without breaking local law. Worst comes to the worst we can just intercept their courier once they get back into the war zone."

    She nods. "Do we inform the local government?"

    "Inform them of what? We don't know anything. Some people the Reach trade with might have something to trade with them. That's not only not illegal, it's actively encouraged. They don't care about the war, so we can attack whoever we want as long as we do it outside of their system. And K'ryssma can look after herself."

    "In six days."

    "No, the Green Lantern Corps has a treaty which lets them fly right here. I suppose it's an advantage of having a strongly non-interventionist approach to civil society. She can be here in a few seconds. I imagine that she's taking her time to make it harder for the Reach to spot her."

    I shrug.

    "Anything else?"

    "Nothing has come to my attention." … "Do you want me to continue wearing your face?"

    "Might as well. I'm going to get a laugh out of this eventually." I raise my right hand to my forehead. "Carry on, Orange Lantern."

    I reappear in the meeting room-

    "…minister, because we-."

    HCO clamps her mouth shut and loudly clears her throat.

    "Sorry about that."

    "Are you likely to be called away again?"

    "I shouldn't be. These things… Crop up sometimes. So how are we doing on the 'Reach bad, N.E.M.O. good, friends?' thing?"

    Trade smiles faintly and shakes his head. "We're not going to condemn a long-term trading partner for going to war with someone else. But nothing you've said would in principle precipitate the Yuna government changing its attitude towards N.E.M.O. member worlds."

    "Great! So what else do you need from me before we discuss exactly what that means and sign something formal?"

    DA leans forward slightly.

    "I do have one further question."

    "Yes?"

    "Will Maltus be trading with us directly?"

    "Almost certainly not. You don't have anything they want, their efforts are focused on rebuilding recaptured worlds, and their economic output is so great that they'd wreck your economy."

    Trade nods, shooting DA a dirty look. "I'm glad that you noticed that, thank you."
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2021
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  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th August 2012
    18:38 GMT


    "Hey, Mister Grayven!" / "Hey, Mister Grayven!" / "Hey, Mister Grayven!" / "Hey, Mister Grayven!" / "Hey, Mister Grayven!"

    I smile and raise my right hand in a half-wave/half Roman salute as the universe's youngest kryptonians look up from their painting.

    "Hello, children!"

    Lu-Zod flies unsteadily over to me and grabs hold of my right hand.

    "Come see! Come see!"

    "I'm sorry, but I need to talk to Karsta Wor-Ul right now."

    "Aaawh."

    I delicately recover my right hand while patting her on the head with my left.

    "I'll come right back when I'm done, okay?"

    "Lu-?!"

    One of the tamaranean childminders assigned to the facility spots her charge and swoops down to recover her.

    "Lu-Zod, you are not to fly off like that!"

    The child's face falls. "I'm sorry. I just got so excited!"

    I shoo the child back into the care of her guardian, then step back out of the orphanarium and into the corridor.

    This place has really brightened up since we slaughtered all the Citadelians who used to live here. I'd assumed that Karsta was the utilitarian sort, but they've actually remodelled the entire interior into something a good deal more child-friendly. Out went about half the cloning tanks, in come arboreta and multi-tier classrooms. Karsta isn't going for mass production here. She-.

    "Grayven."

    I turn and smile at her, though it's more a 'polite' smile than the genuine ones that the children got.

    "Karsta. How are you feeling?"

    "Like I'm actually working for a living." And she does actually look tired. Though I suppose that could be due to the fact that by design this facility doesn't invigorate kryptonians anything like as much as the Earth's sun does. "It's rewarding, but I'm feeling my age."

    "Hey, you can sunbathe under a purple healing ray with your fingers crossed if you want." She doesn't look impressed. "No luck finding other kryptonians, then?"

    "If it were easy, Amalak would have found them first."

    And I doubt that Kara In-Ze is going to want to give up her career as a superheroine secret agent to become a childminder. Huh. I never did try finding the local version of Kara What-Ever, did I? I just sort of assumed that she'd either turn up or they already checked and there wasn't one. I mean, sticking her in the phantom zone would have been far safer than a space pod if it was a last minute job.

    Hah! Or maybe we've got one with Power Girl proportions and they couldn't get the lid to shut!



    Yeah, probably shouldn't make jokes about a woman whose entire species got wiped out. Damn ponies. Making me a better person.

    "There wasn't anything on the Doomsday about other kryptonians getting away, was there?"

    "Yes, Grayven, I just didn't want to check up on it until you asked." She frowns. "Why are you here, anyway? Your monthly check-in isn't for another week."

    "We've got a problem. You remember the other version of me I-."

    "He's finally coming here."

    I wince slightly. "To be honest, he was probably coming here from the moment he saw me. Packing up an entire civilisation and shipping it to the other side of the galaxy isn't something that can be done quickly, but I've received intelligence and he's probably going to be here sooner rather than later."

    She shrugs. "The last thing I want is to put Krypton's future in another alien's hands. I can command the Doomsday myself, but none of the kids are going to be ready."

    About what I thought.

    "I don't suppose you can set the Doomsday to work for someone else, can you? With the right wavelength enhancing you, you could easily destroy their smaller ships even without a ship."

    "Anyone can command the Doomsday if I give them access. But there's a difference between controlling a ship and controlling it well. I don't have a second in command who's trained and experienced in using it."

    And goodness knows I couldn't fly it worth a damn.

    "I-. Okay, so he's not kryptonian, but I know a guy who might be able to get the hang of it."

    "Has he commanded a kryptonian warship before?"

    "No. But he is very quick at learning things. His name's Harold Near, he's been working with Lex."

    "Those human warships aren't terrible, but they don't work anything like the Doomsday."

    "Yeah, try.. this guy out before you write him off."

    She looks sceptical, but then shrugs. "Fine, it can't hurt. I guess Earth has enough weirdoes that it shouldn't really surprise me if one was a natural at space combat."

    "Okay. Ah, there's something I need to check on really quickly, but other than Mister Near is there anything you need here?"

    "No, we're fine." … "More children's books and T.V. shows? I wanted to ration them but the tamaraneans wouldn't go for it."

    I nod. "Can do. Back shortly."

    Mother Box.

    Ping.

    I step through the silent hole into interstellar space. Right. Rao is that way and Sol is that way…

    Ring, scan for kryptonite. Fill My Vacancy!

    Scanning. Kryptonite radiation found.

    My vision flickers as my ring relays the information to my visor. Okay, that's one lump that shouldn't be there. Tube me.

    Ping.

    And through again… Giant asteroid made of kryptonite. Okay, if she's even in there I don't want to panic her. Or just have her wander naked through a city wrecking the place like she did in the comic.

    "Grayven to Karsta."

    "That was quick."

    "You've got a medical facility there, right?"

    "It's one big medical facility. Why?"

    "I've got a giant lump of kryptonite that might have a kryptonian inside it. Can you handle it?"

    "The walls are thick enough to block it, and the genomorphs can wear protective overalls. So, yes."

    "Good. Sending it to you now."

    BOOM!

    "Then I'll go and grab Mister Near."
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2021
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th August 2012
    18:57 GMT


    "No, I can think of no conceivable way that the broken remains of a power ring could provide the Reach with any advantage at all." Hinon doesn't look impressed. "Though on the face of it the claim isn't utterly preposterous."

    "I don't suppose that you know anything about D'xe yourself, do you?"

    "I did actually visit it once, back when its surface was still molten. It didn't impress me at the time, and it hasn't changed in that regard since."

    "Do you know of anything that could make a Green Lantern go crazy?"

    "Not an especial one. The Guardians chose green because of how stable it is. I suppose that a Green Lantern who was unable to reconcile contradictions in their own beliefs might be brought down by their own doublethink. Or fixate on an order long after the Guardians would have withdrawn it, and suffer from guilt. But there is no 'special' risk from using the green light."

    "So the problem lay in the Lantern."

    "Most likely. Though I feel that it's reasonable to criticise the Guardians for failing to see to the upkeep of their servants."

    I nod. Unfortunate as it is, it looks like they really didn’t learn anything from Sinestro. Put people in extreme situations and some of them don't respond in the way you hope they will. I mean… Alright, maybe they just don't have the personnel to do that, but they could easily assign Guy or another Honour Guard Lantern with appropriate training to deal with it.

    "So either-."

    "She's lying. Obviously. But I suppose that helping her won't hurt."

    "Is it a concern that the Guardians are telling their Lanterns to lie to us?"

    "I would hardly expect them to be happy about the situation. There are already more maltusians bonded to the orange light than there are Guardians. Unless they change, their Corps will either become extinct or become ours."

    "'Ours'?"

    The Hinon construct nods.

    "It would be no great trial to find Controllers who would be willing to bond themselves to the green light. But they wouldn't be Guardians; their priorities and modus operandi would be different. That is what the Guardians can't accept."

    "So, what, they'll just turn up on Oa one day?"

    "I imagine that they'll make an offer to the senior surviving Green Lanterns first. If you can make personal lanterns, then it's entirely possible that there will be enough Green Lanterns with a similar ability that they feel that maltusian involvement is unnecessary. And in any case, it's unlikely to be occurring soon; Guardians aren't easy to kill. Find out what Lantern K'ryssma is playing at, and then let her continue playing."

    "Will do. Illustres out."

    I deactivate my ring's communication system and sit back. Funny how the law works. There was a book I read… Decades ago now, where a young man won a aeronautics-themed game show and won a ticket to anywhere on Earth. But he wanted to go into space. Fortunately, the relevant UN body had determined that the rights associated with Earth citizenship extended upwards from the planet just far enough to encompass the space station he wanted to travel to. Thus, it was still 'on Earth', and they were obliged to pay for his passage.

    Yuna law requires that anyone approaching the planet jumps through a lot of hoops. And it's not that much easier to leave. However, the definition of 'leaving' isn't what a person might at first assume that it is. So long as I don't board a ship I could teleport into low orbit without 'leaving', thanks to laws set up to enable skydiving. And

    I can teleport

    back because I haven't 'left'. Wonderful things, laws. The ship carrying the Reach's favourite couriers is just now landing under the hands of a local pilot, though this part of the small commercial shipping terminal is relatively empty.

    I raise my right hand in greeting.

    "Fancy seeing you here."

    The Reach Negotiator turns to see me, and just for a moment cringes at the sight of me before smoothly recovering. I doubt that anyone who wasn't empathic would have noticed; his bodyguard certainly doesn't appear to have done so. No Scarab Warrior that I can see, though any of these might have the implant somewhere on their bodies.

    "It is hardly strange. The Free Lancers have a long history as mercantile agents for the Reach. Do you intend to try to avail yourself of their services? I highly recommend them."

    There are any number of things I could say here, implying whatever level of knowledge I might have about their scheme, but…

    "I'm more interested in what they picked up for you."

    "Ah-I'm afraid that all sales are final."

    "If you'd taken five minutes to review the 'Free Lancers' record when you hired them, you'd know that's not the case. And even on Yuna, items can be impounded and confiscated if someone can prove that it was stolen from them."

    "I assure you that our business here is entirely legitimate."

    "Glad to hear it. Reach Negotiators are no fun to kill at all."

    "I have personally always found the death of Lanterns to be instructive."

    I nod.

    "'By the manner of their deaths we shall know them'. Which doesn't really work with Scarab Warriors, because it's so hard to be sure which ones are volunteers and which ones are mind controlled."

    "The vast majority are loyal citizens."

    "Right, but were they loyal because they were born as a member of your species with all the rights and responsibilities therein, or are they loyal because you fiddled around with their brains and their independence dribbled out of their ear?"

    "The first one. It-."

    "Actually, I've been meaning to ask about that. Do you do that mind control thing to your own people as well, or is that an aliens-only thing? Do you.. just consider it normal and if the aliens can't cope that's on them, or do you actually think of it as a weapon?"

    "Would you be happier if we conquered with overt force as you are wont to do?"

    "Probably, yes. That sort of Empire would have to use local collaborators and auxiliaries, and eventually make at least some of the people they conquered into citizens. The Reach doesn't have to worry about that, so you don't bother."

    "Before the war with the Green Lantern Corps, Reach policy was to carry out extermination campaigns. Subjugated species were put to work, ghettoised, and eventually eliminated."

    "Huh."

    "So clearly, your assumption was wrong."

    "True, but… That means that you've had two goes, and been completely evil each time. You've basically gone from 'tragically misguided' to 'innately evil' in my mind, and the last time a species did that..."

    I shrug, and the Negotiator takes a step away from me as the ship's main hatch opens. I smile faintly, then

    step out,

    reappearing in front of the vessel's disembarking crew.
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2021
  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th August 2012
    19:01 GMT


    "Hello there!"

    A grinning male humanoid in blue and red greets me with apparent warmth. Empathic vision shows me something rather different, a man driven to acquire the most potent weapons that he can and with absolutely no scruples on what he does to get them.

    If we could trust him to stick to a contract, he'd be an excellent Orange Lantern.

    "Hello indeed. I am the Illustres of the Orange Lantern Corps."

    "Harrow is the name I go by. My friend's name is Chance." He points a thumb at the grizzled man wearing a tricorn hat. "And the lady there…" The woman in purple. "That's Risqué."

    "Doesn't look that risqué." I smile. "But maybe I've spent too much time on Tamaran."

    "I don't think I'm particularly harrowing, and I've never seen Chance leave a hand of cards to chance for as long as I've known him." He shrugs. "Names are what you make of them, Illustres."

    "Mine's fairly literal. People call me 'Illustres', and-" I intensify my environmental shield. "-I make light."

    "Would that be a power ring?"

    "Long way from here to D'xe?"

    "A long way from a lot of places."

    I hold out my left hand.

    "I meant, have you been incommunicado? The existence of orange power rings isn't a secret."

    I don't think I'm radiating orange light in any metaphysical sense, but his eyes glow and he's not even touching a ring. That sort of thing makes me think 'strong but crazy'.

    "Though I imagine the fact that we're at war with the Reach is a more immediate concern."

    "Not at all! We're not called 'Free' Lancers because we're under contract! We love bidding wars!"

    "Then you do not-" The Negotiator steps forward, his bodyguard fanning out slightly. "-intend to honour your commission to the Reach?"

    "It seems that what we've picked up might be a little more valuable than we thought. We'd be fools to let an opportunity like this to slip through our hands."

    "And the closest N.E.M.O. planet is closer than the closest Reach planet, and the closest N.E.M.O. fleet is a lot closer than the closest Reach fleet. And I'm here, of course."

    Harrow doesn't seem unduly bothered. "It's up to the client to arrange delivery after the hand-off. And since you're not just attacking our ship, it seems to me that you're obeying local law."

    "Yes, though I want to be clear that I'm nothing like as obsessive about the principle as the Green Lanterns are."

    "Meaning..?"

    "Meaning that depending on what you even have, I have to decide how much it will affect the progress of the war. And then I have to decide how badly we need it and whether we need to avoid offending certain parties more or less than we need it. We don’t have a multi-million year legacy of lawfulness to live up to."

    "Ooh." He holds up his hands. "Consider me warned."

    Risqué regards me sceptically. "The Reach are offering us a Scarab implant."

    "You know those things mind control you, right?"

    "None of us are planning on wearing it. We have sophisticated analysis engines and a contact book full of technical specialists. We're going to reverse engineer the technology."

    "Good luck with that. What would I have to offer you to outbid that?"

    "Do you have a Scarab?"

    "Unfortunately, no. They've started building self-destruct systems into them that make them rather tricky to capture."

    Though I do dimly remember… A Booster Gold comic where he got hold of a Scarab after the Rock of Eternity blew up. This continuity doesn't have a Booster Gold… Yet, anyway. And I couldn't find anyone called Jamie Reyes wearing any sort of beetle-themed armour. I could ask William to ask Jebediah whether or not he's got a Scarab, but Jebediah had no real reason to work with me after I killed Nabu.

    Wait, was it Jebediah or Nabu..?

    "How about a power ring?"

    "If you want a long-term contract, I'd be happy to give each of you one. There are very few mortals who can forge rings, and you gaining the ability would make you very valuable to us."

    "I hate to repeat myself here, but what part of 'Free Lancer' suggests that we want to be under contract?"

    "It's the way your eyes are glowing. Your dominant trait is avarice. I can give you a ring, I can give you access to technology far more advanced than anything the Reach has. You can fiddle around with it to your heart's content and all we'd ask in return is that you share what you learn."

    "We're not really looking for that sort of commitment."

    "I see why you came to Yuna."

    "Hah! Yes, they are a bit like that, aren't they? But that doesn't change the fact that I've already got a generous deal lined up. If you can't outbid the Reach, then… Well…"

    He shrugs with exaggerated insolence.

    I nod. He has a point, but at this point I don't even know what he has. Asking after that Scarab that might be on Earth would be the next logical step, and… Would Kalmin be willing to trade his antithesis ring?

    "Simply knowing that you have something that the Reach want isn't quite enough to make me want to sell the farm. What is it-."

    Chance snorts. "You don't even know?"

    "I heard a report that you acquired a power ring, but I have no idea whether I should believe it or not."

    Harrow reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small box.

    "There's a standing bounty from all sorts of people for an intact power ring." I smile slightly. Naughty K'ryssma. "But what we got is a little different. We didn't get the full story, but it looks like the Guardians were trying out a new design… But didn't have the bugs all worked out yet."

    The small box partially liquefies, revealing the green…

    Huh.

    Green power rings usually have the green sigil on a circular face. This one is.. slightly darker in colour, with the outline of a square in place of the normal sigil. I can feel the focused will associated with it so it's definitely genuine, but…

    Why would the Guardians make something like that, much less actually issue it?

    "Have you tested it?"

    "How could I do that without tipping off the Guardians? I don't want to get dragged to Oa and stuck in a sciencell."

    "In that case, I'm going to need to consult with other parties. Can you hold onto it for a few days?"

    "Certainly. I think the bidding might just get interesting."
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2021
  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th August 2012
    19:33 GMT


    The construct-image of K'ryssma nods.

    "It is an experimental prototype. One of three. The other two are safely on Oa."

    "Interesting." Hinon's construct looks genuinely interested. "I hadn't realised that the Guardians were still capable of that sort of creativity. Ganthet's work?"

    K'ryssma hesitates, then appears to decide that there's no point lying to someone who can already make power rings.

    "No. Guardian Meadlux was the designer. The project was suspended after his death, but his prototypes were preserved."

    "And what was he trying to achieve? The core power ring design the Green Lantern Corps uses has been essentially unchanged since the Corps' inception."

    "If you want to know that, you will have to speak with the Guardians."

    "I may just do that. I take it that you don’t have a captured Scarab somewhere to give them?"

    "Why would I reward their theft?"

    "Probably for the same reason that you haven't already attacked them. It costs you something -or could cost you something- and you want to avoid that." I turn to the holographic image of Kalmin. "Are you willing to trade your antithesis ring for this?"

    "No. It's the last one I have, and it's a potent reminder of my fall from grace." He regards K'ryssma impassively. "Let the Green Lantern Corps cover its own debts."

    "We don't have a Scarab, I assume?"

    "Not an intact one, no. Clarissi Dox has a plan to remedy that situation, but at the moment it isn't worth the effort it would likely require. I'll have Dox increase fleet alertness on their likely egress routes in case the Reach do get their hands on it, but unless Meadlux became a great deal cleverer than I remember him being, it shouldn't be a problem for us even if the Reach are about to evacuate it."

    I look at Lantern K'ryssma.

    "Is there a reason why you're not attempting to reclaim it legally?"

    "Information is traded here as readily as products and services. We do not want knowledge of the existence of this ring to spread further than it already has."

    That sounds dubious. I mean, how much do most people actually know about power ring technology? The symbol is widely known, but if a Green Lantern turned up with a working ring that happened not to have it, would that actually bother anyone? I wouldn't have thought so, but then again I can't claim to have actually conducted any sort of survey.

    "I am more interested in what these freebooters want in exchange for the Scarab."

    "They seemed more interested in studying it than in trading it. I can only assume that they've got a research centre somewhere, because they all scanned as standard pattern humanoids and that ship isn't anything like advanced enough to get anything out of a Scarab."

    "If the Reach get that ring then I have failed in my mission."

    "Right, but while we'd like to help, you're not exactly giving us a lot of reasons to prioritise this. Frankly, an unowned Scarab is more useful to us than whatever good will we'd get for recovering a ring you can't admit to having lost in the first place. I mean…" I turn to Hinon. "Am I wrong there?"

    "No, not that I can see."

    "And-. Anyway, why can't you just recall it? Guy and Jordan can remote control their rings and they can't be that much better than you."

    "The container they are storing it in disrupts remote control. And I would prefer to avoid breaking local law."

    "And you're trying to get me to do it?"

    I mean, between phasing, invisibility, and my arcane abilities I probably could. Heck, I could probably just make them want to hand it over. But K'ryssma is obviously hiding something-.

    "Sorry, just had an attack of common sense. Goodbye, Lantern K'ryssma." I dismiss her construct image and cut communications. "Ring, call Lantern Jordan."

    "Compliance."

    My ring blinks for a few moments, then Jordan's face appears.

    "What is it, Paul?"

    "I'm on a planet called Yuna, and someone has recovered an odd-looking power ring from D'xe and is trying to-"

    "What?"

    "-sell it to the Reach. Know anything about it?"

    "Damn it! Did you get the ring?"

    "No. That's not really my job, and Honour Guard Green Lantern K'ryssma is being suspiciously cagey about the whole thing. Anything you can tell me that might make me want to help out?"

    He shakes his head.

    "I don't know much about them. Three Green Lanterns in good standing used them, and they all went crazy. I thought I got them all back to the Guardians, but I guess I missed one. What does it look like?"

    "Plain ring with a diamond with a hole in it in place of the sigil."

    He nods.

    "Yeah, that's it. They told me at the time they weren't meant for deployment, so they don't have any security on them. No recall, no shutdown… The Reach can just hand them to a Scarab Warrior and they'll have the best of both worlds." He shakes his head. "I'll talk to the Guardians, find out exactly how many rings are still missing."

    "Thank you, I appreciate it."

    "Thank me by keeping that ring away from the Reach."

    His face vanishes, and I turn to Hinon.

    "The Reach can't use it to make new rings, right?"

    "Without knowing exactly what Meadlux did, it's impossible for me to say. Reach citizens have the mental flexibility that their thralls lack. With a power ring, one of them might have the focus to create more. But you're the mortal with the best command of any colour I've seen, and you haven't been able to make a decent personal lantern yet. I doubt that we'll have to worry about them churning the wretched things out."

    "How long until a fleet can get into position?"

    "This would seem to require something a little more potent than a patrol fleet. I will speak with Dox at once."

    I nod.

    "And I'll try and keep the Negotiator busy. Let's find out how serious the locals are about mediation."
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2021
  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th August 2012
    21:51 GMT


    "Thank you both for agreeing to this."

    The HCO woman is genuinely upbeat about this. I… I assumed that Yuna government officials are better informed than their citizenry. They… They must be better motivated. Surely? But as I sit in another conference room opposite the Negotiator and a couple of his aides, she appears to be completely genuine.

    How can anyone possibly-?

    I mean. Really?

    "I only wish that something like this could have happened sooner."

    The Negotiator looks at me like I just farted in the lift.

    "It has been centuries since the Reach has waged an aggressive war, and we would have much preferred to-."

    "It's the way you say it-" I grin. "-with a straight face. "

    HCO raises her right hand with a nervous smile on her face.

    "Please let the Amb-"

    "Negotiator."

    "-assador finish his opening remarks."

    I shrug, then mime zipping my lips. The Negotiator waits a moment just to be sure.

    "We would have much preferred to discuss any concerns our neighbours had with our expansion without resorting to force. The Illustres has personally intervened…"

    I.. just tune him out. The locals I sort of understand. They clearly don't know why we hate the Reach. If it were a normal trade or territorial dispute, this sort of thing would genuinely be helpful. But who exactly is the Negotiator addressing here? There's no way he can expect to convince me, we've made sure that everyone in N.E.M.O. space is fully aware of what the Reach do, and he hardly needs to convince his fellow Reachians.

    So… Is the posturing just automatic? Have I been wrong in assuming that they don't use neural reprofiling on themselves? Is he incapable of not saying this nonsense, no matter how pointless it is?

    "…our hosts who have put us in this position."

    The Negotiator smiles at HCO, who smiles politely back.

    "Thank you-. Negotiator?"

    "Negotiator is my official title within the civil service of the Reach, but I'm acting as an ambassador. Really, either is appropriate."

    "Well, thank you. Illustres? Do you have something you want to say?"

    I shake my head.

    "I really don't know what to say. That speech gives me the impression that you genuinely don't know why we formed N.E.M.O., which is… Possible. Your superiors might have kept you in the dark intentionally. I'd.. be surprised, but it's not impossible. But if you do know, you must know that I know, so I have no idea who you think was going to care about any of what you just said."

    He doesn't appear moved.

    "But okay." I shrug. "Since your war with the Green Lantern Corps, the Reach has sworn off violent conquest. Or, rather, open acquisitive warfare. However, there's a difference between that and actually being peaceful."

    I take a hologram projector out of subspace and put it on the table in front of me. A series of images flicker, then expand to fill my side of the room. Dozens of faces, all from different species.

    "Maybe you don't recognise all of these. They're intelligent species whose territory was annexed by the Reach and who now either don't exist at all or hang on only in Controller-run refugee camps. Now, one might just have been evil and two… Well, accidents happen when you fiddle around with a biosphere. But this…"

    I make a point of looking around at the images.

    "This is an existential threat to every one of your surviving neighbours. And so, N.E.M.O., because no one wants to be added to this list. Because while you don't break the agreement you have with the Guardians, you're quite happy to alter the biology of your neighbours with chemistry, biotechnology and cybernetics until they're near-mindless thralls. And you don't even care enough about their service to keep them around for more than a couple of generations afterward. That's not just evil, that's lazy."

    "N.E.M.O. initiated the first fleet-to-fleet engagement of the war. Actually, the first Reach fleet to be destroyed was actually destroyed by Grayven but I'm not trying to pass on blame there; we'd totally have done it if we'd jumped in-system a little closer. But the Reach had been covertly attacking worlds in what is now N.E.M.O. for as long as they'd been in contact with them. And… You know that, and you know that I know that. So if this meeting is actually going to get anywhere… Please, stop pretending. It's not even annoying, really. It's just stupid. This isn't a court. There's no neutral jury. There's no unconvinced party to impress. It's a mediation for two peoples who hate each other to maybe find an agreement they could accept."

    "If you're going to engage in baseless slander-."

    "Pointless."

    I'm careful to let my eyes flare on that one. It doesn't really mean anything with me, but with a normal Orange Lantern it would indicate that they're about to go postal.

    "Very well. I assume that you have demands. What are they?"

    "The Reach will contract its territory: every world that has at least one surviving inhabitant will be released to them. The Reach will share all biological data on those species to allow them to repopulate. The Reach will contract its fleet to one tenth of its current size. The Reach will foreswear the use of and abandon all research into mental and social control technologies. You can have billboard adverts, that's it. The Reach will either hand over or execute individuals who were primarily responsible for known and unknown genocides, and provide data that allows for the identification of unknown individuals who were primarily responsible for known and unknown genocides."

    "Execute or-? What would you do with them?"

    "Assimilate them. Turn them into constructs. I'm allowing that as an option in case you'd prefer to be able to claim that it wasn't you who killed them."

    "Ah." He nods. "How generous."

    "In return, N.E.M.O. will offer a non-aggression pact and a free trade agreement, including free passage through N.E.M.O territory for any minimally armed civilian merchantman."

    HCO perks up slightly. "You're inviting them to trade with you?"

    "We don't have any objection to Reach business, just Reach evil. I imagine that continuing to allow them access to goods and services will make the transition easier on their end. We will also allow Reach citizens to apply to join the L.E.G.I.O.N., the Darkstars and the Orange Lantern Corps, under the same terms as N.E.M.O. citizens."

    "You intend to annex us."

    "But at least we're not going to murder your entire population." I lean back slightly. "So what do you want?"

    "An immediate ceasefire, the abolition of your openly hostile military alliance and compensation for the losses we have already incurred due to your unwarranted and unprovoked aggression."

    "No, no and no. Anything else?"

    "In-."

    "Anything sensible?"
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2021
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  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th August 2012
    22:24 GMT


    "…slightly difficult position, but most negotiations start like this."

    I raise my eyebrows at the genuine-sounding commiseration coming from Miss Arfat, the High Council Office's representative. I.. don’t particularly like working around a person who's genuinely helpful like this, but I like the idea of the Reach getting something we don't want them to have even less.

    "I'm willing to give up particular pieces of territory… Even increase the limit on their military power. But the core principle of N.E.M.O. is that Reach expansion must stop. Several member worlds were in the process of being ground out of existence before the war started."

    "Is it within the power of the maltusians to relocate them?"

    "They can build new planets, yes. But they won't have the infrastructure or history, and that will… Probably result in their inhabitants wanting to take their original world back at some point. I don't think that will result in a lasting peace." I shake my head. "That's why I included that bit about them joining; to preserve peace by eliminating future points of conflict. 'They stole our home' isn't a narrative that lends itself to that."

    "Have the maltusians relocated populations before?"

    "Yes, and I could -grudgingly- tolerate letting the Reach keep worlds that they've already captured. Less grudgingly, I could accept them keeping worlds they've already settled. But giving them planets that we've liberated… I'd best see a lot of movement from them before I even consider that. I don't want to do it, and I don't think I could sell it to N.E.M.O. member worlds."

    "But even if ratification proved difficult, would it not be better to have a ceasefire in place for the interim?"

    "No, not really. We have the advantage and momentum at present, and we can show results to our members in return for the effort they're putting into the war. A ceasefire would see the Reach entrenching and shifting their economy over to full war production. I can't see us stopping while a peace treaty was debated unless it was significantly in our favour."

    She nods slowly.

    "I will keep that in mind. You.. mentioned earlier that some N.E.M.O. members just enjoyed war?"

    "I think I said that there are always some. But if you're worried about them going after the Reach in violation of a peace treaty, don't be. It's a big universe and there's always a war going on somewhere. If they want new planets to settle it would be less hassle to take apart a gas giant only system and put together a new one than it would be to renew hostilities."

    "Given that both the maltusians and the Reach have that technology, I struggle to understand how such hostilities could exist at all."

    "Two answers to that. The obvious one is: we're fighting back because they keep attacking us. The other is: 'Some-"

    My ring blinks.

    "-men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.'"

    I smile and raise my ring to my left ear.

    "Illustres?"

    "Drusa. Have the negotiations ended?"

    "No, we're just taking a little break. Why?"

    "A Reach flotilla has appeared at the edge of the system and is asking for emergency transit."

    "Hold on." I hold my hand out in front of me and project a construct image of Lantern Drusa's head. "Say that again."

    "A Reach flotilla has appeared at the edge of the system and is asking for emergency transit."

    "The Reach frequently trade here." Miss Arfat shakes her head in a pacifying manner. "There isn't anything untoward about ships arriving now. They will be directed to the opposite side of the planet to your ships, conduct their business and then leave."

    "Did you know this flotilla was arriving in advance?"

    "I-. I personally didn't. But-"

    I stare through the wall at the Negotiator, empathic vision turned up. No, I'm not seeing anything that indicates an increase in confidence or joy. I frown slightly and turn in the direction… There it is, the Reach trade mission. Nothing much there either.

    "-I'm sure that someone did."

    "How many ships are we talking about?"

    "One cruiser and four escorts. No cargo ships."

    "No cargo ships?"

    "Cruisers don't have a large internal volume. They might be carrying something small, but it seems unlikely."

    "Well, a… Security measure, then. The Am-. Negotiator was concerned about your presence."

    "The ships are moving."

    "They got pilots already?"

    "I didn't detect any going on board."

    I give Miss Arfat my full attention.

    "Would you mind terribly checking this? You might be right about the reason for their visit, but I've died twice due to being insufficiently cautious."

    I have the ring put a map of the system in my head. Given the.. angles…

    I create a construct shield covering the ceiling and the spinwards side of the room. Miss Arfat looks at it in concern, then grabs her communicator.

    "Arfat, High Council's Office. Confirm my identity."

    There's a short pause.

    "Good. Do we have a border situation in relation to the incoming Reach ships? This is highest priori-"

    Turquoise light appears on the far side of my shield, the building disintegrating around it! A beam weapon? A faster than light beam weapon?

    "-tTTTTTTTYYYY!"

    An instant later the beam cuts out, showing the line it blasted through the government office block we're meeting in and the.. three next to it.

    "We're under attack! Where did that shot come from?!"

    "Illustres, they fired-!"

    "Yes, thank you. Hold on a moment. Miss Arfat?"

    "Con-confirmed. The Reach vessel just tried to kill-. Killed-. Ah. Under the circumstances, N.E.M.O. assets are authorised to act against them."

    I-.

    "Just that group! We don’t know that they're working with the Reach mission already on Yuna! This could be an internal dispute!"

    "Alright then. Lantern Drusa, engage at your recognisance. Prioritise protecting our ships and then the planet. I'll be up shortly."

    "Acknowledged."

    Her construct disappears.

    "Now let's go and ask the Negotiator what's going on."
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2021
  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th August 2012
    22:28 GMT


    "doing, you off-mode writ-wrangler!?"

    I lean closer to one of the Reach functionaries who was backing away from the irate Negotiator but didn't keep an eye on the door.

    "Having trouble?"

    She freezes up, not daring to respond. The Negotiator looks around, eyes wide, and then returns his attention to his communicator.

    "And you didn't even manage to kill him!" … "Oh, and how is it better if he's a fake!? That just means they can all survive it!"

    "Negotiator?"

    "…that even-? No, my orders are clear. Die, and let your stupidity die with you." He deactivates his communicator, breathes in, straightens his robes, and then turns to me with a relaxed smile on his face. "It is my sad duty to inform you that the commanding officer of the gunboat that just entered your system is doing so in an ex-communial manner."

    "Meaning?"

    "Meaning that they have gone beyond their authority and do not represent the Reach. You may-." He cranes his neck slightly to look at Miss Arfat. "Your government is fully empowered to dispose of them as you see fit."

    "What's this actually about? I thought you'd at least wait-."

    "Can you at least credit us with being cunning enough not to shoot through four buildings on an unaligned world?"



    "I suppose that I can."

    "Yes, yes." Miss Arfat looks at me. "Given the known capacities of-."

    The roof evaporates, the second shot being blocked from hitting us by my construct barrier. As the light dies the damage-. There were six floors above us and it's gone right through, a crater about eight metres across having been blasted down until it hit my shield.

    "CAPACITIES of Reach warships, the Yuna government authorises the forces of N.E.M.O. to undertake hostile action under an Extraordinary Contract."

    "Thank you."

    I add a crosshairs to my visual field, centred on the cruiser that's taking the shots.

    "Back soon."

    I fly upwards and then warp, my passage jerking and then stabilising as the still active interdiction systems shut down. Space snaps back as I reach high orbit, the ships around me making best speed away from where they are.

    "Illustres to Lantern K'ryssma, in your own time."

    Can't really risk flying at faster than light speed right up to a Reach ship, but a low warp will take me to them at-

    My construct shield lights up with turquoise fury, which dies a few moments later.

    -a reasonable pace. Okay, they put an FTL gun on a cruiser. It's not that big and it's not that powerful, which is why they don't usually do this sort of thing. Why are they still shooting at me? Possibility one:-

    I fire a series of lightspeed energy pulses at them. If they've got FTL sensors -and they should- then I might get a lucky hit. But for the most part I want to keep their attention on me and off the unshielded planet and lightly protected ships.

    -they're trying to take my shield down with sustained fire. Not a terrible idea in the ordinary run of things, but their ship is undergunned and I'm me. Possibility two, the ship's on autopilot to shoot me. Or the people on board have stupid orders they're not willing to ignore.

    "Drusa?"

    "We're not all as fast as you, Illustres. I was needed to shield our ships against their escorts."

    "Fair enough. Are they dead?"

    "Three are. I've lost track of the fourth."

    "Notify the Yuna Defence Force and keep your eyes open. I've got the cruiser."

    "As you wish."

    Standard Reach communication protocols.

    Compliance.

    "You in the cruiser. Surrender and live on as organic beings. Resist and I will assimilate you. You have five seconds now."

    Okay, scans of the cruiser… I did get a couple of hits. Looks like I breached their hull. That… Shouldn't have happened. Standard shields would-. They didn't have standard shields. FTL weapons take a lot of power, but… That doesn't sound right. I mean, if this is their first cruiser with an FTL weapon they might not have finalised the design. I might be such a juicy target that they thought that the chance to off me was worth a few ships. Lucky me.

    Unlucky them.

    Empathic vision-. Oh. There are minds on board, but they've had their thought processes messed around with in a fairly brute force sort of way. I doubt that they're Reachians, but it should only take me-

    I block another shot.

    -a few moments to find out for certain.

    A volley of crumbler rounds punches through their weak… Environmental barrier, not even a weak military force field. Chunks of their fore gun vanish, and ring scans show it lose power. Right, interdiction field generators are usually there in that hull type… I'm close enough that I can fire orange beams and reliably pierce the hull and puncture them.

    I increase the degree to which I'm warping space, and then the ship is there just in front of me. In a pretty sorry state, but the hull is largely in one piece. I draw back my shield so that it just protects me… Looks like they gave up on point defences as well, but that's no reason to take stupid risks. Locate the crew, send out the filaments-.

    Two go out as they kill themselves, but I connect to the other seven just in time. Undermanned for a ship-

    "Identity theft in progress."

    -of this class. I'm convinced that the Negotiator on Yuna genuinely didn't know, but someone put work into this.

    "Identity theft complete."

    I pull my thralls into my ring… Ugh. Simplified thought processes. I can't even see who gave them their orders. I'll check the computer-.

    "K'ryssma to Illustres. I need help!"

    I turn in space, looking for the emerald glow-.

    There are two of them. And they're fighting near the location of the Free Lancers' ship. Marvellous.

    I warp, the intervening space vanishing into nothing as I pull my barrier around me as construct armour. If we've eliminated ships as a threat, that leaves either a Lantern -and if one of the Free Lancers has put the ring on I'm not helping- or a Scarab. Or-.

    A green blast destabilises my warp and knocks me back into normal space, the ring-wielding Scarab Warrior pointing her new ring at me.
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2021
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  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th August 2012
    22:31 GMT


    "Have-?"

    My construct shield intercepts her construct beam, the shot decaying into green sparks as my barrier holds strong. Curious. That doesn't happen when I block shots from Earth's Green Lanterns.

    "Have we met?"

    Her armour glows green as her left arm morphs into a blade with a green edge.

    "I ask-"

    She disappears. Jam transitions, toss interdictors out of subspace and into local space, empathic vision-

    "-because-"

    -and there, x-ionised sword and parry as she phases back in, construct railgun loaded with phasic rounds and fire.

    "-if you're just-"

    Her sword is turned aside but she tracks my gun construct and shapeshifts reinforced armour. My phasic rounds aren't great against Scarab armour and fail to penetrate, prompting me to change my gun into a multi-barrel affair.

    "-here to-"

    Her sword morphs into a battering ram with a glowing green diamond head as she rushes me.

    "-pick up-"

    I re-aim my gun as I dart aside, sword coming down on the side of her arm just ahead of the crumbler round.

    "-the ring-"

    Sword hits first and the reinforced armour takes it. Crumbler round hits a fraction of a second later, causing the armour to ripple as the reinforcement fails.

    "-then you-"

    I swing my sword at her face while my gun trains itself on her chest.

    "-could-"

    She twists, limboing under my swing and phasing out.

    "-just-"

    Which means that when the phasic round hits, she reappears a few metres away with a noticeable hole in her flank.

    "-have asked-"

    Two construct pneumatic rams appear on either side of me and surge towards me.

    "-nicely?"

    I twist, crumbler hat and boots appearing and causing her constructs to break themselves around me.

    "We-"

    That causes me to lose my gun construct and it looks like the backlash from having a construct disrupted doesn't do anything to a Scarab Warrior. Mildly disappointing but not all that surprising.

    "-wouldn't-"

    Be nice to get that ring, and extra nice if we could finally get a Scarab to study.

    "-try to-"

    Orange light flares in all direction, radiating not just from me but from every sentient being for hundreds of miles

    which in practice means her and maybe one of the closer ships

    as their desires are redoubled and then redoubled again as they're forced to experience every desire they've ever had. It doesn't matter to us at all but for someone using a green ring we know full well that experiencing emotions like this is quite disabling. We-.

    Alert!

    I warp down as space distorts in a straight line between her shifted right hand and my former position. Not a singularity weapon, but something not too far from it. That's the nice thing about shapeshifting body weapons: you don't need perfect emotional balance to use them.

    Ring, message Lantern K'ryssma and ask her where she is.

    Compliance.

    A barrage of pulse plasma shots slam into my construct armour, but that's not-.

    "-stop you-"

    I use a magnetron construct to deflect the grains of anti-matter she just fired at me, then fire a solid slug from my new railgun construct to detonate them once they're a little further away.

    "-because-"

    Two construct guns open fire with a mix of phasic rounds and crumblers.

    "-it's not-"

    She warps-.

    Quash.

    She shudders as the gravitational shear and x-rays tear at her armour and the body beneath it and that's why we don't do short FTL hops in combat! My shots hit home, the phasic rounds keeping her honest while the crumblers actually make progress abrading her armour.

    "A power ring doesn't magically fix inadequacy. Stand down."

    Her armour grows in response, additional thrusters appearing on her arms and legs as she spirals in an evasive pattern. It's not enough to dodge all of my shots, but she dodges enough that her armour manages to regenerate a little more.

    But I watch carefully and crumbler and assimilate!

    Four thick orange strands attach themselves to her armour, orange light flaring. I don't think that the self destruct will take the novelty ring with it, but if it does I doubt that the Green Lanterns will care. They mostly just want to keep-

    She flares with green light.

    Connection lost.

    -it-.

    Ah-right.

    She generates a chain construct and I stop cocking about. A giant orange beam smashes into her, eradicating her construct, twisting and breaking her thrusters and knocking her back at considerable speed.

    A volley of phasic rounds just in case, then a series of shots of focused wounding intent which pierce her armour in three places, blood spurting out before freeze-boiling in the vacuum.

    And then she forms a gun and fires a volley at the planet below us.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2021
  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th August 2012
    22:32 GMT


    Point defence constructs appear behind me, tiny pellets of matter firing at high speed to intercept what is almost certainly-. The anti-matter plasma detonates the moment the matter intersects with it. I didn't get the quantities quite right, but that should disperse it enough that it merely makes a large blast when it hits the atmosphere-proper. She tries taking a shot directly at me, but constructs don't contain matter and it's simple enough to contain it in a construct vessel.

    Then my construct shears cut her gun off at the elbow.

    She's still glowing, so I guess the gun was-.

    The explosion washes over me, whatever anti-matter was still in the gun losing containment! The radiation isn't much of a problem, and there's no shockwave in space, but my construct armour has a few cracks in it by the time the energy wave passes over me. Nothing like the detonation of a power ring, so I'm assuming that she's wearing it somewhere-.

    I'm assuming that she was wearing it somewhere else.

    It looks like between the hole made by her arm-stump, the holes I punched and the fact that she was much closer than me to the detonation… She's somewhat cooked. Still alive -if barely- but not in any condition to actually fight. The gun arm… Yeah, a containment breach. Can't have been much anti-matter, because the arm is still recognisably arm-shaped.

    This is an opportunity.

    The host is in a coma, while the Scarab itself is at least somewhat active. It should be possible for me to remove it chirurgically as it looks like it's been forced into shutdown while still being functional enough that we could gain useful intelligence from it. I can't risk assimilating it, but...

    Hm.

    I could try altering its desires indirectly with orange light manipulation. I haven't tried that yet, and they might not be designed to self-destruct when I do that. I don’t think that the Reach have any experience with that technique.

    The armour is slowly growing back over the holes. I think that's an automatic thing, but just in case…

    No. Just get the ring. There are other Scarabs.

    The green light is at its most intense in the middle of her chest, behind the strongest part of her armour. Makes sense, but a precise application of crumbler probes there and there, and a small x-ionised blade…

    Another spray of vaporised blood and the ring comes free, along with a chunk of armour and… Genetic scan? Modified duthellian tissue. Probably not a volunteer, then. Probably as brain dead as the ship crew. The ring looks about as it did in its former display case, though now it's got a little more of a glow to it.

    I raise my right hand.

    Come to me.

    The ring gleams and begins drifting my way-

    "Illustres?"

    -while the Scarab Warrior's armour bulges with shifting armour plates and semi-organic cables. I think the Scarab is trying to bypass the damaged tissue, but they're not really intended to work like that. I let the ring settle onto my right ring finger, the environmental shield fighting against my orange one for a moment before being put in its place.

    "Illustres here. Are you in one piece, K'ryssma?"

    "I will heal. Do you have the ring?"

    "Yes."

    I look at the new ring on my finger. Guy let me fiddle with his ring a grand total of once. I could… Sort of make constructs, but they were… Not great. Abstract mental focus isn't a skill I've really developed. Still, I can manage a basic-.

    Warning! Unnatural Mental Influence detected!

    A rotating cube construct that… Agh, every cube in my-. Off off off!

    The cube vanishes in a puff of green.

    I look down at the ring.

    Before I left, the Green Lantern comics were… Increasingly showing the Guardians as… Dodgy. The Alpha Lanterns were the worst thing I remember them intentionally doing… I don't know. I haven't gotten the impression that the local Guardians are like that. But… Larfleeze exists here. So they've been lying about that. Hinon confirmed that the Massacre of Sector 666 happened.

    And this ring just tried to hotwire my brain into making better constructs. Better green constructs.

    "Yes, I've got it."

    How trusting do I feel right now? I mean, K'ryssma hasn't been particular honest with me about what's going on, and… Frankly, the Guardians abdicated any responsibility regarding the Reach when they signed their treaty. And I… Really don't want to have to deal with Guardians in evil mode. This ring looks like something that could end up taking them in some very unpleasant directions. But they've already got the technology anyway, and making an issue out of this might worsen relations between our organisations. I should probably-.

    [​IMG]

    "And I'm sending it to Maltus. Invite the Guardians to address any complaints to the Controllers, and remind them that a little honesty goes a long way."

    "That is not yours to take."

    I look at it. I could make it orange, but that might damage it.

    "The Controllers gave the ship back, didn't they? I put the work in, so I'm claiming the reward. If you want my help in future, start by being honest. End."

    I look around local space. Doesn't look like the Reach shot at anything not on the planet's surface.

    "Illustres to Lantern Drusa. Cruiser and Scarab Warrior neutralised. Please secure the remains of the Reach ships in the hold of one of our cargo ships. Dump other cargo if you have to; those are going to L.E.G.I.O.N. intelligence."

    "And the Scarab?"

    I generate a construct chirurgical unit, blades at the ready. I've seen our data on removing Scarabs, and… It's never been done entirely successfully. If I keep her alive I could have our wizards take a stab at it, but I think that's taking an unnecessary risk. Find the Scarab, find the Scarab… Ah, they actually put it in the skull rather than on the upper spine this time, how creative. Crumble the built-up armour around the head, insert construct nutrient feeds into the brain…

    Good.

    Take a snapshot of the brain. They might… Would they have had to leave this one a bit more compos mentis than the others? Not sure. Examining Scarab Warriors post mortem is always a little difficult. The Darkstars didn't bother trying to keep them in one piece before I arrived, and it hasn't become more of a priority now that they theoretically can.

    Three, two, stab and shield!

    And I have a brain. The Scarab should register the host's death a second later, but if I use an animation suspension-.

    The Scarab atomises.

    Though I'm pleased to note that a lot of the armour stays in one piece this time. Too badly damaged to fully self-destruct? Worth knowing.

    Next step, then. These remains and this brain go onto a cargo ship in the most secure storage unit I can build, then I'm heading back to the planet to do some arm twisting.
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2021
  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th August 2012
    22:39 GMT


    "…that the Reach has disavowed any-."

    "Good." I fly in through the hole shot in the office building where our peace talks have been taking place. "Because you weren't getting your money's worth."

    The Negotiator appears to take my reappearance in his stride, though whether that's because he was confident I would win anyway or because he would have been in more political difficulty if the people he disavowed had I'm not sure. Miss Arfat on the other hand flutters her eyelids in what for the gyuanite is an expression of profound relief.

    "They are dead?"

    "The ships we detected and the scarab warrior accompanying them are all destroyed. I took some of the crew as constructs but there's little going on in their minds. There'll be no point in interrogating them."

    She nods. "Salvage rights are of course awarded to your people, and a monetary sum will be deposited in your account to reflect the harm you have avenged."

    "Thank you, but-" I give the Negotiator a hard look. "-until I know who actually ordered this, I can hardly count the job as completed."

    "Rest assured that the Reach will deal with this off-mode element internally. Compensation will be paid to the families of the victims of this counter-canon mission." His eyes move to my right hand. "I see that you recovered the ring."

    "No. I salvaged it. You're certainly not getting it."

    "We never 'had' it. As I stated, the individuals behind the operation were doing so contrary to standing rules of process. Do you wish to continue these negotiations, or do you consider your mission here to be complete?"

    It.. sort of is. I mean, I imagine that between my reassurances, my actions just now and their own anti-interventionist tendencies that the locals will be grateful enough to maintain our current relationship. And having a Reach ship kill a large number of non-combatants isn't going to endear the Reach to the people of Yuna. I only started talking as a distraction, so…

    I shrug nonchalantly.

    "Since we're both here. You know the Reach. Your culture already changed massively when you negotiated your treaty with the Green Lantern Corps, and I imagine that there were a lot of Reach military officers who didn't like that. Is that something your people would do again? Could they do it again? Is there… Any chance that N.E.M.O. could get anything like an acceptable deal in our current situation?"

    "At this time I think it unlikely that the Hivemasters will be willing to accept the terms you proposed."

    "Thank you! A straight answer!" I shrug. "But then there probably isn't any point." I nod to Miss Arfat. "Thank you for trying. In the unlikely event that we attempt a negotiated solution again, I'll be sure to come back here. I'll be available to your government for the next seven days in order for us to formalise our ongoing trading relationship, but under the circumstances… I think that a.. recess is in order."

    She nods.

    "I will make the necessary arrangements."

    I nod, raise my index and forefinger to my forehead and then do a regular transition to the spaceport landing platform which the Free Lancers are using.

    The place is somewhat shot up, indentations and scorch marks in the super hard surface marking where the Scarab Warrior unleashed her arsenal. Or… I suppose it could have been Lantern K'ryssma; I don't have any information on what sort of constructs she prefers.

    "Blimey."

    Harrow purses his lips as he strolls out of his ship's force field envelope and takes a look around.

    "Glad I kept my nose out of that one." He looks at me. "Is she still alive, by any chance?"

    "Yes."

    "Oh, good show! Since you've clearly gotten the ring I'm not too worried about you, but the Green Lantern Corps get a bit narked when one of them dies."

    "This…" I raise my right hand. "Was what the Reach wanted?"

    "The local Negotiator is my usual contact. They've been on the lookout for things that can fight Lanterns for a while now." He wrinkles his nose. "They don't usually use a Scarab to handle things."

    "So you didn't get paid?"

    "What?" He looks bemused. "Of course I didn't get paid. The Reach are usually really good about paying independent contractors, but when someone goes rogue it's tough luck. Not like I expect you to give it to me."

    "Good, because I'm not going to."

    "No. Interesting you didn't give it to that Green Lantern, though."

    "There are some issues to work out on inter-Corps cooperation. And on that subject, if you should come across anything the Reach would be interested in, we're happy to counter-bid."

    "I will certainly bear that in mind, Illustres. I thank you in advance for your future custom."

    I nod. "I'd say that I'm sympathetic for your loss…"

    "But that would be a lie." He shrugs. "The price of doing business. We price it in."

    "I'm sure that attitude has helped you immensely in your chosen career. Farewell."

    I raise my fingers to my forehead once more and transition again, this time reappearing next to Lantern Drusa inside our trade mission building.

    "Illustres."

    "Everything packed up?"

    "Yes." She nods. "And they had offloaded enough cargo that we didn't need to dump anything." Her eyes alight on the ring. "Is that it?"

    I hold it up. "Yes. Though I wouldn't recommend trying to use it. It does something to boost the strength of constructs. It wasn't a problem for me, but I doubt that would be the case for most people."

    "What do you intend to do with it? Keep it?"

    "No. Ring, contact Controller Hinon."

    "Compliance."

    Her face appears almost immediately.

    "Yes?"

    "I've got the ring. I assume that you want to take a look at it?"

    "That would be pleasant. Meadlux wasn't involved in early power ring adaptation efforts. It could be instructive to see what he considered to be an 'improvement'." She regards me for a moment. "I hope you didn't have to tread on too many toes to get hold of it?"

    "Not too many. See you in a week."
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2021
  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th August 2012
    12:51 GMT


    "Ships?" Alonzo looks at me with an expression of concern. "I thought that you were building your own?"

    I nod. "We are. But I've recently found that we're in a situation that means we need more ships a little faster than I thought we did."

    "Is someone.. invading Vega? And you think they've got enough force that they can beat you?" I nod. "Who, the Spiders?"

    "Another version of myself, leading a fleet of gordanians."

    "Another-?" He shakes his head. "A.. clone-?"

    "I don't know. My father might have cloned me, but I'm reluctant to ask him due to him paying us more attention being far worse than anything else that could happen."

    Alonzo purses his lips.

    "You..? Ah. Don't suppose-?"

    "What, that I'm the clone?" I shrug. "Could be. It's not something I intend to be sensitive about if it's true. Whatever he and I share, we're both our own men now. If either of us even is a clone. For all I know DeSaad cut us in half at some point and then regrew the missing halves."

    He blinks.

    "Can your people do that?"

    "With the right equipment. I mean, with the right equipment so could you-."

    "But my other half isn't coming to Vega with a fleet. And boom tubes, I assume."

    "Oh, he's definitely got boom tubes. Don't know if he's got hush tubes or not, but that just means that you'd have twenty seconds notice rather than none." I fan out my right hand. "Now, there is an argument that you shouldn't help me. The other Grayven has no personal vendetta against you, and if you surrender promptly might even leave you in charge of Euphorix. If you chose to take that route I'll try obfuscating where the Euphorians working for me came from, but ultimately I don't know how like me he is. He might want to do something more extreme to emphasise his domination, and even if he doesn't he might want to appoint his own governor."

    "But you'll leave us to it."

    "I don't have time to do anything else. I'm already making unfavourable agreements to get what I need to stop him-. Incidentally, that's involved giving power rings to Pren and Kalista."

    "What?"

    "That was what Oswin wanted in exchange for his help. I don't think they can brute force your shield with them-" A safe assumption given that they can barely fly at the moment. "-but if they were so inclined it would make finding a way to bypass it much easier. And of course you've lost plausible deniability on the Euphorians already working for me. The Queen knows that you know that the Citadel is gone."

    "That's… Unfortunate…" He leans back. "Ah, I suppose it was inevitable. She's an intelligent woman."

    "Apparently, the Omega Men had been passing intelligence to the Crown Imperium for years."

    "So now the Crown Imperium wants a compliant puppet ruler."

    "A local ally who isn't frantically trying to rebuild their world. I doubt that Kalista would accept being a puppet, but I also doubt that the relationship would be one of equals."

    "And you want our ships."

    "I know that Euphorix had a fleet. I know that you didn't use it when Tamaran was conquered, which means that you either sent it to the breakers' yard when you cashiered your naval personnel, or you mothballed it. Since I'm already employing a large proportion of your old navy, manning the ships isn't a problem. So the question is, do you still have them, and what do you want for them?"

    "I should probably start with a power ring."

    "Okay, orange power rings make people insane. I don't care what happens to Pren or Kalista and the Tamaraneans can mostly handle it. You want one? Fine, but make sure that your will is up to date because if you flip out I will appoint your successor myself, and I will publicise that it happened."

    He frowns.

    "Insane how?"

    "They condition you to act on your desires. All of them, all the time. And they amp the intensity of those desires up-."

    He's already nodding. "Tamaranean, yes, yes. But you manage it."

    "I'm a god. My nature is written into the structure of the universe."

    "I'm not some substitious cargo cultist; I know perfectly well that's not how gods work."

    "We call ourselves 'New Gods' because when we come into our full power we take an attribute of the Source into ourselves. We don't emerge from the Dream or the thaumosphere of a particular world. We work everywhere." Ah. "You do know that the Source exists, right?"

    "I'm aware of a set of phenomena that some people refer to as being the work of a supreme divine being, certainly."

    I wave my right hand and shake my head. "I couldn't tell you if it's actually self-aware or not, but it's powerful and it shares a portion of that power with us. If one of your magicians tried altering me with magic, the spell would probably fail. That's testable, but if you want to study me in detail I'd rather-."

    "Yes, this isn't the time for a theological debate. So I'd be taking my sanity into my own hands. But if I don't, Kalista will be a war heroine twice over and I won't."

    "Or she'll be dead or insane. Look, if you're worried about losing your job I'm perfectly happy to give you a new one. If you want to keep control of Euphorix, now's the time to begin transitioning to a different government structure."

    He frowns. "Like what?"

    "Ah, there are a number of countries on my adopted homeworld where the monarch is in theory head of state but all actual political power rests in another office. You not being regent any more wouldn't be a problem if you… Were Prime Minister in a set up where that office wasn't dependent on the monarch's approval."

    "No, the nobility would never accept it."

    "Simple then: establish a deliberative body and give each noble family a single seat. If they gain power themselves, they're less likely to complain about you gaining some as well."

    "If I have to get their approval for everything, that's never going to work."

    "And they'll realise that, and won't complain about some powers being invested in the executive. You'll have less power than you do now, but you'll have Kalista-proofed it. Let's be honest: she never exactly had her finger on the pulse, did she?"

    He considers that for a moment.

    "You want ships?"

    "I want ships."

    He taps on his computer, bringing up the relevant files.

    "We broke up some of them, and turned a few others into museums. But the rest are sitting in a military depot in our driest desert, just in case we needed them again. We're maintaining them, but they will need a once-over before you fly them away-. I assume that you'll be removing them by boom tube?"

    I nod. "I've got a macro tube generator in my home base."

    "But people will notice them going. There are already questions about the disappearance of so many veterans."

    "What do people think has happened?"

    "The most pervasive rumour is that I'm getting ready to follow Queen Kalista to war-." He sniffs. "Which is probably what I'm going to have to do if I want to secure my position. What are you offering?"

    "I was assuming a free trade and mutual defence treaty, but I can throw in a share of salvage and colonisation rights."

    He nods.

    "We can negotiate a fair price when we know more about what I can actually provide. Let me talk to some people. You'll get your ships."

    He sighs.

    "And we're finally going to war."
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2021
  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    20th August 2012
    08:12 GMT


    "Oh, is that all."

    I can't help but sag slightly as Hinon studies the novel ring floating above her right hand.

    "Not that interesting?"

    "Aside from possibly implying that Guardian Meadlux was intending to have children, no. Do you want one like it in orange? I know you were used to having two rings."

    "Children?"

    "Yes? We were once what you would call 'standard pattern humanoids'. We customarily reproduced in the standard fashion. I myself remain perfectly capable of having children."

    "You told me that you don't have children 'to give the rest of us a chance'."

    "A slightly flippant but essentially accurate answer. But maltusian children are extremely energy-intensive to raise. With a human infant a human parent must worry about protecting it from the environment as it will die if it becomes too hot or too cold. Maltusian infants have the power of we adults but not our hard-won control. Or our experience."

    I nod.

    "I can see why that sort of power in the hands of a baby could be a problem. Particularly on a world where not everyone is as tough as you."

    "Socially, the difference in experience was probably a more significant factor. Creating a crèche world would hardly be a great trial for us. We spoke of the vast difference in life experience between you and I?"

    "Yes."

    "If you sired a child, then within thirty years they would be nearly as old as you are now. And I imagine that you would expect them to be mentally more or less on your level by then. Humans tend to begin losing their faculties in their… Seventies?"

    "It.. varies, but yes, at that age, without this ring, I would expect to be physically and mentally less capable."

    "We never do. But our children are only as experienced as yours would be. Thirty or forty years is an easily bridgeable gulf. A million? A maltusian child born now would have more in common with you."

    "Are.. you.. coming on to me?"

    "No, but if I ever completely take leave of my senses, I may call upon your services as a childminder."

    I grin.

    "You know, I'm actually up for that. So… This ring: it's just the maltusian equivalent of stabilisers on a child's bike?"

    "That's the base he was working from. The design which allows younger races like yours to use the glow grew from that, but it seems that he went back to the original and tried a different approach." She shakes her head and slips the ring into her robes. "There were perfectly good reasons why we didn't take this approach the first time around, but perhaps he thought that he could do a better job of it."

    "You worked on the first power rings?"

    "No, as I said, the first rings were made as tools for the education of our children. I worked on the adaptation of that technology, which became a good deal more important once the Manhunters proved themselves so unreliable."

    "Who was it that programmed them again?"

    She looks at me, mildly affronted.

    "Don't look at me. The only part I played in that was to approve a trial run. If I'd been running the project, there would have been a Guardian on-site to monitor them."

    "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to imply that you were personally at fault."

    She looks away again.

    "Don't mention it."

    "I've always been a bit puzzled about how that happened. I mean, I don't always agree with the Guardians' decisions, but setting loose an army of robots without any monitoring, with programming that could lead them to conclude that killing every living thing in a Space Sector was a reasonable thing to do… That suggests incompetence, and that's not something I associate the Guardians with."

    "I never got a straight answer either. The Guardians involved seemed to be… We don’t really do bewildered, but the next best thing, about the whole issue."

    "Other Guardians."

    "Given that that was the day I left, I think I can reasonably exclude myself."

    "Alright. So: the ring. Why did it make those Green Lanterns act up?"

    "As you know, the Guardians elected to use the green light due to the fact that out of all of the colours it has the least effect on the mind of the user. 'Least' isn't the same as 'none'."

    "Right, but in a normal Lantern it's barely noticeable."

    "Thank you. It's nice that my efforts are appreciated. This ring rather does away with all of the safeties."

    "Because why would children need those?"

    "Maltusian children don't need the same sort of safeties that younger species do. A normal power ring uses its colour at several steps removed. The light itself, the Central Power Battery, the Personal Lantern and then finally the ring. Dealing with any of the lights directly exposes a mind to everything about that emotion, not merely that emotion as it exists in the user's mind."

    "And that's what that ring does?"

    "No, but it's closer to that than is a good idea for mortal Lanterns."

    "How about for me?"

    "Oh, you could certainly use it. I'm just not convinced that you would still be you afterwards. You recall what you were like while merged with the Ophidian?"

    I frown.

    "Yes, but I still knew the difference between our desires and the desires of the people around me."

    "Do you want to forget that?"

    "No, that sounds like a bad idea. I assume the stabiliser ring didn’t have that functionality?"

    "No, they predate our use of the glow. The similarity is more or less incidental."

    "Would they work for someone else? Say, if Lantern Gardner wanted to bond with Ion without being overwhelmed?"

    "Not… Exactly, though it could help him if Ion merely volunteered to augment him. Why?"

    "Oh, just asking in case." I smile at her. "Thank you, Controller Hinon. I need to go and report to Dox."
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2021
  23. Threadmarks: Onslaught
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Onslaught

    20th August 2012
    15:22 GMT


    Xor is impassive as I look down at what was once the Alignment's largest military prison.

    "Were they all on trumped up charges like you?"

    "Many. Not all. We do not adapt well. We have a place for them. Those who were simply-" He sneers. "-evil, I killed."

    "Good show. How are things back on the homeworld?"

    "Anarchic. They eat one another in their panic." He hesitates. "Not literally."

    "You get to a point like this, and I honestly have trouble working out how they got this far."

    "Momentum, and the sacrifice of souls worthier than theirs."

    I nod.

    "Have you planned for the aftermath?"

    "No. Onigar and her friends are planning for the aftermath. I know my strengths."

    I nod. Fair enough. He's only in his teens.

    "So what do you see yourself doing once the fighting is over?"

    "I see myself becoming High Tribune, because that is what she has told me that I should do. I think I will like it."

    I nod, and then frown as I stare into space.

    "So are they actually coming, or-?"

    The Alignment's fleet flashes-. Ah, no, I'm too used to L.E.G.I.O.N.'s way of doing things, the sort of precision a fleet dreamed up by a coluan and a Weaponer can muster. A handful of destroyers flash into normal space. Then there's a pause. Then a battleship. Then a couple of cruisers. Then it… Basically stops.

    "On your word, Lantern Xor."

    "We wait until their flagship appears."

    The ships move, repositioning themselves into something approaching a combat formation. Xor's people had mostly been operating as a paramilitary organisation. Heh, with an interesting twist. Xor's fixation with justice has led to them singling out particularly malfeasant state agents and publicising their misdeeds. And usually killing them in public. Which has led to the Alignment government running into a problem that they can't deal with: control of all data networks means nothing when you're fighting against someone with a power ring. Most people aren't violently rebelling, but…

    The ruling regime has finally hit an approval rating of zero.

    It reminds me a little of Khandaq, actually. By the end, there wasn't any question that Adom would be ruling the country. Even the soldiers of the army he defeated… Those who he didn't tear apart, didn't really try and resist him taking political authority. When that happens, people will rally around whoever the opposition is. And that's something else the Alignment doesn't know how to deal with. Whereas before they would send Warhounds after groups that got too organised, now they've lost almost all of those Warhounds to those groups. The regular fleet and army are still apparently following orders, but opposition groups win those fights on the ground and they're not quite ready to bombard their own industrial planets from orbit.

    Or rather, they can't risk the fleet refusing to obey the order. Because as… Someone in the Honor Harrington series said, fleets are commanded by people. People who don't want to be shot dead by their own marines, or hanged by the incoming government while the population cheers.

    Another cluster of destroyers appear, along with a… Battle cruiser? Ah, they're selecting ships for political loyalty. And to be fair, there's probably enough firepower coming to kill Xor. His people have been avoiding going directly against the Alignment fleet for the practical reason that they don't have the ships. But with Xor openly seizing control of Industrial Penal Colony A-17 the Alignment had to do something.

    "This is the colony they were sending you to, right?"

    "Onigar said it was poetic. It feels right to me as-"

    Three battleships appear at the rear of the fleet. All gunboats, because with the Alignment's all-lightspeed weapon setup and high speed there's little point using carriers. The battleship on the left

    "-well. We attack."

    We're both already moving as he gives the order, light speed rapid-traverse turrets mounted on all of the ships of the Alignment fleet sending flicking beams through space to try and catch us. It takes them seconds to reach us and at the speeds we can move that almost guarantees a miss. Against a Green Lantern it might work because Green Lantern doctrine emphasises holding your ground and that makes them easier to hit. It's not a terrible idea against a small fleet and when the Lantern in question is acting in a policing capacity, as it demonstrates the Lantern's strength and desire to avoid destruction. But since we're resolved to kill most of these people it doesn't really work for us.

    The battleships are targeting IPC A-17 with their main guns, but we've already evacuated the settlements. Including the guards, as Lantern Xor found the idea of punishing people unjustly to be completely revolting. They'll fire, and in a couple of hours what little biosphere the planet has will be largely destroyed.

    But the fight here will be over in minutes and intercepting the shots won't be any great challenge.

    First a quick check that the people on the flagship have this coming. Mm, mostly, which is about as good as we're going to get. This isn't the Citadel Complex. These people are free-willed, and while many of them could be reformed it's equally true that many of them could have chosen to live different lives.

    Xor is already heading for the fleet, orange pulses flying towards the ships agile enough to do anything meaningful. I go for speed instead, jinking my way around the larger ships' arc of fire as I head for the flag ship. Railguns appear, targeting the shields on the largest ships. The Alignment tend to use bubble shields, so they're a little stronger than area defence shields but when they go down

    Respect to their gunnery computers, they manage to intercept quite a lot of my shots. Since I'm closing the distance the to-target time is dropping to the point where they are actually hitting me, but that's what the construct armour with the reflective coating is for. They can't switch their whole fleet to focused orange beams without doing a lot more work than they have shipyards for, so while I'm not getting complacent

    Crumbler rounds get through and shield envelopes start collapsing, though I avoid hitting the flagship just yet. Those shields need to stay up for this to work. Xor takes advantage by firing beams of orange light at the newly exposed ships, but I settle for sniping their sensors. That should make their fire less accurate… Slightly, anyway.

    "Final approach."

    The flag ship is evading with commendable speed given its mass, but it's not exactly Lantern-fast. I target main engines

    step out

    and appear up the bridge, beams of orange light piercing the heads of each of the officers on duty. A construct fortress door appears in front of each of the points of egress, and then a Dominator portal generator appears out of subspace.

    Fascinating devices. And the Khundian I bought that computer core from was right about them being rather proactive about the defence of their intellectual property. But the generators aren't that easy to detect remotely, especially at infantry scale. Dominators don't use them in this way; they're just as squishy as the rest of us and prefer long ranged combat. But since our infantry is tough enough to survive passage through a portal which liberally douses them with exotic radiation, why not use it?

    Warhounds storm out onto the bridge of the only capital ship in the fleet that still has functioning shields. The first four stand guard at the cardinal points, then the next wave of older and more experienced Warhounds come through and take the bridge stations, tossing the still-warm corpses aside.

    The one at the command station is one of Lantern Xor's first recruits, and he smiles as the computer acknowledges his stolen command codes.

    "Target the battleships and open fire."
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2021
  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    20th August 2012
    15:26 GMT


    Due to their focus on speed and manoeuvrability, Alignment warships tend to skimp on armour. They're not fragile per se, as their generators are more than powerful enough to maintain a strong shield bubble as well as power their drives and weapons. However, their doctrine calls for a strategic withdrawal before their shields get anywhere near the point of collapse. Our neighbours are attempting to do that even now, but battleship-fast isn't fast in any absolute sense.

    Which means that when our main guns turn starboard, target amidships and fire, the side of the closest battleship melts.

    External kibble evaporates, metal and ceramic plates vaporise and capacitors explode as the ship sags and shifts sideways. Hurriedly refocused sensor arrays on our ship show systems on the opposite side of the wound from the main generators start losing power, and the bubble shield won't re-engage without the emitters that are now either molten or without power. Local generators are designed to power thrusters and point defences, so a lot of that ship is now mission killed.

    Fire is coming back at us, but our shield is easily strong enough to cope with it. The main guns from the other battleships are the only things out there that can hurt us quickly, and Lantern Xor is targeting them individually. The main threat to us is already on this ship, in the form of the crew who are probably a bit curious about why we're shooting at an ally.

    A Warhound marine detail comes through the portal next, their leader nodding to me as they split up and prepare to assault the rest of the ship. There…

    I scan. Yes, that makes sense.

    I send a crew summary to their personal computers. No Warhounds, just normal soldiers occupying the Warhound berths. The standard weapons for soldiers expecting to fight Warhounds is a one point eight metre long high pressure plasma beam projector that's completely impractical for shipboard operations but is just about the only thing that isn't another Warhound they've got that can hurt them. With main internal communications under our control and the element of surprise, this isn't going to be a difficult fight.

    "You have the bridge."

    The new captain nods as the capacitors for the ship's main guns finish recharging and the guns fire again. The wound in our neighbour has now cleaved to the centre line, its primary weapons dead. I

    step out

    and appear on the bridge of the battleship on the port side. They were targeted by the port side weapons, but the aim there was to take the main guns off line rather than break the hull in half.

    "Lock-!"

    Another barrage of orange kills the bridge crew, a moment of resistance from the internal shields being the only impediment. Alignment internal shields are designed to help marines fight off attackers, but they're not designed to fight off the sort of overwhelming power I can bring to bear. And the layout doesn't appear to be intended to help with teleport attacks.

    Another portal out of subspace, and another Warhound detachment emerges.

    "Sorry, they locked it all down." Filaments connect me to the bridge computer systems as I work to bypass the electronic aspect of the lockout. "The crew will be-"

    The central bridge doors slam open and a group of marines stomp into the room, raising their guns and getting orange pulses through their faceplates for their trouble.

    "-alert and active."

    The leader nods.

    "Understood." She hefts her gun, the other Warhounds forming up on her. "We'll clear the ship manually. There is no point trying to self-destruct if they're alert."

    "Best wishes."

    I

    step out, returning to

    normal space inside the bridge of the battle cruiser. Another volley of shots and another dead crew. The lockdown warning might have been transmitted on fleetwide communications, and trying to take ships that don't have shields is a bit of a risk. I raise my left arm, a great coruscating pillar of orange leaping upwards and punching through the ceiling, through the deck above that and the deck above that until it finally exits the hull. Then I slowly move my arm anticlockwise, cutting through the ship.

    Ring, internal communications.

    Compliance.

    "Illustres to Alignment crew. I am destroying this ship. Get to the escape pods and you will be detained for trial. Remain, and die. End."

    Compliance.

    This ship lost its force field bubble, and as far as I can tell it doesn't have a separate environmental containment shield. Air is being sucked out of the widening hole in the hull as I keep cutting. Not particularly quickly -the pressure difference is only one atmosphere- but there's nothing quite like the stuff you breathe audibly vanishing when you're not wearing a space suit to motivate a person to move.

    The ship twists and screams as I reach the nine o'clock position. And of course being able to see the stars out of the giant hole in the wall does something similar. At least the crew have clamps on their boots.

    Six o'clock and the lights flicker as the connection to the primary generators is severed across most of the ship. I keep going though, until ring scans show that the ship is going to keep tearing itself apart with its own momentum. Then I

    step out and

    reappear next to Lantern Xor.

    "Everything going well?"

    "The large ships-" He charges a shot as we fly towards where the cruisers are frantically backing away and trying to charge their faster than light drives. "-are defeated."

    The closest cruiser is struck in the front of its shield bubble which fractures and fails, the shot carrying on and obliterating the front portion of the ship.

    "Now all that remains is to complete the destruction."

    "No, wait. I need the practice."

    He frowns as I

    step out, re-emerging

    at the point at which they entered the system.

    I can see their lights, shifting between fear and discipline as they try to make this a withdrawal rather than a flight. A little deeper and I can see their motives, mostly a mixture of peer pressure and self interest. Few psychopaths or other innately evil people. Much like I thought.

    I raise my hands, pointing at the ships heading in my direction. My palms glow with orange light as I compass their ending. I reach out, orange hands forming around the two uppermost cruisers and squeezing, their shields bucking and failing moments before their hulls do the same. I move my hands down-.

    The next one on the left is frantically signalling its surrender. I nod and move past it, crushing the next two ships. I move the hands again-.

    Signals of surrender from all remaining ships.

    "Lantern Xor, I believe that the day is won. What would you have me do?"

    "Illustres, please intercept the shots made at the colony. We will need somewhere to put these prisoners."

    I nod, smiling faintly.

    "On my way now."
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2021
  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd August 2012
    16:44 GMT


    I finish reading the missive, then raise my eyebrows as I look up at Onigar.

    "Genuine?"

    "The bodies of quite a few members of the government are hanging from the walls of the State Security headquarters." She nods. "My father is still on the planet, and his contacts have confirmed as much of this as they can."

    "Surprisingly quick." I nod. "Which means this is more a palace coup than a sudden outbreak of revolutionary zeal. Someone in the old guard thinks they can survive while keeping the old system going if they dump enough of their old colleagues over the side."

    "That was my conclusion. Fortunately, I have a tireless advocate of justice to call upon." There's a very brief flash of uncertainty. "I assume that I do have him to call on?"

    "I wish you and Lantern Xor every happiness together?"

    "That's-. Thank you, but that isn't what I meant. The Orange Lantern Corps is fighting a war. With the majority of the fighting here over, I assume that you will want Xalitan to travel to Maltus."

    "How does he feel about it?"

    "He feels intensely obliged to you. He would go, if you asked. And… I've read the files on his ring about the Reach. They are.. worse than the Alignment has ever been."

    "That's objectively true. But it's long been my belief that the orange light is extremely subjective. If this is where he wants to be, it would be churlish of me to try and insist that he leave."

    "He doesn't see it that way. He sees you as his superior officer."

    "Well then… Consider that the war with the Reach won't last forever. Eventually, over the bodies of many comrades, we will pull the whole edifice down." I shrug. "Then what?"

    "You will have to rebuild."

    "Rebuild what? The Reach? With an army of Lanterns whose greatest desire is to destroy them?"

    "The.. people they enslaved?"

    "If there are any left, but I doubt that most Lanterns will have the visceral attachment to them. The Reach don't maintain slave populations. We won't have to go far into Reach space before we stop finding other species. I imagine that we'll have fixed all that we can well before the Reach finally collapses."

    I shake my head.

    "I imagine that most Orange Lanterns will want to quit. To go and return to their recaptured worlds and try to have a life. Some might keep their rings, but they're not going to want to live under military discipline. So how will that work? That's one of the things I want Lantern Xor to work out in advance."

    "Xalitan would happily live under military discipline his entire life."

    "He doesn't need to tell any of the others that."

    "What's.. wrong with the Green Lantern's Sector system?"

    "Nothing, if you're a Green Lantern. Maybe nothing if you're Orange. We don't know yet. I'd like to have Lantern Xor doing this sort of work so that we've got a worked example to draw on. When we get to that stage I'm probably going to send a few Lanterns this way for retraining, but otherwise, unless the Reach get to the point where they're actually pushing onto Maltus itself I'd rather that Lantern Xor stay here."

    She nods. "Thank you."

    "Serving your interests serves my interests, which is how this should work. Though going back to your revised government structure…"

    "Yes?"

    "There's a country called 'Russia' on my world that went through a couple of traumatic government changes during the last century. And whether it had a monarch, a communist dictatorship or a representative democracy, the fundamental character of the place remained much the same. People are going to try going back to the old way of doing things."

    She nods. "And Xalitan will stop them, until eventually they learn not to."

    I nod. "Good show. The L.E.G.I.O.N. fleet is lurking nearby just in case you need them, but it's probably best if this remains an internal matter."

    "I agree, but thank you for your foresight." She walks over to the view screen showing the work being done to bring the captured ships back into working order. Xor's doing the lion's share of the heavy lifting; the revolution hasn't captured any space docks yet and so their engineers are mostly limited to internal repairs. "Do you think… Returning in warships sends the right message?"

    "'We took these guys with little effort, how lucky do you feel?' Yes, I think that's an excellent message. I mean, don't try and govern from one…"

    "But people need to know that we are strong enough to maintain order until things are settled."

    "Just so." I nod. "Have Lantern Xor send me a message if you need me for anything."

    I raise my right hand to my forehead,

    step out

    22nd August 2012
    11:47 GMT -5


    and reappear-.

    There's a crackle, a small explosion, and a billow of decidedly toxic smoke.

    "Thaddeus?"

    "Heh." Thaddeus Sivana Junior kicks a smouldering box under his work bench. "However did that get there?"

    "Are you really that bored?"

    "No, I'm not… Bored. Merely… Undirected." He kicks whatever that was, and there's a loud crackle! "Agh!"

    He hops backwards a pace, clutching his right leg, as Georgia pokes her head around the door.

    "Paul! Are you looking for Father?"

    "Not specifically."

    "Good." She walks into the room. "Because he and Mother are… On a date."

    "So they're..? Getting on?"

    Staying on one leg, Thaddeus Junior takes a spray can of some sort out of a wall-mounted box and sprays his injured leg. He then cautiously puts his foot back on the ground before returning the can to the box.

    "Yes."

    "And how do you… Both.. feel about that?"

    "I… Guess it's good."

    Georgia ducks her head, glancing aside. Thaddeus turns to her with a frown.

    "What?"

    "If neither of you are busy?" They both look at me. "How would you like to visit Maltus?"
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2021
  26. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd August 2012
    20:02 GMT -7


    I look into the audience as I trot out onto the stage. Full to overflowing, which is a little surprising given the topic under discussion. And the fact that… Well, ponies know that I'm involved with the innovations in their military, the recent resurgence of Earth Pony magic and… With their princess, but without modern media it's a little hard to work out exactly how much of an awareness there is of me in pony society. Or… Anything, really. News travels slow, and unlike Britain at an equivalent level of technology their print media is… Basic.

    But at least there's a microphone. I step up to it and make eye contact with a cross section of the audience.

    "Heresy. When I first chose that as the title of this lecture, I wasn’t sure how familiar everyone would be with the pony word for the concept. In fact, in your language it doesn't have the same connotations as it does in mine at all. Where I'm from, it is most commonly applied to heterodox religious beliefs, rather than to divergent beliefs in general. And of course, ponies are… Herd animals. It didn't seem entirely impossible to me that there flat out wasn't a single word for it."

    I make eye contact with Sunset who's here under an illusion as her pre-ascension self, alongside Twilight Sparkle. Luna's doing something similar, though she's picked a less recognisable face.

    "But there is, and here we are. And before I reveal my particular heresy to you, let's establish a few points of commonality."

    "Every pony is born with a special talent. The newborn foal will likely not be aware of it, or.. really, even be aware of anything very much. But it's there, and by the time they reach adolescence they will most likely both know what it is and have a-"

    I half-turn and toss my head back towards my own haunch stamp.

    "-colourful mark related to it on their bottom. In older pony societies that marked the point at which a pony would be considered a young adult rather than a child; when they might enter an apprenticeship or trade school rather than continue participating in general education. That's not the case now, as it's generally accepted that ponies need a wider range of education just to function is an increasing complex society, but getting a cutie mark is still considered a major life event. At the last census a full ninety two percent of ponies in employment reported that they worked professionally in areas relating to their special talents, with most of the rest being in temporary work or in associated fields."

    "I don't think I've said anything particularly contentious so far. Have I?"

    A few head-shakes.

    "But let's look at it again. All ponies have special talents."

    I pause for effect.

    "All ponies. Not just ponies who have gained their cutie marks. All ponies. That newborn foal has a special talent just as much as each of you does. You're more aware of yours, you've achieved more in your field… But the talent is still there. Indeed, most reports on the subject state that in many cases the ponies closest to a pre-mark pony have a pretty good idea what sort of mark they'll develop well before they finally manifest it. It's true in some cases a mark appears the first time a young pony is exposed to a particular idea and something clicks in their head at once… But more frequently the manifestation involves a moment of profound realisation of something that's been there all along. Getting over.. something that's stopped them fully engaging with their talent."

    "All ponies have special talents. Not all ponies have cutie marks. A special talent is a prerequisite for having a cutie mark. A cutie mark is not a prerequisite for having a special talent."

    And now the pony-in-the-headlights stares.

    But not from Sunset, who rolls her eyes.

    "So. Where does the cutie mark come from? I'm an outsider to Equestrian society, but I assumed that when I had the opportunity to review the literature there would be some sort of answer. Perhaps not a precise explanation of why exact images form at the moment of revelation, but at least a broad understanding of the underlying mechanism. But there isn't. Talents themselves are reasonably well understood; the increase in the rate at which ponies gain skills in mark-related areas compared to 'off-mark' areas has been studied numerous times. More cutting-edge studies have even tried using modern brainwave reading equipment to see if the pony brain registers activities relating to the pony's special talent differently to other activities, though so far the bulky nature of the headsets has stymied those efforts."

    "Cutie marks don't grant special talents. So what does? The moment of revelation? No. Quite aside from the fact that people suddenly realise or remember things all of the time without developing body art to go along with it, not all ponies recognise their special talent in that way, and… They still get marks. So that leaves us with… What? Realisation relating to a special talent?" I shake my head. "I doubt it. Who hasn't at some point picked up something written by a pony with a talent similar to our own, that we might learn something of ourselves? And read something and found ourselves saying something along the lines of 'Of course! It's so obvious!'."

    Other than me, of course.

    "That doesn't grant additional body art, either."

    "So what does? What other phenomena causes pictures to appear of pony bodies? Well, tattoos, obviously, though those tend not to show up well under pony fur, and… Aren't exactly popular. The only other example that I'm aware of is the Cutie Pox. Thought to be an extinct disease, it was recently discovered to be the result of consuming a particular plant with powerful alchemical properties. The afflicted pony manifested sixteen cutie marks simultaneously, along with the associated special talents. And according to their family, none of the cutie marks related to things they have any skill in before the condition took hold, and none of them remained after the condition was cured."

    "Let that sink in for a moment. A pony had cutie marks related to a talent they weren't born with. Cutie marks which took those talents with them when they vanished."

    Mouths are hanging open, and a pony in the third row has his forehooves wrapped around his head, shaking in existential dread.

    "So. What purpose do cutie marks serve? It isn't to give ponies talents. Could it be social signalling, showing other ponies where your skills lie? Possibly, except for the fact that a good many cutie marks are fairly abstract. At a glance, would you associate a flower with teaching, or a sparkling jewel with dress-making? Probably not. Do they signal age? No. Cutie marks manifest between the ages of four and fourteen, too wide a difference for that to make sense."

    "So if they don't have any function in the process of having a talent, that one talent everypony is born with, and they don't have a signalling function, what are they for? And what would happen if they weren't there?"

    "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.""

    Head-grabber loses his nerve completely and dashes from the lecture theatre.

    "A pony has their moment of realisation, and nothing appears on their haunches. By definition, they're aware of their talent, but there's nothing signalling that to others… Other than their skill at whatever it is that their talent lies in. Since other ponies are tuned to notice things like that, it would be detected reasonably quickly… But since marks can be so abstract and often only have meaning to the pony whose mark it is, recognising exactly what the skill lies in isn't all that easy anyway. So… No useful purpose."

    "So this is my heresy: cutie marks are useless. Worthless. Worse than worthless, because if the unnatural marks created by Cutie Pox are in fact representative, then that means that losing a mark results in the loss of a talent. If true, that means that getting a mark adds a point of vulnerability which did not exist before."

    "But then… Why do they exist? Certainly, there are no adult ponies without cutie marks. Medical literature seems to indicate that not only is this true now, but has been true throughout pony history. How could such a mechanism arise if it does not serve a useful purpose?"

    "Well. Perhaps it is useful. Just not for the pony. If it turns out that the internal magics of a pony who has realised their talent operate differently to the internal magics of ponies without marks…"

    "Maybe that makes them all the more tasty."

    There's a moment of silence as my audience considers this, coming to terms with the implication.

    And then the room erupts in total pandemonium.
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2021
  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd August 2012
    20:08 GMT -7


    A completely calm purple pegasus mare with a raven cutie mark glares at me as the majority of attendees stampede for the exit. Those who aren't rolling around the floor hoofing at their haunches in a frantic attempt to remove their haunch parasite.

    "We hope that you are pleased with yourself."

    "Ah, it's fine." I raise my right forehoof and make a dismissive gesture. "I knew this could happen and so I put a load of drones near the exit. They'll dart everyone with ketamine and then drag them off to a spare room. No one will get more than mildly trampled."

    An orange-pelted stallion with a magnifying glass cutie mark jerks his head up.

    "DART ME NOW! DART ME NOW! I DON'T WANT-!"

    Three darts appear in his flesh.

    "Ahhhrrrrr…"

    He collapses, twitching slightly, tongue hanging out of his mouth.

    "Okay, I didn't think it would be… Quite this bad."

    I glance over to where Sunset is.. holding a feed bag over Twilight's-. That's not a feed bag.

    Um.

    "None of these weak-hearts are supposed to be soldiers, right?"

    The mare glows for a moment, then Luna regains her normal form. "We shall find out on the morn, when they fail their blood tests and are pilloried for it."

    "Heh. Sunset, is Twilight still functioning?"



    "Sun-?"

    "I'm not talking to you right now."

    "I liked it."

    Huh? Oh. One of the audience members near the back didn't flee. That's refreshing. Purple with blue stripe mane and tail, lilac pelt and… Equals symbol cutie mark.

    "I mean, you're obviously right about cutie marks being evil."

    "I didn't say evil. Evil requires moral awareness and intent. I have no evidence that it isn't a purely automatic process. A tapeworm doesn't infect someone because it wants to cause them gastrointestinal discomfort, that's just a side effect of it living."

    She smiles, hopping out of her seat and walking-. Stepping over the ennuing ponies in the walkway and walking towards the stage.

    "So what do you suggest that we do about them?"

    "Research. Ponydom needs to properly understand the process by which it occurs before we can make firm decisions. Sunset's-"

    "Still not talking to you."

    "-innovations, combined with the superior artifice from our side of the mirror should make it easier, though naturally getting informed consent from appropriate foals and their primary caregivers could be tricky." I shake my mane. "Ah, I'm sorry. If the audience has…"

    The last mobile pony desperately crawls over the lintel and is picked up by a drone.

    "Absented itself, I suppose that we can do a more intimate talk. I'm Grayven, obviously. Who are you?"

    "I'm Starlight Glimmer and I've never met anyone else who felt this way about cutie marks before. Wait." She frowns. "What was that about a mirror?"

    "A mirror to a parallel universe where the sophont species don't have a cutie mark equivalent. They also use far less magic and have instead developed a far greater understanding of science and technology. It's useful, because it lets you experience a completely different set of social assumptions."

    She stops walking and blinks as she takes on board the new information.

    "Oh. You mean like how griffons and diamond dogs don't have anything like a cutie mark."

    "Yes. Only a lot more successful than them. It's understandable that a pony would look at Griffonstone or one of the diamond dogs' caves and not feel that there's a lot to learn from them. A people who have supersonic flying machines and non-magical teleportation are a little more notable."

    She nods, then continues to the front-.

    "Oh. Princess Luna."

    "Greetings, Our subject. It pleases Us that thou art able to stomach Our beau's dilberry-flavoured waffle-whaffle better than most of Our subjects."

    "I think he made his point perfectly well. And I think that he's right that learning about how cutie marks appear is the first step in learning how to stop them!"

    Luna looks at Miss Glimmer for a moment, then swings her head back in my direction.

    "Corruptor of youth. We should make you drink hemlock."

    "Excuse me." Miss Glimmer.. actually walks into Luna's personal space. I haven't seen a pony do that to one of the senior princesses before. "I'm perfectly capable of reaching that conclusion for myself. I'm just surprised to meet someone else who has. Don't dismiss me."

    Luna winds her neck in, blinking in surprise. But she recovers a moment later.

    "We are curious, Our subject. What hast inspired thou to this belief?"

    "Cutie marks make ponies fundamentally unequal. The moment you get one, the whole course of your life is laid out and whatever plans you had suddenly don't matter. They divide pony society into groups who literally can't understand each other when they talk about their jobs, and… For most of them, it wouldn't even occur to them that it was a problem."

    "We do not think it is that simple. Our cutie mark is the moon, yet We are a princess regnant."

    Miss Glimmer grimaces. "Oh, don't get me started on that."

    Luna raises her eyebrows. "Wouldst thou care to explain?"

    "You went crazy, vanished for a thousand years after trying to kill everything on the planet, then Princess Celestia decides to make you co-ruler because that's how it was a thousand years ago despite your complete lack of relevant skills and manifest psychological instability."

    Twilight stops lowering her breathing bag and puts it back up over her muzzle again.

    "Alicorns are the most unequal of all ponies. You get the abilities of all three races when everyone else doesn't and everyone bows and scrapes to you whether you're actually doing a good job or not. I want a society where everypony is equal: no cutie marks, no alicorns and no princesses."

    "Okay." I jump-. Yes! Stuck the landing! Down off the stage and lay a restraining left forehoof on Luna's shoulder. "Let's just unpack that a little. Firstly, you seem to be equivalencing special talents and cutie marks. Now, I thought that we'd agreed that the two weren't the same?"

    "Ponies stop trying other things once they get their marks. But-. Yes, okay, I suppose that I'm complaining about a symptom. No special talents, then."

    I nod. "Okay. Plenty of species manage to maintain complex societies without them, though you do understand that it will take years -possibly decades- more to train ponies to perform complex jobs if they no longer have any intuition into the field? The society on the other side of the mirror trains doctors for about three times as long, and they start later."

    "It's worth it to give everypony the same opportunity."

    "And you realise that the pony you just ranted at has a job not related to her cutie mark, just like her elder sister?"

    "Celestia changed the entire way Equestria's government worked on a whim to give her sister a job ahead of ponies with knowledge or experience. That's blatant nepotism."

    "Okay." Ooooh, and from the look I just got from Luna I know I'm going to be paying for that later. "But as I understand it, your preferred solution is what we might call 'levelling down'. Removing all talents from everypony to level the playing field. Or not having alicorns at all."

    "Yes. It's the only way to create an equal society."

    "No it's not. Cutie Pox demonstrates that the cutie mark system can give a pony new marks, several at a time. Why not focus on manipulating that?"

    She blinks. "How?"

    "Give every talent to everypony. Or if that's not possible, network them all and let everypony share in everypony else's special talent. And if there being different tribes is a problem, just make everypony an alicorn and remove that difference. Level everyone up to the best position, rather than just take things away. Wouldn't that be better?"
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2021
  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    23rd August 2012
    20:32 GMT -7


    I.. cautiously approach Luna as she stands looking out over the Canterlot falls.

    "L-."

    "You were not precisely fulsome in your defence of Our status."

    "The first day we met, you told me that you weren't able to be an effective ruler. You told me that you wanted to fix that. It hardly surprises me that other ponies were put out by you suddenly skipping ahead of them in the order of precedence."

    I risk taking a step closer, rustling my wings.

    "For you, it was a stressful and despondency-inducing situation. For other ponies it was a slap in the face. They don't see what it was doing to you, they see what it was doing to them and theirs."

    "And what was Starlight Glimmer's position?"

    "She's the founder and mayor of a small town. Though honestly, it sounds like she isn't a fan of alicorn tyranny regardless of who sits on the throne. Refreshing, actually. I'd been beginning to think that all ponies were Celestia-cultists."

    "Tyranny? Do We truly seem tyrannical to you?"

    "You didn't inherit the throne or get elected to your position. You're not a queen or a president. There's no Witen, no parliament and no senate. You and Celestia define your own offices. Legally, you are personally empowered to do whatever you want unless Celestia gainsays you. The average pony has no say in how the nation is governed, however far removed. The average Crystal Pony had no say in having Princess Cadance and Shining Armor imposed on them. You're better than Discord and they're better than Sombra, but that's a pretty low bar."

    She takes a deep breath, her eyes still focusing ahead.

    "Neigh, Grayven, prithee tell Us how you really think."

    "I thought we were at the spinach teeth stage. If you just want me to act the toady-."

    "We do not." She turns her neck to regard me with her left eye. "'Spinach teeth'?"

    "The first part of a romantic relationship is about mutual reassurance. You want to know that the other person desires you and likes you. But after a certain point, honesty is more important than flattery because you trust them to stop you doing something you'd rather avoid doing. 'You look gorgeous, darling' gets replaced with 'you've got spinach stuck between your teeth, might want to fix that before you go out in public'."

    "And precisely how have We utilised our office in a manner befitting a tyrant?"

    "When Celestia freed Discord, did she consult the courts? If petrification was no longer required, is he going to be tried and punished for his crimes in accordance with the Equestrian Code of Law? Or was it an arbitrary decision?"

    "Discord is rehabilitated far beyond Our expectations. We do not see this as a problem."

    Gun.

    By your command.

    A glowing copy of G1 Megatron's cannon appears in the air next to me, and I point it at the city.

    "Would it be alright if I pulled the trigger? The beam's fairly thin and the city's not that wide. I might not hit anyone."

    "We would rather than you did not."

    "'If it's stupid and it works, it's still stupid and you're lucky.'" I dismiss the construct. "I'm perfectly aware that Sunset doesn’t treat me with anything like the deference I could demand as her employer. This is intentional. I want people willing to gainsay me because I'm perfectly aware that I'm not perfect. Celestia's used a form of government where no one does that for at least a thousand years."

    "How would you feel in Starlight Glimmer's position?"

    "Me? I'd either be rabble-rousing or leaving the country. But I'm only a pony by magic. She's the only local I've heard espouse such sentiments, including Sunset."

    "Doth that mean that they respect Our abilities, or that they are so slavishly devoted that they do not think to question?" She sighs. "No, do not answer. We already know the truth of it. It is simply uncomfortable to be confronted so directly."

    "But when she sees what you have become a few years from now, having her admit it will make it all the more worthwhile."

    She tilts her head to the side. "You think we should take her onto Our staff, then?"

    "Dunno. Honestly, I think she might just be kind of crazy. You should have heard what she said about Celestia's school after you left."

    "Doth she also hate kittens and rainbows?"

    "I didn't ask. Though rainbows are pretty unequal."

    "How are rainbows-?" She inhales sharply. "No, We will not stick our forehoof in that rabbit hole. Why is she so ill-disposed to the School?"

    "Surface level analysis stuff, really. There's a School for Gifted Unicorns but no equivalent for earth ponies or pegasus ponies."

    "And your retort?"

    "Well, the name of the school is misleading, but the fact is that magic-talent unicorns have specific educational needs that aren't going to be met by a general education system. Because while most unicorns only ever use thaumokinesis and a couple of spells their special talent whispers to them in their sleep-"

    "That is most certainly not how it works."

    "-the-." I wing-shrug. "How would you describe it, then?"

    "You make the process sound sinister, when in fact it is simply their special talent applying itself to their understanding of their magic."

    "You know… I'm.. honestly not entirely convinced that special talents aren't sinister."

    "Grayven, do you not recall how astonished We were when first you told Us how long humans spend in full time education?"

    "Yeah, and I'll admit that it's convenient, but at least they know where the knowledge is coming from."

    "We have never seen evidence proving beyond doubt that special talents grant knowledge. If that is truly what transpired, magic talents would be able to cast any spell that could be cast without the need for study, and your argument concerning Our Sister's school is that they cannot."

    "Right, but Sunset said that she could intuit parts of magic theory without being taught them. Being able to learn a lot of spells is a side effect of the magic talent, not its primary focus." I shake my head. "We could argue this forever. The subject has never been studied with sufficient rigour to draw firm conclusions, and… After today, I can see why."

    "We will expect you to make good on their injuries. We saw one of Our ponies try to tear off his own hind legs."

    "Alright, but only after they've calmed down. There's no point in healing them if they're just going to injure themselves again. I've already called in some g-gnomes to check their mental states." I sigh. "But most of them are just the sort of people we need to actually carry this research out. And if they're going to do fainting goat impressions whenever they look at their own work, we're going to get nowhere." This time I sigh with a little more frustration. "These ponies lived through the Changeling Invasion. How are they this… Fragile?"

    "Wouldst not the people of Apokolips react poorly to learning that their god-powers doth not flow from Darkseid?"

    "Yes, but they wouldn't try to claw them out of themselves. And they'd probably just inform on the one telling them that, or kill them themselves."

    "Ponies are not naturally predators."

    "And? Predators attack the weakest because they can't afford to risk challenging the strongest head on. Prey species are far more savage, because their instincts tell them that if they aren't then they'll die anyway. I don't believe that was biology for a moment. Most ponies need to toughen the heck up-."

    Oh.

    "I think I need to…" Ugh. "Talk to.. Discord."

    "No." Luna turns around to fully face me, walking over to me. "You have traumatised Our ponies enough this eve. Now, We wish to speak more with Starlight Glimmer. Lead Us to her."

    "Your wish is my command."
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2021
  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    24th August 2012
    08:43 GMT -5


    Georgia and Thaddeus Junior strap themselves into what looks like a sort of scaffolding.. power armour. Wires trail from various devices stuck at key points and connect to a computer display set up around head height for each of them. Force fields flicker and sensors wiggle as they do their final checks.

    "You know, if we'd just flown, we could have been there by now."

    Thaddeus leans around his monitor, frowning at me.

    "Of course we could. But what would we have learned from doing that?"

    Georgia nods. "It's not as if we aren't perfectly capable of building starships or long-range teleportation machines."

    "But… If you can do all that, why do you want to come?"

    "Oh, we haven't ever been able to study qwa-matter. We don't know how it works."

    Thaddeus shoots her an annoyed glance. "Yet."

    "I thought that went without saying."

    "I can't promise that Vril Dox won't be busy."

    Georgia… Makes a curious spluttering… Quacking noise, prompting Thaddeus to frown.

    "Do you really just want to talk to the coluan? If you want a pet there's a whole planet of them going free."

    "Vril Dox is the first man within a socially acceptable age divergence who can match my intellect and interests without being biologically related to me." She looks at me. "I mean that in the nicest way possible. You're not a moron, you're just… Simpler minded."

    "Oh, I know Dox is far more intelligent than me. That's why I picked him for the job. But, really?"

    "There's a certain type of young male super scientist who prefers to build their own partner. Or mind control some cheerleader they fixated on."

    She clenches her right fist and raises it to her left shoulder, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath in as she does so. Then she breathes out, pushing her fist away from her and opening her eyes.

    "It makes it very difficult to meet someone."

    "Bah. My sharp intellect thrusteth sure. My intelligence is as the intelligence of ten because my science is pure."

    "Yes, and with an attitude like that you're going to stay pure for a while. Father was lucky to find someone like Mother."

    "And I appreciate being born, but I still cannot help but think that an exo-womb would be more efficient."

    "Pregnancy hormones help mother-child bonding." I shrug. "Even most species that have high quality exo-wombs tend not to use them all that much except when there's a high risk of medical problems."

    "Emotional problems. I've built emotional inhibitors. They work fine."

    "Um." I glance at Georgia. "When you said 'build their own or mind control a cheerleader'..?"

    She frowns, then looks at her brother- "Oh!" -and shudders slightly. "No. I'm not sure if it's a matter of standards exactly-"

    "It was too."

    "-but Junior never did anything like that. Though that might have been because we were pre-pubescent when we left normal school."

    "But you were several years ahead."

    "Yes, but that aspect of it didn't really register. My own hormones hadn't really kicked in yet."

    "What about the possum chap?"

    "Well yes, I was aware of the social aspect. But all of my other knowledge was theoretical."

    "I still say exo-wombs are more efficient."

    "You-? You're both aware that Doctor Sivana selected your genes-."

    "With the aim of making us as brilliant as possible." Thaddeus turns his attention back to his checks. "Of course we are. We checked his work."

    "Yes, but part of that for him was the socialisation aspect. You were supposed to have a less easy time getting along with people compared to your older siblings and so not have an alternative to science."

    "And?"

    "That's social science, isn't it?"

    "S-oooof…"

    Thaddeus freezes. Georgia grins.

    "T."

    "Hah! Proven wrong by Father."

    "Where is the control group? Hm? He can't possibly know if it actually had an impact without comparing us to other children just as intelligent but with differing levels of social skill and inclination."

    Ooh.

    "Wouldn't he have known that?"

    Both their heads jerk in my direction, frowning.

    Thaddeus shakes his head. "Father wouldn't have created other children. He's always taking parenting very seriously."

    "No, not… I'm not saying that I think you have other siblings because, yes, that would be out of character. But he was already in contact with Doctor Love. If he was trying to study the social side, he could just have tampered with a few genes in someone else's children."

    Georgia frowns. "That does sound a little like him. But why hasn't he-?" She nods. "If we spoke to them then it would interfere with the experiment."

    "If it's still running. He didn't keep track of the Beresfords, did he? If he's already reached a conclusion, he's not going to do anything to actually help the other subjects, is he?"

    "No. Hm." Georgia nods. "I don't think he would. We can ask him when we get back. Junior, have you completed your checks?"

    "Yes."

    "Good." Georgia flips a series of switches, then nods in satisfaction. "Ready here."

    "Alright." I float over and put a hand on each power frame… Thing. "Please bear in mind that we're passing through a realm of pure avarice. Anything you can't cope with is your problem."

    "Oh please." / "Oh please."

    "Three, two, one."

    We step out
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2021
  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    24th August 2012
    13:48 GMT


    and reappear in the asylum. I let go of the smoking frames and turn to look at them both.

    "You alright?"

    "Huh." / "Huh."

    Neither Sivana Spawn are.. focusing on their environment, but neither are showing the sort of orange mess that I'd expect from someone who had uncontrolled exposure to the Honden.

    "Georgia? Thaddeus? What did you see?"

    "The system is supposed to keep us in an isolated spiritual loop, preventing external contamination." Georgia blinks spasmodically behind her glasses. "But it didn't prevent you from changing the medium."

    "So you saw yourself as a network of your own desires? That could be very useful for training purposes. Can you make more?"

    "Ah, yeah, but, no." Thaddeus shakes his head as he starts to come out of whatever it was that he experienced. "They would need to come from somewhere with a high level of thaumic activity. Otherwise they would just…" He strokes his chin. "Actually, I'm not sure what would happen to them. I think that they would just be erased, but it's possible that they would become a permanent part of someone else's desire network."

    "Or something else entirely. We just don't have enough experimental data to know."

    "And you're not going experiment on compelled subjects to get it, are you?"

    "Not on Earth!"

    "Georgia."

    "Or any of your territory. Mother taught us not to destroy each other's laboratory equipment, and we've decided to extend that immunity to you."

    "That's very considerate of you." Thaddeus takes a glass rod out of his lab coat and pokes part of his frame, which falls off and shatters on the ground. "Was that expected?"

    "It's within the predicted range." They unstrap themselves and drop out of their frames. "But we would not be here if we did not think that we would learn something."

    They both draw devices that look like a cross between a phaser and a hairdryer, waving the nozzles around while looking carefully at the readout.

    "The stock room!" / "Secure storage?"

    Thaddeus frowns at Georgia's uncertainty.

    "What? It's obvious this is where they keep the test subjects."

    "Does that sound like something a superhero would do?"

    "A utilitarian superhero. It makes sense. If they're crazy anyway, test them to try and stop it happening to the others!"

    "Hm."

    "Hm."

    They both turn and look at me.

    "Well?" / "Well?"

    "It's our asylum. For some reason, when I tried to think where to bring you, this is the first place I thought of."

    "See?" Thaddeus waves his probe at his sister. "Test subjects."

    "He didn't mean 'because it brought us closer to his test subjects'. He was implying that he believes that we should be inmates."

    Thaddeus frowns.

    "If we were, would we still have access to the other inmates?"

    "No. The cells are individual. The inmates are dangerous to themselves and each other, and the two of you are far more dangerous than they are."

    They both preen.

    "Given that they're disarmed and bound. Ah, it probably won't matter, but you're both carrying some sort of defensive equipment, right?"

    Thaddeus frowns, his face a picture of frustrated incomprehension. Georgia settles for rolling her eyes.

    "Yes, we're 'carrying'. We even have concealed carry permits."

    "You're armed legally?"

    "No, of course not. Unless we were in Texas; did you know that they removed all weapon ownership restrictions during the Sheeda invasion? You can buy a Davy Crockett there now. Own one, anyway. I don't think anyone's actually selling."

    "I did hear about that."

    Private weapon ownership has become a lot more common since their invasion. Europe's resisting, naturally. Politicians there point out that conventional firearms didn't do much to Sheeda Lowborn due to them being invisible most of the time, and never did anything to their Highborn. As such, arming the civilian population wouldn't have improved their ability to fight and might have either caused the Sheeda to kill them rather than trying to capture them, or have made things harder for the police and military. And… Yes, they do have a point. I'm not hypocritical enough to say that private citizens shouldn't be armed, but the fact that there isn't any sort of training requirement in the US still makes me uncomfortable.

    In the less… 'Staid' parts of the world, the governments had no chance against the overwhelming need of their citizens to protect themselves. Russia tried training people as army auxiliaries but there were just too many. They ended up with a network of state-sponsored gun clubs. China put the political commissars in each region in charge of organising People's Militia training, and it's actually quite a popular development with older communist party members. In other places people have been arming themselves as best they can, often in defiance of local law.

    I could mass produce enough high-end infantry weapons to allow people to fight off most aliens in Sector 2814. But the problem is that weapons like that would also let them fight other humans. I don't know if I'm worrying needlessly; America and Russia hated each other for decades without nuking each other. Would a few million cold guns make Earth a more dangerous place to live when we've had the ability to scour it of life since the sixties and not used it? Or… Would the problem come from the fact that the people carrying them wouldn't be citizens of the two most powerful countries on Earth but rather decidedly less powerful places? A few countries with a lot to lose, versus two hundred countries without much to lose?

    I thought that I squared that circle by getting hold of a L.E.G.I.O.N. fleet. Recruit a few hundred humans, let them gain seniority, and let them handle it. But basically everyone who applied was a government agent.

    "But since you're interested, you can review our existing research and -if you want- speak to the patients."

    "Are we allowed-" Georgia wiggles her sensor at me. "-to take our own readings?"

    "With the permission of their physician."

    Seventeen Lanterns in here at the moment. Only two who went full-Larfleeze, but we're dubious about the others ever returning to active duty. Just getting them to the point where they don't need to be contained any more would be a good start.

    "And then can we see the weapons?" Thaddeus looks hopeful. "You know that's what we're best at, right?"

    "Certainly. We've even got an alien mad scientist here for you to test yourselves against."

    "Heh." Thaddeus shakes his head. "As if it would be a test."
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2021
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