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With This Ring (Young Justice SI) (Thread Fourteen)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Mr Zoat, Jan 27, 2019.

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  1. Threadmarks: Z-E-R-O (part 12)
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd January 2012
    14:46 GMT -5


    Mr Hamill presses her breasts together, trying to get them to sit comfortably in her newly fashioned bra. An expression of discomfort on her face, she looks at Beryl.

    "Are they supposed to be like this?"

    Beryl stares at her for a moment, then pointedly pats her own modest upper chest with both hands. Then she holds her hands out to the side, palms upward.

    "Normally, breasts that big would spell a lifetime of back pain and make it difficult to buy clothes. Women with augmented strength don't really have the same problem-. At least, the pain part. Clothes can still be tricky. However, I.. don't know any women quite as well-endowed as you."

    "Look, I'm-. I know what I look like, but I'm a guy, okay?"

    "Mister Hamill, if you were still a guy we wouldn't need to find you a comfortably-fitting bra. You were a man and want to be a man again, but at present-."

    Beryl raises her left eyebrow at me. "Most transsexuals prefer to be-."

    "I'm not a fucking tranny! This-! This.. stupid dial thing did this! I had a cock! I was happy having a cock! Now my girlfriend doesn't even recognise me! Fuck. I don't recog-."

    I get about a half second of notice of white electrical discharges crackling around her hands before white energy blasts outwards from her! Beryl throws herself backwards as I raise a construct shield, electricity slamming into it…

    In a way which doesn't make much sense as my construct isn't conductive…

    "Ohshitohshit…" Mr Hamill looks down at her own hands in horror. "Shit. Sorry. I didn't-. It just goes off."

    "Squire?"

    She picks herself up and dusts herself off. "No harm done."

    "And none done here." I take a quick look around the rest of the test area. Some damage, but that's what it's for. it's certainly nothing compared to what happened during my last spar with Kon. "So don't worry about it. I'm an empath. I know you didn't mean to do that."

    "Fuck." She takes a moment to calm herself down. "You know, once I realised I tossed that fucking dial thing off the bridge, I actually flew right home without meaning to. Like my powers just decided to take me somewhere I'd feel safe or some shit."

    Beryl nods. "Far as I've been able to tell, lots of powers work like that. I don't know whether it's traumatic events which give people powers, or they just find out they have them when they experience one. There isn't actually all that much good quality research."

    "So, what, it's just gunna do stuff?"

    "Well, that depends. There's usually a learning curve… You've just grown what is effectively a new limb. You don't know how to control it. With training, that will change."

    She shakes her head. "But I-. I don't wanna-."

    "Right. And if we can get the dial back and work out how to make it turn you back, you won't have to worry about that. But if we can't, you can be sued for criminal damage if you accidentally destroy something, so you're probably going to need to get some sort of training."

    "Right." She slumps slightly. "No, no, that makes sense. No way I can afford to just blow up a car or something."

    Beryl's computer chimes, and she activates the screen. "Robin's speaking to your girlfriend now. She's still a bit bewildered. And… Apparently, you're paying for the window."

    Mr Hamill bows her head slightly. "Heh. Yeah, I guess I-." her head jerks back up. "But she knows I'm me, right? She said that?"

    Beryl nods. "Robin's got an honest face. Plus, you know… Justice League."

    "Great! Now I just gotta convince the guys at work, and.. the DMV."

    "There's actually a form for that. 'Notification of Radical Physical Transformations'. You fill it in with witness statements and before and after pictures, and we send it in to the Department of Health and Human Services. They'll sort out your driving licence, passport-"

    "I don’t have a passport."

    "-or whatever other documents you need."

    "Though I suggest that you wait a couple of days. The form was written on the assumption that the transformation would be permanent, and if we can turn you back-."

    Her eyes widen. "Wait, you mean if you can't turn me back in a couple of days I get stuck like this permanently?"

    I raise my hands helplessly. "I can't detect any externally-applied energy keeping you like this. As far as I can tell, the transformation was a one-off event. You are now this, but you're not becoming more this because you stayed like this for longer."

    "Robin's sent a picture."

    I glance at the screen. Richard's message consists of a series of framed photographs on a chest of drawers. A woman with short orange hair and a burly man with short black hair. Beryl holds it up so that Mr Hamill can take a look. "Could you confirm this is what you usually look like?"

    "Yeah, that's me. Can I.. talk to her?"

    Beryl winces slightly. "She filed a crime report about the 'break in'. And she's still a bit shaken up. Might be best if you let Robin finish talking to her first. And sorting things out with the police."

    "How can I break into my own apartment?!"

    Beryl smiles. "Through the window, apparently. Legally, you can't break into your own apartment. Or rather, you can, and it's legal. But 'some crazy woman who could fire electricity' could break in."

    "Though if it helps, it's not actually electricity, it's highly electrified plasma."

    "What's the difference?"

    "Electrical discharges earth themselves through the path of least resistance. Plasma can be directed at a target."

    "So..?"

    "Don't try powering any devices using your ability. And don't assume that earthing yourself will stop the discharges." She nods. "Now, based on those pictures you appeared to be a man in good physical condition. Do you know how much you can usually lift?"

    She shrugs, shaking her head. "I'm a construction worker. I haven't been to a gym since high school."

    I n-. "Squire, has Robin contacted Mister Hamill's workplace?"

    "Ah…" She checks her computer. "Cornwall Boy did."

    "Ah fuck." Mr Hamill puts her right hand on her forehead. "That guy's a total ass-wipe. I'm shitcanned for sure."

    "I'm sure we can sort something out. If you'll please come this way?"

    I lead her over to the dumbbell rack, and gesture to the middle weights. She nods, bending down to pick a couple up. She gives them an experimental lift.

    "Feels pretty light."

    "Your current musculature is far below what you had before your transformation. You're starting with those in case you've gotten weaker, or if your strength comes from an unusual source like a temporary biological force field." I generate construct dumbbells for myself and demonstrate the technique. "Please lift them as I do. We'll do ten repetitions, then move you on to a higher weight."
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
    DQuinnicus, Dacraun, kfrar and 172 others like this.
  2. Threadmarks: Z-E-R-O (part 13)
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd January
    15:32 GMT -5


    Mr Hamill towels herself down in a decidedly unfeminine way while Beryl performs some calculation-. Yes, she just shoved the towel up her cleavage. Should I draw her attention to that or not? What would Ash do?



    No, probably not. That would just make things weirder for her.

    "So?"

    "Technically, you're not superstrong."

    "Huh?"

    "You're very strong, but you don't quite meet the threshold for being superstrong."

    Mr Hamill wrinkles her nose. "Okay, so, am I bullet proof?"

    Beryl's eyes narrow slightly. "Being bulletproof isn't a factor of strength."

    "Sure, but if someone's shooting at me I'm gunna be more worried about how tough I am than how strong I am. I could punch a guy out before this happened."

    "Okay." Beryl points. "Stick your hand under the pneumatic press over there, and scream when it starts to hurt."

    Mr Hamill blinks. "What?"

    "We test strength because it's a lot easier to test than toughness. But the only way we've really got to test your toughness is to hit you with things." She draws a taser baton and presses the activation button, causing a spark to jump from one electrode to the other. "How about electrical resistance? Since you've got some sort of electrical power, you might be more electrically resistant than usual." She beams. "Wanna give it a try?"

    "So, ah…" Mr Hamill pauses briefly while she tries to work out how to move the conversation away from that topic. "How strong am I compared to the Justice League?"

    "Yoouuu're about as strong as Hawkman."

    Mr Hamill looks disappointed. "The bird guy?"

    "The winged alien with gravity-warping metal running throughout his nervous system, who has muscles about four times the size of yours."

    Mr Hamill raises her right arm and flexes her bicep. "I guess. So I'd get stronger if I worked out?"

    Beryl thinks for a moment, then turns to me.

    "I don't know. If your body is working like a normal human body, then yes. Though.. obviously, whatever your muscles are using to make you that strong might not work like that, and you'll need to use very heavy weights to get much effect. On the other hand, if your body is some sort of projection while your actual body was-" Whoops. "-dematerialised-."

    "Dema-?" Her eyes widen. "You think that fuckin' thing killed me?"

    Beryl winces slightly.

    "It's possible that your actual body is in storage in the device, while what you're in now is essentially a projection."

    "What?"

    "Have you ever watched Star Trek?" She shrugs. "You know the transporter?"

    "The beam-me-up thing?"

    "Yes."

    "So that dial thing kinda beamed me up?"

    "There's a gap between 'dematerialisation' (when the person being beamed disappears) and 'rematerialisation' (when the person being beamed reappears) during which they're being transmitted from one place to another. It's possible for the machine doing it to delay it, so they're basically stuck in the computer until someone presses the button again."

    "Oooooh." She smiles, nodding. "I get it! Like that episode of Stargate where Teal'c got stuck in that dial thing!"



    "Yes. Which does raise the interesting question of whether your mind is in the device and you're remote controlling this body, or if your mind has been transferred into the body, or-."

    Beryl frowns slightly. "Orange Lantern? Is that really important?"

    "It would give us a better idea of the inventor's capacities…" She keeps looking at me. "Okay, no."

    Mr Hamill is frowning deeply. "I guess if this is just a.. projection or whatever, you can't just change it back into me without the dial." She looks at me. "Can you?"

    "If I had a sample of your DNA and a few more pictures, I might be able to transform you back into you… But there would be risks, and I'd really feel better about it if we could have a look at the dial first."

    "Can't you just try changing something small? Like.. my hair, or something?"

    I glance at Beryl, who shrugs. "Can't see why not. Course… Just because I can't see why doesn't mean some mad scientists didn't come up with something."

    If we can't find the dial, I suppose that asking the Sivanas to take a look is an option. Though that would increase the number of people who know that I'm still in contact with them…And might result in Mr Hamill getting possumised

    I shrug. "You're an adult. As long as you understand that I can't guarantee results without side effects, up to and including the change being made permanent, it's up to you. Want me to try?"

    "Ahhh…Permanent like permanent-permanent?"

    "Mister Hamill, this time last week I was dead. Weird things happen. Not to most people, but I'm afraid you've tripped and fallen into the twilight zone. Some people who make things like this are well-intentioned researchers who took things a bit far. Others are mad scientists doing crazy things for the sake of it. I can't think of any good reason why anyone would add something to a device like this that would react to me changing your hair colour after the initial transformation occurred… But I don't really understand why someone would build something like that dial in the first place, and it certainly isn't impossible that they did."

    "Ffffuuuuuck." She sounds more depressed than angry. "And if you don't know what's gunna happen, you don't know if you could fix it afterwards. Right?"

    "Right. Though… In the spirit of transhumanism, this form does have several advantages over your old one, and you might not want to be so quick-."

    "I don't have a dick!"

    Beryl raises her eyebrows. "That's the worst part?"

    "If I looked like another guy, it'd be weird and I'd want to change back but…" She gestures to her breasts. "Look at this shit. I can't even close my eyes and pretend I'm still me."

    "But have you considered the advantages?"

    "Nothing makes up for not having a dick."

    "And if you can hand on heart tell me that you've never watched lesbian pornography, I'll agree that that's the deciding argument."

    "Huh." She considers for a moment. "No, no, I have…"

    Beryl sniggers quietly. "Should I leave you two alone for this bit? Because that's not a problem for me."

    Mr Hamill shakes her head. "No, Amy… I don't think she'd go for it. She's, like, totally straight. And this isn't even a butch lesbian body where I could wear a strap on and she could sort of pretend or something."

    I think Beryl's starting to crack up.

    "If you're sure?"

    "It's not that I don't get where you're comin' from? I mean, if I wasn't with Amy and it was just temporary… But I am, so… Yeah, no." She looks at me curiously. "You saying you would?"

    "Change my sex in exchange for superpowers?" He nods. "Depends what powers? But, yours? Yes, I think I probably would. Flight is really great fun, stronger and tougher than a baseline human…" I nod. "Yeah, I'd take that deal. Squire?"

    She tilts her head to her right, supporting her cheek with her right hand. "Oh God, you think I'm one of the boys."

    "Would you?"

    "Become a bloke..? For superpowers?" She looks both of us in the eyes. "You seriously want..?" We nods, and she rolls her eyes. "No, because if it's that easy to give someone powers I could probably work it out myself."

    "Ah, that's not answe-."

    "Robin to Squire."

    Beryl smiles in relief. "Squire here. Go ahead."
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
  3. Threadmarks: Z-E-R-O (part 14)
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd January
    15:39 GMT -5


    "…Electro Lass, A Five Nine."

    "'Electro Lass'?" Mr Hamill half-turns to stare at the zeta tube with a look of disquiet. "The fuck is that about?"

    With the destruction of KordTech New York, the usual zeta tube station has ceased to be. I'm a little more saddened about that than I thought I'd be. While most zeta tubes are tucked out of the way to keep them from being staked out by the paparazzi, the KordTech one was both isolated and afforded a good view of New York City. Even though it was just as easy for me to get here by ring, I'd sometimes use the tube to get here because I liked taking in the view for a few moments. And now if they even include a tube in the new design they'll probably put it in a bunker underground.

    I don't know. Maybe… John is all about the journey rather than the destination. I've been more of a destination sort of person. If I'm going somewhere, it's because I want to get there and do the thing. But… Maybe that's one of the things I should take away from this whole 'being dead' thing. I used to fly for fun, now I mostly do it when it would be inconvenient to walk.

    "Just in case you decide you don't want everyone to know about your…" Beryl points her right hand at her head and lowers it, indicating Mr Hamill's transformed body. "Changes."

    She shakes her head. "We wrap this up in a couple a' days an' then I'm drinking until I start to find this funny. What's the point in trying to keep it secret? Not like-." She pauses for a moment. "I mean, y'know, no disrespect or anything-."

    "Superheroing isn't for everyone."

    "And being one takes a bit more than getting powers."

    Mr Hamill looks at her for a moment, then switches her attention to me, grins and points at Beryl with her right index finger.

    "I'm familiar with the sentiment, Mister Hamill, but Squire actually does have a superpower." She lowers her hand. "And I'll caution you to be aware that you're probably not bulletproof, and if you're not bulletproof then you're not bulletproof in the country with the largest number of privately owned firearms in the world. Superpowers aren't a fix-all."

    "She does?"

    Anyway, the Embassy still has a zeta tube, so that's where we appeared. I lead the way out via the delivery entrance, a couple of tourists stopping to take pictures as we leave through the gate.

    "Sure." Beryl triggers her kinetic belt and rises off the ground. "You alright to fly yourself home, or do you want us to call a taxi?"

    Mr Hamill hesitates for a moment, thin strands of plasma forming and discharging around her body. Then there's a flash as she shoots into the air in a semi-controlled fashion, and Beryl and I take off after her.

    "I'm not sure most people count 'improved inductive reasoning' as a superpower. That said, I'm pretty sure you know something about this… Whatever it is."

    "It grants superpowers and causes physical transformations. Look for outbursts of superheroic activity with multiple superheroes who aren't seen together and are… Poorly trained."

    "Already done. And sent to Robin. Not sure it'll be much help, though. America's got a lot of badly trained superheroes, and the statistics I'm using aren't exactly reliable. It's 'improved reasoning', not 'magical guesswork'."

    She turns, flying backwards while I keep an eye on Mr Hamill. Fortunately she's sensible enough to stay high enough that her momentary lapses in control aren't resulting in her hitting anything. She's actually got a pretty good turn of speed.

    "It wasn't you, was it?"

    "If I had something like that, it wouldn't have fallen into the hands of an uncontrolled test subject."

    "But you've heard of it before."

    "I've tried tracking down all sorts of schizo tech. There was a.. rumour about a shapeshifting superhero in Colorado during the sixties who had a dial, but I wasn't ever able to confirm its existence. If I had, I'd have researched it myself. I don't even know what it looks like."

    She folds her arms across her chest. "And you didn't mention this because..?"

    "Because I've got stories about hundreds of devices whose existence I couldn't verify and didn't know anything useful about it?" I shrug. "John Constantine once sold a fake magic clock to this American millionaire and there was this one serial killer who thought he had the body of the infant Anti-Christ in a box…"

    "Did he?"

    "No. He had a rat. That was eating him. Because he went mental, stuck it in a box and taped it to his chest. I mean, I'm glad I caught him but the undead corpse of the Anti-Christ would have come in really handy last week."

    "Hm. And how exactly would Jade feel about you using the dial to 'explore your feminine side'?"

    "While she's on the other side of the galaxy doing Darkstar training? Not a lot?"

    She nods, turning around to face her direction of travel once more. "You were trying to put him at his ease."

    "It worked with Jade. People can get a bit stunned when they have to deal with superheroes at close quarters-."

    "But if you play the lad they think you're one of the guys. Not a crazy snake monster."

    "I'll settle for 'not a crazy cake monster'."

    "And he calmed down a whole lot. Which also means that he's less likely to blow a hole in a wall again."

    I frown. "Again?"

    She points and oh. The flat Mr Hamill.. shares? With Ms Miller, is sporting a hole in the wall to the master bedroom. Mr Hamill is head downward-.

    "Ur-gh."

    Still working on his landings, but she managed that with a stagger rather than a collapse so it seems like she's learning. Okay, I think that was a window, but he took out some of the surrounding brickwork as well. I think I can handle that.

    Mr Hamill walks around to the balcony door and reaches down to her right pocket for her keys before remembering that she's not wearing her own clothes. She knocks on the door instead.

    "Am-? Amy, honey?" Her voice deepens as she tries to affect her original male voice. "You home?"

    Squire lands beside her as she sort of fidgets nervously, not quite able to stand comfortably-.

    Ms Miller opens the door. Mr Hamill's face lights up and she takes a half-step forward… Then stops when Ms Miller shrinks back slightly.

    "Amy, those sidekicks told you I'm me, right?"

    Ms Miller nods, her eyes alighting briefly on Beryl before moving up to take in me.

    "Yeah. Yeah, I know, you're just… Kind of a lot to take in right now."

    "I get it? I get that? This is.. pretty weird for me too."

    I try to tune them out as I finish patching up the hole. Good as… Better than new, if not quite up to the standard of what I did for Holly. Still, I do prefer it when innocent bystanders don't have to suff-.

    "You..? Joseph.. Hamill?"

    I turn back to the entrance of their home as a couple of uniformed police officers walk up. Mr Hamill smiles.

    "Yes, Joseph! I didn't think the paperwork would go through that qu-."

    "You're under arrest, ma'am."

    "What?"

    What?
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
  4. Threadmarks: Z-E-R-O (part 15)
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd January
    16:23 GMT -5


    "Thank you, detective."

    I smile politely, then open the door to the interview room where Mr Hamill is sitting… Pacing in a state of agitation.

    "This is bull-!"

    I raise my hands, and she cuts herself off. I nod and smile in thanks, then turn and close the door.

    "Mister Hamill-."

    "On top of everything else, I gotta get a lawyer now?!"

    "Good news: I'm a lawyer."

    She stops, frowning. "What? Is that some sort of.. superhero sideline thing?"

    "Sort of." I gesture to one of the chairs with my right hand. "Would you like to sit down?"

    She shakes her head a little, but pulls out the indicated chair and slumps into it.

    "Both presently existing Lantern Corps are run by members of a species that originated on the planet Maltus. They're a very old species, and.. more than a little arrogant. Now, because they went pretty much everywhere in the galaxy before the species living there now -including ours- even existed, they… Say that they have a prior claim over the territory. They're generously letting us use our own worlds for now, but they claim the right to intervene as they see fit."

    "Sound like a bunch of pricks."

    "It's a.. posture. And most places are very happy to have Lanterns around. But, one of the ways this 'universal jurisdiction' manifests is that they consider themselves authorised to practise law anywhere. And once they started hiring people from younger species to work for them, they extended that to Corps officers as well. As a result, I can practise law pretty much anywhere in the universe. So right now I'm having my ring feed me everything I need to know about American criminal law, and it's giving me a bit of a headache. So."

    I pull out the chair opposite and sit down.

    "The two men you're alleged to have assaulted."

    "They literally told me that they robbed a place. They said they thought I was a supervillain! They were trying to hire me!"

    "And I believe you." I make a point of maintaining eye contact for a moment. "Do you remember exactly what they said?"

    "Ah… Guy with the bag didn't say nothing. Guy at the front… Ah… Said I was… A long way from Gotham… Tried guessing my superhero name, and… Asked if I was a bad.. girl…" She frowns. "Huh."

    "Huh?"

    "I'm not like a total knuckle-dragger or nothing… But-." She focuses on me. "If you were working with your shirt off and some chick whistled at you, how would you take it?"

    I shrug. "I know I look good. I'd find being whistled at.. a bit odd, but if it was just a one-off thing I think I'd smile, and.. maybe pose a little. I mean, if I wasn't fighting a supervillain at the time or something."

    "Right, see, I always figured I'd do the same? Never happened, but…"

    "But?"

    "He was leering and shit, and he grabbed my tits."

    "That makes things legally simpler."

    "I don't know what I'd have done if some chick did that to my actual body… Some chick who wasn't Amy-" She smiles. "-'cause I've got a pretty good idea what I'd do there. Know what I'd do if a guy did it… So I guess that's equality for you?" She shakes her head. "Grabbing a chick's tits. I mean, who the fuck does that?"

    "Apparently, Mark Bardon, arrested on suspicion of eight counts of breaking and entering and presently in hospital with electrical burns."

    "Is-? I mean, is he gunna die or something? I was just trying to shock him…"

    "The police weren't willing to say. But since I have a power ring, no, he's not going to die. He'll be completely fine in a few weeks. You did less damage than you would if you had shot him."

    Mr Hamill pulls a face. "Bastard. So what the hell am I here for?"

    "He claims that you blasted him with lightning and took his money."

    "His money?"

    "I… Suggest that whether he stole it first or not doesn't help your position unless you immediately returned it to the person you believed to be the lawful owner."

    "Okay, yeah, I guess… But what the fuck was I supposed to do? My wallet disappeared when all my clothes did. And Amy didn't believe I'm who I said I was."

    I nod, sitting back slightly. "Okay. You weren't carrying the money when you entered the Themysciran Embassy. Where did it go?"

    "I stuck it out the way on the roof of the next building."

    Ring…

    Item located.

    "Okay, good. Did you spend any of it?"

    She shrugs. "I bought dinner…"

    I nod. "Okay. I'll get the bag and hand it to the police. Generally they're prepared to overlook minor offences when something sufficiently weird is going on, but I would encourage you to tell me now if you hit anyone else, or… Did anything else that might constitute a criminal offence."

    "Ah… I mighta damaged Dan's truck when I changed." She shrugs. "I didn't really see…"

    "Anything else?"

    "No. Just… On the truck, transformed, flew home -you know about that-, ran into the guys on the roof, kinda wandered around for a bit, got something to eat, wandered around a bit more, then… Went to the embassy."

    I nod. "Alright. Now, going back to your encounter with the two on the roof. What were you doing when you first encountered them?"

    "Amy… Took pity on me. She gave me some of her clothes when I left, but they didn't.. fit..?" I nod. "I was trying to get them on anyway. I guess I heard them coming up the fire escape, but I didn't really notice until… What'd you say his name was? Mark? Until he started talking. The guy with the bag stayed back until I blasted Mark, then he shot me a couple a' times-."

    "I'm sorry, shot you?"

    "He didn't hit me." She shrugs. "So I blasted him too. He alright?"

    I sit back. "The police only arrested Mark. Since he wasn't on the rooftop, I think we can reasonably assume that he recovered somewhat. Finding him should serve to keep the police occupied, at least. Now, the detective overseeing the investigation wants to conduct an interview. Obviously, I'll be here to offer advice, but these are the key points as I see it. You were attacked and acted in self-defence. You did take the money, but there were extenuating circumstances and it's going to be returned. And you don't intend to take up vigilantism as a hobby. Okay?"

    She nods, and I get up and head for the door.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
  5. Threadmarks: Z-E-R-O (part 16)
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd January
    17:03 GMT -5


    "…just finished up." I look around to watch Mr Hamill and the detective check the contents of the bag against a list of the property reported stolen. "Any luck with the search?"

    "No, not yet." Zatanna sounds a little disappointed. "Though on the plus side, the bottom of the Hudson has never been cleaner. I supercharged some Atlantean water purification spells so we could see to the bottom, then I tried levitating all manufactured objects... I don't even know how some of this stuff got here."

    "I'm sure that the Department of Health will be very grateful. Did you find any Star Conquerors?"

    "If I was being mind controlled right now, would I tell you about it?"

    "Probably not."

    "No, no Star Conquerors. Starfire's looking around the bottom in case the dial is immune to my spells, but it doesn't look like it's here."

    "So either the current caught it, or someone else has already picked it up."

    "Probably. I mean, we can't know for sure until we actually find it, but there isn't much else we can do here."

    The detective nods and starts putting the contents of the bag into plastic evidence bags. Mr Hamill looks a little happier.

    "Any thoughts on reversing the change without it?"

    "I'm pretty sure I could transfer the change onto someone else."

    "That sounds like just-."

    "Except that then Mister Hamill would end up with their face. And no superpowers. And I'm not sure what would happen if the dial ever turned off. I might be able to set the spell so that it just undoes itself, but if it turns out that the dial does what it does by magic then the spells might interfere with one another."

    "Best case scenario?"

    "He gets his body back and whoever volunteered keeps whichever body they prefer. But the worst case scenario involves both of them getting mashed together."

    Ah.

    "I.. don't think I'll put that to Mister Hamill. Is it magical?"

    "I don't think so. The problem is that there are plenty of ways to conceal magic, and I don't know if I'm good enough to punch through it or work around it."

    Someone else shares my scry ward pain.

    "I've been trying to work out ways to track it down indirectly. No luck so far."

    "Understood." Mr Hamill looks hopefully at me and I give my head a small shake. "Any other leads?"

    "Before this happened he was working on a demolition. A small apartment building got burned down and the owner decided they'd rather clear the site and build something new than try and repair the damage. Robin thinks that the dial must have been owned by someone who got caught in the fire."

    "Seems reasonable. Any evidence there was a mad science lab there?"

    "I'm not an expert, but the rubble just looks like rubble to me. Nothing magical, anyway."

    "No, that would be too easy. What's everyone else doing?"

    "Starfire is helping Robin go through the rubble, Rocket and Cornwall Boy are checking the banks downriver and Squire's doing background checks on the residents. Are you finished at the police station yet?"

    I make eye contact with the detective. "Are we finished for now?"

    She nods. "Mister Hamill, don't leave town. We'll want to speak to you again once we've found Mister Bardon's partner in crime."

    Mister Hamill nods. "Wasn't planning to."

    The detective nods, and Mister Hamill head my way.

    "Yes, we're finished. Where does Robin want us?"

    "Just a sec…"

    Mr Hamill reaches me, and I nod in the direction of the exit. She walks past me, relaxing slightly as she moves away from the interrogation area.

    "Hey Oh El. Squire said you'd heard of this dial before this happened?"

    "Nothing reliable. But, yes."

    "I need you to go to Littleville, Colorado." I nod. "They haven't computerised their local newspaper back issues yet, so I need you to go through them to try and find anything you can about this 'dial'."

    I wave at the police officer manning the front desk as we pass, getting a nod in return as Mr Hamill heads out through the front door.

    "Anything in particular?"

    "Ideally, the secret identity of the original user. But even just a picture of the dial would give us a better idea of what to look for."

    "Assuming it’s the same one."

    "Even if it's an earlier version, it'll at least let us narrow down what sort of thing we're looking for."

    "Rightyoh. Do you want me to bring Mr Hamill to you, or take her with me?"

    "Zatanna.. said something about you not wanting to move people around any more?"

    "Until I can get a Controller to actually examine what happens to people when I do that, yes."

    "How long's that gonna take?"

    "Maybe… Two weeks? I can take her if you think it's essential…"

    "No, that's okay." I jerk around, eyes widening slightly as I see Richard straightening up behind me, smirking as he does so. I hesitate for a moment, them lower my left hand. "I wanna see if Zatanna can use him to track the dial better."

    I nod. "Mister Hamill-."

    "Yeah, I heard." She holds out her right hand and I shake it. "Thanks for your help. I really appreciate it."

    "Thank me when you're a man again."

    "Keeping me out of prison will do for now. Okay, kid-" I smile faintly as he turns to Richard. "Where now?"

    I fly upward, aiming to get a decent distance between myself and the ground before transitioning. And, yes, I'm probably being unnecessarily paranoid, but it's only a few seconds and it's only for a couple of weeks.

    Ring, set course for Littleville, Colorado.

    Compliance.

    And transition.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
  6. Threadmarks: Z-E-R-O (part 17)
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd January
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    Littleville's grown a little since the sixties, though it's still not exactly densely populated. The largest industry in the area is farming, though they also still have the heavy manufacturing that made the Thunderbolt Syndicate's attacks possible. Quite a lot of the American Army's old 'specialist' weapons used to be built around here, borderline mad science machines that were never reliable or cheap enough to make it into mass deployment. But as electronics improved and became more reliable, the local plants weren't able to adapt to the new reality.

    Still, while the legal facilities explained the illegal expertise and equipment, there isn't anything in the records I've been able to access which explains the presence of a device that can actually grant superpowers. Some of what happened could have been explained by sophisticated tools or power armour, but the vast majority simply can't.

    Ring, anything out of the ordinary?

    Low level exotic energy residues detected. Locations largely overlap those of reported fights between local superheroes and known exotic weapons. No other significant anomalies detected.

    Fine. I transition to a point three kilometres above the town library and then descend at speed. And every time I do that I wonder how much of a risk it actually is. I know that transitions leave a residue that can be traced. The problem is that for the first time since the original glow experiments a colour other than green is being used en masse. I know that the Guardians chose green due to the fact that it causes minimal mental alterations. John's ring didn't have any records of them studying the side effects, but… Having a Lantern flying around a Space Sector and generally not picking more than one per world per generation would minimise the problem anyway. And most of them didn't have the raw power that I do. And I know that they generally don't use-

    I trigger the kinetic belt to arrest my descent, landing lightly to the surprise of a handful of townsfolk. I smile and wave politely before proceeding inside.

    -several techniques that I do.

    "H-hello?"

    My smile broadens as I make eye contact with the librarian. "Good afternoon, sir. I'm looking for copies of the town newspaper, nineteen sixty five to nineteen seventy, if that's at all possible."

    "Ah, sure. Any.. particular reason?"

    "I'm trying to track down your local superheroes. I mean, I imagine they'd all be fairly old by now, but there are any number of up and coming superheroes who could benefit from their experience."

    "Those crazy guys from the sixties? I always thought they were probably government agents. Hey, Pat!" He comes out from behind the desk and waves down one of the aisles. "Gotta take a guy to the records room. Cover the desk for me?"

    "Sure thing."

    "It's this way."

    He leads the way up an internal staircase and along the landing to a door marked 'Periodicals'. He then gets out a key and unlocks the door.

    "We're getting some kids from the local college to scan all this stuff onto computer and index it so's people can actually find things. But a lot of the originals are real delicate."

    "How far have they got?"

    "Nineteen fifty." He pushes the door open and shows me inside. "Of course, they're working on plenty of other publications as well. Used to be a couple of major print factories in Littleville, so that's a lot of magazines." I bow my head as he leads me over to the racks containing the carefully protected newspapers. "Ah, sorry, I guess that's not going to make your life much easier."

    "Oh, the life of a superhero."

    He walks over and turns the wheel to open one of the interlocking stacks. "You'll probably want to start in here-."

    "No, thank you, that's fine. Ring, scan."

    Compliance.

    "You.. don't need to look at them?"

    "My rings can scan and sort them faster than my eyes and brain." Though not instantly, with this many paper copies to go through.

    "Find anything helpful?"

    "Not yet."

    There are a few appearances listed here that I didn't already know about. Checking the area covered… Within easy travel distance of plenty of places where whoever was doing this might live. I'd have liked to see if the neophyte superhero always headed straight from his… Or given that I already know that the dial can change a person's sex, her home. But since this was very definitely before mass camera usage, there just aren't enough pictures for me to work with. Whoever this was, they weren't all that bothered about public acclaim.

    I wonder if..?

    "I don't suppose that anyone has made a compilation of photographs made by private citizens, have they?"

    "Not that I know of. Why are you looking for this stuff now, anyway?"

    "I have reason to suspect that the device which granted them their powers has reappeared. I want to ask its original user or users about it."

    "Well if that don't beat all." He edges towards the door. "Hey, I might know someone who could help with that. Should I give them a call?"

    I nod. "Please."

    Okay… Police reports are on an electronic database, so if I compare response times that might give me an idea of travel distances.

    "Been a while. Let's see… Four six seven seven six seven."

    Cross-referencing police reports with newspaper reports… No, there's not much more here than-.

    **Who has the dial?**

    My construct gutters as I stagger under the mental force! I look around and-.

    A floating brain a metre across shielded by a telekinetic barrier, pink and white cables running across its surface and into a pulsating organ on its underside.

    **Who has the dial?**

    Space between us bends as its shield narrows and bwugh! I'm sent flying through the wall, my environmental shield flickering at the force of the impact! I take control of my flight before I can hit anything else, heavier armour appearing around me from subspace and construct armour covering that. Looking back at the wall of the library I see the brain float towards the hole, another fluctuation in its telekinetic shield grabbing the brickwork and making a circular section explode outward.

    "Please evacuate the area-"

    I stick a construct barrier in the way of the flying detritus, blocking it before it can hit anyone.

    "-in a calm and orderly fashion!"

    With the debris blocked, people in the surrounding area come to their senses and start running away just as fast as they can. I suppose that it's been so long since a super fight happened around here that the locals have lost the instincts for bystander survival.

    I return my attention to the brain as it floats out of the now enlarged hole.

    "Who are you?"

    **I am the Scintillating Psionist! Give me the information I want or everyone here dies!**
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2019
  7. Threadmarks: Z-E-R-O (part 18)
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd January
    15:15 GMT -7


    "You're the what?"

    Wait. Someone with superpowers and a stupid name suddenly appears. Was.. the librarian whose name I didn't get the guy all along?

    **I am the Scintillating Psionist and you will respect me!**

    Pale pink lights shimmer under the skin of his brain and-. People stop running, their bodies locking up.

    **Answer my question!**

    "Okay. No need to do anything hasty."

    Neural chaff grenades as a possibility, but against a non-standard neural structure I can't be confident they would work. And the few nonhumanoid telepaths on record are noted as being able to do things with their abilities that humanoids flat out can't. Star Conquerors couldn't function with humanoid minds, and M'gann's abilities have come on in leaps and bounds since she stopped restricting herself.

    Worse, I don't know what would happen to the people he's connected to. There are ways to accidentally fry people's brains when you're hooked up like this. To say nothing of the neural programs that he could have inserted. Doing things like that should take years to learn, but whatever else the dial does it appears to give at least some people an intuitive understanding of what they can do.

    "I don't know who has the dial. The last person I know of who had it was so surprised by their transformation that they accidentally threw it off a bridge, and we haven't been able to find it since."

    The 'Scintillating Psionist' considers this for a moment.

    **Reveal your mind to me!**

    Selective revelation is possible against a humanoid telepath. Or at least I could stick my barriers back up if something untoward was happening. Against a being like this… I don't like my chances of pulling something like that off.

    "Why?"

    **I want the dial!**

    I squint. No, no you don't. You want something, but it isn't the dial.

    "Okay, if you have some sort of documented proof that it's your property, I'll return it to you just as soon as the current user has disconnected themselves."

    **Unacceptable! Who dares to use the dial!?**

    "They didn't realise what it was. And they very much want to stop using it. They didn't mean to offend you, and I'm sure they're very sorry about the whole situation."

    **The dial is useless while they use its power!**

    That's a relief. We don't have to worry about a mad serial killer getting hold of it or something.

    "Then you've got every reason to want them to disconnect willingly, haven't you?"

    **I will have the truth from your mind!**

    "Looking into my mind wouldn't show you the difference between false memories and genuine ones."

    I take a hologram projector out of subspace and… Create an image of Mr Hamill's current form, taking care to alter her facial appearance.

    "The woman in question came to the Justice League looking like this."

    Another wave of colour passes under the brain's… 'Skin'. Any observable-?

    I spot a woman who had been frozen between steps regain at least some ability to move as she looks up in growing horror at…

    Ring, what is the librarian's name?

    Local government personnel records list him as 'Jonathan Dow'.

    Jon Do-? Really. How long has he worked here?

    Approximately thirty years.

    Fair enough, then. The woman looks up at me for a moment, and I make an urgent 'push away' gesture with my right hand. She takes the hint and starts creeping away from our confrontation, and I notice a handful of others doing the same. Good. I don't know what sort of range Mr Dow has, but if they can get out of it then-.

    **I can't find her!**

    Everyone freezes again, and I don't think it's from fear. How much range does he have? A telepathic life form of that size… Star Conquerors with brains that size were proved to be able to operate across a continent…

    "Yes. The dial grants powers at random, doesn't it? I found it had several curious interactions with my rings. I did wonder if it was perhaps due to transformed individuals not being there in the conventional sense."

    **Where is she?!**

    "Mister Dow-."

    **I am the Scintillating Psionist now!**

    "Scintillating Psionist, why do you want to know where she is?"

    **So that I can recover the Dial!**

    "And then what?"

    **That is not your concern!**

    "Scintillating Psionist, I'm perfectly happy to return your property to you, but I can't in good conscience give you the location of someone you're simply going to attack. If you would like to accompany us during our search, we'd be happy to have you along. And as I've said, if you can prove that you own the dial then we will return it to you."

    **Give! Me! The! D-!**

    "Oh God, Jon, what have you done to yourself?"

    A woman stares out from the hole in the wall in horror. That would be… Patricia Birchall, the other librarian.

    **I am completing our mission! The Dial belongs to the Master!**

    I check, and a portion of the crowd are once again trying to make themselves scarce. Okay, good. He isn't facing my way but… Yes, I can feel the weak telekinetic field he's using in place of sensory organs. What do I do? I could try suppressing his desires, but I don't know if he'd realise what I was doing. And frankly his desire network looks weird.

    "Jon, it's been decades-."

    **That doesn't matter! I can't live like this any more!**

    Ring, can we… Analyse his current physiology?

    Analysis complete.

    Oh great, even my ring isn't sure how that thing is functioning. Okay, assume that a lot of the work is offloaded onto whatever dial he just used… I just need to shut down his telepathy.

    "Jon, just-. Just use the dial again, and we can sort this out."

    Reconfiguring neural shock generator, ready filament-based area evacuation.

    Compliance.

    **You're just distracting me.** The brain turns back in my direction. Is the telepathy direction-restricted? **TELL ME WHERE IT-!**

    I trigger the generator.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
  8. Threadmarks: Z-E-R-O (part 19)
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd January
    15:18 GMT -7


    **Grgrlulgrlur.**

    The Scintillating Psionist lists in the air for a moment, and everyone it had been holding in thrall legs it. Then its telekinetic field starts fluctuat-shield!

    My orange barrier expands, forming a dish-shape to protect the town as the telekinetic barrier leaps outward! My barrier is shoved away, the upper third where the force was concentrated cracking and break-.

    "Ah!"

    Part of the telekinetic blast went into the library! Ms Birchall dived to the side in an impressive display of athleticism for someone her age, but the floor is collapsing beneath her-.

    **Kuh-kuh-kuh-kuh.**

    Another telekinetic surge, this one grabbing objects at random. I watch two cars get squeezed to wreckage-.

    Ring, read patterns of activation and improve the suppression system!

    Compliance.

    **Uhhhhhhhh.**

    There's a momentary increase of the force on my armour, but the kinetic shield soaks it. Then the telekinetic barrier around the Scintillating Psionist fails completely, and the brain drops-.

    Flight aura!

    I catch it before it can splatter against the ground, another construct extending into the building and propping up the floor Ms Birchall is standing on. She nearly trips as it falls an inch onto my supports, but then steadies herself-.

    "His dial!"

    Because there's an off-switch, hopefully.

    "Where is it?"

    "You didn't-?!" She turns around, frantically searching the wreckage in the library for any sign of a dial.

    I raise my hands, dismissing all constructs except the ones keeping the Scintillating Psionist off the ground and unconscious before sending out filaments to grab the rubble and pile it neatly in the street. Or as neatly as possible, at any rate. No, no… I really hope that wasn't it, as if it was then it's been crushed-.

    "There! There!"

    Ms Birchall points frantically at a small, dull grey object. I grab it with a construct and pull it up as I float towards her.

    "How do I deactivate it?"

    "Do you know what he dialled?"

    Ah… "Four six seven seven six seven."

    She shakes her head. "Horror. No wonder he wouldn't listen." She takes the dial from my construct and holds it out to me. "He has to dial it in reverse."

    I glance at the Scintillating Psionist. "He doesn't have hands. Is there another way?"

    "These versions don't have the power to maintain the transformation indefinitely. Can you keep him unconscious for an hour?"

    Theoretically, yes, but long term neural suppression can do all sorts of unpleasant things to a person. "I'd rather avoid it."

    "It doesn't have to be voluntary. If you can just press it up against him, that should work."

    "His external surface is part of his brain."

    "Injuries disappear when we change back."

    "How long does turning back take?"

    "A few seconds."

    Right. I-.

    **Mrugh-ugh?**

    The telekinetic shield momentarily re-establishes itself, breaking the link to my flight aura. Then it disappears again, the Scintillating Psionist falling towards the ground! Aura back o-!

    There's a pulse of telekinetic force, sending the unconscious brain upward into the sky! Shit, okay, that… Cable doesn't appear to be plugged into anything vital. I fly up until I'm alongside him, hold the dial as close to him as I can and then yankanddial!

    The telekinetic surge stops almost immediately, so I extend a flight aura around everything but the end of the cable. Seven-! Fuck, the rotary dial! I can't make it go back to neutral faster! Neural activity… I don't know enough to monitor him effectively, but I don't think he's dying. Six, and a painful wait. Seven. Seven. Some of the cables are pulsing worryingly. I hate not understanding-. Six. I… Think he's having some sort of stroke. No, can't stop now.

    Four.

    The shift is immediate, the image of a disembodied brain shrinking and fading as the image of an adult man grows and solidifies. Two seconds pass and the man is all that remains, his eyes blinking as he adjusts.

    Ring, stop neural suppression.

    Compliance.

    Binding my newly human guest in construct chains, I float back towards the library.

    "I would appreciate an explanation, please."

    Ms Birchall nods. "The man you were looking for is called Robert Reed. He's-. Well, he doesn't live around here any more."

    "And who are you?"

    "We're-. I suppose you'd call us clones. We were… Grown from tissue samples taken from.. transformed heroes. Neither of us were ever able to manifest powers, so we were kept around for other things. Spying, mostly."

    "By who?"

    "One time, Robert needed to be in two places at once. He used the dial to make two of himself, but… One of them was evil. The evil side went its own way, and… Created us."

    "And new dials."

    "No, the ones we use are far weaker than the original."

    "Is he still around?"

    "No, they merged back into Robert Reed decades ago. But we're still compelled to obey our master's last orders. He wanted the dial back."

    "You seem to be managing."

    She shakes her head. "It's been a long time, and I don't know what I'd do if I actually saw the.. bedamned thing."

    "Do you have any way to locate it?"

    She shakes her head. "We wouldn't be here if we did. We came here because it was our only lead, and since we didn't have anything better we settled down… I thought we were out."

    "And your dial."

    She hesitates. "I-. I've got it, but I can't give it up. I'd-. I'd try and kill you, I'd have to-."

    "Okay, just don't try and use it." She nods gratefully. "So who would have a way to track the dial down?"
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
  9. Threadmarks: Z-E-R-O (part 20)
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd January
    18:18 GMT -6


    "Sounds like you're having more fun than we are, Oh El."

    "I somehow doubt that."

    The Central State Hospital actually has some fairly nice grounds, thought I notice there isn't anything planted in them that would make hiding easier. My two 'guests' look increasingly nervous as we get closer, but there shouldn't be anything to worry about. I've already sent off the paperwork required for them to gain legitimate legal existence, and Robert Reed is supposed to be a model inmate.

    Ninety nine percent of the time, anyway.

    "No luck finding it, then?"

    "Not yet. We found the guy who had it before Mister Hamill. He was a small time hood before he got the dial."

    "I think I missed that intelligence report. Shouldn't a new supervillain-?"

    "He just committed a few thefts, Oh El. He kept it low-key enough that Batman didn't make it a priority, then he got into a fight with his henchmen and handed himself over to the police. We actually knew about the guys who had it before him. We didn't know that they had something like the dial; my best guess was that Captain Chaos was a shapeshifter."

    I nod. "Did he have any way to track the dial?"

    "No. And I don't think any of the recent users will, either. Kid Flash is going to drop in on Christopher King to see if he knows anything, but based on the fact that he hasn't been active as a superhero since Infinity Inc. broke up, I doubt he'll know anything."

    One of the orderlies waves to me, and I turn and walk in his direction. "I suppose they could just dial until they hit someone with 'find the dial' powers."

    "I don't know, Oh El. Robert Reed and Victoria Grant both ended up in secure hospitals. I'm not sure that using the dial is all that healthy."

    "We'll know more when we get the chance to examine it. I don't suppose there's been a sudden unexplained increase in superheroes anywhere?"

    "Not that I've noticed. I've got Beryl watching the superhero fan sites just in case. We actually saw your fight in Littleville before you reported in."

    "I'm not sure I'd call that a fight. More of a talking down." The orderly walks back inside what appears to be a glass-fronted day room and bends down to say something to a shrivelled man in the loose-fitting clothes of a long term resident. Robert Reed is only in his early sixties, but for various reasons he looks like Alan at his worst. "I'll talk to you if I find out anything."

    "Ah, Oh El? I'm not making this an all-nighter. Unless you and Zatanna come up with something, we're just.. not set up for wide area lost property searches."

    I nod. "You're right. Have you told Mr Hamill?"

    "I've told him I don't think we'll find it just by looking. But we couldn't afford to just ignore something this powerful even if he didn't need it to change back."

    "True."

    "Catch you later."

    I nod, lowering my hand as I walk through the exterior door and into the day room. "Mister Reed."

    "Yeah." He looks up, tiredly. "That's me. I hear someone found the dial."

    "Someone did, then it went to someone else, then someone else again"

    He shakes his head. "I didn't ever want to let that thing go. How the hell did so many people get it so fast?"

    "Enquiries are still proceeding. Ah…" I look him over. "Are you..? Alright?"

    "Compared to what?" He shifts position slightly, arms folded on his lap. "I spent a decade simultaneously as a superhero and a supervillain, then I got merged back together. And I was fine for a little while, just being me again. And then…" He takes a deep breath. "The transformations influence your personality. You're still.. you, but you're a little bit them as well. Wizard was completely selfless, but at the same time he was obsessed about working indirectly, or not clueing other people in that he was around. Sometimes I forget that I'm not him, and… That's okay, because he hated hurting people."

    "And sometimes I forget I'm not Master." He takes a couple of deep breaths, looking away from me. "Those are the bad days."

    "We don't have to talk about the Master-" He turns his head back to me, frowning. "-if you-."

    "Yeah. We do. I might not know where the dial is now…" He shudders. "And thank God I don't. But I can still kinda feel where other users are." He leans to his right to get a better look at Ms Birchall and Mr Dow. "Who are you?"

    Ms Birchall glances at Mr Dow for a moment, then returns her attention to him. "You don't recognise us?"

    "If you're someone Wizard or Master met…" He shakes his head. "They keep me medicated so I don't start thinking like those two again. I wouldn't recognise you."

    "You…" She trails off, staring at the man before her. "You -Master-you- made us. Do you remem-?"

    His face falls a little. "The clones. I-. No, no." He closes his eyes for a moment, taking another deep breath. "No. Master created so many… I didn’t think there were any left he didn't kill."

    "He told us to find the dial. We've.. been.. living in Littleville since…"

    Mr Reed shrugs. "It's as good a place as anywh-." His eyes widen. "Oh God, you've still got the Horror Dials." Ms Birchall nods, holding up both hers and Mr Dow's. "You haven't.. used them, have you?" Ms Birchall shakes her head while Mr Dow nods. "Shit. Those, those…" He shakes his head again. "Don’t use those."

    "Mister Reed, where did they come from?"

    "Wizard and Master both had the ability to make dials. Knock-offs of the original, but they still worked. Master preferred powered clones, they were more… Controllable."

    "Do you know how to make them? Or where the original came from?"

    He shakes his head. "No, no. I mean, I might be able to work it out if I really concentrated on their memories…" He shudders. "No. And I never knew where the original came from. It was… It was just there."

    "Do you have any way of finding the original?"

    "The dials give you the tools to do the job. Whatever that is. You talk to Chris?"

    "One of my colleagues is."

    "Take him to roughly where you think the dial is and get him to use his." He shakes his head. "It's the… That's the best I can do."

    "Do you think he'll get a dial-finding power?"

    "I once beat up a gang as a walking pinball machine. The application isn't always direct, but it ought to give him something he can work with. Or failing that, if someone else picks it up, he'll be able to find them just as well as I could."

    "I don't suppose you'd be willing to help us search yourself?"

    He shakes his head emphatically. "I can't-. I can't become Master again. I can't risk it. You don't know how many people he killed-." He starts crying. "God. He just told them to walk into an incinerator and they did it!" He looks up at Ms Birchall and Mr Dow. "I'm sorry, but this… This is where I need to be."
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2019
  10. Threadmarks: Z-E-R-O (part 21)
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd January
    19:43 GMT -5


    "…sorry, Mr Dow. I didn't think-"

    The decidedly peaky-looking Mr Dow tries waving it off. "It's fine."

    "-that airsickness… I've never had that problem before."

    While not transitioning should minimise the potential effect of orange light pollution, flying normally at high speed apparently has other risks. Bird strikes aren't a problem-. Not for me anyway. Just have to hope that none of those were endangered. But a badly airsick clone spy… Didn't think about that in advance.

    "What are the two of you going to do if you actually..? See the original dial?"

    Ms Birchall shakes her head. "I don't… Seeing it shouldn't do anything. We were created after the dial split, and we weren't there when it got put back together. We've never seen it before, not even a photograph."

    I nod. Even if Master had something to work off, mental programming shouldn't last this long without reinforcement…

    "So I'm forced to conclude that Mr Dow's attack was something he chose to do?"

    "Ah, well, we're still conditioned to be obedient. We didn't-. He didn't have to-."

    "It was the first sniff I'd gotten in thirty years." Mr Dow doesn't exactly look chastened, but… I sort of get where he's coming from. "It was my purpose. I could… Stop thinking about it, but when it was right there…"

    I stop the construct plane in the air. "If this is going to be a problem-."

    "Mr Reed isn't exactly Master, but… I think he counts-. God, I knew those people." He shakes his head, looking down. "I was just-. Dial the number, then-."

    "It's not called a Horror dial for nothing. You used it nearly as often as I did."

    "I'd… Forgotten."

    "And for someone who hasn't used a dial before?"

    Ms Birchall shrugs. "Master didn't have any use for pacifists. Since we were spies, we needed to be able to live with people without going on crazy rampages like his successful subjects did. But he wanted us to be able to fight, without… Holding back, even against people we knew."

    I nod. Always a risk that if you live among people you'll start to see them as people.

    "So… The Horror Dial bypasses that. It pushes everything out of your mind. You're rational when you activate it, and… You're still rational, but…"

    "You suddenly weigh things differently." They both nod. "Has talking to Mr Reed relieved you of the need to keep hold of your dials? Because to me they sound like something that no one should have access to."

    "We went… Thirty years without using them. And we have concealed carry permits."

    "Alright, let me put it this way. Mister Dow, what you did is a criminal offence. And with the Injustice League, Klarion and Fawcett City, a lot of places have been strengthening their anti-supervillain laws. Since no one suffered any lasting physical harm I don’t think that they'd push for a death sentence, but I strongly suspect that you'll be spending the rest of your life in prison for multiple counts of mind control. Alternatively, you can give me those dials, I'll lock them away, and then I'll have a word with some people."

    They both look decidedly sombre. For a moment neither of them says anything, then Ms Birchall pulls out the dials and holds them out.

    "Thank you."

    I put them in a pouch -not going to risk subspacing them- and resume our journey, descending towards the current location of the rest of the gang. They look up as we land on the promenade.

    And that's Christopher King, looking remarkably normal.

    "Hey, Oh El." Richard steps forward, giving my guests a once-over. "Mister King says he can't feel it."

    I turn to my guests, eyebrows raised. Mr Dow shakes his head while Ms Birchall shrugs.

    "Orange Lantern?" Mr King steps forward. "You saw… Bobby, didn't you? Is he doing okay? He hasn't answered my calls in years."

    "No. No, not really." I shake my head. "Sorry, I sort of assumed-."

    "I'm not family and he doesn't like-. Didn't like being reminded of the Dial. Especially after what happened to Vicki." He sighs. "But if everyone's out of ideas, I'd rather find it before someone takes it joyriding again."

    "Zatanna, these are-" I pull the two dials out of my pouch. "-Horror Dials, made based on the original design. Would they help?"

    She shakes her head. "I already tried with Mister King's dial. Whatever they are, something's protecting them from my magic."

    Raquel looks somewhat sceptical. "What exactly are the odds of the dial giving you something you can use to find the other dial?"

    "I've-" Mr King shrugs as he pulls out his dial. I tense slightly, watching to see if Mr Dow or Ms Birchall lunge for it. No, no reaction at all. "-got no idea. It usually gives me something I can use, but this is a lot more specific than a random fight with the Master's goons."

    "I don't suppose you can just enter 'find dial', can you?"

    He turns his dial so that I can see the face-. It has four letters, 'H', 'E', 'R' and 'O'.

    "Bobby's Wizard personality didn't want any chance that we'd misuse it or dial something we weren't supposed to."

    Mr Hamill clenches her fists in frustration. "I still say I should try using that to turn back. I just gotta dial 'hero' again, don't I?"

    Mr King shakes his head. "Assuming it still works the same, you gotta dial 'oreh'."

    "Huh?"

    "It's 'hero' backwards. And honestly, given the crazy stuff these dials can do, I wouldn't risk it."

    Richard looks up at Mr Hamill. "How about we try it if Mr King's dial can't find it?"

    Mr Hamill droops. "This whole day's sucked. I just want it to be over."

    Mr King looks at him sympathetically for a moment, then raises his left wrist. Looks like his dial is built into his wristwatch. Now that's worrying. The potential for concealed usage… "Okay, here we go with attempt number one. 'H-E-R-O'."

    There's a faint white-yellow glow as Mr King recedes and another figure comes to the fore. Some sort of… Bizarre parody of Sherlock Holmes, complete with deerstalker-mounted magnifying glasses.

    "Super Sleuth, master of mysteries and concluder of conundrums!"

    He takes a moment to look himself over.

    "Which would be great if we had any evidence to work with, but the first deduction I'm going to make is that if no one knows where it went there aren't going to be clues in human behaviour and you've already searched all of the reasonably probable locations for it to wash out. O-R-E-H."

    Mr King reappears and redials.

    "H-E-R-O."

    This time he gets a.. vaguely animalistic alien, with.. antennae and blue skin.

    "The Transphasic Tracker. This should work! Okay, I'll need to head back to the bridge, then I should be able to follow exactly where it went!"

    My team mates look at one another in confusion. Raquel shakes her head.

    "What'd he say?"
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
  11. Threadmarks: Z-E-R-O (part 22)
    Mr Zoat

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    2nd January
    20:11 GMT -5


    "How the fuck did I get it on a boat?"

    Richard tilts his head to the side. "You did say you weren't paying attention."

    There's a brief flicker of light as Christopher 'Transphasic Tracker' King uses his own dial to regain his usual form. And hopefully, the ability to speak English.

    "So… Ah..?" The security guard who let us into this container yard looks a little awkward. Yes, we have every legal right to be here without a warrant -and the right of Justice League affiliates to pursue schizo tech without one has been tested in court- but it's a decidedly odd event, costumes are cheap to fake and he doesn't recognise most of us. "You kids about done here?"

    Richard nods. "Yeah, thanks. Alright, let's-."

    Mr Hamill walks up to Mr King, clearly barely restraining his desire to grab the dial. "Can I just use it right now?"

    "Mister King? Would that cause any sort of problem?"

    Mr King shakes his head. "No, as.. far as I know, all the problems people have had is with turning into things, not turning back. Here." He holds it out to Mr Hamill. "Remember, it's-."

    Mr Hamill snatches it with both hands and turns the dial with his right forefinger. "O. Fuck, how did people used to make calls like this? R… E… And H!"

    Electro Lass fades away, replaced by a… Man who looks somewhat sweatier and less well-shaven than the figure in the photographs. He breathes hard for a moment, then runs his right hand over his face while the left is still clamped down hard on the dial. His right hand continues down, checking that his mammaries have gone, that his belly has returned and that his-.

    "Dude."

    "I'm back!" He pulls his right hand free and raises it in exaltation. "It's me, I'm me again!"

    Richard smiles. "Then our work here is done. You planning on keeping-"

    Mr Hamill thrusts the H-Dial towards Richard so fast that I see him tense to block or dodge.

    "Fucking take-"

    "-that-?"

    "-this fucking thing the fuck away from me."

    "O-kay." Richard takes it from him. "If you insist."

    "Kid, this has been the most fucked up day of my life and I'm not drunk enough to laugh about it yet. I wanna forget I ever saw that fucking thing."

    I take a small bottle I picked up on Tamaran out of subspace and hold it out to him. He looks at me sceptically for a moment.

    "Momma told me to never accept presents from strange men, and buddy? I hate to tell you this-."

    "Mister King is teetotal and everyone else here is underage."

    "Score." He flips the cap off the bottle and sniffs the contents. "What's it made of?"

    "Alien nuts.""Well, mainly nuts."

    "Pf, aliens." He throws his head back and necks…

    Um. Ring, there isn't anything in there that-.

    While inadvisable, there is insufficient alcohol in that bottle to kill a healthy adult human male.

    "…ludicrously powerful superpower-granting artefact." Richard cautiously holds the H-Dial up as Mr Hamill wipes his mouth and nods in appreciation. "Mister King-."

    Mr King holds up his hands defensively. "I don't even use the dial I've got. After what happened to Vicki and Bobby, I think you should lock it in a vault somewhere and melt down the key."

    Leonid shakes his head. "Dial should be studied. Reed and Grant used Dial for several years, and fought many battles."

    Richard shrugs. "That's up to the Justice League. Unless someone has a reason to use it right now, which I don't think-."

    The dial starts turning.

    Richard's face switches into neutral. "Mister King, has that ever happened before?"

    It keeps turning, then stops at M.

    Mr King shakes his head. "No, no, it doesn't turn itself."

    "Fuck this." Mr Hamill heads for the entrance of the yard at a sprint.

    Richard takes a firm grasp on the dial and inserts his thumbs into the holes in the dial. His Danner Formula enhanced fingers hold it for a second, then the dial resumes its motion. A.

    He thinks for a second, then throws the dial to me. I catch it in my right hand.

    "Oh El, get that away from populated areas. And don't be holding it when it stops turning!"

    Chihuahuan Desert it is, then. I shoot up into the air, then transition-

    2nd January
    19:14 GMT -6


    -to a place a reasonable distance from the roads or the stands and where's the dial?

    2nd January
    20:14 GMT -5


    I dive and catch it before it can hit the ground. Oh dear. I turn in the air and rocket towards the Atlantic as the dial reaches S. M-A-S, with a version of the dial that can spell out anything. Hey, maybe that explains Mr Hamill. Maybe he didn't dial 'hero' but 'woman' or 'boobs' or something. If that works, this could be a major benefit to those amongst the transsexual community who aren't brave enough to go under Cranius's knife. Just need one of the limited versions per person.

    That's the coast, no Atlantean cities near here, shipping… A reasonable distance away. I'm actually going to have to find time to build… Maybe not another Ice Fortress, but… Some sort of fortified facility for things like this. I don't think that Jade's flat is really appropriate.

    Even if I could fit a decent workshop in that room she was using as a dojo…

    And T. Not too surprised. The Master was actually a major supervillain for years, and today proved that they never did find all of his holdouts. If anyone had some way of remote controlling the H-Dial, it would be him.

    "Orange Lantern to Robin. Unless this thing goes off like Tsar Bomba, I'm far enough away. Has someone checked Mister Reed?"

    "According to his guards, he's in his room, not doing anything."

    E.

    "We've got M-A-S-T-E now. One more letter and we'll have a guy who can clone supervillains back. If he gets access to modern cloning technology-."

    "Your friends from Littleville say that the Master didn't have any physical powers himself. The Flash is running that way now. If Mister Reed turns back, he won't get very far." There's a pause, and a sigh. "Tell me you're not still holding onto it."

    "I-."

    "Because you turning into the Master would be far worse than Mister Reed transforming."

    Yeah, he's right. I create a construct bubble around the dial and send it high into the air just as the rotor reaches 'R'.

    "Sending it on its way now. You might want to-."

    "Mister King isn't wearing his watch."

    I nod. "Sensible. It's reached 'R' but hasn't-."

    My construct is annihilated in a sudden explosion of exotic energy and brown mist. Another construct catches the burned remains of the H-Dial as it falls toward the sea. Material composition… Same device, as far as I can tell.

    "I think it was a self-destruct. If we knew anyone who knew how these things worked I'd suggest having them take a look…"

    "Bring the remains back anyway. Robin out."
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
  12. Threadmarks: Z-E-R-O (part 23)
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    2nd January
    20:15 GMT -5


    Y.

    The man moves his hands away immediately, then takes a couple of paces back just to make sure. The runes inscribed on the plinth shimmer faintly for a second, the brown mist rapidly eating through the sympathetic link generating segment, but…

    The broken dial vanishes, and the intact one appears.

    "Ha!" He grins, his head tilting back. "Hoo! And here we are!"

    Here. H-ear. Hey-yah. Not hur.

    Uh, really? He knew that occasional bursts of free association would be a problem with his neural augmentations, but flashing back to his early elocution lessons really isn't that big a deal.

    Deal, not dilly or daal.

    And hey (not hee), at least the language teacher had spotted the structural similarities quick enough (not enoo) that they didn't try teaching him English (not Engsh) as a new language.

    "This is the device?"

    Circe doesn't sound all that impressed, a pale purple layer of protective magic covering her as she steps towards it. He doesn't feel like he needs to chase her off his -and it is his- device. No, the wire-. No, line he fed her about losing all other powers when the dial is active will do that. Might even be true. And it's not like he has a problem with other people using it. Using it's fine. It's not using it that pisses him off.

    He nods, peeling the gloves made from Robbie Reed's skin off as he does so. Cloned skin, obviously. Getting access to a potentially insane supervillain in a secure mental institution was possible but frankly far too obvious for something like this.

    "Uh-huh."

    "Such a…" She frowns as she picks it up. "Small device."

    "So are power rings. Souls don't weigh all that much, either."

    Not eith nor eez.

    And wow wow that's a lot of penis jokes he just didn't make. Why had he spent all that time studying memes again?

    Oh right. Boredom.

    "And it can grant you any boon?"

    "In theory. In actual fact, if you don't want a blunt instrument it's kinda hit-in-miss." No, no. He shrugs. "Hit-and-miss, hit-or-miss. You don't always get quite what cha' want."

    She peers closer, the device shimmering faintly once more. Probably doing some sort of magic probe thing. He'd read up a whole lot on magic since his arrival, but… Ancient magic users like Circe didn't seem to operate within the usual limitations.

    "Where did it come from?"

    He throws his hands up in the air. "Pfffffff!"

    A minor glare, hostility without effort. "Don't be a dullard, Nylor."

    "I don't know." Not ownt. Not nuh. "My guess was that the Reach put a whole lotta metahuman genetic samples in there and pressed 'blend'. But that doesn't explain the robots."

    Though given the madness generally associated with metahuman physiology, who was he to say that there couldn't be someone who spontaneously turned parts of themselves into mechanisms? Cybernetics, yes, power armour, certainly, integrated nanotechnology and flash-fabrication, sure. But flat out turning bits of themselves into machinery? No one immediately sprang to mind, but he'd be the first to admit that his records were decidedly incomplete.

    "My magics can't detect any human tissue." She sets the H-Dial back on its plinth. "Though there are of course ways to shield such things from sorcery. And it would be such a waste to dis-."

    No. "No." No. He picks it off the plinth with his left hand and gently strokes it with his right, careful not to actually turn the dial. "No."

    "-assemble it." She actually smiles at his behaviour, a surprisingly genuine gesture that is still a rarity after he lured her away from her comfortable isolation.

    "You want a dial, you can get one of the ones someone else uses."

    Orange Lantern getting those two fascinatingly named 'Horror Dials' was… Nugh. At least he'd either use them or study them. Not as good as them coming here, but… A decent second place. But… Frustrating. Tracking down the few surviving Master-created supervillains had yielded… Interesting genetic samples, but…

    Even with modern techniques. Even if the manumitted genomorphs were willing to mentally program a new generation of clones. Which they weren't. But even if they were… Faking years of life was hard. The truth would probably drive them to rebel, and… Denying them the mental flexibility they needed to do that would make them as useless as the Master's originals. Metahuman cloning was too expensive to be used for disposable weapons. Genetic editing of existing adults was a possibility, but not… Reliable. Get someone with the skills and loyalty required, and… Well, few people stayed loyal after being turned into monsters.

    But a dial. A dial that could be turned off. And on. If someone got turned into a monster, who cares? Just turn the dial again, no more problem. And a little cloned skin resulted in remote activation and deactivation-.

    Hm.

    "You broke the link, right?"

    Circe nods. "Entirely."

    He doesn't put a glove back on, but wraps part of it around his right forefinger before dialling. Y-R-E-T-S-A-M. Reed, he actually respected. Kinda. The man-. The boy had used the dial to do a lot of good. Kept a lot of idiots from destroying valuable infrastructure. And he went crazy before he could realise that the cleverest thing he could do would be to study the dial, so he got a pass there.

    Almost.

    "I'm not convinced that I could not replicate the Dial's transformation effects with magic."

    He didn't smile. Circe didn't tolerate men making jests at her expense. "Can you travel through time?"

    Circe's gaze hardens, but she appears willing to take the question at face value. "A little, with difficulty. I accept that in that one regard the powers of the Dial's maker outstripped mine. Though of course I would not burn to a cinder by doing it."

    "That was kinda my fault. Gotta a.. bunch a'… Not so great powers. Rigged the odds. Worked, but…"

    "Is it completely random?"

    "Maybe? Like I said, you get something useful. But, could be random."

    "So it is less useful than my magic."

    "Circe, if I could get you-in-a-box, if I could give someone magic like you? My first choice. This…" He holds up the dial. Not… Exactly as he remembers it, but a lot has happened. "You gotta admit, it beats your beastmen."

    "I could beat my beastmen, if I had cause to. I simply haven't had a requirement for more than they can offer." She regards the dial curiously for a moment. "Do you intend to keep it for yourself?"

    "Yah-huh." Close enough. "I wanna study it using decent equipment. An' I got a whole bunch a' volunteers."

    Superpowered private security might be a grey area, legally speaking, but it was a highly profitable one. And asking security-vetted people to raise their hands if they're interested was far safer than grabbing people off the streets or something dumb like that.

    "Not planning to use it yourself?"

    "Please." He scoffs, with face and voice. "This hasn't ever been about me."

    "Well said." The third member of their gathering suddenly comes to life, his blank gaze becoming piercing. "To paraphrase what a very wise man once said, ask not what your world can do for you, but ask what you can do for your world." Then he smiles, recruitment-poster-come-to-life inhumanity becoming notably more human. "But if you can get rich at the same time, then why not?"
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2020
  13. Threadmarks: Z-E-R-O (part 24)
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    3rd January
    21:38 GMT -5


    "Hey, Lantern!" Mr Hamill waves at me from his bench. "Over here!"

    I nod, and make my way across the interior of the bar. When I get to within non-shouting distance, he indicates his co-drinkers with his bottle.

    "This here's Mike-" An overweight Caucasian man. Solid looking arms, though. "-and this is Dan." Trim black man with a thin moustache.

    "Good evening, gentlemen." I nod to them both, then sit down next to Mike. "I'm Orange Lantern."

    Mike chuckles, shakes his head, then pulls out his wallet. He extracts two ten dollar notes and passes one to each of his companions. "I ain't even mad. This is crazy."

    "No, just unusual. Mister Hamill-."

    "Ah, call me 'Joe'."

    "Joe, how are you feeling?"

    "I haven't drunk enough of these to find it funny yet, but I'm definitely getting there."

    "Okay, but before you do… No lingering side effects that you've noticed?"

    "Nope. Just a regular Joe." He grins at his pun. Yes, not too far from finding it funny. "But… I don't know if it's the dial or whatever…"

    "Yes?"

    "Maybe… If I knew before I turned it on that I could turn it off… Maybe I coulda got more out of it."

    Mike looks at him with an expression of disbelief. "You just got done saying that you hated the whole thing."

    "Yeah, yeah, I did." He takes a drunk from his bottle. "'Cause I thought I was stuck like that. By the time I got the dial back all I could think of was turning if off. But if I'd kept hold of it at the start… Coulda been fun."

    Dan shakes his head. "Fun..?"

    "Fly around for a bit, look down on the whole city… Maybe the whole world. Maybe prank a couple of people…"

    "Joe, please, if you ever encounter devices like that in the future, just hand them straight over to the police or to the Justice League."

    He makes a gesture of appeal. "What's wrong with having a little fun? I wasn't going to hurt anybody."

    "The problem is that while the dial is fairly user friendly, an awful lot of artefacts like that very much aren't. I'm very glad that this turned out okay, but…" I shake my head. "The vast majority of uncontrolled exposures don't work like that. I've… Been to hospital wards-."

    "Okay… Yeah, I guess… God knows I wouldn't want to be stuck like that."

    Dan nods. "Don't play with matches, railroad tracks or super weapons, got it."

    "Hey, ah…" Mike leans forward. "Joe didn't say what happened to the dial."

    "Our best guess is that it self-destructed. It's actually pretty common for supervillains and superheroes to put stuff like that in their technology."

    Mike frowns. "Then why didn't it go off before?"

    I shrug. "Joe said he was turning the dial randomly. We know that he entered 'hero' at some point, because that was what turned him back. But it's perfectly possible that he dialled something else first."

    "Oh." Joe winces. "Ah, sorry?"

    I shake my head. "Don't worry about it. Even if that is what happened, it was clearly an accident. And the dial doesn't have a legal owner."

    "So…" Mike gesture towards me with his beer bottle. "How about them other dials?"

    "Once I knew what I was looking for, tracking them down was a lot easier. Or… At least, tracking the ones which aren't immune to ring scans."

    "What about the ones that are?"

    "How would I know about it if there were any?"

    "Huh?" He frowns, then gets it. "Oh, yeah."

    "We're going to keep an eye out for sudden bursts of superpowered activity by multiple individuals… Or rather, we're going to be aware that it could be due to a dial rather than a team. And we've sent out a message to all police forces with a description of every version of the dial that we're aware of. But short of binding Mister Reed with Diana's Lasso of Truth there isn't much more we can do."

    "You..?" Mike shrinks in on himself slightly, then presses onwards. "You need any ..? Volunteers for testing them dials?"

    "Not at this stage, but if you're interested I can pass your details on."

    Joe frowns in incomprehension, shakes his head and makes a lower gesture of appeal.

    "What? You said if you'd known you could turn it off you'd'a had some fun with it first?"

    "Well, yeah…"

    "And it doesn't usually turn guys into chicks, right?"

    "Most people who have used it on record either retain their original sex or are rendered sexless. And everyone on record has turned back physically fine."

    "Then there's basically no downside."

    "That's.. not.. completely true. There have been instances where people in powered states have shown radically different behaviour to what they showed in their unpowered states. We're not sure why, but it's something to consider before signing up."

    He nods.

    "Joe, before I go, there was one other thing I wanted to talk to you about."

    "Yeah? What?"

    "Several of my colleagues have commented to me that -while you were transformed- it was inappropriate of me to refer to you in the feminine, as she rather than he. I don't believe that you directly stated a preference, but… I don't have a great deal of contact with people in your position."

    "Buddy, I don't think anyone's been in my position." He frowns. "Wait, is that what that Squire chick was talking about?" I nod. "Huh." He strokes his chin with his left hand. "Is that a tranny thing?"

    "The way different cultures deal with sexual identity varies with-."

    "Wait, they think I'm pissed off about that?" I nod again. "Shit, man, you helped me get my body back. I don't care about… I mean, I guess I was a woman? Like… Not inside, except, like, literally. 'Cause… I actually transformed, it wasn't an illusion or whatever." He stares at his bottle for a moment. "Man, it is too early in the evening for this. I was a woman…"

    He brightens up slightly.

    "I got it! If that dial had put my mind in Wonder Woman's body, I'd be Wonder Woman, right?"

    "Sort of."

    "And Wonder Woman's a woman. So I guess… 'Electro Lass' could be a woman without Joe Hamill being a woman. So I guess I was a woman but I wasn't exactly me. Does that make sense?"

    "It probably makes as much sense as anything else anyone has said on the subject." I stand. "I hope you gentlemen have a pleasant evening."
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2019
  14. Threadmarks: Field Trip (part 1)
    Mr Zoat

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    Field Trip

    3rd January
    10:22 GMT -7


    "…just wrong."

    Sunset gestures at the whiteboard, several parts covered in Atlantean notation.

    "See, they're treating the system as neutral or even hostile to the power trying to move it, when it actually-."

    I nod. "They're not rewriting the magic systems, they're just nudging their bounds slightly, and that's far more energy-efficient."

    Her pen drops from her right hand and her mouth falls open slightly. A short distance to my right, Circe covers a chuckle with a cough.

    "You… Understood… What I was saying?"

    "The equations may have been a little over my head, but this isn't anything any street magician-"

    I glance over at John, who raises his cigarette in salute. Pretty sure those are illegal here, but if getting around no smoking laws is all he's using his abilities for…

    "-worth his stubble doesn't know. Plants naturally grow, and if you give them a bit of a nudge they'll grow faster. But that doesn't mean that you can suddenly make them grow pipes, even if the volume and material composition are the same."

    "Right!" Clearly pleased by my non-idiocy, Sunset moves to a different portion of the board. "So, my tests clearly showed that, on average, Earth Ponies were only slightly less magically strong than Unicorn Ponies or Pegasus Ponies."

    Councillor Endor frowns. "And why is that? If you are all one people, each tribe breeding freely with the others, surely one tribe's strength should be the strength of all."

    "I'm not sure. And I didn't get to test all that many ponies before Celestia made me stop, so it might just have been a problem with my sample. But… I've got an idea."

    She starts to pace.

    "Unicorn Ponies use thaumokinesis constantly throughout our lives. It's actually pretty unusual for one of us to move anything with our mouths once we're out of diapers. As a result, even Unicorn Ponies who don't work with… 'Pure' magic all that much will gradually build up their strength. It's the same with Pegasus Ponies: even if they don't do weather work, they still fly, and exercise their magic in that way."

    He shakes his head. "But if Earth Ponies work the land…"

    "I was testing ponies in Canterlot, our capital. We've got gardens and a couple of parks, but the nearest farmland is at the bottom of the mountain, around Ponyville. If Celestia hadn't stopped me I'd have liked to test Earth Pony farmers to see if the results were any different." She shrugs. "But that's beside the point. The fact is, now that I've had a chance to look at the spells floramancers on Zerox use, it's clear that even if Earth Ponies are generally weaker, they should be able to produce greater observable effects than they do."

    Circe nods at the equations. "To what degree? You seem to have an awful lot of unknown variables in there."

    "I'm not… Sure. I can input the values for Earth or Zerox and get different figures, but I don't have any basis for assuming that the magic of Equestria works in the same way."

    "Ah, yes." Councillor Endor smiles warmly. "The Dream Constant."

    "The what?" / "You've found it?"

    Sunset looks at him in puzzlement and her mentor in astonishment. Councillor Endor's face drops a little.

    "Well… No, not as such. I mean, we know it exists-."

    "I could have told you that millennia ago."

    "Ah." Sunset raises her right hand and shakes it back and forth. "'Dream Constant'?"

    "It's a bit… Ah… Theological?"

    Sunset shakes her head. "Ponies don’t have religion. When your ruler controls the sun it's hard to imagine something more powerful. And even then, it's only by degrees."

    Councillor Endor blinks heavily several times, then leans forward. "I'm sorry: controls the sun?"

    "Brings it up in the morning and lowers it in the evening. Or maybe she just nudges it around a bit. Or maybe it's all some sort of projection, I don’t know. She does the same thing with our moon."

    "Idjuh imdja abahbah…" Councillor Endor tries to get his thoughts in order. "One does not 'nudge' a sun. Even accelerating the planet's rotation would have… Countless side effects on.. on weather-"

    "We control that."

    "-tides, magnetic fields… On many worlds animals navigate using those."

    Sunset ponders his response. "That would explain Winter Wrap-Up. But if that were the case…" She shakes her head. "I watched Celestia raise and lower the sun hundreds of times. She always took the same amount of time. If Wilson were orbiting the sun at any speed the amount would change depending on the point in the orbital cycle. Wilson would have to be stationary… And I can't think of a heliocentric model that would naturally lead to that."

    Circe frowns mildly. "Those sound like more assumptions-."

    "I can't check anything until I get back." She face me. "Grayven, can I have a satellite network? I need to find out how my home system works."

    "If you ask Celestia politely if she'll explain it to you-" She grimaces. "-first, then yes."

    "Maybe I'll just make my own." She returns her attention to Councillor Endor. "What were you saying about dreams?"

    "Not dreams. Those are but the fractured images our minds retain from our somnolent touching of something indescribable. The root of magic, the raw nonsense that is the underlying structure of our calcified universe. It's where our ability to manipulate the universe in certain ways… Comes from?" He closes his eyes and shakes his head. "That's a dramatic oversimplification, but it is in essence-."

    "Chaos." Sunset looks like she just found half a maggot in her apple. "You're saying that magic comes from raw chaos."

    "No, no, it…" He shakes his head. "There are far better people than me for explaining this. Just-just take it that it is a world's relationship to the Dream that defines how certain deep magic elements work."

    I nod. "The presence of the minds of dreamers and thinkers tames the plasticity, causing some things to be easier than others. By the time you get… Closer to the corporeal, it's hardly chaotic at all."

    Councillor Endor frowns at me. "I rather had the impression that New Gods assigned responsibility to the Source for such things."

    I shrug. "I think that the New Gods of New Genesis do. On Apokolips, it's… Not really an article of faith in the same way. I think Father prefers it when people think it comes from him, but with actual practitioners that would simply cripple their ability to learn."

    "But if we can get back to the point?" Sunset folds her arms across her chest and waits for a moment. "If we assume that my revised calculations for the application of magic 'work' are even remotely accurate, Earth Ponies should be able to do a lot more than they can."

    "So… Some sort of giant Earth Pony conspiracy to keep food prices high?"

    "What?" Sunset frowns. "No, that's absurd. Aside from the fact that only a minority of Earth Ponies work on commercial farms, that would require them to keep it secret from non-Earth Pony husbands, wives, parents and children. And Alicorns have the magic of all three tribes."

    "Alright." I lean forward slightly. "So what do you think it is?"

    "I… Don’t know. Maybe the Great Migration really did happen, but the techniques for channelling Earth Pony magic got lost along the way, and… Never relearned. Or… Maybe it just never got found out, or ponies thought it was part of their special talent and not something teachable." She lowers her arms. "But that's why I should become an Alicorn. If Celestia hasn't done anything about this waste for a thousand years, someone who understands magic needs to. And that someone is going to be me."
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
  15. Threadmarks: Field Trip (part 2)
    Mr Zoat

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    3rd January
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    "Thank you for agreeing to meet with me."

    The Red Martian opposite me doesn't say anything. I wonder if this is-. Oh, right.

    "I'm sorry. If you're trying to speak to me telepathically, I instinctively block-."

    Her shape begins to shift, moving away from the broad chested, long armed and short legged natural martian form to something more like Mister J'onzz's first attempt at looking humanish. "Is this better?"

    I shrug. "That's up to you. Your appearance doesn't bother me, but you'll probably find it easier to communicate with me with a standard humanoid vocal system."

    "Your telepathic block is quite impressive." Got the form but not the body language, I see. "For what reason did you develop it?"

    "Self defence. There might not be many telepaths on Earth-" Or Apokolips, actually. Plenty of people who can get into your head, but surprisingly few classical telepaths. "-but given my power and position, I can't afford to leave a glaring vulnerability."

    "Martians who wish to shield their thoughts sometimes do so by altering the structure of their brains."

    I smile politely. "Not all of us share your species' protean nature. It's true that many humanoid species have techniques for shielding their thoughts which involve mindless repetition of facts or ideas, or training themselves to adopt alien thought patterns on the same brain, but I prefer my approach."

    "I myself have some experience with combining magic and telepathy. But I do not believe that any martian handles it in quite the way that you do."

    "Ah, yes. My people can learn to manipulate magic as you do, but we also have a more… Instinctive form. Our souls naturally form certain shapes, and within that we can draw upon our own reserves of spiritual strength to manifest particular effects. If I might demonstrate?"

    "Yes."

    I take a thick iron bar out of subspace and create a clamp construct at either end to hold it up. Next, I take two Apokoliptian cleavers. One I hold out, the blade just above the bar. Through the second I exert myself. Will To Conquer!

    Then, without pressing them down, I allow the blades to rest on the metal. The second passes through with almost no resistance, while the first barely has a chance to make any impact at all before the bar falls.

    "That is interesting. I have never felt anything quite like it."

    "That's why I'm here." I return my demonstration aids to subspace. "Earth… There are many more magic practitioners on Earth than there are on Mars, but they are still only a tiny fraction of the population. I've… Already sponsored a school, but that is an institution for neophytes, to give the ignorant a basic level of education. For true discovery to happen…" I shrug. "My hope is that by bringing together educated magic users from multiple traditions, I might bring about a sharing of knowledge and experience which will bring everyone forward."

    "You are right. Few martians study magic."

    I nod. "I… Realise that you only teach Red Martians, but I had understood that your pool of potential students had dramatically increased recently."

    I was fascinated to hear from M'gann that someone on Mars had found a way to remove the Maltusian lock. She wanted to know if I was responsible, but while I'm not sure how I would have responded if directly asked to remove it, in this case I'm totally innocent.

    "No. It has not."

    "But there are so many new Reds…"

    "A White or Green who shifted their colouration to red would not be admissible. The same applies to these… Social radicals."

    I bow my head. "Very well. I freely admit that I know little of Martian society."

    Though obviously I know you're all a bunch of racists. Wouldn't it be nice if I only had to deal with the nice parts of a civilisation?

    "So you wish for us to meet with human users of magic?"

    "Oh, not just human. I've got a fellow from Zerox, a couple of people from Euphorix-" I did briefly consider inviting Kalista, but thought better of it. Alonzo was perfectly happy to extend our cooperation agreement to cover magic users. "-and a young woman from Wilson, as well as representatives of several different Earth traditions."

    "Traditionally, we do not teach those who are not Red Martians."

    "You wouldn't be teaching rank amateurs. You would be sharing knowledge with your contemporaries. Of course, if you consider this unacceptable, I will understand. Our forum will be poorer for your absence, but we will persevere."

    "This is a novel situation." She rises off the ground and triggers the stone ring on one of her office walls, a portal to another part of the monastery briefly opening for her to float through. No idea if she's flying by magic or telekinesis. On the far side she waits for me.

    Hm.

    Mother B-.

    Ping!

    No, it's part of my approach to encourage her to think of us as equals.

    Ping.

    The hush tube opens and I stride through, appearing next to her. She appears to take this in her stride, shutting down the ring as Mother Box shuts down the hush tube.

    "Do you know what the purpose of this monastery is?"

    "No."

    She gestures to a work area where another Red Martian is very carefully removing soil and stone from… Something.

    "At some point during our pre-history, life dwelt on the surface of Mars."

    "I know. I was part of the group which recovered the records."

    "In places, small pieces of those forms of life were preserved, either in fossil form or mummified. Sometimes, enough of their genetic structure remained whole for biologists to recreate them. In other times, we must resort to more arcane measures."

    The sample cleaned to his satisfaction, the martian cleaning it grows two extra pairs of forearms and gestures. Yellow.. light.. swirls for a moment as the sample… No. No, the sample isn't coming back to life. I read about this. They're manifesting the universe's memory of the plant, with its remains serving as a focus. Fascinating.

    "It is our hope that we will one day be able to restore our world in full using such techniques."

    Apparently happy with the twisted root that his magic has created, the martian begins planting it in a large earth-filled pot.

    "I don't know for certain that my colleagues can help with that, but I suppose that if you don't ask you'll never know."

    "I suppose that you are correct. I will agree to an initial meeting, on the condition that we host it. There are concerns relating to ritual purity where the arcane sites of other cultures are concerned."

    "Is that… Going to be a problem going forward?"

    "No. If the meeting is productive we can prepare the ground at future meeting places ourselves."

    Hm. I think that everyone I would be bringing is capable of making their own arrangements regarding breathable air

    "That shouldn't be a problem. How about the security arrangements?"

    "Even in fractious times, monasteries have always remained inviolate. The upstart Whites will not risk alienating those whose support they seek by assailing this holy place. And if they did?"

    Her body shimmers in a way I remember from the pictures the team took of the Burner.

    "We do not limit our studies to the magics of plant resurrection. Your allies will be quite safe here."
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
  16. Threadmarks: Field Trip (part 3)
    Mr Zoat

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    3rd January
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    I look around the circle. "So how much was she bullshitting me?"

    M'gann slumps, and J'onn doesn't look much happier as he activates the table's holographic display. "There have been significant instances of civil unrest in all Martian cities."

    An image of Mars appears, covered in markers showing the locations of cities. Most of the markers are the 'X' I associate with the Manhunters, each one split in colour between red and white. A handful of others are marked by a red circle surrounded by a gold ring. M'gann's eyes widen as she takes in how bad the situation has become. On my right, Ghia'ta's eyes dart from marker to marker, clearly astonished at the level of societal decay. On my left, Komand'r looks almost… Irritated?

    J'onn points to the globe. "Red indicates the degree of government control, and the extent to which society continues to function normally."

    I nod. That only gives a rough idea, but it looks like the central government has lost control of about a quarter of each city. On average; there's quite a range. The capital is about nine tenths red while other places are up to two thirds white.

    I point to a red sun emblem. "What are these?"

    "In most places, White Martians are reacting against centuries of sanctioned oppression. They have legitimate grievances, particularly now that we know our true origins. It was my hope that once the initial shock has died down all parties might reach a negotiated settlement. Martian society would have to change, but it would survive."

    He presses a button and the image of Mars shrinks and moves to the side, images of a group of White Martians taking centre stage. Um. I can just about tell them apart. There are very slight differences in build. But the most notable feature is that they all wear the red circle emblem.

    "These are members of a terrorist group called the Hyperclan. White Martian agitators in favour of violently overturning the Red Martian government and establishing a White only government have used that name for a significant period of time. In the past, they have limited themselves to occasional assassinations, but with the current break down in civil order they have begun acting more openly."

    He points to a red circle.

    "The Hyperclan is now in control of these cities. My ability to give you further information is limited, as there is no Manhunter presence inside of any of them. The last refugees to leave Kriglo-" He points to one of the red circles. "-reported that they killed every government official, but allowed the rest of the non-White population to evacuate. However, when Xan'Xie fell to their control, no such evacuation was permitted."

    I nod. "Hostages?"

    J'onn bows his head. "That is my hope. The Hyperclan are known to be the most extreme part of the White Rights movement, but it is unlikely that the majority of their new recruits share their fervour."

    I have a quick look for their home city of Mel'dilo'rn. Hm. A mere thirty percent unrest, give or take. Though given that they have mixed colour couples…

    "Put it in… Human terms for me. How badly are White Martians treated?"

    M'gann shakes her head. "It isn't.. uniform. Different cities had different levels of oppression. I just thought that… Knowing where we came from would reduce prejudice, not set off a civil war!"

    "M'gann…" I shake my head. "If a civilisation oppresses people, it really shouldn't be surprised if they rise up in violent revolt. I'm confident in my own mind that something like this was inevitable."

    She nods reluctantly, clearly unconvinced. "Some.. cities are like Apartheid South Africa. Whites are banned from going to some places or taking some jobs by law. In other places there aren't laws supporting it, but it's still very unusual for White Martians to work in certain industries."

    I nod. "And your government is theoretically a meritocracy but in practice no one who isn't Red… Who wasn't born Red can occupy the higher tiers."

    She nods again. "Something else I thought would make people happy. I don't know a single natural Red who can cope with fire as well as I can, but apparently I still don't count!"

    "So… You're complaining that your people's racism doesn't work in your interests?"

    "No, Grayven, I-." She glares at me. "That isn't funny."

    "No." Komand'r leans forwards. "It's revolting. Is this what becomes of peoples without an external enemy? They simply turn upon one another?"

    I smile wryly. "Amongst humans, the mere establishment of a group at some level is enough to cause outgroup discrimination. Formalised oppression is a little more unusual."

    "Should I expect this obscenity from Tamaranians in future?"

    I shrug. "Probably not. You had rivalries between demesnes after the Citadel conquest, didn't you?" A small nod. "Societies under stress fracture along previously extant lines. With Tamaran on the rise, I doubt that you have much to worry about. Which is not to say that you shouldn't be sure to involve people from all regions in the restoration."

    A slightly more definite nod. "As you did when you recruited your Lanterns."

    "The point wasn't to establish.. quotas. To make everyone equally involved. But I did want to ensure that everyone had some stake in things." I gesture to the image of the Hyperclan. "This is what happens when a group has no stake, no way to improve their position and someone who is very clearly to blame."

    She frowns at J'onn. "What are your military doing about this?"

    "Little. The Manhunters are more frequently deployed as police than as soldiers. Naval assets have been deployed to contain the Hyperclan, but this sort of civil uprising is… Unprecedented. And since we are not certain how their more… Exotic abilities function-."

    "Wait." I frown. "Wait. You come from a species of telepathic telekinetic shapeshifters but they've got something else?"

    "Yes. A wide variety of abilities, not unlike those of metahumans. I would like to know whether or not the Light had any contact with them."

    I shake my head. "Not as far as I know. It would rather go against their ideology… And there wasn't an obvious 'face' for it. Not impossible, though. Certainly, there weren't any operations I was aware of that involved the use of martian operatives." He nods. "So to return to my original question..?"

    "She did not lie concerning the sanctity of the monastery. Members of the Hyperclan delight in violating the taboo against attacking Red Martians. But the majority of demonstrators in the city you are visiting are far more peaceful. It is unlikely that you will be troubled."

    "And the school trip?"

    He dismisses the image of the Hyperclan and brings up an interior view of the city of Mel'dilo'rn. "The school you selected has a mixed population, and is located in a city which has historically been less colourist than many other places. There have so far been no violent demonstrations near it." He sighs. "However, I would advise that anyone who visits does so with an armed escort, and that you are prepared to return them by boom tube at short notice."

    I nod. I wanted to introduce some of the Center's older children to their martian contemporaries, to broaden their horizons and perhaps to give Doctor Williams access to better teaching techniques. The martians have actually systematised that sort of thing, while he's been forced to puzzle things out as he goes. I'll… Have to check that everyone and their parents understand the potential risks.

    "J'onn, what is your government doing to resolve this?"

    "There have been negotiation attempts. But the disunited nature of the opposition means that there is no one person with whom negotiations could be undertaken. I am… Concerned, that the situations will deteriorate to the point that the ruling council will order an attack. If that happened, even if it was successful, Martian civilisation would never recover."

    No. It wouldn't. "Ghia'ta, how good are your telepath baffles?"

    "I can prevent a telepath of Miss Martian's ability from detecting my presence."

    I nod. "Good. This… Is a Martian internal matter. However, a bloodbath isn't in anybody's interests. Take a look at the cities the Hyperclan have taken over." She nods. "Don't report on their defensive measures, but do report on the general conditions within."

    "I understand."

    "Thank you. So, J'onn, who in your government is pushing for what?"
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
  17. Threadmarks: Field Trip (part 4)
    Mr Zoat

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    6th January
    09:02 GMT -1


    I perform a shallow bow. "I do apologise for my tardiness, Lord Cyprian. Ghia'ta wanted to go over a few things about the trip…"

    He shakes his head, smiling as he politely dismisses the issue. "Not at all. We're less… Time-fixated down here than I've learned that some people on the surface can be."

    I nod, extending my right hand to Mortalla. "I believe you met my mother at our first summit?"

    "Lady Mortalla." A shallow bow, which she nervously mirrors. "A pleasure to meet you again."

    "Likewise, my lord."

    And he's spotted that she isn't comfortable being the focus of attention and has turned back to me. Yes, someone beat their rivals for the number two job for a reason, didn't they?

    "There was no difficulty in securing a meeting?"

    "Securing an actual appointment was a little trying. But once the Primate actually met with me she was quite open to the idea. Has Venturia selected its representative?"

    He nods, his smile broadening. "Yes. For the first time in my career, I've abused my authority in order to secure the position myself."

    "Are you.. sure..? I rather assumed that the initial meeting would be made by a lower ranked official."

    "If you met the Primate, that hardly seems fair. The initial meeting at least should be carried out by a highly placed government official, but one who can meaningfully comment on what they are seeing. The only reasonable alternative would be one of our archmages, and the Venturian State College does not have so many skilled researchers that we can afford to send them off on foreign junkets. For a simple three day visit I really am the best choice."

    "I'm sure that you know the Queen's mind on the subject. How is… Work progressing on the North African problem?"

    "Reasonably well. Constructing our associate's forward operating base created few difficulties; we're well used to managing the transition from air to water here. One or two people on our side expressed disquiet about the people we were working with, but I don't believe that they're a security risk. One or two of hisCrew were clearly unhappy to be working with Atlanteans, but… He handled the disciplinary issues which arose in a satisfactory manner. I'm not sure that we're ready for… Combined operations yet."

    "And Adom?"

    "An… Interesting man. Far more public-spirited than I imagined that someone from that era would be. We've been providing him with intelligence while he makes his own attacks. The… Mercenaries tend not to employ heavy ordnance, and I believe that they are appreciating having a man of his strength watching their back."

    I nod. "And Manta himself?"

    "I'm sure that he's curious. So far he hasn't made any overt efforts to breach our operational security, but he's an intelligent man. At some point he's going to work out that he isn't working with a dissident group, and he's going to want answers."

    I nod. "Not unreasonable. I don't like keeping my operatives in the dark, but I think I'm going to want that employer-employee relationship to bed in a little before I change things."

    "Probably wise. He has been an independent operator for a very long time. I doubt that he'd bite the hand that feeds him for a momentary advantage…"

    "I'm honestly more worried about spooking him. I'm not exactly known for my easy-going attitude to supervillains."

    "Hm. Well, in the Atlantean context, there is a historical precedent for that sort of thing. I would have to check to see whether it was still legal in Poseidonis, but…"

    "Yes?"

    "As you know, it is the Venturian position that Atlantis is a collection of city-states. During more… Fractious times, cities or alliances of cities occasionally made war upon each other. For the ruler of Poseidonis, acting as ringmaster occasionally… Put them in a position where it was politically expedient to pardon various parties who had been affiliated with losing sides and had turned to banditry. They would foreswear such methods, accept a geas enforcing that oath, and then serve the High King or Queen for whatever task they had in mind."

    "Has such a pardon been issued in recent times?"

    "Not to my knowledge. Which is why I would have to have someone check. And of course, such a thing would be purely within High King Orin's gift. I doubt that he would pardon a group who worked with his treacherous brother for Venturia's benefit. And… Frankly, if we had that sort of political capital we would have better things to spend it on."

    I nod. "Thank you. I appreciate you bringing this option to my attention. Is there.. anything else we need to discuss?"

    "Ah… The trade delegation has been a success so far. Your man Luthor has been quite forthcoming, and I'm given to understand that he's having little difficulty in selling the low grade arcane artefacts we've been shipping."

    "There's a certain excitement for unique products. I would caution you not to assume that it will last, however."

    He shakes his head. "I never assumed that it would. But by that stage we should have a better idea of what they can actually use." He smiles slightly cruelly. "I.. have.. so enjoyed being able to set the import and export conditions for our fellow cities."

    "You may wish to be a little careful, there. Push them too far-."

    "I do realise that -coming out of isolation as we are- it would be unwise to alienate the other cities… But it is nice to have the high ground."

    "I was more concerned that they might finally decide to take the initiative themselves and come to a similar arrangement."

    He raises his eyebrows, staring at me in disbelief. Then he chuckles. "I think, Lord Grayven, that you vastly overestimate the initiative of the other city states. Aside from Poseidonis, where High King Orin forces the matter himself, we're mostly having direct dealings with merchant companies on the export side of things. No, I'm not worried on that score."

    "I'm glad that you're taking full advantage of the opportunity. Is there anything further I can do?"

    "Do you know whether Senator Knight would maintain President Horne's policies towards us should he win this year's election?"

    "I haven't.. asked. But I suspect that if anything he'd be more enthusiastic. He has a record of agitating for greater defence spending, and… America spends little to nothing on arcane defence. Jon would wait until the Joint Chiefs forwarded a proposal. Though if you want me to set up a meeting with General Lane..?"

    "Not immediately, but…" He nods. "Yes."

    "Consider it done."

    "Thank you. Now, please, this way."

    He leads the way out of his private meeting room, down a hall and into a richly decorated living area. A well-dressed Pureblood Atlantean couple are quietly conversing on a sofa while a young Pureblood girl plays with a small pool of water, her magic pulling it this way and that, parts alternately freezing and evaporating. The adults rise when they see us approach, and the girl returns her water to its basin before taking position just before the adults.

    Lord Cyprian steps aside, indicating them with his right hand. "May I present my son, Vespasian, his wife, Flavia, and their daughter Aelia."

    I bow, slightly deeper than is strictly required. But it brings my head down to the level of Aelia, and I take the opportunity to give her a friendly smile before straightening up.

    "Pleased to meet you all. This is Mortalla. She'll be directly responsible for seeing to Aelia's welfare."

    Flavia nods. "Your majordomo?"

    "My mother. Naturally, I believe that she's very good at raising children. Being Apokoliptian, she also makes a reasonable bodyguard, though naturally I have specialists for that as well."

    Mortalla walks past me and kneels down next to Aelia. "Why don't you show me what you were doing with that water?"

    Aelia looks upwards, and after getting a nod from her parents leads Mortalla away to look at it.

    I bring my hands together. "So let's go over the details."
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2019
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  18. Threadmarks: Field Trip (part 5)
    Mr Zoat

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    8th January
    10:52 GMT -7


    I smile, extending my right hand towards Mr Ardeen. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you."

    He smiles back. "Likewise, Mister Grayven."

    He releases me, and I extend my smile to his daughter. "I suppose that it's actually a little odd that we haven't run into each other before."

    Imra shakes her head. "You're… Busy saving the world and things like that." She shrugs with… Feigned nonchalance? A little odd… "And Rifle's a pretty safe town."

    True. Especially now. I… Really don't know how frequently the parents of American High School students would usually meet. I rather missed the part of Lynne's life where she would be dependent on me for lifts to places or require constant oversight.

    "Very little of what I do saves the world in the short term." Hm. I give Mr Ardeen a quick scan, but he reads as a regular human man. "But if you're ready to depart..?" I gesture to the hush tube opening with my right hand.

    "Yes!" She picks up her bag, stands on her tiptoes to kiss her slightly surprised father on the cheek, then strides through the opening.

    "Mars, huh?"

    "I realise that bringing a martian teacher to Earth would have been better, but martians don't really have the human adventuring spirit. It took me a while to find a place prepared to do this."

    "No, it's just…" He gestures to the hush tube. "People casually going to Mars. I didn't think I'd see it in my lifetime."

    "It won't happen with purely human technology for a little while yet. You heard about… Lex Luthor's spaceships?"

    "Sure, I could hardly miss it."

    "I need to talk to the… Martian government about that. Alienating the system's other native sophont species would be a poor way to start."

    "Ah… Yeah. Good luck with that."

    "I'll have your daughter back by five."

    "Okay, I'll see you this evening."

    I nod, wave goodbye with my right hand, then head through the hush tube after Imra. As I emerge into the 'embarkation room' I immediately spot Lynne helping Imra with her space suit. The pressure in the Martian caverns is high enough that humans could endure it, but it wouldn't be particularly comfortable. Plus, an actual suit allowed me to include armour, a personal force field and a 'security recall' short ranged teleporter. Having checked the report J'onn gave me, I don't think that there's much risk, but… I'd rather be paranoid than have to explain a dead child.

    "Hey, Mister Grayven."

    Lucian Crawley waves at me with his right hand while trying to sort out his collar with his left. Ah, looks like his shirt is getting in the way of his suit's neck ring.

    "Looking forward to seeing Mars, Lucian?"

    "Ah… I guess? I'm mostly looking forwards to meeting some aliens."

    I tilt my head a little to the left. "Sorry to be such a disappointment in the alien department."

    "Um." He stops moving. "S-sorry?"

    "No, no, nice to know that I'm fitting in so well. You need any help with that helmet?"

    "Ah…"

    "I'll get it." Lilith Clay walks up to him and sticks her hands inside his-

    "Hey!"

    -collar. I… Vaguely recognise her name as belonging to a minor Teen Titans character. I.. think. I don't know if that version is similar to the one who exists here or not. She's a classical telepath who also experiences precognitive images. As far as we can tell those aren't magical in nature, so it's possible that she's somehow calculating them based on information data mined from the minds of those around her.

    Which is interesting. There was a story in Temps about a scientists who studied superpowers, who expressed the belief that precognition was misdiagnosed telekinesis. A mind would dream up an image and then make it happen. The issue came up when an insurance firm refused to pay out on a life insurance policy until it was demonstrated that a boy who foresaw his father's death hadn't caused it, intentionally or otherwise. It would be fascinating to study, but she only attends the Center part time in order to learn how to keep her abilities under control.

    Have to talk to her about the Department of Metahuman Affairs. The contracts they've been offering telepaths are pretty generous, even at the entry level.

    April and May Marigold finish checking each other's suits, their helmets firmly in place. Jean's horns glow for a moment as she tugs at each part in turn, then nods, satisfied. She and a small horde of G-Gnomes and G-Elves will be accompanying the group, all with their own specialised suits and weaponry. The telepathy of the Genomorph Entire should be significant by martian standards, but I doubt that Jean's telekinesis or the physical abilities of the G-Elves would matter much during a confrontation.

    A boom tube opens, and Ghia'ta steps through with a Green Martian close behind her. The children immediately turn to stare at the school's representative as she shifts to a slightly more human-seeming form... Huh. It's not bad for a first attempt. Basically J'onn in drag with a blonde wig.

    "Hello, children."

    Pretty close to being a copy of his voice, too. Though I do appreciate her not just assuming that everyone was fine with telepathy.

    Doctor Williams smiles and approaches her. "Welcome to Earth, J'en. Is everything ready at your end?"

    "Yes, we are prepared. Is everyone ready to depart?"

    "I believe so."

    Sinestro?

    Yes, by some miracle the human youths have managed to correctly don the most idiot-resistant space suits I have ever seen.

    Really? The most idiot resistant?

    Be proud, Lantern Grayven. Most species prefer to improve their habitats rather than go to the lengths which you have. Those who must use space suits generally lack the technology to create something this sophisticated.

    Score one for me. I wonder if there's a Guinness Book of Galactic Records or something?

    No. There isn't.

    I clap my hands together. "Alright, if everyone's ready, please follow Miss J'en and Ghia'ta through the boom tube. Have fun!"

    They troop off, Lynne turning to wave before falling in beside Imra and Doctor Williams making use of his suit's flight system to avoid slowing everyone down. In the span of a few moments they're through, and the tube shuts down.

    Now the second party. I turn and walk over to them. The two from Euphorix quite sensibly brought their own suits with them, but from Circe's reaction I get the impression that they're a level or two below the rest of the party. "Are you ladies and gentlemen sure that you don't want a space suit?"

    Councillor Endor shakes his head. "This isn't my first time away from Zerox. I'd be a poor magician if I couldn't maintain a comfortable environment for myself. Larissa?"

    Circe shakes her head. "I know you mean well Grayven, but really. Would you like one?"

    "I'm a little more physically resilient than you." At least, more resilient than 'Principal Larissa'. "But very well. Lord Cyprian? Sunset?"

    He shakes his head and she rolls her eyes.

    "Alright then. Let's be off."
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
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  19. Threadmarks: Field Trip (part 6)
    Mr Zoat

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    8th January
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    "…appear to be enjoying themselves."

    I watch from the gallery as Councillor Endor makes a gesture, dirt flaking off a fossilised plant while leaving the basic structure untouched. He concentrates for a moment, then as I witnessed before a natural plant comes into being. He appears rather tickled with it.

    My escort, a female Red Martian by the name of S'yrra who serves as Prelate J'emm's deputy, turns to face me.

    "You do not wish to join them?"

    "I have innate magical abilities, but I'm not a caster. I don't have the same interest they do." I turn away from the scene below. "So. You received my message about Xan'Xie?"

    She hesitates, then slowly leads the way away from the arcane research area and in the general direction of the exterior. Unlike most Martian structures, this monastery is not inside a cavern, generations of spellcraft protecting it from the harsh conditions of the surface.

    "Yes. I was relieved to hear that the majority of the population is unharmed."

    "Is it really that surprising?" I raise my eyebrows. "I would have thought that a telepathic species would be slower to go on murderous rampages than a mindblind race like the humans."

    "With the Hyperclan leading them, we were prepared for the worst. The Manhunter Marshal seems to have been planning an immediate counterattack based on the assumption that a slaughter was occurring."

    I nod. "Naturally. Giving White Martians the opportunity to demonstrate that they're capable of running a government? That would do more to undermine Red hegemony than mere murder. Still, I'm interested in what you think of all this."

    "I am uncertain. I agree with Prince J'emm that the oppression of the White is morally indefensible, though I do not believe that civil insurrection is the correct way to prevent it."

    I nod-

    [​IMG]

    -and smile. "So how many White Martians are there in Mel'dilo'rn's government?"

    "I… Believe that some of our clerks are-."

    "And how many White Martian Prelates have there been before now? Before the uprising?"

    "None, but that does not-."

    "Seems like violence was the way, then. All that 'patient' stuff clearly wasn't working. I mean, if even Mel'dilo'rn didn't have a flipping White 'Minister for White Affairs' or something, what hope did they have anywhere else?"

    "You support their cause, then?"

    "I wouldn't go that far. I mean, I'm sympathetic, but that's not really what causes the situation to affect me so strongly." I snort. "Frankly, this sort of event comes from the sorts of social stress that a competent government should be able to deal with before things got to this stage. It's not so much that I support the uprising as that I hold the Planetary Council in contempt."

    "The information released by M'gann M'orzz could not have been predicted."

    "No, but so what? If someone proved to the humans that their species had been altered by aliens in their prehistory, this sort of thing would not happen on Earth as a result. You shouldn't have based your entire social order on something so easily disprovable. And you shouldn't have left a resentful underclass with no way to improve their position."

    "Is that how your people manage their affairs?"

    "Hah! Oh, good one." I shake my head. "No, Father's just better at oppressing people than you are. Have you considered the use of some sort of memetic infection? Having studied what the Guardians did to your ancestors, you should be well aware of-."

    "No! That… Thing was disgusting!"

    "And yet the legal suppression of White Martians never aroused that sort of passion in you."

    "They are not the same-."

    "They're exactly the same! The only reason why the Red aristocracy exists at all is that infestation. A lingering reminder of the apocalyptic monsters your species used to be."

    "I am not like that thing."

    I nod. "No. You're not." When she got angry, she became spikier. No flames, though. "I see that you haven't had your own programming removed."

    "That isn't why. I would never become so bestial. I have trained in the self-control techniques necessary for a Prelate. I have not yet mastered them, but such degeneration is unthinkable."

    "Alright. Do you..? Want to get rid of it?"

    "I don’t know." She turns away, looking out of an opening in the exterior wall at the barren Martian landscape. "No one knows how it works."

    "What." I frown. "M'gann didn't share that memory?"

    "There are no Lanterns on Mars." Her head half-turns my way. "Unless this is your doing?"

    "Oh heck no. I'd never be this inefficient." Though that is an interesting question. "The local Greenies don't have the skill… Has Thaal Sinestro ever visited Mars?"

    "Who is that?"

    I raise my right hand slightly, holding my yellow ring towards her. "The only other man in the universe with one of these." But would he have the skill for something like th-?

    If he studied the problem with local assistance, certainly. However, I can detect no trace of yellow light here which cannot be explained by your presence.

    Good to know. Anyone I'm forgetting about?

    A Weaponer could instruct an Anti-Green Lantern to do it, though I doubt they would bother with something so subtle without a significant inducement. You have alluded to knowing of other colours, but I have no direct experience with them. If I were investigating the matter, I would seek to eliminate magic as a possibility first.

    He's probably right. The only Green Lantern I can remember doing anything so sophisticated was Lord Malvolio, and I can't think of any reason for him to act covertly either.

    Lord.. Malvolio? Lantern Grayven, have you been holding out on me?

    What, because I don't share every myth and rumour? I thought that if there had ever been a human super-Lantern you'd be the one telling me.

    The Guardians did not share everything with me. And after seeing how compatible humans are with New God soul-manipulation techniques, I'm curious as to whether they ever attempted anything similar with the green light.

    Yes, that is-.

    "No such being has visited M'arzz."

    I nod. "Alright. I know the Sorcerer Priests don't teach non-Reds, but have any other-."

    The exterior shield flares into light!
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
  20. Threadmarks: Field Trip (part 7)
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th January
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    "Any other students of the arcane?"

    S'yrra stares at the barrier with obvious concern and I feel something move within the structure of the monastery.

    "An attack… Here?"

    "Oh, it's better than that." I smile. "The uprisings are focused on cities, and are largely being conducted by their dispossessed residents. We're some distance from any of the cities here-" A part of the barrier is visibly pulled back, while local atmospheric pressure remains the same. Someone knows what they're doing. "-and Whites still hold these places in high regard. Which means that isn't a mob of protestors." Plus I can see one coming this way. Useful things, these goggles.

    "Hyperclan."

    "Almost certainly. And since I'm going to assume that a place like this has a decent magic barrier, I will repeat-."

    "Good deduction." A white martian in a long white robe pinned at the neck -inasmuch as they have a neck- by a red circle brooch phases in just in front of us. "Grey? Are you slumming-"

    S'yrra's eyes flare for a moment, and the new martian briefly hesitates before becoming partially translucent.

    "-it with a new skin tone?"

    Sinestro, status of my guests.

    The Euphorians and Miss Shimmer just left through a hush tube. Circe, Cyprian and Endor are staying.

    Their skins, I suppose. "No, I'm not a martian. I'm actually visiting from Earth. If you saw M'gann's images, I should have been in some of them."

    "I don’t watch that sort of thing. Rots the brain. Though I do appreciate not being afraid of fire any longer."

    "Not making yourself Red?"

    "Why would I wanna do a thing like that?" He holds his talon-fingered hands out to either side. "I don't have a problem with being White. Reds and Greens have a problem with me being White."

    "Because without the Guardian programming your natural colour is red. You're only white now because that's the colour you're choosing to make your skin."

    "I don't have a problem with the Guardians either." He drifts slightly closer. "Maybe they created this situation, but… They weren't the ones saying I couldn't go to a proper school, that my parents and grandparents and all my brothers and sisters couldn't either. That's all Reds and Greens, and I know they don't think I'm Red now."

    S'yrra backs up slightly as he comes forward. "You are a murderer and a terrorist."

    "Murderer, yeah. When you fight the people who make the rules, when you kill for the cause… Then you're a murderer and the people on the other side are totally legitimate even if they kill just as many. But a terrorist is someone who tries to create political change through fear and intimidation. And I've always tried to bring about political change by killing people." He switches his attention to S'yrra. "I'd like to kill you. But my boss wants an audience for this. Head back to the main chamber and I won't gut you right now."

    Sinest-. No, never mind. I can see her fear.

    "The sorcerers of this monastery are more powerful than anything you have faced before."

    "I'm happy to kill you right here, Red."

    "I will aghhh!"

    She collapses, clutching at her head.

    "Stupid worm. We knew they'd be too proud to get their heads fixed, so we're broadcasting the image of a roaring fire." The clansman returns his… His? Coin toss… Her attention to me. "So what about you? I've never killed an alien before, but if you're here…"

    "What's your name?"

    "L'atroma Z'orr. Oh, and you weren't lying-" She taps the side of her head with her right hand. Telepathic contact. "-about being an alien. Are those humans?"

    "Amongst other species." I bend down, pick up S'yrra as gently as her convulsions will allow, then nod. "I will accompany you, Missus Z'orr, but you should understand that Martian internal affairs are only a tangential interest of mine. Unless you or yours directly attack me or mine, I'm inclined to let you fight it out."

    She waves her left land in the direction of the corridor, and I start walking. Hm. Telepathy, shapeshifting, in theory she could do that molecular destabilisation thing the Burner did… Some sort of enhanced phasing. Nothing I'm not reasonably confident I couldn't take. But my main priority here is protecting my guests.

    "This is one of the most off-limits places for White Martians. We get called into centres of government sometimes, but I'm the first White to come here in… A very long time. Funny place to be if you've only got a 'tangential interest'."

    "I'm interested in magic. Who else was I supposed to as-?"

    "Stop."

    I stop, half turning towards my escort. "What-?"

    The corridor in front of me is pulverised, dust exploding in all directions! The torn and bloody remains of a Red… Well, I'm guessing a Red Martian, are slammed into a wall and pinned there as another White Martian wearing black and gold armour flies after them to admire their handiwork. They turn to me, eyes glowing-.

    "Careful, N'Rixot. This one's cooperating."

    "The Red he's carrying-."

    The dust around -coin toss- her swirls and then explodes with electricity!

    "gYYAHGH!"

    She flies away, shifting shape to minimise her surface area as a Red Martian sorcerer priest flies through the gap. He-. Ah, just call them all 'he'. He gestures, and the dust takes on the form of some sort of electrified wurm and flies after N'Rixot. He then turns our way, L'atroma lunging forward with her claws out-.

    A piece of the wall turns into a hand, grabs the priest and throws them back the way they came.

    "I seek a meeting with the Primate."

    The sound… Seems to be coming from everywhere. L'atroma freezes for a moment, then gestures down the hole. "Head down that way."

    I comply, floating down through the torn floor and wall. Below, in the entry chamber, I see a hulking great White Martian who appears to be taking his cues from the Durlans. Great slabs of metal appear to have been integrated directly into his body, along with pneumatic drivers, some sort of… Electronic sensor array and a couple of force field generators. Next to him is a far slighter figure, another White Martian who is affecting a more humanoid appearance. He's wearing a green body stocking and red cape, and where the others wear a red circle insignia he wears one comprised of three blue diamonds.

    Portals open around him, electrical discharges blasting at him! And… Bending, merging together to form a crackling ball just to his left. The rock around him shifts, and the Red Martian who came down here a moment ago emerges unconscious from the ground.

    "If I am not granted a meeting, I will kill this one and then proceed inwards."

    A diffuse cloud of dust rises up from the floor in front of him, forming the outline of a Martian.

    "Petty sand wizard, there are magics here you cannot comprehend. This act of brutishness will do nothing but reveal your cause for the savage narcissism that it is."

    "Sand wizard? I'm sorry, I'm a little behind on the modern vernacular." He turns to my escort. "L'atroma, is that supposed to be an insult?"

    "Yes. She's saying that your learning is shallow."

    "Ah." He turns back to the projection. "I am Karmang. I foolishly taught the principles of sorcery to your distant forebears. And I am here to reclaim what I gave to you."
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
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  21. Threadmarks: Field Trip (part 8)
    Mr Zoat

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    8th January
    18:40 GMT


    "How..? Dare you?"

    "Hm."

    Karmang -odd name for a Martian- sprouts four spindly arms from his sides and makes a series of rapid, intricate gestures. Blue light wafts around his fingertips for a moment, then leaps for the projection. Which… Suddenly isn't a projection any longer.

    "Two degree-" Another gesture, this one involving clenched fingers and a tugging motion. "-shielding. Adequate-" The floors shifts, enveloping the Primate. "-in most-" Two arms retract and he makes a circling gesture, blue runes appearing all over the Primate's rocky prison. "-circumstances. But by now you should have realised that you were dealing with something unusual."

    The shocked Primate stills, then shudders as a section of runes flares. Karmang bows his head slightly, while the machinery fetishist next to him sort of rumbles.

    "I wrote the spells you just attempted. Even now, can you not accept that your preconceptions are wrong?"

    "You are not Karmang."

    "Ah." He turns his attention to me. "What is your name, alien?"

    "I am Grayven."

    "Do you know much of Martian history?"

    I shake my head, then realise that he's probably not familiar with humanoid body language. "Not a great deal."

    "And magic. Do you know about magic?"

    "My people's Elite have powerful innate magical abilities. Studying magic is a little less common, but we have more than a few sorcerers around the place."

    "And what brought you here?"

    "I'm living on Earth at the moment. Its arcane energy networks are remarkably strong, but severely underutilised. This was supposed to be the first step in forming a collegial research and knowledge-sharing group."

    "I heartily approve." He looks around the entry hall for a moment, taking in the frescos on the walls before returning his attention to me. "That was why I established the first monastery-."

    "You lie. You are not Karmang the Good."

    Karmang the arguably-not-good retracts his two remaining bonus arms and extends his natural right arm to point to a scene on one wall. "Yes." The scene shows a six-armed Red Martian leading a group of other Reds across a desert. "This is how they depict me now. Because it is completely unthinkable to this generation that any could learn magic who are not Red."

    The mechanical martian's left arm shapeshifts into some sort of gun-.

    "No, don't do that. I think that maintaining physical proof of their idiocy will be helpful to future generations."

    "Blasphemer!"

    "I wasn't trying to found a religion." He goes back to looking at me. "Do you know what the Guardians did to our people?"

    "Broadly. Though I can't say that I disapprove. If the Burners had ever reached Earth, my favourite planet would have-."

    He raises his right hand. "I know. And I agree. Even now, I find it difficult to recapture how thinking like that felt. The incessant drive to destroy-."

    "Wait." I frown. "You were there? Martians… Aren't immortal."

    And if they had been, I suspect that the Guardians would have edited that too, just in case.

    "There are ways to extend one's life with magic, if one has the correct frame of mind. It requires me to spend periods of time in torpor, but I believe it has been worth it."

    "And… I got the impression that the Guardians scrubbed the memories of the martians they worked on. If you retained yours, shouldn't you be an apocalyptic rage monster?"

    "It's hard, remembering what it was like back then. It was a long time ago, and I was a very different man. I'm not sure exactly what happened. I remember… Our alpha and his warriors being struck down, and… I think I remember trying to hide. Or at least trying to threaten without attacking. But they pacified me and took me aboard their ship. I remember the… Green glowing automata who served the short… Guardians."

    "How do you remember?"

    "Magic. It was a long time afterwards that I learned to systematise even a tiny fraction of what I could feel about the universe surrounding me. But a tiny… Shift, a simple protective sigil was enough to shield my memories from their machines. Not my body, and their bonds still bound certain parts of my mind, but once they left I alone remembered how things had been."

    He walks over to another image, the six-armed Red gesturing to a garden while his students listen at his feet.

    "Having had millennia to consider the issue, and to compare what we are now with what we were, I have to say that I think this is better. And while I'd rather they hadn't wrecked our planet to do it, it wasn't anything we wouldn't have eventually done ourselves."

    "I'm a little surprised to hear the leader of a terrorist-." I glance at L'atroma. "Sorry, murderist group being so calm about things."

    "With great age comes… Perspective. Some things are worth being angry about. Others aren't." He gently touches the fresco. "I took my first students from amongst Ma'aleca'andra's Red population, believing that the Guardians had altered them least."

    "I'm sorry, I thought that you said that you approved-?"

    "Of clarity of thought, yes. Not of being afraid of fire or isolation. I wanted to learn how it had been done, to see if I could learn to modify it, to alter us further. And in case you've ever thought that simply being more like our forebears was what allowed the Reds to become dominant, no. It was me." He turns away from the mural and back towards the Primate. "By teaching Reds from across the planet the most elementary principles of magic, it reinforced the instinctual fear and respect we had been programmed with. And because I took Red students from all across Ma'aleca'andra and returned them home once their studies had reached a satisfactory level, I created a worldwide network of sorcerers who knew one another and who were on good terms with one another."

    Hah! "You created their planetary government?"

    "Its predecessor, yes. And then I underwent my first torpor, and when I emerged… Colourism which put me in the underclass, and not a jot of progress toward the goal I had set them." He walks back towards the Primate. "But I was prepared to be patient. I sought volunteers from the White population, and experimented further. I've learned a great deal about the magics of Mars, but I never came close to a solution to my main problem. So many years… Only for my agents to one day hear a telepathic broadcast which explained the whole thing and demonstrated the solution."

    "I was on that mission."

    "I don't remember seeing you. And I studied that missive in extreme detail."

    "I was evacuated before the confrontation with the Burner could occur. Nitrogen narcosis and a drained power ring. Trust me, I'm in the full version." He doesn't respond. "But surely my name came up in relation to the fix?"

    "I don't recall seeing any alien faces. But as you pointed out, young M'gann wasn't broadcasting everything she experienced. I would like to meet her at some point. Could you arrange th-?"

    The rock holding the Primate explodes!
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
  22. Threadmarks: Field Trip (part 9)
    Mr Zoat

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    8th January
    18:44 GMT


    Shattered rock turns to dust before it can hit the floor, crackling for a second before earthing itself through the machinery martian!

    "UUUUUhH!"

    He staggers, the floor shaking under his lumbering footfalls. Another flash leaps at L'atroma, who phases and allows it to pass through her. The Primate gestures again, and the rock imprisoning her subordinate similarly shatters. A moment later a green glow envelops his body and he begins to wake up.

    I take a couple of steps away from the combat zone. Allegedly ancient mage versus archmage? I think I can tell how this one will go. And even if I could tip it one way or another, I don't have the information I would need to know which side would help me more. Or help Mars more. If they're both prepared to accept my neutrality, that's the route I'm going to go.

    "Electrical discharge from an ionised cloud?" Karmang-or-not has gone back up to four arms, his hands moving rapidly between-. Ah! That's what he's doing! "Disappointing."

    The dust drops to the ground and merges with the floor, which sends a wave of razor-edged spines at both of the priests! The neophyte twists and shapeshifts, managing to get most of his bulk out of the way but taking a few shallow cuts as he does so. The Primate brings her hands together in a circle in front of her, a translucent green disk forming in front of her and completely blocking the instant stalagmites.

    Karmang is making representations of the runes corresponding to the elements of his casting with his fingers. Not really practical for humans, unless the rune is simple and being applied by brute force. But for a polymorph I imagine that it's a good deal more practical. By switching rapidly between shapes and using multiple hands, he can massively increase the speed and complexity he can use. Probably doesn't do anything for the actual peak of his abilities, but the average complexity of his combat casts would be far higher than his human equivalents. The Primate's doing it too, but she doesn't have his experience. She's only just spouting a second set of arms, while he… Isn't going back up to six.

    Circle-wiggle fingers-clenched fist from her, and a sphere of near-vacuum forms around Karmang. Open hand gesture towards L'atroma, who bounces off an invisible force field before she can eviscerate the neophyte. The clanswoman slashes at it, and I feel it as the shield fails.

    "Let me show you-"

    Ah… Open-hand-with-curled-fingers into circle into L-shape with wiggling thumb… He's got extra fingers as well, and I can't tell what the rest of his hands are doing. Presumably one is enabling him to vibrate the air outside of his vacuum.

    "-how-"

    A gust of air as the vacuum spell fails and gas from the surrounding environment is sucked back in.

    "-to-"

    "AYYYIEE!"

    The Primate's arms break, the main bones in her upper and lower arms suddenly turning L-shape with an audible snap.

    "-do-"

    L'atroma dives forward, passes through the neophyte's weak electrical discharge before stabbing him in the chest. The spell fails at once, then L'atroma brings their heads together and the sorcerer convulses for a moment before collapsing.

    "-it-"

    The Primate's eyes burst.

    "-properly."

    She falls to her knees, moaning softly.

    Karmang steps forward. "Your personal arcane defences were inadequate. Too… Rooted in the physical. Our natures are protean, and yet you made no effort to stabilise your physiology." He crouches, pulling the chin of the keening Primate up so he can stare into her face. "You really had no respect for me at all, did you? Even after seeing what I'd done with my followers."

    He stands, letting her fall face-first to the ground.

    "What a complete waste of time your kind have been. K'emra, do you still function?"

    There's an electrical whir from the insides of the large White Martian. "Yeah. Overloaded my shield. It'll be fixed in a minute."

    "Grayven. Do you intend to keep hold of S'yrra?" He turns to look at me. "She has regained consciousness."

    "I.. think it best. She clearly doesn't have the capacity to threaten you."

    "Hm. While I.. could regard that as taking a side, I suppose that she's harmless. And she can take a message to her masters for me."

    S'yrra floats herself off my shoulder, then turns to face the clan. I notice her tremble at the sight of the fallen Primate.

    "Acolyte S'yrra, do you know me?"

    "You-. You are not Karmang."

    "What would it take to prove it to you? Perhaps my memories?"

    S'yrra breathes in sharply, then stumbles to the ground.

    "Though there are rather a lot of them. Perhaps I should level this monastery and undo a dozen generations of embedded spellcraft? It would be easy enough."

    "I'm-. You are powerful. But you are not Karmang."

    Another series of gestures, and blue circles form around her wrists, ankles and neck and pull her off the ground.

    "Are you prepared to die for that belief?"

    "That.. does not appear to be up to me."

    "You appear to be quicker than some, at least. I have a message for you to relay. Can you do that for me?"

    "Yes. I can relay your demands."

    "Good. I state that I am Karmang, master of Z'onn Z'orr and founder and leader of the Hyperclan. I have long been disgusted by both the Red aristocracy and the oppression of the White. As such, though I could rightfully claim to be an earlier-"

    He shifts his shape, growing taller, thinner and spikier, his exterior surface shimmering from the same molecular destabilisation technique the Burner in the Guardian ship used.

    "-form of Martian, I choose not to."

    He shrinks and softens once more.

    "My demands are simple. All Red Martians will leave all high political offices and the Planetary Council will disband. I will be recognised as the ruler of Ma'aleca'andra. I will choose new leaders for each city, and new laws will be put in place to ensure colour equality henceforth. Once I am satisfied with the situation, I will eliminate my office and return to my studies."

    "M'arzz will never accept a murderer as its ruler, much less one who pretends to be our most respected historical leader."

    "Then the fighting will go on. Unlike the Manhunters my followers are spoiling for a fight."

    "That will change when I inform them what you have done here."

    "Good! Unlike you I'm not a colourist. But if a bunch of Greens decide that they're so committed to the status quo that they're prepared to kill for it, I'll know that I'm correct to kill them as well. And for the Reds and Greens living in the territory we hold… It's interesting; I've long wondered about the effectiveness of large scale zeitgeist programming. Using mass telepathic broadcasts to show the oppressors exactly what it's like living under them. Now that I'm moving openly there are just so many options."

    "I will tell them."

    "Thank you." He gestures and she vanishes. "Now, Grayven. I have a problem with which I hope you can help me."

    "I'm listening."

    "I lead the Hyperclan, but I don't lead this uprising. In truth, no one does. There are many leaders, and I will make the competent ones the rulers of their cities in due course. But the one named B'enn B'lanx is agitating for all out warfare. I do not believe that to be in the interests of Ma'aleca'andra, but I can't risk undermining my position or splintering the resistance by confronting him openly. Could I prevail upon you to speak with him?"
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
  23. Threadmarks: Field Trip (supplementary, SI option)
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th January
    14:13 GMT -5


    "…total bollocks. How can Vercingetorix not be a notable source on Vercingetorix?"

    I nod sympathetically as Robert, Tula and I trudge through the thoroughly evacuated Harriman State Park. "To be fair, you don't have any way to know for certain that he was telling the truth."

    "Oh, because Julius Caesar is more reliable? That's basically the only other contemporary source. Is it more reliable because he wrote it down? I mean, he's been dead for two thousand years, it's not like he's got any reason to lie about it."

    We start across the Lewis Brook, Robert and Tula using magic to walk across the surface while I float just above it.

    "Except pride, possibly?" He starts to open his mouth, and I raise my right hand. "But I do see where you're coming from. People marking essays should be flexible enough to realise that there are some students who can speak with the dead."

    Tula's frowning slightly. "I thought that your abilities were focused around the manipulation of the classical elements. How are you able to speak with the dead?"

    "Oh, yeah, but it's the Celtic mythology.. thing. Connection. It takes a bit of an effort, but I can visit Otherworld if I go to the right place and do a ritual. Haven't tried going anywhere else, but since that's where Vercingetorix is I didn't need to." He shakes his head. "Apart from Great Granddad I haven't summoned anyone."

    I land as they step up onto the shore.

    "I thought that Otherworld was somewhere souls went temporarily?"

    "Ahh… Well… Pre-Christian paganism wasn't a unified religion or anything. So there's a bunch of different beliefs about what happened. You can get reincarnated from there, but that's true of Erebos, isn't it?"

    I nod. "Yes."

    "He told me that he didn't want to get reborn in case he ended up as a Roman. Now he just likes the peace."

    "I would be very interested to meet-."

    A wave of mud two metres high leaps at us! Tula uses her water armour to generate a barricade of ice, Robert raises one of rock and I generate a construct barrier.

    "Mister Hagen!"

    The mud splashes onto our barricade then hardens as Mr Hagen uses it to pull himself upwards. I realise that it's his left hand as his right turns into a granite hammer and smashes down! Robert dives out of the way while Tula's tattoos glow, a stream of ultra high pressure water blasting at his arm and severing it at the wrist! Which doesn't stop the hammer, so I send a construct up to meet it and slow its descent. The first few ablative layers give as intended, and the hammer hits my barrier without the strength to crack it even slightly.

    "How do you see-"

    The ground beneath us erupts, the earth throwing us into the air! Robert uses air magic to catch himself and hover, I fall back towards the ground and use my armour's kinetic shield to absorb my momentum and Tula controls her descent using jets of water.

    "-this helping you?"

    So Mr Hagen lunges up through the airborne soil and swallows her whole.

    Robert's eyes widen in horror, but there isn't actually much to worry about. Mr Hagen's body is only as dense as regular soil unless he exerts himself, and he doesn't have any internal organs. Unless he's developed some sort of countermagic-

    Mr Hagen pulls himself into a roughly humanoid shape beneath us and grins smugly.

    -technique, he's not doing anything to Tula that her water armour can't take.

    "Tasty. How about you both leave me alone, and I think about giv-"

    His abdomen starts to bulge.

    "-ing her…" He looks down. "Huh?"

    His torso explodes, bursts of high pressure water blasting free! Tula lands, then walks free of the mud-and-felled-tree covered blast zone with a scowl on her face.

    "Ow."

    Mr Hagen's distorted head is still more or less in one piece, and the mud which he's made part of his body is slowly oozing back towards him. I scoop him up with a construct and bring him up to my level.

    "Mister Hagen, could we have a civil conversation now?"

    There's a slight shift in the mud as he grows a neck to prop himself up slightly.

    "Or what, you shoot me with your ray gun again?"

    I sigh as Tula flicks the last of his mud from her armour.

    "Mister Hagen, you were trying to kill my friends. While I do regret the level of force I used to bring you down, you have no grounds for complaint."

    "Do you know what that felt like? My whole body going hard-. Numb. And then I couldn't hear anything or see anything but I couldn't stop thinking and imagining…"

    "And you recovered."

    "You call this recovery? I'm made of mud!"

    "It beats being dead, Mister Hagen. But I'm more interested in what you want to do going forwards."

    I take a closer look.

    "I'm not telling you-."

    "I'm afraid that Ra's al Ghul is already dead." He stills. "I don't think your employer knew while you were an active Shadow, but I can see people's desires. Ra's al Ghul is dead."

    "He gets better."

    I shake my head. "Not this time. Whoever did it made sure there wasn't a body."

    He stares at me for a moment. "You do it? Or did he finally piss off the bat-."

    "After I calcified you, I went to Infinity Island and shot him in the head. He got better from that, but while he was out of action I wrecked the island's defences. The League took care of the rest. Ra's escaped, but a little while later several groups received an anonymous tip about his location." One of them was the Russian government. It appears that having Dmitri on the League has caused them to re-evaluate how much intelligence they share. Even they're not sure exactly what happened as the Spetsnaz unit they sent at the time didn't come back, but we finally got a look at the site where the Master of Shadows died. "High end incendiaries were employed to ensure that there were no recoverable parts, and the League of Shadows has been dismantled."

    "What about Talia?"

    "Going after her won't help y-."

    "NOTHING'S GUNNA HELP ME! I'M A FUCKING LUMP OF MUD!"

    "There's always hope, Mister Hagen." I pull one of the lesser H-Dials out of a pouch and hold it out to him. This one has four buttons, and is almost certainly Wizard's work. "Please press the buttons in the order H-E-R-O."

    He stares at me for a moment, then extends his prehensile tongue and splatters it against the buttons in sequence.

    And his head and a good portion of the surrounding mud vanishes, replaced by a bearded black man in blue jeans and a yellow shirt.

    "The… Fuck..?"

    He hold up his hands and stares at them, back and front. "This isn't me."

    "Better or worse than being mud?"

    "Better. But… Why do I think my name's 'Speaky the Super Ventriloquist'?"

    "The dial can turn you into a metahuman for one hour a day. I have three."

    He looks up at me as I descend to ground level. "One hour? What good's an hour?"

    "It lets you interact with people as a human while we work on a permanent fix. Obviously, the aim is to restore your original human body. This is just to show you what can be done."

    "And what d'you want?"

    "Co-operate with the police. As long as you do that, I've worked out an agreement where you will spend your sentence in a laboratory rather than a prison. We'll work on restoring your humanity."

    "Oh, great. So you turn me back and I spend the rest of my life in Belle Reve."

    "Given what you've gone through, and the fact that you weren't considered reliable enough to be sent on assassination missions, I suspect that you would get a lesser sentence. Alternatively, as a man of clay you don't actually age. If we were able to improve how that aspect of your physiology works, you might decide to stay like-."

    "Fuck you I'm staying like that."

    "I believe that people should have the right to modify themselves however they like. If you want to go back, that's up to you."

    "If I co-operate."

    "Indeed. But do you think you're going to get a better offer?"
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
  24. Threadmarks: Field Trip (part 10)
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th January
    21:35 GMT


    Boom!

    I stride through the boom tube into one of Xan'Xie's caverns. "Hello there!"

    This cavern is designed as a sort of three dimensional park, steps cut into the side walls are covered in greenery -some of which is actually green- with trailing vines covering virtually all of the vertical surfaces. Tree-analogues block my view of the… Let's call it west side, but I can see a few brave families taking advantage of the fact that Whites are no longer prohibited from using it to engage in telekinetic ball-toss and… Other Martian family games I don't immediately recognise.

    Circe and Lord Cyprian step through after me, Circe taking a moment to bend down and touch the… Grass-moss? Whatever this is, which covers the ground.

    "Whatever fighting there was, it didn't take place here. No floramancy and no anguish."

    "Good to know." I turn to look at Cyprian as he takes in the panorama. And the staring locals. "Cyprian, are you sure that you being here is a good idea?"

    "Of the three of us, I'm the only one with an official government position. I'm also the only one of us with experience in peace negotiations."

    "I don't know, Darfur's pretty peaceful these days." I spot a squad of White Martians in appropriated Manhunter gear heading our way, the red X replaced by an orange vest with a green line running across it. "Though I'm not sure that Iname could function quite so well here."

    "That wasn't really a negotiation."

    "Negotiations are ongoing, but there have definitely been some."

    He chuckles and shakes his head. "Taking all of the weapons away is certainly an efficacious way of halting a conflict, but it would be rather more difficult to achieve in a place where the weapons are built into the bodies of the citizens."

    "No, it just takes a sharper knife." The… What am I going to call them? Hunters? That'll do. The Hunters land, adopting a skirmishing formation a short distance from us with plasma beam weapons not quite pointing at us. "Hello there. My name is Grayven-."

    One of their number strides forward. "How did you come here?"

    "It's called a 'boom tube'. My people have the technology to open portals between locations."

    "Why are you here?"

    "I'm hoping that a neutral arbitrator such as myself could act as a go-between between whoever is running Xan'Xie and the Planetary Council, with a view to reaching a peaceful settlement between belligerent parties."

    "Did the Council send you?"

    "The Council are aware that I'm involving myself, but no, they didn't send me. Karmang asked me to come here."

    "Karm-?" The squad leader's eyes glow for a moment and I feel a weak pressure against my mind. "That seems unlikely."

    "We were visiting one of those monasteries the Sorcerer Priests run when he and his clansmen attacked it. Pure coincidence as far as the timing was concerned."

    "Which clansmen?"

    Odd.. question. "L'atroma, N'Rixot and K'emra…" I turn to my companions. "Did the ones you saw give their names?"

    Circe nods. "One introduced himself as L'Sufux. The other was too focused on impaling our hosts to engage in social niceties."

    "I recognise the names." He looks at me, then at Circe and then at Cyprian. "Why do you all block your minds? I only wish to see what you saw."

    Cyprian smiles in a friendly way. "I'm afraid that our species aren't natural telepaths. We can block our minds completely, but beyond that we have no way to regulate what you can see. As such, we generally prefer to maintain a barrier. I could create an illusory image if that would suffice, or Grayven could create a hologram."

    There are a few moments of hesitation, presumably while the Hunters talk about it amongst themselves telepathically. Or… I don't know what sort of range most martians have. Perhaps they're communicating with their superiors.

    "Who are you here to speak to?"

    "Well…" I wave my right hand negligently. "Whoever the new Prelate is. Assuming that one has been appointed."

    "We're not just letting a Red Martian take control of the city again!"

    "I'm.. sorry. I… Didn't mean to imply that you should. I don’t know what title would be applied to a city ruler of another colour."

    "Oh. No, I assumed that you were referring to the normal succession arrangements."

    I wait for a moment, but he doesn't say anything else.

    "So… Who is in charge?"

    "I'm in charge of looking after the park."

    Oh. Darn. A genuinely spontaneous revolution. I didn't think those existed. I mean, there was that time in East Germany when a demonstration happened because a stoner told a journalist that he heard there was going to be a demonstration, the journalist reported it, the report got broadcast and hundreds of people turned up to a demonstration that wouldn't have occurred if he hadn't told the journalist about it… But genuinely spontaneous?

    "And… Did someone put you in charge of looking after the park, or.. did you just assume that responsibility?"

    "I flew past this park a hundred times as a child. I was never allowed in." He holds out his arms slightly. "Now every White Martian can enjoy it."

    "I'm not saying that you did anything wrong. I'm not taking any position vis-à-vis anything that's occurred. I'm just a bit stuck if there's no one to negotiate with."

    Cyprian smiles, though I'm not sure that martians understand the gesture. "Perhaps if you told us why you decided to take direct action? As you said, you flew past this park hundreds of times without doing so..?"

    "The broadcast. If finding out that we only felt… Reverence for the Reds because they look more like our monster ancestors… I just felt that all my doubts were… From that. I just came here as an act of civil disobedience to begin with, and then when the Manhunters tried to evict us B'enn B'lanx and P'torex Z'orr attacked their armoury. Then the fighting really got going."

    Oh dear. "And removing the Prelate? Who.. decided..?"

    "You mean killing her? That was pretty much a.. mob decision. This city used to be… Not equal, but not as bad as it became after she took over." He watches my face for a moment. "Wait, you're not telepathic. When I say 'mob decision', I mean that we were all of one mind. We all felt that killing her was essential."

    "And the Manhunters?"

    "We didn't kill the ones who surrendered. But they enforced Red supremacy. They needed to go."

    "And…" Cyprian looks around at the rest of the group. "The rest of you feel the same way?"

    "Yes." / "Yes." / "Yes." / "Yes." / "Yes."

    Cyprian nods. "And what plans do you have for the future?"

    "Ah… Defend the city against the Planetary Council? B'enn is organising a militia, and we're doing rotations to get training with weapons."

    "I meant, do you have any opinion on what shape the government of your city should take? How M'arzz should be governed?"

    "Whites need to be involved. The whole caste system needs to stop. Everywhere."

    Cyprian nods. "Alright. But what else? What form should the government take?"

    One of the others steps forward. "A council of representatives, comprised of representatives of each colour."

    Circe frowns. "Have none of you had the colour restrictions removed?"

    The first martian visibly starts. "No? How does that work?"

    She smiles, purple sparks flickering around her fingers. "Magic. Perhaps I may be of service?"
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2019
  25. Threadmarks: Field Trip (part 11)
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th January
    21:57 GMT


    "…between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary." I look around my impromptu audience, pointing to my chart. "Can anyone point out the obvious problem with this arrangement?"

    They stare at me. W-? Oh, right.

    "If you're trying to communicate with me telepathically, please remember that I'm blocking everything. If you wish to suggest an answer, please raise your right hand."

    Seven go up. I point to one.

    "You… Sir?"

    "It.. seems that such a system would make it difficult to do anything? If they.. have to check with each other?"

    "Yes, well done. In that regard it is the opposite of the system Martian cities use. A Prelate can upturn nearly the entire legal system of a city when they come to power without reference to anyone. Now, for those of you who are old enough to remember, what was the result last time that happened here?"

    Hands again, and I point to one.

    "A dramatic increase in colourism."

    "Yes. When you give one person ultimate authority, they can do literally anything with it. And that can be a problem, because whatever traditions you may have that would usually regulate that sort of thing can be brushed aside effortlessly. It's efficient, but the only interests they have to act in are their own. In the Martian context, the Reds like to think that they educate potential Prelates to be above that sort of thing. And to a degree, they're successful. Prelates don't generally act in their naked self interest. They don’t give themselves massive pay rises, require their citizens to literally sing their praises, establish harems, or… Whatever sort of things a totally decadent martian would do. But they do consider themselves obliged to uphold certain traditions, and Red privilege and White oppression are two of those traditions."

    Off to my right, Circe is using illusions to show the Guardian limiter to the curious, while using her magic to remove it from volunteers. In the corner of my eye I watch her generate a sphere of arcane fire, causing everyone except her volunteer to back up.

    "And here's where we get to the notion of empathy. The understanding that other people in our civilisation are much like ourselves, with wants and needs similar to their own. And the understanding that -while we might feel differently when it concerns us personally- at a societal level, it makes sense to assume that the pains of one are equal in significance to the pains of another."

    Off to my left, Cyprian has taken the park warden squad leader aside and is giving him a lecture on political practice. How to defend your home city when everyone around you hates you.

    "At the moment, in this city, Whites hold power. You have been oppressed for such a long time that -even within your own minds- you form a homogenous interest group. With the Manhunters assigned to this city either killed or imprisoned, you collectively control the lion's share of military power." Not a monopoly, of course. That just isn't possible when you're from a species of telepathic, shapeshifting telekines. "You could make anyone you can agree on your Prelate; a more agreeable Red, a Green or a fellow White. But whoever you select, that wouldn't eliminate the fundamental problem with tyranny: how do you make the tyrant do what you want them to do?"

    I point to the legislature box on the chart.

    "The purpose of a legislature is to allow a broadly representative group to adjudicate upon what laws are to be enacted, and to ensure that the executive is acting in the general good. Martian society only has this at the planetary level. In practice, Prelates are often advised by other Reds and provided information by Green civil servants, but that leaves Whites completely cut out of the process. Given that is the case, why would you view the decisions of such a ruler as binding upon you? Why would you consider the society which controls the planet to be your society? The answer-" I open my arms and gesture to the whole of the city surrounding us. "-is that you don't. You stopped seeing the Manhunters as enforcers of a fair set of laws and saw them as the weapons of your oppressors."

    "But, as I look around, I see no Reds or Greens here. If you restructured the city's government in such a way that you had a White Prelate with popular support, advised by knowledgeable Whites and informed by White civil servants-" Which you can't because the lack of Whites in those fields means that those skills simply don't exist amongst the White population. "-then why would the Red or Green population regard its decisions any more highly than you do now?"

    A hand rises. I nod, realise that they won't understand the gesture and point with my left hand instead.

    "Why should we care?"

    "You don't need to. I have a preference to use all of the talents within a society to further the goal of strengthening that society. To serve that end, I don't restrict groups from participating in particular fields, save when it is obviously impractical for them to do so. But, given everything you have endured, I can well understand that you have different priorities. Not losing the freedoms you have gained being chief among them. To serve that end, you have several options."

    "Unlike in more liberal cities like Mel'dilo'rn, inter-colour marriage is prohibited here. As such, you could do what the Whites in Kriglo did and exile every non-White. But that creates its own problems. It dramatically reduces the city's population, and would most likely leave holes in your civic infrastructure which you couldn't fill, at least in the short term. And of course it means that if -when- the Planetary Council decide to send in Manhunters to return the city to the control of the people they think are the rightful rulers, they have no reason to stay their hand. They would consider you to all be in rebellion, and as such valid targets. And whatever you've experienced before is nothing to what a ruling caste will do to upstarts who have successfully resisted their control."

    "Mass executions are an option, but I would not recommend it. If a people know that they will die anyway, then they will fight to the last. And in the event that such a purge was successful, the Manhunter assault would be even more vengeful. And would you really want to kill people for having the wrong colour skin?"

    Fortunately, no one raises their hands to say 'yes'.

    "If you're really interested in improving the lot of White Martians on a planetary scale, I think that the most rational thing for you to do would be to establish a superior form of government. One which protects every citizen, and grants them the same opportunities-." A hand goes up. "Yes?"

    "White Martians represent approximately two fifths of the Martian population. If the delegates to an assembly were elected, three fifths of representatives would always outvote them. Which would leave us dependent on a tyrant-Prelate."

    "When I was in university, I heard a most fascinating guide to creating a fair society. A fair society is one which would be created by a person of reasonable intelligence who did not know what position they would occupy in it. Which brings us on to-" I point to the board. "-the judiciary. States which use this model have a document called a constitution. This is a document which sets out limits to the power of other offices, defining what sorts of laws they can create and which they can't, and is the duty of the most experienced judges to strike down laws passed by either the executive or the legislature which break these. So if everything is working properly and a law which -for example- says that White Martians can't use public parks is passed, and the constitution forbade colour-based discrimination, a conviction for breaking it could be appealed on that basis and the law expunged."

    "And this is where I think that you have an opportunity. If you create an egalitarian constitutional framework and actually grant equality to the other colours, you demonstrate that you can create a superior system to anything your Red overlords did. At the very least, you prove that you are capable of being reasoned with, and at most-."

    "They still have the fleet."

    "Yes, but the Greens on the fleet aren't mindless automata. They know that Whites all over Mars are demonstrating, and some of them are finding that their own faith in the Reds is wavering. They know that if you behave in a civilised manner and they are called in to crush you anyway, Whites all over Mars will abandon their peaceful demonstrations and take up arms, at tremendous cost to the Greens and Reds around them. They don't want that, and only a tiny minority of the Planetary Council are fanatical enough to push things to that point."

    I exhale. I literally can't read a martian crowd, but I'm hopeful that I'm getting through. The only other thing I could do would be use my god speech… But I'd rather not.

    "Okay." I wave my right hand. "Lecture over. I'll be available for questions whenever I'm free, but right now I think I need to go and talk to B'enn B'lanx."

    "Yes."

    I look up to see a White Martian in a golden body suit decorated with the red circle of the Hyperclan staring down at me.

    "I think that you should."
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2019
  26. Threadmarks: Field Trip (part 12)
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th January
    22:02 GMT


    T'Pexor leads the way across the city, and I notice that the few Green Martians out and about make a point of ducking out of our flight path when they spot… Us. Why would I-? Oh, of course, they think I'm a Karmang-modified Hyperclan member, and they can't check because I'm blocking every mental probe.

    "You spoke to Karmang."

    "Yes."

    "Did he instruct you to give that lecture on politics?"

    "No. I decided that was necessary on my own. There are a great many opportunities for this whole situation to go horribly wrong, and I think the best way to prevent that-."

    "Is kill Reds until they get a clue."

    "No. I accept that you might find that most satisfying, but that isn't the method that will result in White equality."

    He turns to face me without altering the direction of his flight. "Why would I be interested in equality?"

    "Because that's what the majority of your new followers want."

    "It's what they'll be satisfied with. They'd probably be satisfied with less. It's pathetic."

    "I'm going to assume that Karmang didn't give you supernatural charisma."

    We fly through a tunnel, those Greens making use of it shrinking back as we pass. Most of the Whites don't exactly seem overjoyed, either. T'Pexor is either oblivious, or… He's reading the atmosphere telepathically and doesn't consider it significant.

    "Karmang improved everything about me. He wanted to demonstrate that Reds aren't an inherently superior form of life. That Greens aren't better than us. So now I'm better, we're better than them."

    "I applaud your initiative. Can I assume that you've had the Guardian programming removed?"

    "We all have. Karmang insisted. And if he hadn't, I would."

    "Any lingering resentment towards the Guardians?"

    "I'm not happy with the mess they left, but all the power in the universe is pointless if you're a mindless beast. I'll leave them alone if they keep leaving us alone."

    Yes, I'm… Sure that the potential threat will terrify them.

    "Karmang ordered me to kill this city's leaders. What did he tell you?"

    "To stop B'enn B'lanx doing anything which will make negotiations harder."

    He stops in the air, and I have to stop as well so that I don't leave him behind. "Negotiations? What?"

    "His opening demand was for everyone in a position of authority to stand down and that he be recognised as planetary overlord so that he could sort things out on his own recognisance."

    "That would actually satisfy me. Not that they will comply."

    "I don't think the Reds he left alive to pass on his demands believed that he actually is Karmang."

    "We can always drag their bleeding carcasses to Z'onn Z'orr. That should convince them."

    Karmang mentioned that, but the name doesn't mean anything to me. "What's that?"

    "Karmang's school, laboratory, fortress. The ancient memoirs the Reds use to justify their domination describe it in detail."

    "Not a bad idea." He starts flying again, and I trail along behind him. "Though not the.. 'bleeding carcasses' bit. If things go that badly wrong taking them to your base of operations wouldn't be wise."

    "That's why Karmang doesn't usually perform field operations himself. But this is it. Our minds and souls are free, the Reds' lies exposed. The only way we can fail now is if we are too weak to seize the opportunity."

    "Or alienate so many of your followers by acting like a mass-murdering psychopath that they side with the council instead of with you. That might be why Karmang is making an offer at all."

    "His offer is the only result I would accept, the only result any member of the Hyperclan would accept. There's no point engaging with them."

    "Are you ready for all-out war?"

    "The Hyperclan was created for all-out war. I was looking forward to it." He makes a quiet hissing noise. "Karmang, negotiating with… This had better be a ploy."

    He accelerates, heading towards… Hm. Looks like a series of structures made out of the same shapeshifting living matter that the bioship is made of. One big organism or a series of connected smaller ones? Sinestro, any insight?

    I will remind you that the Martians were all but extinct before I entered my version of this system for the first time.

    Yes, but you have more experience with-.

    A life form like that would need an extremely decentralised neural network to function. And at that point, the difference between it being a single being and multiple interconnected ones is a matter of semantics.

    Fair enough.

    Through transparent membranes on the structure's exterior I can see plenty of White Martians and a few harried-looking Greens. Hm.

    "Where are you keeping the Reds?"

    "In isolation in the lowest part of the city."

    "No, not the surviving governing officials, the Red population."

    "Yes. That's who I mean." He lands, and I touch down a moment later. "We killed the governing officials."

    "I… Believe that the Red population was one… Seventh of this city's total population?"

    "Something like that. We can't let any out into the city because the Greens might rally around them. We can't spread them out because we only have so many telepathy disruptors." He leads the way inside the building, the armed Whites inside giving him looks that are significantly friendlier than those from the general population. "So in they go."

    "Would you consider moving them if more telepathy blockers were provided?"

    "Someone might. So long as they're kept out of my way. He's coming."

    "Hm?"

    Ahead of us, heavily armed Hunters gesture at the Greens at their workstations, causing them to step away and file out of the room. T'Pexor strides inside, and those Greens who had been heading towards this exit immediately back up and head to one of the others. Once they're out, Hunters take positions at every doorway. And only then does the martian of the hour deign to join us.

    B'enn B'lanx is a heavily built White Martian, wearing what I recognise as the heavily armoured version of the Manhunter uniform in the orange and green of the local militia. He's also carrying a telekinetic booster staff in his right hand like a sceptre.

    "T'Pexor, is this one of your Hyperclan allies?"

    "No, B'enn. An alien. Karmang has delivered a list of demands to the Planetary Council, and he wants to make sure we don't attack anyone before they refuse them."

    "A slight delay would be useful, as long as the Manhunters don't use it to shift their forces." He looks at me. "How long?"

    "No timeline was stated. Realistically, at least a couple of days."

    "Very well! Come, alien. I want to show you what we've been doing."
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2019
  27. Threadmarks: Field Trip (part 13)
    Mr Zoat

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    8th January
    22:14 GMT


    Mister B'lanx oozes self-satisfaction as the captured warship in front of me gradually changes from blue to orange.

    "We overran the naval depot before they could get most of their ships in the air."

    T'Pexor gestures to a ship sitting in a docking cradle, tubes containing some sort of food slurry connected to several damaged parts. "My colleague L'atroma was able to bypass their anti-phasing shielding and assault the crew directly. It seems that Manhunters don't train for that."

    I nod. "They are more of a law enforcement organisation than a military."

    I look over to the tunnel to the exterior where the remains of one of the ships that did is being… What, salvaged? Stripped for raw material? They're living creatures, so… Are they edible? They wouldn't be cutting it up if it were possible to restore it. The labour crew is comprised of Greens, while a handful of armed Whites act as their overseers.

    "Yes." Mister B'lanx's tone conveys his distaste. "And now we must learn from their failure before they do." He extends his right arm towards another ship. "We're increasing their weapons loadout at the cost of habitation. I don't intend to send them on patrols, and the martians Karmang has freed don't have the same dependency on the proximity of others that other martians do."

    "Who do you intend to send them against?"

    "I had assumed that I would be sending them against the force the Manhunters would send to dislodge us. But if they're dithering, then I can use them to support a White uprising in another city."

    "Wouldn't that leave you vulnerable?"

    "We have good intelligence coming from fellow Whites in every city. My force would return here before anything the Planetary Council sent could reach us." He floats over the shipyard towards an area where a White Martian wearing the Hyperclan red circle is demonstrating the use of captured weapons to a group of other Whites. "And attacking the Manhunters' ships while they are separate and in dock will be far easier than destroying a unified fleet."

    True… "Do you have enough trained personnel to crew them?"

    "I was trained as an auxiliary before the last Prelate come into power and abolished the auxilia. All the other surviving auxiliaries are teaching volunteers now. Or forcibly extracting schematic patterns from the surviving Manhunters. They're not ready yet, but they will be by the time I'm ready to push things."

    "About Karmang's attempt to negotiate with the Planetary Council…"

    "I don’t see how that's relevant to me."

    "At the moment, he's the only person formally allied to the White Martian cause who can remove the Guardian programming. And given what happened at the monastery he attacked, I doubt that there will be other volunteers. If you want your followers to be able to live in low population conditions for prolonged periods of time, you need his support."

    "Or we could move the fleet as we go, basing it in friendly White-controlled cities. The only other benefit is immunity to rötschreck, and it is impractical to use fire on the surface. T'Pexor, what do you make of this?"

    "Karmang has millennia of wisdom guiding him. Regardless of the personal debt we owe to him, I do not believe that he would abandon the cause he founded for personal advancement or… Make a traitor's peace. But personally, I prefer war."

    "Why?"

    "Karmang has not had to live under the Reds and the Greens as we have. I do not think that he appreciates the value of wide scale violence for changing the minds of the martian species."

    "You want to change the Greens' minds?"

    "We're doing this to benefit White Martians everywhere. Even in cities which were not as oppressive as this one, White Martians suffer insults and violence not just from the government but from the Green and Red populations at large. The best way to stop that, the best way to make sure that they never forget what we can do, is to destroy their armies. To march into the cities they control and publically execute their leaders. That will teach them that they will suffer the same fate if they try to go back to their old habits far better than anything else we could try. Including having the Planetary Council peacefully passing power over to Karmang."

    Mister B'lanx stops in the air as he considers the point. "You may well be right. I know this little fight has made more of an impression on me than almost anything else I've done. And I suspect that the same is true for our Reds as well."

    I shake my head. "And then what? How do you intend to reorganise the planet when three fifths of a population is even more scared of you than two fifths are scared of the Planetary Council now?"

    "Why should I care?" He rises in the air, getting above local obstructions to get a clearer view of this part of the city. T'Pexor and I follow him. "I'll keep this city. Rule it myself, in the interests of my fellow Whites. We're already integrating the Greens with essential skills into our government, and training Whites to fulfil every necessary role."

    "And the rest of the planet?"

    "I'll attack anywhere that oppresses Whites, but beyond that I don't really care."

    "Your Red prisoners?"

    "Why are you so interested?"

    "I'm trying to understand your reasoning, and to make sure that you've thought this through. These are weighty issues, and a leader needs to give it due consideration. Will they be allowed to live here-?"

    "No. No. Once the matter is decided, I will either exile them to another city or have them build a new city for themselves and leave them to their own devices."

    "I am prepared to offer them a place of exile now." The Psion Wombworld isn't much to look at, but even after the bombardment it's a more hospitable place than Mars. "If you simply want them taken off your hands. I can ensure that they will not return for the duration of the conflict."

    "No, they're useful to me where they are now. And I'm positively giddy at the idea of forcing them to do the same work they forced us to do. I certainly won't send them to a friendly land merely for the convenience of being rid of them."

    "You're not worried about an escape, or a rescue attempt?"

    "Fire might not be much use on the surface, but their prison has enough incendiaries that any attempt by them to leave would be… Immolatorially stupid."

    "I see."

    Reminds me a little of the ending of Small Gods. Vorbis dies, and Brutha takes his body to the leaders of the invading army and surrenders Omnia. He offered to pay reparations for Omnia's prior actions, to return territory they'd seized and to disarm the nation… Only for the Omnian army to form up on the edge of the beach anyway, and the invaders to form up to fight them despite the whole fight being rendered completely unnecessary. Karmang isn't Brutha, but he honestly hated those priests and he still didn't kill most of them. J'onn believed that the only reason that the Planetary Council weren't openly talking about making some fairly significant concessions was fear of the uprising, and B'enn seems set on proving their worst fears right.

    "If that's your final word, I will inform Karmang. Could I give him some idea of how long he has?"

    "If the Manhunters don't move first, I want to move on Mal'ren'ranna in ten days. The fighting there was inconclusive, but the Manhunter garrison has few ships."

    "I understand. I'll leave you to your preparations."

    "Yes. Go. It would be helpful if Karmang saw things my way. I disagree with his approach, but I have a great deal of respect for him. All White Martians who truly know him do."

    I nod politely. "I will be certain to pass that on."

    Mother Box, hush tube.

    Ping.

    8th January
    17:18 GMT -5


    I step out into the Hall of Justice, shaking my head as J'onn looks around.

    "Not good. I think I'm going to need to borrow M'gann."
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2019
  28. Threadmarks: Field Trip (part 14)
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    8th January
    22:33 GMT


    A decidedly worried M'gann is already crossing the room towards the huddle of White Martians as I step out of the hush tube. Several start backing up immediately, but one of them steps forwards and… They're having a telepathic conversation. A moment passes and everyone simultaneously turns to look at me for a second, then returns their attention to her.



    Maybe I should have brought a G-Gnome along or something. I can let one of them through my shield without letting other people through, probably due to them not really being 'people'. Or perhaps due to them being my.. employees. Or vassals.

    One of the Whites shifts into a somewhat more humanoid shape, then walks closer to M'gann. The rest of the Whites turn and walk out, except one who heads my way. He stops quite close to me and looks up at my face.



    "If you're trying to talk to me telepathically, it won't work. I block everything."

    He blinks, then his neck bulges slightly as he gives himself the ability to speak. "That sounds lonely."

    The voice is… Slightly high pitched, chirpy? I'd guess young female, but I'm working off human norms there.

    "Most species in this galaxy don't have telepathy. Most people ever born will never have their mind directly touched by another."

    "Oh. I… I can't imagine it."

    I smile. "Not a fan of Mister J'aarkn's work? He had direct contact with-" The martian in front of me cringes. "-a great many humans-."

    "I… Ah… Wasn't.. watching his work for the social commentary."

    "That's a shame. He struck me as a rather thorough man. But what did you want to talk to me about?"

    "T'ronn told us that you were the one who made M'gann into a Red Martian. Is that true?"

    "No, it-. That's a rather dramatic oversimplification. Reds are what martians look like when they don't have Guardian programming compelling them to look Green or White. I am capable of removing the programming, I just… Well, initially, I only knew two martians and only one of them was interested. Later on, when the demonstrations started in earnest I didn't want to add fuel to the fire." No, come on, be honest. "Or spend the rest of my life breaking the mental bonds imprisoning your species. I'd have to do each of you individually and frankly I've got better things to do."

    "I see." He blinks. "Ah..?"

    "You want me to do you."

    "Ah… Yes."

    I extend my left hand in benediction. "You have to really want it."

    "I do."

    "No, look." I clench my left fist and point to my ring's sigil. "This ring's powers are dependent on avarice. I wanted to help M'gann. You?" I shrug. "I'm indifferent. So you have to want it. For at least a few minutes, becoming free has to be the most important thing in your life."

    "Free..? From the Red Martians?"

    "From any impediment preventing you from coming fully into the power that is your right, be it from the Red Martians, the Guardians-" Other Whites. "-or your own fears and weaknesses. You must single-mindedly want it. Your single-minded desire must-."

    "I don't think I can.. do that?"

    I shrug and lower my left fist, raising my right in its place. "This one runs on fear. I could create a circle of fire around you, if that would be easier?"

    "Ah..?" He backs up. "No, that… Sorry I-? Bothered you." He backs up more, nearly bumping into M'gann and T'ronn on his way out.

    M'gann sighs. "Grayven, he was forty two. That wasn't necessary."

    "It was if I don't want every member of the local resistance bugging me to remove their programming. And I didn't lie-"

    "Ping."

    "-to-." Hm. "No, I don't think that would work on a martian. Might be worth considering later, though."

    T'ronn stares at Mother Box. "Why do I understand what the box meant by 'ping'?"

    "Martians use telepathic biotechnology. New Gods like myself use arcanotechnology; it speaks to the soul." I regard him carefully, but he hasn't had enough contact with humans or M'gann to have internalised the body language yet. "Do you understand the situation?"

    "B'enn B'lanx wants all out war. And you want me to prevent it... Somehow."

    "Sort of. I don't know enough about Mars or Martian society. I just need… Someone who could plausibly take a leading role. Someone who was at least known to White resistance organisers. I was going to ask M'gann to do it, but apparently you're the man of the hour."

    "I.. wouldn't go that far. It was all just-."

    "Just spontaneous, yes, I know, that's why it's so frustrating." Honestly, if Apokoliptians were this badly organised Father wouldn't have needed to bother with Grace. "But that doesn't matter. In a situation like this, where no one has legitimacy or even knows what legitimacy looks like, leaders are the ones who lead. B'enn B'lanx is leading. Karmang is leading. And I've got no idea who else -if anyone- is doing the same thing."

    "Hundreds of White organisers. I mean, what we were doing was illegal in a lot of places, so we had to be careful. But I know a lot of names and-. Well, fake names, but I could get in touch with them."

    "Could you get them together in one place?"

    "What? Now?" I nod. "No? Travel is restricted, and the organisers I know are too busy organising local groups to do anything… Wide scale."

    "I can teleport them, you, or anyone else. And to the best of my knowledge no one on Mars can track hush tubes. The White leadership needs to agree on a broadly unified position and nominate a spokesman who can deal with the Planetary Council. There doesn't need to be a leader-" Though there should be, and probably will be. "-just someone who can speak for Whites. Because if there isn't a reasonable person, all they'll hear is B'enn B'lanx."

    "Maybe they want to hear B'enn B'lanx."

    M'gann looks scandalised. "T'ronn!"

    "I've… There are a lot of angry Whites out there, M'gann. And I.. was.. speaking to them, meeting them. We got things thrown at us because Mum and Dad were different colours in Mel'dilo'rn. And our city's supposed to be liberal. I've met Martians in our position whose neighbours mindscoured them."

    M'gann gasps quietly.

    I shrug. "Do you think that things will be better if you have a worldwide civil war?"

    "No, but convincing people to calm down-."

    "I'm not saying 'calm down', I'm saying 'channel your rage productively'. Come up with a list of demands they can address, give them someone they can negotiate with. Because if you don't, B'enn B'lanx will be making the running."

    He thinks for a moment.

    "Can you teleport me to places now?"

    "Yes."

    "I'll need to talk to a lot of people to set this up. The first place we should go is probably…"
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2019
  29. Threadmarks: Field Trip (part 15)
    Mr Zoat

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    9th January
    06:21 GMT


    I look out across the gathered crowd from what might generously be called the 'backstage' area. I offered to let T'ronn use Challenger Mountain -the post room is big enough- but he correctly pointed out that having a lot of White leaders suddenly disappear from the Martian mindscape wouldn't be a good idea. Kriglo was suggested, but rejected on the grounds that that would imply that the majority supported segregation. Plus, more than a few of the more moderate leaders weren't sure that they'd be safe there. And I tend to agree. I mean, if it came to it I'd grudgingly show them my memory of Karmang as proof that I'm doing his work, but if that isn't good enough for someone like T'Pexor then I've got no idea how much attention the rest would pay to it.

    In the end, one of the better connected members of the extended network actually made a formal request to their own city government, and as a result this whole thing is happening in an enclosed amphitheatre in the city of Pa'leve'ria. There's a.. certain level of Manhunter presence outside, but they're keeping a reasonable distance. Pa'leve'ria is supposed to be fairly egalitarian, though in their case it's more due to the low overall population than any actual political decision.

    I watch as the various organisers and their parties mingle. Some are speaking out loud, but the majority are communicating telepathically. I assume. For me this is like watching a film with the sound off. Even so, there's one thing I can't help but notice.

    "M'gann, is this.. really an all-White affair? Even when race relations were at their worst on Earth, there were generally a few people from the dominant groups who protested against the worst examples of poor treatment."

    "No, it's not. There are Greens taking part, at least in the peaceful demonstrations. And there were a few Reds, until…"

    I bow my head slightly. "Until the Hyperclan started targeting them to reinforce the 'us versus them' mentality."

    "In.. some places. Not everyone-. In the places where discrimination was really bad, quite a lot of Reds were against it. Just.. not a majority. But… Sometimes… The White demonstrators were really angry…"

    I nod. The IQ of a mob is the IQ of the least intelligent member, divided by the number of participants. They weren't acting in their own long term interests because none of them were thinking long term.

    "And in places like my city where it's not so bad… I guess they find it harder to get so angry about."

    I nod again. "Sure, some people attack Whites, but that's already illegal…"

    "Right." She pauses for a moment, gathering her thoughts. "My parents showed up to the early demonstrations, but… They've got jobs. My brothers and sisters come sometimes, and a lot of other Greens from mixed families. But… This has been going on for months." She shakes her head. "There were more when it started, but it's hard to keep up that level of commitment. Especially when no one knows what the Manhunters are going to do."

    "Remind me: are you actually a Manhunter?"

    "I'm… Technically an auxiliary."

    "Which means..?"

    "In Mel'dilo'rn it means I'm a Manhunter but they couldn't make it official because I was White. In other places it would mean I was.. just some girl, and they might trust me to sweep the floors. Since I became Red, no one knows what it means."

    "Can Reds become Manhunters?"

    "There's no rule against it. It would be… Unusual. And that's assuming that I even count as a proper Red."

    "So you can become a Red and not count as a Red? You're getting mis… Coloured? That's ridiculous."

    "Changing color just.. hasn't been possible for most of our history. It's sort of possible to pretend, but that only works until someone looks at your memories. Faking memories for the length of time it would take to pass any sort of detailed scan, it's…" She shakes her head. "Something that only happens in fiction. And besides, I'm not exactly a Red. As far as I know, all the Reds still have Guardian programming."

    Hm. I'm not so sure. "It would be interesting to see how many Sorcerer Priests have removed their own. They may not be Karmang, but now they know what to look for…"

    "That's…" She looks decidedly uncomfortable, then realises something. "Are you projecting?"

    "Gosh, no. I wouldn't keep something like this secret. If it was me in charge, I'd have sorcerers processing the entire population just as fast as I could. But… I admit, artificially limiting the franchise would be a perfectly Apokoliptian thing to do."

    Mother Box, other than Canis Major… Have any Lowlies made the jump? I don't mean.. all the way to the Elite, but just to full New God power?

    Ping.

    No, I suppose that you wouldn't. And on New Genesis?

    Ping.

    That's not really the same thing. They choose that life. The Lowlies of the Armagetto don't. I thought… Perhaps Father's hold isn't strong enough to guarantee they all

    Ping.

    I suppose-.

    M'gann's eyes light up. "T'ronn is about to start."

    I nod, looking out across the chamber as T'ronn appears and takes to the stage, the crowd gradually turning to look at him. "Do we need to be there?"

    "No. We'd just make things more complicated."

    I watch for a moment… And I'm not hearing anything. Of course.

    "How's he doing?"

    "Huh? Oh. It's just opening remarks at the moment. We won't know if there are any fundamental problems until… Do you know about the Assembly of Minds?"

    "No, what's that? Some sort of gestalt-telepathy?"

    "Kind of. It's the highest court of M'arzz, but people aren't.. appointed to it. Creating one requires a certain number of police, judges, government officials and probation specialists, and a case that actually requires that sort of investigation. When they work, the people involved share their knowledge and skills with each other, but it isn't.. strictly a gestalt. Everyone is still.. themselves. It's not easy to do it right; learning how to do that properly is part of the training for any of the offices that can be called upon to join in."

    I frown. "If it needs special training-?"

    "There are.. things like that which most martians can do. Letting ideas flow telepathically rather than transmitting directly or broadcasting. Unless anyone has a real objection to it that's almost certainly what they're going to do." She blinks. "Huh."

    "What?"

    "You didn't say you left people in Xan'Xie."

    "Y.. es..? Is there a problem?"

    "No. Lord Cyprian has apparently made quite an impression on the locals. And so did you."

    "I was just talking about the reason behind certain types of government structure. None of that will really be relevant at this stage." I chuckle. "Though I know that human meetings like this can get off track very easily."

    "We don't really have any experience of other forms of government. I probably know more due to my time on Earth than anyone here."

    "No offence intended, but it would probably be better if we sent some people to talk to human political theorists later, rather than relying-." Her head whips around, staring through the exterior wall. "What?"

    "The local Manhunters are backing off."

    "Is that a..? Problem?"

    "Something's not right." Her eyes fade and she flies towards the exit. "We need to find out what's going on."
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2019
  30. Threadmarks: Field Trip (part 16)
    Mr Zoat

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    9th January
    06:26 GMT


    Streets… Streets are clear. Sinestro?

    An image of the local area appears in front of me. Huh. The cordon is still there, but it's a good deal further back. The surrounding buildings have been emptied out too. That might just be a security measure…

    M'gann frowns at my construct. "That's not what they agreed."

    "There might have been an alert of some kind."

    She raises her right hand to the side of her head and focuses, turning slowly in the air as she scans the Manhunter positions. "They don't know why they've been pulled back."

    I nod. "Which is bad for us, because it means that they're trying to conceal it from your telepathy, whereas if it were something legitimate they wouldn't have any cause to."

    "Can you bring in any more help?"

    "I've already got drones here. They're in stealth mode right now, but if you think a display of force in potentia would be helpful..?"

    "Not yet." She takes a small martian device off her belt. Ah, a martian long distance telepathic communicator. "Put me through to the Prelate's office now."

    Hm. I don't have a swarm of Construct Lanterns I could send out to probe the area. I could boom tube Orange Lanterns into the city, but they wouldn't know anything about the situation. Heck, I don't know exactly what's going on. I instruct one squadron to spread out to get a better feel for the area.

    "M'gann M'orzz. Why have the Manhunters around the theater pulled back?"

    She's speaking out loud for my benefit. The actual communication is transmitted from the.. brain in her hand to another like it in the government building. Routing should be automatic; the city authorities know that we're here. They're the ones who gave permission. I doubt that martians are immune to the occasional miscommunication, but this looks deliberate. Someone they believed had authority to do so gave an order.

    "Then order them back into position. The fate of our entire world depends on this meeting!"

    I'm pretty sure that she doesn't have the authority to make demands of whoever it is that she's talking to. But she's right: if a government official accepts an obligation and then welshes it renders them completely untrustworthy. You go from civil meetings in hotels to meetings in armed camps at best. Parts of the galaxy use hostage exchanges to make meetings like this happen. You'd have to be some sort of short sighted idiot to try something here. If this is a betrayal, that undermines everything I'm working to build here!

    M'gann looks around, eyes shining and jaw taut. "Then find someone who can, and get them to do it." She puts the communicator back on her belt.

    "Do we need to.. bypass the system?"

    "Not yet. Can your ring scan further out?"

    I nod. Sinestro?

    My construct glitches, then zooms outward. The city… Well, I've never been here before but nothing.. sticks out as being out of the ordinary. I dismiss the construct and increase power to my aero discs, rising higher into the air. Can't see the entire city from here… Can't see anyone. There are a few floating buoys to mark where the Manhunter cordon should be…

    I reach up and lower my goggles over my eyes. Not.. a lot different. Almost all Martians can go invisible, but since they're almost all telepathic they don't usually bother. Manhunters are over there… I take a moment to check the tunnel entry points.

    "Anything?"

    "No. No, not yet." Nothing, nothing… "You?"

    She floats up to join me. "Not yet. But it could take hours to find the right official."

    "I can open a hush tube to the officer in charge of the picket if you want to interrogate them in person."

    She shakes her head. "I'd want more evidence that something was actually wrong before assaulting my superior officer."

    "I thought J'onn was your superior officer."

    "He's my.. supervising officer while I'm on Earth. Because the Manhunters are usually more of a policing organisation than a military, the command structure is geographic. While I'm in this city, I report to this city's command structure."

    I suppose that makes sense. "S'yrra mentioned a 'Marshal'..?"

    "The Marshal's office is there to coordinate between them. Some investigations go through more than one city, someone needs to make sure that useful innovations which occur in one city are copied by the Manhunter forces in other cities. And sometimes someone in a city's government is suspected of malfeasance, they're the ones who organise the investigation."

    I look around again, becoming a little more concerned. "So there's a mechanism for bypassing local command and control?"

    "Yes? We're not immune to corruption."

    "If such an investigation were underway… What visible signs would there be?"

    "I… Don't really know." She looks around as well, her shapeshifting armour growing notably thicker and extending over her head. "But I imagine that no one in local government would know what the Manhunters were doing."

    "And what sort of forces does the Marshal -who S'yrra informed me was preparing for an imminent counterattack against the White uprising- have under their command?"

    "Anything he could requisition." She pulls her communicator off her belt. "M'gann M'orzz to City Commander R'oh K'arr."

    "Who?"

    "Uncle' J'onn's superior. Sort of." Her eyes flicker as someone on the other end picks up. "Sir, I need to know if the Marshal has requested additional forces for an internal review."

    I look around again. Sinestro, any ships incoming?

    No, Lantern Grayven. All ships are within the confines of their original patrol routes. Two are close enough to this city to support an attack, but neither appear inclined to do so.

    Did the locals jump the gun? Were they supposed to wait until the largest possible number of ships were in the area, then pull out as those ships suddenly received simultaneous new orders?

    "Sir, I'm overseeing a peace conference of White Martian community leaders. If the Marshal has sent those ships to Pa'leve'ria without a very good reason you need to call them back now."

    So where's this sodding attack coming fro-?

    I look up, and see a faint shimmer near the roof of the cavern. Sinestro?

    As far as I can tell, there's nothing there. So either your soul is playing up, or someone is using magic.

    I draw my daiklave and create a fusion cannon construct on my left arm. Now, there could be a perfectly good reason for that shimmer-.

    Another shimmering area appears right next to it.

    "M'gann, ceiling."

    I hold up my right hand and send a weak wave of energy upwards. As it reaches the shimmering area it bends and distorts-. No you don't. This could fuck up everything. SHOW ME.

    Something… Breaks, and for a moment I see the forms of four Martian patrol ships appear above us, main guns orientated on the theatre!
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2019
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